Monday, September 19, 2011

Miss Universes and "Universals"

1. No such thing as a stupid question, only a stupid situation

FIRST things first. There's no such thing as a stupid question.
     Even Lea Salonga's supposedly inane question to Miss Angola Leila Lopes (who'd go on to win the Miss Universe crown this year), dubbed by feminist columnist Jessica Ravitz as "the dumbest question in the universe," isn't actually all that dumb if you put everything in context. "If you could change one of your physical characteristics," Salonga asked Lopes, "which one would it be and why?" According to Ravitz, ". . . it's absurd to be dismayed that a question like this would be posed at a beauty pageant. In my worldview, the mere fact that pageants exist is absurd. And I'm not alone."
     Well, I don't think she gets it. Context is everything, and, in this case, Salonga's question---actually all the questions were pre-written by the pageant committee and assigned each judge, says Salonga---was "a standard beauty contest query" that should only nudge us in our turn to ask about the motive behind the asking. Salonga hit the nail on the head when she wrote to CNN, "At the end of the day, it wasn't so much the question asked but the manner in which it was answered." After all, weren't all those questions asked during those Miss Universe pageants in the past designed to primarily test how a candidate might respond to future "stupid" questions that are going to be hurled her way in yacht parties she'll be attending as Miss Universe? Look at it this way, if you are to apply today for an account executive position at an ad agency, a position servicing that agency's stupid clients, and you wax philosophical during your interview about the world today as though you were Bell Hooks, I'm perfectly certain you wouldn't get the job. Precisely because no interviewer would probably have the mental wherewithal, in the first place, to ask questions about those areas of thought. Would anyone on those yacht parties hurl such questions as Bell Hooks might? Mm, maybe. Would there be people likely to ask the kind of questions Salonga just asked? Oh, I would assume---most definitely!
     My Facebook friend JCA wrote, "But I guess the shallowness of the questions is telling of how the organizers view their contestants." That's almost a given, similar perhaps to how designers and fashion show organizers view their adolescent models. But, again, that truth would still have to be put in context. After all, what use is the Miss Universe contest and winners to, say, Mr. Donald Trump, in the first place? The most creative and most introspective mind potentially useful to a long life of struggles in the business world never does win the "apprentice of the year" prize in Trump's The Apprentice (U.S.), does s/he, the same way that the best singer does not necessarily have to win the American Idol of the year plum. At the Miss Universe, it's not really the questions and the answers to any question that matter, it's the delivery, as Salonga rightly observed. Otherwise, the Miss Universe Q&A portion would be traditionally done in an interrogation room with cameras and would invariably last the length of a David Letterman Show interview, complete with a band to break the boredom. That is, a faux pas of an answer here could always be clarified or retracted there. Nobel laureates, after all, don't give quick answers, do they? We do not measure their intelligence by the swiftness of their replies nor by an absence of an "uhhhm, well". And as for defensiveness, Hillary Clinton's has no place in the Miss Universe contest, yet she's universally counted as one hell of a charm.
     To recap, the Miss Universe position is an account executive or account manager position. It's a low, starter's position in high society. There's no way Filipino ad industry stalwart Emily Abrera could now win a Miss Universe spot, is there? Again, I'm not saying that pretty-faced account executives can't possibly know anything about, say, Edward Said's postcolonial theories. I'm just saying they'd seldom be allowed to use that knowledge in their financial district jobs.
     But, still, there's definitely room for improvement regarding JCA's concern, reiterated by her friend Lea: "If the Ms. U. organizers are the ones preparing the questions, aren't they also underestimating the intelligence of their judges?" Well, Lea, Donald Trump underestimates the intelligence of everyone in the whole universe. But, then again, you and JCA are actually right. So that presently it might be useful to suggest to the Miss Universe pageant owners that perhaps, next time, Miss Universe contestants can come onstage in office attire for the Q&A portion. Or, if still in their gowns and in a pose, maybe while holding a wineglass, so for these candidates to be able to feel a sort of corridor meeting or yacht party situation feel in their heads, within which role-playing they could just be led to display their real brains beyond being those by merely smiling, nervous candidates onstage who have to pass a stupid test while a klieg light burns. This role-playing segment might have an effect likewise on the question-writing staff. . . . Now, even if we are to adapt this role-playing sort of Q&A segment to an in-their-swimsuits situation, supposedly a more frightening experience, the candidates can still be rendered wet and in the process of drying themselves with towels while being asked their questions, if only so that our ideal resultant could be achieved. I can assure you, such role-playing---whether with gowns or swimsuits---would break the ice. Because any candidate necessarily placed in a situation of utter nervousness when confronted with a question needing a quick answer cannot predict how her posing in front of a lot of people in an uncomfortable gown or Speedo can affect her alertness. Even a female Einstein would be trembling in that situation, and would likely feel as though she were in a Guantanamo prison being played on by a bunch of US Marines. When the most intelligent candidate fails to come through that nervous field, she gets demerits and ultimately fails to grab the crown. The merely charming and merely most diplomatic wins.

