Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: April 2019

Last of 2 parts

IN part one of this series, we examined the split and the eventual victory of St. Paul’s faction over that of the Jerusalem Church of Christ’s brother James, giving rise to the current Christian set of beliefs. In essence, the divinity of Christ, as promoted by St. Paul, is the central doctrine of Christianity. It was therefore imperative that Christ’s divinity be established and sustained from birth. How can one reconcile the human Jesus to being the son of God? Jesus cannot be born of a man through the natural operation of sex between Joseph and Mary. Therefore, Mary the mother must remain a virgin “impregnated by the spirit,” as announced by the angel Gabriel (Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 1:26-38). Matthew’s Gospel, which was written by either a compendium of unknown writers or one named Matthew, 50 years after Jesus’ death, had to carve out a story that would fit the virgin birth. The gospel has to make sure that Jesus’ birth be seen as foretold by prophecy from the Old Testament. Matthew found the answer in Isaac’s prophecy: “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a child and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth, a town in Galilee. But when the time came for Jesus to be born, the family traveled to Bethlehem, a 7-to-10-day trip on a donkey purportedly to take part in a Roman census. Bethlehem was where King David came from and was crowned King of Israel. Jesus too had to be born in Bethlehem to establish a symbolic descendancy from King David. Historical facts revealed there was no Roman census around Jesus’ time. Jesus most probably was born in Nazareth.

Matthew’s other exotic ingredients in the birth story — a star appearing in the heavens and the three wise men were no doubt conjured to establish Jesus’ credentials as a man of the masses yet shrouded with a mystique attributable to the divine. The alternative biography, stripped of the aura, would simply define Jesus as an ordinary, minimally educated Jew living a mundane life as a carpenter’s son until infected by the revolutionary fervor of John the Baptist, one believed to be his mentor.

As painted by the Gospels, life in Nazareth was pastoral, peopled by itinerant preachers and healers. But contrary to the bucolic images, Nazareth and Galilee and the whole of Judea in Palestine were in fact under the cruel grip of Roman occupiers. Around 60 BC, Palestine was invaded by the Roman Legions and over the following decades, Jewish uprisings were suppressed and mercilessly crushed. Thousands in the rebellion were executed through the Roman-preferred death by crucifixion.

Jesus could not have been blind to the economic injustice perpetrated by the Roman puppets. Galilee’s economy was booming but the disparity between the Jewish elites and the peasants were glaring — a decidedly revolutionary atmosphere.

After the beheading of his cousin John the Baptist, and with the suffering of the Jews under the Roman boot, Jesus’ trajectory was to follow John’s revolutionary path. Thus, he began to recruit his own coterie of converts, friends and believers from the masses. One of them became his favorite, Mary Magdalene. Jesus’ divinity too required that the Gospels present him as pure and celibate. Thus, his relationship to Mary Magdalene was understated in the New Testament. It is highly unlikely that Jesus was single among his male disciples. Further inference of Mary Magdalene as his wife was in the circumstances of his burial. In the Jewish and Roman traditions, only spouses of the crucified could claim the remains of the crucified for burial; and only after an interval of a few days leaving the body for scavenging dogs and crows as a gory warning.

Given the humanity of Christ, his role as a Jewish patriot and a leader and more importantly his belief that he is to establish God’s Kingdom on earth, the most plausible earthly scenario is for the revolutionary patriot to make a bid for power and restore the throne of David.

In 34 AD, amid the turmoil in Palestine, particularly in the seat of power, Jesus entered Jerusalem. His timing and the drama could not have been more perfect as the Jewish feast of the Passover was being celebrated commemorating the liberation of the Jewish nation from Egypt. There was an estimated half a million pilgrims. Jewish tradition envisaged the appearance of a messiah at Passover. This was a volatile situation the Roman governor Pontius Pilate was facing.

