Imagining God | Inquirer News

Imagining God

/ 07:47 AM December 11, 2011

The Maker is making a crucifix for his show “Bulahan ang Bunga sa Tiyan Mo,” opening 7 p.m., Dec. 22, 2011, at the Art Center of SM City Cebu and running till Jan. 4, 2012. He invites you to be there. It would be of moderate size. The figure of Christ is made from tooled copper. It is attached to a wooden cross designed to hang from the ceiling after Napoleon Abueva’s cross at the chapel of Seminario Mayor in Cebu.  The copper has been hammered into the shape of a safety pin or alpiler. But one would see that the pin is anthropomorphic, in other words, in the shape of man—or, if you believe, the human form of God. And of course, people will be asking the same questions the Maker asked himself before beginning the project. The first is, why?

And then in his loss for words, the Maker will reply, Why not? A safety pin after all is a device nearing obsolescence in advanced countries but still quite useful in countries like the Philippines where the advance of progress is still seen as an aspiration rather than a burden, which burden manifests itself now in the travails of what would seem like a dying planet. Here we still use the alpiler for odd tasks. We seldom use it now in the care of babies as we used to before the advent of the disposable diaper and overflowing landfills. But as in olden days, we still use it to extract the kinhason from its shell. And we still use it as first aid to tears and rips, and other wardrobe malfunctions like a busted zipper. Still as ever before, the universal function of the alpiler is for holding things together so that they do not come apart. Which, by a poetic twist, is also the main function of faith, believing, and, if you will, religion.


Otherwise, the good thing about the form of the alpiler is that it unburdens the God-object from some of its cultural and historical roots. God does not look like a sharp-nosed imperialist Caucasian. He is not Jewish, not Spanish, not American. He is not Chinese, not Asian nor Filipino. But He can be imagined that way or any way. He is merely a representation of the human. And therefore easier for most humans to “own,” especially if they had suffered through a harsh period of colonization where was established the fundamental foundations of their present condition, for better and worse.

And this is, of course, the primordial problem of the post-colonial Filipino especially where religion is concerned. How can he love the same religion that put or allowed to be put in front of the firing squad Dr. Jose Rizal? And this, for writing the first two great novels of his culture? Clearly, he or she would have to study well and go beyond the core constructs of the religion itself. He or she would have to say, here on one hand is the institutional religion, which is always subject to history and politics. On the other hand, here is the Church, which is the body of Christ and His people—all people who would be part of His church. His believers. The latter is only indirectly attached to history and politics. It attaches itself instead to what the person believes for himself or herself, what he or she would have his or her own children believe.


And, still, the question: Is He really out there?

Most modern humans would aspire to put God within the grasp of knowledge. Not surprising, considering he or she comes after Galileo, the rise of science, two world wars, new technology, the modern, finally, the concept of an ever-expanding universe. It is true that all these have brought us the distance between ignorance and a deeper appreciation of knowledge and the sense of enlightenment that comes with it. But this also brings with it a knowledge of the limits of those things we can possibly know. If the universe expands without end, then truth will always be beyond the grasp of absolute certainty. There will never be a limit to all the questions we can ever ask ourselves. The answers will always be struggling to keep up. And so there will always be the unknown. And we will have to account for it both collectively and personally as we have always done since the time we dwelled in caves and used only rock for tools.

And modern humans still do have need for things like religion and faith. Notwithstanding, that we also must try to liberate ourselves and gain new knowledge in the course of our personal and collective lives. We need it now more than ever. But the purpose of faith and religion is not to answer all our questions about life. We need religion for other things besides, not the least of which is to remind us to keep in check our faith in science. We need religion like we need Jesus wrought into the shape of an alpiler to hold us together in a time of many rips and tears.

Science will not answer all our questions either. The last question it will ever answer with true certainty is whether  there is a God. By the most divine and ironic twist, that very same question must be the first question answered for all of us once and after we die.

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