WHEN RELIGION FALLS WITHIN THE COMMERCE OF MAN
A friend of mine suggested, jestingly of course, that if I wanted to be rich, I must found a religion. I quickly dismissed it as a joke and admonished him for such sacrilegious talks. I would rather mind my own business rather than complicating it by manipulating beliefs just to keep my skins and bones together. After all, religion strictly speaking is only for philosophers and in this time of practicality and pragmatism, it is sheer hard work that pays greater dividends than nurturing flocks and proselytizing innocents.
The recent scandal which pushed the behemoth organization of Iglesia ni Cristo to the edge of controversy opened a can of curiosity into the beginnings and operations of religious organizations. The INC spokesman tried to tone down the confusion and implored that INC is not into business or corporation but a religion. It is therefore to be guided by principles than rules, commitment than regulations, and faith than intrinsic laws.
But at stake were not ordinary members who can be ignored for partisan or plain attention getting drama in the same vein as when former INC Pastor and now with his own religious show, Elly Soriano when he opted to break away. The trouble started right within the same family tree where the INC devotion grew. It is not from the ranks but from those above it.
It is not an isolated case though. As a matter of fact there were historical precedents when it comes to the evolution and development of belief systems of which civilization is anchored on. Intramurals and conflict from within the ranks is all too familiar a scenario, almost predictable.
In the past, there was this ancient story about Abraham. He was one leader who subscribed to believe in just one God. This was, at a time, when almost all tribes find devotion on animate objects and natural formations like the sun and the stars a popular and genuine conviction. As he travelled along with his tribe to a fabled land of their own, he fathered two offsprings. One was banished and eventually became a leader who likewise believes in one God. He led the moors which group became the core of Muslim faith. And the other son, who followed through his father’s belief and whose spiritual ideas eventually became the main principle behind Judaism. These were two major religious movements virtually capturing civilization’s imagination. The ancient world was instantly divided.
From there on, a number of belief system were born and each organization founded became powerful, influential and prosperous. It served as one lesson in economics which any worthy university may as well take a leaf from for a training program on managing successful commerce.
Billy Graham was one of contemporary leaders in the evangelization movement who virtually became known around the world. He walked with great political leaders and his image became a template and an inspiration for the succeeding generation of preachers and founders of other religious beliefs.
There was also a time in humanity’s history when religion divided the world and served as the major force behind horrible warfare. While ideology briefly interrupted religious competition, it was immediately restored using every terror modules that could be applied with rewards banded over through promises of heavenly recognition.
If religion serves as a trigger of division, it could also be a unifying agent. If championed properly, religion can be a basis for a successful venture. A number of religious organizations have flourished and smoothly flowed into the changing tide of times. They became a beacon of hope in remote areas, counsel for leaders, guide for administrators and general consultant on social and cultural affairs. They are a major part in shaping the history of a nation, at times, the very core of its cultural heritage.
The Philippines was predominantly a Muslim country before the Spaniards arrived. After colonizing the country for 500 years, its ethos including its belief system were gradually imbibed, replacing at times going hand in hand with its highly internalized Christian religious fervor a number of paganistic practices. When the Americans took over for 50 years, Protestantism and its various denominations crawled successfully into the mainstream of the Filipino consciousness. The Filipino psyche became a laboratory for supernatural teachings.
The Philippines from a distance became a sanctified society because of the multiplicity and ever changing of its spiritual profile. It is not even surprising to find in one house hold, a member who is a devout Catholic, married to a Muslim and whose children are Protestants.
Religion in this part of Asia is a highly viable business activity. The concept of saving souls became saving bread, of recruiting believers in heaven to subscribers of prosperity. The trend can easily to be seen and felt. It is no longer adhering to faith to gain blessings but to be blest to gain something.
Quite noticeable are the spanking edifices of religious organizations. They look more palatial than spatial. There are of course churches, temples and houses of worship. And those at the top are made already, thanks to the constant and relentless support and assistance by their followers.
In 1927, Iglesia ni Cristo started on a house near the banks of Pasig River. A century later, it has a church in almost all provinces, cities and municipalities of the country, not to mention hundreds more around the world! In October 5, 1978, Joel Villanueva founded Jesus Is Lord Movement and for a time counted hundreds of thousands of followers. His religious crusade almost took him to the highest office of the land but withdrew only to push his son to the apex of political connection. To date, his religious movement is the 5th richest among the partylist organization in Congress. In 1984, Mike Velardo took over the airwaves and became the highest grossing religious speaker which made politicians shake in their boots if his ministry would ignore them. Apollo Quiboloy in September 1, 1985 started his Restorationist Church in Mindanao and further formulated a religious doctrine that would focus on the Kingdom of God. Along the way, he discovered his divine lineage thereby proclaiming himself another “son of God.” Break away Pastor Ely Soriano became a multibusiness personality just after a few years of his high profile preaching in his Ang Tamang Daan movement which started in June 11, 2001.
All of them began literally under the tree, much like the beginnings of great religions in the world, but now their assets and worth are more than those of the richest persons in the country. Their financial profile has grown exponentially. They have become not only as religious and political influence but exude of economic force at the same time.
Whether this development borders on sacrilege or profanity, only the conscience could discern.
Convinced also that leading a religious movement may perhaps make a person prosperous, I passed on an invitation made on me to a friend.
My friend was never surprised at all because admittedly, he harbored the thought a long time ago. He was assured that his religious movement will create history and make him one of its greatest prophets. I played along but cautioned him that the field is almost saturated.
He was still a picture of confidence. He confided that his movement will be a game changer. He knew that someone successfully convinced a flock that he was the recent Son of God, another succeeded in persuading his followers that he was an “Anghel galling sa Malayong Silangan “with direct line from God, another as Propeta, another as Messenger, another as Representative.
He knew that. But he is different according to himself because he will project himself amongst the faithful and sinners within the tempting commerce of man . And I think he will make it. Accordingly, he will pass himself off as “Apo ni Satanas!”