Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mystical me, TTC faculty, mysterious faculty of life, the administrator and a theology of mission as power negotiation

Yesterday we were taught the way of mysticism and how usually this practice will lead to pluralism. If I am going to practice mysticism, I will have to make sure I will not come to the path of pluralism, not because I resist but that it is simply a wrong and self-contradicting position. And pluralist can't correct me on this as if they do, they are simply defeating their own conviction.

On a not related note, I have been wondering what does the life of the faculty like at Trinity Theological College? At that, how do we understand the faculties of life? The former refers to the lecturers while the latter about one aspect of life.

From the students' point of view, the faculty members are teachers. From among faculty members, they are colleagues. From the Principal's point of view, they are subordinates. From the religious community, they are either someone highly regarded by those among mainstream circles or simply confused hypocrites by those insular sectarian communities.

Each one of us play many roles when relating to different people and context. Everyone who are related to us know only part of us. Our spouse knows us as a different person from our colleagues. Our lecturers know us as a different person from the Principal. It is not a fragmented aspect of our character that is only known by particular people but we are known as an entirely different person according to the different people we relate to.

The context aspect introduces another layer of personality to us. Perhaps in a college setting that is managed corporately (contrast to some secluded monasteries), the students are not really students per se but customers; the lecturers are not educators per se but service providers; the Principal is not an administrator per se but a CEO with the supporting churches as shareholders.

This show that there exists various contrasting narratives within one single context. Just as no one person possesses only one faculty of life, no one context possesses one narrative.

Within this multi-narratival context, there will be tension of power as each narrative has its own structure of power. Take TTC for example. The context is a college. The two highlighted narratives are that of education institution and market economy (there are more but we will stick to only these two in this post).

Within the narrative of religious educational institution, the students are to submit to the will of the faculty members. Whatever the lecturers require, the students have to comply. While within the narrative of market economy, the students are the customers. If the provided services are not up to the customers' satisfaction, the corporation will lose its competitive edge. In this case, the faculty members are to submit to the will of the students, to please the customers so to speak.

Now the question on power that lies before us is this: How then do these differing narratives interact with one prevailing over the other?

We do not know extensively how they interact. Yet one thing certain is that it has to do with the source that empowers both narratives. And the source is a mixture of financial resources, academic expectation, churches' expectation and obligation, community's impression, and many other variables. And the responsibility to negotiate all these belongs to the administrator. All of us are administrators. Yet the role of administrator itself is only an aspect of life and is known only as a person who is different from another person he/she is known by other people at other context.

You may wonder how then do we trust that this administrator (i.e. ourselves) who is also caught up within the negotiation of narratives to be able to administer in the best interest of the entire power-tensed structure? We cannot know. Life when experienced for itself is overwhelming, like a mystical experience.

"...this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things." (Eph 3.8-9)

Paul saw evangelism as an administration of a mystery. To put Paul into our current discourse on power, his missionary work was in fact a negotiation between narratives. A theology of mission is here understood as negotiating powers; which structure of power should be elevated and which eliminated.

Seeing evangelism in this way places us within a power contest; how is mission a political act.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Stint of depression

There was a stint of depression after re-thinking about current condition that we are in. This morning's lecture on postmodernity reinforced the conundrum that we are living in and unable to escape. Anyone who thinks that we can is a vague optimist.

Baudrillard shown us the unrealness of our reality through reality. Derrida taught us the 'undecidable'. What is left before me is the 4 accounts chronicling the disruption of the unthinkable that sparked historicity, and by doing so bringing back the real and the decisive. I am referring to the incarnation and resurrection of Christ.

Kierkegaard's religious stage of existent is more real than ever if ever we harbor hope to be meaningful at all, to be authentic in any sense.

There is no smart people, only those who realize how stupid themselves are.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

New book: Crisis and Recovery

Rowan Williams and others are launching a new book on theology in relation to economic culture and justice. Here is the video where Williams introduces the book:

"What kind of culture have we allowed to develop? Not only the subculture of financial institutionalism, money makers, but the culture in which that happens, the whole culture of our society. What are the sort of behaviour we reward? What are the kinds of human beings we want to see around and encourage to be around? [...] Have we begun to create a kind of human beings whose default setting is really profoundly selfish, profoundly introverted, and how on earth do we build a society on that kind of basis?

So the questions about culture run very deep. [...] What we think is worthwhile in human behaviour? And unless we really tackle that kind of question, really revive our imagination of what human beings might be and should be, then the whole of our economic structure will not really change.

Cultural change begins [...] with behavioural change. And behavioural change begins with a change of vision, a change of horizon, so that the subsidiary question is not only what do we taught people to value and reward, what do we taught people to aim at? Have we shrunk their possibilities, withdrawn in their horizons in a trivial way, a way that done less than justice to what human beings are really capable of?"
The content of the book 'Crisis and Recovery: Ethics, Economics and Justice' is as follow:
Foreword; Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

Introduction; Larry Elliott, Economics Editor, The Guardian

Theology and the Nature of Accountability; Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

Investment and Public Policy in a Globalized Economy; Lord Robert Skidelsky

Values in an Ethical UK Economy; Jon Cruddas MP with Jonathan Rutherford, Editor, Soundings

Economics and the Shape of Society; Phillip Blond, ResPublica

Ethics in a Service Economy; Adam Lent, Senior Policy Officer, TUC

Investment Banking: The Inevitable Triumph of Incentives Over Ethics – John Reynolds

Culture and the Crisis; Andrew Whittaker, FSA

Marrying the Market with the Environment; Zac Goldsmith

The Financial Crisis and the End of the Hunter Gatherer; Will Hutton, Executive Vice-Chair, The Work Foundation

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The market needs moral for its own sustenance

In an interview with Guardian on 18 October 2003, Stephen Green the then chief executive of HSBC Holdings, said:
"Do I personally feel some kind of incompatibility between what I believe and being in financial services markets? I can only say no... There is a coherence between high standards of integrity in business life and success in business life. The converse is true. You cannot be comfortable about long-term success on the basis of sailing close to the wind and not caring about moral standards."
During 2008-2009 financial meltdown in USA, HSBC has all the legal rights to leave their creditors to bear the losses. However the company did not walk out. Green, who was then the chairman of the bank explained to the Mail on 4 April 2009 about the decision,
"This all points to something more profound about market ethics... Our word is our bond and the idea that you can play fast and loose with that is immoral. I genuinely believe one of the biggest issues is that we must change the culture... The markets, flawed as they are like every other human structure, can be used to contribute to human development. Being there also creates opportunities - to show an integrity that loves others as ourselves and treats them as ends rather than means."
Christian theology working in market economy. Beginning next year, Stephen Green will leave his current post as the chairman of HSBC to join the UK government to be their Trade Minister. The market needs moral for its own sustenance. With Green's appointment, we may see how this can be carried out further.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Map of Life

At last a website on evolutionary convergence is here. And it is managed by none other than Simon Conway Morris, Professor of Paleobiology at Cambridge University, who pioneered the research into this horizon. Twelve years ago, he challenged Stephen Jay Gould's widely received reading of the Burgess Shale. Their debate can be read here. It all started with Morris' book 'The Crucible of Creation: The Burgess Shale and the Rise of Animals' published by Oxford University Press. A review of the book is available for reading on American Scientist website.

