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.

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