Friday, September 23, 2011

Malaysia is a political theology: A deliberation on promise and doctrine

Malaysia is a political theology... Look at our National Pledge and Principles (taken from The Malaysia Government's Official Portal: Rukunegara, [accessed 22 September 2011]):

Our Nation, Malaysia is dedicated to: Achieving a greater unity for all her people; maintaining a democratic way of life; creating a just society in which the wealth of the nation shall be equitably distributed; ensuring a liberal approach to her rich and diverse cultural tradition, and building a progressive society which shall be oriented to modern science and technology.

We, the people of Malaysia, pledge our united efforts to attain these ends, guided by these principles:
  • Belief in God
  • Loyalty to King and Country
  • Upholding the Constitution
  • Sovereignty of the Law, and
  • Good Behaviour and Morality

Malaysia continue to exists through these pledges and principles which are fundamentally ideologies containing hopes and imagination.

As an entity that is spoken into being, Malaysia is a speech, a word, a logos. Its creatureliness lies in the verbalization of promises and doctrines.

As logos of promise and doctrine, all creativity, non-creativity, productivity and non-productivity within this nation are extensions of itself, realities created in its own images of pledge and principles. Malaysia is political theology is a claimant of this basic national experience.

If Malaysia is a speech, its society is the sensibility of that speech. What is understood from a speech is by the grasping of its sensibleness. The ability to make sense presumes congruence. And congruence is predisposed to negotiation. And negotiation subsists by contradiction. And at the core of contradiction is politics.

Therefore to do Malaysia is to make sense of the promises and doctrines of the nation. To deliberate the doing is to engage in the politics of pledge and principles. If the national pledge is principled on the belief in God, then doing Malaysia is doing theology. And doing theology is doing Malaysian politics.

If Malaysia is political theology that is spoken into being, is it not also the creature of promise and doctrine; is it not a creation of divine speech?

If the Malaysian society is the sensibility of its political theology, is it not also the possibility and confirmation of congruence, negotiation and contradiction of the logos; are not its creativity, non-creativity, productivity and non-productivity extensions of its pledge and principles? 

If the answer is 'yes' to these two questions, then the Malaysian social realities are politico-theological imaginary shaped by promises and doctrines. That makes the social activity or movement in the country the deliberation of orthodoxy; what promises and which doctrines?

The Christian's first contribution can then be the grasping of this basic national experience. That Malaysia is a political theology. The next question is of course, what then makes up the Malaysian promises and doctrines, and how can the Christian heritage deliberate along this process of making up?


Steven Sim said...

imho nationhood is still a very arrogant feature of the past, some kind of extension of feudalism which imposed or at least assumed people of such vast land must be identical; but on the other hand, which locked the people to a piece of land.

The feature of modern society is driven by clustering of important cities, perhaps these clusters will be expanded to be regions within the traditional state and allow to be self-defining (for example Kuching, Johor Baru, Penang,Kuala Lumpur, Kelantan [small state] within Malaysia) and more power/space for localized democracy. This means, lesser centralisation but more local autonomy. This would also mean risking the chance to create a so called national identity.

steven sim

Sze Zeng said...

You have a strong and sharp description on nationhood. Good one.

To you, the ideology of nation-state as a brute experience is always in the process of political negotiation (i.e. democratic process & procedures, etc). To me, the nation-state as a political theology is always a deliberation of orthodoxy.

The similarity between both is that the society's experience is always in construction. If this is followed, then the risk can be seen as the constant disruption. And precisely because the disruption is constant, there is constant opportunity for national identity to emancipate. The risk is the possibility of emancipation.

Steven Sim said...

i read your response to my comment as you proposing a form of hegelian dialectics but one with a theological meaning.

Rukunegara was a political concept, almost at the same time with the NEB - an agenda of the ruling party to consolidate their power and prolong their rule (as with other political concepts). To me a more deeply rooted national philosophy is found in the indonesian pancasila. It is more delibrate and much more thought out with a deeper sense of democracy. :)

Steven Sim

Sze Zeng said...

Dialectics, yes. But I don't know if it is Hegelian.

If what I wrote here is just a theological meaning of a political concept (Rukunegara), then this proposed political theology fails. It becomes nothing more than a theology that is predicated on a non-theology (i. e. national philosophy).

What I hope to do in the proposal is not to give a theological meaning to Rukunegara but to show that the entire political life of the nation and its society is a theological enterprise with Rukunegara is but one of the more obvious manifestations. :)

Steven Sim said...

Back to the rukunegara as foundation of nationhood, i think this is more of an awkward political political propaganda than a consensus of the people as it wished to be reflected as by the pledge form.

To the people nationhood is not so much define by an enforced pledge but rather from the daily struggle (negotiations) to find themselves within the community of people in this nation. This self discovery includes livelihoods (econ rights), political rights, legal rights, cultural rights etc.

Steven Sim

Steven Sim said...

