Sunday, April 12, 2009

Is secularism a wimp outside a Christian society?

The Pinoy Holy Week is probably one of the best times to observe how secular values interact with the inherent religiosity of the people. While my senior citizen relatives would say that the Filipino has become less "religious", this meaning external manifestations of piety, mainly Tridentine, this isn't really correct. Traditional Catholic rituals seem to fulfill their function and in concert with secularism. So during Pabasa, people eat Jollibee's meat patties between buns.

Last Holy Tuesday, I was with two people with scientific and theological training in a Figaro coffeeshop. One is a Jesuit priest whose PhD I examined and one was a scientist who attended the same university I did. The scientist upon returning to the Philippines and teaching for a year, realized that he had a religious calling and went right into seminary. He graduated with dual degrees in ministry and biblical studies. Both clerics are ordained ministers of the Catholic and Evangelical churches. This was an unprecedented opportunity. I was sharing the table with Protestant and Catholic clergymen.

The topic of discussion turned to securlarism as both men had pastoral experience in England (The Jesuit spent time in Oxford and the Protestant minister spent time in London). In England I was told, the move for secularism has been much in the news lately. The government of the day wants that ancient laws discriminating Catholics be removed (allowing the Monarch to marry a Catholic). England is officially religious but in truth is waffingly secular. The USA on the other hand is officially secular but very religious. But in seems that in both societies, there is a line that divides the secular from the religious and that works for them.

In the Philippines, we agreed that the secular and the religious are hopelessly entangled. Since we all attended UP at some time, we noticed that even the UP icon "Oblation" is actually a Crucifixion allegory. This is something that cannot be lost even on the most atheisticallly secular. The statue has his arms stretched wide! After all the Latin "oblatio" is defined as a solemn offering to God.

So the secular and the religious are hoplessly enmeshed in the national university. No wonder when the more atheistic and secular admistrators in Quezon Hall decided to ban "prayer" on Palma Hall or threatened to revoke the leases on the Flying Saucer and Parabolic churches, the community essentially responded "Just you try"

Nothing ever came out of it. Ho hummm.

The debate in England may interest us according to the clerics. Not a few Catholics and other Protestants don't support disestablishing the Church of England. They are afraid that once that happens, English society will be cast off its Christian moorings and with that secular values that the English uphold. The thesis is that Secularism will be a wimp without its Christian moorings.

And why is that so? Secularism derives much of its values from Christianity. And this is not the dogmatic bit but that secular values can be reached using reason like articles of the Christian faith can be understood using the same faculties. The Roman Catholic Church requires that a Catholic use his/her faculties of reason before assenting to doctrine.

There might be a grain of truth in this. In Europe, Islamic militant fundamentalism is on the rise. Perhaps you cannot reason with a suicide bomber. This is why even the British National Secular Society wants Christians to join them against moves to make Sharia part of English Common law.

The BNSS has a majority membership of atheists.

Pope Benedict XVI failed to make the EU acknowledge Europe's Christian roots. But Benedict knows that a secular Europe is a wimp without Christianity. Benedict I believe understands it so well. He is much interested in what is happening in Turkey.

Turkey is probably the only majority Islamic country that is officially secular. But unlike in the majority Christian secular countries, the military keeps tight watch on political secularism. It has intervened in the past to ward off political Islam.

Israel is a Jewish state but many of its citizens are secular says this der Spiegel article. While many Israelis are discomfitted with religious Jews exercising much influence, they are forced to admit that their Jewish identity and their being Israeli are indissoluble. All Israelis for instance have to be married in religious rites. The secular nature of society is revealed when it is only in Israel that gays can be openly gay in the Middle East. Secular Israel seems to be viable only within religious Israel.

The parallels between a flourishing secularism in a majority Jewish state and in majority Christian states is worth noting. Is it that both faiths are so similar? After all Christianity according to one rabbi, is a form of Judaism.

Another case is Japan and China, which are secular but whose secular state institutions betray a religious nature. In Japan and China, people do worship but deny religious affiliation. In Japan 90% identify themselves as Buddhist and 90% identify themselves as Shintoists. But then again these classifications as constructed by the West. One can't imagine Japan as secular in the Western sense.

The Philippines is officially secular but obviously religious. While its brand of secularism was inherited from America, there is no clear line dividing the two. There must be space for secularism but it should be in Church.

So if we take out the Roman Catholic out of the Philippines, would Filipinos be tolerant of secularism and minority beliefs? How will Islam in the Philippines interact with our brand of Roman Catholic secularism?

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