I wonder if Mel Gibson ever spent Easter in the Philippines…
MANILA (AFP) – Philippine health officials Wednesday warned people taking part in Easter crucifixions and self-flagellation rituals to get a tetanus shot first and sterilise the nails to avoid infections.
Every Good Friday in this predominately Roman Catholic Southeast Asian nation dozens of men re-enact the crucifixion of Jesus Christ by having themselves nailed to wooden crosses.
At the same time hundreds of others, mostly men, strip to the waist and whip themselves until their backs are cut and bloody as a way of atoning for their sins over the past year.
The Catholic church frowns upon the crucifixions and self flagellations which have become a tourist attraction in a number of towns around the country.
Youâ€™d think they could just set up â€˜The Passion of the Christâ€™ on a wide screen, but maybe they like the local performers. Anyway, itâ€™s the same buzz, enjoy the spectacle and get creds with God for being pious.
Maybe itâ€™s a way to divert some of the rage that must build up when people live in one of the poorest countries on earth and know that they are left out of the party. Religion has often served as a pacifier and a safety valve. The most unhinged citizens put themselves out of commission for a few months by whipping themselves senseless. The rest of the population are simultaneously jazzed and frightened by the show. No one is going to form a political action committee for a while.
I can think of a few things a Unitarian preacher might say. Such as that itâ€™s okay to use cold-blooded logic to conclude that itâ€™s bad to hurt yourself. That there is no such thing as a sadistic god who is appeased by this kind of thing, and if there is one you shouldnâ€™t encourage him. That we have a mutual obligation to one another. That includes a responsibility not to put yourself in the hospital from self-abuse, using up scarce resources. Remember that the foreign nurses who are facing charges in the US for quitting the job from hell are all from the Phillipines, so you can imagine how long the ER wait is in Manila.
The secular authorities are sensibly trying to do some harm reduction, since bringing on the force of law would only create martyrs out of people who are already hanging themselves from crosses.
The department of health issued a health warning advising people taking part in the rituals this Friday to have tetanus shots and to check the condition of the whip they will use before lashing their backs.
Itâ€™s the least the flagellants can do, if they have any consideration for others.
I can think of a few things a Catholic preacher might say, and I wonder if any of them are saying it, in the Phillippines or in the USA this Easter season.
That the life and teachings of Jesus should get at least as much attention as his gory death. That you could express your faith by loving your neighbor, forgiving a wrong, doing good works so discretely that your left hand doesnâ€™t know what your right hand is doing. Healing a wound instead of causing one.
As long as the Catholic Church is justifying avoidable suffering in this life as a ticket to glory in the next, they will have no good answers for the self-crucifiers.
And we Americans, who have so much, continue to enjoy violence as spectacle. Whether the blood is fake or real itâ€™s nothing to be proud of. Low tech or high tech, weâ€™re fixating on pain when we should be organizing to stop the bleeding.