Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Post-secular Christendom in South East Asia

The other day, Andreas, Peter and I were chatting over dinner. Andreas mentioned about his exploration of Christendom. Then he asked what do I think about Christendom.

I told him that I think every countries that adopts (1) Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and (2) the Augustinian saeculum concept of separation between church and state are already in some degree a sort of Christendom.

These two concepts are not originated from other religions or civilizations but from a particular part of Western civilization which was influenced by Christian theology. Therefore the orientalists, like Talal Assad, are correct to say that secular state is a product of Christianity. Only some ignorant secularists do not know this and think that secular polity came from secular ideology.

Craig Carter, whose blog I discovered recently, talked about the idea of Christendom. He phrased it better than I can:

"As a Christian, I am a relentless pessimist with regard to the City of Man and an incurable optimist with regard to the City of God. I am implacably opposed to all political philosophies which are either too optimistic with regard to the City of Man (eg. Progressivism, Marxism) or too dismissive of the City of God (eg. Secularism). Thoughtful and pious Christians are the people who can be trusted to govern best in this world because they are well aware of the failings of human nature due to original sin, which minimizes their tendency toward embracing Utopianism, and because they have a sense of being accountable to God on the Day of Judgment, which gives them a healthy fear of killing the innocent no matter how good the cause. Of course, Christians often fail to live up to their best insights and when they do fail it negates their advantage. I’d rather be governed by a modest, moral, Aristotelian pagan than by a sophisticated, post-Christian, crypto-Marxist. In the long run it is better to be ruled by a person who knows right from wrong, even if he still does the wrong thing sometimes (think Churchill for example), than by a person who thinks right and wrong are concepts that belong in fairy tales for children (think Stalin, for example).

I believe that Western civilization has been influenced by Christianity to an extent not seen in any other civilization in the world. I believe that this influence is responsible for important, universal and permanently valid principles such as: limited government, the rule of law, individual freedom, the division of powers, free speech, freedom of religion, free enterprise, and natural law as the basis of positive law. These principles are steadily being eroded in Western Europe and the UK, but are still powerfully influential in America, which is where the West will eventually make its last stand if present trends continue."

What is clear in Carter's description of Christendom is not one that is identical with the one adopted by the Medieval church. The one described is a distinctive post-secular Christendom.

Andreas asked if South East Asian countries, where the societies are not really secular (I call it pseudo-secular), how then can such post-secular Christendom be relevant?

I shared that in ASEAN's context, the form of Christendom that is feasible must be one that is different in name but similar in content with post-secular Christendom. The central characteristic of such Christendom has to be self-critical and honest. The polity has to be unreservably and embarrassedly enter into public discourse by uncovering the theological basis of the secular state while at the same time adhere to a global ethic (ala Hans Kung).

Therefore the main difference between this form of Christendom and those ignorant secularists' conception of the secular state is this: The former able to provide a historical account and ontological assertion to ground the secular state, while the latter can do neither by adhering to secular ideology alone.

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