My first thought was that they were text jokes, and if so the joke was on them since they had just texted someone out of the country. But no, they weren’t jokes at all, they were perfectly serious.
Did you notice, said one, that Manny Pacquiao did not make the Sign of the Cross and wasn’t wearing his usual rosary beads when he came in? That’s what you get for turning your back on faith. At least, said another, in the past Pacquiao was just unfaithful to his wife, now he is unfaithful to his beliefs.
Netizens were quick to jump on the point. Many of them did notice that Pacquiao failed to make the Sign of the Cross and bewailed the fact. In fact, they noticed that he did not hear Mass but attended a spiritual service in his private quarters at Mandalay before the fight. Others were a little more sensible, or cynical. Well, they said, he had been crossing himself before this, but he didn’t win all his fights anyway. More to the point, they said, the Mexicans crossed themselves too, they were Catholics too. Look what happened to them. Does that mean Pacquiao’s Sign of the Cross was more potent than theirs?
Dionisia Pacquiao, Manny’s equally famous mother, added fuel to the fire by being a little more categorical. It was his change of beliefs, she fumed. Specifically, it was his “Protestant pastors,” as she calls his spiritual advisers, that cost him the fight. Though she had a more rational explanation for it: “Since the Protestant pastors came into his life, he has not focused on boxing. They always pray, with Manny losing sleep. I hope he listens to me when he returns, and be a Catholic again.”
Well, we’re free to debate the wisdom of Pacquiao’s conversion to the born-again fold to our heart’s content, but as an explanation for his defeat it’s rather embarrassing. Outside looking in particularly, which was how I got wind of it, while still in the United States. You don’t have to be a disbeliever or cynic to cringe at it, and I’m glad it got no coverage outside the country other than from the Pinoy media in the United States. The Filipino Channel dwelt on it at length, as well as some Fil-Am newspapers, but it got no farther. It would have been adding insult to injury, farce to tragedy. Certainly it wouldn’t have helped improve the Filipinos’ standing in their land of exile, or adopted home.
Again, you don’t have to be a disbeliever or cynic to see what’s wrong with it. At the very least, what does that view of earth, or heaven, make of Providence? That he (or she) is a boxing fan who watches fights eagerly and decides to bestow his blessings on those who worship him more ardently or more according to his prescribed rules of worship? Or who picks favorites, favoring Filipinos more than other nationalities (with the exception of the Jews who like to think of themselves as his absolute favorite), for no other reason than that they are Filipinos?
Rather like the Olympian gods, brilliantly depicted in the original “Clash of the Titans” who had favorites, quite apart from lovers among mortals, and decreed the latter’s fates by their individual partialities or whim. The title is ironic: It wasn’t just a clash of mortals, of heroes versus villains, it was a clash of the gods, of Zeus versus the other gods or goddesses jealous of his love for his mortal son, Perseus. Except that in this case, there is only one deity who is believed to be exceptionally partial to the champion of his second favorite people, until the day that champion scorns him by this act of unfaithfulness.
At the very most, what does this view of earth or heaven make of Providence? That he approves of boxing and moves in mysterious ways in the ring, finding in its goings-on a way to extol divine grandeur? When I first heard the theory about Pacquiao’s crushing defeat being God’s punishment of a scale of an Egyptian plague, I thought of my friend Nandy Pacheco and wondered what he thought about it. Nandy is as devoutly religious as it gets and is as averse to boxing as it gets. His philosophy, which has extended to Kapatiran, being that God cannot possibly condone violence, and boxing is nothing if not violent. Perhaps on a scale less than guns, but violent just the same.
I was about to say rather like the times of the Crusades when the Christians imagined God to be on their side and the Muslims imagined Allah to be on theirs. Except that the same thing continues to this day, the American Tea Party thinking God to be on their side and the al-Qaida thinking Allah to be on theirs. As though God or Allah approves of wars, or wholesale carnage, and bestows his blessings on one side or the other depending on how loudly they pray to him.
Best to keep earthly matters to the earth. Best to keep mundane matters to the mundo. By all means let’s be religious, by all means let’s turn to prayer and supplication as much as we want, or need. But let’s not turn religion into some kind of anting-anting, or talisman, the better to win wars, to win fights, to dodge the bullets of the police in a running gunbattle with them. Let’s not turn God into a whimsical deity or a bored one with all the time in the world and nothing better to do, and raise all sorts of questions about whether God created us in his image and likeness or we are creating God in our image and likeness. With all our flaws, with all our foibles, with all our pettiness.
I don’t know which is more dismaying, that Pacquiao should show the world he has feet of clay with this fight, or that we should show ourselves we have faith of clay with our reaction to it. Or a faith that has more to do with form than substance, with ritual than meaning, with things that happen outside of us than within.
With Christmas rushing in, something to think about.