The Philippines was an animistic culture before Islam or Christianity set in. In animistic culture, destiny is tied to the actions or reactions of benevolent and malevolent spirits. Although we try to please and appease spirits, ultimately, their whims determine our destinies in every facet of existence, such as harvest and rainfall.

Although Christianity has become the country’s dominant religion, animistic beliefs run deep in Filipino consciousness. People tend to feel resigned to their current states of affairs and pray without doing anything to address their situations. While some praise Filipinos for their ability to smile during difficult times, this may also be interpreted as a passive surrender to whatever unfortunate thing has befallen them.

Animistic practices are still prevalent among Filipinos, especially in the provinces. We call this phenomenon “folk Christianity,” because people believe in the Christian faith while participating in animistic rituals or because Catholic and animistic beliefs are combined. For instance, during Triumphal Entry Sunday, Catholics bring in leaves to the church, which the priest sprays holy water on. People then put these leaves near the doors of their homes because they believe the leaves will ward off evil spirits and misfortune.

Politically, the Philippines has been a colony since 1521: first by the Spaniards, then the Americans, then the Japanese, and then the Americans. Our independence was given to us, and was not something we fought for, in 1946. This means that for centuries, again, our destiny was not in our hands. We can only accept the circumstances imposed on us by higher powers.

Filipinos often say bahala na, which means “Whatever will be, will be.” The phrase comes from another expression, bathala na (bathala is the name of the highest deity in animistic Filipino faith), which means that people resign themselves to whatever God has given them. This is problematic. Interpreting every experience as something that is imbued with divine origin and thus passively expecting what the divine plans to implement in a person’s life rob a person of initiative, self-direction, and sense of responsibility.

Evangelicals in the Philippines have a critical attitude toward fatalism. Because of the evangelical emphases on free will, responsibility, and activism, we tend to respond to suffering as something that must be addressed for the better, whether in terms of poverty alleviation, community development, or feeding programs. Although the Roman Catholic Church has official arms or organizations that deal with social issues, most Catholics are not engaged; only priests are vocal and active.

In terms of evangelical spirituality, there seems to be a paradoxical dialectic. Individually, Filipinos have a disposition toward fatalism in understanding their personal situations. But communally, perhaps because of the leadership of evangelical pastors who are trained in seminaries that advocate social justice, the church as a whole is not fatalistic.

Nevertheless, one of the potential problems related to fatalistic thinking in the church is the active promotion of premillennialism in some evangelical denominations. Because premillennialism teaches that the world will continuously experience a decline in morality and overall well-being before Christ comes, believers might just take all unfortunate world events as part of the divine plan and interpret attempts to be engaged in environmental care, social justice, and compassionate ministries as acting against the divine timeline.

To address fatalism inside or outside the church, the spiritual leadership of ministers is crucial. Pastors must speak about fatalism as an individual experience and as a communal mentality. Lament is also an appropriate response because it expresses dissatisfaction with the now. Critical sorrow leads to reflection and action.

One Bible passage that challenges fatalistic thinking in my context is the feeding of the 5,000. Here, the disciples thought that the best response to the situation was just to send everyone away because there was nothing they could do about the people’s hunger. But Jesus told them to give the people something to eat (Matt. 14:15–16). God wants us to be proactive in dealing with the current circumstance, whether it is ours or others’.

Read our contributors’ bios in the series’ lead article, Destiny Is All? How Fatalism Affects Churches Across Asia. (Other articles in this special series are listed to the right on desktop or below on mobile.)

[ This article is also available in 한국어. ]