in conversations with my Pinay friend Sunshine who left for the US five years ago, and who came to visit in the middle of January, tears were necessarily in order. what was surprising was that while these would be shed in the first two hours or so for the distance we had kept and the things we had survived separately, the rest of our time together would be spent crying about nation, if not shaking our heads in dismay.
by the end of it i found that what needed to be articulated, what needed to come from me, what Sunshine needed to hear, was this: Catholicism, as we know it in this country, is the death of us.
of course this is not new, religion as the opium of the masses is as old as Marx himself. but too it seems we are at the point of absurdity: where elsewhere the poor and jobless and hungry are getting angry, here we continue to celebrate the smiles on people’s faces to the point of saying that it is what makes this space “fun” compared to elsewhere.
never mind that those smiles belie hunger and want. the truth is if you talked to the poor Filipino, if you sat with them and looked them in the eye, they will smile as they tell you of how hungry they are, they will smile as they offer you the little that they have. on a recent trip to Ifugao Province to interview farmers, they smiled as they said “CR ito ng mahirap,” they smiled as they said “we live off of debt, because there is no choice.” Manong William smiled as we sat looking at the farm he’s tilled for the past 40 years,”nothing has changed, i’m still poor.”
Manang Aida, a daycare teacher of Little Tadian since 1995 smiled as she told me about not getting a Christmas bonus from government. she smiled as she said: all i want is a salary increase of a thousand pesos. this would bring up her monthly pay to P4,300 pesos. this dream of a raise would be her first in the 17 years she’s worked here.
she smiled as she talked to me about debt being a matter of fact as it is a matter of survival.
elsewhere in the world the poor are angry. here they’ve been taught by notions of Catholicism to smile in the face of injustice. here they are taught to be thankful: in the midst of choicelessness, there will be the richer Filipino sharing his wealth. the rich share their blessings, the poor enjoy the fruits of sharing.
we forget that those riches are a product of precisely the things that oppress the poor. never mind that the accumulation of wealth, now at the point of shamelessness for this country’s oligarchies | capitalists | feudal lords (hello Kris Aquino!), is premised on precisely keeping the poor where they are: they cannot be taught that they deserve more, because they must remain thankful for whatever they are given.
welcome to the happy picture of the status quo!
in what turned out to be a long conversation with Anita about activism and this nation, she asked at some point: isn’t it the role of the Church to feed the hungry, help with the poverty?
not here. where Catholicism as we know it is what keeps the poor settling for what’s in front of them, what tells them they must be thankful for blessings — even as these come in the form of loansharks and big-ass capitalists-traders who are so willing to loan them money. not here where Catholicism as we know it keeps the rich thinking that everything is right with the world, where excess is justified as blessings, where sharing “a little” is enough.
not here where Catholicism as we know it is justification for poverty, as it is justification for the violence of wealth and feudalism and capitalist oppression. not here where Catholicism as we know it is at its most vile: where the rich are allowed basic rights like ending a marriage, are given the leeway to plan their families, while the poor are left to suffer with notions of sin and (un-)forgiveness.
here where we come from, Catholicism as we know it helps no one but the rich. it might be the opium of the poor, but it sure fuels the oppressions contingent upon keeping the wealthy and powerful where they are, doing what they do, no matter how violent or unjust that might be. here where we come from, Catholicism is precisely the reason why no change is possible … no wait: the poor can become poorer, and the rich can become richer, and Catholicism will tells us that we’re all good.
there was a time i thought feudalism and capitalism were the enemies. now it seems puny to the ideological enemy that is Catholicism as it functions in this nation. Spell Catholicism. Spell: the death of us.