IN honor of St. Lorenzo Ruiz of Manila, September is National Catechetical Month for Filipino Catholics. The contradictions, however, include the fact that this country, a cradle of Christianity in Asia, has a president who loves lambasting the Catholic Church even delivering his keynote speech during the 120th anniversary of the Baptist Churches in the Philippines.

While he may sound like a pastor-politician, the president’s rhetoric would have been more interesting if he ground his tirades on something philosophical and/or reasonably irresistible. Critics of Christianity have provided sound arguments. Among the classics are Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity, Engels’ On The History of Early Christianity, and Marx’s A Contribution to Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. A substantive tirade may have stricken the foundation of Catholicism. But why Catholicism and not Christianity and/or religion in general? How serious is the President’s “exposé”?

Previously, the president presented the Altar of Secrets. Subtitled Sex, Politics, and Money in the Philippine Catholic Church, he dedicates it “for those who remain steadfast in their faith yet ache for reforms within the Holy Mother Church.” Does the president ache for the Church to reform? If so, how about the Church? Pope Francis denounces the shortcomings of the Church. Atheists too are expounding the discourse both in writing and in public debate.

The late atheist Christopher Hitchens debated with former British former prime minister Tony Blair, a Catholic convert, after his retirement from politics. The former also debated with fellow Oxford alumnus Alister McGrath at the Jesuit-run Georgetown University. But why would a Catholic university invite renowned atheists to attack religion, particularly Christianity and Jesus’ divinity? In this act, there’s intellectual humility and sincerity in learning.

The president, perhaps, is politicking. The president’s tirades against the Church have afflicted university students and professors alike. Some bought the president’s demagoguery without providing any literature and/or theoretical foundation, and are bewildered, e.g., a software engineer transforms into a social scientist, etc. They put intellectuals under contempt and hail pilosopo kanto as the new arena of academic discourse. The president indeed has proven himself populist.

Populism causes division, impairing the laity’s vocation to know the character of the Church, i.e., militantis ecclesiae (church militant). Pope Leo 13th in 1897 dedicated an encyclical remembering how kings and teachers alike defend the Catholic faith. Greatest among these educators was Peter Canisius, the first German to enter the Society of Loyola, the very community that shows intellectual humility and sincerity in learning through dialectical discourse. May the Filipino Catholics continue the Church’s long tradition of learning as Filipinos celebrate the National Catechetical Month and the feast day of St. Lorenzo Ruiz of Manila.

Imitate Saint Canisius and avoid disunity! Not division, but reform. And may the words of Pope Leo 13th resound to the Catholics in the Philippines, “… take advantage of this occasion to present the vigorous leader Peter Canisius as a model to all who fight for Christ in the Church’s army… ally the weapons of knowledge with the weapons of justice, they will be able to defend the faith more vigorously and effectively.”

Noe M. Santillan

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Social Studies

University of the Philippines Cebu