One of the most outstanding things in Philippine universities is that it’s predominantly Catholic. For UST, you have the Dominicans. For Ateneo, it’s the Jesuits. La Salle has its own secular group whereas UP doesn’t have. The Catholic influence dates as far back as the Spanish era where the Spaniards used religion to conquer the Philippines.
But nowadays, people have split into different sects of religion. Some have become evangelical Christians, others became Iglesia ni Cristo, there’s Muslim – the Philippines has become the melting pot of a lot of cultures with religion being one of the aspects. However, there’s something people sometimes wonder: how do students of different religions handle Theology based on Catholicism when they are of a different religion? Here are some stories students and former students were glad to share with us.
“A sense of religious freedom…”
“DLSU wasn’t that hardcore Catholic, though some people inside were pretty persuasive or persuaded by Catholicism. So far, I’m pretty glad that there was space for religious liberty in DLSU because I was free to express my religion, as much as everyone was. As someone who came from Catholicism, I was bit rebellious, too, so all the more I welcomed what I learned in Evangelicalism. Sometimes, I felt some existential terror (like, what if I’m wrong?), but most of the time I pushed through and learned more and more about the gospel.
Sometimes, it was hard because for the first half of my college education I wasn’t that familiar with (1) the Gospel and thus didn’t fully understand WHAT to defend apart from opposing veneration, hyperdulia, and ex opere operato sacraments. But not all the time. I reconciled the differences by affirming the truths found in Catholicism (i.e., the Trinity and the two natures of Christ) and being charitable to them and the truths they arrived at through reflection and meditation on the biblical data, but at the same time denying what I believe are the problems inherent in that system, like the kind of sacerdotalism they promoted (i.e., the sacraments are mechanically effective to the willing recipients).
I think another problem I had was Justification. Because as an Evangelical, I believe that I can’t do enough good works to be accepted by God, and God has to cover me with Jesus’ good works so that he can accept me.
But according to the Roman Catholics, who use James 2:21-24, Justification before God is initial, through baptism, and then by grace-enabled good works, we can merit them.
I think it was constant help from a bunch of other protestants and reforming Christians that I was able to deal with the scriptural inconsistency. Now, as a Presbyterian, I can see the difference between Paul and James on Justification (i.e, they’re different kinds of justification) and understand how they are harmonized. Back then I had an inkling of my understanding now, but a bit juvenile pa.”
“Wasn’t really much of a problem for me.”
“It was never really a problem. In a way, it actually opened my mind up a bit more. In Protestantism, they believe that the Bible is an open book for everyone. Interpreting it doesn’t necessarily belong to a single person or group. Anyone can pick it up, read it and be inspired by it. This made a lot of Christian concepts easier for me to grasp than it did for a lot of my other classmates. As for coping with the differences, I’d often sit next to people at Catholic mass who would sometimes mutter “Are we really supposed to believe that’s the actual body and blood of Christ?” and I’d just whisper “Have you considered Protestantism?” or even “I don’t get why we’re always hating on gay people.” and then I’d whisper “You know, the United Methodist Church is moving to incorporate gay marriages in their ministries.” Oddly enough, the differences made me feel empowered because of how limited and backward some old Catholic beliefs can seem to a logically thinking person. Being a Christian, I don’t find it difficult to reconcile the beliefs. Many Protestants just see Catholics as this fan club that’s stuck to a very old often outdated canon. Growing up in Ateneo was pretty easy though. You’d be surprised how much in common the Jesuits share with the Protestant faith. In fact, in history, the Jesuits saved the Catholic Church from the threat of Protestant conversion by making the Church adapt to its beliefs. I think it’s really just all the same thing. Everyone wants to follow Jesus’s message of charity, tolerance, secularism, and love, but have completely different ways of going about it, and some people tend to draw really weird conclusions, many Protestants included.”
“Didn’t really practice; didn’t have to join them either.”
“I didn’t join the explicitly-Catholic activities (Elem, HS and College and law school are in Public Schools). But I didn’t have a hard time. I just ignored the Catholic activities (since I didn’t practice my own religion, there were no practical differences to reconcile).”
“I was once Agnostic and fell in love with Islam.”
“I only started officially practicing Sunni Islam last 2016. Before that, I was spiritual but not religious, agnostic is another term. My mom was Roman Catholic. My dad is a Muslim from the Maranao tribe.
My Grade 6 Catholic school enforced the wholesale memorization of rituals and rites. They didn’t require me to attend mass, though I once attended for anthropological curiosity. It was boring since we had to memorize facts that I could not relate to.
However, college was more interesting. Despite it being a religious school, the Jesuits are unique. Rather than mere memorization and acceptance of facts, the teachers I had encouraged us to challenge our beliefs and discern the truth for ourselves.
But maybe because my cognitive style is INFP: rather than see the differences between religions, I saw the human condition that enabled and necessitated belief. I saw what was similar in Judaism, Christianity, Islam.
My dominant Introverted Feeling (Fi) cognitive judging function let me have a more syncretic approach, to accept the things that fit with my way of life and set aside what just wouldn’t work.
Some classes like the Theology of Marriage I just endured to get the grade to pass. Some classes like the Philosophy of Religion and Theology of Social Justice moved my heart.
The questioning and thinking through of it was either fun or life-changing. Even if the particulars were different, I could see the pattern that made the religions and spirituality similar.
The connectedness in all things; why hope, faith, and love matter; the empathy for the plight of the other… all our questions humans would ask whatever the particulars of their faith.
When I started studying Islam in 2016, my years of Christian education were surprisingly useful. The Qur’an often requires knowledge in the Old Testament and the New Testament. They are from the same tradition, the people of the book and the followers of Abraham, so that was helpful.
I think only people from monotheistic or atheistic faiths would struggle with other religions. People from polytheistic traditions can afford to be more syncretic and ecumenical.
In Ateneo, Theology only required us to attend at least 12 units or 4 required classes.
Rather than have a hard time, I was happy to be exempted from some requirements such as attending masses, retreats, et cetera.
The people at school were accommodating anyway. Any differences in religion weren’t obvious since I wasn’t wearing a hijab back then.
The existential crisis of adulting is harder than all of that.”
“It was an annoying time for me.”
“It wasn’t all that different from how I dealt with HS. Nod and smile here, okays and good for yous there. What really threw me off was how kids my age attributed anything remotely positive to their ‘god’. In my head, I was always, “Didn’t you study your ass off last night for that?” It just felt really weird to witness those moments when I have finally been an out atheist. It was more of an annoying time than a hard time when the topic comes up. Despite not seeing eye-to-eye, most of the people I’ve met didn’t really butt heads with me and respected my non-belief.”
Catholicism is not the only religion out there!
Catholicism may be one of the most dominant here in the Philippines. But that doesn’t mean you should limit yourself to just Catholicism. When you’re in college, there are so many people from different walks of life who come to attend. You meet Muslims who are extremely different from the people you hear on media. There are Protestants who encourage the Bible to be understood with the changing of the times.
Our next assignment for you, our dear learners is to go out there! Talk to someone from a different culture. Let them share their stories with you. They’ll have stories better than any book on the shelf.