[OPINION] Walking away from the golden calf
Like 80.6% of Filipinos, I was raised Roman Catholic. I was baptized before I could even speak, received confirmation as a tween, and regularly took Holy Communion until I was 15 years old. A year after that, I lapsed.
My own journey towards unbelief is too complicated to be summarized in a single essay, and involves some topics I simply don’t have the energy to discuss publicly. But if I were to pinpoint the primary reason for my own unbelief, it would be cognitive dissonance. (READ: [PODCAST] I've Got An Opinion: I don't believe in god)
I was taught about a God of social justice, yet saw hypocrisies and cover-ups everywhere in the life of the Church. I was taught about a God who forsook the material world by a church obsessed with ivory statues to golden cups. I was taught not to worship false idols, yet the levels of opulence I saw in the Church and her followers left me with the feeling that they were simply using money as their proverbial golden calf.
Desperate to alleviate the dissonance I felt, I embarked on a personal search for Jesus. What I found wasn’t a reignition of faith – it was the final straw.
Most of you would agree when I say that books can change lives. One of those life-changing books – for me, at least – was Reza Aslan’s Zealot, my first foray into the discovery of the historical Jesus.
In that book, I expected to find a sanitized hippy who preached an apolitical gospel of tolerance. Instead, I found a radical whose “turn the other cheek” doctrine was a form of civil disobedience against oppressive Roman laws. I found a preacher who looked at the dregs of his society – adulteresses, Samaritans, tax collectors – and saw their inherent dignity. I found a zealot who wanted to free Jerusalem from imperialist Roman occupation, and for it was executed.
But most importantly, I found a revolutionary who despised the wealthy and powerful of his society. And not just the wealthy, but wealth itself – in his Sermon on the Mount, he said explicitly that one could not serve both God and money.
The milquetoast, apolitical Jesus Christ had died for me. In his place was Jesus of Nazareth – a Jewish radical from a long-exploited people who wanted an end to not just his people’s exploitation, but all exploitation everywhere. And like Mr. Aslan himself, I found the latter far more compelling a character than the former.
There comes a time in every reader’s life when they need to put the book down and go back to the real world. But when they do, they aren’t the same anymore; in some regards, they never can be the same. So it was with me.
Because of my background, teenage me often rubbed elbows with the Philippine business community. Many of these businesspeople claimed to serve God – and hey, who am I to say that their claims weren’t sincere? – but simultaneously saw money as a pillar of their worldview. And when these interests conflicted, money usually won. (READ: [OPINYON] Hindi ko kailangan ng relihiyon upang maging mabuting tao)
But these people didn’t pop out of thin air. These people professed their Catholic faith because Catholic doctrine taught them a whitewashed Jesus who didn’t get involved in politics, didn’t criticize structures of exploitation, and didn’t condemn money as a false idol. Which were, of course, all things the historical Jesus did. (READ: [OPINYON] Ikinasal ako sa isang atheist)
I knew in that moment that I could no longer claim membership in the Catholic Church in good faith – not just because of the hypocrites in her, but because of the inherent hypocrisy in her system. So, with no small reluctance in my heart, I left.
Later, I would develop more complicated problems with the Church that are too numerous to recount here; however, all these problems stem from the same inherent paradox. Imperialism, sexual abuse scandals, inaction during crises…all these arise from the Church’s unwillingness to put its money where its mouth is. All these are inherent in the system.
And it’s a system I can’t stay complicit in anymore. The Bible says not to believe in any false idol, be it the golden calf or the invisible hand – if there’s any lesson that’s stayed with me since becoming an unbeliever, it’s that one. – Rappler.com
Alfonso Divinagracia is a 22-year-old writer based in Makati. He likes philosophizing by himself over coffee and is currently taking up grad school in UP Diliman.