Monday, April 25, 2005

Update: Christian & Muslim dialogues - is there a future for it?

ISLAM HADHARI Statement by the Malaysian Government

This is the official presentation we keep hearing again and again, and we are told that this is the season for inter-faith dialogues.

Our prime minister said in his response to forgo the idea of a Malaysia Interfaith Panel
said: "Focus on inter-racial and inter-faith dialogues. This will be better as we need to maintain peace and harmony among people of diverse religions,"

But then we hit a snag last week when we suddenly heard of a ban on the Malay bible as announced by Dato’ Seri Mohamed Nazri bin Abdul Aziz in a parliament session. Christians were shocked, for the Malay Bible does serve a role in some Malay speaking congregations in Malaysia.

This was cleared up promptly by a statement from the Prime Minister. I don’t know if you noticed, but suddenly it became an issue of Malays getting converted by reading the bible (of which this Islamic evangelist has some interesting comments, though I don’t appreciate his derogatory language used with reference to our government).

The question I ask (and Kit Siang has his own take not to be missed) at the tail end of this controversy is, how are we supposed to have genuine interfaith dialogues if a Muslim is not allowed to read the Bible? I have a Quran, and I am not scared of it, why should they be of the Bible? I dream of a Malaysia with Ideological Capitalism, where all the ideas get their air play in the marketplace, and people can choose for themselves the ones they think best correspond to reality.

New Film on the Crusades

The Agora:

There is a new film on the Crusades coming out next week in New York so i imagine it will be creened very soon in KL. The rpemise of this movie is that Muslims and Christians could have lived in peace if not for the marauding Christian fanatics. Wella nd good, and there were horrible consequences of bad behavior on both sides. But the movie-maker, Sir Ridley Scott 'forgot' to mention what really triggered the start of the Crusades in 1096. It was the act of al-Hakim of the Cairo caliphate who tored down the Chrustian Church in Jerusalem (see my article on Pax islamica in this blog) in 1009. This broke the 200 year old treaty between Emperor Charlemagne and the Abbasid caliph, Harun al-Rashid. This began the slide and year after year, more and more Christians minorities were abused by Muslim majorities, until by 1070, the Muslim Turks who took Jerusalem destroyed the Christian army of Constantinople. It was this concern that led the Christians of the East to ask for help from the Christians of the West. While I do not condone the Christian Crusades (our God does not come with swords to murder), I am peeved that movie after movie take license with history and hit the easy target, Christians (because we also do not practice fatwa). No, do not boycott. See the movie. Just be aware that the truth of real history is difficult enough, let us not let Hollywood teach us history.

All the same, enjoy the CGI and Jeremy irons folks.


Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Malay-Language Bible Ban?

The karmic cycle of "Bible Ban" reemerged in Parliament recently...

John Chung: I'm glad the PM has clarified the matter. But for a Minister in the PM's own department to say in Parliament that there is such a ban is really quite shocking! Thankfully, our Christian leaders are quick to respond.


No ban on Malay-language Bibles: Abdullah

Apr 19, 05 6:45am

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi today said there was no ban on Bibles
published in the Malay language but they must be stamped with the words "Not for

He was responding to questions after a minister told parliament last week that
the government did not allow editions of the Bible published in Malay to be
distributed as it could be construed as an effort to spread Christianity among

"There should not be any concern. I met all the leaders of the various church
denominations in my office before when I was deputy prime minister," said
Abdullah, who became prime minister in October 2003.

'Your Bible is your Bible'

"I said your Bible is your Bible, I'm not going to ban your Bible even though
the Bible is written in Malay," he told reporters.

However, Abdullah said the Malay Bible must have the words "Not for Muslims"
printed on the front and can be distributed only in churches and Christian

The government imposed a shortlived and controversial ban on the Bible published
in the language of the indigenous Iban tribe in 2003 but lifted it after a
protest and an appeal by Malaysia's Council of Churches.

Some 60 percent of Malaysia's population are Muslims, while there are large
ethnic-Chinese and Indian minorities who practice other religions including
Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism.

Kian Meng's keen analysis of the situation:

After reading the parliamentary debate, I'm saddened by the lack of quality, especially on the part of Nazri. But then again, I shouldn't be too surprised.

We need to be careful in approaching this issue from a Christian Malaysian's perspective. Nazri and Ayub tended to confuse a few arguments together. We need to
make distinctions.

Firstly, I think we need to make it clear that it is a question of freedom of religion on the part of Malaysian Christians and we can approach it from a
variety of angles. The fact that BM is our national language and has been the sole national language since 1967 means that for many Malaysians and non-Malays,
especially in East Malaysia. If a non-Muslim Malaysian of whatever religious persuasion cannot have access to his or her religious text in the language that he or
she is most comfortable with, BM in this case, then his or her religious freedom will be impinged upon. We should distinguish (initially, at least) this issue –
freedom of religion for non-Muslims – from the issue of possible conversion for Muslims arising from a BM Bible.

We can extend this further. If we take Nazri’s logic – that the BM bible might be used to convert Malay Muslims – then this must mean that we cannot have any
services in BM or even sing Christian songs in BM. Not only does this take away the ability to read Holy Texts in the language a non-Muslim is most comfortable
with, it also must mean that even religious services cannot be conducted in a language which might be ‘used’ to convert Muslims. Christian songs or indeed
Christian books or religious songs and books of any other religion other than Islam, cannot be allowed!

Not only might BM be the language that a particular group or individual be most comfortable with, BM might be the language which is the common denominator for
many different groups or individuals of a particular faith. For an Indian Christian who is fluent in Tamil but not in English and a Chinese Christian who is
fluent in Mandarin but not in English, BM might be the only common denominator in which both these individuals (and groups of individuals like them) can come together to worship their God. These services in BM clearly cannot take place without the use of a BM bible.

