Monday, May 16, 2011

Theological reflections that promote solidarity and communion in pluralistic societies

In responding to the divisive efforts of Perkasa and Utusan Malaysia, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng quoted from German theologian Martin Niemöller's famous saying to rally citizens to work together, to look beyond racial and religious differences, to build a society marked by solidarity and communion:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out... because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out... because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out... because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me... and there was no one left to speak for me.

Over to the west, the British Prime Minister David Cameron attributed the positive role that Christianity plays in his society:

I think Churches, and religious organisations, have a huge amount to bring to the Big Society. I look around the room and I see Churches that are already running schools, I see Christians who want to start free schools, I see organisations deeply involved in civic society and providing great services. . . So I think the Big Society is something that people of all faiths, but particularly of the Christian faith, can get very involved in.

“Britain is a Christian country. Christianity has given a huge amount to our country, and continues to do so. As one of my colleagues, Said Warsi, put it . . . as a Government, we shouldn’t be fright­ened of, as she put it, doing God.

“I’ve never really understood this argument about ‘Should the Church get involved in politics? Yes or no?’ To me, Christianity, faith, religion, the Church, is involved in politics because so many political questions are moral questions. . .

“So I don’t think we should be frightened about having these debates, and these discussions, and frankly sometimes these arguments about politics in our country and what it means to be a Christian and what faith brings to our politics.

The 'Big Society' that Cameron referred to was an idea proposed by Phillip Blond, who previously was a lecturer in theology and philosophy at Universities of Exeter and Cumbria. You may look up for his brief explanation of the concept of Big Society here.

These two are instances where Christian theological reflection is working together with the rest in the public sphere for the betterment of the society. And of course, this is not confined only to Christianity. Other religions have similar capacity for just public development and should similarly strive to work for solidarity and communion.

Speaking from the Malaysia context, the divisive attitude of Perkasa and Utusan Malaysia stand condemned. They are embarrassment to their great religion, Islam, in the same way how Terry Jones is an embarrassment to Christianity.

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