What does one make of a fervently and outwardly religious people that elects for their president a man who is the antithesis of everything that the Church supposedly stands for? It highlights the question of whether the benefits derived from religious activities justify the aggregate time and resources spent by Filipinos attending to these (includes Sunday masses, holy days of obligation, saints' feastdays/fiestas, pilgrimages, etc.). If we, as a people choose to spend time and effort being Christians, then don't we owe it to ourselves as investors of this time and energy to ensure that we benefit from some return in the form of improved spirituality, sounder moral and ethical sensibilities, higher self-esteem, and simplicity of ideals? In short, are we not just better Christians but better people as a result of our devotion to such activities?

If anything, the Philippine Roman Catholic Church teaches us to distinguish between right and wrong by referring to Catechism rather than to our hearts. There is enough evidence to show that this is not working. The heart still rules human behaviour and where this is stifled by a repressive approach to guidance whether through religion or politics, an outlet will be found. Philippine society's venues for such outlets are predictably devoid of any authoritative guidance and our elections have become one of such venues.

The Catholic Church has reduced Filipinos to a guilt-ravaged people and the chaos that continues to engulf the country is a manifestation of an entire people's struggle to come to terms with this guilt. It is a guilt that Filipinos cannot understand because it emanates from a conscience that was nurtured by negative re-enforcement -- behavioural queues burnt into the psyche by fear of punishment and anticipation of reward rather than simple appreciation of personal fulfilment. One side of us clings to religious sacraments as a validation of our continued compliance to the black and white rules of our formal Catholic training and the other side gropes around for an alternate code ethics to deal with the real world of grey areas and a constant information deluge from other cultures. Spiritually, the Filipino is like a computer that is shoddily programmed to deal with situations that are not applicable to its environment. Anyone who's used such a computer is familiar with the annoying if not disastrous results.

We are still in the agonising process of developing such an alternate code of ethics, an effort the Catholic Church will have nothing to do with. Ironic, because such stubbornness on the part of the Church will be the ultimate cause of its slide to irrelevance. The Church's inability to prevent the fortunate election of President Ramos (a Protestant) and the unfortunate election of President Estrada are two signs that this is underway. This is compounded by its increasing identification with the Establishment as a power broker in Traditional Philippine Politics as demonstrated in its role in the two Edsa 'revolutions'.

What is uncertain is what might eventually replace the Catholic Church as a moral Pied Piper for the Filipino people. It already exercises little control over wayward sects such as the supposedly Catholic El Shaddai, which, in the days leading to the Edsa II 'revolution' organised a rally that attracted more participants than any of the mass actions conducted by pro and anti-Erap groups alike.

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