2. No such thing as an easy question, only easy situations

NOW let's go visit the question for Shamcey Supsup, who would become this 2011 contest's third runner-up: "Would you change your religious beliefs to marry the person that you love? Why or why not?"
     Some were saying this was a tad more difficult than the one given to Miss Angola. But, if my backyard statistics is right, most said this was way too easy, the too-obvious answer being a quick no.
     A Philippine Star write-up titled "How they would have answered that question" interviewed five former Filipina beauty queens. Interestingly, or not surprisingly, depending on where you're coming from, all gave that "obvious answer" in varying modes of articulateness.
     But was it really an easy question deserving of an easy answer? I believe an easier compound question would have been something like: "would you change your political beliefs to marry the person that you love? Why or why not?" But even then, putting aside the submission element in it, any answer is actually correct. "No," if one's beliefs are deep and passionate and utterly personal, "yes" if one's politics is shallow or if one has the heart of a spy. Now, having written that, I wonder if we could apply the same formula to the question for Supsup. "No," if one's religious beliefs are deep and passionate and utterly personal, "yes" if one's religious beliefs are shallow (cafeteria or cultural) or if one has the worldly heart of a multi-cultural syncretist. As for the submission part, there are a lot of reasons why one would do that. A certain tribe might require a would-be spouse's religious conversion for him/her to gain access to a conjugal wealth which might include a chain of hotels or oil derricks. Uhm, Mr. X, would you change your religion in order to marry Paris Hilton? Not that easy a question now, is it?

