Manny Pacquiao, religion and bigotry

Manny Pacquiao, religion and bigotry
Many of us celebrate the religiosity of our society. But when left unchecked, religiosity fosters bigotry.

It is one thing to disagree with another person based on religious or political ideology. But it is quite another to be completely intolerant. Intolerance renders every persuasion contradicting one’s own as untrue, sinful, or evil. In many cases, it is more emotional than factual. So when confronted with counterpropositions based on verifiable facts or other philosophical views, intolerance resorts to thoughtless, knee-jerk reactions.  

Like saying that people who embrace same-sex unions are worse than animals.     

To be called intolerant – or bigoted – is a heavy accusation. It thus baffles me why bigotry attracts a lot of media attention in this country. It baffles me even more that bigots think that they can utter ridiculous statements, but immediately apologize when barraged with unrelenting criticism.  

Many of them are quick to apologize. Manny Pacquiao did. Our society is soft on the apologetic, after all. But notice that although they apologize, they are at the same time unwilling to retract or even rethink their bigotry. All in the name of religion.  

In little things

One does not become intolerant overnight. It takes a lifetime of instilling beliefs and values. The nuclear family, for example, is sacred ground. In this worldview, people have to get married in church and their fulfillment is actualized in having children. During family reunions, the adult single is put on the spot with loaded questions and unwarranted match-making services. The LGBT community transgresses heteronormative virtues. If one thinks about it, that the family needs to be preserved is also the reason why the reality of domestic violence is largely denied and divorce still impossible.  

Outside the family, the LGBT community is tolerated but only to a certain extent. Their social value is disproportionately represented in the entertainment sector where internal discrimination also exists. In the workplace and their own local communities, they have to exert extra effort to either conceal their sexual identity or simply prove their worth. Either way, the burden is on them to be accepted.  

And yet acceptance remains elusive. They can remain gay, but not very expressive. Their feelings are expected, but they can’t be showy. They can choose to love, but can’t get married.  

In defense of the faith

The Pacquiao incident has, however, sharpened the focus on the religiosity of bigotry. It is religious in both senses of the word. It claims to be the religious “truth” and is justified by religious “truth.” Many have gone on social media to support Pacquiao by quoting Bible verses.

Bigotry manifests through callous remarks and thoughtless judgments. But when ignorance marries religion, bigotry becomes sanctified blindness. Pacquiao and many others think that they serve God by hiding behind the holiness of their fervor. The Pacquiao incident has thus precipitated a religious crusade for the defenders of the faith.  

And the moral discourse is disturbing. In their discourse, it is as if the LGBT community is the angel of death sent to wreak havoc on the idyllic romance of the young and the old. 

Reinforcing these attitudes is the taken-for-granted call among Christians to love the sinner, but hate the sin. This maxim is regrettably simplistic with its conflation of identity with concupiscence when it comes to sexuality.   

Which brings me to my final point. The Christian worldview is not nuanced in many circles in Philippine society. Many Christians will argue that they take the Scriptures at face value so they think they are free from predisposing judgments or biases. They let the Word of God speak, they would argue. They cannot understand that any reading is necessarily a form of interpreting in the same manner that any hearing is a mode of filtering.  

Even more unfortunately, the defenders of the faith are exposed only to the quality of conversations taking place in their limited circles or the homilies delivered in their local congregations.  

It is, of course, a mistake to consider all religious people inherently bigoted. Such a view disregards the careful and highly nuanced reflections taking shape among theologians and some lay.  In liberal theology that accommodates queer views, for example, love is the core virtue that informs how one approaches God and the Scriptures.  In its all-encompassing sense, love knows no gender.  But alas, this open theology is a minority view.    

The unwavering fierceness of conservative denominations and religious movements in the Philippines only means that the religious will continue to fight it out in the public sphere. In this increasingly competitive market of religious ideas, truth claims will even be more acute.  

And their harbingers become our politicians. Bigotry can only worsen.  

This is where the irony lies: Many of us celebrate the religiosity of our society.  But when left unchecked, religiosity fosters bigotry. To demand understanding – let alone love – from the bigoted holy is therefore a lost battle.  

The onus, therefore, is no longer on the LGBT and their supporters to defend themselves. Those who profess to be religious have to set themselves free. –


Jayeel Serrano Cornelio, PhD is a sociologist of religion and the Director of the Development Studies Program at the Ateneo de Manila University.  He was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Göttingen, Germany.  Follow him on Twitter @jayeel_cornelio.

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