To ram the Pauline Church narrative against the old Jewish religion, the Gospels have to paint Jewish priests as the enemies of Christ and depict Pilate as a merciful Roman tolerant of Jesus. The Gospels therefore presented a Jewish leaders’ plot to execute Jesus. Christ unwittingly helped this fabrication when he cleared the Jewish temple of moneychangers and scalawags. But it was the intent of Christ to rid the house of prayer, the symbol of the religious and political establishment. It was not an attack against the Jewish priests and leaders as these were merely Roman puppets. The temple was no longer the seat of God but controlled by the Romans.

Titus Flavius Josephus (circa 1st century AD), a Jewish-Roman historian, painted Pontius Pilate as a “ruthless, vicious and a rapacious butcher.” And he would not tolerate a Christ that would challenge the primacy of Rome over Palestine. Rome abolished the Jewish monarchy and Jesus was a rebel. Rome was to apprehend and try him for political subversion, and crucify him — the Roman punishment of choice. And indeed, Christ died a revolutionary death in Palestine.

But the Gospels have to play around this straight narrative, blaming the Jews on several turns. The Gospels have to present Judas as a betrayer. This was not even necessary as the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem was public and dramatic. Later biblical scholars advanced the argument that Judas’ betrayal was a “… mythological necessity. In most great legends, someone has to function as one who betrays. Without betrayal, the great protagonist of the story does not become a martyred hero.”

And in the endgame, “For Paul, Jesus death was the whole point of his life…Paul was not interested at all in the historical Jesus. He never met the man. For Paul, history begins the night before his death and finished three days later with his resurrection. And the real Jesus was ignored by Paul. All he wants to know was Christ was crucified.”

Yes, he may have been resurrected from death as Lazarus was from a miracle or Jesus resurrected himself. But after 2,000 years the Pauline Church through the New Testament prevailed. Christians believe that it was the will of God for a new religion to evolve from the Old Testament of the Jews.

But just consider, there would have been no Christianity now had James’ version of Christ’s biography prevailed. And James, the brother of Christ, knew him best.

Published in LML Polettiques
First of 2 parts
THIS week, this column digresses from the usual menu of parsing behind the headlines, mining the same for their political content. Instead I will do some reflections myself during this Holy Week on the beliefs, traditions and rites that defined Christendom for a good part of 2,000 years. Most Christians take this week as a given: the passion of Jesus Christ the Son of God made flesh, came down to this world to sacrifice his life as redemption for its sins. Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection is the bedrock of Christian faith.

There is, however, another dimension to this narrative which Christianity, principally the Roman Catholic Church, has relegated to oblivion, save perhaps for serious students of religious history, biblical scholars and vexatious ex-seminarians like this columnist.

This other version of the historical Christ was promoted by witnesses to his life in Palestine, spawning a Jesus Movement in Jerusalem. To them Christ was a devout Jew who was born of natural parents, Joseph and Mary, and was a charismatic preacher, a healer and a revolutionary who saw religion and politics as one. After his death, his older brother James headed the movement known as the Jerusalem Church in contrast with that of the Pauline Church headed by Saul of Tarsus who converted to the faith on his way to Damascus and much later was canonized as St. Paul the Apostle.

These two factions of the Jesus Movement were inspired by the life and death of Christ. Paul never did meet personally the living Christ but preached the new religion to the Roman Empire and beyond — principally to the non-Jews. James’ Jerusalem Church preached mainly to the Jews, himself adhering to the strict Jewish precepts. These two church leaders were a study in contrast. Paul was a man of letters, master of Greek rhetoric, sophisticated and urbane. James, on the other hand, was poor and illiterate, but being the elder brother of Jesus, must perforce be familiar with his teachings and humanity.

The split came 25 years after Christ died. The power struggle between the two factions centered on who best to interpret the life of Jesus Christ, his vision and message. Paul wanted to tell this magnificent story to the world, which includes non-Jews, on the divinity of Christ. James, on the other hand, was bent on freeing Palestine from the clutches of Rome through the story of an earthly revolutionary messiah. The fundamental conflict therefore was whether or not Jesus was divine.

