A pastor is the reigning champ in the highly acclaimed ABS-CBN game show Pilipinas, Game Ka Na Ba? ["Philippines, Are You Game?"] now perfectly hosted by Ilonggo actor Edu Manzano.
I have nothing personal against the pastor and do not question his joining GKNB. In the first place, I don't know him personally. Second, I don't think his being in the television program violates a scriptural principle. Third, I assume that he is a morally upright shepherd and respected by his flock (sometimes, you can tell if a pastor is in good terms with his flock by his physical looks; this guy's stocky, unlike many pastors I know whose emaciated physique can speak volumes of their being denied from partaking the fruits of their labors or regarded as unfit for a decent hire). Fourth, I admire his stock knowledge of a thousand and one data. Fifth, I like his skinhead look -- reminds me of Robbie Casas, a powerful evangelical preacher in Baguio City.
What made me scratch my ear though was his reply to Manzano's remark before the start of the final round in which he could get either a million pesos (if he answers all seven questions correctly) or a showcase of prizes (if the letter he picks corresponds to the letter assigned to the prize). Manzano was wishing him luck by saying something like he must be close to God since he is a preacher. The pastor then waxed confident, claiming that a lot of people are praying for him.
And what if he failed to bag the prize(s)? I wondered aloud as I stood near the TV munching on my lunch. Would it reflect on his "being close to God" and the quality of his churchmates' faith?
Which led me to ruminate about how Christians often use God as some sort of a dental filler -- something to arbitrarily patch any intellectual difficulty or informational gap, or a genie -- someone who grants any get-rich/well-quick desire even way beyond Wish # 3. God as a dental filler and a genie has often meant doing away with one's exercise of her/his brain (reason) and muscle (hard work).
This tendency among the devout comes in many forms. For example, take this from so-called "prosperity/health-and-wealth gospel preachers": Pass this egg around and the proverbial hen will lay her golden eggs on your palms! Raise your hands and clap them loudly and the Lord will grant you joy that passes understanding. Upturn your umbrellas and catch the blessings pouring forth from heaven's windows! Buy this medallion embedded with bits of rock from Bethlehem and your life will share the wealth and health of the Holy Land! Touch this blessed handkerchief and your cancer will be gone in a jiffy!
Or this, from some of the faithful: Pray this number of "Hail Marys" and "Our Fathers" and your wishes will come true. Walk on your knees this far, pay this much, or burn this many candles and your prayers will be duly answered or your salvation ensured.
Or this: Be a member of this church and all the spiritual and most of the physical blessings imaginable will be yours! Get married in our temples and your relationship as a celestial family will be sealed! Let our religious leader lay hands on your head or anoint you with oil and you will never want for the rest of your life!
It doesn't matter if it's just placebo effect or psychosomatic healing. It doesn't matter that other factors or circumstances (one's mental state, physical labor, twist in the global economy, etc.) can explain the wonder. It doesn't matter that one's great sense of responsibility plays a key role in sustaining great relationships. It's a miracle! It is Divine Intervention through His Servant! Yeah, great. No wonder much of organized religion turns people off.
So does this mean that I should reject organized religion, or that all Christians are hopelessly tied to a medieval past? Nope. Not all Evangelical, or Catholic, or Neither-Catholic-Nor-Protestant Christians are enmeshed in these superstitions and dogmatic trappings. I've met a lot of Christians from various denominational groups who have a clear picture of which can be attributable to natural, supernatural or man-made causes, which belongs to either reason and science or faith and religion, and how one gets to balance them between sheer dogmatism and unyielding skepticism.
Does this mean there is no value in prayer or the validity of miracles? Hardly. I believe in the power of prayer and in the possibility of miracles. It's just that I don't believe in a Toy Kingdom prayer that pulls a puppet-god with some ecclesial strings. Nor do I believe in an understanding of a miracle that collapses the great divide between the trivial and the significant, the ordinary and the special, the natural and the supernatural.
By the way, the pastor got 5 out of the 7 questions correctly and did not get the ASUS laptop and ipod showcase. But he is still champ, so his churchmates should pray some more as he will soon again take a crack at the coveted cash prize.
I wish him good luck. And a well-coordinated synaptical activity (i.e. good memory). :)