There is also a matter of personal religious freedom in choosing more than one language to express our relationship with God. I might be fluent in English or
Chinese but I also want to choose to use the BM language be it in prayer or in song and in the reading of my Holy Text. Speaking from personal experience, my sense of being a Malaysian is increased when I sing a Christian song in BM or read the bible in BM.

So the first point that we should assert is that this is an issue of freedom of religion. And this not only concerns Christians, since it extends of having
religious texts and perhaps public services in BM for other religions in Malaysia – Bhuddism, Hinduism. But practically, the biggest impact of this seems to be on
the Christians since many Christians in East Malaysia use BM as their primary language.

If one can make a convincing case that the use of the BM bible will be kept strictly in the context of Christian services and personal Christian use, then Nazri’s arguments (and that of Ayub, PAS’s Youth Chief) will be much weaker.

But I hesitate to push the last point too much since Nazri’s point on the ‘possible’ use of the BM bible as a conversion tool is weak. One could argue that the English bible could easily be used as a tool for evangelizing Malay Muslims since many Malay Muslims are fluent in English.

Would this be grounds for banning the English bible?

Are there currently any guarantees that Malay Muslims will not buy the English
bible today?

Anyway, the notion that Malay Muslims can be converted just on the basis of reading the Bible in BM is, in a way, an insult to the faith of Malay Muslims.
This is like saying that Christians or Bhuddists or Hindus are more likely to convert to Islam because the Quran is widely available in English, Chinese or

One could of course go further and contest Nazri’s notion that proselytizing to Malay Muslims is not allowed under the Federal Constitution since the
constitution only stipulates that the states (and the federal government in the Federal Territories) can pass laws to ‘control or restrict’ proselytizing
activities to Muslim groups (Article 11 (4)). But I leave this to the more legally minded among us.

Before I end, I think this challenges us as Christians in a specific manner. We should not back away from defending religious freedom for non-Muslims in Malaysia (I’ll leave the religious freedom for Malay to another time) even though we ourselves might not use the BM bible. But this episode highlights to me, at least, of the need to brush up our BM (and even get a copy of the Al-Kitab and read it regularly) so that we can engage and participate in services in BM (if
and where it happens) as a demonstration of our Malaysian identity as well as to show unity among the Christian community in Malaysia. The argument for the
use of a BM bible would be so much more convincing services in BM are regularly conducted in Christian communities throughout Malaysia.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

What Has Bethlehem To Do With Kuala Lumpur?

"The church with its cultural and political diversity, can become a laboratory in which civility, reconciliation and democracy can be nurtured in wider society"
(Peskett & Ramachandra)

Gentle reminder that the next Agora session: "Politics, Why Bother?" will feature one of the youngest Malaysians ever to run for general election.

Date: 1 May 2005 (Sunday)
Time: 2 p.m.
Venue: CDPC (Map is found in
Presenter: John Chung

Those who wanna join the chat with Kam Weng may meet at Evangel bookstore, SS2 at 7 pm on Wednesday 17 April (expect late nite as the day after is a holiday)

PS: Good news! At least, 9 people have so far confirmed on the 14 May "Ambassadors For Christ" training... Interested folks can contact me at

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Volcano Eruption News - John Seach

Volcano Eruption News by John Seach

John Search has been monitoring volcanic activity in this region for sometime now, and I am not sure if he is the source of the story below, but it seems likely;

(Note: this is an email that was sent to me)

> > Pakar: Jangkakan letupan gunung berapi
> >
> > SYDNEY - Seorang pakar Australia semalam memberi amaran tentang prospek
> > berlakunya letupan gunung berapi besar di Indonesia yang bakal
> > meninggalkan kemusnahan lebih buruk berbanding bencana lain yang telah
> > dialami sebelum ini.
> >
> > Profesor Ray Cas daripada Jabatan Geosains Universiti Monash berkata
> > gunung berapi terbesar dunia ialah Danau Toba di Sumatera. Danau itu
> > terletak di garis gelinciran yang merentasi bahagian tengah Sumatera.
> >
> > Profesor Ray Cas dari Fakulti Geosains Universiti Monash berkata gunung
> > berapi super volcano terbesar di dunia itu terletak di Tasik Toba, di
> > Sumatera,Indonesia. Letupan gunung berapi itu kemungkinan berlaku dalam
> > waktu terdekat dan di percayai Malaysia juga bakal menghadapi kesannya
> > apabila di jangka beberapa kawasan bakal bergegar kuat,air laut bakal
> > melimpah,tanah mendap dengan keluasan yang besar dan
> > letusan gunung berapi itu juga di jangka bakal menggegarkan menara 'KLCC'
> > hingga membuatkan ianya bergoyang kuat.
> >
> > Sebelum ini, pakar seismologi meramalkan gempa bumi ketiga berlaku di
> > garis gelinciran itu selepas gempa bumi sekuat 9.0 pada Skala Richter
> > Disember lalu dan gempa 8.7 pada Skala Richter Isnin lalu. Menurut beliau,
> > gempa bumi yang berlaku di garis gelinciran itu akan mempercepatkan satu
> > letupan gunung berapi.
> >
> > Profesor Cas berkata kali terakhir danau itu meletup ialah sekitar
> > 73,000 tahun lalu dan telah mengubah iklim dunia.Beliau menarik perhatian
> > kadar korban ekoran letupan gunung berapi besar 'boleh mencapai beratus
> > ribu sehingga jutaan' orang.'Masalah besarnya ialah banyak gunung berapi
> > berpotensi meletup, tetapi tidak diawasi dengan sepatutnya,' jelas beliau.
> >
> >
> > Sementara itu, Agensi Kaji Cuaca Jepun berkata hanya Singapura dan Sri
> > Lanka memohon untuk menerima amaran awal tsunami daripada Jepun. Selain 11
> > negara yang dilanda tsunami pada 26 Disember lalu, Jepun telah menawarkan
> > amaran awal tsunami di rantau lain termasuk Australia, Britain, Mesir,
> > Perancis dan Afrika Selatan.
> >
> > Para pegawai berkata negara lain mungkin mendapatkan amaran awal daripada
> > Pusat Amaran Tsunami Pasifik yang
> > berpangkalan di Hawaii. - AFP.

