women's rights

[Pastilan] When ‘till death do us part’ sounds like a threat

Herbie Gomez

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[Pastilan] When ‘till death do us part’ sounds like a threat
'Those Ateneo theologians have figured out that public policy should be about actual people living actual lives. If these brave souls in Ateneo can see that, maybe it’s time we all did.'

Picture this: a woman, getting beaten up black and blue by her husband for years. Years! She decides she wants a divorce. She wants to move on. She wants to pursue happiness. Get a little slice of that good life.

But no, no, no, no, no, she’s told that’s a bad thing to do. Immoral!

“That’s just the way it is,” they say, like it’s a law of physics or something. Or, “Don’t question it, ma’am, just keep taking those punches with a smile on your face! Because, you know, that’s what a good wife does.”

One wonders, why? Why is divorce such a bad thing in a situation like that? There’s no logical reason. Just a big, fat, hulking elephant in the room: religion. By that, I don’t mean just the Roman Catholic Church, which is a part of the lives of 85 million or so Filipinos.

Religion. It has this way of making people believe that staying in a toxic, soul-crushing relationship is a virtue. “Turn the other cheek,” they say. It preaches about the sanctity of marriage, but when a woman’s getting her face rearranged on a daily basis, somehow, that sanctity looks a bit tarnished, doesn’t it?

And in all these discussions about the divorce bill, we tiptoe around this gargantuan elephant. We treat it with kid gloves. We don’t want to offend the sensibilities of those whose sensibilities are already in a coma because of religion.

It makes me wonder why people listen to those who get their moral compass from a set of teachings that has more contradictions than Rodrigo Duterte’s pronouncements. They are basically the descendants of those who, once upon a time, thought that slavery was okay and that eating crabs and shrimps was an abomination, but stoning adulterers was just good old-fashioned justice.

It gets even crazier when legislators debate religious texts like they’re constitutional law and absolute truth. In a democracy, when a set of religious rules dictates policy, that is revolting. We have a diverse population. Some people follow different religions, and others are, plain and simple, irreligious. So why should all Filipinos be subjected to only one set of religious rules strange to them?

In public discourse, fear of offending “religious feelings” should be out of the equation. Get rid of that archaic law. When a set of religious teachings is ridiculous, when it harms, when it tells people what to think and how to behave, when it imposes itself on the government or tries to dictate state policies, when it teaches pseudo-science, of course, it can be criticized. In fact, it should be criticized and not treated like a sacred cow. Tell me, why should religion and its teachings be exempted?

Religion belittles man’s intelligence and calls it “foolishness.” Imagine that.

Many mock fugitive preacher Apollo Quiboloy for claiming that he is the “appointed son of God,” that he can start and make earthquakes stop, and that those who wish eternal salvation need to get his nod first. But what about those who say that there was a time when snakes and donkeys talked to humans? And then people just nod and say, “Yes, that makes perfect sense to me.”

What about those who are actually convinced that there was this man who was swallowed by an oversized fish and lived there for several days before being spat out? That sounds a bit like the Pinocchio story.

All the bad things in this world, we were taught, are because a man and a woman took a bite at an unidentified fruit that somehow gave them the ability to know the difference between what is right and what is wrong. Wasn’t that a case of simple disobedience deserving a simple reprimand? That doesn’t even merit a suspension order. 

And since when did empowering oneself to know right from wrong become the worst thing people could possibly do, if I may ask? If that’s the case, then people should throw out everything they learned in school because thinking is overrated.

When the religious start to realize how absurd their tales are and how they threaten an institution’s claim of infallibility, brains go into reboot mode. They hit CTRL-ALT-DELETE, and when it restarts, they’re back to square one, believing in talking snakes and donkeys, and oceanic Airbnbs.

Religion has this amazing way of making sure that the brain stays in that preposterous loop. People buy into it willingly, like it’s the best thing since sliced bread. Or should I say, manna from heaven?

So, imagine my surprise when I read about this group of theologians from Ateneo de Manila University who think the Church shouldn’t oppose the divorce bill. Well, alleluia! Finally, there are theologians out there who have figured out that public policy should be about actual people living actual lives.

At the risk of being accused of pushing some dangerous ideas, they said divorce doesn’t necessarily endanger the “institution of marriage,” which the Church teaches is rock solid like granite! That is, until one realizes it has more cracks than a fat plumber’s backside. Of course, the theologians are saying divorce should only be a last resort for those who truly need it. Agree. Nothing wrong with last resort.

This group of theologians is saying that maybe it’s time to think of marriage as a journey, not a sentence. If the road gets too rough, maybe it’s not really such a bad thing to find a new path. Marriage shouldn’t feel like a life sentence with no possibility of parole.

It’s about making lives better, not just following some rules that, come to think of it, really make no sense at all. If these brave souls in Ateneo can see that, maybe it’s time we all did.

I say this Ateneo group should keep shaking things up.

Maybe, just maybe, we should let couples who failed to make it work get their divorce, especially that woman who’s getting beaten black and blue. Let them find some happiness. And let’s stop pretending that staying miserable is somehow the high road. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that life is too short to spend it getting beaten up – by your spouse or by the outdated, hypocritical teachings based on some script written by homophobic, gender-biased, and slave-owning men thousands of years ago.

Let’s be happy for all the couples who don’t need a divorce. They deserve congratulations. But we need to face the reality that some couples are really unhappy and need it.

Finally, we should treat religion like genitalia: love it, take care of it, but stop flaunting it and dangling it in other people’s faces. 

Pastilan. – Rappler.com

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Herbie Gomez

Herbie Salvosa Gomez is coordinator of Rappler’s bureau in Mindanao, where he has practiced journalism for over three decades. He writes a column called “Pastilan,” after a familiar expression in Cagayan de Oro, tackling issues in the Southern Philippines.