3. No such thing as one Universe, only universals

STILL on Supsup, my Facebook friend J- called his friends' attention to an ABS-CBN report which seemed to have been oddly written. The report zoomed in on Supsup's admission that her boyfriend had actually changed his religion for her. She is a "Christian", she's supposed to have said, and her boyfriend was formerly "Catholic".
     J- wrote: "Since when were Catholics not Christians? Don't get me wrong, I'm not a big Catholic but we were the first Christian church!"
     I had to correct J-, of course, with my modest knowledge of Christian history, thusly: "Actually the first Christians were the Jewish Christians before there were even Gentile Christians. The Jewish Christians included the Corinthians, the Ebionites, the Elcesaites, the Essenes, and the Nazarene/Nazoraean sect. Then, the first post-Jesus Jerusalem church was established by James the Just (some say with Paul), the leader of the Jewish Christian Church (Catholics insist with Peter as the "Rock" and "Chief Shepherd"). Then, even before Peter and Paul could arrive in Rome, Eastern Christianity was already being established in Asia Minor in what would later branch out to become the Church of the East, the churches of Oriental Orthodoxy, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Eastern Catholic Churches, and the Saint Thomas Christians. Even the Early Church in the Roman Empire, the prototype of the Latin Church of Constantine I (that was itself proto-Catholic), cannot be said to have already been the Roman Catholic Church as we know it today. The Roman Catholic Church, as we know it today, actually started when it was established by the emperors Theodosius I, Gratian and Valentinian II in 380 AD, when Latin Church Christianity (instead of the other Christianities, like that one by a group that would later be called Gnostic Christianity) was declared as the empire's state religion. This was at the same time that Damasus I was the Pope (who reigned till 384), when the Roman aristocracy started to take over the Church at the start of the decline of the Roman Empire. Damasus commissioned the Vulgate translation of the Bible, the early Roman Catholic Bible, and called for the Council of Rome during tensions with Bishop Nectarius of Constantinople."
     Notice that I always modified "Catholic" with the adjective "Roman". J- Facebook-liked my comment and thanked me.
     J-'s friend A- joined me, saying: "Of course not. You're not the first Christian church."
     Notice A-'s use of "church". She didn't write "yours is not the first . . ." but "you're not the . . ." Bear that in mind, because Christian authorities would repeatedly teach that the church is neither that building by the marketplace nor that institution with a flag but the people, the following of Jesus. That following can exist without a church building or a flag, and thus A-'s use of the word in her clause "you're not the first church" makes complete sense.
     J-'s friend JC chimed in, refuting my and A-'s offers, saying: "The first Christian church was the Catholic Church. Other Christian churches were just offshoots and splinter groups. Isn't this true, Kuya J-?"
     Another of J-'s friends, JBC, also joined us: "Regardless, all Christians believe in one Judeo-Christian God. Why do we have to argue about who came first when, at the end of the day, we all believe in the same divine entity?"
     JC had to add this: "Sure, dissension happened. But the original is the original."
     "Go ahead," I wrote. "If you think the Roman Catholic Church was established in 12 or 30 AD or thereabouts instead of in 380 AD by Theodosius, suit yourself, JC, I wouldn't be surprised. Nonetheless, JBC is right."
     J- Facebook-liked this, but so did JC, adding: "Thank you!"
     JC also Facebook-liked another comment from another of J-'s friends, Father V-, when the latter entered the conversation. Father V- wrote: "That's quite a splintered understanding of what the church is," referring to my splintered understanding. "When one associates the Church with a mere political faction, because Paul did this or Constantine did that, one cannot get the full picture of what the Catholic church is all about. This is seeing the church as a mere institution. But the Church is more than just a human society, and it's more than just a title. The Church, Catholic and apostolic, began when Christ brought it into the world, founding it upon his apostles, especially upon Peter. This is the Christian Church, which is only One, and which subsists in union with Peter and the successors of the apostles, who have kept the faith whole and entire despite the passage of time, despite the errors of the centuries."
     This is true, too, at least for 2nd-century claims to universalism and for claims to continuity from the church of Jesus' Apostles, for even when Protestants use the word "catholic" (with a lower-case letter c), they also use it not to refer to the Catholic Church alone but broadly to the Christian Church (regardless of denominational affiliation) and all believers in Jesus Christ all over the world, across all ages. Therefore, put aside Father V-'s Roman Catholic "especially upon Peter" emphasis and Father V-'s institutional claim that the Christian Church as One subsists in union with Peter. Put aside all the Romanism, and you'll be able to imagine the idea of inclusivism in catholicism (even via Catholicism), wherein one can embrace even those who believe Mary Magdalen was Jesus' right hand instead of Peter (Gnostic Christians, for instance).
     Now, JC loved what Father V- wrote, writing: "Yes, Father. Got it! We are the original."
     Well, if universalism (or "catholicism") also means being inclusive and Father V- would nod his head in agreement, then obviously JC couldn't have gotten it.
     I wrote, "@Father V-: Would that it were so," and I meant that the Catholic Church was not also---or was not firstly---a political entity with a divisive history and policy, "then the world would have been a much better place."
     "JC and A-," wrote J-, now seeming to have changed his mind about his post, "being 'first' is beside the point, is it not? The decorous bearing of the matter is, we are a Christian church, too. Right? :)"
     JC Facebook-liked this.
     "Ok," he wrote, "the Catholic Church is a Christian church. Christians are followers of Christ. Catholics follow Christ and his teachings . . ." and so on. I thought that was that with JC.
     Father V- came back: "By the term Catholic, meaning universal, we mean that Christians follow and believe all of the doctrines taught by Christ handed down to His Apostles by way of Scripture and tradition, teachings necessary for one to fully heed the call of Our Lord to holiness. In this sense, to be truly a follower of Christ, one needs to be catholic, universal."
     JC and another A- (A2, let's call him) Facebook-liked this. Actually, there's almost nothing worth protesting against in this statement if only the Father wasn't confusing "Catholic" with "catholic" in his explanation, almost as if to hide a logical fallacy (the 'God is love, love is blind, therefore God is blind' kind of logical fallacy) to service a metanarrative.
     I had to call A-'s reaction to this: "@A: By your comment above, I gather you're Protestant? If you are, then by Father V- you do not follow and believe all of the doctrines taught by Christ blah blah blah, you can't fully heed the call of our Lord. You are not a true follower of Christ. The only way by which you can be that is by becoming C/catholic, by becoming 'universal'."
