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Friday, January 9, 2015

Black Nazarene: The Folly Of Idol Worship

"Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal: I am the Lord your God." ~ Leviticus 19: 4

Imagine the miles-long queue of devotees that formed past midnight way into the next day and beyond till the day of the actual procession of a life-sized image of the Black Nazarene - and you see people young and old from all walks of life in their miserable state - mostly coming from remote places - just to get near the statue, kiss its feet - and go home in ecstasy believing answers to their prayers are on the way. Such is the incomparable devotion and religious fervor you can see from devotees and fanatics alike of the ebony statue during the early stages of its feast in Manila. But that's only a prelude to the actual procession day with which devotees are expected to turn up in millions.

Today the 9th of January, is the actual procession day and crowd estimates according to authorities range from 5 million to 9 million. Latest report says, a 44-year old male devotee has died while participating in the carriage of the Black Nazarene probably due to tiredness and suffocation that led to his having a heart attack.

Actual scenario

The culmination of what they call 'Traslacion' or the actual procession of the Black Nazarene normally draws devotees numbering to over 5 millions. And each one of them tries to at least touch the image while it is being carried. While it is impossible for the old and sickly to venture near the carriage, they can still get someone as proxy - probably a strong and fit relative to bulldoze their way onto the carriage -  and touch the image with a special cloth which they believe can bring healing to their sickness. Of course when you battle it out with another five million people who are equally as determined to get close to the image and touch it, the odds of you emerging unscathed from such an ordeal is zero. On previous occasions, records show that the event has produced deaths and limbs lost - that instead of people getting healed from their sickness, they just topple on the scene - not because they experience epiphany right where they stand, but simply because these devotees get suffocated and crushed.

The folly of idol worship

I'd been there half of my lifetime. When I turned seven, my mother took me to a Catholic church four towns away - where the patron saint is San Isidro Labrador (the one who pulls up his garb showing his thigh dripping in blood from a dog bite while the dog stands calmly beside him). Even as a child, I was not impressed to be on a long queue watching impatient mothers dragging their children and let them watch scolding one another for not following first-come first-serve rule while waiting for their children's turn to kiss the image. (I remember certain amount was then required of us after completing the process which everyone in line should dutifully oblige - a church employee sometimes runs out of loose change that causes chaos and stalled traffic at the exit.)

Idol worship has been a way of life for most Filipinos dating back centuries ago from the Spanish colonization. It has been the most successful commodity the Roman Catholic empire has exported around the globe for more than a millennium. Hardcore Catholics would vow to die defending their religion - and their idols. They believe they are doing God a favor if they put themselves in harm's way as their way of participating in Christ's sufferings. But does the Scriptures approve of such practices? 

The Scriptures below is a testament to God's hatred for idols that like a kindergarten teacher He would show us the perfect example of the embarrassment man has brought upon himself for his idolatry and His disdain for people who do such a practice:

"All who make idols are nothing,
and the things they treasure are worthless.
Those who would speak up for them are blind;
they are ignorant, to their own shame.
Who shapes a god and casts an idol,
which can profit nothing?
People who do that will be put to shame;
such craftsmen are only human beings.
Let them all come together and take their stand;
they will be brought down to terror and shame.
The blacksmith takes a tool
and works with it in the coals;
he shapes an idol with hammers,
he forges it with the might of his arm.
He gets hungry and loses his strength;
he drinks no water and grows faint.
The carpenter measures with a line
and makes an outline with a marker;
he roughs it out with chisels
and marks it with compasses.
He shapes it in human form,
human form in all its glory,
that it may dwell in a shrine.
He cut down cedars,
or perhaps took a cypress or oak.
He let it grow among the trees of the forest,
or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow.
It is used as fuel for burning;
some of it he takes and warms himself,
he kindles a fire and bakes bread.
But he also fashions a god and worships it;
he makes an idol and bows down to it.
Half of the wood he burns in the fire;
over it he prepares his meal,
he roasts his meat and eats his fill.
He also warms himself and says,
“Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.”
From the rest he makes a god, his idol;
he bows down to it and worships.
He prays to it and says,
“Save me! You are my god!”
They know nothing, they understand nothing;
their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see,
and their minds closed so they cannot understand.
No one stops to think,
no one has the knowledge or understanding to say,
“Half of it I used for fuel;
I even baked bread over its coals,
I roasted meat and I ate.
Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left?
Shall I bow down to a block of wood?”
Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him;
he cannot save himself, or say,
“Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?” ~ Isaiah 44:9-20

