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Monday, April 1, 2013

A Post-Holy Week Question

At 3 PM of 2013's Good Friday, I find myself with my partner and friends in a lovely (if old) church, located in the charming town of Pila. It's a sleepy town that has postcard-picture-perfect written all over it, almost defiantly going against modernity, but doing so with a smile.

A sleepy town, a big question.
(Courtesy of

As expected, the town's Catholics have converged in this church, to do their annual ritual: the Stations of the Cross, and the bisita iglesia. As a non-Catholic, I have always viewed these activities as quaint, having never been raised as one. I scanned the entire church, and saw what I see every year: people of this country's predominant faith, holding rosaries, earnestly praying, and if you ever had any doubt of this country's religiosity, a visit to any Catholic church during this four day retreat will lay to waste any such meanderings of thought.

Surveying my surroundings, I was surprised to see twelve men materialize out of nowhere, where the large church entrance was, in what looked like garbs from an Old Testament movie set, followed by two priests (highlighted by their regal colors). A man who acted like a floor director was giving instructions to the 12 men (I'm guessing they're supposed to represent the 12 apostles): "maglakad kayo ng mabagal" and they followed the instructions to a tee. The priests followed and when they all made their way to the front, the 14 men proceeded to lay, face down, flat on the floor (albeit on the rugs).

An audible gasp could be heard, and people at the back (like me) were straining to see what was happening. I was glad that I wasn't the only one who didn't know why they were practically kissing the floor, so I turned to the person next to me, definitely a Catholic from the respectful demeanor exuded and the rosary beads carried, and asked: "bakit ho sila nakadapa?" (why are they all facing down on the floor)

The response: "Ewan." (I don't know.)

In an instant, it ignited a burning question I have long had, which I tucked away in some corner of my consciousness: if you were never raised in any particular faith since childhood, would you have chosen the faith you now claim to be yours, if you had to make this decision only when you are considered an adult?

I ask this to everyone who claims they were born (insert religion here).

And I ask this because the meta-question I have is, do people know what they are saying yes to when they claim to be of this or that faith?

I realize the Catch-22-ness of the question I posed in bold: it's virtually impossible for people who have been brought up as (insert religion here) since the time they could think and talk, to distance themselves from their faith. The way we all were brought up (I'd say statistically an overwhelming majority) is such that what our parents hold as their faith has been instilled, pushed, hammered into us, pervading practically every facet of our lives - at home, in school, on Sundays. If you were part of a faith that required you to pray at certain times of the day, then this influence was not only on a daily basis, but many times over the course of a single day.

I am not saying this as judgment, of whether the practice is "good" or "bad". I ask these things because, frankly, by the time a child reaches the age of majority, the question of "choosing your own faith" and "freedom of religion" becomes almost superfluous, since every child would have been - for lack of a more succinct term - indoctrinated, over an 18 year head start, at least. The numbers don't lie: if your parents are (this particular faith), the chances are very high that you would also be of the same faith.

What I'm saying is, the choice has already been taken from every adult who has been raised a particular way. Even it is a fact that no one is born (insert faith here), how one was raised and in what tradition of faith makes it practically impossible to divorce it from a person's world view. (Pun intended, as most religions frown on divorce, some under pain of death.)

You don't need to "warn" me, about how my track of thought can be "offensive" to some people "of faith" - although I wonder how strong that faith is if a single question can cause so much unease that those offended would brand me as disrespectful or even worse. The truth is, I have been called worse, even back when I was in school, for needing to ask questions where faith was concerned.

That has been my lifelong observation: most of the big faiths, the one that claim the most adherents, do not inspire one to question, to ask, to wonder. Instead, they incite fear, guilt, and shame, for anyone daring to "question" authority. Followers are expected to nod their heads, be docile, follow the ancient order of things.

Rocking the boat has never been the favorite activity of religious leaders. If anything, they depend on their followers not doing so.

And, as a self-confessed "rocker," and an adult capable of choosing what suits my life best in a democratic country that allows me to do so, there are certain things I cannot abide by, as far as some religions are concerned.

I cannot fathom any religion that would, without question, relegate women to being inferior to men, in any way.

I cannot accept any faith that says while baby boys are the "highest blessing" they become almost deathly silent when a girl comes into a family.

I cannot stand idly by when any religion claims that those of other faiths are destined to a fiery pit, devoid of mutual respect for another person's right to choose their own faith.

I cannot sit still as any religious tradition would claim gay people to be abominations - as abominable as feasting on lobster night or getting the latest haircut ala your favorite K-Pop star - worthy of death just be being.

All along, I thought that faiths, at their best, were supposed to be sources of hope, of positive feelings, of trying to be better than you were. That when it is put into practice, it would result in more peace, more love, more understanding, and more compassion, to each other, and yes, to ourselves.

I do not see that, after almost four decades of existence.

I see wars that are fought as holy, claimed to be the a deity's decision. I see rapes, beatings and murders as justified, simply because it is "allowed" in one's religion. I see children, who are supposed to be the elixir of innocence, robbed of this precious commodity, by those who are supposed to be the caretakers of their flock's spiritual well-being.

I see hope torn asunder, life frittered away, dreams turned to embers.

I offer no answers, because each of us has to answer those questions ourselves.

When we say we are (insert faith here), do we know what it truly means?

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