Tuesday, July 19, 2016

MCA's Tan Chuan Hong’s Unfounded Accusation Against Penang State Government

(Photo taken from Tan Chuan Hong's Facebook)
Penang Malaysian Chinese Association's (MCA) secretary Tan Chuan Hong has recently alleged that Penang Institute received scolding from the chief Minister Lim Guan Eng due to their honest presentation of Penang’s declining economy.

According to Tan, Penang Institute’s latest report shows that “during DAP’s rule of Penang, the state’s GDP growth from 2009 to 2015 was lower (than the percentage) nationally.” 

On his Facebook, Tan wrote, “[A]fter DAP leading Penang government, Penang's GDP growth of year 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 were lower national.”  He specifically highlighted the year 2009 when Penang’s GDP decreased by 10.5% as compared to the national rate of 1.5%. Tan concluded that this data is the reason for the chief minister’s warning to Penang Institute.

These allegations are not only unfounded but on their own expose much misinformation and the unfortunate ignorance on Tan’s part.

Tan’s Outdated Data
The so-called “latest report” that Tan showed to the media and posted on his Facebook is actually dated. It was taken from Penang Institute’s magazine Penang Monthly, issue January 2015, page 61. In that issue, Penang’s GDP increase of 5.7% compared to the country’s 5.8% in 2014 was calculated projection.

After federal government has announced the 11th Malaysia Plan, Penang Monthly has published the official figure in the July 2015 issue, page 37. The official figure stated that Penang had 7.4% increase in GDP compared to the country’s 6% in 2014.

Penang’s GDP vis-à-vis Malaysia 2008-2015, from Penang Monthly, July 2015 issue:


As shown, Penang’s GDP is higher than the country’s in 2008, 2010, 2014, and expected to perform similarly in 2015. The economy fluctuated in the past 8 years, not consecutively declined as alleged by Tan.

Instead of the most updated data, the Penang MCA secretary has exploited outdated figures as misrepresentation to make false allegation against the chief minister.

Penang’s economy in 2009
Tan questioned DAP’s ability to govern in view of the state’s -10.5% GDP decrease in 2009, attributing the fall to the party: “It even fell more than 10.5% in 2009, compared to the national drop of 1.5% in the same year. This has caused people to worry about the ability of Penang’s state government to govern.”

This exposes Tan’s ignorance over two very important factors that caused Penang’s GDP steep decline in 2009.

The first factor was the global financial meltdown in 2008 that caused economic recession in the country. This has significantly affected the manufacturing sector in Penang, which was 47.7% of the state’s overall economy.

As acknowledged in the Department of Statistics’ reportGross Domestic Product (GDP) by State 2009’, Penang’s GDP contraction in that year was “resulted from a sharp decline in the Manufacturing sector” due to the “global financial crisis.” 

The second factor was the failure of the previous state government under Barisan Nasional to diversify and upgrade Penang’s economy. This has thrown the state into the “middle-income trap”.

This is noted in the research jointly-published in 2010 by Khazanah Nasional and the World Bank. The recession in 2008-2009 has shown that Penang is, “A victim of its own success, its competitiveness in traditional areas is falling as wages rise. At the same time, it has not developed an environment where innovation can flourish to yield higher profits and wages.” 
(Homi Kharas, Albert Zeufack and Hamdan Majeed, Cities, People and the Economy: A Study on Positioning Penang (Malaysia: Khazanah Nasional Berhad, 2010), 10. Emphasis added.)

These two factors are evidence that the GDP plunge in 2009 was not due to the DAP and the present chief minister.

Tan’s false accusation exposes his own ignorance of the complexity surrounding the economic state of Penang at that time.

It is deeply deplorable that the MCA secretary has produced such nonsensical accusation by misrepresenting data and making severely ignorant allegation against the state government.

(An extract of this statement appears in Free Malaysia Today: http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2016/07/18/seagates-closure-zairil-says-penang-will-bounce-back/)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Still a long way ahead for the country

Took this picture when I was on my way in between polling stations to check on reported electoral irregularity.

It was my first time managing not 1 but 2 constituencies (Serian and Kedup). Both places have limited data coverage, which is a huge challenge as we can't maintain constant communication and can't use Google map/Waze at a foreign terrain.

This is especially so when there were 3 to 6 rallies happening simultaneously at various unfamiliar locations which are far from each other.

The mobilization of manpower (with my support team, esteemed speakers, volunteers, and local coordinators) and logistics (with limited cars and equipments), and the coordination work between party's headquarters in Kuala Lumpur and Kuching and the two local constituencies were straining.

