16 February, 2010

Correlation between Atheism and Voting in the Philippine Democracy

The Philippines – from 1898-2010 – is still in the “process of” a revolution. Some say our “being Catholics” is to blame for all the mess we have created. Poverty so rampant and a government like a market place full of crooks are just some indicators a country is underdeveloped. The Filipino tendency to see government as the “God of their image” seems to result to an unreflective surrendering of power thru voting. Understanding the aesthetics of atheism may become a helpful tool to deterring this Filipino tendency to be over-ruled by the God of his image. Confronted with no strings to cling on to, survival instincts may fuel the Filipino appetite for a true and meaningful revolution under the democracy banner.

The Philippine Status
In a democracy, it is “power to the people” – not the leaders. However, in the Philippine political atmosphere, this only remains an ideal shaded grey. Government officials voted into office are not the public servants hoped for. They are more known as oppressive leaders, whose will is imposed on their subordinates, including the people who put them in place. Ironically, in the article of Paul D. Hutchcroft, The Arroyo Imbroglio in the Philippines, he states no country in Asia has more experience with democratic institutions than the Philippines. This system of government dates back to the Assembly created by the revolutionary republic that declared independence in 1898. However, the questions remain: How did the Philippines do since then? Is the Filipino truly independent?
Two world wars have passed, one dictatorial government brought down and EDSA Revolutions still counting in roman numerical values, but still a true revolution non-existent. Today, Arroyo still sits on a high chair inside Malacanang Palace despite several numbers of scandals directly involving her. The most famous of them is the Hello Garci Scandal, where the president’s voice is heard talking to a COMELEC commissioner amid the counting of ballots in the weeks of May 2004 election. In one oft-quoted segment said to be from late May, a female voice expresses concern for the electoral margin (“So I will still lead by more than one M., overall?”) while a male voice promises to work things out.

Voting in a Democracy
The ideal leader for the Filipino is unarguably the “saviour” type; one who possesses the characteristics of Christianity’s enigmatic Jesus Christ. This does not come as a surprise to many. The Filipinos are a people in need of salvation in many respects: economic, social, spiritual – even psychological. From rock-bottom poverty to questioning one’s identity, the Filipino is indeed living under the covers of darkness.
The rise of political icon Ninoy Acquino is a light that resembles Christ’s. People still remember him for his dashing character, his unparalleled decision-making, and most especially his Christ-like wisdom all often used to rectify the Marcos Administration. However, he only remains to be the ideal – a mystery the Filipino People can only wish for.
The Philippines is comparatively religious. In the 2001 World Values Survey, 87 per cent of respondents claimed that religion was “very important”, the highest percentage for any predominantly non-Muslim country, and 99 percent believed in God. In 2004, spirituality took centre stage in the Mass for Peace and Credible Elections, where the major presidential candidates, including President Arroyo, recited “The victory is not mine to take but yours to give … Grant us, O Lord, the perfect expression of the people’s will in this election.” However, despite these manifestations of faith, the public prefers religious nationalism to outright theocracy. In the same 2001 World Values Survey, majorities agreed that “politicians who don’t believe in God are unfit for public office” and favoured officials with “strong religious beliefs”, the most support from any predominantly non-Muslim country.
The country has little choice but to accept elections, since public opinion has rejected authoritarian and military government, communist revolution, and theocracy. Voting is the sine qua non of a democratic state. However, one wonders if the power truly belongs to the people. In Juliet Williams’s interesting essay, On the Popular Vote, she mentions four core democratic dilemmas – one of which is the fact that voting is considered at once the most fundamental and also the least effectual citizenship act. Voting translates to the surrendering of citizenship power. From a democratic standpoint, there is something profoundly perverse, then, about the cult of voting which treats a loss of power as the highest symbol of the people’s power. There can be no denying that democratic subjects vote for representatives precisely because they cannot rule themselves. This practice of citizenship right (to vote) translating to the surrendering of “trusted” power to the state is what creates an ineffective democracy in the Philippines. Greed and irresponsibility creates powerful politicians. At the other end, people are left paralyzed each time they vote. It is their greatest expression of choosing unfreedom over freedom. In the Philippines, development is often left at the leader’s desks piling – and not the people’s.

Catholicism in the Philippines
Catholic Christianity, though it has certain basic identifying characteristics, is expressed in various theologies and spiritualities or “forms of faith.” Another way of saying this is to affirm that in Catholic Christianity "there is one faith, but many theologies and many spiritualities or ‘forms of faith'."
One may include Folk Christianity an expression of such theologies culturally and socially accepted in the Philippine atmosphere. In Eduardo M. Domingo’s study, Intertextuality and the Study of Animism in the Philippines, he relates the interrelationships between animism with different religions aside from Christianity. However, since the country consists of 90% Christians, it is more often than not ‘Folk Christianity’ rather than any other. In his study, animistic rituals were discovered in certain places in the South Philippines. In these places, the older form of animistic rituals related to rice were Christianized. Although the ancient elements were still noticeable, the latter was given new a meaning. In some cases, the invocation to the anitos or spirits of their ancestors and other spirits were omitted; the amulets, charms and other symbols, however, now became their symbolic expressions directed to God. In other instances, even in the christian rituals, the farmers still attribute to the charms themselves the power of giving the rice these qualities. Hence, together with the plants or herbs that they believe will bring the desired qualities for their rice, christian prayers like the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory are recited in honor of the Blessed Virgin, San Isidro, and the patron saint of the parish [sic].
Moreover, yearly processions of the image of the Black Nazarene in celebration of the feast day of Quiapo may be one of the most familiar displays of faith in the country. Hundreds of thousand of people join the long procession, risking safety for what it is worth. They heave together in solidarity of one faith – that however takes many forms. One news article describes the familiar picture, “White handkerchiefs and towels were waved and the crowd erupted into loud cheers as a number of men tried – successfully or in vain – to clamber onto the carriage in an attempt to touch the image.” People gather at this momentous parade because of favors from God. Miracle stories are not rare; regained physical health and financial success amidst poverty are just some few examples of these favors.