It is very clear that the God of heavens, the Creator of the universe shows His contempt for idols. He hates idol worship and shames idol worshipers for their foolishness. Why would a man bow down to the work of his hand? Did he not go to the forest and cut down a tree and a portion of it he carved and shaped into a man and then worshiped it; and some portions he used to make fire and warmed himself and baked bread from it? In the scriptures above, God was taunting his created man for not using his sense of reason and He feels sorry for him that he cannot be saved from his foolishness.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus taught His disciples that God is a spirit and that He seeks a worshiper who will  worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). The Bible is God's truth and nowhere in the Bible that says God commands His creatures to make images resembling Him for no one has seen God and still live. The Ten Commandments written by God and given to Moses has been passed on from the time the Jewish people fled Egypt up to the present generation but only to be changed by the Roman Catholic church because they believe their authority stands above the Word of God. Let's find out the the glaring dissimilarities:

The Second Commandment from the Bible:
"You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my Commandments. ~ Exodus 20: 4-6

The Catholic Second Commandment:
"Thou shalt not take the name of thy LORD thy God in vain" ~ (This is actually the Third Commandment out of ten in the Bible. There is idolatry in the Papal system so the Second Commandment has been deleted or sometimes it has been absorbed into the first. All remaining Commandments are therefore shifted along one count.)

Why is Idolatry a Sin and an Abomination to the Lord?

1.  It is a clear transgression or disobedience of the following commandments of God.
"You shall not make for yourself a carved image - any likeness of anything that is in heaven above,or that is in the earth beneath, or that is the water under the earth.: ~ Deuteronomy 5:8

"You shall not make idols for yourselves; neither a carved image nor a sacred pillar you rear up for yourselves; nor shall you set up an engraved stone in your land, to bow down to it: for I am the LORD your God." ~ Leviticus 26:1

"Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry." ~ 1 Corinthians 10:14

2.  It is a work of the flesh rather that of the spirit.

"Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, IDOLATRY, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies." ~ Galatians 5: 19-21

3.  God is a spirit, and we must worship him in spirit and in truth.

"God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship Him in spirit and in truth." ~ John 4: 24

4.  We must not worship God in earthly things which are lowly in forms, wears and tears, and perishes in time. Isn't representing God (who is spirit, Holy, Almighty and everlasting), with a wood, metal or stone, a dishonor to Him?

"Cursed is the one who makes a carved or molded image, an abomination to the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and sets it up in secret. And all the people shall answer and say, 'Amen'." ~ Deuteronomy 27: 15

"Those who make an image, all of them are useless, and their precious things shall not profit; they are their own witnesses; they neither see nor know, that they may be ashamed." ~ Isaiah 44: 9

5.  We must not also think that God is like an image formed by human's art and invention.

"Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man's devising." ~Acts 17: 29

6.  God does not dwell in man-made temples or buildings.

"God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands." ~ Acts 17: 24

7.  The last but not the least, God does not give His honor or praise to carved images.

"I am the LORD, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another, nor My praise to carved images." ~ Isaiah 42: 8

Final Thoughts

I do not in any way gloat at the millions perhaps billions who have been deceived by the Devil into worshiping idols thinking that they are just a representation of God on earth. I pray that they will come to the knowledge of truth - that they be set free from the bondage of idolatry and religiosity. God did not appoint anyone on earth to be His official representative as what the pope claims himself to be - nor He commissioned craftsmen to carve an image to be paraded supposedly representing Him and command multitudes to flock around it and get crushed and die, and voila they already did God a favor by dying for His cause.

People need to be saved from their sins and idolatry is one of them. No idolater will ever enter the kingdom of God - that is what the Bible assures us. But God has given us His Son Jesus to die for our sins - the Jesus who is alive today, the omnipresent One who is not confined inside the Quiapo church and emerging only once a year to give people false hope. - the Jesus who is neither black nor white for He is a spirit and in His glorified body - the Jesus who is the God of all mankind who did not stay a baby all His life just what the Sinulog portrays Him to be. This same Almighty Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords knocking at the door of your heart, pleading that you hear Him  - that if you invite Him to come in He shall be with you, save you from your sin and give you eternal life.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

It's Not More Fun (In The Philippines) Sans Eyes and Limbs

"In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule." ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The backdrop was by any means reminiscent of World War 2 except for the obvious works of art that lit up the sky - the atrociously ear-piercing explosions here and there that you thought the metropolis just fell at the hands of the ISIS - and by then had their hands full massacring every breathing Filipino at every turn so that you scurried for dear life. If not for reveling faces on the ground that compete as to who gets to detonate the loudest arsenal to 'scare off some naughty spirits' that bring bad luck for the new year - the world war 2 scenario is completely resurrected but with a catch: almost all injuries are self-inflicted from failed 'suicide attempts' - in this case one's own limbs and eyes are deliberately the targets.