Now, I looked up John Search's website , and it was a shocking reality that hit me of the dangerous times in which we live in.

On one hand, we think of the urgency of evangelism that grabs us in these times, but there is another aspect to consider, the fact that we have a human responsibility to stop abusing this planet, and there are consequences for our greed.

Check out this article by Dr. Paul Brand:

A Handful of Mud
Soil is life. Can we preserve it for future generations?
By Paul Brand | posted 07/10/2003

I grew up in the mountains of South India. My parents were missionaries to the tribal people of the hills, and our lives were about as simple as they could be—and as happy.

There were no roads. (We never saw a wheeled vehicle except on our annual visit to the plains.) There were no stores, no electricity, no plumbing. My sister and I ran barefoot, and we made our own games from the trees, sticks, and stones around us. Our playmates were the Indian boys and girls, and our lives were much the same as theirs.

Rice was an important food for all of us. And since there was no level ground for wet cultivation, it was grown all along the streams that ran down the land's gentle slopes. These slopes had been patiently terraced hundreds of years before; and now every one was perfectly level, and bordered at its lower margin by an earthen dam covered by grass. Each narrow dam served as a footpath across the line of terraces, with a level field of mud and water six inches below its upper edge and another level terrace two feet below. There were no steep or high drop-offs, so there was little danger of collapse.

Those rice paddies were a rich soup of life. When there was plenty of water there would be a lot of frogs and little fish. Egrets would stalk through the paddy fields on their long legs and enjoy the feast. Kingfishers would swoop down with a flash of color and carry off a fish from under the beak of a heron.

And it was here I learned my first lesson on conservation.

Read the full article

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Academy for Christian Thought Seminar: The Natural Sciences & Christian Theology


The next ACT seminar on April 16th [What Every Christian Ought to Know About Science and Christian Theology] at the Empire State Building will be delivered by Ron Choong. This 3 hour seminar will consider the philosophical commitments intrinsic to the natural sciences and Christian theology. Each field of inquiry assume the significance of metaphysics to shape its ontology. The proposal for a doctrine of science will assess Alister McGrath's appropriation of Roy Bhaskar's critical scientific realism. In what he calls a scientific theology, McGrath argues for an a posteriori critical realist methodology to articulate a possible dialogue between science and theology. In addition, Wentzel van Huyssteen's postfoundationalism and Nicholas Rescher's mathematical notion of transversal rationality will be considered for a democratic platform by which to buttress McGrath's model. Ron Choong's notion of science as discovery of divine disclosure (DDD) and theology as a commitment to a convictional confession (CCC) will be used to describe a creational origination of reality. The case study for this will be an interdisciplinary redescription of the Christian doctrine of creation which can account for a scientific quest for the question of origins (universe, life and reflective consciousness). If it is possible to articulate a biblically faithful doctrine which is both coherent to revelational reflection and corresponds to observational speculation, a major advance may be claimed for progress towards a true theory of everything (TTOE), not one limited to just physics ala Stephen Hawking's TOE.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Ambassadors For Christ

An informal but intensive 'seminar' on being ambassadors for Christ is scheduled in Malacca on Saturday 14th May 2005. A friend may allow us to use his home.

Basically we'd listen to some CD presentations by Greg Koukl followed by plenty of time for discussion, sharing, feedback and questions. Thanks, Julie!

Would appreciate prayers for the organisation, preparation and participants, for a fun-filled, open and learning experience!

Tentative Agenda:

10.00 am: Get to Know You (Ice Breaker)
10.45 am: First Session - An Ambassador’s Essential Skills
12:30 pm: Lunch
1.30 pm: Second Session - Any Old God Won’t Do
3.45 pm: Third Session - Truth is not ice-cream, Faith is not wishing
6.00 pm: Session Complete

Ambassador's Creed:

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Engaging Unbelief

 Posted by Hello

Curtis Chang ministered amongst Harvard, MIT, and Tufts University students via Intervarsity CF for 9 years. One CF got 'banned' for refusing to allow a
gay advocate into leadership...

Reminds me of the 'underground' Anderson CF, where I used to serve... Also how lax CFs could be, in terms of discipline/doctrine. Heard a story that Oneness Pentecostals 'took over' a local college CF not too long ago. Pretty scary.

Anyway I'm fascinated by his book "Engaging Unbelief", a refreshing look at how Augustine and Aquinas adopted similar strategies to engage fragmenting Rome and emerging Islam respectively...

and how we can learn from them in our own 'epochal challenge' - postmodernism.

It's refreshing bcos' it doesnt pretend to 'go alone' where no one has gone before. There is a rich legacy in our tradition, how our past heroes have responded to the world with the gospel.

Not only that, it points the way forward - an Incarnational theology where we "enter" the world of our critics, learn their grand stories even better than they were, thereby able to retell that story Christianly, revealing their 'tragic flaw' and capture every thought to the lordship of Christ.

Download a free Chapter today!

