Posted in Filipino, Religion, Travel

Sinulog: An Argument For Religion

One of the hardest questions I’ve ever had to answer (apart from, obviously, where’s your boyfriend haha), is when someone asks me ‘Do you still believe in God?‘.

I get asked that every time I happen to mention regularly attending church on Sundays, or if I have to excuse myself early from Sunday brunch to hear mass or if someone sees me take out the rosary during a flight where there’s really bad turbulence.

I got into an argument once with a colleague (who’s pretty well-known for being rude so I really shouldn’t have stooped to his level) because he said that religion is for the weak. At the time, I couldn’t really articulate everything that was in my head because I have to admit that this topic always confuses me.

I grew up strictly Catholic and in a very Catholic country. My mum still goes to church every day and makes regular donations to support our local parish. Its very hard to undo nearly 30 years of tradition even though sometimes I probably do them out of habit. And because if I skip mass I can practically hear mum’s voice in my head nagging me to distraction. Sometimes its not just in my head: she will FaceTime me to make sure that I’m not skipping church. Its actually quite funny and endearing; she probably fears for my eternal soul living in London.

However, I have friends who make a good solid case about why they don’t practice their religion anymore. For them, Catholicism is outdated, judgmental and overly rigorous. It demands too much from its members and its out of touch with today’s reality. It gets in the way of progress, and the current state of the world begs the question that if there is a God where is He during these troubled times?

No one really talks about faith and religion in London, not in my experience anyway. Even Filipinos living abroad find it hard to counter some of the more sensible arguments from those who see religion as a crutch; its hard to defend religion when others see it as the root cause of all the hate crimes and terrorist attacks that regularly plague European cities. Its a shame that the acts of a few extremists brings censure on the sect as a whole.

So no one really talks about being religious or professes their faith in everyday conversations. We just get on with the daily grind, blearily getting into our (scrub) suits for another day in the office. My default answer when asked if I still believe in God is to say, well I don’t know but I believe in SOMETHING.

Cebu and the Sto. Niño

I am not going to recount the history and long relationship Cebu has with the blessed niño, the patron saint of our beautiful city. All I can say is that you’ll be hard-pressed to find a celebration more beautiful and more inspiring than this 9-day celebration in January, culminating in a grand procession every 3rd Sunday of the same month. Yes, even if you’re an atheist this will still amaze you. Scorn it if you like, but to see it and to witness it is an experience.

People come out in droves to the pilgrim center of the Basilica (and the streets beyond) every day for 9 days to attend the novena mass. There’s a novena mass every hour and every hour attendance is always at full-capacity. Every hour.Every day for 9 days. Rain or shine, hell or high water.

Its crowded as all get go, and even when its raining its so bloody humid and you will feel really sticky. You have to rub elbows with the crowd and if you want to have a seat, you might as well forget it. The Basilica is in a part of the city that’s known for pickpockets; you can’t bring a car because the streets are closed to accommodate more mass-goers. Public transportation will only get you as far as maybe three to four blocks away and even then you’ll have to take a ridiculously circuitous route to find the entrance.

9 days.

It seems like a lifetime for some. And I know some people reading this will think its a waste of time. But for the people of Cebu, this is an integral part of their lives. I remember teaching Nursing in my alma mater from 2009 to 2011, and our college would sponsor one of the novena masses every year. During our sponsored mass day, class schedules are rearranged so that students and clinical instructors alike can go to church. One of my close friends in the Nursing faculty wasn’t even Catholic and even he wanted to attend just to experience what it was like.

People make time for the Niño. For some its because there’s a legend that if you complete the 9-day novena you get to make a wish or something, but I doubt something like that is the basis for the sheer devotion that you can feel coming out of the pilgrim centre. One of the most beautiful moments of the mass is the Batobalani Sa Gugma (literally translated it means “Magnet of Love”) where people raise their hands in prayer, waving them to and fro as if being controlled by, wait for it, a magnet.

Moving Forward

I attended one of the novena masses yesterday for the first time in 3 years. And when the choir started singing the opening hymn, I got this pang in my chest and I felt my eyes start to sting with tears. Its like you held on to your emotions for so long and you try to be strong because you have to be in order to survive in another country. And I haven’t turned to anyone or anything for a long long time, and especially not my faith.

I suddenly realised that its been a long year, 2017 I mean. It was probably one of the most difficult – personally and professionally. But I got through it. And I guess I suddenly let myself think about that during mass yesterday for some reason, and I just got really emotional. I was in tears by the middle of the song, people were starting to look at me like I was a nutcase.

