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.
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.
(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.
“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.
Neutral adj. not aligned with or supporting any side or position in a controversy
Partisan adj. partial to a specific party, person
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.