     Father V- promptly answered my satire with a confirmation: "Well, basically that's what being a disciple is, right? It basically means following everything that the Master did and said and taught. Otherwise, what kind of disciples are we? By the word 'Catholic' (Father V-'s capitalization, not mine) I'm referring to a reality, not a denomination. We don't call ourselves catholics (Father V-'s lower case, not mine) for nothing. The name Catholic stemmed from the fact that in the Reform worked by Luther his followers broke away from Christian teaching and praxis, selecting those that were in accord with their personal beliefs and ideals and rejecting those with which they were not in accord."
     JC Facebook-liked this. Well, put aside the Father's confusing catholic with Catholic, as if catholicism or universalism is exclusive to Catholics. Lay aside the fact that Martin Luther was mainly questioning the papacy's corrupted adherence to the bright ideas concerning Purgatory and the selling of indulgences. Put aside the fact that Luther was only seeking reforms (thus Reformed) from within instead of from without, but kicked out instead by the corrupt Catholic hierarchy of his time. Put aside the fact that to imply in our time that Pope Leo X's indulgences salesmen were following Christian teaching and praxis is tantamount to qualifying and reiterating Pope Leo X's virtue on these same indulgences-selling during his time, and thus for our time. Put aside the fact that to call Pope Leo X's corruption as "within Christian praxis" could reintroduce a scandal. Put all those aside, . . . if only because Father V- was not yet finished with the Luther question.
     He continued: ". . . this is far from the logic of discipleship; the disciple is bound to his master insofar as his master is concerned. Either he accepts his master totally, and all of his teaching and the practices that he has taught him, or he is no follower of his. This is perfectly logical, and this is more so true of Christianity. When the Lord came among us as man he showed us the Father; by His teaching and actions he instituted the norm by which his followers would be known . . . this was entrusted to his Apostles, who---because of their ministry in the Church of Christ---continue the presence of Christ on earth."
     I see. From a self-contradictory explanation of catholicism as exclusive to Catholics (contradictory because while claiming he was not speaking of Catholicism as a denomination Father V- was at the same time equating catholicism with loyalty to Catholicism, in which case JC was right in Facebook-liking Father V-, for it would seem that Father V- does not include inclusivism as part of his "catholic" context), Father V- now moves to a second stage, that of equating Luther's hatred for Pope Leo X with a hatred for Jesus, as if Pope Leo X's sins and Jesus' virtue were/are one.
     Father V- was not done.
     He continued: "There is no need to be polemical here, by the way, Jojo Soria . . . what I'm trying to express is, that being a Christian necessarily means that you have to accept all of the teachings and commandments of the Lord, whether they are in accord with one's taste or not. This in Greek and in English amounts to being---what it means to be---"katholikos" or catholic. . . ."
     "@Father V-:" I wrote, "If there's no need to be polemical, then why have you and I become polemical? Was it perhaps because there was a need for it? Where did that need come from? Could it be that the polemics just grew from nowhere? If it did, then do you mean that when I write I'm being needlessly polemical, but when you write you're not being polemical but yet need to be for my enlightenment? If that is your approach, I'd fully understand the consistency."
     "Hahaha," my Facebook friend J2 butted in at this point. "Polemics," she wrote, "all but polemics."
     I wasn't exactly sure whether J2 was referencing Father V-'s polemics, my polemics, both our polemics, or the entire humanity's polemics, so I just Facebook-liked what she wrote, since it looked polemical in itself. :)
     "No," Father V- instantly wrote, "I'm just explaining things from my end. Honestly, I had no intention of being polemical. In fact, aside from the fact that I just wanted to share my view, I got interested in the topic, since expressing it here also enlightened things up for me. As a student of history I'm beginning to see that there's more than meets the eye with the term 'catholic', that its being fundamentally synonymous with 'Christian' was penned even long before the Reform; it goes way back to sources of the Christian faith."
     I Facebook-liked this.
     "Anyway," Father V- continued, "if it seems to you that we're being polemical to each other, then this won't serve us any good . . . aside from the fact that I was just trying to give reason to anyone who calls me, to give an account for the hope that is in me (cfr. 1Peter 3:15), I was beginning to see it as a stimulating conversation, both based on reason and on faith, which always need to go hand in hand in the search for the Truth that liberates. Anyway, frankly I got something from this. . . . Peace :-)"
     I Facebook-liked this.
     "Pacem in terris," I wrote, "as Pope John XXIII would have it. :)"
     Father V- Facebook-liked this. JC didn't.
     Well, not everyone among Roman Catholics ever liked what John XXIII and his Second Vatican Council tried to introduce ("to restore unity among all Christians, including seeking pardon for Catholic contributions to separation"; "to start a dialogue with the contemporary world"). Not everyone in the Church likes the idea of reconciling or breaking bread with Protestants and the Orthodox churches, much less with other religions which Pope Benedict XVI controversially is trying to realize today in spite of his conservatism. Pope Paul VI, who would continue John XXIII's mission, was another Vatican liberal, but not everyone heeded his apology for Pope Gregory's having turned Mary Magdalen into a prostitute via a simple sermon, if Catholics today are even aware that that apology and a series of revisions concerning Mary Magdalen ever happened. Not everyone in the Church liked John Paul I too, who didn't last long in the papacy. And John Paul II, who voted against a lot of tracts in John XXIII's Second Vatican Council, is probably the most loved Pope in the Roman church today, partly perhaps for his having continued facets of John XXIII's efforts, as in the area of trying to reconcile with the Jews and other Christian sects. Pope Benedict XVI, a close confidant of John Paul II, seems to want to continue John Paul II's efforts to extend just facets of the Second Vatican Council tracts---specifically that one seeking a dialogue with other religions. . . .
     But if Popes could marry, if Pope Gregory VII hadn't required clerical celibacy, then John XXIII would probably have been the sort of Pope who wouldn't mind marrying a Protestant. And I don't think that would be because his religious beliefs were shallow or that he was a syncretist. He was, rather, the one most open to differences, the one with an open ear.
     In short, he was the first to respect the various catholicisms (universalisms), in effect fulfilling the embrace of the catholic doctrine of inclusivism. He was the Vatican's Stephen Hawking, who might have theorized that there is no one universe, but universes which finally are all the same, wherein hypertravel through cosmic wormholes can be done. He was the Vatican's company merger guru.

