Carvajal: Sociology, a disclaimer

Orlando Carvajal

PREPARATIONS for the celebration of 500 years of Christianity are expected to ramp up this year. It is hoped that ample physical and mental resources will be invested towards a comprehensive review of Philippine Catholicism.

It would be a shame if the celebration would highlight religious fervor only. Considering the subhuman living conditions millions of Filipinos have to endure in this supposedly Christian country, next year’s celebration ought also to feature a humble admission of past mistakes and the launching of a mature and socially relevant Christianity for the next hundred years or so.

For this reason I am devoting more space in my columns this year to the political reality of the Filipino Catholic Church. But before I hit my stride let me explain with the disclaimer that, although I am an ex-priest, I do not write as a moral theologian but as a schooled-in-life sociologist.

Moral theology deals with conscious human behavior. Sin is committed only when one consciously violates the moral dictates of one’s conscience. Thus only the doer, not anybody else, can judge if he/she had been immoral because he/she alone knows if he/she violated his/her conscience.

Sociology, on the other hand, deals with subconscious behavior. We are born and raised within a specific society. Society’s culture programs us to react subconsciously or without conscious thought to external political, economic, and cultural stimuli according to accepted traditional norms of behavior.

Thus when sociology says Filipino politicians are self-serving and corrupt, it is not making a moral judgment. It is simply saying there is something in our culture (of which religion is the core element) that subconsciously programs politicians to avail of every opportunity to enrich themselves in office. Similarly, when sociology says the Filipino Catholic Church is commercializing the sacraments, it is not judging the clergy but merely saying centuries of conditioning makes the clergy practice this without a moment’s thought.

This is what “man is a social construct” means. Unless we pause to reflect we subconsciously behave as society (specifically those who want to control our lives) has “constructed” us. Sociology pushes up to the surface of our consciousness what might really be social evils we do subconsciously so we can do some introspection that could lead to behavioral change.

Only by being jarred into consciously reflecting on what we do subconsciously from a lifetime of conditioning are we able to change our behavior. As American psychologist Carl Rogers once said: “The only educated person is one who has learned how to learn and change.”

Finally, sociology is a function of reason not of Faith.