Tuesday, November 28, 2006

View of God Determines Values

A recent Baylor University study postulated that it is not your religion but your view of God that determines your politics and your values. The study, conducted by Baylor's Institute for the Study of Religion, reviewed and analyzed the results of a poll survey of 1,721 Americans who were each asked 77 questions with 400 answer choices.

The survey results showed four distinct faces of God.

-About 31.4% believe in an Authoritarian God who is "angry at humanity's sins and who is engaged in every person's life and world affairs" and "ready to throw the thunderbolt of judgment down on the unfaithful or ungodly." This view forms the core of the Religious Right and the conservative Republicans who support President George W. Bush.

According to Cathy Lynn Grossman, in her USA Today article about the Baylor study, believers in an Authoritarian God "want an active, Christian-values-based government with federal funding for faith-based social services and prayer in the schools. They're also the most inclined to say God favors the USA in world affairs (32.1% vs. 18.6% overall)."

-About 23% believe in a Benevolent God which is a forgiving God ("more like the father who embraces his repentant prodigal son in the Bible") and believe that caring for the sick and needy ranks highest on the list of what it means to be a good person. "God is in control of everything. He's grieved by the sin of the world, by any created person who doesn't follow him. But I see (a) God ... who loves us, who sees us for who we really are. We serve a God of the second, third, fourth and fifth chance," says Rev. Jeremy Johnston of the 5,000 member Southern Baptist Congregation in Kansas. This view of God is generally shared by liberal Democrats who favor government programs that provide a safety net for the disadvantaged in society.

-About 16% believe in a Critical God who has his "judgmental eye" on the world, but who will not intervene, either to punish or to comfort. According to Baylor's Christopher Bader, "this group is more paradoxical, They hold very traditional beliefs, picturing God as the classic bearded old man on high. Yet they're less inclined to go to church or affiliate seriously with religious groups. They are less inclined to see God as active in the world. Their politics are definitely not liberal, but they're not quite conservative, either."

Grossman writes that "those who picture a critical God are significantly less likely to draw absolute moral lines on hot-button issues such as abortion, gay marriage or embryonic stem cell research."

-About 24.4% believe in a Distant God who is "no bearded old man in the sky raining down his opinions on us" (Bader). They see a cosmic force that launched the world, then left it spinning on its own. Bader believes that this has strongest appeal for Catholics, mainline Protestants, Jews, among "moral relativists" - those least likely to say any moral choice is always wrong - and among those who don't attend church.

How do Filipinos view God? Columnist Michael Tan suspects that a majority of Filipinos believe in a somewhat distant but intervening God, literally a "tatay" [father] in the stereotyped sense. Filipinos tend to believe that natural disasters and personal misfortunes are punishment from God for our sins. But, Tan writes, "we also tend to see our relationships with that God as negotiable. We bargain all the time, vowing to do several novenas or have ourselves nailed to the cross in Lent, on condition that a certain favor is granted."

It's really more confusing than that. Filipino Catholics believe in the Holy Trinity, in the concept of three Gods in one. This may be the source for our contradictory beliefs and values. We may believe in an Authoritarian God the Father, in a Benevolent God the Son, and in a somewhat Critical or Distant God the Holy Spirit. This convoluted view may account for the halo-halo (mixed up) nature of our politics and values.

Filipinos' mixed views and values aside, Baylor's Bader concludes that "you learn more about people's moral and political behavior if you know their image of God than by almost any other measure. It turns out to be more powerful a predictor of social and political views than the usual markers of church attendance or belief in the Bible."

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Week of Cheers

It was an incredible week to be a Filipino.

It began on November 14 when 22-year old Filipino American dancer Cheryl Bautista Burke danced a spirited samba with the NFL's all-time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith, to score a perfect 30 with the judges and a certified hit with the 20 million viewers of ABC's "Dancing with the Stars". After millions of viewers emailed, telephoned and texted their votes, Cheryl made dance history the following day by winning the megahit TV show's mirror trophy, for the second year in a row.

While most newspapers attributed the win to Emmitt's popularity as a sports superstar and as an icon in the African American community, the real margin of victory came from the Filipino vote.