What is evolutionary convergence?
"Evolutionary convergence occurs when unrelated organisms evolve similar adaptations to similar environmental or selective pressures, arriving there by very different routes." Simply put, there are examples of living structures around the world which are not biologically related yet they developed similar biological function through evolution when placed under similar condition. This implies that evolution process occurred not randomly.

Evolution is true. And "this suggests that evolutionary outcomes can be much more predictable than generally thought, and raises interesting questions about how patterns of convergence arise."

So, how do we detect convergence?
Read the website!

I remember the felt excitement when I first read about Morris' convergent evolution about one or two years ago. It is good that the public can now have easy access to his research.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

How am I?

I have not post anything here since last week as I had a long debate with two friends on secularism over the internet, preparing a presentation for Mission and Globalization class and for a workshop this coming Saturday on Christians and pop culture for a group of undergraduates.

Add to that, I'm not feeling well and will be going to the clinic later.

Here is something interesting that I leave to you readers. It's a response to Stephen Hawking's ridiculous comment that there is no place for a creator in the cosmos written by John Hogan on Scientific American website:
"Hawking also played a central role in one of the highlights of my career. It dates back to the summer of 1990, when I attended a symposium in a remote Swedish resort on "The Birth and Early Evolution of Our Universe." The meeting was attended by 30 of the world's most prominent cosmologists, including Hawking.

Toward the end of the meeting, everyone piled into a bus and drove to a nearby village to hear a concert in a Lutheran church. When the scientists entered the church, it was already packed. The orchestra, a motley assortment of blond-haired youths and wizened, bald elders clutching violins, clarinets and other instruments, was seated at the front of the church. Their neighbors jammed the balconies and seats at the rear of the building.

The scientists filed down the center aisle to pews reserved for them at the front of the church. Hawking led the way in his motorized wheelchair. The townspeople started to clap, tentatively at first, then passionately. These religious folk seemed to be encouraging the scientists, and especially Hawking, in their quest to solve the riddle of existence.

Now, Hawking is telling us that unconfirmable M-theory plus the anthropic tautology represents the end of that quest. If we believe him, the joke's on us."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Graham Ward coming to Singapore!

Thanks to Kia Meng, I am going to attend this lecture:

Secular Society and the Cultural Visibility of Religion by Prof Graham Ward

Date: 6 Oct 2010
Time: 14:00
Venue: Auditorium, AS7 Level 1, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore @ Kent Ridge

Description: Jointly organised by the Religion Clusters of Asia Research Institute and Faculty of Arts & Social Science, NUS.

A/P Vineeta Sinha, Department of Sociology, NUS.

The paper to be given would begin with the current questioning of the secularisation thesis and the various interpretations given to 'postsecular'. It would then detail some of the results of a four year project I recently completed for the British Academy on the New Visibility of Religion in Western Public Life. This has now been published as The New Visibility of Religion (Continuum, 2008). In particular, I wish to focus on the cultural investment in the religious rather than statistics about committed followers. I wish to argue that a new demythologisation of reality, often termed reality's re-enchantment, is the most pervasive form in which religion is returning to the public sphere. We might call this 'liquid spiritualities' that are constituting the background within which various fundamentalisms are being rethought.

Graham Ward is the Samuel Fergusson Professor of Philosophical Theology and Ethics at the University of Manchester and Head of the School of Arts, Histories and Cultures. He is the author of Barth, Derrida and the Language of Theology (CUP), Critical Theory and the Study of Theology (Macmillan), Balthasar at the End of Modernity (T.&T. Clark), Cities of God (Routledge), True Religion (Blackwell), Cultural Transformation and Religious Practices (CUP), Christ and Culture (Blackwell) and The Politics of Discipleship (Baker Academic). He is also the editor of The Postmodern God (Blackwell), The Certeau Reader (Blackwell), Radical Orthodoxy (Routledge), The Blackwell Companion to Postmodern Theology (Blackwell), and, with Michael Hoelzl, The New Visibility of Religion (Continuum). He is currently working on two volumes concerned with the doctrine of God, entitled Ethical Life.

Responses to Militant Secularists are Lenin's protege

A secularist friend of mine who saw my previous post actually told me that I was wrong because I draw a relation between his secular cause with that of Lenin. He put it this way, "[S]ecularism and leninism are not related except in the books of some conservative christian circles! take this connection into philosophy classes anywhere, and you'll be laughed out of the room."

My friend is aware that secularism and Leninism are not related and to say that they are is actually philosophically ridiculous.

I thought that militant secularists simply don't know about equivocation fallacy. Why I thought so? Because they always relate contemporary theological engagement on public issues with the crusades and inquisition of the medieval era.

If secularists like my friend know about such fallacy and don't wish themselves to be identified by such fallacy, why then do they keep using this fallacy on others? All this while they keep emphasizing a relation between current theological discourse over public issues with crusades, inquisition, and other affairs of the dark age. In fact my friend lumped me together with the works of Thio Li-Ann by labeling me as a 'Thio-logian'. Either they are being inconsistent or simply unreasonably biased.

Do note the ad hominem in the sentence "[S]ecularism and leninism are not related except in the books of some conservative christian circles!" (Emphasis added)

The syllogism of my friend's statement works this way:

Premise 1: Materials produced by conservative Christian circles are philosophically wrong.
Premise 2: Secularism and Leninism are not related.
Premise 3: Sze Zeng's post shows that there is a relationship between secularism and Leninism.
Conclusion: Therefore Sze Zeng's post must be from materials produced from conservative Christian circles and hence philosophically wrong.

The ad hominem is obvious at Premise 1. Assuming that my friend was right that we can meaningfully categorize 'conservative' (which we can't unless we apply caricature, sweeping generalization, and misrepresentation. Hence personally I stop using category like conservative, liberal, etc), do all works produced from conservative Christian circles are philosophically wrong?

Those who disagree with my post have two ways to rebut:

(1) They can argue that the attempt to relate contemporary secularism and Leninism is philosophically ridiculous, as both are situated in different era and context and dealing with different issues.

(2) They admit that secularism is related to Leninism and continue to argue that secularism should be the adopted way in conducting public discourse.

If they chose (1), as I have stated above, they are simply showing themselves either as inconsistent or unreasonably biased. If this is the case, all their rhetorics to champion reasonable discourse and equality on public issues are washed down the drain. They are just as bigoted and preposterous as how they charge their opponents to be.

