Manny Pacquiao Reads the Bible

Manny Pacquiao and the Book

Manny Pacquiao’s social media accounts are rife with images testifying to his conversion. These images are readerly, as if the boxer had been converted into a scholar when he turned to God.

 

Pacquiao has become an advocate of deliberate reading. He reads his Bible with a pen in hand, carefully encircling the number that opens each verse. He marks notable passages with asterisks. He underlines important verses. He gives his social media audience the appearance of wanting to commit the Scripture to memory and to heart.  For Manny, reading carefully has become a sign of a devotion as well as a  means to ethical  knowledge.  He has become a model reader in the same way he used to be a model athlete.

Reading the Bible with my son.

A post shared by Manny Pacquiao (@mannypacquiao) on

On August 26,  the Senator posted a photograph where he reads the Bible to one of his young sons.  Filial  intimacy has become Bible-centric. Because the son is clearly not yet old enough to read, this image also projects Manny Pacquiao as teacher. He reads to his son, and teaches him–if nothing else–the value of this particular book.

On April 19, Manny posted a photo–seemingly taken by his wife–in  which he and his children are all reading the Bible.  The Pacquiaos, together, are devotees of the written word. The family’s continued intimacy, founded by Manny’s turn to God and away from more worldly pursuits, is made possible by their shared devotion to the Bible.

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In November of  2015, Pacquiao made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In one image, he sits on a rock engraved with the language of one of the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. Not content to sit on words from the Gospel of Matthew, Manny then adds a caption quoting from the Gospel of John. Despite making this long trip to the Holy Land, Pacquiao makes sure to point out that the language of the Bible assumes primacy over place. A trip to the Holy Land is superfluous, a devotional extra. But the word is necessary and always foundational.

Senator Pacquiao has promised not to let his renewed boxing career get in the way of his new political duties. In this photo, he seems to be hard at work reading papers in the Senate. But he chooses to quote the Bible in his Instagram caption, identifying the Scripture rather than law as his ethical guide.  Boxing and politics may not mix, but the Bible is central to every aspect of Manny Pacquiao’s life.

Reading God's Word. Psalms 119:105 Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

A post shared by Manny Pacquiao (@mannypacquiao) on

Every occasion–a plane ride, a quiet moment at a hotel, a Sunday, even brunch–presents itself as an opportunity to read the Bible and to quote from it. Manny Pacquiao’s turn to evangelical Christianity–and his mother’s very public, emotional television plea that he return to the  Catholic Church–have been well-publicized. Manny has stood behind his newfound faith, which he credits for the resurgence of his boxing career and his newfound devotion to family and country. The newly-elected Senator of the Philippines has represented his transformation primarily as a turn to the book–as is befitting a member of a fundamentalist evangelical Christian movement.

 

What kind of person ought you to be? God Bless everyone.

 

A photo posted by Manny Pacquiao (@mannypacquiao) on

 

On January 27, Pacquiao posted text on his Instagram that begins with the command: BASAHING MABUTI [“READ CAREFULLY”]. The text asks people to turn away from their phones, their Facebook, and their drinking in order to make time for the most important of books. But Manny Pacquiao’s advocacy for reading does not extend beyond his holy book. Manny Pacquiao, boxer, has assumed the surprising role of the nation’s most famous book-lover, but it is a love for a single book that singularly contains all wisdom.

 The Trouble with Reading 

In a predominantly Catholic country that has seen a rise in evangelical Christian movements, voicing criticism of devotion to a shared holy book can be problematic. But the way Manny reads the Bible has  gotten him into a surprising amount of trouble. There was very little outrage over Manny Pacquiao’s other, pre-conversion indiscretions: allegations of tax evasion, suspicion of marital infidelity, desire to play professional basketball, ambitions in acting, and gossip of a debilitating gambling habit were tolerated. But public statements about how Manny reads what seems to be his only book have led to outrage so vocal that it reveals how fundamental and personal the Bible continues to be in Philippine culture.

