(Firstly, before this essay is judged to be anti-Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) and before I am hated by my INC friends, I would like to point out that my only post regarding the INC prior to this was to ask prayers for them that God brings them back to unity. It was what our shepherds (pastors)told us to do. Archbishop Socrates Villegas called Filipino Catholics to pray for the INC at this time of turmoil. I have never stopped praying for them and reaching out to some INC people who are very close to my heart.
But allow me to give my thoughts about the issue and my aim is to join the intellectual discourse (if ever such exists). Apart from being a Catholic, I was also a student of Philosophy and History. I rendezvoused with secular thought, existentialism and psychology and joined many discourses about religion and society in various contexts.
To my Facebook friends in Australia, please pardon me if this post intrudes your Facebook timeline; please understand that I posted this not for you but for my Filipino friends. It’s one of those things that you ought to do for your countrymen, and I’m sure you would understand.)
Christians are called to be ‘prophetic’. To be a prophet is to be able to speak the truth no matter how it hurts for the people hearing it. A prophet may be extolled by history, but the present will always despise him for speaking the truth.
The recent issue involving the INC is something which other Christians especially Catholics cannot be silent about. And sometimes, it is an act of love to point out what is wrong for people you consider as brothers and sisters. And I think this is where I want to begin: do the Iglesia ni Cristo think of other Christians as their brothers and sisters?
1. Love thy Neighbour; Love thy Enemies
Yes, I am aware of many hateful posts against the INC, many of them from Catholics. But the INC have to appreciate as well, that many other Catholics have remained respectful of the INC. When Eraño Manalo passed away, some Catholic and Protestant Church leaders even paid respect to the leader of this religion. But have the INC regarded Protestants and Catholics as their brothers and sisters? Have you ever heard an INC member say, “mga kapatid nating Katoliko” or “mga kapatid nating Protestante”? Aren’t Catholics and Protestants especially their leaders deemed as worshippers of Satan (kampon ni Satanas).
I don’t know where Catholics or Protestants should stand when they love and they get rejected. I’ve personally noticed that during many Christmas parties (e.g., in the office), Catholics and Protestants are very cautious not to offend any INC member. A Catholic or Protestant, would even say that a celebration of Christmas would not be complete if a certain (INC) officemate would not join. And this is reality. This is a more palpable fact than the hateful posts of some people in Facebook. We Catholics (and Protestants, I dare to say) do not hate the Iglesia ni Cristo. We love them. We care for them. We respect them. But the question is, do they feel the same?
And for those who for some reasons chose to be ‘hateful’, I ask the INC, could you blame them? An unrequited love can turn bitter, and while it is not justifiable, it certainly is understandable.
2. Herd Mentality
When I read the news and saw the crowds gathered in EDSA Shrine (which by the way is a Catholic Church where people go to pray), I was reminded of this: Nietzsche’s herd mentality!
Herd mentality is one of the most common criticisms of secular people against organised religion. A herd is often associated with sheep and how these animals blindly obey because they lack the capacity to decide on their own. A sheep, they say, has very poor eyesight and in order to survive, they have to be in a herd.
I am aware that the Bible also uses the metaphor of the shepherd and the sheep, but notice that the emphasis of the Bible is not on blind obedience or following the leader. The focus was on the GOOD SHEPHERD. Jesus was the Good Shepherd, because He was willing to lay down His life for His sheep. Jesus did not desire blind obedience but a free-willing decision to follow Him.
I was heartbroken when I read an Inquirer article about a lady who after attending the rally in EDSA lamented that their efforts were futile. “Wala kaming napala, napagod lang kami,” the lady quipped. Some said that they went because their ministers told them to do so. Whether this represents many or just one person’s sentiment, it gives us a window to peek at these people’s psyche. Herd mentality.
You may argue that Catholics also do the same, for example, when they welcome Pope Francis in the Philippines. But try to imagine this: Suppose that during that visit in Luneta where six million people attended, the Pope proclaimed in His homily something so abominable and contrary to the Gospel. What do you think the people would do? They would leave, I suppose. I imagine people booing him. Why? Because Catholics do not follow blindly. They are encouraged not to follow blindly.
