Fundamentally more fun

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 June, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 June, 2005, 12:00am

I read that once again Charles Darwin is being attacked in the United States, where a Christian group is trying to force a school to discredit the theory of evolution in its science textbooks.

Every time American religious activists loudly proclaim humans did not descend from apes, they usually just end up making monkeys of themselves. But what they also show is that for all its image of materialism, the US has strong tendencies towards Christian fundamentalism.

The Philippines, too, is a strongly fundamentalist state. In fact, you could argue it's only a few priests shy of a theocracy.

Nearly every Filipino will probably say God comes ahead of country. The pope, whoever he might be, is a huge celebrity. And almost every Filipino is baptised, confirmed, gets married and receives a funeral send-off in a church.

Attendance at Mass is very high - they're held even inside offices and malls. I once tried buying a ticket from a travel agency only to be told the manager was out to Mass - clearly she was more interested in religion than business.

Four years ago, two Supreme Court justices made the decision to sanction the overthrow of president Joseph Estrada by flipping through the Bible and following the quotation the finger fell on - not the sort of decision-making process you'd find in a secular state.

Otherwise normal Filipinos go as far as being whipped or crucified on Good Friday - you don't see American fundamentalists carrying their faith to that extent. You would think this is proof of a fundamentalism that borders on the crazed. But the truth is Filipinos are less hung up about their religion than Americans are.

Oh, you will see Filipinos deploring the general deterioration of moral standards, but you'll encounter that anywhere. What you will not find are religious groups lobbying to ban the theory of evolution or rewrite school textbooks.

This is how the logic works: for all that Filipinos care, textbooks could state humans descended from clams (US President George W. Bush would be a good argument for this), but it wouldn't rock their faith one bit. Because they would say that at the back of it all, God is responsible for everything. Evolution, science, the works.

Critics could argue this is a form of anti-rationalism rooted in superstition. It doesn't matter. It's a brand of faith that allows Christianity to exist free of the intolerance found in the US, where the religious right are trying to invade schoolrooms and drag God into the courts. You could say that as far as fundamentalism is concerned, Filipinos see the 'fun' where Americans tend to go 'mental'.