Categorized | Politics, Religion, Society

Beauty and Belief

In the aftermath of the 2011 Miss Universe, the most oft-discussed question in the internet is: Did Shamcey’s “Love My God” answer cost her the crown?

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Tale as old as time
Tune as old as song
Bittersweet and strange
Finding you can change
Learning you were wrong

Certain as the sun
Rising in the east
Tale as old as time
Song as old as rhyme
Beauty wants you to believe…

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That would have been the theme-song of Miss Philippines’ Shamcey Supsup after her interview portion in this year’s Miss Universe pageant. Opinions have been tossed around left and right by people from all sectors of society. Some have even questioned the validity of the question itself. Was Miss Philippines’ question harder to answer than Miss Angola’s? Was it OK to put people on the spot by questioning their religious beliefs?

Criticisms like this only highlight a glaring fault in Philippine society – that even in the 21st century, questioning someone’s religious stance is still treated as somewhat taboo.

But in the sordid history of reality TV, Shamcey was definitely not the first to be put on a tight spot because of their religious convictions. In an episode of the Amazing Race, a distraught contestant wouldn’t enter a Buddhist temple to complete their task because she felt it was against her Christian beliefs to do so. In an eating challenge of Survivor, another contestant wouldn’t eat the food presented to her because she was vegan. In America’s Next Top Model, another contestant wouldn’t go on a racy photo shoot because it would show more skin than her conservative upbringing would allow. The latest bit of reality TV drama involved a young contestant on The Glee Project who wasn’t comfortable kissing a girl onstage because of similar conservative stances.

So our very own Shamcey Supsup is in good company. Depending on your liberal / conservative leanings, you would either praise people like them for remaining true to their convictions despite social pressures… or you’d feel sorry for people like them for being so narrow-minded and still desperately clinging on to outdated conservative norms. But for the sake of brevity, let’s skip the judgment and go straight to the meat of the matter, her answer:

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 “If I had to change my religious beliefs, I would not marry the person that I love because the first person that I love is God who created me and I have my faith and my principles and this is what makes me who I am.”

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Great answer. She showed conviction and confidence in her personal stance. It doesn’t matter what your personal views are on religion, she answered the question the only way it should be answered – you cannot and must not compromise yourself and your own beliefs just to please someone else; the decision is yours and yours alone. She could be a Scientologist or a Mormon, and it would still be the right answer.

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“And if that person loves me, he should love my God too.”

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I guess we could all agree this is where she crashed and burned. Blame it on pressure, the wrong choice of words, or just plain too much honesty… but it came across to many as too demanding and too one-sided. One could interpret her words in two ways:

1. She would only marry someone of the same religion as hers. This would make her stance too rigid…it implies close-mindedness, if not outright prejudice. In a world trying to embrace diversity in all its various flavors of creed, ethnicity, and lifestyle, is it any wonder she’d lose the Miss Universe crown with a mind-set like this? Even worse, as a representative of the Philippines, this is the image she’s projecting to the rest of the world – that Filipinos have a cristiano-cerado mentality.  Most Filipinos would find the practice of some ethnic groups like the Chinese or Spaniards preferring to marry only within their community a discriminatory social preference but fully support Ms. Shamcey’s equally discriminatory criteria in choosing a mate? C’mon people, let’s have some consistency here. Yes, there’s a huge culture-gap to overcome when it comes to inter-religion/racial/ethnicity relationships; it definitely takes a lot more work since both partners are out of their comfort-zone. It is definitely not a plug-and-play affair. It will challenge your dedication to each other – but isn’t that what marriage is about? “You and me against the world”? Several studies have even shown that the strongest relationships have partners with the most differing backgrounds. Take it as a testament of their love for each, their willingness to compromise, to put their relationship over all other things separating them – I think it’s an attitude like that that makes a relationship work, not the color of one’s skin, the shape of the eyes, or the god(s) you pray to. I believe in the  old cliche “that which does not break us, makes us stronger”.

2. She would only marry someone who’d convert to her religion. This alternative’s even worse. Firstly, marriage is a relationship of equals. That being said, one cannot demand something of your partner that you yourself are not willing to reciprocate. Would she volunteer to “love” Allah as well if her fiancé was muslim or Xenu if her boyfriend was a Scientologist? Probably not… That’s the problem with most world religions today – they demand exclusivity, leaving no room for the beliefs of others. And the painful irony here? If she managed to get her boyfriend to switch religion that easily, what does it say about his loyalty? His paninindigan?  Did it ever occur to Shamcey that a person who could switch religions could just as easily be as fickle in his love life? Just a thought.

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I Love you Lord!

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How then should she have answered the question? Personally, I’d go for a compromise. Let each spouse be allowed to practice their own belief, let them learn from each other’s perspective and nurture their relationship from the strength of their diversity. When they finally have kids, allow each parent to impart their belief system to the child and let the kid decide which one to follow, if at all.

There’s a saying that ‘opposites attract’. But that’s only true if both parties are willing to compromise instead of arguing on who’s right or whose decisions matter more. Ruffa Gutierrez may not be the poster-girl for inter-religion marriages but there are inter-faith marriages that do work out. I googled up celebrity inter-faith couples and miraculously, some of them are still together today!  But that’s only for couples who are willing to see past their differences and work with it, instead of against it. For starters, there’s Naomi Watts (Buddhist) and Liev Schreiber (Jewish), Angelina Jolie (Atheist) and Brad Pitt (Baptist), Katy Perry (Evengelical) and Russel Brand (Atheist). But the inter-faith couple I’m rooting for the most are Taye Diggs (Christian) and Wife Idina Menzel (Jewish). Not only are they inter-faith, they are also inter-racial. They have often been the target of various extremist hate-groups for their “inter-inter marriage” but have stayed strong together, even actively supporting several social causes promoting social acceptance of minority groups like the LGBT community. Inter-faith website On Being Both writes about this power-couple and their views on raising their child “in an interfaith community, he would grow up with knowledge of the stories and awareness of the history from both sides of his family.” Now that is a truly inspiring story of how true love triumphs against all odds.

And so yet again, the Philippines is denied the top spot. So close, yet so far away. Maybe that’s our problem – we dream of being “world-class” but can’t bring ourselves to embrace the world in all its diversity. When we’re put on the spot, our first instinct is to retreat back to our tribal mentality. Perhaps the hardest lesson we Filipinos have yet to learn is how to embrace other cultures without losing our own identity.

 
DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.

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