As in any great conflict, it started with a seemingly mundane dispute, with James insisting that new members of the Jesus Movement must eat kosher food and be circumcised like Christ himself and must observe Jewish laws. Paul’s perspective was beyond the Jewish character of the Jesus Movement, detaching himself from the Jewish political aim and thus was not bound by the Torah. This was anathema. And the added revelation that Paul was in fact a Roman citizen further exacerbated the already impossible state of affairs. The split between the Jerusalem and the Pauline churches of the Jesus Movement became final around 58 A.D.

In 66 A.D., less than a decade after the split, the Jews in Palestine rebelled against Rome. The rebellion was crushed in 70 A.D., ending with the suicide of 900 Jews in the fortress of Masada. As the Jews were being slaughtered, the Pauline Church dissociated any loyalty to the Jewish patriotism and declared itself not one with the rebellious Jews. James’ Jerusalem Church was wiped out. The Pauline Church emerged the victor of this religious internecine conflict and the custodianship of the biography of Christ. Now known as Christians, they went on to capture the narrative through the writing of the New Testament, decades after the crucifixion, through the four canonical gospels of Mark (66-70 A.D.), Matthew/Luke (circa 85-90 A.D.) and John (90-110 A.D.). These writers were anonymous and did not meet Christ. These names were simply added in the 2nd century. What we have today in the Christian Catholic and Protestant traditions reflect Paul’s perspective, not the James Jewish-influenced Jesus Movement.

The Gospels, the Good News, were considered the 2nd century’s version of propaganda with heavy theology and political undertones. Biblical scholars have identified Paul’s hand in the messaging although he died circa 67 A.D., just when the New Testament was being written. The irony of it all was that those who were witnesses to the actual life of the historical Jesus, and closest to him, his family and disciples — mainly James and his Jesus Movement — had no hand in the propagation of Christianity. They had no direct surviving records and Paul’s mainstream Christian Church made their version heretical, eventually evolving into a fringe group called Ebionites.

Latter biblical scholars who have been scrutinizing the Letters of St. Paul, the authorship of the Gospels and the evolution of Christianity from the great split have begun to re-examine the Ebionites. James’ Jewish-Christian movement who knew the living Christ accepted as central to their beliefs Christ nature as Man. He was a Jewish revolutionary tutored by John the Baptist, Jesus’ precursor, and martyred by the Roman puppet Herod Antipas. Jesus inspired a secular movement to foment a revolution against the Romans and free the Jews from oppression ushering in a new age of Jewish ascendency over Palestine. This was the original interpretation of a “Messiah establishing God’s Kingdom on earth.” He was not divine, not of a virgin birth but was crucified by the Romans, died but was resurrected as Lazarus was by a miracle.

Several inconsistencies in the New Testament came to the fore, accusing Paul of being an interloper and hijacking the Jesus movement. Paul, the Roman citizen with no love lost for the Jewish patriots, contemplated a Jesus narrative using the Old Testament’s prophecy of Isaiah on the coming Messiah, born of a Virgin. To Paul, messiah meant son of God come down to earth, died on the cross and promising eternal life to mankind. This and other prophecies were meant to support Paul’s contention of Christ’s divinity. The gospels therefore came up with stories which could only be attributed to divine intervention or patently false narratives.

If James’ faction won the split in the early century of the Jesus movement, we wouldn’t have the Christian tradition as practiced today. His version of the life of Jesus witnessed by his family, father Joseph, mother Mary, his brothers and wife Mary Magdalene would have shown him to be a Jewish revolutionary at a time of the Roman occupation.

