Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Alkitab Stamping & Serialization: Response 2.0

A lot of substantive words have been spent on articulating responses to the issue. As I see it, this is an ongoing process that needs continuous conversation not to propose a final solution but to sustain our awareness of this situation for various concerns.

Here, I'm attempting to look through the many writeup and comments contributed in order to help myself to grapple with this issue with its deserved seriousness and urgency.

First, the chronology and some personal comments.

8 March 2011, Tuesday :
It was reported that 5,000 copies of Alkitab, which were confiscated two years ago in March 2009 at Port Klang, were still not released by UMNO-BN's Home Ministry's Publications Control and Quranic Text Division even after being approved by the Cabinet. The Secretary-General of the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship, Sam Ang, asked Christians to pray for the release of the detained stocks and the religious freedom to practice the Christian faith peacefully in the country. The Bible Society of Malaysia remarked that even though they have a strong legal case to make, yet they are reluctant to take legal action since they are a Christian organization.

9 March 2011:
UMNO-BN's Home Ministry is reported to said that the 5,000 Alkitab were not "confiscated" and "detained", but were refused entry into the country. They have sent a letter of refusal dated 26 June 2010 to the Bible Society of Malaysia. Hence the Home Ministry said that the allegation that they have confiscated and detained the Alkitab were inaccurate and misleading. Four days later, on 13 March, copies of the approval letter for the release of the Alkitab are provided as evidence that these books were not refused entry.

10 March 2011 (a):
Simon Wong, the General Secretary of the Bible Society of Malaysia, said that he has papers to prove that the Home Ministry is wrong. His organization "has been formally applying for the bibles' release since learning of their seizure by ministry officials in March 2009." Therefore he was considering legal action.

10 March 2011 (b):
The Christian Federation of Malaysia revealed that besides the 5,000 Alkitab detained at Port Klang, there was a recent seizure of 30,000 Alkitab at Kuching Port. The organization also mentioned that all along there have been many confiscations of Christian materials belonging not only to Christian organization but also those belong to Christian individuals.

"It added that there were other shipments of Bibles and other Christian material before March 2009 that were confiscated by ministry officials that have yet to be returned to their owners. One such case involves Sarawakian Christian Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, whose personal collection of Christian CDs — bought on a trip to Indonesia — were seized by Malaysian Customs officials at the airport here in May 2008 allegedly for being a threat to national security. Jill filed to sue the Home Ministry at the High Court here but her case has also been languishing in the courts. Her lawyer, Annou Xavier, told reporters in Putrajaya that the case was fixed to be mentioned today, but no hearing date was given."

11 March 2011 (a):
Politicians as representatives of the citizens stepped in to comment on this issue. DAP Secretary-General Lim Guan Eng said that the Home Ministry's action of depriving the community of their scriptures is unconstitutional. MCA President Chua Soi Lek agreed and added his own ignorant suggestion.

11 March 2011 (b):
The Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement's Secretary-General Mohamad Raimi Ab Rahim expressed concern over the possibility that the distribution of Alkitab may threaten Muslims' popularity.

I wonder if non-Muslims in Malaysia should likewise feel threatened for their religious belief since after all we have been in a country where Islamic prayers are heard five times a day (either on the street or through TV/radio channels), surrounded by schoolmates, colleagues and good friends who are Muslims, and with Islamic literatures (including the Qur'an) widely available everywhere from public schools' libraries to retail bookshops.

12 March 2011 (a):
KITA President Zaib Ibrahim mentioned that the concern that Muslims' popularity can be affected by Alkitab is invalid since there are strict laws in place to prevent Muslims from apostasy. On top of that, if Bahasa Malaysia is the language of Malaysians, then the Malaysian Christians should be allowed to read the Bible in the Malay language.

12 March 2011 (b):
PKR's Elizabeth Wong condemned the UMNO-BN government for treating a religious book like illegal items as if it is "some seditious material or a contraband product considered immoral".

13 March 2011:
The Home Minister finally spoke up. He said that the detention of 35,000 Alkitab was due to the UMNO-BN government's pending appeal to make it illegal for Christians to use the word 'Allah' as a reference to God.

The next day, DAP's Tony Pua remarked that the Home Minister was lying as he had earlier on approved the release and so shouldn't be any detention by his Ministry. Simon Wong said the Home Ministry had issued a total of three letters, which are contradictory to one another, to the Bible Society of Malaysia.

14 March 2011 (a):
Palestinian Bishop Munib A. Younan, who is also the President of Lutheran World Federation, commented on the issue, "If we, the Arab Christians, are using it in the heart of the Muslim and Arab world, then why can’t the Malaysian Christians use it?"

14 March 2011 (b):
PAS's Deputy President Nasharudin Mat Isa did not see any reason to detain the Alkitab. He brushed off the fear that the Alkitab would encourage Muslims to convert to Christianity, and remarked that, "This is just a matter of a book and we should respect the Bible because in Islam, we consider the Christians to be the people of the book."

15 March 2011 (a):
Deputy Prime Minister said that there was no approval for the release of the 5,000 Alkitab detained at Port Klang. His remark goes contrary to the Home Minister's written notice to Parliament dated 7 June 2010 and a Home Ministry's letter dated 10 June 2010 which announce the release of those detained goods.

15 March 2011 (b):
George Sandosham declared that criticizing the government in the handling of this issue is a strong "temptation", implying that Christians should guide themselves from it. He urged Christians to forgive those who seize the Alkitab.

15 March 2011 (c):
"The government had decided on the release of the Alkitab in line with a 1982 gazette under the Internal Security Act which allows its limited and controlled importation and circulation on condition that the books are stamped: "For Christians Only"."

