Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why the Church failed to make its position on the RH Bill intellectually appealing

The forces of modernism are in the midst of a fight for the progression of the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill. That powerful bastion of Filipino-style primitivism, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), has in recent months brought to bear its vast fear mongering communication channel -- the "Holy" Catholic Mass -- to disseminate its threats of fire and brimstone to those in its flock who dare harbour impure thoughts on contraception. Among those who had so far succumbed to this might is no less than Philippine President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III who earlier withdrew from a commitment to prioritise reproductive health in his list of legislation to push.

Though most ordinary Filipinos are generally verbally silent on their views on matters of sexuality and reproductive health, the general practice of the society speaks for itself. Sexual imagery and references pervade the Philippine Media many of which border on sexism and even the pornographic. Being the bad copy cats that Filipinos are, our embrace of what is really just a deep liberal secularism generally practiced in Western society, produces the contrived and confused flavour of "modern values" that Filipinos exhibit. In the same way that our embrace of American-style capitalism had produced a perverse and often tacky spectacle of runaway consumerism and tasteless tingi-tingi entrepreneurship, an embrace of a liberal regard for sex produced the banal lasciviousness that underlies much of Philippine cinema and noontime television.

This was something I explored in my book where I made the following observation...
More disturbing than simply being uncomfortable is how inconsistent and misguided Filipino responses to issues of sexuality can get. The Filipino Male enjoys the better half of a double standard that prevails in Philippine society. And this is what contributes much to the bizarreness of Filipinos’ regard for sex. Male sexual indiscretion, as mentioned earlier, is routinely tolerated and even encouraged and cheered (the famously philandering Joseph Estrada was even elected president). Filipino men are predisposed to openly and indiscreetly staring at and regarding women maliciously. These indiscretions are clearly outside the more well-known but imagined Filipino virtues of modesty, humility, and adherence to tradition. They are nonetheless widespread and accepted as normal (although desensitised may be the more appropriate word to describe Philippine society’s acceptance of this Filipino male condition), but there is presently no Filipino philosophy or code of ethics to frame this condition, it being outside the Tradition-Religion Complex that many Filipinos continue to “officially” validate themselves with. Thus the Filipino male – with all his expected indiscretions and excess – is a social aberration that is accepted, yet at the same time, is not normal and oftentimes unsavoury.

Perhaps if the Church had somehow built their case against the RH Bill (specifically its implications on sexual conduct) around a conceptual framework harvested from this notion of a deeply confused Filipino psyche surrounding sexuality, it would have gained more traction among people who think and, consequently, those who are able to influence our society's thought leaders.

Instead, the Church in its crusade against Filipino reproductive health played the tired medieval morality card it had, well, dogmatically applied -- often with murderous force -- over the last couple millennia. This is of course most likely an outcome of the sort of inbred thinking that festers within an institution that remains averse to free inquiry. Unfortunately for the Church, this insular and paranoid protection of the traditional integrity of the dogma that imprisons its clergy's minds is what prevented it from coming up with a more innovative approach to pitching its case to the more progressive circles of Philippine society.

Of course, the forces of modern thinking in Philippine society are by no means resting on their laurels considering that much of the Philippines is populated by weak-minded star-struck ignoramuses -- the sort of folk who tend to lap up much of what the officers of the mighty Roman Catholic Church have to say on most matters.

The issue that trumps most other things in the Philippines, of course, remains over-population; and so the risk of an already adolescent regard for sex in Philippine society being exacerbated by increased permissiveness licensed by access to artificial contraceptives and clinical information about safe sex is certainly an acceptable one considering the immense benefits of a prospective reduction in our rate of population growth. For that matter, this risk of the Filipino's penchant for perverting modern ideas infecting our collective sexuality is nothing that better education and better upbringing cannot mitigate as well -- specifically the sorts focused on highlighting personal accountability. That may be the next battlefield where the next war against the primitivist dogma of the Church may be fought.

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