No place for religious bigotry

Some of the most shameful episodes in the history of the Christian Church are the results of mistaken theological thinking and misguided zealotry, the result of the lack of understanding of the faith and the misinterpretation of the Bible.

Thomas Lee Seng Hock

The Council of Churches Malaysia (CCM) should be commended for taking a firm stand against a so-called Christian preacher for attacking and insulting Islam in a series of videos posted on YouTube.

Certainly, there is no place for such a bigoted hostile attitude toward those of another faith from one’s own in our plural nation, with its multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-lingual population.

As a Christian myself, I am very ashamed and disgusted with such intolerance, and the fanatical and uncompromising pursuit and propaganda of the Christian faith by the immature and uncouth preacher, who has brought shame to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The CCM is right in clarifying that the so-called preacher had acted in his individual capacity representing his own views, but it is incorrect to say that there is an “official view of the churches in Malaysia”, as there is none, although generally the Christian community abhors and loathes such destructive religious zealotry.

The assault on the people of another faith is not in the teaching of the Lord Jesus. Such bigotry is judging and degrading the human persons created by God in his own image on the basis of preconceived and bias opinions, and that is evil. It is definitely wrong, even sinful, when we participate in thoughts and actions that are based on pre-judging and condemning people of other faiths.

Obviously, we have our own doctrinal and theological understanding of our faith, and would certainly want to propagate and share it with others, simply because if we know it to be the truth, we cannot keep it to ourselves, particularly when we sincerely and firmly believe it to be a matter of eternal destiny.

But using insensitive and confrontational militant tactics in evangelism is not the teaching of the Bible. What we should be doing is to share the truth in love, not to run down others. Like what the Apostle Paul said, we should be all things to all persons, that is, to be accommodating and acceptable in our approaches and methods, without compromising our own beliefs.

Some of the most shameful episodes in the history of the Christian Church are the results of mistaken theological thinking and misguided zealotry, the result of the lack of understanding of the faith and the misinterpretation of the Bible.

For example, it was the misinterpretation of the Bible and theological prejudices that caused the white settlers of America to hate the so-called uncivilized and illiterate natives, calling them savages, robbing them of their land, and exploiting them as slaves or cheap labour.

It was the same religious prejudice that was used to justify the stealing of human persons from their homes and families in Africa and sent them to America as slaves. Human trafficking is the invention of the white Christians!

The previous South African policy of segregation and discrimination on grounds of race, notoriously known as apartheid, was based on the white reform theology taught and propagated by European Christians. The contemptible and despicable apartheid system was enforced by the National Party government in South Africa between 1948 and 1994, under which the rights of the majority non-white inhabitants of the country were curtailed and the minority rule by white people was maintained. Some reform Christian leaders justified the system on the basis that the black race is said to be cursed by God!

There is also the so-called “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia which was also the result of the religious bigotry. The Bosnian Serb forces sought to eliminate 40,000 Bosnian Muslims living in Srebrenica. They robbed all the male Muslim prisoners, military and civilian, elderly and young, of their personal belongings and identification, and deliberately and methodically killed them solely on the basis of their faith.

Obviously, religious and ethnic hostility is the foremost contemporary social problem in our world, and we in Malaysia must not allow such maniacal and fanatical nests of intrigue to take roots and spread.

As an initial positive measure to do that, we need to restore religious knowledge as a properly constituted subject in our education system, allowing the students of various faiths to attend lessons on their own faiths. At present, only Muslims have to attend agama classes, while the non-Muslims do not have such a privilege. At the same time, a compulsory audit course on comparative religious studies should be offered in the tertiary institutions to allow the students to learn about and understand other religions.

The nefarious activity of the so-called Christian preacher is certainly not an isolate case. I am certain that there are others like him who are misleading the many biblical illiterate and gullible Christian folks in such hate crusades against the people of other faiths. This is because nowadays almost anyone can call himself or herself a pastor, or even an apostle or a prophet, and go around propagating his or her version of the Christian faith. Most of these people do not even have basic theological training, some even hold fake theological degrees to mislead and deceive the believers.

The Christian preacher certainly brought the Malaysian Christian community into an opprobrious situation in the eyes of our fellow citizens of the Muslim faith, and for that I ask forgiveness from them on behalf of my Christian brother who may not honestly know and understand the serious consequences of his action. Sure, he must be made accountable for what he has done, and be made to face the legal action he deserves. Let his case be a lesson for all of us.

Let me close with a story a friend sent me.

While waiting at the airport terminal to board a plane, a woman sat reading a newspaper. Earlier, she had bought a packet of cookies at the airport snack shop to eat after she got on the plane. As she was reading, she saw out of the corner of her eye that a man sitting next to her was eating a cookie.She looked down and saw that her packet of cookies had been opened and the man was eating them.

The woman couldn’t believe that the man would have such nerve as to eat her cookies. So with great irritation she removed all but one cookie from the packet and stuffed them into her mouth. At that point, the man reached down and took the last cookie. Before eating it though, he broke it in half and left half of the cookie for her.

This made the woman even more furious, so she grabbed the empty packet with the half cookie and crammed it in her handbag. Then, to her shock and embarrassment, she saw that there in her handbag was her unopened packet of cookies. The man had been eating the cookies from his own identical bag and not hers.

There is a valuable lesson in which this story relates to the subject of religious bigotry.

It shows us that it is often easier for us to see wrong in someone else than in ourselves. When it comes to the subject of religion, it is easier for us to think that other people have a problem in their faith than it is to think that we do. This story also tells us that when we judge or condemn others, we are actually condemning ourselves.