Bishop Paul Tan and the political animals

August 9, 2011 at 10:41 pm 20 comments

Over the last six months, Bishop Paul Tan Chee Ing has given just Malaysiakini alone more than 20 interviews. For those of you who cannot access the pro-opposition news portal which is for paying subscribers only, you can alternatively click on the FMT interviews, here.

INTRODUCTION

The bishop, due to his superb command of English, always uses big words and even more difficult to understand sentences.1 (Click Annex for footnotes.)

Therefore I shall need to paraphrase and simplify some of his comments. However, statements within quotation marks are the bishop’s own words, copied verbatim from Malaysiakini.

Firstly, who is he? Bishop Paul Tan is president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, taking over from Archbishop Murphy Pakiam.2

He is an activist.3

In March, briefly into his tenure, Bishop Paul censured in “no uncertain terms” the impoundment of Bahasa Indonesia bibles by customs at Port Klang and Kuching, and said the action was like the “crass forms of censorship redolent of the communist era”.

When the government released the bibles, Bishop Paul said: “The two conditions [for their release] are flatly unacceptable to Christians who are duty bound to bring the good news of salvation to all who want to listen”. In other words, he’s explaining that Christians also regard it their duty to berdakwah.

Bishop Paul Tan -- Malaysiakini graphic

(A) COUNTERING THE MUSLIMS

On the bible issue, Bishop Paul described as “alarmist” the fears expressed by Perak mufti Harussani Zakaria while at the same time welcoming as “enlightened” the opposite stance taken by the PAS ulama council.

A few days following the above, Bishop Paul took on Selangor mufti Mohd Tamyes Abd Wahid. The bishop argued: “That the term [Allah] has never been the sole property of Muslims is another imperative for the unrestricted dissemination of the Al-Kitab.”

[Paraphrased: ‘Allah’ has never belonged to Muslims only, and this is a good enough reason for the Bahasa Indonesia bibles to be distributed freely here.]

Most recently, he called on Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor (Jais) to prove that the Christians were trying to convert Muslims at the Damansara Utama Methodist Church (DUMC).

He also said that since Harussani has defended Jais, the mufti too should provide proofs.

In another development, the bishop described as “an equivocation, a temporising measure” the decision by PAS to meet up with DUMC and Jais before making a formal statement.

[Dictionary help: Equivocation = not saying things clearly and trying to mislead; Temporising measure = being evasive as a delaying tactic]

(B) SCOLDING THE MALAY PAPERS

Following reports on the foreign funding for Bersih 2.0 by Christian organisations, Bishop Paul denounced the “Christian bashing” by Utusan, saying: “I’m appalled that nothing is being done to stop this paper from spouting arrant nonsense.”

He said Berita Harian and Harian Metro were conducting a trial by media, and unable to back up their claims that Christian groups are out to convert Malays.

In the same interview, he implied (my interpretation of the sentence below) that the penipu politicians cannot bully Christians anymore because Christians are braver now.

“The days of Christians in Malaysia being supine objects of the machinations of duplicitous politicians are over,” he thundered. – Malaysiakini (Aug 6)

(C) SCOLDING THE GOVT

The bishop strongly objected to the government stamping ‘For Christians Only’ on the released bibles.

He said the divide-and-rule strategy is ‘evil’ and subtly harmful, although like Chan Lilian’s tweet, it’s difficult to pin down who exactly the bishop is knocking (his high brow English and special way with words enable him to floor his opponents with a sucker punch before they even know what hit them).

In May, the bishop said that failed politicians are engaging in “witch-hunts and “scaremongering” to divert attention from their sinking popularity.

In another report and after giving his two sen on the gossip about the constitutionality of a Christian prime minister, he complained (on a side note):

“Often, in the past, our dialogues with the government have ended up in smoke and frustration. If this were to happen, then the dialogue would be of no use.”

[Paraphrase/interpretation: It’s quite useless and a waste of time to have discussions with the government.]

(D) SCOLDING CHRISTIAN LEADERS

Bishop Paul ticked off Sarawak’s Joseph Salang Gandum (deputy Information, Communication and Culture minister) for being more a politician than a Christian.

