Pacquiao, Corona, Lady Gaga, the CBCP and me

Sylvia Estrada Claudio
I have learned that some form of power and structure is necessary, that some traditions are important to keep, even as we move to change those that no longer help us thrive

Sylvia ClaudioMy psychological training and readings in Buddhism, have taught me the value of “decentering.” Decentering builds empathy and compassion. Decentering is what happens when a person “walks a mile in another’s shoes.” It is a necessary skill for the psychologist, who must come to an adequate understanding of the person seeking advice.  It means being able to take oneself out of the “center” of one’s world.    

Decentering can be a form of spiritual practice apart from a psychological skill.  It is one way to love one’s enemy. It is necessary to decenter when one disagrees with another person. The more fundamental the disagreement, the more difficult it is to decenter. And yet it is more important as the differences increase.   

Psychological studies show that homophobia is lessened when the bigoted person gets to interact with an increasing number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. Many programs for peace-building recognize exposure and exchange between groups as one mechanism for conflict resolution.   

Lessening the emphasis on the self leads to other spiritual gains. Immersion in a field, a forest, a mountain or an ocean evokes in me an understanding of being a miniscule part of a larger whole to which I owe respect and reverence.  

Because religious conservatives and groups like the CBCP rile me so deeply and so often, it is they that provide me the most opportunities for decentering. I try very hard to understand the lived realities  of Bishops.  

I am glad I have Catholic friends. It is to them I address questions like, “how can they rail again sexual sin and then be so lax when they deal with the sexual abuse of priests?” Or, “how can he stand there and lecture to the Filipino people about the immorality of the reproductive health bill, when I know he is a sexual harasser?”  

My friends explain to me that it is the role of the priest is to tell us what is right and wrong. That his years of study and prayer make him the expert on this matter. That the organization and laws of the Church give him this authority. In this sense, it has nothing to do with moral character of the priest.  

I appreciate such answers. My friends may not accept the reasoning, but they know that some of my questions only seem rhetorical.  

Such answers help me create a psychological profile of the CBCP and its conservative followers. (Not all Catholics are conservatives. Many see the same liberal Jesus that I see when I read the New Testament.) Psychologists distinguish between authoritarian and patriarchal leadership/parenting styles and democratic ones. In authoritarian families, the power to decide what is good for the family is held by the father (or in patriarchal systems, the father priest, Father of the Nation, God the Father). It is the psychological basis for cults and social movements based on the authority of its founder/s and its hierarchy.  

I agree, however, with the opinion of many child development experts that more democratic methods be used in raising children. Decision-making  should be shared between husband and wife and becomes increasingly consultative as the children mature. Such families teach children to think and feel for themselves. The capacity for taking responsibility for and control of one’s  life is also called “agency.” Agency is central to other aspects of success —family survival, academic excellence, self-efficacy, satisfaction and happiness. It is the educational foundation for citizens who must deal with the give-and-take of democratic political systems. It leads to a life-long comfort with change and the capacity to adapt.  

In any case, we see how the CBCP could never be guilty of blasphemy because as the Fathers of the Church, they determine what is good and what is evil. This brings me to the issue of Lady Gaga, and her blasphemy.  

The ground for their judgment is supposedly the song, “Judas.” No amount of protestations by the mother monster herself nor her baby monsters that the song is actually about temptation and forgiveness will change the law — it’s blasphemous.  

Because I respect the right to religious freedom, I will not contest that the song “Judas” is blasphemous. I am not a Catholic and leave to those who are, whether they wish to accept such an interpretation.   

I do, however, have a right to free expression when the CBCP makes political arguments in the secular space guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution.   

Religious zealots among the laity have added other reasons for protesting her concerts — her overt sexuality leading to the wrong moral values. They have entered into the political space by privileged speeches in the House of Representatives, rallies and demonstrations. These arguments are now subject to scrutiny and critique.

I, too, dislike certain shows that tend to make women objectified as mere sexual objects. I also dislike the view of pleasure and sexuality as always being about genital sex and reproduction. This is implied by those moralists who castigate women wearing skimpy clothes on a hot day, or women who breastfeed in public. My view of sexuality is that it need not always be about the genital or reproductive. I believe further that whether it is reproductive or not, one’s sexuality must be lived on one’s own terms — whether those terms accept or reject the CBCP’s interpretations and taboos.   

I got attracted to Lady Gaga when I saw a video of her where fireworks started spouting from the nipples of her sculpted costume. I thought it was an excellent parody of the commercial hypersexualization of modern culture.  

The point I am making is being a feminist-agnostic-democrat, it is easy for me to understand and forgive the sins of which Lady Gaga is accused. (One of the benefits of decentering is seeing one’s biases, understanding why one seems more compassionate towards some people and not to others.) I am afraid, I do not see them as sins at all.  

Which leads me to a discussion of the sins, which the Church seems tolerate. Sins, which seem to elicit more understanding and compassion.

For example, Chief Justice Renato Corona is accused having illegally accumulated wealth. I know this is not what the impeachment court accepted as one of the articles of impeachment. But the accusation is in the body of the articles transmitted. Corona himself took some time to talk about this when he “testified.”   

I have not, however, seen any rallies against Corona by the CBCP or any religious organization for that matter. On the contrary, it is reported that some religious leaders (some with another Church) have made favorable statements for him. Corona, does not blaspheme. Instead he has made repeated displays of piety during the course of the impeachment trial. This leads me to wonder whether it is because Churches are very wealthy institutions with long-held practices of accumulating wealth that they are silent or even supportive of Corona.  

In yet another vein, the Catholic Church has taken Manny Pacquiao to its bosom despite reports of his repeated womanizing. It reminds me of the stories of my Catholic friends who claim that some people donate to parish coffers in order to help the priest take care of the financial needs of his children. Pacquiao does not blaspheme either. He has clearly opposed gay marriage and the RH bill.
The reader might then ask, why the Church rallies strongly against pedophilia and homosexuality given the cases of the abuse of young boys that has plunged the Church into crisis. Why does it seem less compassionate for a sin with which it is familiar?  

My answer is that the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” is most often applied to LGBT persons by the Church. Many gay activists find this an impractical tenet to live by, because one cannot love oneself while hating one’s sexuality. I have seen this self-loathing however in the (admittedly few) seminarians and priests who have come to me for counseling. This reflects how these people feel about themselves — loving and hating all in one package. Loving the person while hating his sin may very well have come from the intimate knowledge of the particular sinner and the particular sin.  

Indeed it is on questions of disciplining their own, where power to determine right and wrong combines with familiarity with sins ascribed, that the Church has found its deepest challenges and its deepest crisis. For even as it condemns gay people strongly, its discipline of priests who have abused young boys has been exceedingly tolerant and gentle.  

My decentering towards the Church people who rile me has taught me to temper my anti-authoritarian and iconoclastic bent. I have learned that some form of power and structure is necessary. I have also learned that some traditions are important to keep, even as we move to change those that no longer help us thrive.  

The ability to be compassionate and the mechanisms that promote these must become a part of the self care of individuals and institutions.  

Thus, I believe social institutions need to break down all barriers that reserve certain powers and spaces to a select few. Such a set up skews institutional compassion towards the failings of the  wealthy, the heterosexuals and the men, leaving less compassion towards the failings of the poor, the women, LGBTs and other marginalized groups. –

(The author is director of the University of the Philippines Center for Women’s Studies.)

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