Monday, April 04, 2005

The Agora: Christianity under Pax Islamica


(a) The emergence of Islam

Islam began and continues to thrive as Christianity’s most important, enduring and successful heresy. It began with cultural insensitivity; an anti-Arab reading of the biblical account in the Book of Genesis by both Jews and Christians. Interpreting the departure of Ishmael, Abraham’s first son by his Egyptian slave Hagar, from the camp of Abraham as a rejection of Ishmaelites as a people, the desert-dwelling Arabs responded to the claim that a new revelation has come to call the faithful among the Arabs to the one true God. The Jews and Christians must have adulterated the sacred texts of scripture and falsely disenfranchised them from their true inheritance. Even among the Christians, division between the Byzantine Chalcedonian, Persian Nestorian and Ethiopian Monophysites ran deep. Islam emerged as a counter-point to the Judeo-Christian tradition and is necessarily mutually exclusive to both Judaism and Christianity. In the 300 years of Christianity in pre-Islamic Arabia, no translation of the Bible was made so that when Muhammad sought to name the One, True God, he hesitantly chose ‘Allah’ the name of the pagan Supreme Being of the Arabs 10.

The birthplace of Islam was Mecca, an important market town in western Arabia. Jewish and Christian traders were well known to the pre-Islamic pagans who lived and thrived there. However, an important Christian encounter with pre-Islamic Mecca was one of perceived commercial competition which led to war. This is the story.

In 523, the Christian king of the Axumite kingdom of Ethiopia, Kaleb of Abyssinia invaded the Jewish kingdom of the Himyarites in Yemen to aid of persecuted Christians who appealed for help. King dhu-Nawas (Masruq) was driven from his capital, Zafar . The Himyarites later recaptured Zafar and attacked the Christian kingdom of Najran to the north, killing monks, nuns and even children by the thousands12 . Enraged, the negus of Ethiopia sent an army of 70,000 across the Straits of Bab al-Mandab. They routed the Himyarite army and killed dhu-Nawas and ‘the crucifiers’, as Arabs of the Jewish faith were known. An Arab prince who proclaimed himself a Christian was installed as a puppet king of the Ethiopians. However, the African commander of the the occupying forces in Yemen deposed the Christian Arab prince and declared himself an independent king, independent even of the negus of Ethiopia. His name was Abraha. After several unsuccessful attempts at reigning him in, Ethiopia settled for a reception of tribute from Abraha in exchange for recognition of this new Christian kingdom of Yemen, with its new capital at San’a’. Abraha built a cathedral so magnificent that it threatened the pilgrim trade for which Mecca with its 360 idols of the Ka’aba, one for each lunar day, was famous. Pagan Bedouins, fearing that their business may collapse, burgled the church on the eve of its consecration and defiled the altar and cross with animal dung. In revenge, Abraha marched 400 miles north along the west coast to Mecca to destroy the Ka’aba. This African (Ethiopian) king rode a white elephant across the sands, to the astonishment of the camel-riding Arabs. The year of the invasion, 570, has since been known as the “Year of the Elephant”.

The sheikh of the defenseless Mecca, Abd al-Muttalib, tried to negotiate a ransom to save the city. Abraha wanted no human life, but only the destruction of all the idols at the Ka’aba. This was spiritual and economic suicide for the market town. Sadly, al-Muttalib rode back to Mecca to gather a posse to fight to the death for their holy place. In the battle, it was the Yemeni Christians who lost to the Meccan pagans, further reinforcing their belief in the miracle of the Ka’aba.

Moffett described it well, “It was a minor battle fought in a lost desert world, only imperfectly remembered even by tradition”, but it set in motion the future of Christianity in the desert kingdoms of Arabia. For 55 days after the battle of the Elephant, the champion over the Christians, the old Quraish bedouin Sheikh Abd al-Muttalib’s grandson was born. His name was Muhammad.

After this humiliating defeat, Yemen did not remain in Christian hands for long. The Persian Shah Chosroes II made a truce with Constantinople to secure its northern borders, freeing its troops to expand its southern boundary, the Ethiopian tributary state of African-led Christian Yemen. In 575, the Persians landed at Aden and defeated the garrisons of Yemen. The Jewish prince Sayf ibn-dhi-Yazen, son of dhu-Nawas was installed but was soon murdered and replaced by a Persian satrap .

All the major areas of Christian strength in Arabia were dominated by non-Arab foreigners. In the northwest, the Ghannasid kingdom was a tributary state of Rome for some 400 years. In the northeast, the Lakhmid kingdom was absorbed by Persia. In the southwest, the Himyarite kingdom came under Ethiopia and later Persia. No authentic local Arabic Christian base was establish and the Christian scriptures had not even been translated into Arabic17 . This contributed to its inherent weakness against the rise of Islam.

(b) Muhammad and his successors

Muhammad had a total of 16 wives/concubines, of which his two favorites were Aisha, who was 9 when she married him and Mariya (Mary), a Coptic Christian slave given to him as a gift. The only son of Muhammad, Ibrahim (Abraham), was borne by the Christian Mariyah, but he did not live to see his second birthday. Had he survived to heirship, it would have complicated matters of succession. Two of his other wives were Jews.

After the death of Muhammad in 632, the leadership of Islam fell to four caliphs (successors). As it turned out, all four successors (caliphs) of Muhammad were related to him. Abu Bakr and Umar were both his fathers-in-law and Uthman and Ali were both his sons-in-law. Only the first caliph died a peaceful death, the other three being murdered by fellow Muslims and a Persian slave. The spilt in Islam over the issue of succession was never healed. Uthman, the third caliph, was married to Muhammad’s daughter Ruqayya, but favored his own family, the Ummayads of Mecca. He rejected the notion of blood succession and preferred instead to consider the will of the Prophet’s community. It was he who ordered the editing of a single authorized version of the Qur’an, destroying all other copies, thereby establishing the rule of the community which authenticated the Qur’an itself. This important move at once diminished the personal authority of the caliph and introduced primacy to the Qur’an.