In second of this two-part column, the alternative biography of Jesus Christ reveals some of the implausible accounts in the New Testament which biblical scholars suspected were inserted in the Gospels to prove and sustain his divinity.
Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 10 April 2019 11:53

Sharia law, LGBTQ and BARMM

I HAVE been under the impression that Brunei, ranked by Forbes as the fifth richest out of 182 countries in the world, would be one of those liberal and progressive developed Muslim countries practicing a benevolent and tolerant kind of Islam. Just last week, the government of Brunei imposed a law against LGBTQ with harsh punishments of stoning and public whipping. Thus, Brunei becomes the first country in Southeast Asia to make homosexuality a crime punishable by death. To quote its potentate Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah: “The decision to implement the [penal code] is not for fun but is to obey Allah’s command as written in the Quran.”

The country is Islamic, majority of whom are followers of Sunni Islam, the same as those of Muslims in Mindanao. In fact, before the Spanish presence, areas in southern Mindanao, the Sulu-Jolo archipelago extending up to parts of Luzon, were believed to be integrated with the Brunei sultanate.

The declaration of the Sultan Bolkiah has far-reaching implications as sharia law is applied to both Muslim and non-Muslims alike. The minority Christians and members of other religions are therefore subject to this set of laws. It will be recalled that in 2014, the Brunei Sultan implemented the first phase; that of declaring couples producing children out of wedlock and missing Friday prayers as crimes under the jurisdiction of Islamic courts. A new penal code, enacted also in 2014 but whose application was suspended, may take effect soon prescribing punishments adhering closely to sharia law, like severing of limbs for property crimes.

Brunei and Manila have had an intriguing relationship. Sultan Bolkiah’s brother Prince Jefri, who owned a mansion in the posh Forbes Park in Manila, was once involved in recruiting top well-known Filipino actresses to entertain the Sultan’s guests at the 1,788-room Istana Palace. It was alleged that these highly paid women’s thespian talents may have been exploited for other ‘services’ at the pleasure palace owned personally by Prince Jefri. A leading Islamic religious scholar Resa Asian was quoted in the New York Post referring to the Sultan’s pronouncements: “This is obviously not coming from a place of religious devotion, since the Sultan himself is in violation of every single rule of sharia law you could possibly imagine. Indeed, the Sultan and his equally decadent brother, Prince Jefri, were dubbed ‘constant companions in hedonism’.” The sybaritic life of the rulers are totally incompatible with the teachings of the Quran.

Across the Malacca Strait in Malaysia’s Terengganu state, in a first of its kind, sharia authorities whipped two women in public for a lesbian relationship. This could be the start of an anti-homosexual clampdown based on the strict interpretation of the Quran. The state was once a Malay sultanate that was highly influenced by Hindu-Buddhist culture and was part of the trade routes from ancient times. Terengganu was the first among the Malay lands to receive Islam from whence it spread to adjoining territories.

In the neighboring autonomous province of Aceh in Indonesia, gay men and women are whipped publicly under a newly enforced sharia law. Of Indonesia’s 34 provinces, sharia law is officially sanctioned only in oil-rich and conservatively religious Aceh. Islam spread to Southeast Asia in the 12th century from the Sultanate of Aceh, before the latter became part of modern Indonesia.

In the second of my two-part article on the “Clash of civilizations,” this conflict between civilizations, particularly between the Christian West and Islam, was debunked. Initial empirical data showing that Western, Christian, Hindu or other civilizations are at war with each other is likewise balanced by data showing that clashes of Muslims against Muslims particularly in the countries in the Middle East have been erupting since the end of the cold war. Sunni and Shiite Muslims have of late imposed a stricter interpretation of the sharia law on its own citizens. But the world’s backlash condemning the acts as violations of human rights may yet precipitate a real clash of civilizations, proving Huntington correct.

