The Philippine Daily Inquirer, one of the three most prominent, national newspapers, issued recently Opinion articles on the relation of morality and religion. Former director at the World Bank in South Asia, Joseph M. Pernia raises a question (23.3.15): “Why does the Philippines, for so long only Catholic country in Asia, rank near the bottom in terms of corruption, poverty incidence, investment climate and other standard international socioeconomic metrics”. He accuses Philippine –style Catholicism for disconnection of faith and social righteousness. As a remedy for that malaise he suggests an ecumenical movement strengthening social responsibility in faith.
Science Teacher and Principal Edwin de Leon goes a long way further in his opinion (25.3.15). He says there is no God, which is an invention by a human. Religion is an archaic phenomenon that should be abandoned. Influence of religion on society is damaging. The countries with strong religiousness are corrupted while atheistic societies are more righteous and generous. As examples of latter ones de Leon mentions Denmark and Sweden.
In order to make the corrections demanded and to showcase complexity of relation between religiosity and morality I offered to publish my comment (30.3.15) on de Leon`s column.
The background of the Opinion articles cited is concern over corruption in The Philippines. Death of Father of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew has sparked a lot of discussion on the economics of the country compared to Singapore and the outcome is very negative from point of view of The Philippines. The discourse is always returning to the impact of corruption. After elected for Presidency Noy Noy Aquino promised to get rid of corruption. In fact he has moved into the right direction but he has taken only a few steps up to now. Corruption is still underlying in the complicated branches of the government. The authors of the articles cited agree that corruption is an obstacle to investments and financial development. What to blame for corruption? The Philippines differs from the other Asian countries in respect of religiosity being an only for long Catholic country in Asia. So should we accuse Catholicism for the failure of the society?
Looking closer into Catholicism in The Philippines, one finds out there are different layers of religiousness. For an ordinary Filipino the most crucial function of the belief might be to cope with the powers threatening health or endangering in the other way success in the life. So she or he might have got an icon to pray and to beg for help, or one might attend the cult, from which she or he will acquire luck or power for life. That religiousness is called Folk Catholicism and differs sharply from the perceptions typical to Catholic elite, which in my view consists of the bishops and the priests in the higher ranks of the hierarchy.
Folk Catholicism is dealing with issues of safety and success in life. The questions of morality are not so crucial and it does not open ways out of an individual life circle. So it seems to be quite powerless in fight against immorality. In Elite Catholicism the importance of ethical call is underlined, but it is directed mainly into human relationships. At the level of society The Church has concentrated to fight usually only for marriage and sexuality. Passion to pursuit the own one-sided political agenda has immersed the Church in the daily politics and endangered the neutral position. In several cases instead, the Church has showed indifference to corruption.
So there is a Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament. Who is reading that sermon and who is listening?