Ali, the other son-in-law, married to Fatima, sensed that his own bloodline was in danger. Uthman was murdered and Ali was made the fourth caliph, despite his implication in the murder. This eventually led to his own murder and began the split in Islam.

In 661, following the murder of Ali, the fourth caliph to Muhammad, the Arab governor of Syria, Mu’Awiyah, set himself up as caliph. It was the foundation of the Ummayad caliphate.

Mu’Awiyah set up his new capital in Damascus and named his son the crown prince, introducing the dynastic principle to Islam. A dissident group, the Shi’a (Shi’ites, or ‘party of Ali’) claimed that the right of interpreting the Qur’an should be confined to Muhammad’s direct descendants (either by blood or marriage). They believed that the murdered caliph Ali was divinely designated the imam whose office can only be transmitted to his descendants and who was immune from sin and error. The Ummayad caliphs or Sunni (Sunnites) believed that doctrinal authority changed hands with the caliphate. Syria had a long Hellenistic past and Arabs were shaped by the heritage of Greece rather than of Rome. Indeed, both the caliph’s wife and physician were Christians.

The Sunnites are led by a caliph while the Shi’ites or party of Ali are led by an imam, who must be a descendent of Fatima. Both groups take as the ultimate authority, the Qur’an and the Traditions or Hadiths. The Hadiths are oral traditions about the life of Muhammad. The standard and most authoritative edition , “The Six Books”, is the work of al-Bukhari (810-970).

At its peak, Islam ruled from southern France to northern India and from the Balkans in the north to the Sudan in the south. Yet from its earliest beginnings, it was not a monolith. There was not a single Islam but an increasing number of sects which broke off from Muhammad’s chosen successors.

(c) Islam and non-Muslims

On the whole, Islam has proven to be the only serious threat to western Christendom and civilization. Its impact was so jarring that it influenced most of arts of learning and shaped they way we understand Greek philosophy. Its fabled wealth was captured by military conquests and its legal system developed a apartheid system by which non-Muslims live as second-class citizens, as dhimmi. Underlying its core values is a sixth pillar, Islamic jihad, developed to its fullest during the Third Crusade by the Kurdish sultan, Saladin of the Ayyubid dynasty in Egypt and Damascus.

(d) The Church under the Patriarchal Caliphs (632-660)

Early Islam dealt with non-Muslims by categorizing their level of departure from the teachings of the prophet. There are two kinds of “People of the Book”, Muslims on the one hand and Jews and Christians on the other. Next come the pagans such as the Zoroastrians. Finally, the idolaters. Muhammad wanted to convert the other People of the Book, but finally gave up any hope of doing so, resorting to militancy as an expression of fulfilling the will of Allah.

Islam is about submission, whether by conversion borne of persuasion or not. Thus the Muslim armies were more interested that their objects of war submitted to Allah above all else. If they do so by dint of spiritual turning to God, all the better. If not, their death is not a failure of jihad. By contrast, Christianity is about proclamation. Even if conversion does not take place, the responsibility of the Christian has been faithfully exercised.

The myth that Muslims permitted Christians to live in peace with them is misleading. At best, Christians had to pay a special discriminatory tax to the Islamic government. Sometimes, they were expelled and had all their possessions confiscated. In many cases, forced conversions saved the Christians. At worst, they were killed outright without recourse to conversion to Islam. The dominance of Islam in Arabia made Arabism almost synonymous with being Muslim. This was no accident. Arabs had to decide between conversion or death.

In Arabia, the Taghlib tribe in the northeast were largely Nestorian Christians who aided Muhammad in his final campaigns against Syria and Mesopotamia. After the success of Muslim conquests, the Taghlibs were forced to choose between Christianity and being considered non-Arab. Resisting the renunciation of their Arabism as well as their faith, a compromise was found. They remained Arabs in Muslim eyes but as Christians, had to pay double the amount of tax an Arab Muslim pays and had to promise not to baptize their children. This dispensation was an exception to the basic rule for Arabs under Islamic rule: Convert or die!

In Jerusalem, Christians were initially treated as dhimmi, non-Muslims living as second-class citizens, paying a special tax. However, with change of leadership, later Muslim leaders began to persecute Christians and this eventually led to the Christian Crusades. The first caliph, Abu Bakr ruled for only 2 years (632-634). The second caliph, Umar ruled for 10 years (634-644). He built the first Muslim mosque in Jerusalem . In 638, he led the conquest of Jerusalem. Later, an edict attributed to him, called the “Covenant of Umar”, set out the treatment of Christians in conquered territory. In fact, the practice of subjugating dhimmis to a lesser citizenship slowly took shape and was at its height only much later, around 820. In any case, this administrative act turned Islam from an army into an empire .

The three major branches of Christianity under Islamic Asia were the Nestorians of Mesopotamia and Persia, the Monophysite Jacobites in Syria and the Chalcedonian Melkites of conquered Byzantine provinces. Among these, the Nestorians were the most favored and their patriarch was permitted to maintain his residence at the old Persian capital of Seleucia-Ctesiphon. Patriarch Yeshuyab II (628-643) claimed to have negotiated directly with Muhammad after their defeat to the Muslim army and obtained favorable status. It was Yeshuyab II who sent the missionary known as Alopen on the first known Christian mission to China.