[Internal Security (Prohibition of Publications) (No.4) Order 1982 has a gazette dated 22 March 1982, which stated that the ban on the Alkitab was lifted. It also stated that "the printing, publication, sale, issue, circulation or possession of the publication which is described in the Schedule and which is prejudicial to the national interest and security of the Federation is prohibited subject to the condition that this prohibition shall not apply to the possession or use in Churches of such publication by persons professing the Christian religion, throughout Malaysia"." A memo dated 16 May 1986 that barred 'Allah' from Christians' use except "on condition that the words "For Christianity" was written on the front cover of the books."]

16 March 2011 (a):
UMNO-BN Minister Nazri Aziz said that the release of AlKitab in East Malaysia is fine but not at Port Klang because the Islamic laws at Selangor prohibit non-Muslims to use the word 'Allah'. Malaysian Ulama Association's President Datuk Sheikh Abdul Halim Abdul Kadir agreed, saying that, "we want to defend ‘Allah’ because we feel that it should be for Muslims. The reason being is that ‘Allah’ cannot be equated with any [other] version or concept of God."

16 March 2011 (b):
Hermen Shastri, the Secretary-General of the Council of Churches Malaysia, disagreed with the Home Ministry's conditions for the release of the detained books. "We do not accept any such conditions that belittle our religion. We are talking about the holy book here. The government has no right to impose its views of one religion on followers of another."

"Who gave the order? Why do we have to put ‘Dengan perintah Menteri Dalam Negeri’ on the cover of our holy book?"

Shastri remarked that the very act was a "desecration of the holy book" by invoking solidarity with the Muslims: "Imagine if such conditions were imposed on the Al-Quran. I wonder how Muslims worldwide would take it?"

16 March 2011 (c):
"The Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) was told today that its shipment of 5,100 Malay bibles seized at Port Klang had already been stamped with the home ministry’s official seal without its prior permission."

"Bible Society of Malaysia is alarmed by the defacement of the Christian bible by non-Christians chopping it with words that the Christians have not accepted or agreed to."

17 March 2011 (a):
Christian Federation of Malaysia produced a statement that states the Home Ministry's action as both 'defacement' and 'desecration'. The statement ends with a "call on all Malaysians, from Semenanjung and in Sabah and Sarawak, and from all walks of life, to come together in unity to reject any attempt to restrict the freedom of religion in our beloved country," and an invitation to "all Christians in Malaysia to remain calm and to continue to pray for a dignified and respectful resolution of this issue."

17 March 2011 (b):
Home Minister said that the stamping and serializing of AlKitab was not meant to deface the books but was a standard practice, and implied that the Christians are finding fault with the Ministry.

Four days later, Simon Wong replied that the stamping and serialization of AlKitab are not common practices, "There has been no occasion in the past when KDN chopped [sic] our Bibles... we do not know of any standard practice nor have we ever received communications, written or verbal, where KDN officials stamped our holy books in the past."

18 March 2011 (a):
Perak Mufti Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria said that the release of the AlKitab could lead to Malay anger and fearsome consequences.

18 March 2011 (b):
The Malaysian Civil Liberties Movement's President Haris Ibrahim said, "Any person who respects the Holy Scriptures of any religion would be appalled by this [stamping and serializing the AlKitab]."

18 March 2011 (c):
The 30,000 AlKitab detained at Kuching were stamped and serialized without the importer's consent.

21 March 2011 (a);
Ng Kam Weng posted his analysis of the situation and concluded that Home Ministry's act is a 'desecration'.

21 March 2011 (b):
Tony Siew posted his take and concluded that the stamping and serialization are not desecration.

23 March 2011:
The Selangor Mufti Datuk Tamyes Abd Wahid said that the release of the 5,100 AlKitab at Port Klang is not safe as these books are "dangerous and confusing, especially to the young [Muslims]." To the christians, the AlKitab teaches that "Allah has a son... that Allah has a wife... God is a father."

It surprised me that the Mufti who prizes clarity and learning could utter nonsenses such as the AlKitab, as understood by Christians, teaches that Allah has a wife!

24 March 2011:
It is reported that Anwar Ibrahim explained that "the recognition of Islam as Malaysia’s official religion should not be misinterpreted as being against the spirit of religious pluralism." He made references to "Islam and the divisions between Sunnis, Sh’ites and Sufis, Christianity and its denominations, as well as other faiths such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism," to talk about the significance of religious freedom in Malaysia, pointing to the need to stop discrimination of the religious minorities in the country.

25 March 2011:
The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism declared on its website that "Holy Scriptures Desecrated." Their statement stated that "the authorities seemed to want Malaysians to believe that the Alkitab conflict is solely a tussle between two creeds, Islam and Christianity; and affects only Muslims and Christians." They asked, "After the Christians have been ‘fixed’, who next?"

This is not an invalid concern given the nation's experience of marginalization not only of the Christians but the minority communities in general in the past decades. Therefore we have to avoid being myopic to see this issue as concern only the Christians.

26 March 2011:
A coalition of Malaysian Christians consist of seventy Christians from various churches planned to take action against the Home Minister and the UMNO-BN government.

27 March 2011:
A former Court of Appeal judge remarked that the Home Ministry's treatment of the AlKitab as "The desecration of the Bible is insensitivity of the highest order."