If they chose (2) in order to avoid being seen as inconsistent and unreasonably biased, their secular cause straightaway loses all political appeal.

So it does not really matter whether they deny or affirm the point that I brought up. They lose their credibility in both.

Besides, none of the books written by Christians that I read mention Lenin. The quote that I got is from Lenin's own writings, from primary sources. My friend tried to discredit the point that I made by linking it with a category ("conservative") which he thought was philosophically unreliable. Could the fact that my friend has to resort to ad hominem to dismiss the point that I made actually is a diagnosis of the secularists' prevalent attitude to public discourse, they are unable to engage except by ad hominem?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Militant secularists are Lenin's protege

I've heard militant secularists said that the involvement of religion in the public square is the main cause of violence in general, political violence in particular. They always use the crusades and inquisition of the medieval times as cases in point.

They of course missed out the fact that these events happened in a socio-political reality which are very different from our current contemporary globalized world. Why don't they look at historical events that are located nearer to contemporary time and sentiment, like those risen regimes during previous century? They don't dare to look at those? I wonder if their ignorance of these regimes are deliberated since that would jeopardize their entire argument to eradicate religious from the public issues.

I was reading Lenin's writings and was shocked to see how similar his antagonistic opinions on religion and religious values are with those belonging to the militant secularists of our day. For example, here is one of Lenin's views:
"We have translations of all the major works of Marx and Engels. There are absolutely no grounds for fearing that the old atheism and old materialism will remain un-supplemented by the corrections introduced by Marx and Engels. The most important thing [...] is to know how to awaken in the still undeveloped masses an intelligent attitude towards religious questions and an intelligent criticism of religions."
(Vladimir Lenin, 'On the Significance of Militant Materialism', dated 12 March 1922, in Lenin’s Collected Works (Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 33, 1972), pp. 227-236, Translated: David Skvirsky and George Hanna. The online version is available here.)
John Gray, who does not hold or practice any religion, parallels Lenin's regime's policy with today's militant secularists's argument and its implied severe results:
"There are some Maoist movements in Nepal, Peru. In Sri Lanka, there are Marxist-Leninist movements, the Tamil Tigers, who by the way were the first who perfected and developed the technique of suicide bombing, not Muslims, not even religious; they are Marxist-Leninists. They recruit mainly from the Hindu population on the island, although they also recruited some former Christians. And they are devoted to old Marxist-Leninist idea of a world without religion. [...] They think that death is the end. Complete end, and yet willing to give up their lives in the act of killing others in order to bring about a better world..."
(John Gray, The New Atheism lecture dated June 16, 2008, at an event co-hosted by Theos and the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.)

"The influence of secular revolutionary movements on terrorism extends well beyond Islamists. In God Is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens notes that, long before Hizbullah and al-Qaida, the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka pioneered what he rightly calls "the disgusting tactic of suicide murder". He omits to mention that the Tigers are Marxist-Leninists who, while recruiting mainly from the island's Hindu population, reject religion in all its varieties. Tiger suicide bombers do not go to certain death in the belief that they will be rewarded in any postmortem paradise. Nor did the suicide bombers who drove American and French forces out of Lebanon in the 80s, most of whom belonged to organisations of the left such as the Lebanese communist party. These secular terrorists believed they were expediting a historical process from which will come a world better than any that has ever existed. It is a view of things more remote from human realities, and more reliably lethal in its consequences, than most religious myths."
(John Gray, The atheist delusion, The Guardian, Saturday 15 March 2008.)
Noticed the last two sentences, "These secular terrorists believed they were expediting a historical process from which will come a world better than any that has ever existed. It is a view of things more remote from human realities, and more reliably lethal in its consequences, than most religious myths."

While the militant secularists consider themselves fully justified to equate religious people facing contemporary issues in our current world with those who lived 400 to 1000 years ago in an entirely different socio-political system, they are reluctant to acknowledge a profound similarity they share with Lenin's regime which was merely less than 100 years ago.

Not only do these neo-Leninists/militant secularists are clueless of the real world, they deny even their own historical precedence. A people who is simply lost in reality and history. Yet they dare to table their agenda as a prospectus for public consideration.

Monday, September 13, 2010

What is the lost art of democratic argument?

Michael Sandel is the much celebrated Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government Theory at Harvard University. His famous lecture series on Justice enjoys a crowd of 1000 students each class. Earlier this year, he was invited to give a presentation at the TED Conference 2010. This is what he thinks about the art required in public discourse:
"There is a tendency to think that if we engage too directly with moral questions in politics, that's recipe for disagreement and, for that matter, a recipe for intolerance and coercion; so better to shy away from, to ignore the moral and the religious conviction that people bring to civic life.

It seems to me our discussion reflects the opposite. That a better way to mutual respect is to engage directly with the moral conviction citizens bring to public life rather than to require that people leave their deepest moral conviction outside politics before they enter. That, it seems to me, is a way to begin to restore the art of democratic argument."
(Michael Sandel, 'The lost art of democratic debate' presentation at TED2010 Feb 2010)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

God is simple?

Today a friend asked me, "After you have went through all those tedious studies and it just so happen that one day God appears to you and tells you that He is actually very simple?"

I asked, "I don't get what do you mean..."

He replied, "What if God is just a simple being and resembles none of all that have been discussed in the theological circle by various theologians?"

I asked, "I still don't get your question. You have to explain what do you mean by 'simple'?"

My friend replied, "Simple in the sense that He is who he is as described in the Bible."

I still confused, "Okay, but what do you mean by 'simple'?"

He clarified, "Simple as in I don't need to read all the theological books to relate to God."

I replied, "In that case, then you mean that our relation to God is simple. But that is not what you meant just now. Just now, you said that God is simple. Now you are saying that our relationship to God is simple. Two are different. I still don't understand what do you mean by 'God is simple.'"

The conversation didn't end conclusively as our time ran out. From the conversation, I get the sense that my friend was trying to say that in depth and extensive theological studies are not necessary because God is simply what we learn from the Bible. But isn't that the problem? How do we get the idea of God from the Bible? I really, sincerely, wish that it is as simple as my friend supposed. (See Steven's latest post on hermeneutic, and you will know what I mean.)

Anyway, back to my friend's question: So what do you think, is God simple?

Richard Smalley thinks that resurrection of Jesus Christ is true

Entire post taken from Ross H. McKenzie:
Richard Smalley received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996. A year ago I heard Fritz Schaefer give his "Scientists and their Gods" lecture and he mentioned Smalley. Apparently for most of his life he was critical of religion and he did not have a reputation of being a very nice guy.... However, towards the end of his life there was a big change. Fritz mentioned the following account:
Hope College presented Dr. Smalley with a Distinguished Alumni Award during Alumni Day on Saturday, May 7, 2005. He was honored in absentia because his illness prevented him from attending, but prepared remarks that were read at the awards banquet. “My short two years at Hope starting as a freshman in 1961 were immensely important to me,” he wrote. “I went to chapel, studied religion, and attended church more than I had ever done before, and was with people who took to these issues seriously. I valued that greatly back then. Recently I have gone back to church regularly with a new focus to understand as best I can what it is that makes Christianity so vital and powerful in the lives of billions of people today, even though almost 2,000 years have passed since the death and resurrection of Christ.”“Although I suspect I will never fully understand, I now think the answer is very simple: it’s true.”

