Wednesday 10 October 2012

The spiritual is political

  • S Thayaparan
  • 9:55AM Oct 10, 2012
"The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are 20 gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." - Thomas Jefferson

COMMENT It boggles the mind when people fret that religion here in Malaysia is being "politicised". What rock have you been living under all these years? And it's normally the non-Muslims who are the most vocal in articulating this "concern".

Living in fear that your religious beliefs would somehow offend the majority status quo or at the very least would be used as political mileage, has meant that non-Muslims have had to practise their religions quietly lest they stir the hornet's nest.

church christian in kuala lumpur 1If we can agree that Islam has been politicised in Malaysia (and around the world for that matter), we should accept the reality that there has been a political awakening of Christians in Malaysia which manifest through a rejection of apathy which was the norm for the community all these years.

Why this most basic of democratic right is shocking or threatening to those who want to appease the status quo points more to a specific kind of mentality that the Umno watch has created rather than to any genuine anti-Christian sentiment in this country.

Non-Malay appeasers may mock these new found tentative steps of engagement with the political process as naivety of the delicate social balance but the reality is that despite the numerous provocations the community has had to endure, the majority of Muslims in this country aren't the irrational types who although may not be opposition supporters but who don't view their way of religious life under threat simply because they understand the reality that they are the majority.

While living under this multiracial/religious peace, slowly but surely all evidence of a polychromatic religious past has been erased and non-Muslims have seen their religions become collateral damage in the on-going saga of the current regime's quest to maintain hegemony over the Malay polity.

Chasing the Christian vote

The latest provocation is the Lim Guan Eng/Utusan Malaysia saga of the allegation of practising "politics" in church.

NONEUtusan has claimed that certain church leaders are dismayed at the antics of Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng. The DAP secretary-general in return has accused Utusan of "twisting the words of church leaders" in an attempt to discredit him.

Given that Utusan, by their own admission, have claimed that they "spin" and "fabricate" reports because they "support" the government, whatever they say is suspect.

On a totally unrelated note, I always found it amusing that nobody in the government has come out and condemned Utusan for saying that they would lie for the government since PM Najib Razak's aim is to make Malaysia the best democracy in the world, but I digress...

Since religion has always been used a political tool here in Malaysia, so I have no problem if Lim was chasing the Christian vote. My concern here is that why Umno-BN isn't chasing the Christian vote seeing as how the so-called "Anglo" (sic) Chinese branch of the Chinese community has abandoned the MCA in favour of DAP.

After all, Najib has met the Pope. Obviously he doesn't have a problem with Christians even though his outsourced minions make numerous provocations against the Christian community and hold religious "tolerance" to ransom.

All Lim did was to remind Christians to speak out against injustice, which frankly the community has been reticent about for a very long time.

Speaking against injustice

The sad reality is that Christian evangelical types for the most part have concerned themselves with amassing wealth and networking in the name of God, all the while playing a game of one-upmanship amongst them competing to see which congregation is more "blessed".

This naturally means which church is richer. High-powered motivational speakers are flown in normally of the American variety to teach the locals that God and capitalism walk hand in hand.

So a reminder of the ethos of the Abrahamic faith is something which is needed in this day and age, especially here in Malaysia. The fact that Lim acknowledged that his administration has been getting on fine with the local religious authorities should be a reminder that a change of government does not necessarily mean that there would be chaos.

NONELutheran Evangelical Church bishop Solomon Rajah (right in photo) has since said he was misquoted by Mingguan Malaysia, but what I would like to address is the idea in the alleged quote, "We do have a right to speak out against injustice but Malaysia is not in such a state of chaos that we need to mix spiritual matters with politics", which is a fairly common refrain amongst a certain segment of the Christian demographic.

I always get a bit confused with this cherished belief. I would assume that in order for Malaysia not to get into such a state of chaos, Christians should be encouraged to speak out against the injustice they witness not only against them but on anybody.

Issues of corruption, political malfeasances, and selective prosecution for example are spiritual matters or at least are considered such by any right-thinking person of faith. And these issues are inevitably political matters.

Coming out of comfort zone

Understand now, what I am not advocating is that churches take a partisan stand (although I have no problem even if they did), what I am advocating is that Christians, like any other Malaysians, speak up on issues affecting the country and be critical of either BN or Pakatan Rakyat when it is warranted.

Consider the posting on the Council of Churches website titled 'Malaysia at the Crossroads: Churches Responding to the Challenge', where Dr Michael Devaraj said, "There is a stirring in the nation for change and change is going to come."

From the website posting, "In the recent years, the growing influence and imposition of Islam at all levels of society has caused alarm to the minority religious communities in the country. Any assertion of minority rights would quickly be interpreted as a challenge to the majority Malay/Muslim domination of national politics.

"The forum speakers challenged the Christians to come out of their comfort zones and mobilise people to work for change. The churches could become centres of enlisting new voters to register their names.

"The challenge that was issued at the end of the forum was for Christians to go out and make every vote count in the forthcoming elections."

Now of course, some would interpret this as some sort of provocation by Christian groups but the reality is that this new found political awakening is not confined to just Christians.

Maszlee Malik's and Musa Mohd Nordin's offerings 'Whistleblowing is an Islamic duty' may be pro-Pakatan propaganda but only a fool who would not acknowledge that this is a welcome change from the bile coming from the Islamic wings of Umno.

We are always looking for a more "moderate" form of Islam and whenever these moderates speak up, there is a tendency to knock them down. Well, screw that.

I wish Pakatan all the best in attempting to redefine the discourse as far as Islam is concerned and hope that PAS will realise that the only way they will ever achieve an Islamic state (the kind the non-Malays fear) if they hook up with Umno, so perhaps it's better that they continue attempting to find common ground with other religions beyond the usual social bigotries which would be the foundation for a lasting political ideology.

I am a great sceptic of organised religion but I would prefer religion be used as a tool that helps build a new Malaysia rather than a weapon that keeps us in the current Malaysia. 

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