by Jack Miller
The Philippines proudly boasts to be the only Christian nation in Asia. More than 86 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, 6 percent belong to various nationalized Christian cults, and another 2 percent belong to well over 100 Protestant denominations. In addition to the Christian majority, there is a vigorous 4 percent Muslim minority, concentrated on the southern islands of Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan. Scattered in isolated mountainous regions, the remaining 2 percent follow non-Western, indigenous beliefs and practices. The Chinese minority, although statistically insignificant, has been culturally influential in coloring Filipino Catholicism with many of the beliefs and practices of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism.
The pre-Hispanic belief system of Filipinos consisted of a pantheon of gods, spirits, creatures, and men that guarded the streams, fields, trees, mountains, forests, and houses. Bathala, who created earth and man, was superior to these other gods and spirits. Regular sacrifices and prayers were offered to placate these deities and spirits--some of which were benevolent, some malevolent. Wood and metal images represented ancestral spirits, and no distinction was made between the spirits and their physical symbol. Reward or punishment after death was dependent upon behavior in this life.
Anyone who had reputed power over the supernatural and natural was automatically elevated to a position of prominence. Every village had its share of shamans and priests who competitively plied their talents and carried on ritual curing. Many gained renown for their ability to develop anting-anting, a charm guaranteed to make a person invincible in the face of human enemies. Other sorcerers concocted love potions or produced amulets that made their owners invisible.
Upon this indigenous religious base two foreign religions were introduced -- Islam and Christianity -- and a process of cultural adaptation and synthesis began that is still evolving. Spain introduced Christianity to the Philippines in 1565 with the arrival of Miguel Lopez de Legaspi. Earlier, beginning in 1350, Islam had been spreading northward from Indonesia into the Philippine archipelago. By the time the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, Islam was firmly established on Mindanao and Sulu and had outposts on Cebu and Luzon. At the time of the Spanish arrival, the Muslim areas had the highest and most politically integrated culture on the islands and, given more time, would probably have unified the entire archipelago. Carrying on their historical tradition of expelling the Jews and Moros [Moors] from Spain (a commitment to eliminating any non-Christians), Legaspi quickly dispersed the Muslims from Luzon and the Visayan islands and began the process of Christianization. Dominance over the Muslims on Mindanao and Sulu, however, was never achieved during three centuries of Spanish rule. During American rule in the first half of this century the Muslims were never totally pacified during the so-called "Moro Wars." Since independence, particularly in the last decade, there has been resistance by large segments of the Muslim population to national integration. Many feel, with just cause, that integration amounts to cultural and psychological genocide. For over 10 years the Moro National Liberation Front has been waging a war of secession against the Marcos government.
While Islam was contained in the southern islands, Spain conquered and converted the remainder of the islands to Hispanic Christianity. The Spanish seldom had to resort to military force to win over converts, instead the impressive display of pomp and circumstance, clerical garb, images, prayers, and liturgy attracted the rural populace. To protect the population from Muslim slave raiders, the people were resettled from isolated dispersed hamlets and brought "debajo de las companas" (under the bells), into Spanish organized pueblos. This set a pattern that is evident in modern Philippine Christian towns. These pueblos had both civil and ecclesiastical authority; the dominant power during the Spanish period was in the hands of the parish priest. The church, situated on a central plaza, became the locus of town life. Masses, confessions, baptisms, funerals, marriages punctuated the tedium of everyday routines. The church calendar set the pace and rhythm of daily life according to fiesta and liturgical seasons. Market places and cockfight pits sprang up near church walls. Gossip and goods were exchanged and villagers found "both restraint and release under the bells." The results of 400 years of Catholicism were mixed -- ranging from a deep theological understanding by the educated elite to a more superficial understanding by the rural and urban masses. The latter is commonly referred to as Filipino folk Christianity, combining a surface veneer of Christian monotheism and dogma with indigenous animism. It may manifest itself in farmers seeking religious blessings on the irrice seed before planting or in the placement of a bamboo cross at the comer of a rice field to prevent damage by insects. It may also take the form of a folk healer using Roman Catholic symbols and liturgy mixed with pre-Hispanic rituals.
When the United States took over the Philippines in the first half of the century, the justifications for colonizing were to Christianize and democratize. The feeling was that these goals could be achieved only through mass education (up until then education was reserved for a small elite). Most of the teachers who went to the Philippines were Protestants, many were even Protestant ministers. There was a strong prejudice among some of these teachers against Catholics. Since this Protestant group instituted and controlled the system of public education in the Philippines during the American colonial period, it exerted a strong influence. Subsequently the balance has shifted to reflect much stronger influence by the Catholic majority.