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Michael Horton on Cornelius Van Til on Karl Barth

"Cornelius Van Til's Christianity and Barthianism in 1962 had a profound impact on wider appraisals [...] However, it also exhibits critical weaknesses. Tragically, Van Til's legitimate insights [...] seem sometimes to be obscured by sweeping generalizations and even caricatures of Barth's own stated positions. Although Van Til frequently cited G. C. Berkouwer's criticisms on Barth, the Amsterdam theologian distanced himself from the earlier analyses of Van Til and offered his own, more generous and careful critique in The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth."
(Michael S. Horton, 'A Stony Jar: The Legacy of Karl Barth for Evangelical Theology' in Engaging with Barth, ed. David Gibson and Daniel Strange [UK: Apollos, 2008], p.347. Italics original, bold added)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Roland Chia: Life as a systematic theologian in Singapore

I've conducted an interview with Roland for this blog. He is currently the Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine and Dean of the School of Postgraduate Studies at Trinity Theological College, Singapore. His doctoral studies was done at King's College London under the supervision of the late Colin Gunton.

Roland is best known for his recent works in bioethics. So far he has published three books on this topic: The Ethics of Human Organ Trading, The Right to Die? A Christian Response to Euthanasia, and Biomedical Ethics and the Church: An Introduction.

He has also written widely on Christian theology. He has published a book on eschatology, 'Hope for the World: A Christian Vision of the Last Things', one on sermon on the mount, 'Radical Discipleship: Reflection on the Sermon on the Mount', one on the Ten Commandments, 'Laws of the Heart: The Ten Commandments for Christian Living', and one on the thoughts of Balthasar and Barth, 'Revelation and Theology: The Knowledge of God in Balthasar and Barth'. He is also currently serving as a contributing editor of Cultural Encounters: A journal for the theology of culture.

Many may have read his books and articles on various newsletters, academic journals and Christian magazines. I hope through this interview, we'll discover more of Roland as a theologian and a person rather than merely a walking theological encyclopedia:

How old were you when you are sufficiently convinced that your calling is to serve in the field of theology? And how did you discover that calling?

My first foray into theology took place when I was 16 or 17. My parish priest at the time (I was a Roman Catholic until I was about 20 years old) loan me his copy of the first volume of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles possibly to stop me from asking too many questions about Roman Catholic beliefs and practices. I remember reading it with some excitement although it left me with unequal measures of illumination and bewilderment.

I began formal theological studies when I was 25 years old (this time as a Methodist) after deciding to devote the rest of my life to serving God and his Church. The burden to leave my job for full-time Christian service developed over a number of years and in the course of very trying circumstances.

Karl Barth once wrote in his diary "I made the bold resolve to become a theologian: not with preaching and pastoral care and so on in my mind, but in the hope that through such a course of study I might reach a proper understanding of the creed in place of the rather hazy ideas that I had at that time." What are your thoughts on Barth's statement in term of one's decision to serve as a theologian?
I must say I only partially agree with Karl Barth’s statement. Of course I believe that theological studies and reflection is important if we are to be steeped in the Christian Faith. But I do not think that achieving clarity on the teaching and significance of the creed is the only reason to become a theologian.

I believe that a theologian is first and foremost a servant of God, who serves him by serving the Church. A theologian should not hermitically seal himself from the life and witness of the Church, cloistered in the impenetrable fortress of his ivory tower, keeping the rest of the world from entering. Some of the most significant theologians in the history of the Church – Irenaeus, Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Augustine, Maximus the Confessor – did not lead idyllic lives as academic theologians, but were actively involved in the life of the Church and the society.

Barth understands that quite well, and it is evident in his works and also in his life. It must be remembered that Barth discovered ‘the strange world of the Bible’, and through it the orthodoxy that his first theological teachers shunned or truncated when he was ‘forced’ to preach from the Bible as a pastor. Furthermore, Barth was actively involved in the political developments of his time.

One of your major project was on Karl Barth's and Hans Urs von Balthasar's understanding of God. What attracted you to them, and particularly their theological epistemology?
When I started to study theology formally in 1985, I was introduced to a number of significant theologians in the twentieth century – Brunner, Tillich, Bonhoeffer, Otto, Bultmann, Moltmann, Pannenberg, Weber, etc. One of the most fascinating theologians that I came across was Karl Barth.

I first encountered Barth through a very late work of his, Evangelical Theology, which is a collection of lectures he delivered when he visited America. This book led me to Barth’s Dogmatics in Outline and Commentary on Romans. Eventually I arrived at the Church Dogmatics after becoming more or less accustomed to his writing style, and after I’ve read a few secondary works that introduce his thought.

It was through the Barth scholars that I was introduced to Hans Urs von Balthasar, whose approach to theology was so unique that it fascinated me. Since both these theologians are ‘theologians of revelation’ (among other things), I naturally drawn to their epistemologies when I was exploring a dissertation topic.

These two theologians led me to a number of new and exciting theological vistas. Barth, of course inspired a deeper appreciation of the Reformers – especially Luther and Calvin – in me. But it was von Balthasar who opened the doors to modern Roman Catholic theology to me by introducing great theologians like Henri de Lubac, Romano Guardini and Joseph Ratzinger. He also introduced me to philosophical aesthetics and the importance of Plato, Plotinus and Aristotle for theology. Von Balthasar also led me to read the writings of the mystics like St John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila.

Both Barth and von Balthasar sparked my interest in Patristic theology (an interest that continues to grow), and both of them in their own ways introduced me to medieval theologians like Anselm, Aquinas and Bonaventure.

Since that major project, whose works and which area are you currently engaging with? Still Barth and Balthasar?
Since returning to Singapore from London in 1995 after completing my doctoral studies at King’s College, circumstances have led me to attend to many different theological issues. Of course, my basic theological studies and doctoral studies have generated many interests in me that went beyond epistemology and the two German theologians I discussed in my dissertation. Theology has led me to philosophy, music, and aesthetics.

But after I returned to Singapore, my involvement with Trinity Theological College (TTC) and the National Council of Churches has led me to explore the relationship between theology and science, medical ethics, moral philosophy, political theory, and most recently the social teaching of the Church. I do believe that specialisation is inevitable today; but I also believe that a theologian must develop wide inter-disciplinary interests.

