We live in tragic times. Often we blame our troubled condition on others, on events outside ourselves, on failed institutions, on unjust societal structures. But the harsh reality is closer to home. We are hypocrites to ourselves. We do not act out from our deepest beliefs and convictions. We often betray our highest ideals and mock our principles through accommodation and rationalization.
There is a deep divide between what we personally believe in and what we actually do in our day-to-day lives. Already way back in the 1960s, the Filipino psychologist, Fr. Gerry Bulatao, S.J., called this, “split-level Christianity”. We have one behavior reserved for the one hour during Sunday Mass and another, often embarrassing behavior, for our business dealings, our trapo politics, and our family and professional relationships. Even some Bishops are not spared of this moral defect. We have become comfortable living in two harshly conflicting worlds.
This split has taken gigantic proportions today. We pride ourselves with being the largest Christian nation in Asia. Yet we also have the dubious reputation of being among the most corrupt countries in the world. We take pride in having the distinction of being the most spiritual nation in the world as pointed out by a number of international cross-country surveys since 1979. Yet we rank among one of the few failed states in Asia. In short, we insult our Christianity by the large-scale societal mess we create out of it.
This split level Christianity is also visible in our current political crisis. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) is often seen in photos praying and participating in the ceremonies of the Catholic Mass. Yet her government has emerged as one of the most deceitful, divisive and repressive regimes this country has ever had. And this is the reason why the vast majority of Filipinos are asking her to resign from office.
But GMA is not alone. We must not forget our own role in creating the present crisis. Many of us tend to rationalize our moral choices. These days, it seems all right to settle for “the lesser evil”, to prefer the known corrupt regime of GMA over unknown alternatives that we fear, to dismiss wrongdoing simply because everybody else is doing it, or to achieve ostensibly noble ends by whatever means. This moral cowardice has become the basis of many of our lives. Many lay the core meaning of their existence on values that reward cheating, lying and stealing over the struggle for true freedom and democracy. We have allowed corruption and deceit to slowly but surely become the new norms of our nation, thereby sowing the seeds of our own destruction.
We need a different kind of Christianity. We need a socially engaged Christianity, one that is not kept in the closet for fear of upsetting those who terrorize us by their corruption. We need a Christianity that is active in the world, one that can bring true compassion and justice to bear on the great challenges that we face as a nation. We need a socially engaged spirituality to heal the split in our psyche and in our nation, one that also links us to the depths of our identity.
We can start by re-thinking the meaning and substance of the Christian Festivals and Observances of the year. The Christian Cycle of the Year is rich with imagery and symbolism that we can mobilize to address the urgent needs of the country.
Take the case of the approaching holidays connected with All Souls Day and All Saints Day. Normally, in our culture of split-level Christianity, most Filipinos, with significant exceptions, use these days of remembrance to schedule long vacations and activities that have very little to do with Christianity and an authentic remembrance of souls departed.
Instead of continuing this empty tradition, socially engaged Christians can use this occasion to reflect on the lives of Filipinos who sacrificed or devoted their lives loving and serving the country and the whole of humanity. These days can then become an occasion to remember those individualities who can inspire us to continue their deeds of courage in behalf of true freedom, democracy and the genuine advancement of the nation.
The spiritual power of this approach has been demonstrated recently with an event that did just this kind of reframing of All Souls Day and All Saints Day. Hundreds recently joined the Peoples Assembly for Genuine Alternatives to Social Apathy (PAG-ASA) in a three-kilometer “lakaran” or walk from Plaza Miranda, to Luneta Park, and then on to Plaza Roma. In their “lakaran”, they enjoined people to remember Filipinos like Hermano Pule, the martyrs, Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora (GOMBURZA), Jose Rizal and Jaime Cardinal Sin – individuals who exemplified true freedom, spirituality, and the pursuit of democracy and justice in their lives.
At the same time, PAG-ASA also launched the R.I.P. signature campaign that was meant to build upon the coming observances on All Souls Day and All Saints Day. Instead of the normal RIP (“Rest In Peace”) expressed during these days, PAG-ASA’s RIP has come to mean, “Resign Immediately Peke!”, “peke” referring to GMA’s involvement in election fraud, among others. An interview by Korina Sanchez over DZMM on the RIP signature campaign resulted in a heavy stream of calls that lasted for several hours until the heavy electronic traffic shut down the two phone lines of PAG-ASA’s campaign center. PAG-ASA hopes to mobilize at least 1 million signatures from its RIP initiative.
Socially engaged Christianity and spirituality is a powerful force. Once we authentically link ourselves with and act out of the Divine Power that created the universe and all human beings, then no dictatorial force will be able to withstand the transformed power of socially engaged spirituality, and in the Philippine context, Christianity. Then, healing the split, we will all have the inner courage and strength to make a stand for the Truth, Love, for Freedom and Democracy despite the risks, despite criticism from others. Then we will have the strength of will to overcome the threat of paralysis by a future that is not clear. The future gives no guarantees. But aligned with Divine Intention, our vision of the future will ultimately prevail.