During the period of armed rebellion against Spain, a nationalized church was organized under Gregorio Aglipay, who was made "Spiritualhead of the Nation Under Arms." Spanish bishops were deposed and arrested, and church property was turned over to the Aglipayans. In the early part of the 20th century the numbers of Aglipayans peaked at 25 to 33 percent of the population. Today they have declined to about 5 percent and are associated with the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States. Another dynamic nationalized Christian sect is the lglesia ni Kristo, begun around 1914 and founded by Felix Manolo Ysagun. Along with the Aglipayans and Iglesia ni Kristo, there have been a proliferation of Rizalist sects, claiming the martyred hero of Philippine nationalism, Jose B. Rizal as the second son of God and are incarnation of Christ. Leaders of these sects themselves often claim to be reincarnations of Rizal, Mary, or leaders of the revolution; claim that the apocalypse is at hand for non-believers; and claim that one can find salvation and heaven by joining the group. These groups range from the Colorums of the 1920s and 1930s to the sophisticated P.B.M.A. (Philippine Benevolent Missionary Association, headed by Ruben Ecleo). Most of those who follow these cults are the poor, dispossessed, and dislocated and feel alienated from the Catholic church.
The current challenge to the supremacy of the Catholic church comes from a variety of small sects -- from the fundamentalist Christian groups, such as Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists, to the lglesia ni Kristo and Rizalists. The Roman Catholics suffer from a lack of personnel (the priest to people ratio is exceedingly low), putting them at a disadvantage in gaining and maintaining popular support. The Catholic church is seeking to meet this challenge by establishing an increasingly native clergy and by engaging in programs geared to social action and human rights among the rural and urban poor. In many cases this activity has led to friction between the church and the Marcos government, resulting in arrests of priests, nuns, and lay people on charges of subversion. In the "war for souls" this may be a necessary sacrifice. At present the largest growing religious sector falls within the province of these smaller, grass roots sects; but only time will tell where the percentages will finally rest.
For Further Reference
Agoncillo, Teodoro.A Short History of the Philippines. New York: Mentor Books, 1969.
Carroll, John J., and others.Philippine Institutions. Manila: Solidaridad, 1970.
Chaffee, Frederic H., and others. Area Handbook for the Philippines. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1969.
Corpuz, Onofre D. The Philippines. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall; Spectrum Books, paper, 1965.
Gowing, Peter G., and Robert D. McArnis, eds. The Muslim Filipinos. Manila: Solidaridad, 1974.
Mercado, Leonardo N., ed. Filipino Religious Psychology. Tacloban City, Philippines: Divine Word University, 1977.
Ramos, Maximo D. Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology. Quezon City, Philippines: University of the Philippines Press, 1971.
Sturtevant, David R. Popular Uprisings in the-Philippines, 1840-1940. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1976.
What is the main religion of the Philippines? ›
Christianity is the majority faith in the Philippines, making up approximately 90% of the population. The overwhelming majority are Catholic, followed by Protestant Christians including the popular Iglesia ni Cristo, independent Christian churches, and indigenous Catholic churches such as the Aglipayan Church.How many religions are there in the Philippines? ›
Religions: Roman Catholic 80.6%, Protestant 8.2% (includes Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches 2.7%, National Council of Churches in the Philippines 1.2%, other Protestant 4.3%), other Christian 3.4%, Muslim 5.6%, tribal religion 0.2%, other 1.9%, none 0.1% (2010 est.)Why is religion important in the Philippines? ›
It is central not as an abstract belief system, but rather as a host of experiences, rituals, ceremonies, and adjurations that provide continuity in life, cohesion in the community, and moral purpose for existence.What is the first religion here in the Philippines? ›
The first recorded conversion in the Philippines took place on this island on Sunday, April 14, 1521 when the King and Queen of Cebu and their subjects embraced the Catholic faith during the Sunday mass. On that day alone, according to one account, Magellan's priests baptized up to eight hundred Cebuanos.What religion is weaker in the Philippines? ›
Islam in the Philippines
The religion rapidly declined as the main monotheistic religion in the Philippines when the Spanish entered the country. In present day Philippines, most of the Muslim population in the Philippines reside in the southern islands of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan.
Sometimes called the official religion of ancient Persia, Zoroastrianism is one of the world's oldest surviving religions, with teachings older than Buddhism, older than Judaism, and far older than Christianity or Islam. Zoroastrianism is thought to have arisen “in the late second millennium B.C.E.Are Filipinos religious? ›
The Filipino people are known for their strong religious faith. Even in the midst of the most trying moments of their collective history their faith remains steadfast.What can you say about religion in the Philippines? ›
The Philippines proudly boasts to be the only Christian nation in Asia. More than 86 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, 6 percent belong to various nationalized Christian cults, and another 2 percent belong to well over 100 Protestant denominations.Is religion part of the Philippines way of life? ›
The Philippines is the only country in Asia in which Christianity is the national religion. This is probably the result of the Spanish Catholic reign in The Philippines for more than 300 years. Religion still plays a central role in the lives of most Filipino Americans.What is the role of Christianity in the culture and tradition of the Filipinos? ›
Important traditions. For most Filipinos, the belief in God permeates many aspects of life. Christians celebrate important holidays in many different ways, the most important of which are Christmas, Lent and Holy Week, All Souls' Day, as well as many local fiestas honouring patron saints and especially the Virgin Mary.
