LGBTQ+ rights

[OPINION] Benny Abante and religious evil

Jayeel Cornelio
[OPINION] Benny Abante and religious evil
'I know that religious homophobia is everywhere in this country. But Abante's bill takes it to a whole new level.'

We must call it for what it is. Benny Abante’s homophobic bill is religious evil.

Through House Bill 5717, the representative of Manila’s 6th district wants to protect the rights of heterosexuals. 

But he does so at the expense of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Invoking freedom of expression, he wants people to continue expressing their beliefs “about homosexuality, bisexuality, and on transgenders and queers” based on “biblical principles and standards.” Of course, the beliefs he refers to are homophobic. Abante, after all, is also a fundamentalist pastor.

I know that religious homophobia is everywhere in this country. But this bill takes it to a whole new level. As a legislative move, it reinforces at the level of policy the many forms of discrimination the LGBTQ+ already deal with in school, church, and the workplace.

So, while I don’t think it will become a law (the bill itself reads like it was written by a student cramming a term paper), the rest of us have a moral obligation to expose it for what it truly is: religious evil.

What is religious evil?

The philosopher Daniel Kodaj defines religious evil as “evils perpetrated in the name of God.” This definition needs to be unpacked. 

The first is that it covers a wide range of atrocities. While religious evil is readily associated with physical violence, it may also come in the form of oppressive acts. Xenophobia, misogyny, and homophobia are discernible in people’s beliefs and attitudes. And yet they also become policies that systematically discriminate against other people.

Second, religious beliefs and convictions matter. While many of us might insist that “true religion” is not violent, the reality is that religious communities have drawn on beliefs and doctrines to justify evil acts. Consider this: when Pope Urban II launched the first crusade in the 11th century, he reportedly said that “Christ commands it.”

Third, what constitutes evil is necessarily perspectival. Salvation for one is perdition for another. At some point, the crusades, the witch hunts, and the Holocaust all received the nod of religious leaders. But today Christians look back with deep remorse about the role of their faith in these atrocities.

Benny Abante’s bill demonstrates these elements. Attached to the bill is an explanatory note. In a classic fundamentalist move, he begins it with the Genesis account of creation and then concludes that “it is clear that God created only two (2) genders.” 

All others, in effect, are abomination.

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The LGBTQ+ movement, in his view, is “in contravention to God’s law of creation and procreation and in utter defiance to…the principles and standards of proper conduct and righteous living that He set for an orderly and morally upright society.” With a messianic tone, he then comes to the defense of heterosexuals, who “should be respected and protected of their right to…freely proclaim God’s truths, principles, and standards even concerning gender and gender identities and expressions outside of God’s creation.”

By invoking the Bible, Abante’s legislative move is a moral crusade that no doubt many Filipinos will find laudable. This is to be expected since his religious discourse is widely shared by many Filipinos. It is also repeatedly rehearsed in churches and congregations around the country.

And yet his bill is also vicious. 

In his desire to protect the rights of the heterosexual, he legitimizes hatred against the LGBTQ+. This to him is his moral duty because the Philippines, as he wrongly asserts, is “the only ‘Christian’ country in the Far East.”

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The Bible in Philippine society

I end with a critical reflection about the place of religion in Philippine society. 

In response to religious homophobia, calls for the separation of church and state have been repeatedly made. What do they mean? Often, when people invoke the separation clause, they refer to the eradication of religious reasoning in policy-making.

I understand these calls, and to a certain extent, even agree with them. Legislators cannot enact laws based on religious reasoning. Contra Abante’s claim, the Philippines is a secular state that values people’s choices to practice (or not) their religious beliefs.

But I also believe these calls are not enough. This is because they won’t make a dent on the myopic character of religious discourse that pervades people’s moral worldviews.

Whether we admit it or not, much of the homophobia in Philippine society is derived from conservative religious worldviews. Abante’s assertion that heterosexuals “are the actual and direct creations of God” exemplifies this. 

But what Abante — and many other Christians of his stripe — fail to realize is that theological discussions about gender are far more complicated.

There are, for example, theological perspectives that embrace queer identities in the Christian faith. One may not necessarily agree with these perspectives, but they offer compelling viewpoints that many Filipinos must be made aware of.

I believe this progressive thinking in the religious sphere is much needed in our public sphere today. Filipinos everywhere need to be informed that Abante’s heteronormative reading of the Bible is but one perspective that is ulimately violent to those another fundamentalist senator has referred to as “mas masahol pa sa hayop.”

This means that people of faith need to be continuously engaged in dialogue and self-critique lest they commit “virtuous” atrocities today for which future generations will only hold them accountable.  

There’s always a better way of dealing with people who disagree with you. 

But Benny Abante, in the name of God, has chosen the path of violence. And violence, at its core, is evil. – Rappler.com

Jayeel Cornelio, PhD is the Associate Dean for Research and Creative Work at the Ateneo de Manila University. He is a 2021 TOYM awardee in the field of education and sociology. Follow him on Twitter @jayeel_cornelio.

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1 comment

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  1. ET

    Thanks to Dr. Jayeel Cornelio for this informative and well-argued article. Hope that House Bill 5717 will not become a Law. Someone has to keep track of its development in the legislative process of our country. People should also read this article, concern groups should discuss it and take organized action. They should not wait until House Bill 5717 will be concurred by the Senate and then forwarded to the Office of the President for President Marcos Jr.’s approval; because by that time, it might be too late.