28 March 2011 (a):
Islamic Defenders Organisation representing nineteen Muslim NGO remarked that "pressure and provocation will cause national political leaders to feel weak and on the losing end and will give in to whatever is asked for by the extremist groups without taking into account the position of Islam in the constitution, history and culture; or provocation and continued breach against feelings and sensitivities of Muslims will cause tension and invite reaction from Muslim who are hard to control by anyone. [...] We want to ask: How far do they [Christians who are taking action against the government] want to provoke and manipulate this issue? Do they not realise that their actions are very hurtful to Muslims?"

28 March 2011 (b):
PAS MP Khalid Samad posted an article describing his puzzlement over the excuses offered by his fellow Muslims to forbid the release and distribution of the AlKitab. For one, he said that some of the Muslims' concern over the AlKitab's teaching that Jesus is the son of Allah is superficial because such notion is found within the Qur'an itself (Surah At-Taubah ayat 30, Surah Al-Maaidah ayat 72, and Surah Al-Maaidah ayat 73). He also mentioned that UMNO-BN has humiliated Muslims and Islam through their actions in this case.

30 March 2011:
Christian Federation of Malaysia produced second statement. Further emphasized that this concern is "not just for ourselves [Christians] but on behalf of all Malaysians."

The statement went on, "we remain united in our common stand to uphold the principle of freedom of religion which includes the free availability without hindrance or obstacle of the Alkitab and all sacred scriptures in Malaysia." (Emphasis added)

That is basically what happened in the past four weeks.

Previously I have attempted to understand the complex issue by reflecting over the thoughts of Alwyn, Tony, Soo Inn, and Kam Weng. Since then, I have read further conversations and engaged in some.

Now, I hope to understand all these more clearly with better engagement. This is Response 2.0.

The initial inevitable question that we need to answer is whether did the UMNO-BN's Home Ministry desecrate the AlKitab on the 15/16 March 2011?

Those who publicly said 'Yes' were Herman Shastri (Secretary-General of the Council of Churches Malaysia), Ng Kam Weng (Director at Kairos Research Center), N.H. Chan (Former Court of Appeal Judge), Coalition of Christian groups consists of 70 Christians from various denominations, Christian Federation of Malaysia, and the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism.

Many have said 'No' too. Notably, among those who have publicly expressed so were Alwyn, Tony and many others who involved in the many e-conversations.

Those who said 'Yes' thought that desecration has taken place for the simple reason that the act of stamping on the AlKitab with a legally confining message that is theologically disagreeable and serializing them were done without the permission of or consultation with the respective religious community. The most articulated statement produced thus far that argues for this case is that of Kam Weng.

Those who said 'No' dissented in various ways. I would like to highlight two that I think are important.

Alwyn has written two responses to Kam Weng. In his second (more nuance) response, Alwyn pointed out that Kam Weng made a logical leap to conclude that the AlKitab is desecrated because Christians think that their holy books are "indispensable in leading them into the presence of the Holy God."

In his own words:

"On one hand, Dr. Ng states that Christians differ with respect to the Bible. Yet he mentions this diversity only to dismiss it by asserting that all Christians "still consider the text to be indispensable in leading them into the presence of God". What Dr. Ng misses out is that a Christian's personal view of the Bible will affect his very understanding of whether or not desecration has occurred. In his own words, not every Christian reveres a printed book. Yet he doesn't follow through from that to conclude that therefore not every Christian would believe that desecration has happened if this printed book has been stamped on, even if it's "indispensable in leading them into the presence of the Holy God." (Emphasis original)

I think Alwyn raised a valid point on Kam Weng's argument. If there are some Christians who do not think that the AlKitab is 'holy' or 'sacred' (even though undeniably important), then the defacement cannot be perceived as desecration on behalf of the entire Christian community.

Alwyn highlighted this point not without his reason. He is worried that the using of emotionally charged languages such as 'desecration' might provoked unnecessarily furious reaction among the Christian community to go against the government: "If the printed book is not itself ‘holy’, if we have a richer theology of the Word of God (one that the world cannot 'deface' in any meaningful sense of the word) then there will be less temptation to get politically and personally hot under the collar over incidents like the Alkitab one." (Emphasis added)

He remarked that Christians are liberated to react peacefully, graciously and lovingly, like Christ, in this situation when they are not too carried away by such contemptuous language.

In a closed conversation on 27 March 2011, Alwyn mentioned that he saw Kam Weng's and others' reaction to the issue at hand was "un-Christ like" because they "REJECTS the Cross [the call to love one's enemies] as a viable and key element of the Church's involvement in socio-politics." (capitalization original)

If this is the case, the next question that we need to ask is whether the denial of AlKitab as 'holy' an officially approved acknowledgment within the Church that does not reverse an intrinsic theological concept of the religion itself that is widely shared in the Church's life?

To answer this question, we shall turn to Tony's response to the issue.

Tony, as a former long-serving pastor at Sidang Injil Borneo in the East Malaysia and presently a lecturer of New Testament, has wide influence in his view on this matter. In his replies to the comments on his post, he wrote:

""[The] stamping" of the Alkitab as it stands now does not amount to desecration. Desecration is a serious biblical and theological word. It was used by the Jews when Antiochus Epiphanes (175-164 BC) desecrated the temple of Jerusalem by offering a pig on its altar. Therefore, I respectfully disagree with any Christian leader who says that those words stamped on the cover of the Bible amounts to "desecration.""

Curiously, I sought for Tony's clarification on what exactly were his criteria to consider an act as desecration.

Tony replied that although there are passages like Matthew 24.15 that identify places as "holy", nonetheless, "As a whole, the NT concept of the sacred is no longer tied to a place or objects because worship is now in Spirit and in truth (John 4). Our temple now is the body of Jesus (John 2) and not physical buildings or churches made of bricks and stones."

