Thursday, December 14, 2006

Beyond cynicism

These are cynical times, and there is no let-up in the public imagination as to what the causes are, and where the country is heading. The natural disposition towards self-preservation compels many to talk about uprooting and emigrating. Easy for those with money to say. The rest, well, will have to suck it in and live with their lot.

We’re talking about a post-UMNO AGM meltdown. So space for public discourse and freedom of belief are quickly diminishing in the face of religious/racialist rhetoric and kris brandishing. So it’s becoming intolerable how politicians and religious zealots are running roughshod over law and order and constitutional guarantees. So, now what, besides whining and cursing at the eclipse of common sense, integrity, mutual respect, and Bangsa Malaysia?

There is no paradise on earth, much less a utopia of the French revolutionaries espousing liberty, equality and fraternity. And I have little illusion that humanity will evolve into a higher being living in peace and freedom. This does not mean of course that one gives up trying to make the world a better place. Indeed where there is darkness and decay, there is more need for salt and light.

I was pleased to see Bishop Hwa Yung’s seminal piece on immigration written so many years ago resurface in NECF’s newsletter and KAIROS’ magazine. He drew lessons from Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan and asked if Christians were like the Levite and the Priest who ignored a stricken man by the roadside when they choose to leave for greener pastures elsewhere.

While talk about emigrating dominates conversations and blogs, now is the time to review what is truly important. Why are we here in Malaysia? What does God want me to do with the time I have here? While the Church is called to live as Kingdom people our calling is not to establish an earthly kingdom or impose a particular brand of politics. I happen to believe in the separation of church and state so it helps to think a little about where to draw the line. What’s the Christian view of social order and government, and does Scripture say anything about our obligations as citizens?

Sir Frederick Catherwood’s A Better Way rejects both the quietist practice of withdrawal or non-involvement, and nationalism based on radical racialism. He differentiates between ends and means which I believe is a good starting point for thinking Christianly about politics and the messy pursuit of nationhood:

"…Christianity, unlike the current ideologies of Marxism or nationalism, is about ends and not means. It does not lay down a particular doctrine of government or economics. It says what society should be like as a result of good government, not what government itself should be like. So it has few political dogmas to enforce. There must be government and in secular affairs it must be obeyed – no more. A Christian may suggest political solutions, but he does not dogmatize – at any rate not on Christian grounds. And Christianity, unlike Marxism or nationalism, is not a divisive creed. It tells us to love all people, bourgeoisie as well as workers, expatriates as well as nationals. Christianity does not have to erect barriers to defend itself against those to whom it is politically hostile. For it is not politically hostile to anyone. It wants to win those who oppose it by persuasion and it does not despair of influencing anyone, however hostile. Christianity does not seek to suppress opposing views. It prefers to answer them, as Christ did."
The book was written in 1976 in the context of modern western society, but there’s lots of things that are just as relevant today. To live as Jesus did, and to answer as He did never gets outdated - East or West.

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