RH bill and this unnamed monsoon
While many of our fellow Filipinos this week were trying to salvage whatever was left untouched by an unnamed monsoon, some others kept themselves busy by reading the Bible. It was, however, a curious case of Bible reading. Exhibiting the profound creativity of many Filipinos, my Facebook accommodated a series of updates relating Genesis 8:7-12 to the fact that it was 8/7/12.
For those who are unaware, this passage has Noah sending off a raven and a dove “to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground.” As they found no place to perch, they inevitably came back to Noah.
For some people, the link between the passage and the date seemed to suggest that more rain was to come and the juxtaposed pictures of flooding all over the metro merely reinforced its prophetic tone.
At one level, this idea, which easily trended on my Facebook page, could easily be explained by the religious character of our society. True enough, according to the International Social Survey on Religion in 2008, 75% of Filipinos believe that the Bible “is the actual word of God and it is to be taken literally, word for word.”
At another level though, it could also be related to the apocalyptic inclinations of modern times, as unraveled to us by Hollywood in such films as, well, 2012. (If this rain were not yet the apocalypse, I don’t know what will be on December 21.) Sociologists explain that such apocalyptic themes in popular culture actually emanate from the heightened attention we have toward risk with global catastrophic consequences.
One can imagine the arrival of new diseases, climate change, and environmental destruction. Indeed, many of my friends on Facebook and Blackberry Messenger (yes, I have that, too) have validly raised the problem of environmental degradation in our country.
What makes the idea particularly curious, however, is how even some others have made the apocalyptic connection to God’s wrath on the Philippines for the public support for the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) Bill. The RH Bill makes it a national policy to provide, among other services, universal access to artificial contraception.
Indeed, the incessant rain has taken place in the wake of the decision of the House of Representatives to terminate the debates, which means it is now ready for second reading and amendments. In effect, the RH Bill, after long years of struggle in the Congress, is now one step closer to becoming a law.
The problem, however, is that the leadership of the Catholic Church in the Philippines has opposed it vehemently and has considered it anti-life and immoral for, as they argue, it will encourage promiscuity and even abortion. As suggested by a Facebook friend, maybe the unusual rain is God’s way of “telling us something.” A Twitter update I chanced upon, however, is more fearless: “Heavy rains, massive flooding. God is sending a strong message to those who will sign the RH Bill!”
I am not a theologian but this apocalyptic extension of Noah’s flood to the Philippines is curious for two reasons. On one hand, it assumes that God is preoccupied with every moral error. And He can be really nasty and hysterical especially if annoyed by politicians who do not want to listen to religious leaders. If anyone is to be blamed for this catastrophe, it can only be the 231 lawmakers who passed the first reading. Come to think of it, given the long history of humanity’s moral depravity, this God must be very, very tired.
But what makes this extension more interesting to me is the spate of reactions it generated online and in the news. Severe criticisms have been hurled at such an idea. Some remarks resorted to curses against the religious institution. But others were more tempered.
Some of my friends, for example, suggested that the apocalyptic link is a leap back toward irrationality and the Dark Ages. But an even more beautiful rendering comes from Migoy Lizada, my colleague from the English Department of the Ateneo de Manila University: “If you read the passage you'd know that it's not really about the devastating flood; it's a passage about hope. The worst was over, the waters were receding and God will fulfill later on his promise to Noah by painting a rainbow in the sky.”
Indeed, the apocalyptic reading is incomplete as it fails to grasp the message of verse 12: “He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.” Here, the God painted for us offers an alternative message: hope.
As a sociologist, I think the reactions the apocalyptic message has generated are to be expected, and here both sides of the RH aisle can learn two simple lessons.
Images of God
First, demonizing the other does not work. To misquote and ridicule simply breeds deeper hatred and furthers the unwillingness to understand each other. In this light alone, to relate the coincidence of 8/7/12 to Genesis 8:7-12 might be creative and curious. But to relate it to divine judgment for the act of the other is certainly distasteful.
Second, it helps to understand that appealing to a God of wrath, apart from being a theological dilemma, is no longer culturally relevant for many Filipinos today. The survey administered by the CBCP’s Episcopal Commission on Youth in 2002 shows that the top images of God among young people are those of parent, provider, and friend.
These are reflections of a God involved in interpersonal affairs, not of an old judge oblivious to the conditions of humanity. My own research among young people verifies this. They believe that God is personally engaged and willing to talk to them.
It is possible that this view of God as the God of hope explains why many are willing to remain positive in spite of natural catastrophes. From a sociological perspective, the God of suffering which some people can still appeal to for mercy and help in times of crisis might still be lingering.
But paralleling it is the belief that God is more interested in changing the world and He invites people to do that.
As I write this essay, volunteer mobilizations, fund-raising drives, and relief operations are already being organized by youth and adults alike.
The caveat is this: people may find more religious sincerity in these charitable activities than in the religious institution itself. - Rappler.com
(Dr Jayeel Serrano Cornelio is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Göttingen, Germany. He concurrently holds a teaching position in the Development Studies Program and the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the Ateneo de Manila University.)