After checking up the New Testament, I posted a follow-up comment to Tony, expressed the reservation that I have towards his reply.

I pointed out these few passages that show that idea of tying sacredness to location or object of worship was still prevalent among the early Christian communities:

The author of the Gospel according to Matthew still considered sacredness as attached to location ("holy place" in 24.15; "holy city" in 27.53). If these passages were written in the 60s or 70s A.D., that means the Christian community still considered sacredness as tied to location even 30 years after the resurrection and ascension of Christ occurred.

Paul, in Romans 1.2, considers the scripture as holy. Probably the scripture that Paul was referring to was the Old Testament, perhaps including some inter-testamental literatures. The dating of this letter is usually in the late 50s or first half of the 60s A. D.

In 1 Timothy 4.5, dated to about 60s A. D. or later, Paul considered that things can be made holy by the word of God and believer's prayer. This was the notion that material objects can be sanctified.

Peter on the other hand referred to a mountain as holy in 2 Pet 1.18.

These passages testify to the fact that the founding members of the Church harbored the perception that holiness or sacredness can be bound with places as well as to objects in the first three to four decades of the Church's life.

This suggests that only the Temple was not being seen as sacred, but that does not mean that the "concept of the sacred is no longer tied to a place or objects". I don't see how the New Testament as a whole brings out the notion that worship in Spirit and in truth is necessarily antithetical to the idea that sacredness is attached to location (except the Temple) and objects.

In Tony's reply to me, he recognized that "the Scriptures are holy that's why [he wrote that the] stamping of the Bibles is not acceptable."

Yet Tony was reluctant to see the defacement of an holy item as 'desecration' (to quote him: "we have to be vigilant so that no words or markings desecrate our Bibles"). If unacceptable defacement of an holy item is not 'desecration', I don't know what else is.

It seems to me that Tony's reluctance was propelled more by his many other concerns rather than the question of desecration itself. To quote him: "It worries me that when Christian leaders issue strong statement with the word "desecration" for it causes emotions to boil over (just read some of the comments in this post and other blogs) and some Christians, instead of loving their enemies and praying for the authorities (1 Tim 2:1-4), want to do all sorts of things or say all kinds of evil things against their perceived enemies."

Besides, we find that the tradition of affirming the AlKitab as sacred did not stop with the death of Christ's apostles, but is carried on by the subsequent generations of prominent ante-Nicene, Nicene, and post-Nicene authorities of the Church from the second to the fifth century A. D. Specifically, the scripture was explicitly stated as 'sacred' or 'holy' or 'divine' by:

Clement of Alexandria (Stromata, Book 7 Chapter 16).

Tertulian (On The Flesh of Christ, Chapter 20).

Hippolytus (Against Noetus, Chapter 9).

Athanasius (De Synodis, Part 1.6; Against the Heathen, Part 1.1, 3; Letters to the Bishops of Egypt, Chapter 1.4).

Hilary of Poitiers (On the Trinity, Book 3.2).

Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lecture 4.17; Catechetical Lecture 5.12-13).

Gregory of Nyssa (On the Soul and the Resurrection).

Augustine of Hippo (On the Good of Widowhood, 2; On the Nicene Creed: a Sermon to the Catechumens, 1).

On top of these, many doctrinal statements such as the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Faith, the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dordt, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Book of Concord, the Theological Declaration of Barmen, the documents produced at the Fourth Session of the Council of Trent, and the Dei Verbum of the Second Vatican Council all acknowledge that the Bible is either holy, sacred, or divine.

Overall, we see that the community of Christ's first disciples, the Apostolic and Church Fathers, and Churches' statements affirm that the scripture is holy. All these testimonies suggest that the denial of AlKitab's sacredness belongs only to a marginal segment of the universal Church that contrasts the accepted ethos of the ecclesial community.

This also shows that the recognition that the person, Christ, testified within the AlKitab as sacred does not prevent the scripture being held sacred by the Church throughout the ages. The Church through its appointed leaders and official doctrinal statements have been affirming the sacredness of Christ and the sacredness of scripture side-by-side all along without seeing any tension in between.

It seems that the tradition of affirming the AlKitab as holy is deeply embedded in the way the Church sees the scripture. However, this does not guarantee individual Christians to treat the Bible with utmost reverence by reading and studying it diligently, or prevent them from not doing so.

The AlKitab is primarily a book identified with the Church rather than the individual, and serves as an essential symbol of the religion. Hence the holiness of the Bible is not dependent on the conscience of the Christian individual but on collective identification that goes beyond the individual.

Just as the affirmation of the sacredness of Christ does not deprive the sacredness of the AlKitab, the individual Christians' denial of the sacredness of the scripture similarly does not diminish the book's identification as primarily with the Church and service as an essential symbol of Christianity.

If this is true, then any official or legal act done onto the holy AlKitab without the consultation and permission of the Church, the representative of the religion, is not merely defacement but desecration.

On the other hand, we have to bear in mind that the Christian individual's reaction towards the defacement of the AlKitab, whatever that may be, cannot and should not dictate our question on the holiness of the book.

This only led us to ask whether does the acknowledgment of desecration of AlKitab warrant
an unloving, ungracious, unmerciful, and, ultimately, un-Christ like response?

The Christian Federation of Malaysia's statement that declared the Home Ministry's act as 'desecration' strongly "call on all Malaysians, from Semenanjung and in Sabah and Sarawak, and from all walks of life, to come together in unity to reject any attempt to restrict the freedom of religion in our beloved country," and an invitation to "all Christians in Malaysia to remain calm and to continue to pray for a dignified and respectful resolution of this issue." (Emphasis added)

Clearly the recognition of desecration in the statement does not warrant violent, un-contemplated, and un-prayerful reaction. The Christian Federation of Malaysia is clear on this. Any sort of undignified and disrespectful reaction is not encouraged at all. This perhaps implied that the legal and political means are none other than the last resort.