I am of course not suggesting that theologian should present himself as a pseudo-expert in these other fields. The theologian who thinks in this way is deluded and immature. But I think a theologian should have enough familiarity with these broader topics to reflect on them intelligently and theologically.

This of course requires much effort and time (the latter being a very scarce commodity indeed). But I believe that a theologian must make this investment in effort and time if he is to be of service to the Church. I think Rowan Williams, Wolfhart Pannenberg and Robert Jenson are the kind of theologians I have in mind who because they are steeped in theology and philosophy are also able to address other issues, like politics or the economy, thoughtfully.

What are the biggest challenge and fear that you face as a theologian in the theological arena? What do you think is the biggest challenge to contemporary Christians in Singapore?
As a theologian of the Church, I prefer to reflect on the challenges that the Church faces because they will have direct bearing on my work. I think that the Church in Singapore is truly blessed with many talented and influential members who can make really significant contributions to both the Christian community and society.

But I think much more can be done to improve the theological literacy of Christians so that they can be more thoughtful about how their professed convictions as Christians relate to their professional lives and their active participation in society.

The concerns that theologians like David Wells and historians like Mark Noll voiced concerning evangelical Christians in the US are those that I have for Christians in Singapore. Here, I think pastors and theologians, the Church and the theological institutions can work together more closely and creatively to help Christians be more deliberately reflective about their faith has to say about the concerns of society.

I think Trinity Theological College is doing quite a good job in addressing this concern by making theological education available to all Christians through the courses conducted by the Centre for the Development of Christian Ministry and through its Master of Theological Studies programme. We have never taken the elitist or exclusive view on theological education. TTC is also working very closely with the Churches, with most of all our faculty members actively involved in a wide variety of ministries across the denominations. And, of course TTC has always served as a resource to the National Council of Churches by helping it to respond to important issues ranging from medical ethics to inter-faith relations.

But, of course, much more can (and should) be done. And we pray that the students that graduate from the College will as pastors have the depth and the moral courage to lead their churches to a greater appreciation of the rich theological and liturgical heritage of the Church as Christians take a deeper interest to learn and perform the Faith that was handed down to the Church by the Apostles.

What is your take on the popular 'Health and Wealth' or 'Prosperity' gospel in this region?
I think that the Health and Wealth Gospel is a serious distortion of orthodox Christianity. (Incidentally, I will be giving a talk on the Prosperity Gospel at St Andrews Cathedral on 2 November this year at 8 pm.)

How has your theological knowledge edify you at the lowest point of your life? (i.e. certain theological works that you find helpful when you were going through the worst days)
F. F. Bruce was once asked what books he would bring with him if he were marooned on an isolated island and allowed to bring only a few books from his vast library. His choice is quite interesting (given the fact that Bruce was a Brethren) and quite close to my own if I were asked the same question. Bruce said that he would bring his Bible, the Book of Common Prayers and Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (See In Retrospect: Remembrance of Things Past). I would add to this mini-library the United Methodist Hymnal – the older edition, before the rude intrusion of inclusive language.

But in trying times, I prefer turn to Scripture, reading familiar passages afresh and reflecting on them speak to me and to my situation afresh. I have also found praying the Book of Common Prayers a very enriching experience, particularly in times of difficulties and trials.

What would be your best advice to theological students?
My advice to beginning theological students is simply to learn the Faith, to allow themselves to be tutored by Scripture and Tradition, so that they can truly love and serve God in their lives. This quest to drink deeply from the well of the Christian Faith must continue with them throughout their lives. Learning the Faith requires must effort, patience and persistence. Theological students must try to develop this discipline from the start.

Helmut Thielicke has written a delightful book entitled, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians that describes the perils and promise of a person beginning to study theology. I think this book should be compulsory reading for all first year students! In a particularly humorous passage, Thielicke describes a condition, which most seasoned teachers of theology would have observed in some of their students, where there is a discrepancy in the intellectual ability of the student and his or her spiritual maturity:
There is hiatus between the arena of the young theologian’s actual spiritual growth and what he already knows intellectually about this arena. So to speak, he has been fitted, like a country boy, with breeches that are too big, into which he must still grow up in the same way that one who is to be confirmed must still grow up into the long trousers of the Catechism. Meanwhile, they hang loosely around the body, and this ludicrous sight of course is not beautiful … Speaking figuratively, the study of theology often produces overgrown youths whose internal organs have not correspondingly developed. This is a characteristic of adolescence. There is actually something like theological puberty.
The beginner theologian should take their time to allow abstract truths and concepts to come alive in them and to impact their lives (Kierkegaard). There are simply no shortcuts! And there certainly can be no place for pride!

But all students of the Faith – the beginner as well as the advanced – should pray and embody the beautiful and moving prayer of Anselm as he closes the Proslogion:
O God, I pray, let me know and love you, so that I may rejoice in you. And if I cannot in this life [know, love and rejoice in you] fully, let me advance day by day until the point of fullness comes. Let knowledge of you progress in me here and be made full [in me] there. Let love for you grow in me here and be made full [in me] there, so that here my joy may be great with expectancy while there being full in realisation. O Lord, through your Son you command – or rather, you counsel – us to ask; and through him you promise that we shall receive in full. O Lord, I ask for what you counsel through our marvellous Counsellor; may I receive what you promise through your Truth, so that my joy may be full. God of truth, I ask to receive it, so that my joy may be full. Until then, let my mind meditate upon [what you have promised], let my tongue speak of it. Let my heart love it; let my mouth proclaim it. Let my soul hunger for it; let my flesh thirst for it; let my whole being desire it until such time I enter into the joy of my Lord, the triune God, blessed forever. Amen.

Engaging on REACH website

A friend asked for permission to re-post several of my engagement with secularism in Singapore on REACH website. REACH is Singapore government's e-platform to get feedback from citizens.

I revised a bit of my posts with more clarity before sending her the new version.

The last time I checked the website, there are 10 readers clicked 'Like'. One of them commented that the post is "a blast of fresh air in debunking the "Liberal" crowd and shooting down their calculated disinformation."

For those who are interested to read, you may go here.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

John Locke's theology of toleration in the public square

John Locke wrote a letter in 1689 to propose a theological treatise on toleration among those with different religion as well as those without religion. That letter is now famously known as 'A Letter Concerning Toleration'.

The context of that letter is the immediate period after the Protestant Reformation. Western Christianity which was once held under the power of the Holy Roman Empire has been democratized. Various kings and princes around Europe, with their new found political authority derived from theological diversity, have waged wars among themselves and against Rome.

It was through a series of peace treatises known as the Treaty of Westphalia that these kings and princes obtained sovereignty for their own territory and hence stopped the wars. Locke's theology on toleration is conceived in this post-Westphalia period, about 30 to 40 years after the emergence of sovereign states around Europe, to promote hospitality in this new reality consists of diverse religiosity.

