Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Essay: Que Sera, Sera: God is Batman?

Every Wednesday, I'll have an essay or a feature on any topic that catches my fancy!

(Image Source: Wikipedia)

Religion isn't a light subject in the Philippines. Whether it's Jesus or Allah, Faith is a dominant part of our culture. A few years ago, there was a cold war of sorts between Catholicism and Islam when the latter wanted to establish a mosque in a popular shopping mall. Practitioners of the former started making protests, especially when you consider the fact that they already had their own chapel in the same vicinity. And yes, mass has become so ubiquitous that if you don't have time to attend church on Saturdays or Sundays, there's usually a service inside the mall, complete with mini-tabernacles and stackable chairs.

Despite the division of politics and religion in the Constitution (supposedly a reaction to the abuses of the Church during our Spanish colonization), the latter has an undeniable role in government. A lot of schools, both public and private, are quite Catholic as hanging above the blackboard of each classroom is a crucified Christ. When citizens gather for rallies at the Edsa shrine, the site of the original Edsa Revolution, looming over them is the giant statue of the Virgin Mary (which in itself has had at least one face lift during its nineteen-year existence--another subject of debate during its time). Even a local TV and radio station held a daily commercial that aired at 3 pm, encouraging its viewers/listeners to start the "3 o'clock habit" of praying.

In many ways, this isn't really surprising. While Catholicism isn't native to the Philippines, adapting to this "new" religion wasn't so much of a stretch. Philippine mythology isn't exactly a monotheistic religion but we do have an uber-deity along the lines of an All-Father or a Father Zeus. We call him Bathala (Bat-ha-la) and this was appropriated by Western missionaries to refer to "God". And it worked. To this day, Bathala is divorced from his native origins (which is similar to the origin stories of Norse and Greek mythology, depending on which variant you follow) and is typically associated with the Christian God.

A popular phrase is "Bahala na!" which roughly translated to "I'll leave it up to fate". Who will pay for the bills? Bahala na! Don't you have to study for the exam tomorrow? Bahala na! One can think of it as our own version of Que Sera, Sera. It is speculated that the origins of the phrase is actually Bathala na, implying a certain trust in God. A more correct usage of the phrase is attaching a pronoun at the end to designate responsibility: "Bahala na si tatay," ("Dad will take care of it") "Bahala ka na" ("I'll leave it up to you"). It's rare that one actually hears "Bahala na si Bathala" ("God will take care of it") as we often use synonyms for God such as "Bahala na ang Panginoon" ("The Lord will take care of it") or "Bahala na ang Diyos". Puns are also a part of our culture and sometimes, we use "Bahala na si Batman" ("Batman will take care of it") since the word Batman starts out with the same syllable as Bathala.

Speaking of Batman, one of the humorous tautologies that Filipinos spread around is that God is Batman. It goes something like this:

God is Jesus
Jesus is Man
Therefore God is Man

God is Love
Love is Blind
Bats are Blind

Therefore God is Batman.

2 comments:

Dominique said...

Correction, Charles: the Greenhills brouhaha was caused by a socialite, Mrs. Soliven. She objected to the mosque. The priest in charge of the chapel sided with the Muslims and suspended all masses in sympathy for their plight.

Charles said...

Thanks for the correction. Edited.