He was also disdainful of the efforts by Idris Jala (minister in the PM’s Dept) to resolve the bible confiscation conflict, saying:

“We spurn the notion we are supplicants on this matter. We are not; we are proponents of the idea that if a strict construction is placed on the freedom of religion guarantee in the constitution, we are sinned against rather than sinning in the matter of the dissemination of the Al Kitab,” argued the bishop.” – Malaysiakini (Apr 14)

[Paraphrase/interpretation: This unnecessary big fuss about the bible is your fault, not ours. We shouldn’t have to beg you to allow us to use ‘Allah’ or to distribute the bibles. It is merely our right under the Constitution.]

(E) SCOLDING EVILDOERS

You can spot the religious types easily. How?

Well, they tend to condemn other people and everything else as evil. In the bishop’s 20 or so Malaysiakini interviews, he was happy to label this and that as evil.

Examples:

“denounced as ‘insidious’ and evil the imposition of two sets of rules – one for Sabah and Sarawak and the other for Peninsular Malaysia – with regard to the dissemination of the Malay Bible, Al-Kitab”. – Malaysiakini (Apr 3)

On the alleged Anwar tape

Strangely enough, the bishop failed to scold that buying sex (regardless of whether it is really Anwar Ibrahim or not) is immoral and instead training his gunsight on the people who exposed the video.

The bishop was also outraged that TV3 had broadcast snippets.

[Bold emphasis is this blogger's].

“It is morally squalid for people empowered with the civil authority to waffle in the face of transparent evil.

“Their dithering is indefensible. Where the secular authority is supinely weak in the face of evil, it is the duty of the religious authorities to speak up, as otherwise, society would be in mortal peril from the pollution to its morals.

“I have said before that our society is in greater danger from our negligence than from our ignorance,” he said. “The authorities were negligent in not charging those who publicly purveyed the video in the first place. Now you have fragments from it circulating on the net. One evil leads to another.”

In other lectures, he said: “This permissive attitude, this relativism in the face of evil actions is an obvious contributor to the moral turpitude we see before us.

“Guardians of law and morality cannot afford to equivocate in the face of insolent evil. They must act or society is at grave risk.” – Malaysiakini (Apr 28)

(F) HAVING A LOW OPINION

The bishop had praise for Anwar Ibrahim4 but was critical of Najib Razak.

“Begging the prime minister’s pardon, I feel matters are the other way round. It is his government’s fidelity to the freedom of religion guarantees in the constitution that is in doubt, not Christians’ respect for Islam,” argued Bishop Paul Tan.

“The ‘1Malaysia slogan – People First, Performance Now’ has now come to mean Woebegone Malaysia – Vested Interests First, The Rest Afterwards’,” he said. In a separate article, he had talked about “… the hypocrisy of people who treat the 1Malaysia concept as a vote-winning slogan …”

(G) IS HE POLITICAL?

Bishop Paul comes across as talking in a religious tone when he said he agreed with Italian poet Dante that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crisis maintained their neutrality.

Indeed he himself does not appear to be neutral when he is talking politics.

As a bishop, it is quite natural for him to share his views (even if they touch on politics) with the Christian flock because they look to him for leadership.

It is also to be expected that he leads the congregation through his actions. Thus, the bishop called for a national day of prayer on July 8 — that is, the eve of the Bersih street rally.

And responding to the recent DUMC affair, he advised: “Only through the ballot box can we bring this continuing vilification of Christians in Malaysians to a shuddering halt.

“Christians should press for proof and, if and when, it is unavailable, express clearly their disgust at the next general election,” said Bishop Paul Tan”. – Malaysiakini (Aug 6)

JUST ONE THING THOUGH

The bishop has more than once alluded to the biblical verse, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”.5

Wikipedia: “This phrase has become a widely quoted summary of the relationship between Christianity and secular authority. The original message, coming in response to a question of whether it was lawful for Jews to pay taxes to Caesar, gives rise to multiple possible interpretations about under what circumstances it is desirable for the Christian to submit to earthly authority.”

In Malaysia, Muslim religious figures give their opinions on political matters too – the ex-mufti of Perlis Dr Asri Zainul Abidin is one of them. They, not unlike Bishop Paul, are respected public intellectuals and have their place in shaping society’s thinking.

But there is a difference between Christianity and Islam. Christianity allows the concept of separation of church and state whereas there is no such thing in Islam.

