Pacquiao’s selective Christianity
To his credit, Manny Pacquiao has never claimed to be a saint. He has been very open about his previous life, which included drug use as a teenager (“I tried drugs … many kinds of drugs, all kinds of drugs … and then I realized it’s not good for the body”) and a bacchanalian lifestyle as an international celebrity (“I know how to gamble, I know how to drink, a lot of girls, womanizing, like that”). By his own narration, it was only after a vision of two angels with “white, long, big wings” that he changed his ways.
His conversion story is certainly compelling—one that has been warmly received by our predominantly Christian (even if majority Catholic) nation. Apart from his boxing fans—who at his zenith included David Beckham and Kobe Bryant—he has gained some admirers for standing up for his professed faith, both here and in America.
Even so, we should be bothered by some of his pontifications, which, far from advancing a true gospel, reveal a “selective Christianity” that not only undermines his evangelism but also betrays a spiritual double standard.
Consider his previous pronouncements on the legacy of Ferdinand Marcos: “No matter how bad a person is,” he said in a mix of Filipino and English, “the most important thing is for us to have forgiveness. Let our good Lord judge everything.” He added: “If we do not have forgiveness … we cannot move on.”
The boxer-senator seems not to see any difference between the Christian notion of forgiveness, which calls for repentance, and the one being invoked for the unrepentant Marcoses. In addition, he sees no contradiction between forgiving and refusing to judge Marcos and supporting President Duterte’s war on drugs, which involves prejudgment as well as a refusal to forgive suspected drug users.
Pacquiao also invokes the Bible to back the death penalty. Not content in drawing from the Old Testament practice of putting people to death, he cites the example of Jesus as proof that governments have the right to execute criminals. Needless to say, his statement is way off the mark: If anything, Christ’s crucifixion proves that the death penalty can victimize innocent people.
Equally worrisome is his reasoning that just because the Bible allowed the death penalty in ancient Israel, the death penalty bill being considered in the present-day Philippine Congress, with its dubious particulars, should be passed. In his obduracy he turns a blind eye not only to questions of commensurability and efficacy, but also to pertinent Biblical notions of social justice and redemption.
In many ways, we are all “selective” in our religions, not just in the theological sense of “having fallen short” of the glory of God, but also in the pragmatic sense of filtering what works best for our personal ends. Surely at some point in our lives we have been too quick to invoke the Bible if it’s for our interests, but otherwise we are content with setting its inconvenient truths aside.
But I would like to hold our elected leaders to a higher standard, especially when they invoke a moral standard. More a Mike Pence than a Donald Trump, Manny Pacquiao seems serious about his claims of hearing the voice of God, and sincere in his convictions, but all this only makes him more predisposed to pharisaical self-righteousness.
I still love Pacquiao the boxer—especially in his dominant wins against Dela Hoya and Hatton, his epic series versus Marquez, and his early, scrappy victories over Barrera and Morales. We as a nation owe him a lot for lifting our spirits, uniting us, and inspiring us to be proud of our nation. To some extent, I also appreciate his openness about his faith.
But our sympathies for the man himself notwithstanding, we cannot tolerate his preaching that flies in the face of reason. When we are confronted with his selective Christianity, our proper response ought to be selective appreciation—and, when called for, decisive disagreement with his unsound and “unbiblical” policies.
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Gideon Lasco (www.gideonlasco.com) is a medical doctor and anthropologist.
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