The first petition of the rukunegara betrays the very political nature of the rulers. Why a belief in god to define citizenship and which god? :-)

Steven Sim

Sze Zeng said...

From a political theology point of view, both the "awkward political propaganda" as well as the people's "self discovery" are deliberation of orthodoxy. To the former, the ruling party had to decide which propaganda why why. To the latter, the people had to decide which political/legal/cultural rights. And the deciding is not an independent deliberation done in vacuum, but a nationalized exercise (which is only possible within the context of a constituted nation).

So belief or disbelief to define citizenship and which god are reflecting the political nature of the rulers. Yet at the same time, (1) are not the rulers also part of the people (assuming that we resist letting economics/class differences overriding legal identity), and (2) are not the principles (in Rukunegara) reflective of the hope and belief of the people in its most abstract form (though the language used in them may be limited and so should be treated as minimum abstraction, for eg. the word "Tuhan" to convey the "traditional religion" rather than monotheism)?

If 'yes' to these questions, then Rukunegara is not reducible to a top-down propaganda even though it may still functions to serve that nonetheless.

Steven Sim said...

now you got me curious, what's political theology?

To your two questions, i think you have anticipated the response. For 1) saying this is equivalent to saying, the rich man and the poor man are also "man". and 2) being a theologian, you ought to know the burden that comes with the word "god", which god and what god is the first question, but the second is "why god at all in a political document?" or why must being religious define our citizenship. Does that means that atheists cannot become a Msian citizen? Or you want to stretch it further to say atheism is a form of "ism" and therefore it is a form of "belief" and thus a "religion"? So you have anticipated it well that the answer can easily be "no" for both questions.

Steven Sim

Sze Zeng said...

1) The relationship between the ruler and the ruled within the existing political reality cannot be equivalent to saying that the similarity between the rich man and the poor man are their shared man-ness. The meaning of "the ruler" and "the ruled" as we employed here is situated in the present political matrix where the relationship between the two are mutually affecting effected by their legal identity.

If you want to use the comparison between a rich man and a poor man, then you would need to clarify what is the mutually affecting relationship between the two. You can say that the rich man is the employer of the poor man in a local company in present Malaysia (with all its legal conditions, employment laws, etc), and so their relationship is situated within a matrix that is mutually affecting. In this case, the decision made by the rich man is bound to the condition dictated by the matrix and so carries implications (for eg. the rich man's decision to terminate the poor man's employment has to be carried out according to the rules set within the matrix to which if the former failed to do so would incur certain consequences if it is discovered).

So the assumption lying behind my identification of the type of relationship between the rulers and the ruled is that the decision made by the former can only be made within the existing matrix. And since the existing matrix is one that is democratic to some degree, then the rulers' decision is not entirely independent without also being made in relation to the ruled as conditioned by the system.

2) “god” as referred to in “political theology” is can referred to as the God of the scriptures or divine beings or supernatural forces overseeing the human realm. “god” can also be secularly described as a narrative or tradition that conveys the hope and the fundamental values that undergird the social imaginary of the individual within the social setting. The “god” here can be the Derridian undeconstructable force that deconstructs everything else. In Barthian phrase, “god” is the contradiction that contradicts all contradictions.

In my perspective of political theology, whether the word “god” is found in a political document or not does not render that document non-theological since “god” is this undeconstructable force. Citizenship with its ‘terms and conditions,’ shaped by the matrix, is not independent---just like the rulers’ decision. Anyone can be a citizenship only within the rules set in the matrix. And the one that we have in Malaysia in the present has the capacity to allow atheists who fulfil the terms and conditions of the matrix to be citizens. Since the emphasis here is the fulfilling of the terms and conditions, hence a theist who does not fulfil the terms and conditions is deprived of citizenship.

Steven Sim said...

A quick comment, i must admut i havent read ur final comment to me, i m not questioning ur pol theo because i dont know whars that.

Or not questioning whether the rn is theological or otherwise. In fact of course its theological, the first petition is belief in god!

Thirdly my whole point was to say rn is a political term imposed on the ppl by the ruling party set within a specific context of their political expediency. Which you seemed to deny by your "no" answers to the two framework question you set. I said as a historic doc it is propaganda, but u think its not although noting you realuse it can potentially be.

Steven Sim

Steven Sim

Sze Zeng said...

The Rukunegara is a political term imposed on the people by the ruling party set within a specific context is one thing.

It is imposed by the ruling party set within a specific context which is absolutely independent from the ruled is another thing ('independent' in the sense that the rulers' conceptualization of the propadanda emerged without being in any way affected by the ruled).

I am pointing out that the latter is impossible. Therefore Rukunegara is not reducible to a top-down propaganda in the sense that it is independent from the ruled. On that, I also noted that it may still function to serve that nonetheless, in the sense that even though the propaganda's conceptualization is not independent from the ruled, it nevertheless is still a propaganda conceptualized by the rulers. So what I am pointing out is that the conceptualization is a theological enterprise for it is rooted in hope and belief within the specific context.