Saturday, March 26, 2005

I hate the image of God

In one sense, I can understand why Moslems forbid the representation of God in terms of images. How can the human mind ever encapsulate the grandness of God? How can a trillion cells imagine and represent the Universe? Not very well. Though as humans, we constantly will try.

We went to the Tanay Club Pabasa last night. Pabasa is the tradition of chanting / singing about the life and times of Jesus. In the Spanish colonial Philippines, the Filipinos were deprived of copies of the Bible. Most likely because the Spaniards knew that the Bible is one subversive book which preaches equality to all mankind. The last thing you want as a colonial master is to explain to your servants that you are equal in heaven but not in earth. Rebellions are made from these types of incongruities.

The Spanish solution was to have a Tagalog translation of the life of Jesus. But, limit the mentioning of the Old Testament. You don't need that drivel about God being a vengeful god smiting down towns. It is far better to read about a sanitized version of Jesus where everything falls just right.

At the center of the pabasa were the patron saints which are lent to the club by various families. In the Philippines, to own a statue of a saint is something to achieve. I suppose the larger your statue, the better the family? At any rate, there were about six or seven patron saints in the midst of all this prayer. Would anyone like to guess what each and every single face in that altar looked like? Yup, all of them were Caucasian features. Even the Black Madonna which is famous somewhere in the Philippines has Caucasian features. The only black part is the skin.

I pointed this out to a friend's mother and she stared at the statues. After a while, she said "You know, I never really noticed. I just figured that the saints were from Spain and Europe so it is right that they were Caucasian." I could not help but wince at the truth. The whole world prays at statues with Caucasian faces because of the way that the Catholic church developed. With the advent of the printing press, the Germans were able to mass produce the Bible and of course, with words come pictures. How would a human make a representation of God. Well, the human would use his own image. After all, that is what the Bible said. God made us in his own image. And thus came the whitening of God. I should note that I read about this in this book discussing how come Jews and Catholics became so polarized. See Constantine's Sword.

I pointed out that in the Philippines it does not matter that much, unless one meets a white person. Refer to Leny's story and you will see what I mean.

However, place having your God look like Caucasians in the context of Pin@ys working in hospitals or teaching in schools in the United States, and one has a power imbalance. Immediately, the Filipinos will acquiesce and be more forgiving of the Caucasian. I'm not saying that this happens every time. But it does affect us at an unconcious level.

Several years ago, I asked a friend of mine to ask a wood carver from the Philippines to create a last supper sculpture. The twist that I wanted was that the the inhabitants of the sculpture should look Pin@y. The wood carver was honest. He had never had anyone request that before. Several months pass by. My friend's father goes to examine the carving. He rejects the carving as inferior.

When I heard the news, I was intrigued. I wondered how the sculpture looked. On one hand, perhaps the sculptor could not create a wondrous sculpture because he could not conceive of the thirteen apostles and Jesus with Filipino faces. Perhaps his mind was so set in making Caucasian looking pictures. But the flip side of the situation is that perhaps my friend's father also had limits. In seeing a last supper sculpture with Filipino faces, perhaps he decided that it was inferior. It did not look right perhaps because the apostles are Pin@y.

My friend's mother did mention that her husband rejected the sculpture because he did not think it was fit as a gift. I believe I will have to send the SO to Paete to get our sculpture of the last supper with Filipino faces.

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