The other thing to note here is the holistic perspective on this issue not as concerning only the Church and Christians, but on religious freedom in the country. Sivin Kit highlighted this point well when he wrote, "[AlKitab] always been more than a 'document' and [...] the symbolic interpretation of the Malay Bible [...] also seems to have the added dimension of being understood as a sign of the plight of religious minorities, indirectly exposing abusive power, serving now even as a way to include people of other faiths and their experiences too."

How then shall Christians react?

Alwyn, Tony, and Cardinal Charles Ng had called for peaceful reaction principled upon Christ's command to forgive and love one's enemies, shaped by the self-denying sacrificial act of carrying one's own cross.

The latter wrote:

"Some of us have disagree whether we should be culturally conditioned to respond that our Holy Scriptures are desecrated or should we response with a counter Christian culture as epitomized in the Sermon of the Mount? But let us not forget that if the AlKitab have the word "Tuhan" instead of "Allah", the bibles would not have been impounded. Instead of making provocative statements, what if Christians just simply disobey peacefully and graciously? What will happen if CFM just take possession of the bibles and put stickers over the stamp that says "For Everyone" or just erase the stamping? What if we reframe the issue as how to get the bibles without further delay to those who need them rather than making our provocative stand to the Powers that Be?"

In Cardinal's comment, he wrote that to respond to the stamping and serialization of AlKitab as desecration is antithetical to the teachings of the Sermon of the Mount.

I hope that by now I have managed to establish the fact that the affirmation of the Home Ministry's act as desecration need not dictate one's reaction. In the same way, one can store the Bible at home to collect dust even if one sees the scripture as holy. The causal link between one's perceiving desecration of the AlKitab and one's reaction is varied and not uniform. Desecration does not mandate any sort of action. On one end, one can react by doing nothing even if one considers it 'desecration'. On the other end, one can raise an army to fight one's cause. And in between, there are various reactions across the spectrum.

On top of that, Cardinal's notion that the recognition of the Home Ministry's act as desecration as antithetical to the Sermon of the Mount is problematic because in order to forgive and to love one's enemies, there must be a perceivable enemy in the first place. Without an enemy, how then can one practices forgiveness and love for enemy?

Hence, in order to live out the Sermon on the Mount, a real and serious wrong must exist. In our case, desecration is that real and serious wrong. Thus, I don't see how can one's recognition of desecration is antithetical to Christ's teaching on forgiveness and love, as Cardinal wrote.

Another weakness in Cardinal's view is that he seems to see this issue only as one that concerns the Church and Christians. He misses the wider implication and deeper problem to which this issue is but merely a recent manifestation. The deeper problem is of course the impingement of minority's rights in Malaysia.

CFM, MCCBCHST, Sivin and others, including Alwyn, are aware of this other dimension of the issue. Hence Christians cannot articulate their response with the myopic view by seeing this issue as only concerning their own religious community and neglect the other minorities. This is the point that Soo Inn stresses so much, "Has the church been stirred to merely speak up for her own concerns or are we committed to being agents of the Kingdom of God, speaking up on behalf of all deprived of their basic rights?"

Christians have to consider the practice of the Sermon on the Mount not by neglecting the minorities but with strong solidarity with them. For instance, the using of 'Allah' is not only an issue concerning the Christians, but also other communities like the Sikhs.

Cardinal's remark "if the AlKitab have the word "Tuhan" instead of "Allah", the bibles would not have been impounded" shows that he fails to take into consideration the wider aspects involved in the issue. He thinks that Christians should follow the teaching and example of Christ without considering the plight of other minorities. In my view, this defeats the very purpose of following Christ.

Next, I see Alwyn, Tony, and Cardinal's proposal impinges upon the fact that the language of desecration would provoke unloving, ungracious, unmerciful, and, ultimately, un-Christ like response.

I have a vague impression that they see the attempt by Christians to secure religious freedom through legal and political means as unloving, ungracious, unmerciful, and ultimately, un-Christ like.

It remained unclear if they accept that the employment of legal and political means to uphold minority's rights. What is more overt is their reluctance to resort to these means.

Nonetheless, they did not mean that Christians shall not fight for minority's rights. Their main point is that we should do this without using strong languages (like 'desecration') that might provoke furious and perhaps violent reaction.

Alwyn emphasized, "I'm saying that at present anger is the determinant factor which rules over and thus virtually cancels out forgiveness, gentleness, kindness, etc."

He added, "I never said there is 'no place' for anger and judgment. But is it possible for strongholds to be torn down via agape love [as contrast to critical approach to powers]? Or are harsh/strong words the only or primary way?"

These reminders to caution against frantic and violent reaction can well be appreciated for all Christians. The epitome of this caution is seen in their reluctance to pursue legal and political actions.

Yet, it is not clear at all what languages are considered as "harsh/strong words" for Alwyn. If one insists in interpreting 'desecration' language--which simply means the defacement of an holy item--as "harsh/strong" to the extent of being unable to see this as an accurate description of the issue, then there is nothing more can be said.

How then can we show our love for our enemies?

That depends on how we understand 'love'. Do we understand and practice 'love' at the expand of 'justice'?

If yes, wouldn't that turn 'love' into a demon? Imagine a Christian judge that practices love without regard to 'justice', or a parent who unfairly loves her only son more than her daughters simply because she loves boys.