It is the era of genetics, stem cell phenomenon, and Kim K 'breaking the internet' - yet these are miniatures of an achievement compared to what tradition-infested Philippines have conquered. Not even the lame and subdued pyrotechnics display (by Filipino standard) of first-in-a-beeline Auckland and Sydney, nor the extravagantly splendid but fleeting Burj Khalifa stunts, nor the Times Square revelry - not even an inch can compare to the bloody pursuits of Filipinos for a really 'enjoyable and prosperous new year ahead'.

Take this: despite the looming fare hike in MRT and LRT greeting the 20 plus million residents of Metropolitan Manila who mostly go about with their lives availing of this transport system - the temerity to allocate a rather big chunk of their hard-earned income to buy firecrackers to greet the new year is such that a plate of pale spaghetti paired up with some nearly rotten round fruits will suffice - for as long as firecrackers are stacked up in abundance to get the rear of those naughty evil spirits off lest they'll get asphyxiated from smoke and render them deaf from loud bangs so that they no longer pester again our religious Filipinos all throughout the new year.

This powerful Filipino tradition is world-renown in both ways: the incomparable revelry characterized by bomb-like explosions and ground shakes that may at times compel PHIVOLCS to frantically announce they are yet to come up with a device on how to differentiate an authentic earth movement from a Goodbye Philippines or Bin Laden-triggered earth shake, for one - and the inexplicable insanity Filipinos might be suffering from, for another.

Reasons why the world collectively thinks Filipinos have gone insane and have reasons to point finger at science or maybe religion for not being able to rescue this group of people from the torture of perpetual madness it is being subjected to:

1. Firecrackers and Guns
  • In any random place imaginable, there is no shortage of mangled limbs and fingers you see squiggling on the ground and struggling to find their rightful owners whom you find staggering and gasping for clean air amid the smothering smoke that equally devastates their lungs. And also those who lost eyesight on new year's eve are not to be denied of the limelight - at least they too are given substantial media mileage that their new-found fame reaches their already wailing OFW relatives who also have to deal with oppressive employers. (*When the UN releases figures in February as to which country takes the cake with most amputees at the first salvo of 2015 - surely Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and Yemen would be fuming mad and green with envy at Filipinos who dared join their league and rightfully snatched the crown from them.)
  • An average Filipino thinks the more firecrackers he blows up and the louder it gets, the more chances bad luck and bad spirits get mortified at the thought of being bombed out and unable to perfectly piece their tails and horns together. (*yeah, speaking of spirits, right? at least humans called Filipinos beat  Casper's progeny in this one, hands down. "Better luck next time you filthy ghosts, prove your being a sport and get back as soon as you figure already on how to counter smart Filipinos' weaponry. But man don't trip over limbs and eyeballs on your way out, you may find some, just to remind yah!" 
  • New year is perfect time to show off that they have tons of money hence tons of firecrackers - and the loudest and brightest home is assumed to have the most money in the neighborhood - to which they should remain the loudest and foggiest till sunshine to erase any doubts of their accolade.  Filipinos are way too assertive of anything, in this case, of his reputation. Ego unlimited eh?(and oh by the way, this competition dates back since time immemorial and may or may have not directly triggered Filipino exodus to other countries to keep tradition afloat from generation to generation.)
  • Parents especially those from the slum areas lack training on how to teach their kids to differentiate edibles from non-edibles. Proof is, cases of kids ingesting firecrackers they mistake for food or candies, are mounting. (At least the taste-first-before-swallow approach by Freud should have been taught at the oral stage.)
  • Gun owners are in a frenzy to fire bullets into air thinking government has its hand full to bother and keep them in its worry list amid the Bilibid scandal and Ruby-Senyang trails of destruction. (In fact, pictures on Facebook posted by the thugs themselves firing their rifles and ammunition into the air on new year's eve can vouch to that thought-pattern. Unfortunately for the ego-maniacs, netizens who were not impressed go on an online rampage that nudged police from their tipsy state to get those thugs to answer for their 'showmanship'.)
  • Figures from New year's eve fatalities attributed to 'random firing into air' is but a  common scenario because people cannot be held back from such tradition. Meaning, no entity from above and below can interfere with tradition dearly held by some macho thugs that "rifles and guns are naturally fired into air notwithstanding the bullets coming back to the ground to kill innocent people". (So, the agony of those who lost their loved ones from bullets fired indiscriminately are prolonged, the fact that no one has yet to answer for this heinous crime. But you cannot fight tradition, right?)
  • While all sectors of society are into relentless revelry, the same cannot be said of the doctors and nurses who have to work round-the-clock to treat the injured in 'battle'. Though some of those who emerged alive from their 'battles with bad spirits' and are  projected to keep their limbs intact - others, young and old alike, battle to contain the shame and pain of losing limbs and fingers, or burnt faces. Unfortunately for some who lost an eye - a last fair request to do a selfie may not be the best memento to keep when one loses his ability to steady the lens. (I think it's but a natural thing to do to commend these medical practitioners for their professionalism and dedication in the service of the injured. Surely, it takes great passion and precision to be able to cut-and-saw mangled limbs while not losing the spirit of media noche. Proof is, there was no report that a spaghetti perched next to a bloody gauze flew into a sutured wound.)
  • I think it's insanity of the highest order when over 2000 families in Quezon City lost their homes in the early morning of January 1, 2015 due to a firecracker that was set-off  by children resulting to a huge inferno that claimed some lives, and needless to say dashed hopes of those poor residents for a better and prosperous new year. (oh tradition, people will die to fight for tradition, and oh some of them did get killed by tradition, literally. The bad news is:  the trend is here to stay as long as those who survived did not learn their lessons - and the good news for those who can keep their reason: the prognosis is, they may live longer.)

