chapter  6
Conservative yet liberal: Creative Catholics and their moral attitudes
Pages 24

Creative Catholics are developing a subjective but shared sense of what being Catholic means to them. As the previous chapter has shown, being Catholic is about having an experiential relationship with God and pursuing an action-oriented relationality, both of which are dovetailed with a critique of what they perceive to be the misguidedness of the Catholic leadership and the spiritual laxity of their peers. Taken together, these personal religious meanings reveal an undercurrent of experiential religion of humanity within Philippine Catholicism. Indeed, experiential religions of humanity “combine an emphasis on the authority of individual experience in the religious life with a humanistic ethic” (Woodhead and Heelas, 2000: 149). This combination is evident in the self-directed character of their reflexive spirituality. On one hand, it is directed towards the self in that a personal experience of God informs their sense of religious authenticity or sincerity. On the other, it is directed from the self in that a relational direction underpins “right living more than right believing.” In this chapter, I move the discussion forward by focusing on a pertinent

element that usually accompanies the study of religious identity: moral attitudes (see, for example, McNamara, 1992; Hoge et al., 1994; D’Antonio et al., 1996; Savage et al., 2006). Bringing up the moral views of my respondents complements the study of religious identity discussed in Chapter 2. Moral views reflect aspects of their religious self-understanding. Although “morality” is the concept often employed to refer broadly to the

choices made between right and wrong, I use the narrower scope that “moral attitude” denotes. Clarifying the ambiguity often associated with it, Rokeach (1970: 112) defines attitude as a “relatively enduring organization of beliefs around an object or situation predisposing one to respond in some preferential manner.” Key to distinguishing attitude from other overlapping concepts such as values

is contextualisation. The attitudes that individuals have about situations are typically descriptive, evaluative and prescriptive. By contrast, values are the principles that underlie and guide attitudes mainly because of their “transcendental quality” (Rokeach, 1973: 18) often geared towards “more ultimate goals.” However, this abstraction of values needs to be qualified. Taking my cue from

Riis and Woodhead’s (2010) discussion on religious emotion and its relationship

with the social context and symbols, values or ideals cherished by a society become compelling because of the material and symbolic objects that inspire them. I shall revisit this point later. Moral attitudes or moral views are used in this chapter interchangeably. This gaze reveals very intriguing nuances. One may expect the moral views of

my religiously involved informants to be liberal in persuasion since they are university educated. Research in the West shows the positive relationship between college education and “more open, liberal, and tolerant attitudes and values” (Pascarella and Terenzini, 2005: 286). Such values are typically manifest among views on politics, gender roles, homosexuality and religion. In the Philippines, these attitudes are perhaps to be expected among my informants, too, since university education is generally liberal. In addition, I have pointed out that their religious identity suggests an under-

current of experiential religion of humanity, of which the liberal tradition in Christianity is a prominent example. In contrast to conservative denominations, liberal Christians have been at the forefront of movements in the USA for social justice, civil liberty, women’s rights, and what Roof and McKinney (1987: 209) call the “new morality,” which includes homosexuality and abortion (see also Wuthnow, 1988). Yet this observation is not confined to Protestants only. A “principle of selectivity” based on conscience in such moral areas as “birth control, sexual attitudes, abortion under certain circumstances, and divorce with remarriage” is discernible among younger Catholics in the USA too (McNamara, 1992: 41). It is rather unusual, therefore, to unravel a different persuasion among creative

Catholic youth. As I will show in this chapter, their moral views are generally conservative, but the novelty does not end there. I highlight that their moral views are paradoxically liberal in two terms: the underlying humanistic value and the location of authority. This point is important in nuancing how Christianity is changing among its young people in the world today, a point I have foregrounded in Chapter 1. Consistent with existing studies of religious identity, my informants’ moral

attitudes or views are probed as opinions on particular contentious issues presently relevant to Philippine Catholicism (see Andersen, 2010). Specifically, these issues are premarital sex, divorce, cohabitation, homosexuality and reproductive health. I identified these issues through the pilot focus group discussion and validated them in ensuing interviews, which helped me filter out others such as women’s ordination and married priests which although intensely debated in the West are non-issue for Filipino Catholics. These are arguably relevant in Philippine society because of their apparent immanence in everyday individual and family life and their salience in the media as controversial issues, to some of which the Catholic hierarchy has responded in various ways. Cohabitation, premarital sex and homosexuality are portrayed in the media through the lifestyle of both local and international celebrities, for example, and many of my informants are in fact exposed to these in their personal capacity. Although there is no law legalising divorce (except for Muslims), I have interviewees whose parents are separated or annulled. Asking about the possibility of having a divorce law thus

seems relevant. Finally, I also give attention to the Reproductive Health Law which during my fieldwork was still being deliberated in Congress. What was then the Reproductive Health Bill was very controversial for putting in place a comprehensive policy that includes widening access to information, facilities and education about sexuality and artificial contraception. The Catholic Church has adamantly resisted this Bill.1