In fact, Malays like to take the opportunity educate me that Islam is holistic, in the sense that the various facets of life (faith, politics, economics) are all integrated. This appears not to be the case for Christianity, and Bishop Paul himself was quoted as saying in his most recent interview, ‘Bishop condemns devious politicians’:

“The bishop said while the church’s attitude towards politics was that the faithful were encouraged to take part in it but clerics, however, must be circumspect towards politics and politicians.

“Clerics in the Christian Catholic Church are forbidden to be partisan. This is in line with Christ’s admonition to render under Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” — FMT, Aug 8

[also ref. Section (G) above]

Previously, the bishop had said a person would burn in the hottest hell if he cowardly chooses to remain neutral in times of crisis. [Meaning: Do not be neutral]

Yet in his latest interview, he said that Catholic priests cannot be partisan. [Meaning: Cannot take sides]

It looks like we have to dig deeper into the nuances of the words ‘neutral’ and ‘partisan’ because his two statements don’t exactly gel.

Dictionary definition:

Neutral adj. not aligned with or supporting any side or position in a controversy

Partisan adj. partial to a specific party, person

CONCLUSION

Let me recap. One, Bishop Paul warned that clerics must be watchful and cautious towards politics and politicians. Two, he warned about “the manipulation and duplicity by politicians who are out to win votes at the expense of the gullible and the ignorant.”

Basically, he is sceptical of politicians. Yet doesn’t it look to you like the bishop is himself politicking?

It requires a lot of chutzpah for someone seemingly so highly politicized to sound warnings about career politicians doing what they’re professionally trained to do.

So I really have take my hat off to the bishop for his ability to appear to be above the political fray. (But then again, as the bishop himself pointed out, there are “gullible and ignorant” Malaysians.) It is a skill the politicians should learn from him so that they can project the public image as ‘statesmen’ rather than politikus.

But one thing for sure though, Pakatan must make Bishop Paul a Tan Sri if they ever take over Putrajaya for all the benefit they are today reaping from his skill, gravitas and heft. After all, the Perak mufti Harussani Zakaria is already titled by the state for his contributions.

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20 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Anti BN/UMNO  |  August 10, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    Bishop Paul Tan,
    Thank you very much for talking out your heart and mind for all the Christians in the Country. Why can’t we be afforded and given the liberty to practice what had been granted in the Constitution. It seem thing are going down the the drain with Mahathir at the helm of power till to these date.

    We should correct these situation by taking all the rectification come GE13 later.

    Reply
    • 2. Anon  |  April 1, 2012 at 5:08 pm

      For the benefit of those not exposed to the often repeated explanation on the use of the term Allah:

      1. Allah is an Arabic word. Of course it’s normal for Christian Arabs to use the term Allah to refer to their God. Christian Malaysians have never been used to the term Allah. Don’t they generally pray in English/ Latin in the churches?

      2. In Malaysia, Allah is an Islamic word. Islam is stated in the Constitution as “the” religion of the country. That, and Islam being an Islamic word, has to be respected.

      3. The Christians in Sabah and Sarawak may have been using the word Allah even before the formation of Malaysia and the adoption of the Constitution that now exists. But when Sabah and Sarawak became a part of Malaysia, they are obliged to respect and abide by the Constitution of Malaysia.

      4. The BM word Tuhan is adequate for describing the Christian God which takes the form of the Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Allah is the one and only – the Islamic God.

      I don’t understand fully the many Christian denominations in this country. I read that Christianity has a large number of sects and sub-sects – the Protestants alone have some 140. Then there are the Evangelicals, including a Church led by a gay priest wanting to marry a male New York boyfriend, to the chagrin, I suppose, of the Catholic Bishop in this country and the Pope in Rome. But is there strong rivalry in attracting flocks to their various churches in this country? Is the hard line adopted by Bishop Paul Tan a manifestation (not trying to use big words like the Bishop does) of that? Otherwise Bishop Tan sounds like a politician, DAP-ish.

      And what control if any, or what influence if it exists, of the Catholic Church over the other Christian churches generally and in this country? I know Henry VIII of England broke away from the Catholic Church in Rome because the Pope disallowed him marrying (he had 4 wives?) and he started the Church of England which he led. Any one who cares to explain would be greatly appreciated.

      Reply
  • 3. izad  |  August 10, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    he might be a bishop adored by many but he should be a sincere person before he can earned others respect.