The traditional homily was a sign that the Catholic church (in Cebu at least) is ready to enter the 21st century. The surprisingly savvy and hip officiating priest talked about needing followers who go to concerts, drink alcohol and have a regular following on Instagram. They need the millennials who take a million selfies and whose burning desire is to travel the world (while taking selfies! Lol). He said some things that made me think that the church is finally willing to admit that some of its long-held beliefs may be just a touch antiquated. Its arguing for tolerance and acceptance for the first time in a long long while.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. I cannot stand behind a church that will persecute its members for being different. If the Catholic church is telling me that my best friend and his gay husband will burn in hell for loving each other then I will renounce my faith in a heartbeat. But its not doing that. For the first time I can feel the church make an effort to understand. And to accept. That is the kind of church I can get behind.

I think that people will always need religion. We all need something; we need to believe in a higher power especially during difficult times. I mean they say you should rely on yourself. But if I allow myself to believe that there’s only little ole me during a crisis and no one else, I will go insane. I need to believe that there’s someone looking out for me. If that makes me weak then yes I’m weak.

Do You Still Believe?

Like I said. I’m reluctant to answer that question because I don’t want to be a hypocrite. But I think the answer to that question, strange as it seems, is yes. I believe in the power of religion to unite people even if its just for an hour every day. I believe in the capacity of people to do good because of their faith. I believe in something that is not within my remit nor capacity to explain. And for now, that is enough to get me through the day.

Viva Pit Senyor, Cebuanos!

Posted in Books, Religion, Reviews

Book Review: Origin – Dan Brown

It’s weirdly fitting that I finished and am reviewing this book on Sunday, a day known to Christians the world over as the day of the Lord.


The premise of the book is quite simple and a little bit formulaic in my opinion. But hey, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it right? Dan Brown has sold millions of copies of these Robert Langdon books that he should know by now that if you just stick to the plan, you’re good.


As per usual Robert Langdon is invited to an event, this time by his former student, Edmond Kirsch, an influential man who is renowned in the scientific world as a pioneer and a prophet. Edmond has promised to reveal a groundbreaking research that will rock the very foundation of religious belief. However, things take a sinister turn before he can do so and it is up to Robert, and inevitably a female companion, to search through the clues left by this enigmatic man so that his final discovery can be broadcasted to the world, facing challenges and threats to their existence along the way of course.


I’m not kidding when I say these books are formulaic: European city as a setting (Barcelona), art (Gaudi) the usual anti-religion tirade, symbols and clues, plot twists, heck, Robert’s female sidekick this time around – Ambra Vidal – is made out of the same mold as Vittoria, Sophie and that girl from Inferno (although we were spared the romantic undertones this time around, thank God. I don’t think Tom Hanks can handle any more romantic entanglements.)




There are so many themes to explore that I think I’ll just dive right into it. There will be minor spoilers along the way, although I’ll try to keep them to a minimum and readers will still get to enjoy the element of surprise brought about by a good plot twist, although I saw this one coming from a mile away.

Where did we come from?

This is the question that divides religion and science. Despite attempts to unify them and despite calls for us to see the hand of God behind scientific advancements, it seems like they can’t bridge the big divide of the question of where man came from. Of course, everyone is familiar with the story of Genesis and God creating Adam and Eve from his own likeness. Equally familiar is Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution: man’s journey from homo Habilis to Homo sapiens brought about by the survival instinct.




One of our more enterprising teachers attempted to begin an intelligent and stimulating dialogue back when I was in high school by having us students debate these two theories. I think she greatly underestimated how fervent some people’s religious beliefs are and that some of the students will take things personally. Religion is a deeply personal thing. It forms a major part of your entire belief system and influences how you see and interpret the world. For most of us, religion is learned from a loved one and part of what keeps us believing in it is the influence of that loved one. For example, I may not necessarily have as strong a faith as I did when I was younger and I have come to believe that there is a big flaw in my belief system, but I still go to church every Sunday out of fear of disappointing my mum, who is deeply religious.


Anyway, the debate ended in fights and tears especially on the side of those who were for Creationism. I think someone did raise the question about whether you would prefer to believe you evolved from a chimpanzee or whether you’d rather believe you were a special creation of a divine being. This was over 15 years ago so I’ve forgotten which side I was on but I distinctly remember being able to see and understand both sides of the story and my eventual take on it is that we should all stop asking this inane question and just move on with our lives.

I mean, does it really matter where we came from? Shouldn’t it be enough that we exist and therefore should make that existence meaningful? So many debates raging and wars being waged over a pointless question. I agree with what one character in this book said, no matter what scientific discoveries people come up with, people will still cling to their faith because at the end of the day, everyone needs to believe in a higher power.


