In his column for the June 17, 2009 issue of The Philippine Star ("The great pumpkin", p. 14), Cito Beltran writes about some of his impressions about the Netherlands and Europe in general; his pen ranges from pigeons as big as chickens to the zeal with which hidden wealth is denounced in the United Kingdom. In the finest tradition of Filipino self-deprecation, Mr. Beltran also uses his impressions to reflect in a generally unfavorable manner upon certain aspects of Philippine society.
Towards the end of his column, Mr. Beltran observes that after centuries of being devoutly Protestant, the Dutch are no longer a churchgoing people due to "various influences, war and disillusionment." Yet he maintains that the Dutch people remain imbued with Biblical values in their daily conduct. Indeed, that he can't resist comparing the formerly Protestant Dutch people with the still-Catholic Filipino people in order to make a point at the expense of the Catholic Church.
Mr. Beltran writes:
"Even the staunchest Dutch atheists end up stammering when I point out that their character and conduct reflect the core values of the very faith that they reject. In the many days I spend just walking around The Hague, it became clear that the respect, courtesy, work ethics, social conduct of ethnic Dutch people reflect biblical conduct.
They are not religious or pious but centuries of Protestantism has (sic) resulted in generations of people who are sensitive to others, responsible for themselves and for their surroundings.
In contrast, 400 years of being "the only Catholic Country" in Asia has produced a religious society but not necessarily one where people live in their lives based on biblical standards. In other words we do the talk but we don't walk the walk.
Who was it that said, "one has faith that does not bear fruit, the other bears much fruit, but has no faith. Who then is better than the other"?
Thus saith Mr. Beltran, the self-proclaimed Born Again Christian.
First, we are astonished that someone who considers himself to be a Born Again Christian would consider it better to have no faith but have much fruit, than to have much faith and yet no fruit. Neither state is ideal, and surely even Born Again Christians consider both faith and good fruit to be essential to being Christian. However, since Born Again Christianity stands precisely on the embrace of faith alone as the path of salvation and the rejection of the view that good works -- good fruit -- have any bearing on one's salvation, one would think that Mr. Beltran would still consider someone who has faith to be better than someone who has no faith at all.
On the other hand, we are elated that Mr. Beltran concedes that Filipino Catholics have faith - after all, that is something that many of his fellow Born Again Christians refuse to even concede. At least there is hope for us Catholics!
Second, according to Mr. Beltran, the "social conduct of ethnic Dutch people reflect biblical conduct" due to their Protestant past. Is Mr. Beltran aware that the Netherlands has gay marriage, euthanasia even of children, and some of the world's most liberal abortion and drug laws? Does he consider these to be reflective of biblical conduct as well? Or is he just so dazzled by Holland's economic prosperity and neatness and the social graces of its inhabitants that he could no longer see that moral aberrations have struck deep roots in that same country? Using Mr. Beltran's line of reasoning, we must also consider Protestantism to be the source of the Dutch people's acceptance of gay marriage, euthanasia, drug use, abortion, and the abandonment of church-going. After all, as Mr. Beltran declares, their social conduct is due to Protestant influence!
Mr. Beltran would like to attribute to Protestantism the virtues of the Dutch people while remaining silent on the moral situation of the Netherlands. Why then would he link Catholicism to the lack of biblical conduct among the Filipino people? By what standard of reasoning does he apportion praise and blame? How convenient for him to attribute the virtues of a formerly Protestant country to Protestantism, while attributing the vices of a still-Catholic country to Catholicism! We have a term for this: double standard. The fact is that no country is perfect, and Protestant and Catholic countries alike have their peculiar strengths and weaknesses, their singular virtues and vices.
Neither Catholicism nor Protestantism claims to be able to eradicate sin completely from this world, and by that same token no Christian society can ever be a perfect image of the particular form of Christianity that it by and large espouses. No Christian society will ever be free of blemishes, blemishes that should not always be blamed on the principles upon which that society stands, for no society exists that can perfectly replicate Christian principles.
Before we leave this topic behind, Mr. Beltran should be corrected on one important point: the Netherlands' positive attributes are not due entirely to Protestantism. It has had a Protestant royal family since the 16th century, and until the 20th century it had a Protestant majority, but Holland has always had a large Catholic minority, and the roots of its prosperity and work ethic go back to the high medieval ages - when Holland was still one of the most devoutly Catholic nations in the whole world.