The faith chronicles

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Why do they hate us Catholics so much?

There were quite a number of times in my life when I was liked by many people. Maybe it’s because I looked so harmless. (I was in fact shy and retiring.) In high school, I gravitated towards the nerds and nonjocks, but I was popular enough to be voted as class president and later on as chairman of a good number of clubs. In college, I had enough friends, so I was never a loner.

Like perhaps any other human being, I do seek solitude at times, especially when thinking hard and thinking about life, but I know how it feels to be liked. It felt so good to me, so addictive, that I think I eventually learned how to be a people-pleaser.

Since I was also familiar with the other side –- after all, I knew how dreadful it was to feel rejected by my own folks –- I learned that it was a fearsome thing to lose other people’s estimation of me. As I matured, though, I experienced the inevitable: I had enemies, was resented and hated, and it sure felt like I had leprosy.

As a freshman in college, ironically during a welcome night sponsored by the upperclassmen, someone from the thick audience crowd flicked his cigarette butt at me. The temerity! Who could be that filthy animal, and how did he ever get into the University of the Philippines System? I had no idea, but I was forced to ask myself whether I had done anything to offend someone so much as to do that, when I was the reclusive, reticent type. I asked myself whether I came off as annoying or arrogant somewhat. (It didn’t occur to me that I might have done no wrong at all, and that some people simply choose to be offensive.)

Another time I felt similar animosity was when an APO fratman (I still remember his evil face) passed by me while my friends and I were laughing over a green joke. You’d never guess how some people could be so mean-spirited –- he suddenly made fun of me by mocking my laughter. He audibly shot back with poker face, "Very funny, ha-ha-ha." He was with his fellow frat members, so maybe that’s why he had the gumption to do what he did. The same line of self-questioning ensued. Was I obnoxious and unlikeable that I would be treated that way? Could it be that I was talking to some girls that the bugger liked (a lot of my female classmates looked adorable)? Could it be that his girlfriend once told him she got a crush on me? Did I ever remind him of somebody he loathed? Could it be that he was envious of me in some way? Was there something or anything (wussiness? a jerk's look?) that pissed him off? I could be endlessly paranoid.

I got the surprise of my life when I discovered that even religion could be a cause for such an amount of animus. I took it for granted that my religion could be a target of rejection just for being the dominant religion. (Even though I had studied in a public school, encounters with kids with a different religion were few and always civil, even friendly.) The first-ever incident, also in college, was traumatic enough, I guess, for why do I still recall it vividly?

I was at the library with a classmate then who I felt a bit close to, having come from the same part of the country. Having just read a news article about the Marian apparition in Medjugorje, I whispered to her something about the pressing messages the "seers" or "visionaries" allegedly got from the Virgin Mary, but my classmate flatly rebuked what I said at once as though I just quoted Satan. Poor stupid me -– I assumed she was a fellow Catholic and, if not, had a diplomat’s sense of saying alternatives to “Nonsense!” and “Rubbish!”, at least in deference to the majority faith. (Side note: the Vatican has no official approval of the Medjugorje apparitions.)

I learned later that my classmate was a devoted born-again Christian (a "fundamentalist" who hated Catholicism so much), so that explained the reaction. From then on, I learned to be cautious in being vocal about my faith especially in a school where people from every possible religion in town gathered together (I had a class in which the 10 or 15 of us each had a different religion). I don’t know if she was aware that I automatically blocked any thought of religion or faith whenever I talked to her, but that’s how I regarded her and ‘her kind’ ever since. I put on an invisible automatic screen or filter.

It was to become some kind of a baptism of fire for me. When I saw that being vocal about my faith in public could be a cause of instant rejection, I sort of began to accept that some people would think of me as misled or mistaken, unfortunate and blinded. (I had yet to discover the retort, "So what?!") So to avoid being thought of as any or all of these, I chose to keep mum on matters I needed not disclose so casually.

Someone said I should NEVER expect to be liked when it comes to private yet strongly held and divisive matters such as faith. The person is, of course, right. (After all, one in the interim will have enemies, be resented and hated, and will sure feel like a leper, but one has to hold his ground, to fight for the right to claim one's own space in the sun.) But I must admit that I still have this desire to be right, accepted, (in other words, loved), and in case that’s a form of unhealthy neediness, a kind of juvenile longing, I don’t understand why I should be hated for it. After all, I do not even proselytize, aware of the need to respect space and allow the freedom to say yes or no. I tend to merely witness to what I strongly believe in, and who doesn’t have any opinion or thought that’s as strongly held? I simply am vocal without trying to convert anyone to my dominant faith (even though, strictly speaking, evangelization is a command of the faith).

