The Long View: Moral intensification

The Long View
Moral intensification

By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:13:00 05/18/2009

That was a term coined by the present Chief Justice, arising from his belief that the legal system is powerless to address the country’s problems, but that change can be achieved by reversing what he sees as the longstanding moral decay of the country. Religious leaders, according to him, can act as “moral forces” in “redirecting the destiny” of the country.

There is much that is admirable about our present Chief Justice, but I am troubled by a suspicion that at the heart of his public acts is a belief in the benefits of a theocratic state. To me, this is a point of view that is dangerous, because it is fundamentally incompatible with his being a jurist who is tasked with the application of secular law. Fr. Robert Reyes once quoted the Chief Justice as having told him that the “justice system is based on our morality which is based on our spirituality.” This would have shocked many, if not all, of his illustrious predecessors. Hadn’t Chief Justice Jose P. Laurel referred to “justice in its rational and objectively secular conception” in his justly famous definition of social justice?

The core values of our state, degenerate and dysfunctional as it may be, at present, are enshrined in three words from Laurel’s description above: that human progress is served by institutions that are Rational, Objective and Secular.

These core values are quite compatible with religious feeling, and in and of themselves not opposed to sectarian doctrines. It is like the late scientist Stephen Jay Gould’s description of faith and science being subject to non-overlapping magisteria, or authority. As he put it in his famous essay, “The net of science covers the empirical universe: what is it made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for starters, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty). To cite the arch cliches, we get the age of rocks, and religion retains the rock of ages; we study how the heavens go, and they determine how to go to heaven.”

Does the Chief Justice propose reconciling law and faith, or is he expressing a desire to subordinate human institutions to the dogmas of specific faiths? The Philippines is not alone in having societies in which Mysticism, Sectoral Partisanship and Theocracy are increasingly viewed as the antidotes to corruption, injustice and misery. Should this tendency be embraced? This seems, to me, the dangerous path on which the Chief Justice has embarked.

At the heart of the approach to law and government among people like Laurel, whose thinking and training were informed by the Enlightenment thinking of people like Rizal and Mabini, the conduct of human affairs was more properly approached in a manner that best approximated scientific inquiry and problem-solving, if it was to avoid the risks – of fanaticism, intolerance, inquisition and persecution – that Godliness inflicted on human society in ages past.

Recall that a lesser judge was expelled from the judiciary for believing in magical dwarves: is there any difference in a chief magistrate who preaches as from a pulpit, confusing the robes of office with the robes of priestly, even prophetic, ministry? For the great crime for which the duwende-loving judge was dismissed, was to throw the judiciary in disrepute for the eccentricity of his views, which put in doubt his capacity to render impartial justice. But if these were grounds, there must surely be those of the opinion that a Chief Justice who essentially throws in the towel, declaring the salvation of the nation lies in God and not in Law, has no business being in the courts one moment longer and should, instead, either found a church or become a partisan politician?

A couple of years ago, during a forum held by a foreign chamber of commerce, one Filipino in the audience expressed frustration over the timidity of the hierarchy. I responded by saying that perhaps this was a good thing, as reducing the political influence of the Catholic Church was better for the country in the long run.

On one hand you have the Catholic Church effectively mobilizing to block the Reproductive Health bill, and on the other, mobilizing to keep Land Reform legislation alive. Tolerating the former because of the need for a force capable of mobilizing to promote the latter is a Faustian bargain we shouldn’t even have to consider. It only serves to underline the inherent contradictions when the element of sectarian morality muscles into the political sphere.

And this applies to all churches. At the very least, marshaling religion for one side only permits marshaling religion for the other; it does not introduce anything new nor does it offer any real opportunity to break the impasse the country’s been in, politically, since 2005. There is no difference between a politician bragging of Lakas and Kampi’s machinery and those who proclaim the presidency can be obtained by a coalition of Catholic bishops, the Iglesia Ni Cristo and Evangelical Christians.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

55 thoughts on “The Long View: Moral intensification


    (It’s still legal – and always God-honoring – to air messages like the following. See Ezekiel 3:18-19. In light of government backing of raunchy behavior (such offenders were even executed in early America!), maybe the separation we really need is the “separation of raunch and state”!)

