‘Split-level Christianity’ | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022


In 1966, Fr. Jaime Bulatao, SJ, wrote an essay, “Split-Level Christianity.” Allow me to quote the introduction:


“The following story invariably provokes a good deal of laughter from a Filipino audience: A mother superior of a convent was once given a talented parrot as a gift, which she received and showed off to the other nuns. She pulled the parrot’s right leg, and the parrot, with downcast eyes, began to recite the ‘Our Father’ to the end. She then pulled its left leg and, just as devoutly, it recited the whole of the ‘Hail Mary.’ At this juncture one of the young nuns thought to herself what would happen if she pulled both legs simultaneously. So she went up to the parrot and pulled both of its legs hard. Immediately the parrot cried, ‘Putres, madadapa ako’ (‘Damn, you’ll make me fall!’)!”


“The laughter that greets the cry of the all-too-human parrot stems in great part from the aptness with which it reflects the culture at large: the special behavior which people show in the presence of society, authority figures, and the occasional breakthrough of one’s spontaneous self. Lalabas ang katotohanan (The truth will out).


“Furthermore, the story is linking the foreign language with a formalized type of behavior and untranslatable native tongue, with one’s spontaneous reactions reflecting, too, the double set of automatisms of the Filipino: his behavior as conditioned by formal schooling and as conditioned by home influences, where the conditioning links are provided by one’s native tongue.


Learned reflexes


“The existence of two sets of learned reflexes side by side seems to be a valid phenomenon worth investigating. For want of a better term, we can provisionally give it the name ‘split-level Christianity.’


“While this phenomenon may also be found in other parts of the world, the Philippines, with its history of simultaneous colonization and Christianization by an outside power seems to lend it a special home.”


(To read the complete text, visit http:www.thefilipinomind.com



Given our present social context and this Sunday’s Gospel, I think this essay is a good starting point for our reflection. We live with much of this split-level Christianity in many issues concerning our country and the world. We are plagued by it once more—or perhaps we never got out of it.


“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment.


The second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”


This passage from today’s Gospel pretty much summarizes Christian faith and spirituality, one that is God-centered or Christ-centered, a centering that leads to the love and service of others.


We cannot separate our relationship with Christ from our relationship with one another. The human and the divine relationships find their synthesis in authentic love, “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:17) that comes to us through Christ—a love that finds expression in compassion, especially for the least of our brothers and sisters.


As the Parable of the Final Judgment (Matthew 25: 31-46) says: “‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’”


I invite you—on this long break as we observe All Saints Day—to reflect on and pray about how we have lived out our Christianity, or simply how we have lived out our shared humanity.


 Honest review


Let us not pass judgment on each other, but let us stand humbly before God and render an honest, self-aware and self-accepting review of our life as a Christian and a human.


In doing this, I pray we will also confess to one another our shortcomings with each other and with God.


Using the Parable of the Final Judgment, I offer these points: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink… I was naked and you clothed me.” How much have we shared our time and resources to help meet the basic needs of majority of Filipinos, marginalized by the lack of access to food, shelter, livelihood, education and healthcare?


Beyond sharing our time and resources, have we stood in solidarity and compassion with the marginalized, entering the “chaos of the other” to understand their brokenness and needs?


We must go beyond giving to charitable causes and corporate social responsibility, although these are noble things.


Living in solidarity and compassion is to be with the marginalized in the totality of our life, what we have and what we do not have, in complete sharing of everything.


Finally, how have we welcomed each other in the sacred space of our shared humanity? This is the Christian communion that overcomes all that divides us and makes clear that solidarity, compassion, love and service are the life-giving core values of this shared humanity and sacred space.


I invite you to reflect on these and close with this prayer: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind… You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”


Postscript: This is a personal  stand. I pray we reach a common ground, rooted in our shared humanity and sacred space, to understand and believe that extra-judicial killings are not and will never be right. —CONTRIBUTED