Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas: Materialism and Spiritualism

Our annual celebration of the Christmas season makes two things evident about Filipinos: that every year they rediscover and pay homage to their spiritual principles and foundations; and that every year they narrowly set their consumerist sights on purchasing fashionable products and widely-recognized amusements by drawing upon their preoccupation with material ownership. Far from being able to say that we may be onto something unheard of here, certainly what I have said in this paragraph cannot be news to Filipinos.

It is hard to say whether Filipinos, wherever they are in the world, are more spiritual creatures than disciples of materialism or the other way around. This is all the more difficult to determine during the Christmas holiday period, when Filipinos largely sequester their inner selves within the confines of their religious horizons and at the same time approach the breaking point of their credit limits in the bowels of America’s ubiquitous shopping and strip malls.

Christmas is probably the only time of the year when Filipinos are closest to simultaneously displaying a genuinely spiritual and materialistic identity. Most of the rest of the year many Filipinos put this clash of identities on the back burner. Consequently, this begs the question as to whether or not Filipinos can be both deeply spiritual and distinctively materialistic. Or is this an inescapable contradiction in terms?

Let us ask this question: is it wrong to be both spiritual and materialistic? Is it being hypocritical? Is it even possible to fluctuate between both realms and still be appropriately considered religious or spiritual? As Filipinos, we have the right to eschew such complicated questions if we do not wish to answer them. But also as Filipinos who eagerly pursue that purposeful, intensive, and systematic undertaking called possessive capitalism, we stand to be in contempt of the spiritual content and meaning of our lives.

It is almost a matter of convention that Filipinos have one foot in the spiritual realm and another in the materialist. Not based on any scientific accounting, I don’t think there is a solid consensus among Filipinos about which one they would rather be in if they had to choose one over the other. But in a perfect world—given that the vast majority of Filipinos are Christian—Filipinos probably should be committed to their spiritual/religious values and be prepared to subordinate their material needs and desires.

However, the front line of this discussion has tended to move more in one direction than the other. Amidst a mass of skeptical attitudes towards a point of view that is held captive by spiritual concerns, even earnest Filipino Christians have been known to make inadequate provision for their spiritual beliefs whenever they have come up against the demands and standards of life in the material lane. It just goes to show you that there are shades of materialistic foregrounding where you least expect it: in the most religiously and spiritually-inclined Filipinos.

It is a relief to see that conservative and liberal Filipinos when all is said and done, do not allow their lives to revolve absolutely around the forces of materialistic acquisition. It is just as much a relief to see Filipinos, when it comes to their religious beliefs, to be able to balance those beliefs with the material inducements and requirements of a modern capitalist society. Rather than try to decouple the two, I choose to believe that the gray area between the spiritual and the materialistic provinces is where the collective Filipino consciousness should be ideally situated. This would seem the obvious way to go, except that it isn’t the truth.

As I posited before, materialistic prospects and exigencies are apt to get in the way of spiritual upkeep and development for Filipinos. It unsettles the ground for resolving the conflicting claims on Filipinos that are advanced by either worldview. But this does not mean we should pass over in silence the pride of place that religion and spirituality hold in Filipinos’ minds even as they sometimes wilt in the heat of materialist power. Filipinos are not religiously spiritual or spiritually religious merely for the sake of being religiously spiritual or spiritually religious. There is just cause to their leap of faith. With all the secular and materialistic winds blowing around us, it is still possible to derive strength and succor from something beyond our possessive sensibilities.


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