The great St. Anselm summarises how our faith should be: “Fides quarens intellectum”. Faith seeking understanding. If faith is something utterly ludicrous, it has to be abandoned because God’s wisdom, while immense and unfathomable, follows logic and understanding.
3. The Truth Shall Set You Free
Some religions misinterpret a verse in Colosians 2:8 that says, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” That is why many justify irrational acts by appealing to Divine wisdom. Some use this to control people.
Yet, this is far from the truth on how a religion or a way of life should be conducted. REASON comes from God. In the Gospel of John 1:1 we read: “In the Beginning was the Word (Logos) and the Word (Logos) was with God and the Word (Logos) was God.”
Logos (the root word of ‘Logic’ and science, for example, BioLOGY) is REASON. The evangelist John was writing to people who are well-versed in Greek Philosophy, and Greek Philosophy extols LOGOS above anything else. In order to introduce Jesus, John packaged Him as “God’s Wisdom” or “God’s Reason” to be able to reach out to them.
The lawyer of Isaias Samson Jr., Trixie Cruz-Angeles on 28 August called the INC leadership and the rally as reacting “in a manner that speaks of irrationality and non-responsiveness”. The facts were very simple. Someone in the hierarchy of the INC is charged with illegal detention which is a serious offense and a heinous crime. Why would you rally around them?
They lambast Secretary Leila De Lima for singling out the INC and not focussing on more high-profile issues, but have they not realised that their argument is fallacious and it breaks down at its very core. (I encourage you to read more about the Straw Man fallacy, perhaps in Wikipedia and you’ll understand what I’m saying.) Isn’t it that the more reasonable and logical thing to feel is RELIEVED, that a high-ranking, well-respected government official who is reputed to be uncompromising and fair in the person of De Lima is handling the case, and not some other dodgy government official? If it is the TRUTH, then why be afraid? If it is the truth, would not Logos itself defend it until the end?
I’ve seen some people juxtapose the same issue when the Senate invited several Catholic bishops who allegedly received luxury cars from Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (which turned out to be utility vehicles used for charitable works). We did not see Catholics rallying behind them, a sad fact and we can say unfair to them if they did not do anything wrong. Yet, these bishops bravely faced the Senate. They came with the vehicles allegedly used as bribes to them, and surrendered them back to the government. But they faced the Senate. They did not impose. They did not hide. They faced the consequences.
Yesterday, a former Apostolic Nuncio to the Domican Republic passed away. This archbishop was awaiting trial for paedophilia and was detained in the Vatican. The former nuncio, i.e., a Pope’s representative in a country, was surrendered by the Vatican himself to authorities. Because this is the reasonable thing to do.
To my Iglesia ni Cristo brothers and sisters, if your ministers have nothing to hide, let them come out and face the music.
Don’t worry about your Church. If it is truly God’s Church, God will not let the gates of Hell prevail over it (Matthew 16:18). I mean, look at the Catholic Church. It’s still standing strong, despite the many personalities who tried to bring it down.
4. Sociology of Iglesia ni Cristo
I am not a qualified sociologist, and my studies on sociology was through Philosophy. But in this last point, I would like you to abandon any existing understanding of Iglesia ni Cristo and perform a Sociological Imagination.
The Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) copies the Catholic Church. It implemented what the Catholic Church has learned in its 2000 years of existence as an organised religion. It picked up where it gained strength and used them to be a strong force. The only fault is that the INC utilised such lessons without a thorough understanding of history.
Before you react (and I’m sure you will), allow me to justify my points:
Firstly, the Iglesia ni Cristo copies the Catholic Church in the medieval period. Back in what many call the Dark Ages, social life is divided between the secular and the religious, and the priest or bishop was deemed as powerful as a prince or a king. Popes crowned kings and the Church has a say in secular affairs. The secular, on the other hand, has limited hand over the Church. There is no separation of Church and State (which is a modern invention), and the integrity of the society is maintained by this balance. (If you don’t get the picture, I advise you to watch Game of Thrones and see how the show gives reference to the power of the Church albeit indirectly.)
