The Associated Press reports that devout Christians in the Philippines “re-enacted Jesus Christ’s suffering Friday by having themselves nailed to crosses in rites frowned upon by church leaders.” In addition to the 30 people who were scheduled to be crucified, scores of others flagellated their bare backs with bamboo sticks. I’m really impressed that Church leaders “frown upon” this practice. They condemn homosexuality, birth control and condom use to prevent the spread of AIDS, but merely disapprove of, don’t condone, don’t encourage, “frown upon” crucifixions. This is sick, sick stuff.
Why, pray tell, do believers subject themselves to these horrors? They do so in order to “fulfill a vow or pray for a cure for illnesses.” Whose teachings led these people to believe that rituals like these are the stuff that vows are made of? Whose teachings led these people to believe that these rituals enhance their prayers? If the Church has not taught these things, then why isn’t it taking measures to correct these horrible misperceptions? Oh! Look at this! The Church has not remained silent after all: “Archbishop Paciano B. Aniceto of San Fernando city urged devotees not to turn Holy Week into a ‘circus’.” Oh, all right, then. The Church did speak out after all: if you insist on doing these things, at least have the decency to keep matters dignified.
Surely, the attitudes displayed by Church and political leaders who allowed these proceedings don’t have any relationship to the fact that “The yearly tradition has become a tourist attraction…which sometimes draws thousands of local and foreign tourists.” It’s not a necessary practice, and we don’t want to be crass during the solemn season of Holy Week – but, God be praised, we’re sure raking in the cash! These crucifixions and flagellations are pretty damn good for the economy!
So, who are the winners and losers in this debacle?
The tourist industry – increased patronage is always good
The governments – they get increased tax revenues and they don’t have to expend any efforts to keep people happy and preoccupied
The Church – extreme displays of religious devotion will spur others to greater faith
The crucified ones – they suffer from the delusion that undergoing this torture will have tangible effects on their lives and that their prayers are more likely to be answered in their favor for having endured these rituals; they will also carry physical scars of these ordeals for the rest of their lives
The tourists – people who pay hard-earned money to watch these horrors, most of whom likely believe they are valid expressions of worship
The world at large – anytime these sorts of extreme expressions of religious devotion are tolerated, rationality loses ground and humanity loses little bits of its dignity.
— the chaplain