The colonial social system in the Philippines led to the cultural development which was based on three different patterns: the Christian, Muslim and indigenous societies that preserved the elements of their old traditions. However, the Christians evolved a kind of cultural form that offered an opportunity to interact more dynamically with the Spanish colonizers. At the end of the Spanish rule in the Philippines in 1898, the Filipino national culture was associated with the pro-Spanish culture which was developed by the Christians throughout the archipelago (Tan 60).
It has been found that Christianity has always had an enormous impact on the Philippine culture. The majority of Filipinos were shaped by the use of symbols and practices of Christianity which became a basis for social change. Christina A. Astorga states in her article that in the country as the Philippines, faith is not only “built into the culture”¯, but it has a great power to change the lives of people and transform social structures (121).
However, “the cultural traditions of a number of tribal groups have been preserved”¯ and today these traditions can be found in the Spanish works of art: John Garvan’s The Negritos of the Philippines(1964), Roy Barton’s The Kalingas, Their Institution and Custom’s Law (1949), Fay-Cooper Cole’s The Tinguian, Claude Moss’s Nabaloe Law and Ritual (1920), and other works. In fact, the culture of the Philippines is “vague”¯ and even distorted if it is discussed from the Christian Filipino viewpoint, but it is “gleaned purely”¯ from the non-Christian Filipinos viewpoint, according to Samuel K. Tan (11).
Besides, Christianity had a political-cultural impact on the Filipinos. This impact was concluded in the growth of Filipino liberation movements that leaders of which were inspired by Christian faith. According to Cristina J. Montiel, “peasant leaders were identified with the image of the suffering Christ, whose death on the Cross was the ultimate sacrifice for the common good”¯ (115).
Moreover, Christian faith has an enormous impact on moral formation of the Filipinos today. Christianity is the force of moral transformation and it can criticize contemporary world views and values as well as provide “the strongest bond of national identity and unity”¯ (Astorga 125). In the Philippines, faith can be regarded as the dynamic power that helps people to fight against inequalities and oppression. The EDSA Revolution of 2001, or the four-day revolution that helped to peacefully overthrow Philippine President Joseph Estrada was based on religious principles. In the EDSA revolution, the Filipinos discovered that the role of faith and “experience of sharing communion in one faith”¯ (Astorga 127).
The Connection between Filipino Characteristics and Christianity
According to Lily Rose R. Tope and Detch P. Nonan-Mercado, “early Filipino converts may have seen features of their own rituals in Catholic sacraments”¯(71). For example, some of their healing rituals were closely connected with the sacrament of baptism because they used the symbolism of water. In addition, it has been found that the mysticism, one of the characteristics of Filipino culture, which can be found in many Catholic festivals, reflects strong belief of the nation in miracles. According to Lily Rose R. Tope and Detch P. Nonan-Mercado, from early childhood, the Filipinos hear the stories about Virgin Mary’s apparitions, and about religious icons that can weep, bleed or speak (76). It is clear that for the majority of the believers, the above mentioned supernatural phenomena are fundamental for the so-called miracle faith, which is known as superstition.
In addition, it is known that Christianity reinforced the strong belief of the Filipinos in the afterlife. A number of indigenous rituals in the Philippines incorporated different Christian elements and symbols, including holy water, cross and others that are used to calm pagan creatures from the underworld. Mellie Leandicho Lopez states that the Filipino culture had unique characteristics of “European Christian forms, Chinese style, and Filipino primitive art all mixed together in a unified whole”¯ (350). One of the examples is the statue of the Immaculate Conception which includes such elements as Asian facial expression, the elements of Christian culture, and the ornamentation of the native flora. Many customs of the Filipinos are closely connected with Christianity. For example, the custom of making the Christmas lantern in the Philippines is a family tradition (Lopes 155). In addition, many Filipinos are strongly devoted to the Virgin Mary who serves as their protector against foreign invaders, the protector during travelling, and as fertility goddess. These facts mean that Christianity in the Philippines can be viewed as a “unique folk variety”¯ which incorporates animistic beliefs, symbols and rituals (Tope & Nonan-Mercado 70).
In conclusion, it is necessary to say that religion plays an important role in the life of the Filipinos. Christianity is the major religion in the Philippines, although the country was pagan before it became Christian. The Filipinos are faithful people and use religion to resume courage and strength in times of trouble, and they often attribute their successes in life to divine guidance. Ā Many of the Filipino characteristics, such as superstitions and pagan ancestry, are tied in with Christianity.