Bernardo M. Villegas
Articles  >> more topics
Retaining Values with Economic Development

          Although there are still some 30 million Filipinos living in dehumanizing poverty, there are some 60 million of us who are slowly but surely joining what is known as the Asian revolution of the rising middle class. Among these are the households in which there is at least one member working as an OFW or as an employee in the Business Process Outsourcing sector.  These are the Filipinos who are joining the former elite in modernizing their lifestyles, attaining higher levels of education and adopting more advanced levels of technology both in their work and leisure.  Will economic and technical progress among the majority of Filipinos result in the loss of traditional values of morality as has happened in the industrialized countries of both East and West?

          As an inveterate optimist, I maintain that the Philippines can avoid moral degeneration even as our per capita income climbs to the $15,000 levels and above characteristic of our more affluent neighbors such as Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan.  We just have to listen to the voice of the moral leader of the one billion Roman Catholics all over the world.  I am referring to Pope Benedict XVI who has spoken far and wide about preserving moral values in a time of upheaval.  Let me summarize here his advice to modern societies about avoiding one-sided interpretations of such values as progress, science and freedom.  In his book "Values in a Time of Upheaval," he warns:  "After the disappearance of the great ideologies (e.g. National Socialism and Marxism) from the world stage, today's political myths are less clearly defined.  But even now there exist mythical forms of genuine values that appear credible precisely because their starting point is these values.  They are dangerous because they offer a one-sided version of these values in a way that can only be termed mythical.  I would say that in people's general consciousness today, there are three dominant values that are presented in a mythical one-sidedness that puts moral reason at risk. These three are progress, science, and freedom."

          It is clear from recent history that progress for its own sake does not help to create a just and peaceful society.  Just think of the enormous leap for science in the invention of the atomic bomb and the great evil that it brought.  There is also the progress in medical research that has led to the killing of millions of unborn babies or live fetuses in laboratories where human beings are treated like rats.  Medical science has even been used to terminate the lives of sick or old people through euthanasia.  And what about the destruction of the physical environment resulting from so-called industrialization.  As the Pope wrote:  "Anyone who looks even at only the last hundred years cannot deny that immense progress has been made in medicine, in technology, and in the understanding and harnessing of the forces of nature, and one may hope for further progress.  At the same time, however, the ambivalence of this progress is obvious.  Progress is beginning to put Creation--the basis of our existence--at risk; it creates inequality among human beings, and it generates ever new threats to the world and humanity.  This makes moral controls of progress indispensable..."

          Science can also have a one-sided and mythical version.  On the positive side, "it is an immensely good thing precisely because it is a controlled form of rationality that is confirmed by experience.  But there exist also pathological forms of science that deprive man of all honor, when scientific capabilities are used at the service of power.  Science can also serve inhumanity!  Here we may recall the weapons of mass destruction, medical experiments on human beings, or the treatment of a person merely as a store of usable organs.  Accordingly, it must be clear that science too is subject to moral criteria and that its true nature is lost whenever the only criterion to which it adheres is power or commerce--or even merely success--instead of human dignity."

          The third value that can be misunderstood is freedom.  Freedom is not the ability to do what one pleases.  If the common good is to be served, freedom means always choosing what is good.  What is good is not always determined by majority vote.  As the Pope wrote:  "In many cases, perhaps in virtually all cases, a majority decision is the 'most rational' way to achieve common solutions.  But the majority cannot be an ultimate principle, since there are values that no majority is entitled to annul.  It can never be right to kill innocent persons, and no power can make this legitimate. Here too, what is ultimately at stake is the defense of reason.  Reason--that is, moral reason--is above the majority."   The Pope knows appealing to reason will not be a walk in the park in today's dictatorship of relativism.  But he calls all Christians still steeped in natural law reasoning to combat relativism:  "All who bear responsibility for peace and justice in the world--and in the last analysis, that means all of us--have the urgent task of working to overcome this state of affairs (i.e. rampant relativism).  This endeavor is by no means hopeless, since reason itself will always make its voice heard against the abuse of power and one-sided partisanship."

          The strong Catholic faith that still exists in our society can be an ally of reason.  As the Pope concludes the chapter entitled "To Change or to Persevere?", "Faith does not make reason superfluous, but it can contribute evidence of essential values.  Through the experiment of a life in faith, these values acquire a credibility that also illuminates and heals reason.  In the last century (as in every century), it was in fact the testimony of the martyrs that limited the excesses of power, thus making a decisive contribution to what we might call the convalescence of reason."  As the only predominantly Christian nation in the most economically dynamic region in the world today, the Philippines  has a vocation to demonstrate that faith and reason can go hand in hand in constructing a peaceful and just society.  For comments, my email address is