    Reply
    • 4. Johnny Long  |  August 11, 2011 at 3:18 pm

      The same goes for our current administration who are demanding that we respect them. Respect is earned as you said and not forced upon.

      Reply
  • 5. tiredofhypocrites  |  August 11, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Hi Helen,

    Am sure that the Bishop will be most willing to meet with you and address the points you have raised.

    Hope you will give him the chance to explain his statements.

    Cheers,

    Reply
  • 6. The Corruptiously Obnoxious Suman Sumbing  |  August 11, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Methinks we all must, once in a while, get away from all this, and have a hearty laugh or two. Do visit my page for that exact purpose. Everyone is welcome.

    http://platoinparody.blogspot.com

    Suman

    Reply
  • 7. Paul Warren  |  August 11, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    Hmm, obviously you, Helen, don’t like being upstaged in the use of English. After all I too have accused you of the same thing that you are now accusing the Bishop of -using some bombastic English when simple straight language should have sufficed. And obviously you also have this scorn for this man of cloth hence the picking and choosing of selected quotes only that prick you.

    Reply
  • 8. Zaki  |  August 12, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    Perhaps Bishop Paul Tan should register & lead a political party based on Christian foundation just like PAS instead of hiding behind as President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. It;s pretty obvious he’s in cahoots with PR esp DAP so it’s about time he acted like a real Christian. Amen

    Reply
  • 9. Pak Yeh  |  August 15, 2011 at 10:12 am

    Bishop Paul Tan said, Allah has never belong to the Muslims.

    Pak Yeh says “Heh,heh. What a liar.!!! Allah does belong to the Muslims/Islam because our book,the Quran in its original language is called Allah.However Allah does not belong to Christians or any other religion because their books,the Bible, Kama Sutra etc,do not use the word Allah for their God. The old testament callas God by the name Yahweh. The new testament/Gospel says Jesus called god “the Father/Padre”.
    Allah definitely dont belong to the Christians.”

    Common Bishop Paul Tan, Lets debate if you have the balls/prunes and the intellect at ..
    1) http://warongpakyeh.blogspot.com/2011/08/dumc-raid-and-blaspheming-of-allah-and.html
    2) http://warongpakyeh.blogspot.com/2010/11/dailog-on-use-of-allah-by-mischeif.html
    3) http://warongpakyeh.blogspot.com/2010/01/christian-abuse-of-allah-and-other.html

    Reply
  • 10. Dicky Zane  |  August 23, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    I love this Bishop’s masterful command of English! The pomp and the bluster give an absoloute finality to his statements, nay, his statements have been elevated to edicts by both his prose and diction! That is why a strong command of the English give rise to stronger arguments, and why in this age of inter-communication, he who masters the English languange masters the mind of the netizens.

    Having said that, his aggressive stance and combative posturing is most alarming for a man of the cloth. I would imagine someone in his position would prefer a more conciliatory path with need not be construed as weak nor ineffectual. Since he has chosen to circle the wagons, would he prefigure that any answer to him by muslims be washed down by claims of bigotry/racism/ignorance that muslims are regularly credited with nowadays?

    Reply
  • 11. Gregore Pio Lopez  |  September 10, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    Nice article Helen. Do hope the good Bishop responds.

    I personally think we need more Malaysians like him.

    For many years, Christians have supported BN saying that as long as BN allows freedom of worship for Christians, who cares if they are corrupt. In some ways separating their faith and duty as Christians from public life.

    Now, many Christians realise this is not tenable. A stand must be taken – although I suspect that many Christians are fed-up with BN more for issues not relating to high ethical standards but more to do with how their comfortable lives are now slowly ebbing away.

    The BN has clearly wronged in all instances that were mentioned. He also raised concerns when PAS dithered on the DUMC raid. I would interpret his stand as protecting the legitimate rights of the Catholic Church and her believers given under the constitution.

    Your right that he takes a more sympathetic approach when it comes to the opposition. But surely the wrongs of BN outweigh the wrongs of the PR.

    Surely this attack on non – Muslims deserves the strongest condemnations.

