Humming in my Universe– Philstar
By Jim Paredes
Last week, the Pro-RH forces in the Lower House put their foot down and stopped the endless, fruitless decades-long debate on the Reproductive Health bill. Under pressure from the Catholic Church, the Anti-RH congressmen have used all sorts of tactics to delay any action on the bill, by citing the absence of a quorum or making endless speeches, hoping that Congress would go on recess before a decision can be made.
While passing the RH bill is a political exercise, it is clear that the on-going debate is not only about Reproductive Health. It has religious significance and repercussions in a country where the Catholic Church holds sway in many important societal and political decisions.
These events got me to thinking about religion and how one gets to embrace one. I remember something I read by M. Scott Peck where he posited that the first qualification for being a Christian is to be sinful. A person without sin is in no need of salvation, and so sin itself must be committed because it will lead one to seek salvation through Jesus Christ.
Thinking along those lines, I thought to myself that perhaps the first consideration in recommitting to or embracing any religion as an adult is that one has to be in crisis. It can be any crisis—financial, physical, emotional, religious, etc. After all, who would be in need of a God, much less think of a God, if one’s life is going great. But when things begin to fall apart and one starts clutching at straws, there is a tendency to look for a power outside the usual places where one normally runs. And there is nothing like being powerless to get a person thinking about God or revisiting religion.
Religion is like one’s parents. You learn your values and attitudes through religion, and it can give great comfort. The guarantee of wisdom and the trusted guidance of one’s parents are a big help to a person in crisis. That is why the cultivated imagery in Christianity is a Father God, a Savior God-Son and an Omnipotent Holy Spirit. And there is Mary, our mother, who protects us, and intercedes for us so that God will grant our prayers. Among the four of them, they have all our basic relationships covered.
And Mother Church, as the keeper of the faith, has assumed the role of a religious parent to the faithful. Which is all well and good, at least in theory.
The trouble is, modern life has become complex and multi-dimensional. People are in need of answers to questions and predicaments no other generation has faced before. And the traditional parent-child relationship that served Catholic generations has become less and less relevant.
The child has grown up in a future-looking, secular modern world while the parent has remained mired in the past, unable to grasp the configuration of modern life, much less its future. In an age of greater freedoms and easy access to social media where everyone is inter-connected, the Church has remained an island, insulated and alienated from a large number of its children.
There is, unfortunately, a major generation gap there. Its children are unwilling to be simply dictated upon and follow blindly. They have become more discerning, critical and questioning of an authority that wishes to rule over everything, including the conduct of their sex lives.
Moreover, in the midst of the scandals it has been embroiled in, including questionable financial transactions and charges of pedophilia and sexual abuse by clerics, the Church is finding it harder and harder to persuade its flock to obey by simply delivering homilies. Like an out-of-touch parent, it has resorted to scare tactics, bullying, and even outright disinformation. That is what we have seen in its behavior with regard to the RH debate.
In social media, where a very lively discussion on the RH bill has been going on for months, it is very clear that people on both sides of the debate are passionate about their positions. There are those who side with the position of the Church, but there are so many more who support the passage of the RH bill. The lines are drawn and the positions have hardened.
A great number of people are quite perplexed and have turned away from the position of the Church which they see as out-of-step with the times, authoritative, dictatorial and outright medieval. They feel let down by the virulent language and the disinformation, finding the CBCP’s behavior to be less than honest and forthright.
And it is partly because of this that on a deeper level, the ‘parent-child’ relationship between the Church and its flock has changed profoundly. The metaphor of Holy Mother Church propagated for centuries seems to be running its course. Clearly a new metaphor is needed. What is shaping up is an adherence to Christianity on a more personal, individualistic basis. Catholics are following the dictates of their consciences over the command of pastoral letters issued by bishops from time to time.
I was introduced to religion at an early age and I was quite devout during certain periods in my life. But as I grew older, I began to lose the taste for much of the trappings that go with its traditions. I began to feel that the Church was assuming to know too much what God wants His followers to do in the world. It delved too much into subjects and areas of modern living it knew little about. I began to see the bishops of the CBCP as rulers of an empire trying to hold on to its fading glory by edict in order to compete with secular power, often failing to consider scientific evidence and rational logic in its discourse with the community.
I know many priests, mostly Jesuits, who continue to inspire and demonstrate compassion, intelligence, love and respect for others amid the debate on RH and other issues. To me, they mirror a Christianity that is closer to the teachings of the Christ I got to know in school. They do not show disdain, judgment or condemnation for people who support the RH bill. Instead, they advise Catholics to follow their own consciences. They are some the few people I still listen to without cynicism when it comes to religious issues.
Earlier, I suggested that a person needs to undergo a crisis before embracing a religion. I also said that religion is like one’s parents. When a person is in crisis, his take on religion is simple: He asks for help. An adult on the verge of a meltdown would have a primal child-like yearning for the love and assurance of his mother or father that he will make it through.
But I also believe that in order to grow up and come into one’s own, one must step out of the sphere of influence of one’s parents’ and find his own truth. I remember telling my Mom once that to me, a parent’s job is to raise children who will ultimately outgrow them and become their own persons. She smiled, because that was precisely how she raised us.
In the same vein, I feel that to get to know God more, I must also travel on uncharted paths outside the paved roads of organized religion. Even without religion God I believe talks to each one of us.
I want a direct experience of God, not one filtered through dogma and other imposed restrictions.
After all, is there any religion that can truly and honestly claim to know God completely?