28 April 2006

much ado about judas

the gospel, that is. national geographic primed an interested public on the 'revelations' of the recently studied and translated gospel of judas by debuting its story at the start of the christian holy week. expectedly, it drew reactions that range from incredulity to hostility, following, of course, the near-exact formula: the strength of negative reaction is directly proportional to the degree of your religious fundamentalism. more expectedly, it was surrounded by so much pr-generated, media-induced hype. the teaser for the tv documentary: it was a discovery that would likely shake the very foundations of the christian faith. sure.

what do we know about it? here's the latest consensus:
1. it is a gnostic text, written in coptic, 'egyptian written in greek characters'.
2. the papyrii copy in question is carbon-dated to have been written in c. 4th century c.e.
3. for a change, it details judas in a good light.

some points to put things in context:
1. it is obviously not orthodox christian text. not the faith of our fathers, definitely.
2. even during the time of the apostles, there were already groups who were appropriating the teachings and life-story of jesus of nazareth and mixing them with elements from various other sources; who, thus, could also lay claim to the identity of being themselves christian churches.
3. these churches also have their own 'sacred texts'. the various gnostic groups have been known to have a long tradition of claiming to be keepers or guardians of secret knowledge and powers stashed in some sacred writings, artifacts, or other-worldly plane.

still, such stories could make the average christian rather perplexed. this situation highlights the gap (not insumountable, mind you) between the christian-on-the-street, even one who had relatively good religious education, and the graduate student of theology who has presumably studied and understood church history and such basic questions as canonicity and inspiration of scriptural texts.

something could also be said about the present intellectual culture that puts more premium on academic interpretation over dogmatic assertions. in this post-postmodern milieu, the gospel of judas is seen as a welcome addition to the body of knowledge that makes wider the perspectives - historical, theological, political, etc - for a better understanding of early christianity.

then again, and here i would assert my 'catholic bias', questions may have to be raised at the apparent tendency of certain scholars (at least, of some of those who contributed to national geographic's documentary) to put all these various 'primitive' christian churches that co-existed during the first centuries c.e. on a seemingly equal footing, sociologically (which is fine) and even doctrinally (which is questionable); or to explain the great influence wielded by one particular group of churches - the (catholic) church that trace its foundation to the apostles - in the language of political power play.

further, there is a wide difference of views and practical life-application between one who actually practices the faith and one who has predominantly academic interest only on christianity - or, even wider, one from outside looking in. the christian faith (the whole gamut of scriptures, tradition, teachings, practices, etc.) cannot be explained by a simplistic recourse to the dialectics of dominance of certain individuals, groups or ideas across the ages, or of the confluence of political forces and historical circumstances. for the christian, it is, first of all, the work of the Holy Spirit, the same Trinitarian Spirit who creates the world, raised Jesus from the dead, effects our salvation, and guides us to our continuing journey of greater union with God.

furthermore, who are those affected by controversies like these (include the one spawned by dan brown's da vinci code)? they generally come from the educated class and the reading public (not necessarily mutually inclusive groupings), in short, from a rather small percentage of our christian population. so, it is safe to say, a wide-scale desertion from organized religion is not in the offing.

finally, these controversies raise questions and create doubt, in short, they generate attention. in a media-saturated, information-overloaded world, if judas and his gospel could make people want to know more about their long-held but largely-ignored faith, then perhaps it may not be unwise to consider all this hype, all this confusion, as somewhat the work of the Spirit. in this limited application, this 'gospel of judas' may just turn out to be divinely-inspired.

