Have we been praying to the wrong God?
In as little as three years, the Philippines will be in the throes of a dubious milestone. It will mark 500 years since Magellan claimed these islands for Spain, effectively bringing with him Christianity.
Tens of billions of prayers have been recited since 1521 to a singular deity we call God. After five centuries of “Hail Marys,” “Our Fathers,” and countless public and private messages to our God, is it fair now to take stock and see what we’ve got? Why shouldn’t we? China and Japan have been praying to a different God; much of northern Europe doesn’t even have any, and look what it’s got.
How much repetition does an all-powerful, omniscient, omnipotent God need? How many different petitions can be asked that had not been asked billions of times before? When are we going to see a better life expectancy for ourselves (68.5 years, with Japan at 84 and North Korea, 70.5)? When are we going to see lesser poverty? Lesser corruption? A higher IQ for our children (86, with Singapore at 108, according to a commentary by Dr. Leonardo Leonidas, Inquirer Opinion, 2/18/18, and the University of Santo Tomas, our Pontifical University, older than Harvard, nowhere in the top 300 in Asia)? Why are we the most violent country in Asia (Japan is the least, according to the World Health Organization in 2014)? Why aren’t we the moral leader in the region?
Does prayer work? Science has plenty of double-blind studies that say calling on a supernatural intervener on somebody’s behalf has failed 100 percent. Surely there are lots of anecdotal evidence that say otherwise. Psychologists call this “confirmation bias.” The suggestive power of a believing brain has all the biochemical clues of a dopamine-serotonin surge akin to what a jogger feels after a shower.
While visiting Cebu last year, I saw the Cross and Basilica. Women were reciting unintelligible prayers for a fee or lighting candles on behalf of your intentions. I remember the faces of poverty — old beyond their years, toothless, wearing frayed flip flops, chasing visitors with whatever they’re selling. What a pity that we have descended to this, where it all started no less. But of course, I never asked myself the same question when I used to go to Confession: How did I ever buy into this nonsense?
There is a certain smugness when we identify ourselves as the only Christian nation in Asia. We seem to forget that this belief does not make anything true. “Argumentum ad populum” (if many believe so, it is so) is, to the eyes of the faithful, sufficient to make them certain of their belief. The many others who subscribe to a different God are as sure and as dedicated as ours. If blowing yourself to pieces on behalf of your God is a measure of your devotion, then I believe we are well behind the others. In fact, we are behind not only on this measure; we are a laggard when it comes to commitment. That’s why there are no riots in this country. Egypt and Turkey have had major upheavals due to lesser causes.
We have, for the most part, young Christian adherents or “mindless conformists” who have little clue of what they stand for other than just keeping the inherited religion in the family. I call them “Catholic Lite”—a crowd too lazy to think for themselves and clinging to whatever the Church preaches. For the poor, the largest driver of faith, there are few options. The Church continues to present itself as purveyors of reward for the poor. For governments, encouraging them is a cheap way of keeping a lid on an anarchical potential.
In the end, we are continually and constantly harangued as sinful creatures in constant need of absolution. Like a drug addict in need of a fix, we are a slave to a false dependency. Subjugation, religious intimidation, absolutist ideology—all hallmarks of organized religion — have perpetuated fear as a conditioning tool. Throughout history, many Gods have come and gone, part of ongoing evolution as humans continue to adapt to an ever-changing spiritual environment.
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Edwin de Leon, M.Ed. (firstname.lastname@example.org), is “a retired science teacher and high school principal, a secular humanist and recovering Catholic.”
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