Locke started his letter with a theological defense for the concept of toleration:
"I must need answer you freely that I esteem that toleration to be the chief characteristic mark of the true Church." (Emphasis added)
That is an obvious theological statement.

In the first two paragraphs, Locke included citations of Luke 22.25, 32, 2 Tim. 2.19, Rom. I, and Gal. 5 to make his point. He then wrote:
"The toleration of those that differ from others in matters of religion is so agreeable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to the genuine reason of mankind, that it seems monstrous for men to be so blind as not to perceive the necessity and advantage of it in so clear a light."
Locke was not embarrass to be explicit with the Christian foundation of his political thoughts. He viewed his own thoughts on toleration as a theological polity. He outrightly stated that his ground for humans' virtuous living is derived from 2 Tim. 2.19 and Luke 22.32, to which after citing the latter passage he wrote, "said our Lord to Peter," (emphasis added) stressing his religious affiliation to Jesus Christ.

There is also an instance where Locke stated unambiguously that his thoughts on politics and public issues are shaped and validated by the Bible. He charged his interlocutor's ideas as invalid because he couldn't find them in the scripture, "I could never yet find in any of the books of the New Testament."

Locke also mentioned about the separation of the church's affair from the state's affair in the letter. Here is what he wrote:
"I esteem it above all things necessary to distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other."
He went on to give theological justification and reasons why there should be a separation. Locke has also delineated further the differences and parallels between church and state in his '"On the difference between civil and ecclesiastical power, indorsed excommunication," dated 1673-1674, in The Life and Letters of John Locke: With extracts from his journals and common-place books [UK: Henry G. Bohn, 1858], p.300 onwards).

Although Locke did not make explicit references to Martin Luther's theology of the two kingdoms (which Luther, an Augustinian monk, adopted from Augustine), there are significant similarities between the former's and latter's theology on the relation between the church and the state.

It is probable that Luther's theology was so prominent in Locke's time that it provides the intellectual milieu for Locke to develop his theology along Luther's thoughts. (See Philip Michelbach and Charles Arthur, ""He jumbles heaven and earth together": John Locke, Martin Luther, and Political Theology." Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association 67th Annual National Conference, Chicago, USA). Luther's theology of two kingdoms was so prevalent and well recognized that James Madison, a political philosopher and the fourth President of the United States, wrote in his letter to F. L. Schaeffer, dated 3rd December 1821, acknowledging Luther as the one who "led the way" in articulating the concept of separation between the church's affair from the state's. (James Madison, Letters and other writings of James Madison [USA: J.B. Lippincott & co., 1865], p.242.)

John Locke's theological polity was so steeped in the Christian tradition that he announced that the denial of the existence of God would make the order of social polity senseless and arbitrary. Therefore atheism is a threat to social order, according to Locke. Even so, Locke maintained that we have to be tolerant to the atheists as long as they do not dominate others with their atheism:
"Lastly, those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all; besides also, those that by their atheism undermine and destroy all religion, can have no pretence of religion whereupon to challenge the privilege of a toleration. As for other practical opinions, though not absolutely free from all error, if they do not tend to establish domination over others, or civil impunity to the Church in which they are taught, there can be no reason why they should not be tolerated." (Emphasis added)
In John Locke, we see a Christian whose religious thoughts and values are being presented for the consideration of the society in the public sphere. The theology of tolerance, the theology of stability of social polity, and the theology of separation between church and state are all identified by Locke to be grounded on Christian tradition in 'A Letter Concerning Toleration'.

Locke is also famous for his treatise on human equality in his work titled 'Two Treatises of Government'. His theology on human equality is the basis for his critique against Robert Filmer's defense of divine rights of kings. Commenting on this work, John Dunn, Professor of Political Theory at the University of Cambridge and an authority on Locke's thoughts, wrote:
"Jesus Christ (and Saint Paul) may not appear in person in the text of the Two Treatises but their presence can hardly be missed when we come upon the normative creaturely equality of all men in virtue of their shared species-membership.[...] In seventeenth-century England, if the gospel could only be forgotten (which it pretty readily was), there were no problems at all about justifying inequality. [...] (As for giving reasons, our social structure will do that for us.) At the biological level the axiom of equality is whole inert socially, and in pre-industrial Western civilization it could hardly be a conclusion of sociological reason. Far from being extrinsic, the theology was the sole possible significant locus for equality."
(John Dunn, The Political Thought of John Locke: An Historical Account of the Argument of the Two Treatises of Government [UK: Cambridge University Press, 1969], p.99-100. Italics original, bold added)
Jeremy Waldron, Professor of Law at the New York University, expounded in great detail John Locke's theology on human equality in his 2003 book titled 'God, Locke, and Equality: Christian Foundations in Locke's Political Thought', published by Cambridge University Press.

The next time a secularist tells you that there should be a separation between religious values from the discourse on public issues, you may tell them that that view, together with the view on human equality, tolerance, and social order, are themselves religious, at least as we have inherited it from John Locke's theology.

It is simply self-defeating to disallow religious values to be presented in public discourse, when that dis-allowance itself is based on religious value, rooted in theological reason.

At least John Locke was clear and consistent. He was explicit with his theology on the church and the state as two entities divinely ordained to serve two theological ends. As Locke has argued, when one denies God, one simply has no basis for social order in its tenets of tolerance, human equality, and appropriate governance.

Hence the actual matter lies on discerning which religious values should be allowed and which not? If allowed, why so? If not, why not?

This would be a proper, not to mention wiser and tolerant, approach than to simply shout, "Bar the secularist!" or "Bar the fundamentalists!" If only both militant secularists and militant anti-secularists know the real world and its history. That will save them from embarrassing themselves in the public space.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Rousseau's theology on the separation of church and state

Previously I posted that the concept of separation between the religious (church) and the non-religious authority (state). I am of the opinion that this concept's origin is theological at its root (articulated by Augustine), an explicit religious concept, even though secularists unashamedly robbed it and claimed it as a secular (non-religious) concept.

A friend disagrees after reading my post. He commented that its root was in the 18th century. I asked him to point to me which 18th century work that expounds this concept.

While waiting for his sharing, I would like to post here what Rousseau has written in the 18th century on the concept of separation between church and state.
"...the Romans had spread their cult and their gods, and had themselves often adopted those of the vanquished, by granting both alike the rights of the city, the peoples of that vast empire insensibly found themselves with multitudes of gods and cults, everywhere almost the same; and thus paganism throughout the known world finally came to be one and the same religion.

It was in these circumstances that Jesus came to set up on earth a spiritual kingdom, which, by separating the theological from the political system, made the State no longer one, and brought about the internal divisions which have never ceased to trouble Christian peoples. As the new idea of a kingdom of the other world could never have occurred to the pagans, they always looked on the Christians as really rebels, who, while feigning to submit, were only waiting for the chance to make themselves independent and their masters, and to usurp by guile the authority they pretended in their weakness to respect. This was the cause of the persecutions."
(Jean-Jacques Rousseau, On The Social Contract [USA: Dover Publications, Inc., 2003; first published, 1762], p.91. Emphasis added)
Here we have an acknowledgment by the famous political philosopher of the 18th century that the separation between the church ("theological system") and the state ("political system") has its origin in what Jesus had done. If this is not an explicit piece of Christian theology, I don't know what else is.

