Onward, Christian soldiers!
NEW YORK—Praise the Lord! Never have I been so heartened by the devotion manifested by the many taking their place along the ramparts of Christendom, on the occasion of an art exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the now-shuttered Kulo. These good and upstanding citizens deemed the inclusion of a particular installation “Poleteismo,” by the artist Mideo Cruz, in which Christ is depicted in blasphemous terms, to be an odious and so poisonous a threat not just to their sensibilities but to their very faith and thus to the very institution of which they, and the country, count themselves as members. They do us proud. Had these been the time of the Crusades, I have no doubt the courageous and able among them would have saddled their steeds and gone to reclaim the Holy Land for the Church, perhaps under the glorious banner of Richard the Lion Hearted, lopped off the heads of unbelievers, desecrated heathen temples, performed wonderful deeds, and had their fame rightly spread far and wide by traveling troubadours.
Alas, this is the twenty-first century, where such swashbuckling has long since faded from memory, except of course in the rugged districts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. My heart goes out to these Christian warriors, who must be green with envy at the way the Taliban hold fast to their endearingly medievalist notions of how earthly life should be, and willing to kill (both themselves and others) to advance their beliefs. But never mind, for one shining moment, these stalwarts were not to be denied their triumph. To be champions of the Son of God—to defend an omnipotent being—and earn a coveted spot at his side: how could they let such an opportunity slip by? They couldn’t and, hallelujah, didn’t. This was a time to shine and earn some Brownie points.
Even our praiseworthy Congress got into the mood, investigating this episode and seeing it for the threat that it is to the very foundations of our society. Why worry about mere corruption in government, among their ranks, about the abject economic state of their countrymen, when souls were at stake? To be more Christ than Christ! What an inspiring notion! Worthy of the blood of martyrs! Furthermore, what good Christian among us wouldn’t have been heartened by the encouragement provided by the saintly doyenne of Philippine Christendom, Imelda Marcos who bravely derided Poleteismo. If anyone had unsurpassed expertise on what shameful behavior was, it was she, having decades-long experience honing her skills as half of the Marcos tandem that ran the country as it would have been run during the age of kingdoms (and queendoms), where the public purse was the rulers’ to use as they saw fit, who believed they had divine dispensation to jail and/or kill those who disagreed with their policies—now there’s a champion you want on your side!
Not far behind La Imelda was another champion of the faith, P-Noy. No doubt channeling his deceased mother, he declared the exhibition inappropriate in a venue reliant on public monies. In a conversation with one of these knights of faith, a middle-aged man stout of body and heart, I happened to mention the small matter of the 1987 Constitution and something called free speech that it guaranteed. “Bah!” proclaimed the would-be champion, glaring at me suspiciously. “Why extend freedom of speech to those we detest? This is a battle, a clash of civilizations! Why allow such a trifle to stand in the way of expressing religious ardor? This is no time for splitting hairs, when one’s faith is at stake!” I hesitatingly queried him about the couple that supposedly tried to set fire to Cruz’s installation. The good and honorable man’s reply indicated quick and discerning judgment: “They weren’t vandals, they were and are warriors for Christ, doing it for the greater glory of God! Cruz is fortunate he isn’t being burned at the stake!” “Or,” he went on slyly, “being hung on his own cruz!” He laughed uproariously at his own joke and went on to excoriate artists as fleas and lice infesting the body politic that needed to be dealt with severely.
Quite right, quite right, I remarked, and threw in a “Praise be to the lord” to calm him down. But he was on a roll. “Too bad those UP folks didn’t exhibit more steadfastness, and failed to be sufficiently on their guard against these incursions. Perhaps they were girlie men, allowing the exhibition to corrupt the innocent. We were lucky no angels dropped from the sky, that Christ—His peace be with you, Brother—refrained from striking anyone down, that the earth didn’t open up to swallow those faithless artists.” I opined that perhaps this was Christ’s way of demonstrating that quintessential Christian practice, of turning the other cheek. “Of course!” he beamed, now in a better mood. “Infinite charity, infinite wisdom!” He seemed downright relaxed, so in that brief moment of bonhomie, he confided that he and the Savior had a close and intensely personal relationship. I said, “You indeed are blessed, to have a direct line to the Almighty and All Merciful, may His peace be with you, brother. He must be so proud of you, and right now having a good laugh. Can’t you picture him saying, at least there’s some variety in my representation, and not just the standard California-hippie portrait!” I opined that the Galilean would surely agree with Oscar Wilde who said that one thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.
This time his glare, revived by my somewhat earnest attempt at humor, frightened me. He was once again the knight of faith, ready to strike out. To calm him down, I asked him what sort of art did he like. In answer, he pointed to the nearest church and mentioned a few other churches in the metropolitan area: Binondo, Quiapo, the Manila Cathedral, Sto. Domingo, Malate, Ermita, Sta. Ana. “We don’t need any art galleries. All these churches are filled with art, the right kind of art. And in them people kneel before statues of the saints, before images of Christ crucified, before portraits of Mary. Why, they even crawl on their knees! What gallery or museum can inspire similar devotion in its patrons?” He was right, though I did remember mentally genuflecting before Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Night Cafe; people did need their idols. Where would they be without them?
This being the 150th anniversary of the hero’s birth, I was about to ask him what he thought of José Rizal being executed by the Spanish colonial state, at the instigation of the Church due to his novels, but he excused himself, and said he had a meeting to attend to. Which meeting was this, I cautiously asked? “Don’t tell anyone I told you this,” he whispered, “but representatives of the Tea Party are in town right now, to get together with the Opus Dei. There are rumors that a high-ranking imam of the Wahabi Sect might be joining that caucus. We all want to save the world from secularism!”
I slept soundly that night, comforted by the fact that the archipelago was safe from any idea that might disturb its tranquil shores. Where would the nation be, I wondered, without the protective patriarchy of the Catholic Church?
Copyright L.H. Francia/ 2011
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