The publicity efforts involving giant billboards, banners, responsive flyers, and paraphernalia under extremely tight schedule and budget were demanding.

There was also the need to give political speech in a language not natural to my tongue.

Daily work hours averaged at 16 to 19. No day off. It was an eventful 3-weeks.

After all that have been done, we lost. Mostly to money politics, and secondarily to other sociopolitical factors.

I seldom think that I've done my best, but I believe I had for this one.

As the picture shows, it's a long road ahead. For the country.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Zakir Naik an expert on comparative religions?

The controversy over Zakir Naik, who is highly esteemed by many, led me to watch his video. To my disappointment, in one video, Naik who talked about "Trinity" without showing any basic knowledge about it. 

He uttered very uninformed statement like: the doctrine of Trinity is false because the word "Trinity" is not in the Bible. (Not to mention the very clumsy handling of topics such as the canonization of the Bible and issues such as textual criticism.)

That is not how the concept of "Trinity" came about. But we can't blame him because many Christians are also not sure about this.

Nonetheless, we expect Naik to at least demonstrate some knowledge based on doctrinal research about the core belief of Christianity, as he is noted to be an expert in comparative religions and the President of Islamic "Research" Foundation.

Although many may find it daunting to learn about Trinity, there are accessible resources available for the task.

Stephen Holmes's The Quest for the Trinity: The Doctrine of God in Scripture, History, and Modernity published in 2012 by IVP Academic is one such resource. Holmes is a theologian at University of St. Andrews, Scotland.

The book gives wide overview of the important debate within Christianity about the doctrine. It tells us how the doctrine arises largely as a response to the "exegetical pressure" of various verses in the Bible (p.53-54: 1 Cor 8:6, Matt 28:19, 1 Cor 12:4-6, 2 Cor 13:13, Gal 4:6, Eph 4:4-6, Rev 1:4-5).

Holmes shows us that the concept of Trinity is still very much debated even among Christians. In the first chapter, Holmes summarizes all the big ideas among the great twentieth century theologians, namely Karl Barth, Karl Rahner, John Zizioulous, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jurgen Moltmann, Robert Jenson, Leonardo Boff, Miroslav Volf, Cornelius Plantiga, Richard Swinburne, Michael Rea, and Brian Leftow.

Thus, it should not surprise Christians that non-Christians express doubt over Trinity. But that is not the point.

The point is a heuristic one: If Christian theologians are still debating about the Trinity, then anyone interested in comparative religions should ask, how did this whole debate come about, especially when the word Trinity is not in the Bible? 

The concept of Trinity is one of much nuance that non-experts may find fumbling when learning about it. Take for instance, this sentence in the book:
"Barth's denial of a Logos asarkos, Rahner's insistence on the identity of the immanent Trinity with the economic Trinity, and Pannenberg's and Moltmann's desire to see God's life as open to the gospel history, all reach their most extreme, and most coherent, expression in Jenson's theology." (p.24)
However, readers should not to be intimidated by the above sentence for Holmes does explain what it means.

Thus, Christians must learn about their core belief as much as non-Christians who are expert in comparative religions should.

Inter-faith dialogue and understanding in the world, not only in Malaysia, deserves better experts whose working knowledge is based on real research on theology.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

The movie Spotlight on Roman Catholic Church's systemic evil

The film 'Spotlight' which won this year's Oscar for Best Picture is based on the true story of how a team of journalists exposed the Roman Catholic Church's systemic cover-up of their priests' sexual abuse of children.  

It shows how clergy and devout laity can blindly conspired to conceal evil out of their misplaced sacred sense of allegiance or religious obedience (and also perhaps wrong theology). 

I am particular affected by the depiction of the regular church-goers, of which some were the rich and power people in Boston, whose loyalty to their church has pulled them so far away from the hurt and injustice suffered by the abused victims. When confronted by the journalists, they simply dismissed or remained silent about the issue.

To them, what really matters was the fact that the church had been doing so much for the community, thus nothing should tarnish the reputation of the religious institution even though the lives of hundreds of children are destroyed and its truth is swept under the carpet.

'Spotlight' shows us that (metaphorically) demons do come in the form of middle-age people with loving family who serve as active cell-group leaders in a local church.

The film ends with the statement that says, "249 priests and brothers were publicly accused of sexual abuse within the Boston Archdiosese and the number of survivors in Boston is estimated to be well over 1,000," and a list of over 200 other cities around the world where "major abuse scandals have been uncovered."  

As one character in the movie said, "If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them."  

