Monthly Archives: December 2014

Church and State support one another with their distinctive roles

What is the proper relationship between the Church and the State?

IN ORDER TO ANSWER THIS QUESTION we have to inquire what the Bible and the teaching of the Church have to say about the role and purpose of both these institutions.

Let us begin with the State. In my article for Methodist Message on the Christian understanding of the secular State, I argued from Romans 13 that God instituted the State for the purpose of maintaining the civil order and peace necessary for human flourishing. According to the Reformers, the presence of the secular State points to the reality of Original Sin: it is because of sin and depravity that human society requires the State in this form to prevent it from descending into total anarchy. Because the State has been tasked with enforcing law and order in human society, it has the power to wield the sword. The State is God’s servant so long as it fulfils its God-given mission to ensure that justice and peace prevail for the common good of human society.

As the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it, “The mission of government consists in serving the dominion of Christ on earth by the exercise of the worldly power of the sword which is given to it, and to it alone, in deputyship for God.”

The mission of the Church is profoundly different from that of the State. As a community of sinners redeemed by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, the Church is called to proclaim the Gospel of God’s salvation throughout the world. In fulfilling its mission, the Church not only embodies the Gospel it proclaims, but also stands in solidarity with the world it has been sent to minister. Thus, in bearing witness to the God of grace and mercy, the Church is called to share in the joys and hopes, the anxieties and sadness of humankind.

It is in its profound solidarity with men and women in every station and of every circumstance that the Church becomes the sacrament of God’s love in the world. And because the Church is the means by which divine grace reaches and touches the world, it is present as God’s tabernacle, God’s tent of meeting. Because the Church is a concrete, public and visible community, it is in a very real sense a political reality. But it is a different kind of political reality from the State.

The Church and the State therefore must remain distinct from each other and yet also be related to one another, as we shall see. The Church does not have the authority to write laws that govern the secular lives of citizens of a nation. The State does not have the authority to adjudicate proper forms of worship and religious practices. A failure to acknowledge and respect the differences between the two institutions may result in an unwarranted and illegitimate alliance between them that would be both harmful and dangerous, as Dostoevsky was at pains to show in the “Legend of the Grand Inquisitor” in The Brothers Karamazov.

“A Church dependant on the authority of the State”, writes the lay Catholic theologian George Wiegel, “is open to forms of manipulation that are incongruent with the Gospel and that dangerously narrow the Church’s necessary critical distance from all worldly sovereignties.” The distinction between – and therefore separation of – Church and State would enable both to fulfil their unique missions in the world.

It is by performing their distinctive roles and by fulfilling their special missions that these two institutions support one another. The State indirectly serves the Church by ensuring order and peace in society, that is, by creating and preserving the conditions that make the “quiet and peaceable life” possible (1 Tim 2:2).

By maintaining law, order and peace the State protects the people from the invasion of chaos, and ensures the stability that is so important for human communities and individuals to flourish. From the standpoint of the Church, this stability and absence of strife enables it to worship God, preach the Gospel and minister to its fellow men.

IN FULFILLING ITS ROLE as the guardian of public peace, the State has the right to ensure that the Church conducts itself in accordance with outward justice. But the State should not claim or seek to be the final authority over the Church’s ministry of Word and Sacrament. Put succinctly, the State truly serves the Church by letting the Church be the Church!

The Church, on its part, serves the State by recognising that the State is instituted by God for a particular purpose and by subordinating itself to it in obedience to God (Romans 13). What does it mean for the Church to be subordinated to the State? The Swiss German theologian, Karl Barth clarifies: “What is meant is that Christians should carry out what is required of them for the establishment, preservation and maintenance of civil community and for the execution of the task [of serving the community].”

In subordinating itself to the State, the Church merely acknowledges that God has bestowed on it a certain authority. However, the Church recognises that the command for it to submit to the State is not an absolute imperative, and that its submission to the State must always be relativised by its unconditional submission to God.

Finally, the most important service that the Church can offer to the State is to pray for it (1 Tim 2:1-2). The Church prays that the State may continue to be true to its mission – of maintaining order and peace in the secular realm – so that the Church may fulfil its mission as God’s witness in society.

QUOTE:

STABILITY FOR ALL
“By maintaining law, order and peace the State protects the people from the invasion of chaos, and ensures the stability that is so important for human communities and individuals to flourish. From the standpoint of the Church, this stability and absence of strife enables it to worship God, preach the Gospel and minister to its fellowmen.”


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity. This article was first published in the Methodist Message.

Patriotism in perspective

In what ways can nationalism or patriotism become idolatrous?

MANY PHILOSOPHERS AND SOCIOLOGISTS have observed that the rise of modern secularism has not erased man’s need for religion.

