Of walls and power

PAULA BEATRIZ L. AZURIN

PAULA BEATRIZ L.

AZURIN

They hung up a huge tarpaulin on the left side of the walls of the San Sebastian Cathedral. The tarpaulin enumerates a list of candidates classified as Team Buhay with a check mark and Team Patay with an “x” mark.  And despite directives issued by the COMELEC to take it down, the tarpaulin remains on the church walls.

Ever since the first tarpaulin was posted on the walls of the San Sebastian Cathedral, almost all churches in Bacolod City have set up the same tarpaulin in different sizes and colors. All of them bear their battle cry against the RH Law and its supporters by classifying them as Team Patay. 

While the concept of the Catholic vote is not new as it has been in practice for so many years now, it has only become glaringly obvious with the blatant (or as the Church would have it, implied) show of support for certain candidates who are aligned with Catholic dogmas.

This act has only confirmed what most of us have known and observed silently for years, that the Catholic Church is a voting bloc that has to be courted in any way possible.

It has confirmed the myth of a Catholic vote, where most if not all Catholics are inclined to vote the way that the Church tells them to.

As with other religions, it implies that all its followers are “hard-core” believers and will follow whatever their religion tells them to do. It also implies that the followers cannot think for themselves, cannot decide on what they want for themselves or for the country.

Thankfully, this attitude is changing, although at a snail’s pace. Some may argue that there is a rapid change through statistics showing that only 37% of Filipino Catholics attend Mass or surveys on the RH Law. These are good indicators but they do not generally show that most of us have progressed in thinking beyond religious boundaries.

The fact that most of us react so violently against the Catholic Church every time they display a political stunt or endorsement, is a confirmation that, in the back of our minds, we still think that it holds a certain level of power over us or over others.

There are those who react because of indignation or anger or some misplaced sense of superiority.

However, even those reactions are indicators that to some extent, the Catholic Church has power to sway public opinion and it is that power that riles people up. Even the COMELEC impliedly recognized the power of the Catholic Church when it ordered the tarpaulin taken down and resized.

The legal doctrine of the separation of the church and state or the non-establishment clause is more of a directive against the state from establishing a state religion or supporting or favoring one religion.

To the ordinary man, it means that the church and state are separate entities and should not meddle with one another’s affairs. To the ordinary man, it means that it is not only the state that has a responsibility of not interfering with religious affairs. For him, it means that religion also has the same responsibility, which is to not interfere with state affairs.

However, this layman concept of the separation of the church and the state can no longer be contemplated as between the CBCP and the State. It is not just about preventing the state from meddling in religious affairs or supporting one religion or faith; nor is it about religion interfering with state and favoring a candidate over another.

It is the separation of the mindset of an entire population regarding matters of faith and matters of the state. The concept will only be operational on the ground level, in the minds of its followers. If the followers are able to separate the church and the state in their minds, it is only then that the layman doctrine of separation can be given full effect.

The Church, or any religion for that matter, is only as powerful and influential as its followers believe such.

If the followers blindly believe in all the doctrines that their religion teaches them, more or less that belief is what strengthens and emboldens its leaders at the top. If the followers are selective and careful in choosing what to believe in, they retain a certain power to themselves and diminish, if not ultimately remove, such power from the leaders.

The Catholic Church finds its strength in its numbers and its dominance. However, such strength and dominance will be a mere façade should its followers choose to veer away from what it teaches. As in most governments, the power of any religion is in its individual followers.  But the followers have yet to realize that the power is theirs.

As George R.R. Martin puts it, “Power resides only where men believe it resides.” - Rappler.com

Paula Beatriz L. Azurin is a Rappler mover from Bacolod and a student of the University of Santo Tomas.