2. Food
  • Ushering new year is the time of the year when Filipinos believe that dining tables should be overflowing with food that signals abundance and prosperity for the entire new year. And abundance means lechon, cholesterol-laden oily foods, carb-rich entrees and desserts, and heavy beverages congesting their table. In the Philippines this is the perfect picture of a dining table that epitomizes abundance and prosperity. If you're a health buff and insists on seeing unconventional green leafy menu on the table, chances are you're a spoiler of tradition and promptly labeled.(In case you stand true to your conviction, be of good cheer, who knows, you're may be up for a rigorous task next: transporting those who fall like snows in blizzard - to the nearest emergency - maybe, just maybe.;)
  • Of course in every argument there is pros and cons. If the well-to-do families can fill their tables to the brim with sumptuous foods and the next day they populate hospitals due to usual suspects i.e. cardiovascular issue, high blood and stroke - poor families on the other hand are not that constrained for obvious reasons. So the poor, though wallowing in their supposed inability to cope up with tradition, they in the end win the race for flatter belly and longevity - something that the flip side (those with talents in stuffing their bellies with carbs and drowning themselves in pork oil) have to only dream about in their hospital bed. (this opinion is only brought up for the sake of sarcasm but does not in any way generalize, but is partly true. ;)

Feng Shui
  • I am not referring to the title of a horror film moviegoers are raving about, it is about the Filipinos' undiminished belief in lucky charms that they would do anything to follow the advice of supposedly 'feng shui experts' to usher in all the 'good luck and positivity' for the new year. The advice comes with selling lucky charms to the 'gullible majority' composed mostly of 'can-afford' families who leave no options to omit one single lucky charm if only to scoop up all the good fortunes on offer. 
  • Unbeknownst to many, it is imperative for feng shui 'experts' to master the book "How to Trick the Greedy and Gullible" before plying their trade - and part of the Trick 101 is to establish a name in media - in this case, maybe befriend a tv host, or lucky them, if they get a presidential sister to tour to their feng shui shop and pretend to adore her acting prowess that should have won her the MMFF acting award. Then the greater the media mileage, the longer the beeline formed by clients to seek advice - and the louder these 'experts' laugh their way to the bank.
  • Judging on the bad luck that befell those thousands who lost their homes from fire on new year's eve, it's safe to assume that none of them heeded the advice from feng shui experts: to stuff their homes with lucky charms, hence the bad luck that greeted them on the first day of new year. But who's to blame when those slum dwellers have only had scant meal on their table let alone get a lucky charm even at a bargain?
  • And just how true is the report that on the last day of 2014, all city hall employees of Makati were deployed to Binondo and Quiapo to shop for the most potent amulets and charms available to be buried beneath the most expensive parking building on the planet and under their master's palatial mansions? If in the next few weeks survey results say their master had stretched his lead, then the reports were in fact true. (But whatever happened to GMA with all the best feng shui experts surrounding her and her hospital bed adorned in glittering lucky charms that all she could muster for herself was a Christmas furlough? Umm, maybe some spirits have developed fondness for Pnoy even before his Vice-Ganda interview?)

Firecrackers, Food binge and Feng Shui are but staples in new year's tradition some Filipinos cannot live without. But who cares about what the world have to say? When the world has ISIS to deal with, and the French losing their country to Islamists - with the Americans still obsessed with their Bieber, Pitt-Jolie and Game of Thrones - and Kim Jung Un has some catching up to do from briefly losing his internet - the Filipinos' notoriety in ushering a new year with a fraction of its citizens losing limbs and eyes, is just a testament that Filipinos are a unique people - world-renown for its peculiarity, even if it means the whole world shifts its eyes in unison at a glaring endemic stupidity insanity - but for the sake of political correctness, you get ambiguous silence which means either scorn or respect. And so there shall be peace! Happy New Year!

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Silay City, Negros Occidental, The Philippines

Some of the photos above courtesy of Arnaldo Arnáiz Díaz

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