Sunday, January 02, 2011

What is left to render unto Caesar when everything belongs to God...

Well, everything belongs to God and nothing really belongs to Caesar, but a sarcastic statement uttered by Jesus, i.e., 'render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's' has been taken out of context by many a conservative Christian to justify creating an unnatural separation separation between faith/religion/God and the economic/social/cultural and political world. For some of these Christians, feel that it is just not their Christian duty and obligation to make this world a better place - free from injustice, human rights violations, environmental degradation,...and this, I believe, is very wrong. Many a governments would also like religion/faith/God to be confined to the churches, temples, mosques...and 'personal life'

But, what is interesting to note is that many Christians do not have this narrow 'perspective'  of their faith, and their obligations as Christians. The Church too, especially the Catholic Church, have never confined faith to just the boundaries or confines of the church building. The Catholic church have and still do take positions on political, economic, social and cultural matters - Go have a look at the Catholic Social Teachings.

A reading of the Old Testament and the Gospels make it clear that Jesus, his cousin John and the earlier prophets, judges and kings were always concerned with matters of the real world - not just matters of 'prayer and religion' only. They did rock the boat in championing for justice, human rights and peace - and it was the 'governments of the day'  that could not take it...and reacted. Jesus's cousin, John, had his head chopped off by powers of the day. So, too was Jesus arrested, detained, tortured, denied a fair trial and ultimately crucified by the Jewish rulers, and their colonial masters then, the Romans. Jesus did not confine himself to matters of 'prayer and religion' only, but to all matters.

Interesting also to note the circumstances in which the words, 'render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's' was made. Jesus had his enemies, who wanted to trap Jesus, and in this situation they wanted to catch Jesus into saying that one should stop paying taxes to Rome - but Jesus, being smart, answered the questions without directly having to say that they should or should not pay taxes to Caesar (to Rome) - but the audience certainly understood what he meant by those words. It is important to also look at the context, to better understands words spoken and actions. Taken out of context, it can serve as a justification for a dichotomy
Paying Taxes to Caesar
20Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be honest. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. 21So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. 22Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
23He saw through their duplicity and said to them, 24“Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?”
25“Caesar’s,” they replied.
He said to them, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
26They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent. - Gospel of Luke,Chp. 20, NIV
Apparently, one of the conditions for Najib's attendance at the Christmas party was that all crucifixes at the venue be removed. And apparently, the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur and the Christian Federation of Malaysia(CFM) did remove all crucifixes. For Christians, the crucifix is but a symbol - and the manner in which Christians show that they are followers of Jesus are by their actions...their life - not any symbol. What do we do when we have such a PM? Should we say that we will not remove the crucifixes and tell the PM that if he wants to still come, he can...or do we remove the crucifixes and have the PM at our function, which a function of the CFM - not just the Catholic Church? Well, they decided to remove the crucifixes...and have the PM at their function...

What I am disappointed with is Najib, our Prime Minister whose slogan is '1Malaysia' - and by this action, he has demonstrated himself as being unsuitable to be the Prime Minister of multi-religious Malaysia. Where is the respect? Where is the tolerance?

With regard to the report in Malaysiakini, it must be noted that Bishops/Archbishops lead their own diocese, and are answerable directly to the Vatican, i.e. the Pope. A body like   Catholic Bishops' Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei cannot dictate the position of individual dioceses/archdioceses. When it comes to Malaysian Bishops, maybe we should also be looking at the 'Conference of Malaysian Bishops'.

The sentient among Malaysia's 850,000 Catholics, out of a Christian population of 2.3 million - about 9 percent of the country's 27.5 million people - would have been disturbed by reports that crucifixes had to be removed before Prime Minister Najib Razak graced the Christian Federation of Malaysia's open house on Dec 25.

bishop paul tan chee ingIt is precisely this category of Catholic that will welcome the turn of Dr Paul Tan Chee Ing, bishop of the Malacca-Johor diocese, as head of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.

The two-year presidency commences today and ought to wholly be concerned with ecclesiastical matters - render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's being a scriptural guideline for the faithful, especially its clergy.

But by training and temperament, Paul Tan, 70, is a prelate who would want to push the parameters of that dichotomy more than did his predecessor, Archbishop Murphy Pakiam, the host of the crucifix-less CFM open house, held at his residence in Bukit Nanas on Christmas Day.

Discerning Catholics would be distressed to discover that a Church that would resort to the courts to invoke a right to call God 'Allah' seemingly cannot tell the wood from the trees when supinely conceding to a crucifix-less hosting of a Christmas open house.

The crucifix is the universal symbol of Christianity, the doctrinal core of the faith.
Agreeing to the removal of crucifixes on the birth commemoration of Jesus would be akin to a Muslim's submission to Quranic revelation sans acknowledgment of Prophet Mohammad's unique role in its transmission.

In 2001, Catholic social activists, called upon to help out in the government-sponsored Christmas open house that year, mulled a boycott because government officials wanted no mention of Jesus to be made on the occasion.

The officials required that no carols be sung mentioning the name of the person generic to the faith.

Fortunately, boycott-mulling activists managed to convince government officials of the stricture's absurdity.

The 2001 open house proceeded without a hitch. Needless to say, there was no apparent diminution of the faith of non-Christians who attended and must have heard the name of the one who became very nearly unmentionable.

Umno notoriously finicky

Umno is notoriously finicky on the issue of Christianity, tending to comport itself like its Islamic rectitude would be embellished if seen to be zealous in its effacement of one leg of the Abrahamic triad of religions.

As far as can be seen, no such effacement has been called for by Pakatan Rakyat leaders whose putative chief Anwar Ibrahim and wife Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail were guests of CFM at its 2007 Christmas open house. (Crucifixes were not hidden then.)

Fellow Pakatan stalwart Mohd Nizar Jamaluddin of PAS, endeared himself to the Christian community by hosting, as the then Perak menteri besar, an open house in Ipoh in the 2008 Christmas season, on which occasion he hailed as his brothers in the Abrahamic fold.

Malaysians Christians are partial to Nizar and his fellow PAS MP, Khalid Samad, the latter for reason of a visit to a church in his constituency shortly after winning the Shah Alam parliamentary seat.

However, they view with wariness the conservative wing of the two politicians' party, for its insistence on syariah law for Muslims in Malaysia should Pakatan take power at the federal level, even though that policy is not on the agenda of the coalition's Common Policy Framework.

It is apposite, in these times, that it is the turn of Paul Tan - who has degrees in philosophy, theology and Chinese history from universities in Ireland, Hong Kong and France - at the rudder of Catholic Bishops' Conference: he is heir to a a strain of Catholic natural law thinking that goes back to Thomas Aquinas.

Through his reception, in the 13th century, to the Greek-Arabic body of scientific knowledge, which Muslim thinkers Ibn Rus and Ibn Sina were mainly responsible for preserving, Thomas Aquinas laid the foundations of the philosophy that held there is an objective moral order in the universe, knowable to human reason.

From Aquinas on successive Christian thinkers have developed this stream of moral philosophy such that its principles are reckoned to belong not just to the Christian faith alone; they rest on a foundation of universal reason.

Grounded on these principles, Christian intellectual have made the case for freedom of religion as a human right, and against such things as abortion, same-sex marriage, and embryo-destructive research.

Under Paul Tan's leadership, the bishops' conclave is likely to make its presence felt on the signal issues of the day.

As for removing crucifixes from Christian celebratory occasions to placate the craven instincts of an invited grandee, that would be the instance where Caesar will not be rendered his due.-  Malaysiakini, 1/1/2011, Bishop Paul's tenure likely to be activist

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