IN the early years of my immersion in Western cultures, a couple of differences between “them” and “us” struck me the most.
The first one clearly is the prevalence of religious iconoclasm, especially among the Europeans. In the United Kingdom, which has been my home for many years, churches and places of worship often lie empty and neglected, many turned into historically themed residential dwellings and apartment blocks. Religion just has no place in their lives anymore.
Valentine's 2009 blog
This was a real shock to me in the beginning, as having been raised in the Philippines as a young man, I had been accustomed to seeing people religiously flocking in droves to churches on Sundays, and other days of obligation. Not to mention being witness to the spectacle of people nailing themselves to crosses and engaging in other acts of great religious fervor, especially during the season of Lent.
Not in the West.
I remember once visiting one of the Western Isles of Scotland on a Sunday, and hearing mass while we were there. Looking all around me, all I could see were white-haired folk, with nary a young soul in sight. Religious devotion is dying with the older generation, and their young are not being motivated to follow in their path.
The other thing which surprised me with the West was the degree of trust they had in other people. The unwritten rule over there seems to be that “all men are honest, unless proven otherwise.”
Insurance companies over there, for instance, spend very little time investigating claims for damages, preferring instead to pay up almost as soon as they are reported. As a consequence many of my Filipino friends there routinely took advantage of the situation, reporting goods they had purchased like computers, for example, as damaged so they could get new ones as replacement.
The traffic accident reporting process, too, is something unheard of back in the Philippines. When two vehicles have a minor accident, each person simply reports to his or her auto insurance company what happened, and they would get paid. No need for a policeman to hold up traffic for hours like in Manila, while they take a sketch and make a report of the incident for the insurance companies.
The funny thing is, of course, that the two things that really caught my attention would, at first glance, seem to be irreconcilable differences.
For how could societies that hardly believed in God anymore, still rely so much on the good faith and honesty of their members? In my experience up to that point, ungodly men and women were supposed to be immoral and dishonest individuals. How else could they be, when they hardly believed in a just and righteous God anymore? Where would they have learned their values, and shaped their morality?
It was just too difficult for me to reconcile.
My thoughts, of course, immediately turned to home for comparison. In the Philippines, everyone – bar a very small minority – believe in a god, whoever that God is supposed to be.
Everyone goes to church on Sundays, or otherwise attends mosques on Fridays. Anyone coming over to the Philippines for the first time would see this, and automatically assume that our godliness meant that we were, without exception, an honest and morally upstanding nation.
More next week.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 30, 2010.