by Freddie R. Obligacion, Ph.D.
In my groundbreaking quantitative modeling study of 620 Bicolano women from Bicol Region, Philippines, I proposed that religion as a way of life encourages people to strive for other values. Consequently, these values yield profound societal impacts. For instance, the practice of religion has been associated with gender-role stereotypes. Illustratively, Filipino feminist scholars regard Roman Catholicism as a catalyst of gender inequality. They argue that Catholicism, as conveyed by Spanish missionaries, actively limited Filipino women’s sphere of action within the church, family and society. Consequences of such constriction may be inferred from the subordinated status of Filipinas in the social, political, and economic arenas.
On a more positive note, the famed sociologist Max Weber argued that Calvinist Protestantism promoted industrialization in Western Europe by influencing its followers to stress wealth production and hard work over hedonism. In contrast, religion has been partly blamed for economic stagnation in the Philippines. At the onset of colonization, Spanish clergy noted certain indigenous practices that could be exploited for the sake of efficient conversion of Filipino natives to Catholicism. Spanish missionaries saw opportunities for proselytization in occasions such as births, weddings, funerals, harvests, and triumphant returns of raiding parties.
Raul Manglapus, one of the Philippines’ preeminent statesmen, posited that Roman Catholicism fused with indigenous traditions encouraged values inconsistent with the “Protestant Ethic” that fostered self-reliance, industry and discipline.
Considering all these ideas, I hypothesized that Filipinas’ faith in God affects attributional style, defined as consistencies in people’s explanations of why events happen. People who value achievement-oriented behavior tend to exhibit the attributional style called self-efficacy or personal control – the belief that outcomes are subject to one’s active manipulation. People who lack self-efficacy are plagued by the perception that external and uncontrollable forces determine life’s outcomes.
Consistent with Manglapus’ position, I contended that Catholic teachings fuel fatalism and a devaluation of achievement. Manglapus further argued that these messages imply that the future is in the hands of fate and God. Life is, therefore, to be submitted to and never mastered. Manglapus’ position is supported by studies showing that Filipinas tend to attribute poverty, hunger, death and other forms of hardship to fate, the supernatural, and other external forces perceived not to be within their control.
My study’s findings, however, contradict my initial hypothesis, as well as, research concluding that religious individuals who entrust themselves “in God’s hands” also relinquish control over their lives. Instead, my structural equations data reveal that strong faith in the Divine Providence generates sequelae of constructive cognitions such as self-efficacy, high self-esteem and a strong propensity for self-improvement.
What might explain these positive outcomes? Indeed, the practice of religion may have constructive repercussions. It may be argued that religious faith counteracts powerlessness in its ability to remind people that current conditions are amenable to change. Moreover, faith promotes mastery over destiny even as people admit feeling powerless. Faith’s transcendent potential can be credited for inspiring an ultimate optimism and a drive for personal improvement.
Many studies likewise suggest that faith is associated with cognitive change abilities, feelings of personal competence, physical and psychological well-being, accelerated healing from divorce, increased tolerance toward ethnic diversity, reduced stress, and a decreased likelihood of perpetrating sexual abuse.
In conclusion, let it be said that just like any belief system or ideology, religion wield both constructive and maladaptive influences. What my study convincingly demonstrates was that in the case of Filipinas, religion, when professed reasonably and mindfully, yields desirable results and promotes well-being.
This essay was based on my article, “Cognitive Consequences of Faith in God Among Filipino Women” published originally in Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion, Volume 10: pages 117-136.
DR. FREDDIE R. OBLIGACION is an alumnus of The Ohio State University-Columbus (MA, PhD sociology) and the University of the Philippines-Diliman (MBA Honors and BS Psych., magna cum laude). He is currently studying leadership preferences and the community impact of grassroots entrepreneurship.