Friday, July 18, 2014

It's a deep dark secret but I'll tell all

I read online just a few days ago that Shanmugam tells a group of Muslims to be watchful of religiosity and I can't help remembering what Lee Kuan Yew wrote in his book in which he advised Muslims to be less rigorous in their religiosity (I'm paraphrasing here because I can't remember his exact words but they were something to this effect) and although I fully agree with both of them, I have to say that they should be saying the same thing (and perhaps with greater emphasis) to some extreme Christian churches. And I'm saying this as a devout Christian myself.

I know I'll be accused by some Christians of being a "traitor" but this is my own blog and Christianity has been my religion all my life and I have served the church ever since I was a toddler and I know I will love the Church and serve the Bride of Christ until I breathe my last. But there is a secret that all religious people carry with us and we do discuss it among ourselves but we normally would not talk about it to others. I will break that unspoken rule of silence and tell all here.

My religious perspective is rather wide-ranging: from a High Church Christian sacramental tradition to an evangelical tradition but what I say here is probably applicable to every religious tradition.

I have always believed in God who of course must be in Three Persons - the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Any other expression or representation of God is anathema. I believed strongly and wholeheartedly in salvation only for those who accepted this particular God. Everyone else, regardless of his background would burn for all eternity in hell. That's what I used to believe. Now, you may think this is an extreme view of religion and only a minority of radicals believe in this but here's where you are wrong. In the Church today (even in my rather liberal church), anyone who does not accept that salvation belongs only to Christians (and they've got to be the "right" kind of Christians or "true Christians" as we would call ourselves) and all others to be consigned to perdition is usually accused of being a rank liberal, an atheist, a wolf in sheep's clothing or even an anti-Christ. Some clergymen in my church are liberal but they are careful never to express their view that non-believers need not be burned in hell for all eternity. If they so much as say that openly, you can be sure parishioners will give them hell. Many years ago, a clergyman in my church said that the spirit of God was alive in people of other religion as well and that immediately attracted a backlash from the congregation. The church had to hold a discussion session with the laity and subsequently, there was a statement made in the church bulletin to reaffirm the view that salvation belonged only to those who believed in Jesus. I would be concealing the truth if I didn't disclose the fact that I was one of the outraged parishioners.

When I was a Sunday School teacher, I was told how my church had to be careful in circumventing some government policies. My church runs schools which are required to comply with the directives of the Ministry of Education. I was told that a long time ago, there was a policy that when a classroom had enough students of any religion who wanted lessons on that religion to be taught, the school was obliged to conduct classes of that religion for the students. I was told that it was a tough time for the church then because they had to reshuffle students in the school so that there would not be enough students in one class who would be taking non-Christian religious lessons. Sometimes, they had to talk to the students to persuade them not to opt for religious lessons but to take a secular lesson in civics studies. That way, the schools of the church managed not to hold religious classes of other faiths.

I would be dishonest if I spoke as if I was totally disapproving of such a stand. I must confess that at that time, I actually felt relieved that the schools of my church did not have to offer lessons in a non-Christian religion. I was no different from most other Christians in Singapore and I honestly believed that a non-Christian religion was the surest path to eternal perdition. When we later prayed to God for his protection over the institutions of my church and to thank him that he had thwarted the influx of false beliefs into our schools, I was truly sincere in my prayer.

And then I got married and had kids of my own and the day came when my son entered Primary 1. Of course he was in the school of my church. The first day of school is always a trying time for kids and that school was no exception. But volunteers from the school chapel were prepared for this. The kids were all taken to the school hall and Christian parents were enlisted to help out. As a Christian, I naturally joined in to assist the church volunteers. What happened in the school hall was nothing less than an indoctrination session. Some boys cried because they were uncomfortable in a new environment but they were all told that whenever they felt fear, they should call on Jesus. To be fair, I don't think the adult volunteers only had indoctrination in mind. They probably wanted to comfort the boys and "running to Jesus" was something they were familiar with themselves.

All around the hall, church and parent volunteers gathered in groups of three to five to pray for the boys. I was in one of these groups and it's not surprising that we prayed that God would comfort the boys and lead them to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour. I was again sincere in my prayer because I really believed that these boys would burn in hell for ever if they died as non-Christians.

I have to say something about our sincerity. Many non-Christians think Christians are insincere when we try to get someone to join our faith. But that's not true. The volunteers who are so eager in converting the boys to the Christian faith are extremely sincere. They don't stand to benefit at all from all this. Their sole motivation is the love they have for the children and the belief that all these boys are heading for destruction if they don't accept Jesus as their Lord. As a very important person in that school told me when I attended the prayer sessions for fathers, he considers it his primary duty to bring the good news of Jesus to everyone in the school. Not just the pupils but also the teachers and staff. During the prayer sessions, special attention was always given to the Mother Tongue Language teachers because, as I was told, this group of teachers was the most resistant when it came to accepting the Christian faith.

If you believe with all your heart that everyone is going to be tortured for all eternity and they can escape the torture by merely accepting Jesus as their Lord, wouldn't you do all you can to try to get everyone to accept Jesus?  That's precisely what all these Christians are doing. It's wrong to say they are insincere. They genuinely want to save people from the hellfire they truly believe in. They really mean well.

Martyrdom has earned a bad reputation with the recent cases of Muslim terrorists blowing themselves up together with innocent people. But the idea of martyrdom in the Christian sense is different. Martyrs suffer for their faith by not renouncing Jesus even in the face of adversity and death. Martyrs spread the good news of Jesus to non-believers even when they have to risk bodily harm and death in doing so. In Christianity, martyrdom does not mean the killing or hurting of others. You don't even hurt a fly. The martyr is the only one who gets killed for his faith. He just dies for refusing to renounce Jesus or refusing to worship other gods or insisting on leading others to Jesus even if it's against the law. Yes, even if there is a law that you should not do that and it's punishable with death, a good Christian should be willing to preach his religion against the law and if he's caught and killed, he dies a martyr.