What the Iglesia ni Cristo fails to recognise is the history behind it: The Catholic Church never desired power. After Emperor Constantine legalised Christianity, the Church simply coexisted with the State, or in to use a more appropriate term, the Empire. The whole of Europe was united politically and economically under the emperor. After the fall of the empire, there came a void in leadership and Europe began to fall apart. Countries found itself always at the brink of war and self-destruction. This is when Feudalism came to existence where the void of unity was replaced by cellular social units. Yet this was not enough to preserve the society and culture of Europe. Therefore, in the absence of a unifying voice and afraid that the many kingdoms would just fight against each other, they looked at their binding communal force: the Church. Each feudal land had priests and bishops. Popes, therefore, became very powerful. No one can deny that the Catholic Church also abused its power and this power caused the Church to itself become divided. First, there was the separation from the Eastern Churches, and there came the Protestant Reformation.
The Catholic Church eventually learned from this painful history. Yet, the Iglesia ni Cristo copies this, leaving the repercussions unreflected. They wanted to become king-makers by bloc-voting. They wanted to have a say in government and lobby for their interests. They try to build medieval-like housing centres to increase their grip on to their members. They build schools, hospitals and centres. What they don’t realise is in arguing for separation of Church and State, what they are arguing for, in fact, is the medieval concept of secular-religious interrelationship. The INC should understand that in following this ideal, they are merely following the climax of this account in the Catholic Church history. They do not realise that what followed was division and intense secularisation which we can now see in Western countries.
Secondly, the INC radically adopts the Catholic theological concept of “non salus extra ecclesiam”, i.e., Outside the Church, there is no salvation. Yes, it was the Catholic Church who first coined it through St. Cyprian in the third century. The Church in its tumultuous history has also abused this concept but soon learned its lesson. While the focus before was converting people, the focus now is evangalisation, i.e., telling people about the Good News. The Church went to its basic understanding of proclaiming Jesus to the world, because the world ultimately needs to know about Jesus. It is not about exclusivity or extra-dignity to become a Catholic, but a responsibility to share the light to others.
What the Iglesia ni Cristo has succeeded is instilling fear to its members that a “dagat-dagatang apoy” (an ocean of fire) awaits those who are not members of the Church. Instead of bringing light to others, the INC through its doctrines cloaks its members in the darkness of fear. The Catholic Church teaches that more than hell, a Chistian should fear losing the love of God which brings more suffering than any punishment can bring.
Lastly, the Iglesia ni Cristo imitates the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and desperately demands obedience from its leaders at the bottom of the chain. That is why deflecting ministers are persecuted and excommunicated. The same also happens in the Catholic Church, but what they don’t realise is that the Catholic Church has something that the INC or any other religion has: a dichotomy between the lay and the clergy. You ought to have a system that imposes a purpose that is higher than oneself and necessary impinges one’s desires for mundane gratification. There is hence a supernatural understanding of becoming an ordained minister of the Catholic Church, and as a result, the vow (or promise) of obedience is also understood in the supernatural sense. The obedience of the priest is primarily the obedience to Christ who speaks not only in the Bible or Church teachings, but in one’s conscience. A priest cannot be excommunicated for disobeying his superior but obeying his conscience. Obedience is to understand that both the superior and the subordinate undergo the same discernment process.
It broke my heart when I saw the video of the INC minister in California who refused to read the letter excommunicating Angel and Tenny Manalo. I became more heartbroken after seeing comments from INC friends that what this minister did is unacceptable. He listened to his conscience and obeyed it. How could he be wrong? How can any precept of a Church supersede the voice of God in one’s conscience?
I hope that the four points add value to the public discourse about the Iglesia ni Cristo. I saw one post today saying that it seems everyone has become an analyst because of the INC issue. I don’t think there is anything wrong with this. We are brothers and sisters, and if there is something wrong, we need to point it out not to bring other people down but to help them rise up. I don’t care whether the INC has the correct doctrine or not, but many people have their lives hinged in one way or another to the INC.
When you try to break someone’s system of beliefs, it is tantamount to breaking the person entirely.
So I hope the INC shapes up. You are too big to fail. Just think of 80-year old people who lived a religious life under the INC. Where would they go if you fail?
Let’s see each other in heaven (or in ‘dagat-dagatang apoy) to discuss who has the right teaching. But for now, think of the poor ones who find solace in your faith. Think of the little ones. You MUST not fail them. For Christ’s sake.