Sunday, June 26, 2011

Potshot at Rowan Williams, Singaporean style

It is quite common to read about western mainstream media and local tawdry bloggers taking cheap shots at Rowan Williams. Today I come across someone highly educated doing that.

I just came back from an informal forum featured a speaker who has two doctorates in natural sciences. At one point the speaker, who throughout the session implied that he was a biblical Christian representing the Christian orthodox position, commented that the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is not a Christian. He alleged Williams to be ruining the Anglican Communion and distorting the scriptures on some issues.

After listening for a while, I raised objection. I told him that I have read Williams' biographies and his works, and I disagree with his assessment of Williams.

The speaker admitted that he has not read Williams' works. (Of course, there are people who still condemn Williams after they read his works. Yet to condemn someone without knowing what the person's stands are and how he got there is completely unacceptable.) That was before the speaker said that Williams joined pagan druidism prior to his election to the seat of Augustine of Canterbury.

Honestly, I was taken aback.

Williams was once a Presbyterian. He contemplated Roman Catholicism at certain period of his life before committed his life to the Church of England. He was never into pagan druidism.

However, the speaker assured us again and again that Williams did joined druidism. He asked us to check the news.

And check I did.

I found out that in July 2002, BBC reported that Williams was inducted as an "honorary druid" at the National Eisteddfod's Gorsedd of Bards.

However, there is nothing paganistic about the group and the event. National Eisteddfod is actually an organization to "honour the literary achievements of Welsh poets and prose writers" with an annual festival featuring the cultures of Wales.

Wales is a country in the United Kingdom (which comprised of four countries: England, Scotland, North Ireland, and Wales) with its own cultural expression, such as their own language (Welsh) and the Celtic heritage. Williams is a Welsh.

The difference between Welsh and English is something like the difference between Malay and 'orang asli' (aborigines) in Malaysia. Just as it is difficult for a non-Malaysian to distinguish Malay from aborigines (unless he/she study the subject), it is difficult for us to distinguish between Welsh and English (unless we study it).

Therefore to say that the fact of Williams' participation in the Gorsedd of Bards is an evident that he was and still is a pagan is akin to say that Malay Christians' participation in Malay culture such as wearing 'baju melayu', speak Malay, enjoy Dangdut, and celebrate Hari Raya are evidents that they were and still are pagans.

Given that Williams is an accomplished poet (who has published 4 collections of poems), it is only expected that he is honored by the National Eisteddfod, an organization that honors Welsh culture.

To say that Williams' acceptance of such honor as participating in a pagan religion is akin to saying a Malay Christian who accepts a recognition for his publication of poems as participating in a pagan religion.

The speaker's potshot on Williams tells me more about the speaker himself rather than about Williams. One doesn't need two doctorates to make sweeping statement. A mouth and an overblown ego would do.

Did I mention about my previous encounter with the speaker? He is that Dean of Biblical Studies.


Martin Yee said...

Bravo. Thanks for speaking up time and again in such fairness and clarity of mind. But I am afraid you are the minority. The are many Bible toting Protestants around waiting to unload their ammunition on anything they deem suspect. Shoot first then see how hominem, strawman, red herring..are all part and parcel of their beware yourself too... take care.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Martin,

Thank you for your concern and reminder.

I've been called a Barthian, a heretic, and most recently, "one of the most vocal liberals" in TTC.

I still puzzle how do I get these labels.

Martin Yee said...

LOL :) At first I thot you are a heretical liberal too, I almost reported you to the TTC faculty. I realised I was badly mistaken later. You have a strong sense of fairness and justice, theological and philosophical brilliance. It must be quite intimidating to have you as a student in class I guess.... So again take care. Press on, as Luther said, unless you are proven wrong by plain reason and Scriptures, it is not safe to go against your conscience which is held captive to God's Word.

Sze Zeng said...

Hahahahaha I'm really glad that you changed your mind! :)

In my case, I think the lecturers at TTC are far more brilliant. In fact, I am the one feeling intimidated in their classes.