On top of that, it is well known that Rousseau was heavily influenced by Augustine to the extent that he titled his autobiography with the same title with that of Augustine: Confessions.

Patrick Riley in his book 'The General Will before Rousseau' demonstrated that the most important concept in Rousseau's political thoughts was actually appeared in the theological discussion of an earlier century by French Augustinian theologians. There is also a chapter that traces the origin of Rousseau's political philosophy back to Augustine in 'Cambridge Companion to Rousseau'.

Rousseau is another evident that the concept of separation between the state and church is theological in its root and being.

Monday, September 06, 2010

A pretense of secularism

Constance Singam's article 'A Secular Society Interrupted' advocates secularism explicitly. She introduced secularism through the work of George Jacob Holyoake. Here's what Constance wrote:
"George Jacob Holyoake, who coined the terms ‘secularism’ in 1851and ‘jingoism’ in 1878, defines secularism as ‘a code of duty pertaining to this life, founded on considerations purely human. Its essential principles are three: (1) The improvement of this life by material means (2) That science is the available providence of man (3) That it is good to do good. Whether there be other good or not, the good of the present life is good, and it is good to seek that good here in this world.’"
Indeed, it was Holyoake who coined the term 'secularism'. But the concept of a separation between the religious authority (church) from the non-religious authority (state) in the public space is not originated from Holyoake. It was first articulated by Augustine in the fifth century in his famous work The City of God.

Augustine wrote the book as a response to the political and theological turmoil of his time when Rome was plundered by the Visigoths under the command of Alaric in 410 A.D. In it, Augustine distinguishes on theological ground the differences between the earthly city and the heavenly city (Book 1, chapter 35; Book 19, chapter 28). These two cities co-exist with one another in our temporal history called the 'saeculum'.

Hence secularism in its current modern manifestation as a space where the church and state as separate entities has its root as a theological concept. Which secularist is ready to admit this?

Anyway, back to Constance's reference on Holyoake. Any sensible person would immediately note the serious problem in Holyoake's third principle of secularism. It simply begs the question what is 'good'?

At this question one may either go to Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill's utilitarianism or Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative.

Yet Kierkegaard has so effectively demonstrates the inadequacy of both system in Either/Or. The utilitarianism is relatively portrayed as the 'aesthetic' life, while categorical imperative as the 'ethical' life. To Kierkegaard, both lacks authenticity and hence meaningless.

I am not at all suggesting that religion can provide the answer to the question "What is good?" But at least I don't pretend that it can.

Secularism can't provide the answer too. But the problem is that secularists who promote secularism often pretend that it can. An obvious case is Holyoake himself, as seen in his third principle of secularism. Hence, it simply baffles the mind that people, like Constance, are so readily endorse Holyoake's dubious thoughts and think that it is a 'good' one for public policy. Unless one settles what is meant by 'good', then it is meaningless to say what's 'good' for the public.

I mentioned that I am not here suggesting that Christianity can provide the answer. Indeed I am not. It is Slavoj Žižek, the world's hippest philosopher and an atheist, who suggests otherwise: "It thus seems both theoretically productive and politically salient to stick to Judaeo-Christian logic." (The Fragile Absolute: Or, why is the Christian legacy worth fighting for? [USA: Verso, 2001], p.107. Emphasis added)

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Constance Singam on public discourse

Update (7 Sept 2010): SHWong has commented that I need to clarify the contrast between what Constance said was the reason why Gandhi was killed and the real reason the killers had. So I've revised that portion here.

Constance Singam has recently posted two opinions on matters on public engagement. Her first post titled 'A Secular Society Interrupted'. Her second post titled 'My goodness, you missed the point' is a clarification of her first post.

Since Constance is touching on issue which I am following closely (i.e religion in public engagement), I shall here examine the point she made.

It is commendable that Constance is clear with her stance and the point she wants to make. As stated in her second post:
"... my main concern is whether we are able, if we owe allegiance to a religion, to suspend our religious values in a public space in a secular society rich in diversity of religion, culture and race. This is not, however, a denial of the role of religion in public life and debate on issues and policies. Every individual has a civic responsibility to engage in public debate in areas that matter to them.

My point is that the need to suspend personal beliefs is a critical requirement of policy-makers. Every day, policy-makers are called upon to make decisions that profoundly affect the lives of people. Are they able to suspend the influence of personal factors, such as sex, race and religion, and make decisions based on facts?" (Emphasis added)
She is calling the public to cultivate a habit to evaluate public issues based on facts rather than personal factors such as one's sex, race, and religion.

I do see her good intention.

Nonetheless, I find some problems in Constance's two articles.

First, it is ironic for her who is championing "facts" over "personal factors" to gather support for her argument from fiction. She wrote in her first article:
"Mahatma Gandhi paid the ultimate price when he was killed by a Hindu fanatic for his defence of pluralism."
That statement is wrong on two counts. First, the assassin, Nathuram Godse, and his conspirators did not kill Gandhi on religious reason (as "Hindu fanatic" seems to imply). Second, Gandhi was not killed because of his defense of pluralism.

In an interview with (Feb 14, 2000 Vol. 155 No. 6), Gopal Godse, the brother of Nathuram Godse, revealed why he and his brother wanted Gandhi dead:
TIME: Why did you want to kill Gandhi?

Godse: Gandhi was a hypocrite. Even after the massacre of the Hindus by the Muslims, he was happy. The more the massacres of the Hindus, the taller his flag of secularism. [...] For months he was advising Hindus that they must never be angry with the Muslims. What sort of ahimsa (non-violence) is this? His principle of peace was bogus. In any free country, a person like him would be shot dead officially because he was encouraging the Muslims to kill Hindus.
In another interview with Firdaus Syed Ashraf on (Jan 29, 1998), Gopal Godse gave the same answer:
Firdaus Syed Ashraf: Do you ever regret Mahatma Gandhi's killing?

Gopal Godse: No, never. Gandhi used to claim the Partition would be over his dead body. So after Partition when he didn't die, we killed him. Usually an assassination of a leader is either for personal benefit or to acquire power. We killed Gandhi because he was harmful to India. And it was a selfless act. No one paid us a single penny for it. Our love for the motherland made us do it. We are not ashamed of it. Gandhi should have been honest to admit that his life was a failure.

