HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated May 27, 2012
I am still aghast at the fact that some 500 people actually went out and protested Lady Gaga’s concert on Monday night. It wasn’t about artistic differences, the protection of local artists, or anything resembling reason. In fact, it had nothing to do with reason at all. The protest was held on the ground that the protesters perceived Lady Gaga to be a Satanist, or worse, the devil herself. And to top it all off, a Prince of the Church, one Bishop Arguelles, called for the banning of the concert for the same reason.
Reactions in cyberspace were quick and fast, and furious. Twitter and Facebook overflowed with comments, shoutouts, complaints and condemnations of the call to ban the concert. The ratio was almost 50 to 1, with the majority incensed and exasperated at the protest.
Religion has become a sword dividing people on issues such as the RH Bill, contraception, the acceptance of gays, gay marriage, divorce, women priests, celibacy, the handling of pedophilia in the church. There are other issues as well — science vs. creationism, prayers in school, secularism and even the question of whether hell and devils really exist.
To complicate matters further, the proponents of every issue seem to be adept at quoting the Bible to back up their moral stance.
Through the years, I’ve observed the different kinds of people who embrace the conservative religious values of their faith, and those who have a more liberal appreciation of it, some of whom even leave the faith and embrace a religion that allows more diversity in thought, action and beliefs. Some even become atheists. There are also those who have dropped all religious affiliations and say that they have simply become “more spiritual.”
Some people I know grew up happy-go-lucky, with no cares whatsoever about anything that had to do with religious practice. They were the last persons you would see going to Mass, or praying the rosary or performing any activity that could be seen as even remotely religious. Until they undergo serious crises in life — the loss of material fortunes, the breakup of a marriage, the onset of a serious medical condition, or heavy addictions, etc. I observed that the way they coped with their problems was to turn wholeheartedly to religion. They totally and completely surrendered to it and embraced it without question or reservation.
A great many of them seem to have discovered solace and comfort in the arms of a God they had only recently begun to consider seriously for the first time in their lives. Their experience of God was clearly life changing. It’s as though, in the midst of the confusion and uncertainty of their lives, they found a center or an anchor. And most of the time, they end up joining a Christian sect where they do Bible study, witnessing and other trappings and practices of the Christian religion that the early adherents practiced.
I observe that the newly converted can be quite dogmatic and judgmental, and what some may see as intransigent and unbending in their stand on issues. However, these “born again” Christians do not see it that way. What others see as a closing of their rational thinking or an embrace of new biases, they regard as faithfulness to the word and living their faith in action.
My brother Jesse, lamenting such behavior, put it this way: “Those who never had solid catechism when they were growing up and embrace the faith only as adults, cling to it in a way that betrays a lack of depth of understanding and compassion.”
They see everything in black and white, with no shades of gray. Their faith is often simplistic: those who believe in what they believe are saved, and the rest will burn in Hell, for that is the word of God.
On the other hand, I have also seen classmates and friends who, despite undergoing solid catechism lessons while we were growing up, and even taking their religion seriously for the most part of their lives, have decided to leave the Church, their faith in the God they grew up with in shambles. They have outgrown God, as they knew Him. Furthermore, they are incensed at the behavior of Church leaders, especially on issues regarding the handling of pedophilia cases, gay acceptance and the RH Bill.
It took many years for them to finally admit that they had doubts about their faith and are now ready to leave it for greater authenticity. In their new experience, God is as real as ever, unfolding in the modern world, but they have stopped buying into the narrow, intolerant views of the Church leadership who claim to represent God. They want to experience God without the middleman, outside the franchise of religion.
So we have the once-heathen who now embrace the faith, and the once-faithful who now abandon it. I can understand it when both claim they come from an honest place regarding their new beliefs, and yet they can be so far apart in their understanding of the nature of God and how to act this out in the world.
I have a conservative classmate who told me that his belief in the catechism as he learned it in grade school, had not changed in any way up to now. He is 60 years old. That got me to thinking about one of the earliest lessons I learned in catechism and it is the answer to the question, “Why are we here on earth?” The answer we were taught was, “To know, love and serve God.”
Everyone who takes his faith seriously (whatever it is) probably keeps this mantra close to his heart. But the problem lies in the fact that we do not all know God in the same way, and so there is confusion in how to love and serve God. If your experience is of a petty, punishing, judgmental God, you will probably act in a petty, judgmental way. The experience of a generous God will make one more inclusive and welcoming of others who are different from you.
Perhaps it is not enough to believe in a God. One’s belief must be accompanied by great humility in knowing that one’s knowledge and understanding of God is minuscule and limited. And because of this, one must grant that other people’s understanding of God are valid and true as well. I am talking about tolerance here, without which there is a hardening of positions which, when you think about it, is a form of spiritual materialism, where it becomes a contest of whose God is bigger, and right.
If people of faith do not take this stance, the tolerance and humility so necessary for us to live with other believers and be good servants of God, fly out the window, and hostility and hatred set in. Strangely, all this can and does happen in the name of God.
The average person knows the wisdom of tolerance and that is why so many reacted negatively to the attempt to ban Lady Gaga’s concert. Those who marinate in misguided religious fervor miss the message that the foundation of every religion is peace and goodwill to all men. They marinate in their own pride and self-righteousness, in the process whipping up their own hysteria against those who differ from them.
It seems the mystics were correct when they said that God and ego cannot exist in the same place. We have to kill ego and put humility in its place for God to claim the space.
Then, maybe, we can really know, love, and serve God as He deserves to be known, loved and served.