This year, as every year, Christians around the world celebrated Good Friday with reenactments of the Biblical Crucifixion. And, again as every year, residents of Bulacan Province in the Philippines took things just that one step further by actually nailing each other to crosses. The ritual is a perennial journalistic standby: it's easy to schedule coverage, it's always photogenic, and typically there's some hook. Last year's hook was the government health advisory warning penitents to receive tetanus vaccinations, to ensure that they self-flagellate only with "well-maintained" whips, and to disinfect their four-inch nails prior to hammering them through each others' hands and feet. More comprehensive health warnings, such as "don't nail yourself to crosses, you crazy bastards," apparently went unspoken. This year's angle was the revelation that Jewish Australian comedian John Safran was discovered among the penitents, being crucified under an assumed name.
Every now and again, I like to do some original reporting for this blog, so I asked the one person I know in the Philippines what she thought about the practice. Her comments suggest that middle class Manilans have approximately the same relationship to Bulakenyo crucifixion as most Americans have to Appalachian Pentecostal snake handling: it's deeply weird, it's faintly embarrassing that people in other countries know about it, and they've only ever seen it on TV.
My source, who prefers not to be named out of fear at what she described as a reflexive tendency toward "butthurt" against public criticism of Filipino cultural institutions, went on to say the following:
[M]y only opinion on the matter, with my limited knowledge on the subject, is "Holy SHIT that's gotta hurt." I mean, they use real nails and shit. (I always change the channel.) But for a more insightful opinion for your piece, I'll actually quote my Dad, who had some interesting comments when they showed it on TV: these people go through all of that excruciating physical pain every year, then they go home and beat their wives and children, gamble, drink, steal, and engage in all sorts of debauchery.
They're probably in it for the attention they get from the townspeople, like, "Wow, you're so brave and self-sacrificing." I think it takes the concept of the act of confession, in Catholicism, and then magnifies it hundredfold, so these people think that if they just commit to this torture once every year, it makes up for the less godly things they do the other 364 days, in God's eyes.
In other news on the Easter-related themes of corporeal punishment, resurrection, and redemption, I would direct your attention to:
- This article on Alabama judge Herman Thomas, indicted for (among other things) allegedly checking male inmates out of jail, taking them to a specially-furnished storage room near his chambers, and "forcing [them] to expose their buttocks to 'paddling and/or whipping.'"
- The reference, in this article, to the "National Organization for Victims of Juvenile Lifers." The NOVJL website does not disclose the source of its funding, but one suspects that like many "victims' rights" groups, NOVJL is a front organisation for the Corrections Corporation of America or the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. (Both lobby aggressively against bad-for-their-business reductions in incarceration.) But seriously, what kind of an asshole joins a group specifically founded to advocate continued sentencing of 13-year-olds to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole?
- This article on a Maryland plea bargain, under which all charges will be dropped in case of the victim's resurrection. Said a spokeswoman for the Baltimore State's Attorney's Office: "This would need to be a Jesus-like resurrection. It cannot be a reincarnation in another object or animal."