You see, right from Pakistan and Bangladesh every Muslim is a converted Hindu. Gandhi's appeasement attitude (towards the Muslims) went far too much. That was why we killed him. Two hundred and fifty thousand Hindus were killed in Noakhali in October 1946. Hindu women were forced to remove their sindhoor and do Muslim rituals. And Gandhi said, 'Hindus must bow their heads if Muslims want to kill them. We should follow the principle of ahimsa (non-violence).' How can any sensible person tolerate this? Our action was not for a handful of people -- it was for all the refugees who came from Pakistan.

So, till this day, I have never regreted being one of the conspirators in Gandhi's assassination. In fact, many of Nathuram's friends told me after my release, 'Nathuram ni gadhav pana kela, tyani majha chance ghalavla' (Nathuram did you an injustice. He made you miss your chance to kill Gandhi).
Before his execution, Nathuram Godse in his own court statement dated November 8, 1948, wrote:
"From August 1946 onwards, the private armies of the Muslim League began a massacre of Hindus. The then Viceroy, Lord Wavell, though distressed at what was happening, would not use his powers under the Government of India Act of 1935 to prevent the rape, murder and arson. The Hindu blood began to flow from Bengal to Karachi with little retaliation by the Hindus. The Interim Government formed in September was sabotaged by its Muslim League members right from its inception [...]

One of the conditions imposed by Gandhi for his breaking of the fast related to the mosques in Delhi occupied by the Hindu refugees. But when Hindus in Pakistan were subjected to violent attacks he did not so much as utter a single word to protest and censure the Pakistan Government or the Muslims concerned. Gandhi was shrewd enough to know that while undertaking a fast unto death, had he imposed some conditions on the Muslims in Pakistan, there would have been found hardly any Muslims who could have shown some grief if the fast had ended in his death. It was for this reason that he purposely avoided imposing any conditions on the Muslims."
Constance stated that the killers of Gandhi wanted him dead for the reason that he was promoting a pluralistic society where various people can live together in harmony. But the Godse brothers were indignant towards Gandhi not because he was promoting pluralism. They wanted Gandhi dead because he was preventing and denying justice to the community of Hindus. They thought Gandhi was treating the Hindus unjustly and hence he has to be stopped in order to prevent further harm inflicted on the community.

Constance urges people to engage based on facts, but she fails to do so herself. She got too carried away by her own personal factor (a secularist who is arguing for secularism) that she simply disconnects with facts? Her fictional account on the assassination of Gandhi suggests so.

Besides that, Constance's categorization of "facts" as opposed to "personal factors" is dubious. First, personal factors are facts; a person's religious belief affects the person's thoughts.

For instance, someone whose religious belief commands equal treatment to all humans despite different races will advocate public-policies according to that religious belief. Hence the distinction is not between facts and personal factors. Rather, it is between facts and facts; which fact best serves what cause?

In using misleading categories, Constance has committed what is known as the 'equivocation fallacy'.

Second, the fact that Constance is advancing a fact-based-public-discourse already betrays the fact (pun intended) that she has fallen into a meta-ethical conundrum. David Hume has sounded this fact-value problem more than 270 years ago. What is a fact cannot be readily assumed to be a value; 'is' is not 'ought'.

Besides her confusion over the fact-value problem, Constance gave false analogy for her argument if she was referring to the Roman Catholic's teaching when she wrote in her first article:
"The fact is that the use of condoms prevents unwanted pregnancies and STI (sexually transmitted infections). That the use of condoms is wrong or immoral is a religious view not based on fact. Another example is the status of women. The claim that women should be subservient to men is a religious and/or cultural attitude and not one based on fact."
If indeed she was referring to the Roman Catholic's teaching, then she has misunderstood them thoroughly. The Roman Catholic church is against the use of condom among its followers not because condoms prevents unwanted pregnancies and STI.

Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family's statement:
"The Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception, that is, of every marital act intentionally rendered unfruitful. This teaching is to be held as definitive and irreformable. Contraception is gravely opposed to marital chastity; it is contrary to the good of the transmission of life (the procreative aspect of matrimony), and to the reciprocal self-giving of the spouses (the unitive aspect of matrimony); it harms true love and denies the sovereign role of God in the transmission of human life."
The Roman Catholic church concerns over the "transmission of human life." It is not about unwanted pregnancies or STI. It is about the function of marriage as celebrated through the church's tradition. (My elaboration of the Roman Catholic's teaching does not mean I agree with it. What I am doing here is to show how Constance has misrepresented the Roman Catholic's teaching on contraception if she was referring to them).

Overall, Constance's articles, besides providing false information about Gandhi, add no constructive contribution at all to the discourse about public engagement in a multicultural context such as Singapore. Her posts suggest that secularists are often clueless about the real world.

The problems in her articles that I have pointed out are not new. The discourse over such matters as seen in the works of Charles Taylor, Jurgen Habermas, Slavoj Žižek, Philip Blond, John Gray and others has advanced beyond where Constance is still stuck at. Nonetheless, her clarity in proposing her case is well noted and commendable.Justify Full

Secularists are often clueless about the real world

Too often I hear people complain against the involvement of religious voices on public issues. Some not only trying their best to prevent religious citizens from speaking out in the public square but call for the eradication of religion altogether.

When religious people speak their mind on public issues, they are automatically being perceived by secularists as attempting to draft religious doctrine on the nation's constitution. One simply can't find a worse illegitimate caricature.

That said, I'm not saying that there is no religious people who want to set their religious belief as civil law. I'm from Malaysia, and so I know there is such situation. The point I'm making is that the attempt at eliminating religious voices without considering the real concern underlying these voices is a haphazard, uncritical and mindless hegemony. Caricatures are not representation of the real.

I have witnessed this in Singapore in recent years.

Such antagonistic counter-productive suggestion go against the very foundation of democracy where citizens, regardless of religious affinity, are expected to participate in the governing polity of the society in peaceful manner.

Not only that. These missionaries of secularism have a deeper issue: They are basically ignorant of the basic characteristic and nature of contemporary modern politics, including the one--secularism--which they are dedicated to propagate.

I shall just copy and paste what John N. Gray, the Emeritus Professor of European Thought of the prestigious London School of Economics and Political Science, has so perceptibly made clear:
"Those who demand that religion be exorcized from politics think this can be achieved by excluding traditional faiths from public institutions; but secular creeds are formed from religious concepts, and the suppressing religion does not mean it ceases to control thinking and behaviour. Like repressed sexual desire, faith returns, often in grotesque forms, to govern the lives of those who deny it. [...]

If religion is a primary human need it should not be suppressed or relegated to a netherworld of private life. It ought to be fully integrated into the public realm, but that does not mean establishing any one religion as public doctrine.
(John Gray, Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia [UK: Penguin, 2007], p.190, 209. Emphasis added)
The militant secularists do not have to agree with the religious. But the least they can do is to come out from their coconut husk to face the real world (with its deep concern and character) as it is, and really understand the nature of the cause (i.e secularism in contemporary politics) they are fighting for.