Religion and beauty pageants: Why our Shamcey did not win the title
This is my first time to write about beauty pageants. I have nothing against this type of competition but I also think that the pageants can be a lot wiser and more gender-sensitive if the contestants are not required to wear skimpy bikinis. After all, women are beautiful creatures (and even men, for that matter) and they do not have to reveal too much skin to prove that. 🙂
However, I will not dwell on this sensitive issue because that is not really the reason for this post. Let me share my two-cents’ worth on why I think our Ms. Shamcey Supsup did not covet the Ms. Universe 2011 title. Let this be clear though: I really liked her and have high hopes for her. In fact, I was already predicting that she will be Ms. Universe. My No. 2 choice was Ms. Angola, Leila Lopes (who was eventually crowned). However, I started to have some doubts when Shamcey began responding to the question during the final round. The question for her went something like this, “If you were asked to change your religion first before getting married, would you agree?”
On an intellectual point of view, her answer was a very intelligent and clear one. She explained that she will not do that because her God, being her Creator, is her priority, and if her boyfriend loves her enough, he should also love her God. Biases aside, I think her answer was the best among the five finalists’. The others’ responses were either too ‘generic’ or ‘played safe.’
However, if we will scrutinize closely (and I think many of the judges did this), her answer–without intending to–may have sounded like it was bordering on being discriminatory vis-a-vis religious freedom. (Again, Shamcey may have not intended to make it sound that way… we won’t know for sure and we have no right to judge her.) On the philosophical (or even spiritual) point of view, it sounded like her religion (I suppose that she is a Catholic or Christian believer although that is not even important in this discourse) is a “better” religion than the others’ (e.g., in the hypothetical question, her boyfriend’s) or that her God is better than the God of others (or her boyfriend’s). It may be quite disconcerting to many people. She did not really say it outright but the message that got through was clear enough. She–again, without intending to–sort of debased other people’s religion. I would choose to assume that she was simply nervous to choose the right words. (Who wouldn’t be, anyway, in a moment like that?) We are not in the position to judge her or anyone, for that matter, but I think this question reminds us that we also have to be careful when affirming our faith, beliefs, or religion (although they are not the same concepts…but that is another long post so I will refrain from discussing this either).
We only have one God and He is not a discriminating God. No matter what our religions are, there is only one God. And your God, Shamcey’s God, and my God are the same. We call him in different names and we go to different churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples, but for sure, we all believe in the same God. There is only one God who is the source of the Truth. [As we think about this, we also need to remember that some people do not believe in “God” or the presence of divinity or deities so we also have to accept and embrace this reality as a part of a very diverse world and no matter what a person believes or holds on to, it should not deter us from treating him as an equal.]
Anyway, you may find it interesting that I am of different Church from my other immediate family members’ congregations. Nevertheless, I find the same peace and comfort even if I attend services inside another Church/congregation. A few months ago, I joined my Mom in attending Saturday services in another congregation. It was a beautiful service not only because the speakers and pastors were great leaders but also because it gave me a quiet time to pray with my Mom. I enjoyed it not because the “Church” is different or better or anything like that but because wherever I may pray, I know that God is just there. I can pray under the rains or on top of a mountain or inside an MRT coach because I know that God is listening.
To be fair, I genuinely believe that Shamcey did not intend to belittle other people’s faith. The sheer tension of the moment will definitely make anyone nervous. I think that if she was given another minute to think about it (which, of course, does not happen in the final moments), she would have come up with a very carefully-worded, well thought-out, and less discriminatory-sounding response.
However, when all the pageant’s noises have gone down, a profound moment may find Shamcey thinking and she may look back on her reply. For example, what if her boyfriend is non-Catholic/Christian or of different religion from her? He may feel some discomfort also. It is not really about the fact that he will make her choose (I think genuinely sensible and well-grounded men will not make their girlfriends choose between them and their girlfriends’ religions) but more really on the fact that actually, there should be no “contest” on whose religion is better (e.g., so it will be the “winning” religion, the religion that the marrying couple should choose as their “unity” religion). Because between two persons who are truly in love and united by a common God–the One God–there is really no contest. Sometimes “religion” muddles up the whole equation. Actually, at the end of the day, for a couple who has a very strong foundation and whose relationship is not confused by religious ideologies, faith is clear enough. God is clear enough.
No matter what our faiths or religions are, we are all the same in the eyes of God. He does not teach us to love and respect only those who belong to our Congregation or religion. He teaches us to love and respect one another. He does not care in what name will we call him. He only wants us to do what is right and follow our inner compass because in our core lies our true connection with Him.
If we will also look at it from the “universal” point of view–after all, the pageant is called, “Ms. Universe”–her response can also be misconstrued as an attack against the concept of ‘universalism’. Or even the philosophical underpinnings of “universal human rights”, which clearly state that we should not discriminate against anyone on the basis of gender, color, or religion. Her reply, without meaning to offend or hurt anyone, may have raised some eyebrows simply because it somehow compared her hypothetical boyfriend’s religion and her religion. Her answer seems to oppose the very core principles of ‘universalism’ and the context of “Ms. Universe” as ambassador of global peace. A “Ms. Universe” is expected to epitomize the values of open-mindedness, of embracing other cultures and religions, and her answer clearly showed where she stands amid a world where conflicts, wars, or terrorist attacks happen because of religious differences or in some cases, fanaticism. But again, it is a tough competition–the final moments even tougher–and not everyone can land in the Top Five.
So to Ms. Shamcey–thank you for doing your best. We are proud of you! The whole country honors you for going that far in the competition. You may have not won the title but to our hearts, you are already a winner.
And to Ms. Lopes, congratulations and best wishes! I am sure that great things are in store for you. May your reign bring you to new levels of personal and spiritual awareness. God bless you and Angola!
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