Monday, May 11, 2009

Engaging the "Public Square"

An email I sent to my networks:

I noticed that many of us here in the network aspire to engage the public sphere. And many of us recognize that we are ill-equipped. I think a good starting point for those who are so inclined and think, is to re-look into ourselves by asking penetrating questions regarding the whole idea of "engaging the public sphere".

Below are some views which I deem relevant for us to consider:
1) Anyone who wants to engage in the public square MUST understand the consequences involved. One is deluded to think that the engagement in the public square wouldn't invoke all kinds of criticism, responses, and abuses. It is precisely the nature of the square being "public" that all kind of people are there, and thus it is not a "safety" haven. There is reason why prophets & messiahs are killed.

Yet, I'm not saying we have to be "confrontational", I'm asking some preliminary questions before one simply decided that the whole business of engaging public sphere as ROMANTIC as inherited from the American Evangelicalism. Engaging the public is far from romantic.

2) Given the nature of the engagement itself, we need to prepare for uncertainty, defeat, lostness (of wealth, family bond, health etc), loneliness, persecution, and insecurity. One's allegiance and comfort is found only in Christ.

3) On "as shrewd as serpent", I think the entire AWARE saga shows that there is none public Christian intellectual in Singapore. Or he/she is still hiding. Given all the resources and facilities of seminaries, universities, and churches here, I am surprised that none spoke up. The only one that spoke up was John Chew. And he was just playing the diplomatic games.

On the other hand, I read Christians who wrote to newspapers/website responding to AWARE saga with the opening line like "I'm a Bible-believing Christian for XX years..." (example) Honestly this is a LAUGHING STOCK. As if that means anything worthwhile in the "public square".

So re-think what does it mean to engage in the public square. And prepare for it emotionally, intellectually, and physically. Remember the great Christians then and now who have went down this path: Martin Luther, John Calvin, Martin Luther King Jr., William Wilberforce, Walter Wink, Karl Barth, Rowan Williams, Desmond Tutu etc.


akikonomu said...

Personally, I think having a "spirit of humility" is more important than the shrewdness of a serpent.

Being confrontational is injurious to the spirit of humility.

Without displaying a spirit of humility and meekness, one is more likely to invoke all kinds of criticisms, responses and abuses.

Without a spirit of humility, meekness and truth, one's sole allegiance to Christ is useless.

I think your example of people proclaiming to be "Bible believing Christians for XX years" does illustrate the point.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi akikonomu,

That depends on what kind of humility and in what context. It can be a very dubious term and practice.

For eg. see Richard Dawkins' comment on his own humility:

"I really don't think I'm arrogant, but i do get impatient with people who don't share with me the same humility in front of the facts." (Robert Fulford, "Richard Dawkins Talks Up Atheism with Messianic Zeal", National Post, November 25, 2003)

akikonomu said...

Obviously humility in the context of what is written in the Bible.

If you claim that it can be "a very dubious term and practice", all we need to do is limit it to sola scriptura, and not use Richard Dawkins as a first principle...

Sze Zeng said...

Still it remains dubious. And 'Sola Scriptura' is also dubious, if not worst.