The right to defy religion

By Herbert Vego

I believe in God, but not in religion. It’s because of religion’s failure to take good care of her flock.

This is not to say, however, that a devout parishioner has no business questioning religious beliefs. Take note that the late Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, though a Roman Catholic, had defied the Church’s stand against population control when she voted to pass the Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (Republic Act No. 10354), which would make sex education and artificial contraceptives available to the poor.

I don’t recall her exact words, but it was obvious that she was decrying the prolonged interference of the Church in state affairs – way back from the Spanish era — and that it’s about time we thought for ourselves.

I believe that most Filipinos practice Christianity – whether Catholic, Aglipayan, Protestant or what-else – as a result of “parental guidance.”

The Jews, the Buddhists, the Muslims and the Hindus are as sure of their faith for various defensible reasons.

There was a time in the 1980s, for example, when I asked a visiting American Jew why he was asking us Christians to convert to Judaism.

His blunt answer: “Why?  It’s to follow Jesus Christ, who was a Jew!”

How could I disagree with a Biblical truth?

At the same time, I wondered why I had not met a Filipino Jew and had not seen a Filipino synagogue (Jewish house of worship) where I could pay a visit.

Born to an Aglipayan mother and a Seventh-Day Adventist father, I had repeatedly allowed myself to be “towed” to various sanctums of worship, only to shake my head.

It was on a Saturday when three women begged me to attend their church service.

Wrong timing. While we were entering their central church, two pastors were quarreling over who would preach the sermon. One of them was “outgoing” while the other was “incoming.” But the former had resisted relocation to a smaller chapel. Cooler heads had to intervene to abort a fistfight.

I gave up my search for “true religion” then and there, seeing the futility of finding the best among a thousand and one choices.

The Latin saying, “Vox populi, vox Dei” could not be right. If the voice of the Catholic majority in the Philippines were the voice of God, what about that of the Protestant majority in the United States?.

However, why should we even embrace Catholicism as our own when history tells us that it was only imposed on us by the oppressive Spanish conquistadors following the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan on March 16, 1521?

Otherwise, our nation could have turned predominantly Muslim like Indonesia and Malaysia because, by then, our southern natives had already known Allah.

If we were born in a Muslim theocracy where the Bible is banned – as in Saudi Arabia – some of us might also have condemned the “evil Christians.”

We don’t even have to move out of Christianity to see the impracticality of conformity. One of my persistent childhood memories dates back to the 1950s when my late father Juan and his friend Gerardo – an Iglesia ni Cristo member — would engage in religious “debates”

In one of such encounters, Gerry insisted, “Jesus is not God! He is a man who is also the Son of God.”

Tatay had a quick reply: “Well, then, if he is the Son of God, he must be God. In the same way, you are a man because you are a son of a man.”

The “debate” prolonged and ended with no winner.

Many emerging heads of Christian sects have done the unthinkable. Who would have thought that Pastor Apollo Quiboloy could convince TV viewers that he is “the appointed son of God”?

There are non-priests who advertise themselves as Roman Catholic servant-leaders through “fellowship” organizations. Naturally, they draw gullible Catholics to their prayer rallies and collect from them sacks of tax-free “love offerings.”

The goal of the religious follower is to gain eternal life while that of the cult leader is to gain money. While the follower waits for the fulfillment of his elusive goal, the leader has already achieved his.

The flood of money cascading from millions of followers has fueled the rise of cult personalities.  You must have read that when the Korean founder of the Unification Church (since 1954), Reverend Sun Myung Moon, died in September 2012, he had amassed billions of US dollars from five million adherents worldwide.

Locally, religious organizations also make money from politicians, mostly crooked, who generously “donate” – or “invest” — in exchange for their blocked votes.

If Filipino politicians, indeed mostly church-goers, were true Christians, why does graft and corruption prevail in the Philippines? How could that crooked path lead to heaven?

The more I read the Bible — which says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” — the more I disbelieve religious dogmas. I cannot in conscience reconcile monotheism or worship of one God with worship of secondary gods.

If I occasionally listen to TV or radio evangelists, it’s often for entertainment. One day I “died-died” laughing while listening to Ely Soriano of Dating Da-an fame say, “They call Virgin Mary ‘Gino-o’. But we all know that ‘gino-o’ means ‘mister’. Do they think of Jesus’ mother as a tomboy?”

Sus, gino-o! That reminds me of a quotation from 19th-century American essayist Henry David Thoreau: “Any fool can make a rule and every fool will mind it.”