Carvajal: Replacement anitos

Orlando Carvajal

RELIGIOUS practice is largely influenced by material historical conditions. Like other primitive tribes, for instance, that lacked scientific knowledge about disease, bad weather, failed harvest, etc. pre-colonial Filipinos posited spirits, anitos, to help them with those problems.

Early Christians relied only on the word of Christ to guide them. Only much later did they become formally organized and with organization came disciplinary laws, liturgical guidelines, and dogmas. In medieval times, violations of the latter were even punishable with death.

Vatican II updated the Catholic Church by opening its doors to the needs of modern man. Following the Council’s spirit, many Catholic countries transitioned away from fear-of-hell Christianity to a more mature and positive Christianity of love, compassion, and justice to their poor citizens.

But not the Filipino Catholic Church. It allows peripheral changes like mass facing the people and in the dialect. But by and large it still preaches Christianity in much the same way the Spanish friars did. The focus continues to be on correct interpretation of dogma, strict observance of Church discipline, rituals and devotions all of which, incidentally, have implicit or explicit price tags.

Religion to (many of?) us is an escape, a refuge, from the trials of life, not a motive force to make the world a better place or, in biblical speak, build God’s kingdom on earth.

That has to be the sociological explanation to the contradicting phenomena of, one, millions devoted to the Sto. Niño or to the Black Nazarene and, two, of millions more who are hungry, ravaged by disease, and ignorant--victims of unjust neglect by supposedly Christian leaders and countrymen.

We were animists when the Spaniards came. We chanted, danced, knee-walked for the anitos’ help with our problems. Judging from our practices today, it appears that the Spaniards converted us to Christianity by convincing us that the Sto. Niño, the Black Nazarene, the Blessed Mother, and the saints are more powerful replacements of anitos.

Thus, our spiritist subconscious, un-affected by Vatican II, still looks up to the Sto. Niño, the Black Nazarene, the Virgin Mary and the saints as powerful anitos who solve our problems yet are of no consequence whatsoever to the way we conduct our lives.

I have always advocated for street children to get help from the millions of pesos Catholic churches collect during the feast. But Taal Volcano just spewed out a top priority challenge. So now one must wonder how much, if at all any, of the millions of pesos collected is going to Taal’s unfortunate victims? And how many are simply thanking their replacement anitos for sparing them from the volcano’s ire?