When I was still in primary school, I would read the newsletters from someone called Richard Wurmbrand. His newsletters were more a news report of Christian martyrs from all over the world, particularly those who suffered persecution and death in communist countries. My brother and I would be so moved by the newsletters that we would earnestly pray that we too would one day die as martyrs spreading the good news of Christ to those who were not Christians.

This brings me to my main point which people who are not of a monotheistic religion of Middle Eastern origin such as Christianity and Islam will find hard to understand. Many of us will stop at nothing to thrust the gospel down people's throats. Even if there is a law prohibiting proselytising, many committed Christians will flout the law even if the punishment is death because they would rather obey Christ's Great Commission than a man-made law. It's the same thing when it comes to Christian morality. We will do all we can to ensure that the whole world (if that is possible) conforms to the Christian standard of morality. The reason is simple. Christians believe that any act that is inconsistent with our idea of morality is deeply displeasing to God and pleasing God is what we have all been trained to do from the cradle. Even if the act is committed by a non-Christian, it's still offensive to God and if we can nip the act altogether in the bud, we are really serving God by pleasing him.

It is for this reason that I personally believe that it's very hard for a committed Christian to be objective in his dealings in this secular world. Whenever I read of controversial actions taken by someone in a position of authority (eg the recent library pulping of books that had a gay theme), I always wonder what the person's religion is and if I hear that he or she is a Christian, I'm afraid I will have serious misgivings about how objective his decision is and how much of it is in fact really influenced by his desire to please God.

Let me examine myself and not turn my attention to others. How objective am I? I'd like to think of myself as extremely objective. When I see mistakes (and there are many) in the Holy Bible, I will openly declare that there are mistakes. Many of the postings in this blog concern the inadequacy of my own religion and the flaws in my own holy book. While I can be very objective when I discuss issues in my blog, I don't think I'm all that objective when it comes to my personal life. But there is one huge difference between me and many pious Christians. I only apply my bigotry to myself and nobody else (not even my own children). For example, I'm totally opposed to gambling and have never gambled in my entire life, not even a single cent, but I'm not opposed to the building of casinos and having facilities for people to gamble. I'm absolutely opposed to divorce and I firmly believe that my marriage must be for life but I do not object to other people getting a divorce nor do I campaign for the abolition of divorces. I am dead opposed to abortion and if my wife had carried a foetus with a serious congenital disease or condition, I would be prepared to look after the child for the rest of his life and I would never contemplate an abortion but I have no problem with other people aborting their foetuses nor will I support a campaign to criminalise abortions.

But many Christians will say that I'm not a true believer because a true believer must believe in the goodness of God's laws and morality for all people and not just for themselves. And because I no longer believe in the idea of heaven and hell as accepted by most fundamentalist Christians, I look upon all acts of proselytising as embarrassingly intrusive.

But Middle Eastern religions of which Christianity is one are known to be notoriously divisive and tribal. As our Lord himself says, "He who is not with me is against me". You are either a follower of Christ or an enemy of Christ.

Some biblical verses can appear deceptively universal in its love and application. Many Christians will quote John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
However, what we often leave out from the quotation when we try to make our faith appealing to non-Christians is the line two verses later:
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
Monotheistic religions are usually very clear in their warning against the worship of other gods. The First of the Ten Commandments is "Thou shalt have no other gods before me". This "we versus the rest of the world" mentality breeds tribalism and separatism which are perfectly fine in a society where everyone adheres to the same religion and is of the same religious "tribe" but in a multi-religious, globalised society such as the one we live in, it spells disaster if the liberals within the religion remain silent.

I firmly believe that the liberals in all religions should be more vocal. If the voice of liberals is not heard, the world will be drowned by the shrill and strident screams of fundamentalists.


  1. “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” (sometimes attributed to Mahatma Gandhi) ... it's very apt in this day and age in Singapore

  2. Thanks, Joy, for your comment. Yes, I've heard that attributed to Gandhi and it's probably true. That's the sort of thing I can imagine him saying. But if you will just allow me to be pedantic (just for the fun of it), what Christ was like depends on whether we are talking about the historical Jesus or the Jesus that the church and Holy Tradition have made him out to be. The historical Jesus might not have been so likeable. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that if Jesus Christ really did exist 2000 years ago, he was most likely an apocalyptic zealot whose only goal was to get the Romans out of the holy land. As a Jewish zealot, he would have detested the very sight of Gentiles (non-Jews). A bit of the historical Jesus' hatred of Gentiles can be seen in St Matthew's Gospel (15:22-28), when Jesus at first refused to heal a Gentile woman's child because she was not "of Israel". Scholars tell us that Jesus used the traditional word Jews used for Gentiles - dogs. Jesus said he could not throw the bread (healing) he had for the children of Israel onto dogs (Gentiles). The woman who had knelt down to Jesus and was kneeling all this while, then debased herself further and told Jesus that even a dog should be allowed to eat the crumbs that fell from the Master's table. Jesus then relented and healed the woman's child. Of course this is repugnant and speaks the worst of the historical Jesus. Mind you, the Gospels the church chose are already sanitised and yet this hatred that Jesus had for Gentiles remained in the verses.

    That is why I'm justified in saying that the historical Jesus is different from the Jesus created by Holy Church. The Jesus we all worship is of course the creation of the church and not the historical Jesus (assuming the historical Jesus existed).

    Oh, you should read the lies apologists write in order to explain away this part of Matthew 15. Some go so far as to say that Jesus called Gentiles "dogs" as a term of endearment!!! Hahahaha.