Under Greek Byzantine (Chalcedonian Melkites) rule, both the Nestorians and Jacobites were outlawed and treated badly. However, under the Muslim Arabs, all three Christian branches were equally heretical and were treated pretty much the same except for ‘favoritism’ with the Nestorians . This gave rise to the impression that the Muslims were kinder to Christians under their rule than vice-versa. In fact, what was meant was that the ‘heretical’ Christians felt that the ‘orthodox’ Christians who persecuted them were now in the same boat as them. The Muslims, being rather a pragmatic sort of people, learned to prefer milking their non-threatening enemies of funds rather than kill them outright.

(e) The Church under the Umayyad Caliphate (661-750)

The first Islamic civil war ended with the murder of Ali (4th caliph) at Karbala (modern day Iraq) and the defeat of his followers, the Shi’ites, and marked the start of the royal Muslim dynasty, the Ummayads. The first Ummayad caliph, Mu’awiya (661-680), moved his capital to Damascus, a Christian territory.

Mu’awiya appointed the Christian Syrian, Mansur ibn-Sarjun (Sergius) to a high non-military position. Mansur was the grandfather of John of Damascus (675-749), among the earliest apologetic missionary monk to the Muslims. He mastered the Qur’an and knew the Hadiths of the time. John was unusual in that while he was in the employ of the Muslim state, he continued to write against theological Islam. Whether the Muslims felt he was not a serious threat or whether they wanted the Byzantines to see John as a Christian traitor, helping to administer Islamic rule in Christian territory, is unknown. By the year 700, non-Arab Muslims, notably Persians and Berbers, outnumber Arab Muslims . This may have contributed to Arab Muslim insecurity so that after John left public service in 726, Muslim treatment of Christians took a nasty turn. It remains a mystery why John wrote strongly against Islam but did not protest the erosion of Christian freedom to worship, which culminated with the execution of bishop Peter of Maimuma near Gaza .

The taxation and humiliation of non-Muslims were mandated by the Qur’an. In sura 9, we read “make war upon such of those ... who profess not the profession of truth, until they pay tribute out of hand, and they be humbled”. Apart from this, another point of discrimination was the land tax. The Covenant of Umar under which Christians were to be treated has been summarized in this way:

“You shall be under Muslim laws and no other, and shall not refuse to do anything we demand of you.... You shall not display the cross in any Muslim town, nor parade your idolatry, nor build a church, nor beat the wooden clappers (used instead of bells by the Nestorians), nor use your idolatrous language about Jesus the Son of Mary to any Muslim”

There were other social humiliations. Marrying or committing adultery with a Muslim woman constituted a major crime. Others are evangelizing a Muslim, turing a Muslim from his religion, and helping the enemies of Islam. Christians were ordered to wear a distinctive girdle around their waists to show they are not Arabs. Later, a large yellow patch on their outer garments marked the wearers as Christian .

(f) The Church under the early Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258)

The Abbasid dynasty was the longest-lived Islamic dynasty which lasted over 500 years, until they were defeated by the Mongols in 1258 . In 762, they moved their capital from Damascus to Baghdad. While the Ummayad empire privileged the Arab race, the Abbasid empire privileged doctrinal orthodoxy. The third Abbasid caliph, Mahdi (775-785) staged a famous debate with the Nestorian patriarch Timothy I (779-823) in 781.

The civil rights of Christians were further eroded so that their testimony against Muslims were inadmissible in courts of law. This was because of the charge in the Qur’an that Christians have corrupted their scriptures, staining their witness and making them inherently untrustworthy .

The years from 850-1000 marked the decline of the church in Asia under Muslim control. The Nestorian patriarch was acknowledged to be the principal leader of all Christians by Baghdad. By the end of the eleventh century, the appointment of Christian bishops under the primacy of the Nestorian patriarch Ebedyeshu II (1074-1090) was in the hands of the Muslim caliph, al-Kaim35 . The Abbasid empire itself began a slow decline from 1000 onwards. Much of the fault lay with the warring factions within Islam. They quarreled over issues of succession, political power, centers of spiritual authority, as well as over Islamic law and theology. Muhammad himself warned that while the Israelites have been divided into 72 sects, “my community shall be divided into 73” . In the tenth century, the Abbasid caliphate split into three warring factions in three continents, the Abbasid of Persia in Asia (Sunnite/Shi’ite), Fatimid of Egypt in Africa (Shi’ite) and Ummayad of Spain (Cordova) in Europe (Sunnite) . At around 999, the rise of the Turks had reached the Muslim borders in the east. The Karluk Turks were followed by the Seljuq Turks, or Turkomans. This Central Asian tribe led by Toghril Beg, grandson of Seljuq himself, carved out an empire for themselves. By 1055, the Seljuqs, whom many historians believe might have been Nestorian Christians, were so impressed by the practice of Islam that they entered baghdad as newly converted Sunnite Muslims. Toghril’s nephew, Alp Arslan (1063-1072) conquered Christian Armenia and later emerged victorious against Byzantine Christians in the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, which led to their cry for help to Rome, resulting in the First Crusade38 .

The Abbasid Empire*

(g) The Crusades

The land claimed by the Jews was achieved by an invasion sanctioned by Yahweh, the God of the Bible sometime in the fourteenth century B.C. Christians in the first century A.D. laid claim to be successors to the ‘chosen’ people, the emphasis being on the God who chose rather than on the ‘choice’ people. By the seventh century, Muslims claim to be reformers of the Judeo-Christian tradition and the true inheritors of the biblical lands.

Thus the notion of ‘recovering’ land or ‘recapturing’ cities are loaded terms. The Israelite ‘settlement’ was a religious claim. However, the displaced Canaanites would have seen it as an illegitimate invasion of sovereign lands. The Jewish dispersal and Christian missionary expansion effectively abandoned Palestine. The Muslims ‘took’ Jerusalem on a religio-political claim to protect the land from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. Modern Israel is a political claim based on a religious settlement.

