Christianity encounters Filipino spirit-world beliefs : a case study
Almocera, Reuel U.
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In varying degrees, Filipino Christians are caught in a three-way confrontation of spirit-world views. The three views are the Western-inspired rationalistic understanding of the supernatural, the nonrationalistic Filipino traditional religious beliefs and practices, and the biblical understanding of the spirit-world. The tension created by this confrontation often results in a syncretistic response labelled "split-level Christianity'' by Jesuit priest Jaime Bulatao. This study was proposed in an attempt to remedy the "split-level" characteristic of the Filipino Christian experience. Specifically, it attempts to identify a contextualized theological-pastoral approach to the spirit-world component of Philippine popular religiosity. The study is based on a case which exemplifies the issues encountered by Filipino Christians in attempting to respond to the biblical teachings about the spirits. The general procedure of the study follows several steps: (1) description, (2) analysis, (3) biblical-theolog~cal interpretation, and (4) pastoral action. Part I: Description After the case presentation and an introduction of the research, the description portion of the study presents a review of literature on the spirit-world phenomenon in the Philippines. This review describes two major views, one of which view considers the Filipino spirit-world beliefs as a Filipino invention necessary for social control; the other view advocates the idea that the belief is based on the reality and existence of the spirits. Part II: Analysis The analysis probes the socio-cultural, psychological, and religious factors that have shaped the dynamics of the case. The Filipino values of pakikisama, amor propio, sakop system, and bahala na reinforce the spirit-world beliefs and made the healing ritual offered by spirit world practitioners necessary. The most important factor was the influence of anitism--the primitive Filipino religious belief system. Anitism's concepts of an inaccessible God, the existence of environmental spirits, and the idea that all-natural events are attributable to the inscrutable ways of invisible forces of the spirit-world, are evident in the case. Part III: Biblical-Theological Interpretation. The two chapters in this section deal with separate specific issues. One deals with the Filipino belief in the existence of evil spirits and their involvement in human life and illness. The other deals with the participation of Filipino Christians in the traditional healing rituals performed by spirit-world specialists. The findings may be summarized as follows. (1) The Bible affirms the reality, existence, and activity of angels, fallen angels, and demons or evil spirits in this world. (2) Bible narratives such as the experience of Job and Jesus' encounter with demon-possessed persons indicates that demons are capable of inflicting disease and physical harm to human beings. (3) Major aspects of the spirit-world healing rituals have the characteristics of magic, a practice condemned by the Bible. (4) Subscription to spirit-world healing rituals is inconsistent with the authentic Christian faith. Part IV: Action The study recommends that Christianity should not deny the Filipino spirit-world categorically. Instead, it should endeavor to inculturate the Filipino spirit-world beliefs and practices within the bounds of sound biblical principles. The study advocates that Christianity should provide Filipinos with Christian spirit-world teachings and an alternative healing ritual. The teachings should emphasize the existence of the spirit world, the immanence-transcendence of God, the Christus Victor motif, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Filipinized healing ritual should use symbols, such as coconut oil and laying on of hands, to dramatize the sovereignty and power of God over the spirits and human lives.