Analysis of the Filipino
Understanding atheism per se is not what holds the key to understanding the dynamics of voting in the Philippines. It only acts as a counteraction against the Filipino attitude towards religion, particularly their image of God. For this reason, the discussions will start with the analysis of the Filipino mentality, followed by the counteraction of atheism.
Politics and Catholicism are both central to the Filipino choice of unfreedom. Politics in the country is more God-centered than in most western societies since Filipinos are religious; and a strong favour for religious candidates sound obvious. Does the Filipino treat his leader like God? To some degree, yes. The Filipino fears his leaders’ power; but more importantly, it is his promises that the Filipino looks forward to. When poverty torments him, he blames his poor governance – his unfulfilled promises for a better tomorrow. The image of the true Filipino politician is one who exhibits the ability to save, may it be thru words or actions – just like the Christian God whom he calls Father. In voting, he fully surrenders his citizenship power to his leader – an expression of freedom. However, like the way he treats God, to whom he prays for miracles of better health and financial stability, he chooses to surrender his responsibilities from society as well. It is precisely his tendency to create his own “image of God” that leaves him at the mercy of his leaders – his earthly gods.

Atheistic Views from Freud and Nietzsche
For this reason, Sigmund Freud criticizes religion as an enemy of science. To Freud, religion makes people go astray by means of constructing a restricted Weltanschauung [Worldview], which fulfills three functions: it (1) satisfies the human thirst for knowledge (it does the same thing that science attempts to do with its means); (2) is influential (religion soothes the fear that humans feel of the dangers, and advises them to submit to it); and (3) brings prohibitions and restrictions. Especially, the third function of religion is, to him, psychoanalytically related to the father-image who demands morals and ethics. In this sense, humans still remain just as helpless and unprotected as they were in their childhoods, which are programmed by a system of loving rewards and punishments. For Freud, slaying the father-image (God) will free man from restrictions, thus giving him independence.
Nietzsche, on the other hand proclaims “God is dead.” To him, God is only the created image of man, which makes man the real god who can transcend himself. The news of the death of God is the great liberation. "We philosophers and 'free spirits' feel ourselves irra- diated as by a new dawn by the report that the 'old God is dead'; our hearts overflow with gratitude, astonishment, presentiment and expectation [sic]. There are of course two sides to Nietzsche's hope for man: there is on the one hand the insistence on the full development of man as he is, leading to the "higher man," the flower of culture that is rooted in an actual and historical soil, and there is on the other hand the insistence on the more-than-man, the divinization of man (needless to say, not in the theological sense), in short, Superman

Applicability of Atheism to the Filipino
Atheism could change the way Filipinos surrender their vote. Both Freud and Nietzsche give importance to the development of the human spirit. They wish for men to be truly free. The entrapment of the Filipino from his choice of unfreedom is that which atheism may help shed light to. It is not suggested that the Filipino deny the existence of God. However, it is much preferable (as being presented by atheism) for the Filipino to start depending on his own, and indirectly speaking, to slay his created “image of God and gods” to whom he passes some of his responsibilities as a person and a member of the society at large. With this, hopefully his aspirations for a true revolution may be deemed more likely attainable than if he chooses to stay at his present condition.

Hutchcroft Paul D. “The Arroyo Imbroglio In The Philippines,” Journal of Democracy Vol. 19, No. 1 (01 January 2008): 140-155.

Linantud, John L. “The 2004 Philippine Elections: Political Change in an Illiberal Democracy,” Contemporary Southeast Asia 27, No. 1 (2005): 80-101.

Williams, Juliet A. “On the Popular Vote,” Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 58, No. 4 (December 2005): 637-645.

Intengan, Romeo J. “Are We Filipinos Poor Because We Are Mostly Catholic Christians?,” East Asian Pastoral Review, Vol. 40, No. 3 (2003), 234-242.

Domingo, Eduardo M. “Intertextuality and the Study of Animism in the Philippines,” Philippiniana Sacra, Vol. XLIV, No. 131 (May-August, 2009): 323-344.

Philippine Daily Inquirer, 10 January 2007.

Lee, Sang Uk. “Constructing an Aesthetic Weltanschauung: Freud, James, and Ricoeur,” Journal of Religion and Health, Vol. 43, No. 4 (Winter, 2004): 273-290.

Copleston, F. C. “Friedrich Nietzsche,” Philosophy, Vol. 17, No. 67 (Jul., 1942): 231-244

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