    In Luke 17 in the New Testament, Jesus said that one of the big “signs” that will happen shortly before His return to earth as Judge will be a repeat of the “days of Lot” (see Genesis 19 for details). So gays are actually helping to fulfill this same worldwide “sign” (and making the Bible even more believable!) and thus hurrying up the return of the Judge! They are accomplishing what many preachers haven’t accomplished! Gays couldn’t have accomplished this by just coming out of closets into bedrooms. Instead, they invented new architecture – you know, closets opening on to Main Streets where little kids would be able to watch naked men having sex with each other at festivals in places like San Francisco (where their underground saint – San Andreas – may soon get a big jolt out of what’s going on over his head!). Thanks, gays, for figuring out how to bring back our resurrected Saviour even quicker!

    [If you would care to learn about the depraved human “pigpen” that regularly occurs in Nancy Pelosi’s district in California, Google “Zombietime” and click on “Up Your Alley Fair” in the left column. And to think – horrors – that she is only two levels away from being President!]

  2. “de-facto theocracy in Philippine cultural life that extends to the political system! ”

    “So BS, eh ba’t andaming adulterer sa mga politicians?”

    Kaw ang full of BS. Adultery and theocracy? What’s the connection? So, pag may theocracy, ala ng adultery — is this your argument? As a matter of fact, technically, long-term adultery in Pinas is prevalent because the Church blocks legislation on divorce. The Philippines is one of the only two states in the world that has no divorce law — it makes good business for the Catholic Church here, lots of “sinners” to preach to. Adultery is indeed “immoral”, no Church dogma needed, me speaking from an uptight middle-class bias. Adultery as a common practice is a prediliction of classes of people who are unbounded by norms of social behaviour — usually the topmost and lowest of the socio-economic classes — herein in Pinas, you have your rotten politicians and your “patapons”. So there, you have America, a nation of middle-class people who were so uptight about Clinton’s Monica affair and ex- New York Governor Spitzer’s prosti fling, Americans had to have these pols punished. Adultery is not about religion or morality per se, it’s about societal norms and values.

    “Madonna. You’re making a false argument identifying hypocrisy with church policy. The church does not judge hypocrites (the prayerful corrupt) or the merely superstitious (criminal with Santos) as much or as well as it judges immorality on principle (condom). That’s why you don’t hear priests preaching against the former.”

    I am not. You are blinded. Church policy and its actual doings, whether intentional or not are miles apart. Open your eyes and ears — you have priests mouthing opinion not only about reproductive health, marriage and divorce but also whether we should welcome mining investments, go nuclear on energy policy or not and the Catholic Bishops issuing its grand opinion whether the Pandak should resign or not and you are so ignorant so as not to think that Catholic bishops and other religious leaders do not exercise power in the government apparatus generally. There are very upright priests and I personally know a few — but meron din mga singungaling na pari. They are also human beings like us after all so no need to make them look infallible.

    Oh, holy cow then, then I’m no Christian or Catholic if my Church won’t speak against hypocricy. But then anyway, you are fucking dead wrong. True priests or real men of God speak out against hypocricy and Jesus Christ himself condemned it in the highest order! And the Church that I will continue to stay allegiance to will be willing to speak against ignorance and superstition. I will be a Catholic till the day I die just because one religion for me is as good as another and I am always loyal to my roots, and I take hope that my Church is still full of leaders who knowingly go the way of the light.

    Condoms are immoral in principle? How can be a piece of latex be immoral? So are birth control pills too eh? Do we have to go to confession every time we use one? Lots of fucking immoral people in Pinas because of Church dogma. ROTFWL. Lord have mercy on our immoral souls then. (I’m certain He does — the only thing I’m certain of).

  3. Jun Bautitsta,
    CJ Puno may have had an admirable and brilliant career but this does not exempt him from becoming senile and pompous due to old age. Whatever he did before, we appreciate, we don’t know whats in store in the future. History is full of brilliant men and women who succumb to eccentricity in later life. Questioning CJ Puno’s motives is perfectly valid most especially since he is taking “moral high ground” position. Let him prove he can “walk the talk” given the circumstances of power and opposition.

  4. ramrod,

    No one is saying CJ Puno’s motives should not be questioned; I am merely pointing out that Manolo has misread his pronouncements about a “moral high ground.” By the way, CJ Puno hasn’t been that long being a chief justice and his decisions of late will reveal that he is not yet senile, and if advocating for the protection of civil liberties (with the introduction of the writ of amparo and habeas data into our legal system) and resisting attempts to prevent transparency in government, as shown by his dissent in the Neri case on executive privilege, may be considered pompous, then i’d rather that he be one than a magistrate who holds no principles and imprisoned in his ivory tower.

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