This week in religion
DLS Pineda (The Philippine Star) - October 19, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines -Religion cannot be set aside in the week that was.

Monday saw Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) holding a massive medical mission all over the metro, providing medicine, goods and medical advice to many while disrupting and to some extent, shutting down Manila. The religious sect is celebrating 100 years of existence with a series of grand exhibitions that showcase what they can do as a community growing in size.

Tuesday was Eid’l Adha, The Feast of the Sacrifice, for our Muslim brothers and sisters. The feast celebrates Ibraham’s (Abraham) willingness to follow Allah as he dutifully agreed to sacrifice his young first-born son, Ismail (Ishmael). Likewise, the day also marks Ismail’s acceptance of his fate. It goes that Allah intervened just before Ibraham offered his son and provided Ibraham with a lamb to sacrifice in his son’s place. Greatness was bestowed on Ibraham and his descendants as reward for his obedience.

In Manila, Tuesday morning, we woke up to the news of a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hitting Bohol which consequently reached other portions of the Visayas. Homes and structures collapsed, including 10 of Bohol’s and Cebu’s old churches, some of them only partly damaged while several are completely lost to rubble. As of writing, the death toll has reached. As a nation in mourning, we extend our respects to those lost and to their families.

Ablaze with vitriol

But through it all, the Internet remained ablaze with vitriol. In the nameless and faceless world of social media, religion is a hot topic. Not by its own choice, religion is made a wasteland for intellectual dispute and primitive bashing in cyberspace where there’s zero accountability.

Monday’s traffic had netizens ranting of INC’s “inconsiderate cause.” INC members and supporters lashed back, cussing at how supposedly useless the Catholic Church has become in our poverty-stricken country. Freethinkers stood in the background, laughing at the ensuing argument between the two parties but offering only the absence of religion, or anti-religion, as the true salvation — a fatalistic argument riddled with numerous cultural and social conceits/deceits, especially in the Philippine context where indigenous and modern faiths compose much of daily life.

But come Tuesday afternoon, doomsayers, naysayers, fanatics, and the faithful were all up in arms, defending and postulating on their ideas and beliefs. With churches crumbling to the ground, people started quoting, rephrasing, and appropriating Bible and Quran passages here and there to prove the end of the world, the end of Christianity, or the rise of a “new” secularist, enlightened, and individualist faith.

While it is true that science has given us an explanation as to why earthquakes occur, this natural phenomenon puts us in our place as mere humans. Truly, and rather ironically, the most earthly of natural catastrophes is the easiest to credit to the sublime and the spiritual.

Ultimately powerless

Earthquakes are the only natural disasters that we, humans, are deemed ultimately powerless to predict, defy, or control. It is in no way dictated by our carbon emissions, rabid consumption, or our political agendas. So, in our desolation, we scramble to look for meanings behind them that match their awesome magnitude. And in many ways, we find that earthquakes cannot be anything else but an act of God — something or someone way bigger than us.

We see this, not only in the spiritual dimension of having a religion, but in the way we are asked to move now as a people. The earthquake, from its intensity alone, has required us to move away from division and into collective thought and action. As Benedict Anderson phrased it, we are asked to think of a Filipino community beyond the sphere we move in.

In a strange twist, the earthquake’s effect made it easier for us to veer away from the My-God-Is-Right-And-Your-God-Is-Wrong debate because it’s ultimately insensitive of the human condition or the reality that an earthquake just left us shattered. Instead, when we are asked to think of what the crumbling of churches meant, we can be rational and say that their collapse was brought about by their age (some reaching 400 years old) and the poor maintenance with which we have handled them. Or perhaps, you can say that it’s God telling us that with or without buildings, faith resides in the people. And with it, we will rise.

But to say that this is a message from God to abolish the Church/church is a return to the ancient times before Ibraham or Abraham. Because no, this is not a debate about religion. It is a challenge to believe in times of disbelief. As we have seen in our celebration of Ibraham’s sacrifice, having faith is not about doing what’s convenient. And to believe entails sacrifice — to reach the point of devastation, as this earthquake has left us, and persevere in hopes that something greater than ourselves will come out of it.

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Tweet the author @sarhentosilly.

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