If not, then how?

I think there is no definite answer to these questions. Besides, the teachings and example of Jesus have yet to be clarified to the extent of providing a definite imperative that is universally applicable.

Nevertheless, one thing that we can be certain (given our condition) is that the employment of legal and political means cannot be easily ruled out as 'un-Christ like'.

I shall end this long post with a quote on Christ-like love. Perhaps this illustration provides the extra sharpening desperately needed in this Response 2.0:

"It was a work of charity for the Good Samaritan to give help to the man who fell among thieves. But one step more, it may have been a work of charity for the inn-keeper to hold himself ready to receive beaten and wounded men, and for him to have conducted his business so that he was solvent enough to extend credit to the Good Samaritan. By another step it would have been a work of charity, and not of justice alone, to maintain and serve in a police patrol on the Jericho road to prevent such things from happening. By yet another step, it might well be a work of charity to resist, by force of arms, any external aggression against the social order that maintains the police patrol along the road to Jericho. This means that, where the enforcement of an ordered community is not effectively present, it may be a work of justice and a work of social charity to resort to other available and effective means of resisting injustice: what do you think Jesus would have made the Samaritan do if he had come upon the scene while the robbers were still at their fell work?"
(Paul Ramsey, with New Preface by Stanley Hauerwas, The Just War: Force and Political Responsibility [USA: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002], p.142-143)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Paul Ramsey on the work of 'charity'

"It was a work of charity for the Good Samaritan to give help to the man who fell among thieves. But one step more, it may have been a work of charity for the inn-keeper to hold himself ready to receive beaten and wounded men, and for him to have conducted his business so that he was solvent enough to extend credit to the Good Samaritan. By another step it would have been a work of charity, and not of justice alone, to maintain and serve in a police patrol on the Jericho road to prevent such things from happening. By yet another step, it might well be a work of charity to resist, by force of arms, any external aggression against the social order that maintains the police patrol along the road to Jericho. This means that, where the enforcement of an ordered community is not effectively present, it may be a work of justice and a work of social charity to resort to other available and effective means of resisting injustice: what do you think Jesus would have made the Samaritan do if he had come upon the scene while the robbers were still at their fell work?"
(Paul Ramsey, with New Preface by Stanley Hauerwas, The Just War: Force and Political Responsibility [USA: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002], p.142-143)

John Milbank on Christian apologetics

John Milbank's fresh look at the old subject 'Christian apologetics'.

He points out the 3 famous apologies in western history: First, Socrates' apology before the court; second, Christ's apology before Pilate; third, apostle Paul's apology before Festus and Agrippa.

From these 3, Milbank draws out that the theological significance and dimension in apologetic is deeply connected with the political. "In all three cases, then, "apology" turns out to be theologico-political in some fundamental sense."

"Apology as narrative, argument, confession and imaginative witness by the human person in the name of divine personality against the impersonality of the city - that is the very heart of Christian theology. This is why it began with Paul, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus as "apologetics" - not just against pagan accusations and misconceptions, but also in continued expansion of Paul's defence of the God-Man, the infinite personality made flesh, before a human jurisdiction."

To him, apologetic is initially a "world-refusal" that "turns out to be a compassionate world-understanding that is yet more ultimately a world-transfiguring."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A faceless economic system

"With regard to the wider economy, debt finance is simple, cheap, and seemingly ‘efficient’ because it reduces the information that needs to flow between supplier and user of finance. The problem is that, as we have learned again to our cost since 2007, the debt-based system and its banks only survive by holding the economy hostage and so pass the costs of their failures onto ill-informed or powerless third parties.

By severing the relationship between lender and borrower, the debt-based system economises on costs in the short-term only to impose them on innocent third parties in the long run."
(Paul Mills, 'The great financial crisis: A biblical diagnosis', Cambridge Papers, vol. 20, no. 1, March 2011. Emphasis added.)

This senior economist at IMF's Monetary and Capital Markets Department has pointed out a serious problem in the current financial world. The condition of the market has created a gap between the agents involved, distancing each other from being immediately aware of their reciprocity. Therefore Christians, as well as most investors, do not immediately see financial investment related to ethics. This is what I have observed in a previous post, to which some who claimed themselves proficient in economics still too blinded to see.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Surprising absence in local churches....

"The relative absence of economic questions from the popular conception of what the churches care about is surprising. [...] I also wonder if the relative lack of interest in the ethics of the economy is partly about a sense of being implicated too deeply to risk raising difficult questions."
(Malcolm Brown, Tensions in Christian Ethics: An Introduction [UK: SPCK, 2010], p.147)

This is the same observation I had. I'm not that alone after all.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Stamping of Malay Bible (AlKitab): How to approach the issue?

Some decry that the Bible is desecrated. Some obviously don't think so. While others, like me, have just started to think about the issue. No matter what one's perspective is, there are wider implications that follow.

There are already some good responses posted in the blogosphere by thoughtful Christians. I will just refer to four of them:

Wyngman (Alwyn):
"...the Home Ministry's stamp has nothing to do with desecration because the term hardly applies to the Christian Bible. It's never the document itself which was "sacred" but the Person, Love, Truth and Community spoken of within the pages of the book which is "of God" - HOW CAN BORING INK-STAMPS DESECRATE THAT??!!"

Revelation is Real (Tony):
"Personally, any stamp on the cover of the Bibles is not acceptable because the Bible is the Word of God and the Word of God is for all peoples of all nations. But living in a multi-religious country like Malaysia with Islam as the official religion (agama rasmi), it is something tolerable. [...] No, it is not desecration. No, it is not sacrilege."

