Social Climate

A ‘Catholic’ country?


The fact that the great majority are Catholics, whereas only a minority are Muslims, is to me only a superficial reason to call the Philippines a “Catholic” country.  The fact that there are Catholic churches almost everywhere and mosques in only a few areas is also only external evidence.

If we Filipinos are “Catholic,” then shouldn’t we be similar to other Catholic peoples, particularly Spaniards, who introduced Christianity here in the first place?

In fact, however, Filipino Catholics are quite different from Spaniards with respect to basic attitudes related to religion. In many ways, Filipino Catholics are actually much more similar to Filipino Muslims.  I base this on the 2008 Survey on Religion of the International Social Survey Program (ISSP), my same source as last week.

Belief in God.  The national proportion of Filipinos firmly believing in God—as in “I know God really exists and I have no doubts about it”—is 84 percent. It is 83 percent among those declaring themselves Catholic, and 82 percent among those declaring themselves Muslim.

Among Spaniards, however, firm believers in God are only a minority 39 percent; this statistic amazed me when I first saw it. Among Americans, incidentally, they are a majority 61 percent, which is halfway between Filipinos and Spaniards.

Thus, Filipinos, Catholics and Muslims alike have much firmer belief in God than Spaniards. Ten percent of Spaniards are outright atheists, as in “I don’t believe in God.” Another 10 percent are agnostics, as in “I don’t know whether there is a God and I don’t believe there is any way to find out.”

In the Philippines, however, atheists and agnostics put together are only 2.2 percent of declared Catholics and only 1.5 percent of declared Muslims.  In the United States, 3 percent are atheists and 5 percent are agnostics.

Another 10 percent of Filipinos, another 20 percent of Spaniards, and another 17 percent of Americans are what I would call “almost-believers,” since they choose to say, “While I have doubts, I feel that I do believe in God.”  The balances from 100 percent are in the categories “I don’t believe in a personal God, but I do believe in a higher power of some kind” or else “I find myself believing in God some of the time, but not at others.”

In the ISSP 2008 survey samples—designed to be statistically representative of the national population in each country—Filipinos are Roman Catholic 81 percent, other Christian 6 percent, and 5 percent Muslim, Spaniards are Roman Catholic 75 percent, no religion 22 percent, and 1.3 percent Muslim, and Americans are Protestant 51 percent, Roman Catholic 24 percent, other Christian 4 percent, and Jewish 2 percent.

Basis for sainthood. The Philippines’ two saints, as canonized by Rome, are a paltry number compared to the saints of Spain. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Spanish Christians were martyred in the centuries of Moorish dominion over southern Spain, during which religious tolerance was only intermittent.

Saints are special individuals recognized, by masses of people and/or by religious authorities, as being surely in heaven (see “All Saints” by Robert Ellsberg, 1997, which includes Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King).  The Vatican requires documentation of some miracles as basis for accepting nominees.

Nowadays, only 48 percent of Spaniards even believe in life after death. Compare that to 81 percent of Filipino Catholics and 80 percent of Filipino Muslims.

Nowadays, only 45 percent of Spaniards believe in heaven.  Compare that to 93 percent of Filipino Catholics and 98 percent of Filipino Muslims.

Furthermore, nowadays only 32 percent of Spaniards believe in hell.  But 80 percent of Filipino Catholics and 94 percent of Filipino Muslims do.

Furthermore, only 41 percent of Spaniards believe in religious miracles.  But 67 percent of Filipino Catholics and 61 percent of Filipino Muslims do.

Although the ISSP 2008 survey did not have any question specifically about saints, the above findings suggest to me that the majority of Spaniards nowadays might be imagining the Spanish saints as merely legendary individuals.

The meaningfulness of God. To the survey statement, “Life is meaningful only because God exists,” 75 percent of Filipinos agree—the percentage is 74 among Catholics and 90 among Muslims.  But only 21 percent of Spaniards agree. Among Americans, the percentage is 46—again, midway between Filipinos and Spaniards.

To the survey statement, “Practicing religion is helpful to inner peace and happiness,” 92 percent of Filipinos agree—the percentage is 92 among Catholics and 98 among Muslims. But only 75 percent of Spaniards agree. Among Americans, the percentage is 87—closer to Filipinos than to Spaniards.

The holistic attitude to religion.  When the ISSP survey asked if “truth” can be found in only one religion, in many religions, or in no religion, “only one” was the answer of 41 percent of Filipinos (Catholics 40, Muslims 76), while “many” was chosen by 35 percent of Filipinos (Catholics 36, Muslims 18).

On the other hand, the dominant answer was “many” among both Spaniards (55 percent) and Americans (83 percent). “Only one” was the answer of only 23 percent of Spaniards and only 12 percent of Americans.

My conclusions: (a) Filipino Catholics and Filipino Muslims are similar because they are all Filipinos; (b) Protestant America is more Christian than Catholic Spain; (c) Spain can hardly be called “Catholic” anymore.
*  *  *
Contact SWS: www.sws.org.ph or mahar.mangahas@sws.org.ph.

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