Friday, June 6, 2008

The GK Problem and Prudent Moral Choices

As expected, my first Afterthoughts column last month was not received well by some principals in the controversy over CfC/GK. It elicited “afterthoughts” of their own—but most negative of mine. I would be mad to get involved any further in their quarrel. Still, I can’t help asking that they do not dismiss cavalierly as they are doing the logic of the questions (and the answers) of my Bontoc “philosopher”. All I’d wish them to do now, before consigning me to wherever I am to be consigned, is to answer categorically the same questions he put to me. Only then, I believe, can we have a rational discourse on the controversy without the innuendoes, misreading, fallacious reasoning that are being advanced so far by way of response to that maiden column.

Before sending it in to the CBCP Monitor, I had asked a professional moral theologian to look at it and see if he had some comments to make from the viewpoint of his expertise. Father Eric Marcelo Genilo, S.J. of the Loyola School of Theology obliged and sent me the following comments—they are well worth quoting at length here:

“There are enough references in scripture, the saints and the Church’s social teachings that would support the position that meeting the material needs of the poor is just as urgent and important as meeting spiritual needs.

“I would argue against those who criticize GK for taking donations from pharmaceutical companies that are involved in contraceptive production and marketing. First, these companies produce other products and it does not necessarily mean that the donations come directly from profits from contraceptives. Second, it is rash and unjust to label such companies as evil, as if they do not do any good for the community. In all human organizations the capacity for doing good and evil are present and operative. I can call the Church “devil” too if I just focus on the sex abuse committed by clerics, the atrocities of the Inquisition and the Crusades and the destruction of cultures by overzealous missionaries. But I don’t, because I recognize the Church is both sinful and graced. I would also apply the same compassionate consideration to multi-product pharmaceutical companies. Third, single-issue morality, like single-issue politics, ignores the complexity of life and the various factors that should be considered when making a prudent choice for what is good. To judge the worthiness of a charitable work on the basis of the contraceptive issue alone is like choosing a president based on his or her position on divorce, ignoring important issues like war, corruption, poverty, human rights abuses, and unemployment. Single-issue morality is morality for those with small minds and limited vision. Fourthly, one can point to examples of great men and women who did not shy away from working with sinners in order to do great good for others—Mother Teresa received donations from dictators to help the poor and dying; John Paul II visited Fidel Castro even if Cuba is embargoed by Western nations.”

Father Genilo’s ideas need no further commentary. But I would like to dwell a bit here on what he says about the danger of ignoring “the complexity of life and the various factors that should be considered when making a prudent choice for what is good.” His words carry me back to something that happened in Bukidnon during martial law times and that has been a source of lasting inspiration for me personally all these years. It is about our people’s capacity, when given the opportunity and freedom, for making precisely those much-to-be-desired prudent choices in their life as people of faith.

A number of times after the imposing of martial law, referendums were held to gauge how the people looked at the new political dispensation that was “the New Society.” The clergy of Bukidnon felt keenly the degrading effect of those phony acts of suffrage, especially in the coercing of people to vote according to “suggested answers”. They decided to come out openly on the occasion of one such referendum in the mid-‘70s with their collective judgment on it and on how they felt our people should act in its regard.

They analyzed and commented on three possible options open to us and our people: (1) boycotting the referendum in protest at its farcical nature even in the face of the decree forcing us to take part on pain of imprisonment for failure to vote; (2) participating in the process and voting yes or no freely according to conscience but making sure that our votes would be properly counted and reported as cast; and (3) resorting to blank ballots if we felt participation was too debasing or useless, but then we would also have to see to it that those ballots were correctly registered—not an easy thing to do under the menacing and ever present guns of the military.

The three options were openly discussed in all of our BECs to the consternation of government officials who had been bidden by Malacanang to produce a yes-vote. Because of the people’s vigilance, the counting of ballots at that particular referendum was done rather fairly. The final results were roughly one third yes-votes, another third no, and the last third “spoiled”—these were evidently the blank ballots. Only 200,000 of a total of more than 300,000 registered voters in the province participated in the voting. That meant some 100,000 had boycotted it. Add to this the no-votes and the “spoiled” ballots, and the message sent to Malcanang was unmistakable and clear as day. We like to think our people’s action helped put an end to those debasing travesties.

What amazed us most, however, were not so much the results of the voting (although they were surprising enough) as the way our people seriously discerned on how they were to conduct themselves in the referendum. A general pattern of action was followed by families: Mothers would participate, fathers would boycott. The rationale was simple: Should the non-participating fathers end up in jail, the voting mothers would be left to take care of the children. That approach had never occurred to the celibate clergy! But they were highly gratified when it happened, for it meant their efforts at helping create communities of faith-discernment and -action were having an effect after all.

Ordinary folk evinced then in a most remarkable way the capacity for prudent choice that Father Genilo speaks of. One would wish that that capacity were more in evidence too in the resolving of the CfC-GK problem than is being shown to date; and for that matter, for us, the general population, in regard to the burgeoning ills of the nation—a pressing and hard challenge to our capacity as citizens to make the needed prudent choices.