Although it is perfectly true to say that modern man has by and large lost faith in the traditional religions, his need for religion – which is very much alive – has led him to create new ones. This observation corresponds to the Christian view that holds that because God has created humans for fellowship with Him, they are profoundly and incorrigibly religious beings.

Religion, one may say, is hardwired in the spiritual DNA of homo sapiens. The old “secularisation” theory, which argues that the irreversible process of secularisation in the modern world would lead to the gradual but sure disappearance of the sacred, is now largely debunked. Instead, modernity has witnessed a disconcerting metamorphosis of the sacred in other dimensions of human life, such as economics or politics.

Philosophers have coined the term “secular sacredness” to describe the phenomenon. The things of the world are invested with an aura of sacredness and attached to a system of beliefs, myths, rituals and symbols that can only be described as religious. Politics is often treated as a form of “secular” or “civil” religion (the latter term was coined by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the 18th century). In the modern secular world, the nation has the ability to inspire total commitments and loyalties in the way religions used to. Scholars have long noted that the decline of Christianity in the West as the predominant public religion has been supplanted by nationalism. The religious vacuum that the decline of Christianity has left is filled with the sacralisation of the nation.

Social analyst Mark Jurgensmeyer could therefore write: “Secular nationalism, like religion, embraces … a ‘doctrine of destiny’. One can take this way of looking at secular nationalism a step further and state flatly, as did one author writing in 1960, that secular nationalism is ‘a religion’ ”.

Scholars have pointed out that civil religions often borrow elements from traditional religions while creating new rituals and sensibilities that confer sacred status on democratic institutions and symbols. Modern secular (liberal) democratic societies are in some ways just as “liturgical” as traditional religious societies. It is noted as a matter of fact that many people become conscious of citizenship through semi-ritual practices (election, ceremonies and music) and symbols (flags and images). In secular countries, citizenship is often tied to these symbols and rituals that were invented precisely to express as well as reinforce devotion to the nation-state.

One of the most poignant examples is the flag, which many scholars consider to be the central symbol of nationalism. The many “liturgical” rites created around the flag are simply fascinating: there are rituals for “saluting” the flag, “dipping” the flag, “lowering” the flag, and “hoisting” the flag. In some countries, men bare their heads when the flag passes by. People write poems and sing songs (hymns?) about the flag.

These practices are commonplace in most countries and should not in themselves be a cause for alarm for Christians. I have in many places stressed that the Bible does not prohibit the Christian from being patriotic and from taking pride in their country. But when rational pride becomes irrational worship, or when the kingdom of this world becomes indistinguishable from the Kingdom of God, then nationalism, which in itself is legitimate, becomes a perversion and an abomination. It becomes idolatry. And this can happen quite subtly: when patriotic ceremonies and celebrations elicit an unquestioning and uncritical love for the country, and when orators create a secular deity out of the state by extolling its glories, elevating its heroes (secular saints?), and insisting on the infallibility and purity of its policies.

THIS IS PRECISELY THE PROBLEM with Nazism, the example par excellence of the sacralisation of politics and the idolatry of nationalism. The political religiosity of Nazism is based on the deification of the Aryan race, the cult of blood, anti-Semitic hatred and the supremacy of Hitler.

As the Italian historian Emilo Gentile put it: “The political religion of Nazism, with the assistance of expert propagandistic direction, took the liturgical representation of the mass to new heights and culminated in the adoration of the Fürher.” The lure of Hitler was so powerful and the nationalism that he generated so persuasive that even some prominent Christian theologians were swayed to organise the German Christian movement in conformity to the Nazi-State.

Karl Barth denounced this “Yes to Hitlerism” as “one of the worst illusions in an age that was rich in illusions”. Together with other theologians, he composed the Barmen Declaration of 1934 that acknowledges that Jesus Christ, as He is attested in Scripture, “is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death”. It goes on to say: “We reject as false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation”.

The Barmen Declaration therefore continues to be an important document today because it reminds us of the real danger of the sacralisation of politics that would nourish an idolatrous nationalism.

QUOTE:

THE NAZISM EXAMPLE

“The political religiosity of Nazism is based on the deification of the Aryan race, the cult of blood, anti-Semitic hatred and the supremacy of Hitler.”

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine and Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of Ethos Institute for Public Christianity. This article was published in the Methodist Message.

Preserving religious peace in multi-religious Singapore

What is your assessment of the position of the Singapore Government concerning the relationship between religion and politics?

THE SINGAPORE GOVERNMENT’S position on the relationship between religion and politics is delineated in the Maintenance of Religious Harmony White Paper (MRHWP) published on Dec 26, 1989. This document is the precursor to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA) that came into effect on March 31, 1992.

