I have heard many accounts of Janet Napoles being a very religious woman. She supported various charities and sponsored many seminarians and priests, several of whom even came to her defense against the allegations of whistleblower Benhur Luy. She even bought the priests a retreat house in Magallanes village.
I just think about it now this Easter because Napoles isn’t the only figure in a controversial corruption case who has been described as a religious person.
This is somewhat symptomatic as well of how Filipinos practice religion or the Catholic faith in this predominantly Catholic nation.
One of the more influential Christian thinkers, C. F. Blumhardt (1842-1919), once said, “So many people claim to believe in the Resurrection, and yet it means so little to them. It has no effect in their lives. It is not enough to celebrate Easter and say ‘Christ is risen!’ Indeed, it is useless to proclaim it at all, unless at the same time we can say that we too have risen.”
I cannot help but ponder the kind of Christianity or Catholicism we practice here in the Philippines and whether such has any role to play in the rut we find ourselves in as a nation.
Indeed, going by the number of religious festivals we have here, the places of worship that dot our landscape, and the religious symbols we see at homes, in workplaces and on people, one can’t deny by casual observation that Filipinos seem to be a very religious people.
But is it the kind of religiosity wherein one can do what one wants for as long as he or she goes to Mass on Sundays, says the rosary, or performs the rituals during Holy Week?
Or in the case of Napoles, can being a good Catholic be justified by her generous financial support of religious and charitable institutions, regardless of where the money she doles out came from?
I do think many Filipinos believe in this screwed logic.
This is why we have been a regular bottom-dweller in various national and international surveys regarding corruption.
These surveys, of course, always lead to pointing the finger at government. Bureaucrats and politicians are blamed for the official corruption that drains public coffers of its already meager resources. But the truth is, private corruption is just as extensive and extreme. There are many in the private sector who themselves are not actually paragons of virtue, and private corruption may be just as responsible as public corruption is for making lack of integrity a societal problem.
As I’ve often heard it asked, “How can a people so religious be so corrupt?” Could it be that there is actually no connection between our religiosity and the ethics we practice or do not practice in government, in workplaces, in society in general? Is it possible that Filipinos actually believe that religion has nothing to do with indulging in acts of corruption?
We need to ask these questions of ourselves because Christianity teaches that faith without action is nothing, that for faith to make a difference it has to be lived and fulfilled in our lives, for if it isn’t, it would be nothing more than false enthusiasm and empty phrases, I guess, much like the political rhetoric we hear today.
It is foolish and shortsighted to talk about economic and political change without seriously addressing the moral agenda of our nation.
I have met many church-going politicians and businessmen who even as they rant against corruption, lying and dishonesty, practice these all the same to advance their personal interests, Indeed, they happen to be on top of the food chain.
This just bolsters my point that we need to make religion matter more in the ethical behavior of individuals and organizations.
No amount of legislation can prevent crime and corruption because, in the end, we cannot legislate integrity or character or honesty.
Perhaps the next time we practice the rituals of Holy Week, we can see the connections between the hardships Jesus Christ suffered and our everyday struggles with crime, corruption and social decay.