The Western concept of homosexuality as being a natural consequence of birth is not an Islamic creed and sexual acts between consenting adults of the same sex are proscribed by the Quran as haram. On the other hand, infringement of this private arrangement in the liberal Western jurisprudence could be considered as a violation of human rights. This is clearly a sample of a clash of Western and Islamic values. The technicality of whether Islamic states are signatory to UN agreements on human rights or have not ratified the same is really of no consequence.

This is also the same enigma facing the Philippines today, as the country embarks on an experiment in an innovative type of governance: the unitary presidential system practiced in the country as a whole and that of the “parliamentary” system or a version thereof to be practiced in parts of Mindanao through the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) that is supposed to govern the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

In the Philippines’ 1987 Constitution, Church and State are separate, following traditional western influence and values. In Islamic tradition, religion and governance are intertwined; which could be a major irritant in the BARMM though technically, it operates under the sufferance of central government.

True, sharia law in BARMM will cover and apply only to Muslims and only on matters affecting personal status and family. Although still based on the Quran and the Hadith other scriptural sources and interpreted by independent Islamic jurists, it is a modernized (not Westernized) set of legal jurisprudence compatible with Philippine laws, with harsh and medieval punishments done away with. Still, the ultimate arbiter is the country’s Supreme Court. But cynics abound gleaning from what is happening in Brunei, Aceh and Malaysia, where interpretations are reversed, and protocols are altered; bearing in mind too, the premise and the underlying extrapolation of Huntington’s that the Philippines is a “cleft country” containing two major religious roots and by inference, two civilizations, Islamic and Christian.

What has been happening post-Cold War in the global arena thus far has been hewing close to Huntington’s thesis; although as pointed out in my past two articles, the jury is still out on Huntington’s prediction, particularly on the Muslim versus Muslim conflicts.

Although this is cherry-picking, homosexuality, the LGBTQ community and sharia law are just some samples of similar issues rearing their ugly heads that could be precursors of conflicts. The BARMM is the country’s petri dish for federalism and harmonizing seemingly conflicting values of differing religious beliefs. But favoring both sides is the underlying deep-rooted bond as Filipinos. And this could be an effective prophylactic against initiatives by the likes of Brunei, Aceh and Terengganu against an Islamic revival agitating for full implementation of sharia law, including the reinstatement of hudhud, the dreaded and medieval corporal punishments.

Islam is a religion of peace. Let’s all pray to our respective Allah and Diyos that recent events in our neighboring Muslim countries will not spill over to our shores splitting us “piece by piece.”
Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 03 April 2019 12:18

A baccalaureate: Graduating class of 2019

IN the Philippines, March marks the end of the school year and the start of summer break. For the college graduates, this interim is the last fling before getting on with the serious business of landing a job. For some, those who have not decided what to do with their lives, they continue with schooling. Postgraduate is an option; law, a master’s course or a shift to other courses, prolonging a juvenile life they can’t leave behind.

A diploma is a precious key to open doors of opportunities. Particularly for the poor, it is the culmination of parental sacrifice to escape to a better life through their children, but for many, only vicariously. Peculiar to a Filipino family, it is a filial duty.

March is also the time for commencement exercises where speakers regale the graduates with worn-out anecdotes and dispensing advice for the graduates’ transition to real life from the safe confines of a classroom.

I have never been invited by any notable university to be a commencement speaker. So, this article will be my standard commencement speech to the graduating class of 2019.

Dear graduating class of 2019: First my credentials. I am what is known in literature as the Allegorical Everyman. I am an ordinary person. I finished high school at a seminary where tuition was free in a class of a dozen, ‘sine laude’ (without honors), although I excelled in Latin and could orate segments of Marcus Tullius Cicero’s perorations against Catiline’s conspiracy “Quo usqui tandem abutere Catilina patientia nostra?” (When, O Catiline, do you mean to cease abusing our patience?) But that was half a century ago.

My college baccalaureate was geared towards teaching which I did not pursue. I did public service instead and after some years, I was fortunate to be accepted at Harvard, for my postgraduate MC/MPA at the Kennedy School. I was voted upon graduation as the top Mason Fellow by my classmates. It was a leadership award, not academic.

