POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 30 September 2010, Thursday
Pinoy Private Lives
Filipinos are chismoso. We are interested in other people – what they are doing, who they are doing it with, why they are doing it. Pakikialam is a cultural norm, ‘norm’ defined by some as ‘the way we do things around here’. Norms are behavior patterns typical of societies or specific groups, and are deeply embedded in culture, ‘culture’ being the whole hodgepodge of what makes us uniquely Filipino, with norms just a part of it. Other elements of culture are values, belief systems, goals, attitudes, and the like.
Which brings me now to the point at hand – do Filipinos still have privacy? Or has our being pakialamero with each other diminished this to the point that social freedoms are being curtailed?
An alarming trend in local and world news is the rise of church-backed conservatism in sexual matters, despite the provision in the constitutions of many countries regarding the separation of Church and State.
In the Philippines, both are still entwined. Church groups have huge impact on politics – for instance, the Iglesia ni Kristo bloc vote especially during national elections. The Roman Catholic Church, which claims nearly 80% of the population as believers, sways opinion enough to influence laws. Most, if not all, government agencies have some sort of prayers during flag ceremonies, and hold Masses at anniversaries and other corporate gatherings, without regarding the feelings of non-Catholics, non-Christians, and non-believers, who are marginalized during such occasions.
The latest example of the impact of religion upon the law and society is the Church’s reaction to President Benigno S. Aquino III’s recent remark about Filipinos who opt to limit family size using contraceptives. The President said contraceptive use is a matter of choice, and that the government would “provide assistance to those who are without means if they want to employ a particular method.”
Fr. Melvin Castro, executive director of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, insinuated that the President’s statement was a direct result of the $434 million grant given by the United States to support Philippine poverty alleviation efforts.
“It’s just a small amount,” he said, “compared to the moral values that we are going to lose.” He said the grant, equivalent to P19 billion, is a “measly sum of money in the name of fighting poverty.” Castro was quoted by a daily newspaper as having said that the Church “would rather focus directly on the people to give them the needed values formation so that whatever the government does, their moral values and thinking will remain intact.” The Catholic Church remains strictly opposed to all forms of contraception except the unreliable rhythm and abstinence methods.
The crux of the matter is choice. The Church does not allow its adherents freedom in the privacy of their bedrooms – nakikialam sila by forbidding science and quoting dogma. Should not choice in such matters be left to the people involved? When a couple shuts the bedroom door, what they do in there is no one else’s business but their own.
Why would some Filipinos wish to limit family size? Because of poverty – the lack of sufficient income to raise and care for children and give them the advantages that they deserve. Filipinos are not only chismoso, they are alsomapagmahal. What parent can stand to see their children suffer from disease and malnutrition because they cannot afford to provide enough food and proper medical care? A good education in a private Catholic school, the ticket to good jobs and better opportunities, is only a dream for the masses, many of whom do not finish high school and live miserable lives in dead-end jobs, perpetuating a vicious cycle.
The truth of the matter is, contraceptives such as birth control pills and condoms are widely used because experience has shown that they are more reliable than natural methods in preventing pregnancy.
As for values formation by the Catholic Church, it has had over 400 years to instill that in Filipinos. Have they made much headway? “Not much”, is the straight answer.
Perhaps the Philippines is one of their last bastions – a country that is one of only two in the world that does not recognize absolute divorce. “Mother Spain” that gave us Catholicism, Portugal, France – once staunchly Catholic countries – all have divorce laws and provide their citizens access to scientific methods of birth control, among other social freedoms.
But it is not only in the Philippines that conservatives are up in arms. In the United States, Sarah Palin, and lately Christine O’Donnell, are pushing Bible-belt beliefs to the detriment of science and logic. O’Donnell is famous for such illogical one-liners as: “Why aren’t monkeys evolving into humans?” and “The Bible says that lust in your heart is committing adultery. So you can’t masturbate without lust.” In the Middle East, conservative Islamic groups in Iran are cracking down on women’s clothing and men’s haircuts.
Non-believers are pushing back against this trend. The rise of the “New Atheism” in the West, spearheaded by scientist Richard Dawkins and philosopher Christopher Hitchens has been meteoric in recent years, with billboards along highways in the US and on buses in the United Kingdom making people aware that they may still lead good, moral lives based on secular humanist principles. In the Philippines, groups such as Filipino Freethinkers and Pinoy Atheist are growing and holding more meetups, venues for debate and discussion.
Biopsychologist Nigel Barber said in a recent Huffington Post.com article that anthropologist James Fraser“proposed that scientific prediction and control of nature supplants religion as a means of controlling uncertainty in our lives.” Again, this points to faith and belief as matters of choice – the same as contraceptive use.
Why are religions nakikialam in government and the state? Laws should be based on reason and logic, not on the belief systems that often differ widely from each other in petty details. The Church should not be chismoso. Let government provide options. Let private lives remain exactly that.
Maybe someday, religion’s influence on government will stem from the positive elements most faiths share – peace, love, and acceptance. May that day come soon. ***