Cheryl and Emmitt won because Charlie Buenaventura from La Habra, California emailed his votes (10 each from 10 separate registered email names) and made repeated phone calls for Cheryl. Charlie was just one of tens of thousands of Filipinos in the US and Canada (and in the Philippines) who voted or a kababayan online, by phone or by text just as they did years ago for Jasmine Trias in "American Idol".

The dimpled Mario Lopez and dance partner Karina Smirnoff entered the finals as the prohibitive favorites and would have otherwise won the contest but for the votes of the Filipino American community, which spelled the difference in the close contest.

If the mainstream media had picked up this story, then it may cast Filipinos as a community that is proud of, and vigorously, supports one of its own. [There is a "Filipino vote" after all. If this could only cross over to politics...]

Certainly that pride in one of our own was on full display on Saturday night, November 18, in Las Vegas when thousands of Filipinos, many proudly waving the Philippine flag, lustily cheered Manny "Pac man" Pacquiao in his concluding third match with Erik "El Terrible" Morales, the pride of Tijuana, Mexico and three-time world boxing champion.

My son, Carlo, drove all the way from the University of California in Santa Cruz to Las Vegas to watch the fight with two friends, one of whom, he said, was "the only Mexican cheering for Manny". Carlo had never felt more pride in being Filipino than he did that night in Las Vegas when Pacquiao decisively defeated Morales in the third round. Carlo reported that Filipinos were euphoric in hugging each other and slapping each other's hands (high fives) all over the arena and all over Las Vegas after the fight.

That scene in the arena was duplicated in millions of Filipino homes throughout the US, the Philippines and the rest of the world. The Pay Per View audience alone allowed each fighter to pocket $4-M for the fight, aside from the $3-M each was already guaranteed to earn.

In Manila, more than 3,000 Filipinos stood outside the Quiapo Church in Plaza Miranda to watch the fight in a. jumbo screen. Another 3,000 packed the Aquino stadium to watch the fight with the city's mayor. Even the prisoners at the national penitentiary in Muntinglupa were able to watch the fight along with the warden and his guards. Parishioners at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Quezon City watched the fight inside their church as 800 of them paid 150 pesos each with the money raised paying for church projects.

Politicians from all parties and political persuasions were topping each other to issue press statements about Manny Pacquiao and the significance of his victory. Among them was Sen. Francis Pangilinan who said that Manny "proved to the world that Filipinos are capable of achieving greatness when we set our hearts and minds to it."

While it was arguably the single most unifying event in Philippine history, it was not the most significant event of the week. At least, not in my book. That distinction belongs to the capture on November 14 of Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan.

With a bounty of 5-M pesos for information that would lead to his capture, it was only a matter of time before the military would find their man. And, most embarrassing for Gringo, he was found in the home of his mistress, Ingrid Ramos. Gringo reportedly begged his captors not to disclose where he was found as he feared more from his wife than for his life.

Gringo Honasan is charged with being the mastermind of the failed mutiny last February and as the brains behind the Oakwood mutiny three years ago. This unrepentant coup plotter has been involved in every coup attempt since Marcos was overthrown in 1996.

In August 1987, after large-scale fighting in the streets broke out during a demonstration, Gringo ordered his men to attack government installations, an attack which resulted in the deaths of dozens of people.

Government forces successfully repulsed the attack causing Gringo to flee. After his capture, Gringo was held in a prison ship until he escaped, only to resume plotting more coups against then President Cory Aquino.

In November 1989, Gringo launched his deadliest coup attempt yet, succeeding in occupying key points in Metro Manila and seizing major airbases, where he was able to use captured aircraft to bomb the presidential palace. The coup attempt resulted in the deaths of nearly 100 people and in the destabilization of the Philippine economy.

When Fidel Ramos was elected President in 1992, he granted amnesty to Gringo, who parlayed his rebel fame into election to the Senate. After nine undistinguished years as a senator, Gringo lost re-election in 2002.

But unfortunately, Gringo did not fade into obscurity. In July 2003, he caused 300 junior officers to launch a mutiny against President Gloria Arroyo by occupying the Oakwood Hotel, a mutiny that was quashed in a day.

Gringo's capture will provide more stability to a nation that can, at least for now, safely enjoy the victories of Cheryl and Manny.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The America That Could Be Again

Despite the fact that the Republicans were trailing badly in the polls in the weeks before the November 7 elections, there was always the uncertainty about the final result. Why did Karl Rove have that cheshire cat smile? What "October surprise" did he have in store for the Democrats this time?

Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Conrado de Quiros, a speaker at the 4th Global Filipino Networking Convention in Hawaii last Sept. 30, commented on this in a recent column: "A couple of months ago, in the gathering of Filipino-Americans in Hawaii, many Republican Filipinos were predicting confidently they would spring a surprise and crush the Democrats at the polls. The way things were in America, I wasn't so sure they wouldn't."

The "October surprise" turned out to be the Saddam Hussein guilty verdict and death sentence, timed to occur just before the elections, which was to be trumpeted as the vindication of the Bush-directed US invasion of Iraq.

Would that show be enough to turn the tide? Before the elections, the polls showed that more than 62% of the American people disapproved of the war in Iraq, with only 31% supporting it. The US government had spent more than $300-B on the war which has cost the lives of more than 2,850 US troops, with 21,000 injured. According to the Iraqi government, more than 150,000 Iraqi lives have been lost since the US invasion of Iraq.

There was another "October surprise", though, and it ironically benefitted the Democrats. It was Bush's announcement, a week before the elections, that he would keep Donald Rumsfeld as his Secretary of Defense throughout his second term. This announcement galvanized the Democrats and despirited the Republicans.

It turned that Bush flat-out lied. He had already talked to Robert Gates about replacing Rumsfeld even before he made the announcement that he was keeping Rumsfeld. At a press conference conducted right after the elections, Bush admitted that he lied because, he said, he did not want the firing of Rumsfeld to be viewed as "political". Well, as long as there's a reason for it, then lying must be ok, right?

Unfortunately for Bush, the American people did not buy the lies this time. On November 7, Democrats won control of both the House and the Senate.

From the Philippines, De Quiros wrote: "The outcome was magnificent in that light. It wasn't just a rout of Bush's hordes, it was a wipeout. It had People Power written all over it, albeit one wrought through the vote. If this had been a parliamentary system, the prime minister would have promptly resigned. You can't find a more complete rejection, both houses of Congress now in the hands of the Democrats. Bush isn't just a lame duck, he's a dead duck."

"I am particularly glad that, as the commentators have pointed out, the Iraq War -or "Occupation" which it really is - was at the core of the elections. For the first time in a long time, Americans voted not on the basis of self-interest but on the basis of principle. For the first time in a long time, Americans voted not on the basis of who could provide them with jobs and security but on what America was all about and could be again."

What America could be again. Perhaps it would be an America that honors its veterans and respects its immigrants.

With the Democrats' control of both Houses of Congress, we can now move to win passage of both the Filipino Veterans Equity and the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bills that are presently stalled in the House.

Under Republican rule, the FilVets Equity Bill, House Resolution (HR) 1474, had been locked up in the dungeon of the Veterans Affairs Committee led by Rep. Steve Buyer (R - Ind.), who refused to hold hearings on the bill. It could not be released to the House for a floor vote until after the Veterans Affairs Committee had conducted hearings on the bill and passed it.

But in January of 2007, Rep. Bob Filner (D- CA) is slated to take over the Veterans Affairs Committee. As the most consistent champion of Filipino Veterans Equity in the House, he will most certainly set hearings on the bill and work to secure its passage.

The chairmanship of the Senate Veterans Committee will likewise pass over to a Democrat, Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, who, also by coincidence, is the Senate's most consistent supporter of Filipino Veterans Equity.

The coming year will present the best opportunity for the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill to pass the US Congress since the Republicans took over the House in 1994.

As to the immigration issue, the estimated 500,000 Filipino TNTs in the US, one out of every 6 or 7 Filipinos in the US, may finally be able to go out from under the shadows and win a "path to citizenship".

The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill, backed by the US Senate and President Bush, was stalled in the House because of opposition from the Republican leadership led by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wi), chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

But in January, the House Judiciary Committee chairmanship will be turned over to Rep. John Conyers (D-Mi), a strong supporter of both the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill and the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill.

Passage of the Immigration Bill will offer an opportunity for most of the Filipino TNTs, the ones who entered the US more than 5 years ago, to apply for "earned legalization" that would lead to a "path to citizenship". They would finally be able to sleep well at night, no longer fearing a knock on the door in the morning from immigration agents who would separate them from their families.

This is the America that could be again.