Besides, is it my fault that my faith is the dominant faith? I think that’s where most of the hostility is coming from. Since it is the dominant one, it is easy to think of it as having caused all the bad things in today’s society. That jump to conclusion is obviously unfair, but will they ever listen to us explain, given such a presumption? People, I guess, have the right to defraud themselves of the truth.

What may be a more valid observation is that dominance easily spells a feeling of 'oppression' of minority faiths. It’s natural for people at the margins to resent other people they don’t share beliefs with proudly parading a series of ‘idolatrous’ statues down the road, dictating religious feast days as official holidays, and so on.

Sometimes, however, I wonder whether the dislike or antagonism is more about being against Catholicism and Christianity itself (at least the Catholic interpretation of it). I raise this, because that’s what certain people who call themselves atheists and ‘freethinkers’ say out loud. That’s what even some of those who consider themselves fellow believers say between the lines. Some people insist on seeing Christianity as a hindrance to modernity, science, rationality, etc., never mind the many Christian scientists’ contribution to science and modernity.

That is a terrible blinder to wear, from where I am hunched, but where is that blinder coming from? Could it be that some people hate Catholicism and Catholics because they are guilty? Could it be that they hate Catholic precepts because they couldn’t stand the thought that they might be wrong and thus are “living in sin” (in Catholic terminology) and therefore are “outside the grace of God” and therefore they would look bad (to us) and worth rejecting to nonexistence? I figure that’s a thought anyone can find a reason to kill for, or at least be violent for, and wear bishop miters and habits in mockery, or depict priests in a stereotype of a sex-molesting gay guy or a lecherous pedophile,, or attach erect phalluses on crucifixes. But the anger is valid only if our opponents/detractors actually believe what we believe in, because if not, then they couldn't have cared less.

It is sad for things to come to this when we both know there are more things that unite us as human beings than divide. Who among us don’t want peace, love, respect, unity, human progress? (I've met atheists I am actually fond of because we share a lot of intellectual interests.) And who is so perfect as to claim having no frailty, no sin, no thorn in the flesh? All these noisy protestations from both sides, correct me if I’m wrong, can be viewed not only as a cry of “I am the one who’s right,” but also the presumptive, “I am angry at you because you don’t like me!” It could also be interpreted as a mutually fearful, “I am afraid of you because you are a threat to my cherished perception of how I and my life should be.” (In short, we are somewhat afraid of each other.)

Could the shared animosity, and/or mutual fear, be also an opposing cry to be loved and accepted? Could it be that we are both insecure and egocentric in varoius degrees, or why are we so vehement about our need to be right, our desire to be on the winning side of the argument?

But if I get the Catholic side right (and I can only speak for this side, I being decidedly ‘biased,’ (i.e., by choice)), the answer to the question is, “Maybe, but not necessarily.” Catholic protesters, if I am reading them right, come from this belief that they had to proclaim (their version of) God’s truth and conception of right and wrong whether or not they long to be accepted by fellow human beings, because what matters to them the most is the love and acceptance of God. These are people who will die fighting for their credo (in charity, of course) –- and with the unspoken message “to heck with what you think of me,” not because they hate their opponents, nor because they have an intense need to make an ‘other’ of them and an exclusive 'us' of themselves, but because they “hate the sin and not the sinner,” because they love God so much that they are willing to love Him above all else.

Frankly I feel so silly explaining this, because if one lives in a Catholic country (as my target audience is), it’s so easy to absorb this line of thought. It should be kid’s stuff discerning all the other sub-statements because the Catholic protesters are very transparent anyway, not given to resorting to dirty tactics (which naturally are not 'kosher'). You’ll know it when they say between the lines:

- “We’re not enjoying this, but we have to do it, not because we want to win or earn God's love and approval (He loved us first, and we can't bribe Him anyway), but because we choose to love/serve/believe/trust God above all.”
- “God knows we wish no one ill, but we have to do this if we are to call ourselves Christian and be able to look at ourselves in the mirror again.”
- “We have to do this even if you don’t like it or even if you won’t like us because our God deserves it, not only because when God loved us He gave us the best, but also because He wishes it so (or it is His will).”
- “Hate us if you will, but we can’t hate you back. Oh, well, we’re just human like you -– we may hate you for a time, but we know we can’t be hate-filled for long.”
- “You know we won’t ever resort to 'a tooth for a tooth.' We’re not necessarily better. We just choose to do what we believe is right, no matter the consequences.”

The other side may or may not have the last word in this unending fight, but if we have to have the last word, then this is it: “I think we know why you hate us so much, and you know what? It’s okay. We understand, and we wish you'll understand us too, but if we're not so lucky, then tough luck.”

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