Herbie Gomez .
ONE thing that President Duterte has proven to citizens of this predominantly Roman Catholic country is that lightning doesn’t really strike “blasphemers” dead — although it can at times, randomly, not due to “blasphemy” but because the luckless recipient of the abrupt electric discharge from a cloud is in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The President has shown that a man can openly mock any deity, call it “stupid” in front of the whole world, punch holes into what many people see as sacred narratives, and then get away with it without a scratch.
Another is that the influence of Catholic bishops and priests on the public is on the wane like tides ebbing away at noon. A March 2017 story by Michael French in The Atlantic cites a survey which results show that Filipino “Catholics attending church every week had fallen to 37 percent in 2013 from 64 percent in 1991.” If church attendance continued to decline at that rate since 2013, then that probably explains why the influence of Roman Catholic leaders, despite the Church remaining as one of the most trusted institutions in the country, if not the most trusted, has proven to be of no match to that of Duterte’s whose phenomenal approval ratings remained relatively high halfway through his six-year term — yes, even when he continues to badmouth the priests and bombard their beliefs to the core, and the very foundations of the Judeo-Christian faith.
One moment, Duterte questions and brings the spotlight on the improbability of the creation story in the Book of Genesis the way a skeptic does; the next, he claims to be a theist with a god endowed with common sense that is different from the deity being worshipped by the priests and whom he calls a “stupid god.” By dismissing the creation story as fiction, including “The Fall of Man,” Duterte also rejects the entire salvation narrative because the latter would have no leg to stand on without the former. In fact, he calls the crucifixion story “unimpressive” and the belief on the Trinity “silly.” Given all these, we can surmise that Duterte, although baptized as a Catholic, is someone who believes in some form of supernatural being with plenty of common sense but not the Judeo-Christian deity whose intelligence he mocks and belittles.
Yet in a number of extemporaneous speeches he delivered before Muslim Filipino crowds, I have noted Duterte’s rather respectful references to the deity in Islam whose name he has even carefully pronounced and accentuated. I find that a bit puzzling because, come to think of it, the name is merely the Arabic word for “God” referred to in the Abrahamic religions, most notably Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
The President’s inconsistency aside, it can still be established that Duterte is someone who believes in the existence of a deity whom he has even credited for making him the leader of this preponderantly Catholic nation. That settles it — Duterte is a theist or someone who believes in a god. (Which one? That is unclear.)
The problem is that Duterte’s hostility towards the Judeo-Christian deity, dogma, and leaders can always be misconstrued as agnosticism or even atheism which, in this country, is wrongly associated with the occult, devil worship, immorality, lack and absence of values, and with those who have given their lives no meaning at all. In this country, people still freak out over the thought that the guy next door rejects any form of religion, superstition, ghost stories, fairy tales, and just about any assertion and claim under the sun that cannot be substantiated. Simply put, such antagonism may be misinterpreted as the absence of a belief in any deity which is not really the case with Duterte because he claims to have an intelligent god.
I only hope that the day will not come when the slaughter of thousands of Filipinos in the guise of the so-called “war on drugs,” the administration’s strong aversion toward fundamental civil liberties, and Duterte’s apparent lack of good breeding and moral values would be blamed on his rejection of the Christian narratives and deity. Come to think of it, his administration’s policies have nothing to do with belief or disbelief in the assertion that morality can only come from the supernatural. But if that happens the way the Holocaust is incorrectly being blamed on Adolf Hitler’s “atheism” (like Duterte, Hitler was a baptized Catholic — both are actually theists), that would hurt the cause of skeptics and nonbelievers who are rightly seeking and working for their place in society, and further demonize the doubting Thomases in our midst. Pastilan.