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Rizal's Views on Religion

Lets go back 115 years to the time of Jose Rizal’s execution. Then there was no separation of church and state. Therefore, the friars or priests clearly had the governor order his execution. I will never understand why since then Rizal’s family still remains Catholic. Or maybe that’s just me seeing across 115 years without my glasses. Maybe his parents swore off the Catholic Church but the succeeding generations did not and therefore my generation no longer saw their anger. Maybe that too became a family secret they did not want the young ones to know.

Four generations down from Jose Rizal, my great-granduncle, I cannot help but tell him — I do not understand why your descendants stayed Catholic when they were responsible for your execution. Let me just say that if I were alive then at the very least I would have stopped being a Catholic. How could one respect a faith that executes your son, your brother? How could anyone do that?

It is strange to me that it is only now that I am over 60 that these questions besiege me. Only now do I begin to understand the full context of my grandmother’s story about her son wanting to become a Jesuit. She wondered, she said, if my grandfather would not get angry. I was very little then. The statement did not seem to make an impression on me. Why would he get angry? But the question stuck to my mind. Now that I am old, I understand. The Catholic Church had his beloved uncle executed. How would he feel about his son turning into a Jesuit? How should he feel? I know I would have been enraged.

But I suppose I am different from many of them. My cousins and I, we belong to another generation, to a more liberal generation. Our minds are more open. We read a lot more. One of my cousins was invited to speak on Rizal in Barcelona and I promised to send her quotes from a book I read in 1994, or 17 years ago, The Rizal-Pastells Correspondence written by Fr. Raul J. Bonoan, SJ. I remember reading it and finding it extremely interesting because it was my first view of Rizal’s religious views and I remembered being so touched. A man who so profoundly did not believe in the Catholic Church could not have retracted and married as the Spanish later claimed.

We were related to Fr. Bonoan, according to my grandmother, but I don’t know how. I remember him because one of the last times I went to visit my uncle, who was then sick, I saw him. He said he was going up to Baguio on vacation and he never came back. He passed away in Baguio but his book lived on. I had to re-scan it recently to send my cousin her quotes then I found myself entranced into reading it again.

The book captures an exchange of letters between Rizal, then 31 years old and in exile in Dapitan, and Fr. Pablo Pastells, SJ, then 45 years old and superior of the Jesuits in the Philippines. Rizal was a freemason. Masonry then was the only institution you joined if you were against the Catholic Church so you can imagine the content of these letters.

Pastells would preach religious things and Rizal would state what he believed in. He believed deeply in God as expressed in nature, that’s what Rizal said.

“I believe in revelation, but in the living revelation of nature which surrounds us everywhere, in the voice speaking out through nature — powerful, eternal, unceasing, incorruptible, clear, distinct, and universal as the Being from which it comes. It is this revelation that I believe in, which speaks to us and penetrates our being from the day we are born to the day we die. Can any other books reveal to us more faithfully God’s work, His goodness, His love, His providence, His eternity, His glory, His wisdom?” That’s what Rizal wrote in his third letter to Pastells.

Rizal was an amazing thinker. It’s a pity not all of us can get our hands on books about him and read his words. He wrote in his second letter to Pastells:

When I see so many diverse beliefs and persuasions, when I listen to followers of diverse sects holding in contempt each other’s beliefs; when I hear of marvels, miracles, testimonies with which each religion claims to prove its divinity or at least its divine origin; when I see people – intelligent, distinguished, studious; born and bred in the same climate, society, and customs; possessing the same desire to perfect and save themselves — when I see them profess diverse religious beliefs; I recall a certain comparison which I shall put down here so you understand the way I think.

People in pursuit of truth I imagine to be like art students gathered around a statue, which they try to draw. Some are near the statue; others far from it; some look at the statue from above; others see it from below. Each one sees the statue from a different angle. The harder they try to be faithful to the original, the more the sketches differ from one another. Those who copy directly from the statue are the original thinkers or the founders of schools of thought who differ from each other by their different fundamental principles. A good many — because they are so far away or can’t see well or are not so skillful or are just plain lazy or for some other reason — are satisfied with a sketch of a sketch of the sketch nearest the statue. If they have goodwill, they copy the sketch that they think is best.

These copyists are the active followers and supporters of an idea. Others lazier still dare not draw a single line for fear of committing a blunder and buy a ready-made copy. . . and they are satisfied with that. These are the passive followers, those who believe anything because they do not think.

Then who can pass judgment on the sketches?...He would have to place himself at the very same spot and judge from the very same point of view as the other person. . . He would have to place his eyes at exactly the same angle as the other. He would have to have the same curvature in the retina of his eye and possess the same artisitic sense as the other…

One cannot appeal to precise measurements because of the contraction of the figure in perspective. And if in the world of space it is extremely difficult to place oneself at the same point of vision as another, how much more difficult it is to do so in the world of moral values where things are so mysterious and complex!

For me that is a beautiful metaphor for organized religion. In other words, how dare one religion judge other religion’s beliefs? How dare we question? How dare one religion claim to save lives better than any other religions can? We should just leave each other alone to follow our beliefs.


Source: SECOND WIND By Barbara C. Gonzalez (The Philippine Star) Updated June 18, 2011

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