The reported eight million Filipinos moving in an obvious frenzy at the progress through the streets of Manila of a carved wooden statue of the Black Nazarene offers a clear indication of why 95% of the population view the coming year with hope when, logically, one ought to view it with trepidation. This eternally hopeful attitude must stem from a belief in the power of prayer to produce daily miracles in our lives — curing an illness, getting a job, passing an exam, winning at jueteng, or just finding the next meal.

The centrality of religion in our culture has, it seems, thoroughly infused Filipinos with the unwavering belief that, if only we pray hard enough, we can call on powers beyond ourselves to intervene and make our earthly problems go away. We faithfully believe that a concerned and merciful Deity is hovering about nearby to hear our prayers, perceive the intrinsic goodness in our hearts (even as we sin), and fix whatever is wrong in our lives. Obviously a product of over three centuries of friar-dominated history, this historical baggage makes us hopeful, but it also makes us fatalistic.

The cultural influences of Spanish Catholicism seem to have given us (as a people) a predilection for beliefs in other-worldly spirits and miraculous objects that can change the otherwise natural course of events. In fact, we embrace superstition in all its forms, not just the Catholic ones. We are culturally predisposed, it seems, to believe in so-called holy men who say they are mediums for God’s message, in faith healers who invoke who knows what faith, in malevolent duwendes, in amulets that make one invulnerable to harm, in blessed medals that assure the protection of this saint or that, in weeping or bleeding statues that grant favors to the devotee, and even in politicos who claim that God talks directly to them and tells them to run for public office.

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