All the way from New York I felt the collective rage of people stuck in traffic along EDSA on Friday night, August 29. When the religious minority Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC) showed their strength in numbers and disrupted major thoroughfares for reasons only its leaders will truly know, the rest of the metropolis was livid at the organization for inconveniencing them during a long weekend.
It was obvious that the followers were spoon-fed catch phrases and ordered to participate in a highly organized demonstration. It sought to cause such a headache that the government would be forced to listen to their concerns. Whether or not deals were brokered during this standoff, it showed the true colors of many of our politicians and how they leaned when it comes to this politically powerful religious sect. It brought forward the true influence INC did have in our government, even just for the mere refusal of the authorities to disperse the crowd or facilitate traffic at its height over the weekend.
Now that the members of INC who planted themselves on EDSA have dispersed, the country will attempt to go back to business as usual. Many will be quick to move on from their rage and criticism of this religious group and the government’s handling of the situation. As a nation we are quick to forget, but what can’t be shaken off so easily is how we reacted to a religious minority having put one over Metro Manila for the first time.
Even the smart ones among my Facebook friends bought into the anti-INC memes. From calling it a cult, to discussing its horrors they learned from their former INC friends, everyone suddenly had an opinion about the infamous sect. Many stated that as a sign of protest they would eat the dish dinuguan, a blood stew whose consumption is prohibited by this religion. We stooped so low as to attack a religion’s prohibitions and beliefs because we did not agree with some of its members’ actions.
How quickly we react when we are the ones inconvenienced. How fast can we turn their faith into a joke when we don’t agree with what some of them have done?
A religious minority
The reality is that outside their recent troubles, INC followers have kept mostly to themselves and have seldom interacted on a personal level with those outside their faith. In my Catholic high school, those who belonged to INC attended classes quietly, sat through and prayed with us during masses and other religious rites.
It is no huge secret that in any document or form one fills out in the Philippines, any answer aside from “Roman Catholic” in the box marked “Religion” is met with second glances. We are quick to say, “Palibhasa Protestante/Iglesia/Jehovah/Muslim” whenever we do not agree with a member of a religious minority.
When we highlight the differences between faiths and are quick to segregate religious minorities such as the INC, they feel marginalized, discriminated against and misunderstood. Is it any wonder that they are quick to unite as a single oppressed unit that is easily manipulated by its leaders and their own motives?
The fictional separation of church and state
We are only too quick to remind the INC that what they are protesting has nothing to do with separation of church and state, but we forget to remind ourselves about the many ways the state has actually intruded into our lives with laws based on Catholic teachings.
Entirely under our noses, Sorsogon has recently named itself a pro-life city banning pills, condoms, injectables, IUDs and all other forms of modern contraception – a legislation that has no modern social benefit other than to pander to religious voters and impose religious beliefs to the detriment of an entire community.
Even if we know this we don’t budge and this doesn’t bother us. We’re not affected.
The CBCP frequently influences lawmakers to create laws according to their religious beliefs even if the Philippines is not a theocracy and laws should benefit and protect all citizens and not just those belonging to certain religions. The Catholic Church pushed hard against the RH bill. It continues to impose its stance on same-sex marriage. Politicians continue to bribe and ask for the blessing of key Catholic leaders because it feeds their hunger for power.
And again, even if we know this, we don’t budge and this doesn’t bother us. We’re not affected.
Suddenly, when an ignored religious group plants itself on EDSA and pretends to be part of some kind of conceptual revolution that blocks Metro Manila’s major intersections, every single person becomes an expert on the separation of church and state.
All of a sudden we complain that a religion is pushing its way into our laws and into our government. Haven’t we noticed Catholic influence in our government and legislation before?
Is it because it’s another religion that’s being the nuisance and not the religion of the majority? Is it because we’re finally affected? Is it because we’re afraid that a religion with practices and beliefs different from ours is acting as a unit?
Is it scary because its followers are blindly following its leaders to the detriment of the country’s other citizens?
‘What’s your religion?’
Welcome to the world of religious minorities who deal with Catholic dominance every single day. Each day I am asked what my faith is and how I can be moral if I’m not part of an organized religion. Muslim Filipinos have to fight for their religious holidays, battle negative stereotypes, and fight for recognition in their own country. INC members feel mocked for their religious practices, worship days, and dress codes.
Does it have to take an ill-advised mass action to make Catholics realize that they aren’t the only powerful ones, that another religion’s followers blindly following its leaders can also wreak havoc on peace and order?
If you’re going to mock another religion’s beliefs and practices, consider it fair game to be mocked for your faith in a magical god who is floating in the sky. If you want people to think independently and not follow its leaders blindly and inconvenience others, do the same for yourself. Think independently, do not follow your religious leaders blindly, do not let them dictate what laws should be passed, because this interference inconveniences others and impacts their lives.
The great lesson
If it takes us to finally be affected before realizing how we affect others, make that a great lesson from this fiasco with the INC.
We are all connected. Their feeling of marginalization that fueled this ridiculous protest didn’t come from nowhere. It came from believing that they are not heard, recognized, or liked. It came from knowing they will not be heard unless they stand in our way.
It came from leaders that exist in all kinds of faiths – those who manipulate their constituents for their own personal gain, who make their followers do as they say in the name of their god.
If we want others to stop following their religions mindlessly, we need to stop doing it ourselves. We need to stop ALL religious leaders from meddling in our laws and in our lives. – Rappler.com