Religion, a medium of dissent

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte is right when he told the priests not to use religion to criticize him. Even before he took office, many priests and religious and those close to religious organizations had been critical of the president’s assaults against religion and those allied to the religious institutions. Remember how Duterte lambasted the Pope for coming to the Philippines and causing traffic jams in Manila?  Many considered that critical remark irreverent and uncalled for considering that the Pope was a guest of the country and as Filipinos, and I believe all civilized societies had been taught, should respect the guest.

Ever since he took over the Office of the President, he had taken potshots against the Catholic faith, the church, churchmen and the faithful using the presidential platform. While he is free to criticize, in fact that is his right in the same manner that anti-Catholics had been lambasting the Church, he is now president of the people and should therefore exercise greater restraint. But again that is his style and we just have to accept it and just think that, as on several instances, he was just joking.

We must also understand that he had practically declared himself as anti-Catholic and even anti-God by publicly insulting God and pronouncing himself saint of whatever religion he professes. He should therefore be extended the same respect that we give to atheists and animists, Arians and all sorts of religious organizations.

Last month while the Christian world was celebrating the birth of Christ, Duterte questioned the Catholic faith on the Blessed Trinity, calling it a “silly” belief.

As expected many protested because he twisted the Catholic doctrine as the basis of calling it “silly.” In defense of his president, Salvador Panelo was quoted by newspapers saying,  “the remarks is his way of shaking long-held religious tenets and beliefs that instead of molding them into being righteous individuals make them cling to religion as an opium.”

He claimed that the president meant “to initiate an intellectual discussion for the faithful’s enlightenment and spiritual awakening which could lead them to thread [sic] the path of uprightness so necessary in the moral regeneration of a nation so abundant with religiosity but wanting in spirituality.”

Panelo’s explanation is full of more twisted and even bizarre claims. He cited the doctrine of Karl Marx and the communists that Duterte disliked by declaring religion as “opium”. Is religion now an illegal drug that must be eradicated?

But let us leave Panelo to dwell in his opiate. The attacks are no different from the anti-Catholics assaults since the Protestant revolt and the movements of heretics through the centuries. Even now radio and television programs are aimed at presenting the twisted and false interpretation of the Catholic faith as if their lies would make their religion better. We have learned to live with thatand millions of Catholics endured and even died the martyrs’ death through the centuries.

So, if we just allow the president and his spokesman their kind criticisms, why should the president complain that the priests are using religion to criticize him and therefore deny the nation with the same thing that Panelo parroted – lack of intellectual discourse in order to attain “enlightenment and spiritual awakening which could lead them to the path of uprightness so necessary in the moral regeneration of a nation so abundant with religiosity but wanting in spirituality”?

Panelo has media coverage paid for by taxes, part of which are paid for by the Catholics, even by those “opiated” with fidelity to the Church. The Church, through the priests, has only the pulpits. So why should the powerful government with all the resources at its command feel threatened by the criticisms?

The only possible reason is that the government is afraid of the Church, otherwise why bother? Indeed, history provides a very clear, unmistakable reason: the Catholic faith is not an opiate but filled with spiritually that transcended and conquered human and even demonic assaults. Indeed, Christ promised: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. Thus did the Church survive empires, Martin Luther and allies, all sorts ofprogroms, the Hitlers, the Maos and the Stalins – we can make a long list of those who tried.

True religion, as the Catholic Church, is indeed a form of dissent because it stands for truth and justice.