After the exposure, Cardinal Bernard F. Law who was responsible for the cover-up resigned from his Archbishop position in Boston. Then Pope John Paul II appointed him as Archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (one of the four Papal Major Basilicas in Rome). 

This film brings out the reality of how individual and structural evil takes their form in a contemporary religious institution.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Christians and Madonna's Concert: Living with grace, kindness, and openness in pluralistic society

Madonna's concerts have been subjected to public scrutiny especially by Christians for acts that are deem offensive to Christianity.

Top Roman Catholic leaders from the Philippines, Singapore, and New Zealand have voiced strong objection against the singer's performance.

Singapore's Anglican leader has likewise issued a public statement about this. And leaders of other churches like the Presbyterians amd Methodists made internal memo about the matter too.

All of the leaders share the same objection: The singer's performances insult, mock, and/or offend Christians.

Some condemn her, some want the local government to ban her, some call for boycott, and some want all of the above.

It is disconcerting to see Christians living in plural society under secular governance to have such reaction.

A friend recently shared about a social survey done among non-Christians in a Singapore university on their impression of Christians. The general impression is this: "Christians are known to stand against things, but no one knows what Christians stand for."

This is the symptom pointing to the gap in Christians' understanding of what it really means to live in such context.

Christians need to think hard over their theology and religious sentiment in relation to the social space that we are in.

In pluralistic society, there are different ideas and sentiments toward religion, the ultimate reality, or God. In fact, according to the prominent sociologist Peter L. Berger, there are two pluralisms that we need to reckon with:
"If one is to understand the place of religion in the pluralistic phenomenon, one must note that there are two pluralisms in evidence here. The first is the pluralism of different religious options co-existing in the same society. [...] The second is the pluralism of the secular discourse and the various religious discourses, also co-existing in the same society."
(The Many Altars of Modernity: Toward A Paradigm For Religion In A Pluralist Age [Berlin, Germany: Walter de Gruyter, 2014], 53.)
That means in a pluralistic society, there are some who think that God is Trinity, and many who do not, some who think the natural world is all there is, and some who think that there is no need to entertain such thought, and the fact that all of us are living and sharing the same social space.

Given such setting, it is obvious there will be clashes of perspectives on the divine and the world.

Thus, the crucial thing in such setting is in how the myriad of individuals with various views on God and the world respond to differences among ourselves.

We can choose to respond with hostility and objection. Or, we can choose to react in grace, kindness, and openness.

The Christian leaders mentioned above have chosen the former. And that is a big problem. It begs the question on consistency: how consistently hostile can they be towards views that are different, contradicting, and even blasphemous to them?

Will these Christian leaders similarly seek the condemnation and banning of texts such as the Qur'an, Vedas, sutras, the Book of Mormon and teachings by other religions' leaders because they contain views that are different, contradicting, and blasphemous to them?

Or, we could turn the table around: how will these Christians feel when others seek to condemn and ban their Bible and sermon as they contain perspective that are different, contradicting, and blasphemous to them?

For instance, how would Christians feel if Muslims, Jews, and atheists condemn, lobby with MPs, and ask for the banning of the upcoming movie 'Risen' as it goes against their religious and irreligious sentiment?

One may defend the Christians' hostility towards Madonna's performance by distinguishing her from inter-religious differences, with the former as irreligious mockery and insult while the latter is religious difference.

This view expresses the symptom highlighted above, a gap in understanding the nature of our society. As per Berger's observation, there are two pluralisms in a pluralistic society: the multi-religious and the irreligious (secular) discourses.

The distinction that sees Madonna's performance as irreligious insult from inter-religious difference has excluded the irreligious as part of the pluralistic society. It is as if that the views held by the irreligious are to be judged differently from views held by the religious.

How do Christians come to decide that the irreligious views be considered offensive mockery to Christianity while other religions' teachings that reject Jesus Christ as God and blaspheme even the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31) are simply differences?

Unless one could provide answer to this question, the distinction between the irreligious and religious is not only a wrong sociological assumption but fundamentally an unjust and discriminatory position which is also theologically hollow.

Only by comprehending the plurality of the social space that we are living in can we be hesitant to perceive perspectives that are different from ours as "insult" to our idea of God and offend us so much so that we need to lobby for their banning. 

In such space, all parties are welcomed to share their perspective (for e.g. to have Madonna share why she does what she does?). Yet to lobby for one perspective to be held supreme over another to the extent of affecting changes in the public space requires a more guided and disciplined way of discourse.

Therefore, Christians need to think hard over such matters, and not simply perceive different things as "insult" and "offensive". Along the way, we can choose to react to irreligious and religious differences in grace, kindness, and openness.