There’s the Rub

Holy orders

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Bishop Ramon Arguelles unburdened himself of some pretty burdensome thoughts last week. He waxed combative. “(Government) used everything—money, pressure, cheating— to pass the RH Law. And now they’re pleading for reconciliation? I don’t think so.”

Government’s show of extending the hand of friendship, he said, is merely aimed at making the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, which will hold its plenary at the end of this month, more amenable to RH. For the Church to yield to government’s overtures, Arguelles said, is for it to be seen as giving its blessings to the law.

RH, he said, represents the “culture of death.” “They say the Church is old-fashioned but we’re just defending life and trying to strengthen the family because (the RH Law) would destroy our culture and that is in the program of these foreigners who were with them …. If they want reconciliation—and here I do not speak for the other bishops—they should debunk the RH Law first. Get rid of it. That is against the order of God.”

You know something is profoundly wrong when someone starts talking about receiving orders from God. You know what they say: When someone begs to talk with God, that is called prayer. When someone hears God talking to him, that is called ting-a-ling. History is littered with monstrosities that came from people hearing God bidding them do certain things. William McKinley did so, or claimed to have done so, and before we knew it we were being invaded by his hordes in the name of Manifest Destiny.

The rest of us can only try to glean the divine will through the use of our faculties, our senses, our intellect, our reason, our hearts. Frankly, I don’t know that Arguelles isn’t giving God a bad press by suggesting God talks to him. Could it have been God speaking to us, through him, when he defended Gloria Arroyo’s right to inhabit Malacañang amid “Hello Garci” on the ground that everybody cheats anyway? Could it have been God speaking to us, through him, when he proposed, by his actions at least if not by his words, that the Arroyo regime represented a “culture of life”?

The problem is not that the Church is old-fashioned, it is that this Church is old-fashioned. Christ, it’s not just old-fashioned, it is out of date, out of this world, and out of its mind. Certainly, it is out of sync with its flock. This is the only Catholic Church in the world that forbids contraception and divorce, calling them elements of the “culture of death.” Italy, seat of Christendom, has both contraception and divorce, having one of the lowest birth rates in the world, if not the highest rates of divorce. Spain, the one country that brought Catholicism to us, has both contraception and divorce, and has one of the lowest birth rates in the world as well, if not the highest rates of divorce.

What is Arguelles saying? That the Catholic churches in those countries have been remiss in their duties? That they are not defending life and the family but listening to the heathen whisperings of pagan foreigners? That God does not talk to their bishops?

By refusing government’s attempts at reconciliation, indeed by continuing to buck RH long after it was passed, with not very veiled threats to make the congressmen and senators who voted for it pay for their sin at the polls, Arguelles and ilk have set themselves on a collision course with government. But the question is: Whom do they represent? Anyone who has gone through catechism school knows the Church is not just its officials, it is the community they serve too. It is not just the clergy, it is the flock too.

I’m glad Arguelles says he doesn’t speak for the other bishops. But this is not just a case of him not speaking for them, this is a case of him not speaking for the Church—the Church as defined by the entire community of faithful. In fact, this is not just a case of him not speaking for them, this is a case of him speaking against them. This is not just a case of him making a quarrel with government, this is a case of him making a quarrel with the faithful.

Most of that faithful accept RH, embrace RH, find in RH a hope for a better life. Most of that faithful have not stopped being faithful, they have just stopped having faith in their leaders who have been unfaithful to them. When Arguelles talks about the Church, which church does he mean?

In the end, it is this continuing mule-headed and wrongheaded railing against RH that constitutes a culture of death. It is a culture characterized by a cabal of men, aging or not, presuming to have the right of dominion over women’s bodies, presuming to have the right to decree what happens to women’s bodies. Which is really what RH is all about: It is the fight of women to reclaim their own bodies. Above all from the one power that has held them captive over the centuries: the fundamentalist religious one. “Sila  nga  magbuntis  nang  magbuntis” (Let them be the ones to get pregnant all the time), an irate woman told me.

You know you’re looking at a culture of death when you hear a male religious leader— which is really a redundancy, all the major religious orders being patriarchal—pontificating on what the role of women should be, moralizing on how women should act and do. Presumably because that is what God wants them to be, presumably because that is what God wants them to do. When that is merely what they want women to be, that is merely what they want them to do. That is true whether the religion is Christianity or Islam, whether the religion is Judaism or Hinduism.

You know you are looking at the culture of death when you hear someone telling you what to do because that is the order of God.

When all they are hearing is an order of

mami  large and  siopao  special.

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