Soo Inn:
"...the matter is first and foremost a matter of law. Freedom of religion is enshrined in the Malaysian Constitution. Article 11 provides that every person has the right to profess and to practice his or her religion and (subject to applicable laws restricting the propagation of other religions to Muslims) to propagate it."

Religious Liberty Watch (Kam Weng):
"It is already an act of defacement when the government utterly disregarded the fact that Christians regard the Alkitab as Holy Scripture. It is a hostile and contemptuous action that ignores the protest from Christians. In the light of these factors, any self-respecting Christian who loves God and His Holy Scripture can only judge the government’s action as one of DESECRATION of God’s Word. "

These are just highlights. Each has its good points.

Alwyn thinks that it is not a desecration at all because Christian theology does not say that the sacredness of the Bible lies in its printed material. So stamping on the materials is absolutely okay.

Alwyn's theology on the scripture is correct, in my point of view. However, I see a lack in his response because I find that he has let his theology of scripture to be the only consideration, if not the primary framework that all other theological considerations subsumed under. I think the elevation of one doctrine above other considerations such as the value in protecting the legitimate and general minority's rights--that could be exemplified through the response of the people of God in this case--within a discriminating social setting can be reviewed.

Tony does not see the stamping on the Bible as acceptable but tolerable due to the multi-religious context in Malaysia. Nevertheless it is not a desecration to stamp on it.

It seems to me that Tony shares the same theology of scripture like Alwyn and myself. Hence he does not find the government's stamping on the Bible as desecration even though the stamp that reads "For Christians Only" poses a political sanction against Tony's theology that "the Word of God is for all peoples of all nations." I believe that Tony's theological conviction that the Word is for everyone is something he found from within the message of the Bible. And if anyone goes against this conviction is going against what is in the Bible. In this case, wouldn't the Home Ministry's forcing a stamp that carries a message that goes against the message of the Bible onto the Bible is a sort of disrespect of the Bible? Obviously disrespect is not desecration, yet desecration, in Christianity, is disrespect towards an accepted theological conviction to say the least. If this is correct, then isn't the stamping of such message onto the Bible is disrespecting an accepted theology, and thus a desecration?

Soo Inn is arguing here that the stamping is primarily a legal violation and so Christians should take issue with it. He doesn't talk about desecration at all, so we cannot be too presumptuous in this regard.

I can see the benefit of Soo Inn's public theology to focus the matter as a legal violation. This helps to provide a common reason that non-Christians able to sympathize with. However, to argue that Christians should not agree with the government's stamping of the Bibles because this is primarily a legal violation is self-defeating because legality is always the means of the civil government and never that of the Church in Malaysia. That means what is officially legal is constitutionally installed, changed, and nullified by the government. In other words, an action is only officially legal or illegal when the government says so. Add to that, there can be paradoxes in the domain of legality (for eg. parallel courts system in cases of Muslim apostasy), hence one can hardly demand the government to be coherent on legal matters in the Malaysian context. Therefore the stamping of the Bibles is not a legal violation since it is the government's official declaration that such action be executed (in the same way that capital punishment is officially legal). To argue that this as a legal violation, whether be it primarily or not, is hence wanting to keep the cake and eat it at the same time. And this can even backfire the Christian community in cases involving activities that are not constitutionally legal yet theologically binding to do. The appeal for justice rather than the constitution could perhaps prove to be more helpful by evading the listed problems.

I think the more coherent and comprehensive argument would be that of Kam Weng. He allows for diversity on the theology of scripture by employing the minimal criterion to establish his case, that is the demand for respect for religious items regardless of legality. Thus to him, the stamping on the Bibles with a declaration that contradicts the content of the Bible is a desecration of both the scripture as well as the religious sentiment of the Christians for the two cannot be separated.

To follow Kam Weng's approach would mean that Christians have much more issues to deal with. The AlKitab issue is merely the tip of the iceberg of religious desecration which is rooted deep within the Malaysian society and the country's constitution. If the language of desecration is considered valid as a public reason, then the implication is that many things can be argued by appealing to religious sentiment. This would in turn invite the demand for recognition of all sorts of unexpected activities in the name of religion. Although this is not necessarily a bad thing yet we are not sure if Malaysia is ready for such liberation.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Financial Investment and Christianity: What local churches have yet to connect?

(Photo from

On Monday, it was reported that 'Japan's Nikkei plunges 6.18% in earthquake aftermath'. I posted this news to two closed e-groups to generate discussions.

Imagine your investment portfolio covers Japan (if you don't already have), will you as a Christian, pull out your share from the Japanese market at this moment?

If you don't, you suffer loss. If most of your portfolio is in the Japanese market, and if the market got way off worse, your investment might get wiped out.

If you do, Japanese financial market will suffer on top of the natural disaster they are facing.

The third way is of course to speculate on the market to profit from the disaster which cause further economic pressures in Japan (which speculators are constantly doing around the world through techniques like 'carry trade'). The Japanese government has since pumped trillions of Yen into the country as a measure to prevent speculation that would strengthen the Yen. Having strong Singapore Dollars might be good news to Singaporeans because imported goods become cheaper. While, for Japan to have strong Yen is a bad news because its economy depends largely on export. Strong Yen means Japanese goods become expensive, and this would cut global demands. Even though trillions of Yen is pumped into the market, the Yen kept surging, hitting 'post-World War II high'. For that, the Japanese officials has started to blame speculators yesterday.

This Japan case is of course just a scenario to highlight the issue of Christians' attitude towards financial investment. We have heard a lot of being good stewards and the importance of socio-corporate justice. So, does such a scenario post a dilemma at all? How do you, as a Christians with an investment in Japan, love your Japanese neighbor?