What is the history of religion in Philippines? ›
Philippines is the one Asian country where Confucianism and Buddhism have had little influence. The history of religion is mainly a leap from animism to Catholic Christianity. Confucianism and Buddhism have been practiced almost exclusively by the small ethnic Chinese community, most of whom are Christians.What percentage of Filipinos believe in God? ›
On various indicators of private belief in God, the Philippines trumps many other countries: 91.9% of Filipinos believe in a personal God, 93.5% profess always having believed in God, and 83.6% say that “I know God really exists and I have no doubts about it” (Smith, 2012, p.Is religion getting weaker or stronger in the Philippines? ›
MANILA, Philippines — The number of Filipinos who believe that religion is “very important” in their lives has gone down by 10 percentage points – from the record high of 83% recorded in December 2019 to 73% as shown by a survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) from Nov. 21 to 25, 2020.Which country is the most religious? ›
Ranking the Faithful
Saudi Arabia has edged out Israel as the country perceived as the most religious, according to data from the 2022 Best Countries rankings from U.S. News, a characterization of 85 countries based on a survey of more than 17,000 global citizens.
The conflict between the muslim natives and the christian immigrants has spread politically through discrimination. The Communist Insurgency have caused many openly violent attacks and have spread conflict through politics by trying to take over the current government of the Philippines.How early did Filipinos see God? ›
Most early Filipinos believed in worshiping different gods, creatures, and spirits. They appease them through various practices, sacrifices, and rituals. However, due to the Philippines having a long history of colonization, religious beliefs and traditions have changed from animism to Christianity.Who is the oldest known God? ›
Inanna is among the oldest deities whose names are recorded in ancient Sumer. She is listed among the earliest seven divine powers: Anu, Enlil, Enki, Ninhursag, Nanna, Utu, and Inanna.Who is the oldest God in the world? ›
The Mesha Stele bears the earliest known reference (840 BCE) to the Israelite God Yahweh.What was the religion of Philippines before Christianity? ›
The nature of religion in the pre-colonial Philippines is often unclear. Religions present include animism, indigenous religious beliefs and mythologies such as Anito and influences from Hinduism and Buddhism. The earliest pieces of evidence that exist are archaeological finds including Hindu–Buddhist gold statues.What are the 5 major religious? ›
Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism are five of the great religions of the world.
What is the 3 common religion in the Philippines? ›
More than 86 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, 6 percent belong to various nationalized Christian cults, and another 2 percent belong to well over 100 Protestant denominations.What are the top 2 main languages in the Philippines? ›
Filipino and English are the Philippines' two official languages. Filipino is a native language based on Tagalog; English has official status due to the Philippines being a colony of the United States between 1898 and 1946.What religions dont believe in god? ›
Atheism refers to either the absence of a belief in the existence of deities or to an active belief that deities do not exist. This belief system rejects theology as well as the constructs of organized religion.
The religion's founder, Buddha, is considered an extraordinary being, but not a god. The word Buddha means “enlightened.” The path to enlightenment is attained by utilizing morality, meditation and wisdom. Buddhists often meditate because they believe it helps awaken truth.Who is the No 1 religion in the world? ›
Of the world's major religions, Christianity is the largest, with more than two billion followers. Christianity is based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and is approximately 2,000 years old.What is the biggest religion? ›
Hinduism - "mother of all religions"Who is Jesus based on? ›
The gospel story of Jesus is not the biography of an historical Messiah. It is a Jewish reworking of ancient Pagan myths of the dying and resurrecting Godman Osiris-Dionysus, which had been popular for centuries throughout the ancient Mediterranean. The stories told about Osiris-Dionysus will no doubt sound familiar.What are some Filipino religious practices? ›
The major religion in the Philippines is Roman Catholic Christianity, followed by Islam and other types of Christianity. In the Philippines, all religions are protected by the law, and no one religious belief is given priority over any other.What was the Philippines first name? ›
The Philippines were claimed in the name of Spain in 1521 by Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer sailing for Spain, who named the islands after King Philip II of Spain. They were then called Las Felipinas.
Is Filipino hard to learn? ›
Like in any language, there are factors that can make Filipino hard to learn. That said, it's actually one of the easiest languages to study and master. That doesn't mean that you can become fluent overnight, but compared to other languages, Filipino is a bit more straightforward.What does Hi mean in Filipino? ›
Kumusta is the most direct way to say hello in Filipino, but it's not the only way Pinoys greet each other.