Methods Matter - Tinig by Ma. Maricel S. Ibita, Ph.D., SThD

October 02, 2018
Ma. Maricel S. Ibita, Ph.D., SThD

“God is stupid”.

These words from President Duterte in June 2018, the uproar against it, the 2018 second quarter SWS survey results that 26% of Filipinos do not believe police claims of “nanlaban”, 27% believe it, and 47% are undecided about it even if satisfaction on the drug war is at + net 65, and Duterte’s apparent admittance to extrajudicial killings of drug suspects in his drug war campaign last September 28, 2018 underline the fact that methods matter when it comes to the understanding of the Bible and its ramifications for daily life, especially the political life of a nation.

The President’s attack on God has already been scored and clarified by Bishop Pablo David who is a biblical scholar. Bp. David expounded on Genesis 3’s warning about people who claim to be too wise and know what they do. While this reference to a stupid God is a “personal opinion,” it also tells more about the president’s idea of who God is and, consequently, his (dis)regard for the human person. This kind of remarks also challenges us Filipinos to confront our tendency to believe in a God who is a violent punisher instead of a merciful redeemer and makes us realize the vital need for a more critical interpretation of the Scriptures. Whether one is aware or not, whenever one hears, reads or comments on a biblical text, the person already favors a particular method and perspective in interpreting the biblical passage. It also exposes how the person regards the text, whether it is descriptive or prescriptive. Thus, the methods by which we read the Scriptures should take into serious considerations the Bible passage’s historical and literary contexts, the history of interpretation, the biases of the methods and the interpreters including the questions of power and ethics, and the ramifications of the various biblical interpretations today. Taking these biblical texts out of context and choosing only what one wants to believe in and absolutizing one’s own interpretation can have serious consequences – for good or for ill – as we see in the examples below.

Pacquiao’s invocation of people’s being subject to governing authorities as ordained by God (Rom 13:1-7) in his support of Martial Law in Mindanao, for example, does not acknowledge Paul’s situation of wanting to go to Rome and how he was only addressing a particular conflict in the Roman community in the first century. Another often misquoted verse on Church-state separation is Mark 12:13-17 and its parallels about what is due to Caesar and what is due God. Instead of interpreting it as the Church’s non-interference in matter of state policies, the biblical text talks about the limit that is due to civil authorities and that Christians do not owe abusive regimes unquestioning obedience. Critics of Duterte’s drug war, political persecution of enemies, connivance with the Marcoses and Arroyo, and the looming tyranny and dictatorship may well call on Revelation 13 which impels Christians to protest and go against the demonic and oppressive Roman Empire.

The 1993 Pontifical Biblical Commission’s Interpretation of the Bible in the Church enumerated hermeneutical methodologies in interpreting biblical texts critically in their literary and historical contexts and their impact on 20th and 21st-century readers in their own context from a multi-correlational perspective. The skills gained from these reading strategies can also be employed in discerning how biblical texts are used today. Likewise, they can be armors against fake news, post-truth, alternative facts, and historical revisionism especially in relation to Martial Law and Marcos dictatorship. The need for us to read and interpret texts critically and look for red flags, to scrutinize, to discern carefully what we will believe in and share on social media just like when we choose what profile picture we would like to upload are small steps for us to be more judicious regarding what is being fed to us, what we are told to believe in, what we stand for, and what we will die for.
The recently shared statement on Martial Law by Fr. Jett Villarin, SJ of the Ateneo de Manila University and Bro. Raymundo Suplido, FSC of De La Salle University urges the youth to “read the books, watch the documentaries, but above all listen to the stories and accounts of those who suffered and struggled to keep freedom and justice alive during those years of dictatorship.” As educators and formators, the two presidents underline that “The members of the academic communities cannot abdicate their duty to educate the next generation on truths of our history even more so when people threaten to creatively destroy them”.

What is true in interpreting the Scriptures as a faith community is also true in interpreting our national history.

Methods matter.

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of School of Humanities or the Ateneo de Manila University.