Three other Filipinos were in my class: Alejandro ‘Babes’ Flores (PC-INP), Dr. Primo Arambulo, (UN-PAHO) and Christopher Gomez, Central Bank (CB). Yes, it is prudent to cite real witnesses on your having graduated from a prestigious school, unlike some current high government officials’ dubious claims of having finished law and college degrees from UP, Yale or Princeton, or whatever.

Having established my credentials, you graduates will soon establish yours. On May 13, 2019, you get to choose for the first time the ruling elite of this country – senators, congressmen and local government officials. For those of you who are not lazy, concerned or even patriotic enough to register and vote, this is an opportunity for you to practice what you learned in your civics class. As you will begin to realize, our system of government which is nominally a republican democracy allows its citizens to elect leaders mandated to serve the people; who must fashion good laws and hammer out policies to make our lives better. Election day is the only time that your power to alter the course of government rests in your hands. After this one-day exercise, you are powerless.

Many of you are average or above-average students, like I was. Nothing wrong with that. Maybe a good 10 perecent of you are academically part of the crème-de-la-crème, cum laudes, magna and summa cum laudes. Nothing wrong with that too.

In this day and age, your many advantages over the youth of two decades ago and beyond are apparent. You are the children of the information age. The network of networks, the world wide web spawned this period through the development of the internet. Facebook, Google, Apple and internet applications through your cellphone and notebooks are your primary tools. Use them well.

With these devices, data mining is at your fingertips. You have access to quick information. This makes you smarter than a lot of us, but not necessarily wiser. To be the latter, I give you my first advice; you need to apply critical thinking you learned in school, unlike the term papers you sourced out from Wikipedia that you cut and paste. You need to use your brains to separate the chaff from the grain.

You need to discern from among the list of names offered by the political puppet masters, candidates you can trust and depend on to do good by you. Many of them are good candidates; but also, many of them are crooks and corrupt, who should not be given another chance to rule over us. Eliminate the members of political dynasties and name brands who keep being elected every three years yet serve only their personal interest or that of their families instead of your welfare and the greater majority of our people.

Remember the people you are voting to ride herd on you now were once like you; believing in the oft repeated romantic notion that the “…youth is the hope of the fatherland.” Not true, it’s overrated — given their track record over the decades.

And with these tools, communication between and among your peers are instantaneous; Facebook gives you friends, hundreds, thousands even but such relationships although not deep are sufficient enough for information to disseminate. But beware of fake news and rumors.

My second advice is to allow yourselves to get angry. Real anger over our situation of decades of government neglect, of stark poverty and injustice besetting our people. Righteous indignation is required to spur us to condemn and correct the imbalances and deficits of our democracy — in our court system, in our dysfunctional institutions, in the continued institutional thievery in the Senate and Congress through pork barrel allocations, resulting in the general malaise pervading our system of government.

And I want to leave you with these thoughts that define who you really are: You are the mainstream, the world’s movers. History’s great dramas are mostly written by ordinary people. You need to internalize this fact. This is not to disparage the academic achievers among you. They have achieved excellence worth emulating. But you are all now in the real world. You all start on equal footing; and it requires a conscious decision by each one of you to make a difference.

Continue to possess the arrogance of youth, that you are the center of the universe and that you have the capability of changing the world. Because, it is true, you are. And this is a myth you have to perpetuate, as long as you can. It ends when you are no longer the youth.

But this arrogance is preconditioned on your understanding right from wrong and acting accordingly. These are values learned from, or inculcated by, parents, the elders, your peer group and the educational system. The result of this life’s test is simply pass or fail, no ‘cum laudes.’ If you are unable to distinguish the difference, you are a failure.

So, my dear graduates of 2019, we are all ordinary people, capable of extraordinary things.
Published in LML Polettiques