I received different responses on those two e-groups. Some fiery, others were despaired. Yet all of them share one same conviction: The financial market is a network that is so huge that no one can control it (despite the fact that the G7 is now attempting to control the Yen) and relates to it like how one relates to a personal neighbor. Therefore individual Christians who have investment in the financial market should be left with practical wisdom, focusing on gaining profit. In fact, profit is the motivation to enter into the market in the first place.

In other words, these responses are simply saying that individual Christians' management of financial investment has nothing to do with ethics or the Christians' calling to love one's neighbor by the virtue that the financial market is so big and messy.

Nonetheless many of these responders are the same people who constantly wanting to seek changes in local and international politics, which are huge networks of messes too. It seems that there is a detachment in their Christian ethics from the economics. Take for example present Christians' veneration of William Wilberforce. The respect given to Wilberforce by present believers often detaches his lifelong work in abolishing the slave trade from the deep economic implication of which slavery was but a huge messy network back then. As the saying goes, "Great Britain's empire was built on the back of slaves."

This observation prompted me to wonder about two questions:

(1) Have the local Christians so wanting to protect their own financial interest that they failed, if not unwilling, to see the connection between Christian ethics and the global messy financial market?

(2) Have local churches so wanting not to upset the congregation that the church leaders do not even bother to try to see the connection between Christian ethics and the global messy financial market, not to mention to preach about this from the pulpit?

I have no answers to these questions and do not intend these questions to be implicit critic of Christians and churches. I'm just highlighting what I have observed and some of the questions that came to me, hoping that they are in any way probing to us.

(If you are wondering why this blog's activity has been slow in the past two weeks, that's because I have started an e-platform for sharing of information, mutual inspiring, and to provide a safe place for discussion. If you are interested to join, let me know. I am more active there.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Possibly the 'Quote of the Year' for Malaysian Christians

Referring to Malaysian Christians' using of the word 'Allah':

If we, the Arab Christians, are using it in the heart of the Muslim and Arab world, then why can’t the Malaysian Christians use it?
(Bishop Munib A. Younan, President of Lutheran World Federation, a Palestinian Christian. He was in Malaysia to discuss about religious discrimination issues in the country.)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Can someone who does not agree with Intelligent Design also disagree with Darwin's theory of evolution at the same time?

David Deming is one scientist who criticizes Intelligent Design movement but signed the 'Dissent from Darwinism' statement by the Discovery Institute, the most vocal advocate of Intelligent Design movement.

Nonetheless, Deming is an evolutionist. What he disagreed with Darwin is his notion of common ancestry. Recently he just published a two-volume 'Science and Technology in World History'.

In recounting his position, Deming wrote (H/T: Uncommon Descent):

"In 2008, I published a critique of intelligent design theory in the peer-reviewed journal Earth Science Reviews. I concluded that intelligent design cannot be construed as a scientific theory, and that the apparent goal of the intelligent design movement was to restore Christian theology as the queen of the sciences.

But I also argued that to the extent creationists were highlighting areas in which scientific theory was inadequate they were doing better science than biologists. We ought to stop pretending that science has all the answers. Science is an empirical system of knowledge, and we never have all the data. It is the fate of every scientific theory to be superseded.

And that’s why I signed the Discovery Institute’s Dissent from Darwinism. Not because I’m a creationist, but because I’m a scientist. Religion is conservative and dogmatic. But science is progressive and skeptical. We can’t save science by turning it into religion." [Bold added]

There are those who reject macro-evolution but affirm micro-evolution. This group usually reject 'common ancestry' theory as well. Then there are those who affirm macro and micro-evolution but reject 'common ancestry' theory.

Deming belongs to the latter group. What I appreciate is Deming's acknowledgment of the merits of proponent of Intelligent Design. He is not afraid of giving credit to where it is due.

Another remarkable thing that Deming said is his impression that some scientists are turning science into religion. This tendency is real but who can blame these scientists? 'Religion' as a social phenomenon is the easier way to draw financial grants. That's the point of making science into religion.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

What is 'the' Reformed Theology?

“…it is very difficult to speak of the Reformed theology at all. Rather, Reformed theology appears to be not one, but rather a plurality of different theological positions. It is much easier to define what is meant by “Roman Catholic” or “Lutheran” than what is meant by “Reformed.” The Reformed tradition has no institution defined by infallibility and issuing dogmas binding the teaching of the church. Yet such a characteristic defines other Protestant churches along with the Reformed. […] The Lutheran Reformation began in Germany, and Lutheran theology was mainly shaped by German theologians during the confessional era. By contrast, Reformed theology, even in its beginnings, was not limited to the background of German culture. It was international, formed not only by Germans (in Germany, the Reformed churches played only a minor role), but also by Swiss, French, Dutch, English, and Scottish theologians. […] Finally, a third reason makes it difficult to speak of the Reformed theology—that is its history. When one compares the theology of Beza with the theology of a nineteenth-century theologian like Schleiermacher or Biedermann, one finds little in common between them. And despite Barth’s break with liberal theology […] and his return to Reformation theology and Reformed orthodoxy, Barth’s own theology is by no means a pure restoration of the latter. Only by taking into account the whole history of Reformed theology from Zwingli onwards does one get to know its full character. But in this case, the Reformed theology dissolves into a plurality of highly different theological positions all belonging to the same family.”
(Jan Rohls, “Reformed Theology—Past and Future,” in Reformed Theology: Identity and Ecumenicity, ed. Wallace M. Alston Jr. and Michael Welker [USA: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003], 34)