THE DIFFERENCE in capitalization was intentional to reflect a different kind of boxing match that’s been running not just after Manny Pacquiao’s last bout but for several decades now, with its intensity picking up recently.
Poor Pacquiao is now being berated by Mommy Dionisia, his mother, and people in the streets, for having abandoned Catholicism in favor of “Protestantism” (quotation marks to be explained in a while), and that his losing to Juan Manuel Marquez was the catastrophic result.
The basis for calling Pacquiao Protestant was his not making a sign of the cross, and not flashing a rosary, as he did in previous boxing matches. Observers also use as “evidence” of his becoming Protestant his frequent citations of biblical passages, in speeches as well as in his congressional website (mannypacquiao.com), including one where he paraphrases Corinthians about being a new man.
Only Pacquiao can answer what his preferred religious affiliation is, but I’m more interested in how these public discussions reflect Filipino religious culture, which boils down to pitting my (true) God versus your (false) god, the “true” God.
In the case of Pacquiao, it has been my (Catholic) God versus your (Protestant) god, but we’ve seen many other variations, Catholics versus Philippine Independent Church (PIC), Catholics versus Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), INC versus Eli Soriano’s Ang Dating Daan. Language says it all, as when Catholics call the PIC Aglipayan, and the INC the Manalo church, as Christians called Muslims “Mohammedanism.” The shift to the founders of these religions is intentional, suggesting an inferior status to the one supreme, holy, Catholic Church.
But more than names and name-calling, it is each group’s claim to a monopoly on truth, usually around the interpretation of the Bible. Quoting and interpreting the Bible seem to be more a hallmark of non-Catholics, which is why Pacquiao becomes a “suspect” Protestant.
Beyond scriptural interpretations though, religions like to claim they are upholding some kind of natural order or natural law, and that violation of that order brings about disaster. We’ve seen that argument repeated several times by Catholic bishops and lay leaders, who interpreted Tropical Storm “Ondoy” and the recent Typhoon “Pablo,” as well as the powerful habagat (western monsoon) a few months ago, as divine punishment for the country’s considering a reproductive health (RH) bill. RH is interpreted as unnatural, therefore bringing natural disasters.
Now that Pacquiao is under fire for violating some kind of natural order (true God versus false god), I am glad to hear Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ Francis Luna, executive director of the Episcopal Commission on Social Communications and Mass Media, declaring, “Our God is not a vengeful God but a God of love.” I hope the Catholic leaders can go a step further and counter the proposition of a wrathful God killing dirt-poor villagers in Compostela Village for reproductive health discussions in Manila.
The image of a wrathful God does exist in the Old Testament, from the punishment of Egyptians for enslaving Israelites, to Sodom and Gomorrha, and Pacquiao himself has had his share too of selective scriptural quoting to support his views. He has repeatedly attacked the RH bill and family planning, quoting the Bible as well as coming up with homespun wisdom to the effect that if his parents had practiced family planning, there would be no Pacman.
He also used the Bible in an interview last May with the American newspaper National Conservative Examiner to express his disagreement with same-sex marriage and with homosexuality. He was even quoted as citing a passage in Leviticus which prescribes death for same-sex relations. He later denied using that passage but still drew fire not just from lesbian and gay groups but other Filipinos who saw his statements as gross prejudice and intolerance.
After his anti-RH statements last year, including a speech in Congress, Pacquiao was for some time put up as a kind of poster boy by the conservative Catholic bishops, but he seems to have lost favor since then, perhaps because of this alleged conversion to Protestantism. Yet, whatever that shift might be called, it has, Pacquiao claims, made him a new man, claiming in an interview with ABS-CBN last January that he had given up his vices, including womanizing, drinking and gambling.
In claiming that he lost this latest boxing match because of divine intervention, people are suggesting a new life has no meaning because his new God is, well, a false god, and the true God is punishing him for his religious turncoatism.
There’s more. Pacquiao turned a new leaf shortly after a bout with Juan Manuel Marquez in 2011, when he dreamed he was in a forest and a bright light came out with a voice asking, “Son, why are you going away from me?” (See digitaljournal.com/article/317950 for a full account.) Are we saying then this true God was rewarding him all these years through victories, and then asking him to turn his back on sin, and then, after Pacquiao follows this divine voice, delivering him to defeat in the hands of Marquez?
The emphasis on the sign of the cross and the rosary as necessary for boxing victory is intriguing too, supposedly markers of one’s Catholicism, yet falling back on pagan animism, where objects are attributed with magical powers, backed by God.
But then again, we see so much of that animism even among the guardians of the Catholic faith, as was shown in that National Geographic exposé of an illegal ivory trade. That issue, which used the ivory trade as a cover story, should still be in the newsstands, together with photographs of elephants slaughtered for their tusks to make religious images. Filipino priests, including a monsignor, were interviewed, revealing a scandalous fetish for ivory. Note that here, there is no inter-faith competition; Protestants are scandalized by what is interpreted as idolatry in the use of Catholic images. Instead, the competition is among Catholics themselves: My ivory image is more powerful than your wooden image.
Let’s face it, local Catholicism has reduced religious objects into anting-anting or amulets. Yet, note that Pacquiao did have his rosary and sign of the cross when he fought Tim Bradley in June this year. . . and lost. (See a blog lifeandfever.com by Dr. Stef dela Cruz for an interesting exchange of views at that time.)
Of course, one could argue the Bradley fight was rigged. Or that maybe Pacquiao had already become a Protestant and so still drew gaba or divine retribution. Or maybe like Job in the Old Testament, he is being tested for his faith.
There will always be some kind of rationalization of the irrational since there’s no way of asking God or the gods if he (or she) takes sides, in times of wrath bringing floods and landslides and rains, or raining blows on boxers.
Meanwhile, the bookmakers are hoping for more Pacquiao fights. There were Filipinos who did bet on Marquez and, I hear, got P250 for every P100 they bet. Did these people read God’s mind, or were they just smart in recognizing that maybe it’s time for Pacquiao to retire and spend more productive and healthy years with his family and loved ones.