Early in 2016, Manny Pacquiao was asked about his stance on same-sex marriage. Pacquiao responded that, for Christians, “bawal naman ang same-sex marriage” [“same-sex marriage is forbidden”]. Even animals, he continues in a TV5 interview, recognize that they are naturally made to mate with the opposite sex. Claiming” common sense,” the boxer turns to an argument based on mistaken observations from the natural world: “Mabuti pa ang hayop, maruong kumilala kung lalaki ang lalaki, kung babae ang babae” [“Animals are better {than homosexuals}, they recognize that males are males and females are females”]. Facing a barrage of local and national criticism (and the loss of a lucrative relationship with Nike), Manny Pacquiao would double-down by quoting the Bible on Instagram, accompanied by an image that seems to celebrate his heterosexual marriage.

 

Manny’s non-apology is softened with a claim to love all people (in accordance with Biblical imperative). But he insists on quoting the Bible’s seemingly absolute prohibition on same-sex love. He also points out that the “truth of what the Bible says” was crucial to his own personal, ethical transformation. Manny continues to suggest that the truth of the Bible might be capable of enlightening “men who have sex with men” and transforming them into men who either have sex with women or men who have no sex at all. Quoting the Bible might get Manny in hot water, but he is obliged to repeat the language of whichever version of the Bible he is quoting because of its transformative capacity.

Despite the outcry, Manny would handily win a seat in the Senate. In support of President Duterte’s crusade against drug use and drug trafficking, Manny Pacquiao would immediately advocate for the urgent restoration of death penalty. Pacquiao claimed to have witnessed multiple heinous crimes: a child murdered by a father, a student stabbed on the way home, and a pregnant woman raped multiple times; minors raped and murdered. Senator Pacquiao identifies capital punishment as a criminal deterrent.

Predictably, Manny Pacquiao would find support for his position on capital punishment in the Bible. He starts with Genesis 9:6 (“Whoever sheds human blood, shall by humans their blood be shed”). He continues with Exodus 21: 12: “Anyone who strikes a person with a fatal blow is to be put to death.” Turning to the New Testament, Pacquiao quotes Romans 13:4: “For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” Oddly, he does not denounce murderers or rapists generally. Instead, he identifies these verses with users and traffickers of illegal drugs. He then proceeds to denounce the manufacturers and traffickers of illegal drugs whom he calls “wealth addicts” who have no regard for the welfare of others.

When Senator Leila de Lima forced Senator Pacquiao to consider life imprisonment as an equally effective deterrent, Manny Pacquiao insisted on discovering her motivations for resisting his proposal. He asked if her opposition to the death penalty was religiously motivated, or simply something she feels in her heart. Pacquiao would insist that opposing the death penalty–presumably since he has proven God’s will through his citation of scripture–is presumptuous. If God himself (or various verses of the Bible) support the practice of imposing death as penalty, then opposing means considering one’s  personal judgement better than God’s own.

Pacquiao’s opposition to de Lima’s alternative is founded on theological belief rather than ethical or legal grounds. He believes that the Bible is absolute guide for ethical behavior, and he believes that opposing the Bible is a presumptious (and sinful) refusal to heed God’s command.

The Plainest Sense of the Word

Despite his devotion to the Scriptures, Manny Pacquiao is not a trained reader or even a good reader. His authority as an evangelical pastor comes from the prestige bestowed upon him by a boxing career rather than theological knowledge.

Many professionally trained readers of Scripture have opposed Manny’s methods of interpreting scripture. Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, for example, has described Manny Pacquiao’s habit of quoting isolated verses as a failure to read the bible in its fullest context. Although David’s statement is clearly also an attack against fundamentalist Christian movements, he does point out that the language of the Bible has often been leveraged to support personal opinion and to justify “even the most inhumane and ungodly things.”

But a professional, sophisticated reader of the Bible (like a Bishop) might never be able to convince someone like Manny Pacquiao of the need for complex systems of interpretation, developed over centuries of historical practice. Instead, readers like Pacquiao insist on the plainest,  most immediate, and seemingly most natural interpretations of the written word. They are advocates for their holy book’s incredible accessibility, and insist not only on the literal sense but also on their ability to make immediate sense of even its most obscure passages.

As a reader, Pacquiao is equally popular and reviled, but he is, as a reader, a populist. As long as everyone reads, he believes, then they will arrive at the right kind of knowledge. In turn, he too believes that he has arrived at the fullest possible understanding of divine will and that he can guide us all into reading like Manny Pacquiao.

 

 

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