The MRHWP was issued in the wake of the rise of religiosity in Singapore and worldwide in the 1980s. Locally, a number of incidents involving Hindus, Muslims and Christians necessitated the document. During that period, there were a number of complaints about the aggressive and insensitive evangelistic methods of some Christians.

One of the main catalysts for the MRHA is the arrest of the Roman Catholic Vincent Cheng and his associates for forming a political pressure group with the view of subverting the existing social and political system in Singapore (the so-called Marxist conspiracy).

The basic concern behind the MRHA is clearly articulated by Senior Minister S. Jayakumar in a recent interview with The Straits Times: “Increased religiosity itself is not a problem. I see no harm in religious groups being active and trying to get more followers to increase their numbers. But it is what they do and how they go about it in our multi-racial and multi-religious society that is extremely important.” (ST, July 25, 2009).

The introduction of the MRHA was deemed necessary for the preservation of peaceful relations between religious groups and the prevention of an undesirable alliance between religion and politics.

A thorough analysis of the model adopted by the MRHWP is obvious beyond the scope of this brief article. In what follows, I will discuss the broad issues that are raised in the document from a Christian perspective.

The MRHWP proposes the rigorous separation of religion and politics as a means to ensure the peaceful co-existence of the different faith communities in Singapore (para 13, 14). The document cautions religious leaders or members of religious groups against using religion to promote a particular political party or cause. It also prohibits politicians from using the church, mosque or temple to mobilise support for their political campaigns. The document further advises religious leaders to express their views cautiously.

Archbishops, muftis, abbots and pastors should not use their religious authority to mobilise opposition against the Government and its policies. Paragraph22 expresses the essence of the MRHWP when it states that “Members of religious groups may, of course, participate in the democratic political process as individual citizens. They may campaign for or against the Government or any political party. But they must not do so as leaders of their religious constituency.”

It is clear from this that the MRHWP’s understanding of the separation of religion and politics is qualified and nuanced. The document admits that the model of the relationship between religion and politics it proposes is “a matter of convention” (para 24), and that in reality no such separation is possible: “It is neither possible nor desirable to compartmentalise completely the minds of voters into secular and religious halves, and ensure that only the secular mind influences his voting behaviour.” (para 24).

In his 2009 National Day Rally Speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reiterated this point when he acknowledged that it is “natural” for religious people to approach a national issue from their religious perspective. The raison d’être for the “working rules” (para 27) presented in the MRHWP is the preservation of religious peace in multi-religious Singapore. The document offers what social philosophers would call an instrumental rationale for the separation of religion and politics.

The MRHWP does not contradict or nullify the Singapore Constitution that unequivocally states that “Every person has the right to profess and practise his religion and to propagate it.” This is affirmed recently by PM Lee. In a Straits Times article entitled, “Public debate must be secular, in public interest”, it was reported that PM Lee said that “religious groups are free to propagate their teachings on social and moral issues”. Furthermore, the Singapore Government acknowledges the important contributions that religions have made to public life, and encourages them to continue to do so (para 6). The model adopted by the MRHWP also does not preclude the cooperation between religious communities and the state, and such collaborations have a long history in our society.

Finally, the Government has consistently welcomed the contributions of the different faith communities in public debate on issues that affect the larger society. The National Council of Churches of Singapore has issued statements, submitted papers and participated in numerous discussions with representatives from the Government and religious groups on several issues.
The model presented by the MRHWP is consistent with the doctrine of the separation of Church and State that acknowledges that God has given each institution its specific role to play in society. This understanding is based on Romans 13, which teaches that the State has divine sanction to punish evildoers, and maintain civic order in society. The Church, on the other hand, is called to be God’s prophetic witness in the world. A clear distinction between the two institutions is therefore underscored: the Church is not the government, and the pulpit is not parliament. This, however, does not imply that Christians are not responsible for the social and political life of the society to which they belong. But given the social and political realities, these responsibilities must be discharged in a particular way.

The MRHWP, in my view, provides a balanced and helpful guide to the relationship between religion and politics in a pluralistic democracy like Singapore. Thus, although clarifications on some points must indeed be sought and nuances explored, Christians in my view should have no difficulties endorsing the broad principles enshrined in it.


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity. This article was first published in the Methodist Message.

How Christians can contribute to society

Can politics be separated from religion, according to the Christian perspective?

THE SEPARATION OF RELIGION FROM POLITICS, resulting in the notion of “private religion”, is the outcome of the secularism associated with the 18thcentury European Enlightenment.

Before that time, religion was always a matter for the whole community, and never just for the individual. In addition, religion and culture were always inextricably intertwined with each other in such a way that their separation was inconceivable. If politics is broadly defined as the principles or policies by which a community orders its life, then religion obviously cannot be artificially excised from politics. This is true especially for multi-religious societies like Singapore.

