There has been wall to wall coverage of these religious events on our two Filipino satellite channels, ABS-CBN and GMA. The city has been preparing for months for the Pope’s arrival, and the news stories have focused most of their stories on the Pope’s security, the Pope’s itinerary through
, and the devotional
entertainment that will be performed for the Pope by the faithful Catholics of
City . Then during the weekend, local programming
was interrupted with live updates of the Black Nazarene Procession. Businesses and schools were closed, traffic
was halted and the Quiapo district came to a grinding halt as millions of
Catholic Filipinos went stark raving mad over a wooden statue! Philippines
I should have said: celebrated their devotion to a holy relic. But I just can’t.
Since marrying a Filipino Catholic and especially since leaving Christianity myself, I have striven to be tolerant of Religion, and respectful of Faith. I truly have. After all, these people are Catholic Christians. They are not like lunatic Muslim fanatics who routinely believe themselves justified in killing anybody they perceive as insolent towards their particular brand of Faith. But there is something about watching a professional news reporter admiring the bloody feet of young men who chose to fight through a mob and touch the black effigy in their bare feet as a sign of their devotion and humility. As I watched the satellite news channels with Rosemary, my level of religious tolerance just saturated. It was exactly like watching fawning national news coverage of a state-sponsored Benny Hinn miracle rally.
I asked Rosemary if anybody in her family has ever participated (I refuse to say ‘celebrate’ as the Filipino press regularly does) in the Black Nazarene procession. No, she told me, her family would watch the event on television, but would never attend in person. They felt it was too dangerous. But they did admire the Faith of the people who did mob the area, as apparently all Faith is to be admired. Rosemary reminded me that not every one of the estimated 12 million people in the streets were devout Catholics. Many of them were pick-pockets. There were many vendors along the roadsides taking advantage of the opportunity by selling food and souvenirs. There were also quite a few daredevils who just wanted to fight through the mob as a thrill to tell their friends – sort of the Filipino equivalent of running with the bulls.
It is religious hysteria, I told her. It is well organized, mass scaled, delusional superstition. It is millions of desperate people believing in a miracle if they just so much as touch a magical statue. I asked her why people believe they will be cured if they touch a statue.
Rosemary: “It is just their belief. They are born with it. You cannot understand. You were not born there.”
Me: “I think I sort of understand. I remember my mom getting whipped into a frenzy by traveling revival preachers. Not as many people. Different method. But I think it is the same mindset. If I had my way, every one of those sons of bitches should have been thrown in jail. That is why this stuff bothers me so much. It is false hope. It is harmful superstition.”
Rosemary had heard lots of stories about the charismatic religious beliefs of my mother, and she could not understand our tent revival culture the same way I could not understand her Black Nazarene culture. But Faith is Faith no matter what the culture. The desperate hope for a miracle cure transcends boundaries.
Me: “The Pope is visiting
next week. He is an educated man. He seems to care about the poor. Why doesn’t he tell these people not to place
their hope in magical statues? Can’t he
tell them to stop getting hysterical about looking for miracles in a statue??” Manila
Rosemary: “Oh no, he would never do that.”
Me: “Why not? I mean, these Catholics believe in God don’t they? They should believe in prayer, shouldn’t they? If they need a miracle, why not go to Church during mass and pray for their miracle there. I mean even when I was a Christian myself I figured that out. I stopped believing in these traveling miracle salesmen and just prayed in Church. Why can’t somebody in authority, somebody that they will believe, tell them the truth??”
Rosemary, of course, had no answer or just did not want to discuss it, and I did not want to try her patience. I let it go.
On this occasion, like so many others, I feel like I have to walk a tightrope or balance a scale. On one plate of the scale is my society’s insistence on tolerance for different religions and cultures. I get that. I understand that. I cannot be so arrogant as to insist that my views and opinions about the nature of reality are superior to everybody who holds different views and opinions. But on the other plate of the scale is my tolerance level of what I see as obvious delusion, hysteria and superstition. I can live and let live, but at some point my tolerance level reaches its peak. When I see millions of people, as a unity, act with such irrationality, and a society that views this irrational behavior as virtuous, I feel like I am living in a Twilight Zone. I do not feel I am in a position to correct Faithful people who believe in the efficacy of this superstitious behavior. But I am sure glad that certain people had the courage to correct my own superstitious behavior.
Religious Tolerance vs. Calling Bullshit. It is a tightrope that I am still learning to walk.
video courtesy of inquirer.net :
video courtesy of inquirer.net :