NOW, what has all this got to do with Shamcey Supsup and her formerly-Catholic boyfriend?
     Well, picture that scene again when Hollywood actress and contest-appointed judge Vivica A. Fox asked Supsup her question. Then, picture that moment when she answered the question. Now, put her boyfriend in her place, in a sort of scene from a Mr. Universe pageant, with him being asked the same question. His answer, of course, would be something like "I already did."
     If Supsup can embrace her boyfriend's secular heroism or sacrifice at the same time that she would preach an adherence to religious loyalism among females, we could surmise that Supsup is either sexist and another religious bigot who considers other religions as crap (Roman Catholicism perhaps as anti-Christian instead of Christian for putting Church laws above Christ's laws, according to some denominations), or . . . she believes there is no one Universe but a bundle of valid universes that could access one another in mental hypertravels via physical wormholes of acceptance. Matter turns into anti-matter and becomes matter again in some other universe, then vice versa, all perfectly acceptable. Nothing is illusion anymore, everything is embraceable. So that by answering her question at the pageant with what she had or what she could come up with, she was also recognizing that stupid questions are really only stupid situations, that easy questions are really only easy situations, and that the Miss Universe is really just a construction of various beauty queen claims to various valid universals. Remember, the first requisite of beauty pageants is congeniality, not basketball-like adversity. Its objective heaven includes yacht parties. So, therefore, you just tell people what they'd want to hear and save them the trouble of religious faux-universalist noise.
     That quick choice I can understand. Even Facebook-like. [END]

Photo of Shamcey Supsup borrowed from REUTERS/Nacho Doce as used at

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