Sunday, January 27, 2008

WAy Too Much Heaven on Their minds

The Kastilas (as Filipinos call Spaniards) have been gone now for over a hundred years, the religious fanaticism they helped engender is still in evidence all across the Philippines. Case in point, millions of devotees showed up for this years Black Nazarene procession in the Quiapo district of Manila. Continuing a tradition that goes back over 400 years the mostly male crowd squeezed, jostled and shoved just to catch a glimpse of the life-sized statue of Jesus carrying his cross. While their devotion seems to almost border on idolatry, devotees swear by the miraculous healing powers of this religious relic.

During Holy Week, hundreds of penitents all over the Philippines whip themselves to a bloody pulp or nail themselves to a cross to atone for their sins.

To many foreigners and even Filipinos who have been out of the country for some time, the level of religiousness in the country can at times be disconcerting. For the almost four centuries of Spanish domination, religion was effectively used as a tool to keep the "hordes of indios" docile, submissive and subservient to the vastly outnumbered Spaniards. Proof that the kind of Catholicism promulgated in the islands was vastly different from that practiced in "mother Spain" becomes quite obvious when one compares religious attitudes of today's Spaniards with today's Filipinos. Spaniards seem to display a healthier, well-rounded non-fanatical view of religion compared to Filipinos who display a simple-minded, fanatical attitude to their faith.

Sadly, what has helped the Catholic church hang on to it's power and influence in the Philippines, has also retarded the growth of individual Filipinos and the country as a whole. Nowhere is this more evident than in the "bahala na" attitude of Filipinos which in some cases can translate to if God wills it, He will make it happen, whether I lift a finger or not--so why knock myself out trying!

And because most Filipinos seem more concerned with the "next life," many don't bother improving this one and thus live in filth and squalor. The end result is that while the country's neighbors strive to improve their living standards and become masters of their own destinies, Filipinos remain immobile, longing for a miracle, but even if that doesn't happen, at least they'll get their heavenly the NEXT life.