Religion versus Science

Religion is intangible. The bible itself praises people who “do not see and yet choose to believe”. Christianity requires a leap of faith and – paradoxically -a suspension of belief. We believe in a God who loves us so much that He gave us his only son, birthed through divine conception. This son, Jesus, then gave up his life on the cross to save us from our sins and was resurrected three days after and brought into heaven. Those are two of the mysteries of our faith that we’ve chosen to base our entire belief system on.

A scientific mind will just lose the plot when faced with this belief system because it just. doesn’t. make. any. sense. I agree. Its got plot holes the size of the hole on the ozone layer. The entire system can be destroyed by a few questions and all we’re inevitably left with is our faith. Science, and the scientific method, meanwhile is based on facts and experiments. Its based on research and results that are tangible and reproducible. So when scientists discover something that directly contradicts religion, it’s a big deal because you know they will be armed with facts to back up their claims, like the theory of evolution.

I don’t know, really. I don’t understand the war between religion and science because I think there’s room for both to co-exist in the world. I think the world needs both in equal amounts. Take medicine, for example. I am both a Catholic and a medical personnel and I am able to reconcile both my faith and my medical knowledge when I deal with my patients. When a family member is sick, I find myself both recommending drugs and treatment that I think will help and keeping them in my prayers. When I found out my dad had high PSA levels (one of the indicators of prostate cancer) I spent one day researching all there is to know about it and then spent the night praying the rosary. I don’t see the disparity or the divide.

I remember being deeply offended one day when a surgeon I was working with said that religion is for the weak. I disagree. Yes, from a certain narrow-minded perspective it may seem as if some people use religion as a crutch because they can’t bear to take responsibility for their own destinies. But equally, there is something beautiful about how it is also used as a moral compass to temper man’s often irresponsible foray into things he’s not ready for.


Where are we going?

During his big reveal, Edmond said that the question of where we came from is not as important as where he thought we were going. I am heading into spoiler territory so do stop reading if you’ve not read the book yet. Although I think this won’t change your reading experience, I have to post an obligatory


Anyway, apparently Edmond’s experiments and his work on a super-computer has allowed him to predict man’s future and he predicts that in 50 or so years, man as we know it would be extinct and a whole new race will take over. According to Edmond technology will eventually consume man, pacing the way for a “new and better race of human beings”.

Now, this is clearly Dan Brown’s way of admonishing the current society’s obsession with technology and its true, in a way. Everything we need, we can access at the touch of our fingers. Need information? Find it on google. Need directions? Use the maps on your phone. Need to tell the world something new about yourself? Post a status on Facebook. Need to contact your mum from halfway around the world? Call her on FaceTime. Bombs can now be triggered remotely. There is a theory that we are entering a new dawn where technological warfare will replace traditional warfare. The advancement of technology can now be measured in terms of years instead of decades. Apple comes up with a newer, bigger, better and more advanced smart phone every year and it needs to do so in order to stay one step ahead of its competitors.

In a sense, the world is moving too fast that this plot twist really didn’t surprise me as much. One thing I found really clever is that, if you really pay attention, the book’s narrative and action was really in keeping with this theme of technology taking over. For example, Robert Langdon I felt played less of a role here because he had someone (or something) else doing the work for him (you’ll notice this if you read the book). Even the central mystery being solved was in keeping with this theme.


Despite that, it’s still the little things…

I was quite ready to give this book a negative review. I found it to be too long and I never really engaged with the story the way I did with what I still argue is Dan Brown’s best work (Angels and Demons). However, it was the little pockets of human interaction amidst all the chaos and startling new ideas that really turned the tide for me: a father’s love for his son, a son’s wish to live up to his father’s expectations, the thrill of falling in love and the purest love between two people who were destined to never share their feelings to the world because their world is not ready for it yet. But there is hope that one day it will be.

Again, I don’t know if this contrast was intentional but I, for one, found it really poignant. It’s in keeping with the message of the book I guess, that the human capacity for tolerance and compassion will keep us from being overrun by the dangers of powerful technology and that is what keeps Edmond Kirsch hopeful about the future.


….and finally.

I know this is a pretty long review, I apologise but it is a rather long book (again, this is one of my major complaints about this. Find a better editor, Danny boy!) but it’s certainly worth reading, especially if you’ve been a fan all these years.

My advice is to take everything with a pinch of salt. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what other people tell you anyway. You believe what you believe and you are entitled to that. Live and let live, people.


Happy Sunday, blabbaholics and bookworms alike!