This was how the Crusades began. In 1009, the caliph of Cairo, al-Hakim, tore down the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the holiest site in Christendom, and repudiated a 200 year old treaty between Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne and the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid, which permitted Christian access for pilgrimage to Muslim Jerusalem. In 1070, the Turks took Jerusalem and destroyed the armies of Constantinople at Manzikert a year later. Although the split between Rome and Constantinople took place in 1054, the frightened Eastern Roman Emperor Michael VII appealed to the Roman pope for help. In 1095, Pope Urban II issued a call to arms in Clermont, France. The First (French) Crusade landed and recaptured Jerusalem in 1099, after taking Muslim-controlled Nicaea in 1097 and Antioch in 1098. The great disunity of the Muslims made it look easy for the disorganized Christians39 . The Crusader kingdoms were established but Edessa was captured by the Turks. The Second Crusade launched in response failed to retake the Edessa from the Turks. In 1187, the Kurdish Saladin led an army of Muslims to take Jerusalem and ripped the great gold cross off the crown of the Dome of the Rock. This prompted the Third Crusade led by the French-speaking English king Richard the Lion-Heart. He captured Acre and Jaffa but was too exhausted to retake Jerusalem and ended up signing a truce with Saladin. By 1200, the horrors of the Fourth Crusade began and ended with the decimation of Greek Christian Constantinople in Roman Christian hands from which it never fully recovered. In 1258, Arab Baghdad fell to the fearsome Mongols from the East.

This brief essay seeks to clarify the popular misconception that Christians has a good deal under Islamic Rule while Christendom illtreated non-Christians. While it is certainly true that it was no fun being outside the Church in medieval Europe, various Islamic Empires tolerated non-Muslims only because it was economically convenient to let them live and tax them to death. Islam is a highly pragmatic religion and makes no bones about being commercially viable. Christianity, on the other hand, undergo countless pangs of guilt and hand-wringing as they deal with being in this world while trying to not be of this world. The example fo the start of the Latin Crusades above shows that it is only too easy to think that th Christian Army went on a rampage for nothing. While their campaigns were inexcusable, they were also provoked by the unmitigated acts of the caliph of Cairo. I wish historians would paint a more comprehensive picture of what happened than worry about the sales figures of books written for mass publication.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Was Kant really an enemy of Christianity?

What follows is very brief summary of an essay I wrote some years ago at Yale for a seminar rethinking Kant's posture with respect to the Christian doctrine of atonement. John E. Hare had just been appointed to the Noah Porter chair in philosophical theology to replace my other teacher there, Nicholas Wolterstorff (who retired). Hare is both an internationally recognized Kant as well as Kierkegaard scholar. I quickly wrote to ask if we could do a one-on-one tutorial comparing the two masters of philosophy. he agreed and two other doctoral students joined us for a semester (12 weeks) of intense close reading. Both Hare and I studied under the same professor at Princeton, the just retired Diogenes Allen (for whom I served as his last teaching fellow), famed for his absolute intolerance for any lack of precision and rigor in philosophical argumentation. Both Hare and I were taught (many moons apart) by Allen and his generation of Oxford trained scholars, that Kant moved away from orthodox Christiantiy. However, starting some 15 years ago, a fresh generation of thinkers began to change their impression of Kant's famous First Critique. Among them was a young John Hare, son of Oxford's legendary philosophy don R. M. Hare (an atheist). John's view piqued my interest and I decided to read for myself and hear John out in a serious engagement where the stakes really count - in a seminar where as a student, I have everything to lose. I was duly impressed by Hare's principal argument and explored Kierkegaard myself to make a comparison. Here, I argue that Kant has been misunderstood for several generations and a new generation of Kant scholars, including evangelicals, have begun to question the popular view that Kant was anti-Christian.
Due to the length of the essay (almost 60 pages), I am posting a brief of the summary from the conclusion.


“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe... the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.
I see them before me and connect them immediately with the consciousness of my existence” Immanuel Kant - Critique of Practical Reason, 1788

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) deny that we can acquire a theoretical knowledge of God. For Kant, we know of God by intuition and for Kierkegaard, by experience. By objective and subjective ways of knowing God, both try to show that God cannot be known with objective certainty, i.e., by verification, but can be known through religious belief.
This paper will examine Kierkegaard’s criticism of Kant’s notion of atonement as insufficient and ask if Kierkegaard had correctly interpreted him. For Kant, religious belief is found in pure practical, as opposed to pure theoretical reason. Belief in God is generated by human reflection of the moral gap between what we are and what we ought to be. He has often been thought of as negating the true meaning of Christian theological doctrine of atonement by his rejection of divine grace in favor of auto-salvation.
We begin with a brief survey of Kant’s notion of religion and atonement found in his second critique and his major work on religion. Then we shall summarize Kierkegaard’s three stages of life in his pseudonymous Either/Or. Next, we will discuss Kierkegaard’s critique of Kant’s theory of atonement. We conclude with an appraisal of Kierkegaard’s critique with a commentary on the advantage of literary pseudonymity and the limitation of writing within the limits of reason alone.