    Reply
    • 12. Xiu Roon  |  October 12, 2011 at 4:50 pm

      Mr. Gregore Pio Lopez, if all Chinese fed-up to BN and changed to Opposition, I believe the effects are very minimum since BN have more supporters around the country. Its good to see when MCA has decided there will be no Ministerial post among Chinese if they voted for Opposition, leave them alone without any represantative in this multiracial country. Served your right.

      Reply
  • 13. Raphael Fook  |  October 12, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    This is what currently happen when people who’re respected in their respective religion try to mix around politics and religion. In the end, these kind of people tend to be bias,always in favor to those
    who’re ‘act’ to be nice in their eyes, even though that person they favor is not in good behavior. As a follower of Christian at Subang Jaya, I really appreciate my Muslim neighborhood and fed government for their support and understanding, you’ll find a big cathedral in the center of residential area, and we’ll always get support from fed government. So, where it is the fed govn oppressed us? Most of us, the Christian here agree that the Bishop or Prominance of Christian should avoid from political biasing and also please do not include the political in the speech or pray. We just want to These person to be a leader in Christian and find solution to attract our Christian youngster that are strayed away from Christian ways of life nowadays rather than to meddle in political issue. Please.

    Reply
    • 14. Very open minded  |  November 20, 2011 at 7:10 pm

      Rafael Fook,
      When christianity is being trampled upon and as the head of the church it is his right and duty to defend it. The way you put it looks like the church is the trouble maker. You must be blind to the going on between the church and the ruling government all this while.

      Reply
  • 15. andre  |  October 13, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    i dont see any true lights glowing in his face. Sorry to say, he looks someone not alive, really.

    Reply
  • 16. Very open minded  |  November 20, 2011 at 7:15 pm

    Dear Andre,
    Put your photograph in this page and let us see if there is any glow or live in your face.

    Reply
  • 17. Teh Laptop Weilding Meng  |  April 1, 2012 at 11:33 am

    Bishop Paul Tan is a Chinese. That should clarify things.

    Reply
    • 18. kotaypanjang  |  April 1, 2012 at 3:03 pm

      Touche

      Reply
  • 19. LAO ZHANG  |  April 18, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    Mr Paul Tan,

    Sunday for polling, is a small matter. Do you need to do prayers the whole day?

    5,000 years of traditonal chinese culture, just do prayers easy. We just burn 3 incense sticks and offered prayers, it’s that easy. If I am not mistaken, you are a Chinese too. Am I correct? Then better made it easy, you are a high ranking person, made use of your effort to promote a peaceful Malaysia, a goodwill community. I think all fellow Malaysians live in harmony, foster goodwill and unity for all.

    Reply
  • 20. Zainal  |  May 21, 2013 at 6:29 am

    Mr. Paul Tan,

    As I am informed……. your command of English is so damn good. And in English good is God. Though it is not so in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek or Swahili. And certainly not in Al-Quranic Arabic and in Bahasa Malaysia, the Malays of Malaysia.

    Please don’t mention or even talking about the Christian sneaky deceptions in Indonesia or even the Arab countries that led to their adoption of the Al-Quranic term ALLAH for what is their English equivalent of God.

    I consider it quite flattering for Christians to want to adopt ALLAH is their Ultimate One Undivided God. I suggest before they do that they have first to define or explain the distinction between the very English term, spirit and soul. Failure to do that, you are not qualified, in anyway, that the Muslim/Al-Quran identifies as ALLAH.

    The Islamic Kalima is very clear on this : There is no god/gods but ALLAH. It is unique and specific in the Al-Quran. Understanding because it is not a usual non-dictionary term that can be ascribed a word meaning. One needs to read and understand the whole Al-Quran to understand what the term ALLAH indicates or being indicated.

    Muslims will demand an explanation of the very term ALLAH Christians are going to adopt in their Bible in any language version and have to make it public.

    And in the context of Malaysian Court system, I doubt that any judge or set of judges are really qualified to decide it beyond dictionary words meanings

    Finally, I don’t see what you are doing is what in Islam is called dakwah. It is more likely what the Jews has been labelling as proselytisation and, in your case, a cheap and theologically desperate attempt to lure the poor not well informed Muslims children into your churches.

    Finally I must say it to you that there are lots of Jews and Christian who are smart enough to pronounce that the God of Muslims are not their God. And, anytime, I’ll agree to that. It would be the same when you have changed the contents of your bible. And I can do it for you, if you like.

    Reply

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