By Jose Ma. Montelibano
It is refreshing for Filipino Cardinal Quevedo to publicly admit the split-level Christianity that most of us are participants and witnesses to daily – and having been so all our lives. It does not mean there are no exceptions, but the exceptions do not matter enough to significantly influence any reversal soon. Sad, isn’t it, and sadder still that this is not a momentary lapse of a lived faith but a dominant pattern.
I have personally rebelled against the way that many Christians are so verbally expressive in advocating religious teachings but are behaving in sharp contrast. Articulated statements being quoted from the Bible, whatever version, may sound nice and carry a deep resonance with what we know are true and good. But the way even the articulators live their lives, when matched with their saintly words, offer confusion. When words and actions do not jive, when they frequently contradict each other, they not only confuse but generate skepticism. In the end, truth suffers. In the end, society suffers.
When the present Pope, Francis I, began his leadership of the Catholic Church, his first public actuation served as grim reminders of how the hierarchy of the religious had veered away from the simplicity and integrity expected of them. Choosing ordinary living quarters and vehicles (as simple as the Vatican can make available to a pope) was already a quiet move that sent a loud message. He reorganized the financial setup, managers and priorities, and again sent a loud message with the least of words. But when he had to be vocal, he made sure that the most crucial of messages would be heard, officially, and they referred to the Church-neglected poor (“Go to the peripheries.”) and the narrow, inward-looking mindedness of leadership, whether theological or otherwise.
I have no illusions about the humanity even of Catholics, or especially of Catholics. After all, I am Filipino and Catholicism is the religion of a clear majority. In my view, there is a declining Catholic population by percentage, and why this is so. But then again, this is a situation that the Church hierarchy in the Philippines has not openly asked its laity to ponder on, or to offer suggestions on how to reverse. Living a life that is supposed to be in fidelity with the teachings of Christ is a serious struggle, even if I am convinced that it is worth it. After all, beyond the theology and dogma of religions, there is an authentic resonance to the virtues being promoted and the natural well-being that follows in the adherence to them. I also see how Filipinos of virtue, if there will be enough of them, could really lead to a religious, econo0mic and political renaissance in our society.
From my own shortcomings as a human being, a Filipino citizen and a Catholic, I have painfully learned how judging others inevitably leads to having to judge myself. It takes much objectivity and self-honesty to give credible assessments of others if we value intelligent and accurate conclusions. It is a constant effort to restrain commentaries, especially public ones, when I see mistakes and wrongdoings. Abut I also realize that my deliberate public silence on many controversial issues do not ease pressure on the wrongs and wrongdoers because millions of netizens invariably flood society with their opinions.
Split-level Christianity cannot but induce split-level morality since Christianity is the dominant faith of the Philippines. Before we can even consider our public officials and the morality they should live by, we have to ascertain that our families, churches and schools are effectively guided by the kind of moral standards we will demand from government. A split-level morality will necessarily produce a split-level governance where ideal ethics and laws will find spurious application. We only do with consistency that which is of greatest importance to us. Mouthing religious teachings is like mouthing laws and regulations. If we act differently from what we say, that is split-level morality, whether in faith or in governance.
The issues which manifest our split-level morality may vary from time to time, but the fundamental contradictions that cause this hypocrisy remain the same. For example, the preferential treatment for the poor which the Catholic Church espouses is not its defining posture but a mere afterthought, especially when compared to what the daily efforts of the church hierarchy, and the bulk of its resources, are focused on. Somehow, the priority of faith, hope and love and how these virtues drive the lives of the institution and its officers and members are too often overwhelmed by rituals and administrative operations. It can seem very much that religion and faith end up more business-like and even political.
But the same is true of governance, of justice, of law-making, of law enforcement, and the rollout of programs that are supposed to be for the collective well-being of society. The spirit of the law succumbs to the letter of the law, and the letter of the law is not measured by the benefits they generate but more by its compliance to procedure. Even when lives are on the line, especially in emergencies, signatures on documents can be more important than even hunger or death. If a bureaucrat releases food belonging to government so the hungry will not starve or die, he can be liable by law and can go to jail. But if a citizen dies because aid is withheld in compliance to law, the bureaucrat in charge will not have violated anything.
People are tired of split-level morality, split-level Christianity and split-level governance. This also means they are tired of the protocols that reek of the split-level morality that too often defines leadership in many areas of society. It also stands to reason that the minority who benefit from all the persistent split-level morality will be the ones who will be agitated when there is an honest-to-goodness pressure to reconcile a split-level into a whole, to dismantle hypocrisy in search of authenticity, to transcend confusion towards the truth. But whatever the cost, split-level morality must go.
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