The key to understanding Kant is to note his thought experiments in his preface to the second edition of Religion, in which he explains the title of the book. Consider a sphere of pure religion of reason within a larger sphere of historical revelation. All confessional statements describing historical events fall within the part of the larger sphere outside of the smaller sphere, while matters of reason fall within the smaller sphere. He explains that “The philosopher, as a teacher of pure reason, must confine himself within the narrower circle ... and waive consideration of all experiences”41 . While the inner circle rules out parts of the historical revelation as it is interpreted, it does not rule out religion.
This distinction between religion per se and historical events of religious significance is important because it hints at Kant’s determination to control the selection of what is properly within the confines of knowledge by reason alone. He also considers a second thought experiment in which he privileges some alleged divine revelation and leave out the pure religion of reason to examine the revelation as an historical system in the light of moral concepts and see where it leads. If the experiments are successful, he wishes to show that “reason can be found to be ... compatible with Scripture [and] also at one with it, so that he who follows one will not fail to be conformed to the other”. Otherwise, we will have two religions, one of human reason and one of divine revelation42 .
When we read Kant’s notion of atonement in Religion, we must bear in mind the purpose for which he wrote it. Kant’s project of translating religiously significant historical events known to us by divine revelation to the religion of pure reason is not an act of reducing religion to morality. It is an interdisciplinary attempt to speak confessional language in philosophical terms of reference.
Even when he speaks of “Man himself must make or have made himself ... in a moral sense ... whether himself good or evil... an effect of his free choice”, Kant qualifies this statement by limiting it to the moral sense. Likewise he writes that we must understand the phrase Man is created good as Man is created for good, i.e., the original disposition of man is good43, even if his propensity is for evil.
Kant adopts the Lutheran form of the doctrine of total depravity and the human propensity to evil which corrupts us all in the whole along with the original predisposition to good, which helps us survive the Fall.
What of grace then? Is there space for grace in Kant’s view of religion? For Kant, the pure religion of reason can admit the concept of divine grace as something incomprehensible but cannot adopt44, in the doctrine of atonement because grace is beyond the possible scope of sense experience. This does not deny grace if understood from an exposition of religion not limited to the limits of reason alone.
Another feature of Kant’s doctrine of atonement is that it does not permit the transfer of liability because this cannot make sense to pure reason45. But does the transfer occur in Kant’s historical realm? We have to speculate that Kant would say, sure, strictly from the point of view of the historical realm.
Hare argues that Christ takes over our failures when he takes us as members of his own body. The Christ-human relation is qualitatively different from the inter-human relation46 . Will this overcome the Kantian objection against the transmission of liability? From the general perspective of theology, this makes sense, but within the limits of reason alone, I fear not. For reason alone cannot be made to comprehend divine-human relationality short of a confessional conviction that Jesus is God. The framework Kant set up limits his ability to make such a claim, even if he himself believes it, like a faithful Lutheran.

Kant’s view of atonement is inadequate for Christian orthodoxy if understood to be an historical explanation but within the limits of reason alone, it is an adequate and not unfaithful presentation. The question of whether it will be useful as an apologetic is a different matter.
Was Kierkegaard’s demonstration of Kant’s theory successful in showing the inadequacy of Kantian ethics? Again, as a historical account, Kierkegaard was correct, but within Kant’s own stated terms, he was probably misunderstood by Kierkegaard.
If Kant is read as limiting reason to make room for faith in the sense of partitioning knowledge, he would have done Christianity a disservice. However, if we take him on his word that he sought to see what can be universally understood by all humanity regarding God with the use of pure reason alone, he in fact advanced our understanding of God. Hare argues that Kant wished to translate rather than reduce religion to morality. He attempts to recover a Kantian reading that is more in line with orthodox Christian teachings, especially with regard to the doctrine of atonement. How persuasive is this argument?
The title of Kant’s book, Religion Within The Limits of Reason Alone does not refer to a reduction of religion to morality, but rather to a limitation of pure theoretical reasoning as opposed to pure practical reasoning regarding the nature of religion. Short of practical reasoning, one cannot understand historical events such as the virgin conception and incarnation of Christ. This explanation seems to be in line with Hare’s claim that Kant has been unfairly treated and badly misunderstood. I shall argue that Kierkegaard himself failed to carefully interpret Kant. But why did this happen? Why does it continue to happen? I think it is because of Kant’s ambitious project coupled with an inadequate use of literary style for which Kierkegaard was a master.
We are quite aware of the intended effect of Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous writing style, of which Either/Or is one. It permits Kierkegaard to make statements he would be reticent to make if he wrote it under his own name. While it limits what the book can say, what it permits it to say, it can be said very well. In the same manner, Kant’s writings on religion and atonement in the Critique of Pure Reason and in Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone reflects a self-imposed writing paradigm which limits what Kant can say, but permits us to understand from the point of view of someone not confessionally committed to the Christian faith, the limits to which reason alone can comprehend the nature of religion and specifically, of the Christian religion. Kierkegaard adopted a pseudonymous writing style to lead the reader into an apologetic for the Christian faith. But he seriously misunderstood Kant’s style of writing, one strictly from the point of view of a pure atheological philosopher. Kant was perhaps also as a nuanced apologist for the Christian faith, to show that the belief in immortality, God and divine grace is not a violation of pure reason in its complete, theoretical and practical senses. The advantage Kierkegaard has over Kant is that the former wrote under several pseudonyms, so that as Victor Eremita in Either/Or, Kierkegaard is free to express rather extravagant statements about life and faith which he himself does not share, while as Anti-Climacus (the only pseudonym who knows Christianity from the inside47 ), in Sickness Unto Death, he was able to present the view that sin is innate to the human condition and yet can be eliminated by the atoning effect of Jesus Christ, who bears infinite responsibility48 .
Kant does not share the privilege of this literary tool and he paid the price of flying too near the sun without protection. His project to demonstrate the philosophical cogency of the Christian belief in God did not manage to persuade a Christian writer of Kierkegaard’s genius.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Khazanah and Bat Cave pales in comparison to Ron's Office  Posted by Hello