09 April 2006

domingo de ramos & the politics of personality

today is palm sunday, the whole catholic church celebrates the start of the holy week: blessing of palm fronds, mark's passion narrative as gospel, red vestments. also very heavy traffic on nlex and slex as regular city folks start their twice, or so,-a-year pilgrimages to their home provinces.

this early morning's blessing of the palms, recalling Jesus' 'triumphal' (over what?) entry to jerusalem, evoked some thoughts on the cult and politics of personality. add to it the rather amusing fact that in this semana santa, not only do we have a "domingo de ramos" but a "sabado de gloria" as well. the 1997 cbcp exhortation on phil politics identifies the 'politics of personality', among other things, as the bane of this country's political culture. too much dependence on individuals of either strength, or celebrity, or notoriety, or all of the above.

come to think of it, Jesus was such a personality himself. and the people were already proclaiming him king, a rightful heir to the house of david. whether or not they were the same crowd, but shouting a markedly different slogan, on john's passion narrative this good friday is another matter.

a strong, charismatic cult figure. peoples at all times and places have been drawn to such figures, accepting their almost-natural leadership, taking on their words as gospel truths. even the current troubles of phil politics have been reduced to a question of personalities.

after the (rhetorical?) question: "did gloria lie, cheat and steal and so is better off stepping down from office?", the next most natural and, to some extent, harder question to answer is: "and who do you propose should take her place". personalities. it seems now this political gordian knot could be simply and swiftly (although apparently there is nothing simple nor swift about this process) be loosened by presenting a charismatic and winnable figure, an icon that would symbolize all the supposedly noble aspirations of the various/divided (take your pick) opposition. someone like cory aquino in 1986. personalities.

a leading cleric puts it succinctly: the question of what happens next, i.e., among other things, who would replace her is itself, a moral question. and for as long as no barabbas is presented the pretender queen of the pinoys will remain queen -- okay now, that was bad metaphor -- and she will railroad chacha, continue to suppress protest actions, threaten the press, and proceed to lie, cheat, steal, not only by her lonesome but with and through her minions as well, and with less impunity than ever.

it is ironic that a system, such as the parliamentary system, that supposedly favors strong parties, party identity and stands -- and, therefore, political maturity -- is widely perceived as a tool and a ruse to prop up the most unpopular, sleaziest, personality-oriented administration in the history of this nation. and the perceived solution to this crisis: a strong and winnable opposition candidate in a snap poll that would be driven by the same manic politics of personalities and party allegiance-switches. and when that candidate (whoever s/he is) wins, then we could all start working for political maturity again.

let us pray that this holy week may be a good time for repentance and conversion for all filipinos, especially our leaders from all sides. hope springs eternal, after all, we are celebrating an epic story that includes a tortured thief availing of salvation right before death's door.

have a holy holy week.

07 April 2006

an auspicious beginning

an arsonist is haunting legazpi city these days.
last week he razed the b.u. little theater to the ground.
before that, a portion of aquinas hospital,
as well as some other hospitals.
two attempts were made at st. raphael's church,
both of them frustrated by timely discovery
of small starting fires - fire on a pew; burning jacket
draped on the church's sound system controls.
yesterday i saw a portion of divine word,
thick smokes billowing from windows, firetrucks all over,
onlookers, students & employees waiting outside.
it was the school's a.v. room that got gutted.
is he just a single individual or does he work with a team of sorts?
some eyewitness accounts describe a 40-something
male, average height, relatively stocky.
is he a pyromaniac? or simply part of a grand scam
to boost sales of fire prevention tools or the security business?
i don't know. & authorities are mum about the matter,
presumably they're doing something about it, considering
the high profile institutions the arsonist has been targetting.

an auspicious beginning for a pretentious,
a bit self-conscious, little blog. this blogger
though vows no relation or complicity
whatsoever to the legazpi arsonist.
why firesetter news? for various reasons
but mainly because this blogger hopes
to set a different sort of fire. the one that brings about
meaningful change, and such other big and vague things as
renewal, recovery, reducing extreme poverty
and, let's not forget, world peace.
i hope to do more than just 'light a candle & stop cursing
the darkness' or to simply 'keep the flame burning'.
the ideal is to start & keep nothing less than a conflagration.
more like, a hip & driven, pro-active 'voice in the wilderness'.

this is the blog of a young deacon starting public ministry,
with as much fire and fear as could be decently expected, as an
office drone, a glorified assistant to the assistant to the boss-man.
this is me: transitional deacon, occassional cynic, aspiring firesetter.