Christians generally maintain that religion and politics cannot be separated. This is because, according to the Christian faith, there can be no place for any distinction between secular and sacred. The God who created the world must surely be Lord even of the political realm.

To maintain that there can be no separation between religion and politics is not to reject the concept of the secular state or to insist that the Church should not be separated from the state. The two issues are quite different and must not be confused with one another.

Although the concept of the secular state is in itself in many ways problematic, it is nonetheless useful in identifying the duties of the state. The secular state is one in which the government is limited to the seculum or temporal realm. It is a state that is free from the control of any institutional religion and therefore independent of the latter. The idea of the secular state therefore denies the government the right to use religion for the accomplishment of political ends, and it denies religion the right to use the government for religious ends. In this way, the secular state is arguably better able to ensure what some scholars have called “benevolent neutrality”, where the interests of the members of all the different communities represented in society are taken seriously.

As mentioned earlier, although this model raises a number of difficult and important issues and is far from perfect, for reasons I cannot discuss in this short article, Christians can broadly endorse it without fear of too much compromise. I believe that Singapore’s “Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act” of 1992 is broadly inspired by some such concept of the secular state.

A paradox immediately presents itself: How are we to understand the relationship between the secular state and a religious society? Are the two concepts not contradictory? Here we must further sharpen our understanding of the secular state. A secular state is one that is concerned with the seculum or temporal affairs. However, a secular state is not a state that is committed to secularism. That is to say, the secular state does not deny the reality of the non-physical world and it is not hostile to religious belief and practice. The secular state therefore will not attempt to expunge religious discourse from the public square. It recognises the importance of religion in public life, even as it prohibits religion from using the government for religious ends.

Although there is a growing minority in Singapore who are committed to excluding religion from public discourse, I believe that this is not the position of the Singapore Government. This is clearly evident in the fact that the latter has openly invited different faith communities to participate in debates on important societal issues.

CHRISTIANS BELIEVE that they can make significant contributions to public life, not least by participating in debates on social and political issues. As I have argued elsewhere, this is an aspect of the Christian’s responsibility in society. Christians and the Church, therefore, may serve a political purpose by playing a prophetic role in public life.

Although some Christians have argued that the separation of Church and state and the acceptance of the concept of the secular state require the privatisation of religion, I maintain that this is not the case at all. In fact, the contrary is true: the separation of Church and state has made possible the genuinely prophetic role of religion because the Church, freed from institutional dependence, is no longer subservient to the state in a way that would mute its prophetic voice. The Church is therefore able to be itself – a free and authentic witness for God in society. The separation of Church and state and the concept of the secular state therefore make possible an authentic public religion. They make genuine interaction between Christians and political society a living reality.

Christians contribute to the political life of society by advancing justice and promoting the common good. But in order to do so, Christians (and the Church) must sometimes question the established order and refuse to endorse or “sanctify” policies and traditions that are not in harmony with God’s will. These are all aspects of the prophetic role of Christians in society. Furthermore, prophetic religion must also reach out to the oppressed, the dispossessed, the disinherited and the discriminated. It must reject the temptation to show favour to any particular socio-economic class. It must be free from the fetters of any given culture and the prevailing norms and conventions of society.

By speaking rationally, truthfully and compassionately to many shared concerns and issues, and by participating respectfully, calmly and patiently in public discourse, Christians can contribute – in small but sometimes surprisingly significant ways – to society. In this way, the Christian community can fulfil its public vocation in the world on behalf of freedom, peace, and justice for all.

QUOTE:

“Christians contribute to the political life of society by advancing justice and promoting the common good.”


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity. This article was first published in the Methodist Message.

Every Christian must submit himself to the governing authorities

How should Christians understand the meaning and responsibilities of citizenship?

THE WEBSTER DICTIONARY defines a citizen as “an inhabitant of a city or a town, a member of a country, native or naturalised, having rights and owing allegiance”. Broadly speaking, therefore, citizenship has to do with the relationship between an individual and a community.

In ancient Greece, when the community in question is the city-state, a citizen is a member of a particular city-state. In modern times, however, with the rise of the nation-states, citizenship is defined in terms of one’s membership with a particular nation.

In modern political theory, the concept of citizenship comprises three important elements. The first is legal: the citizen is a legal person with the freedom to observe the laws of the land, and who has the right to the latter’s protection. The second is political: the citizen is a political agent who actively participates in society’s political institutions. That such participation – in whatever form – is expected of citizens can be traced to Aristotle, who wrote, “To take no part in the running of the community’s affairs is to be either a beast or a god!” And finally, identity: as a member of a political community, the citizen receives a distinct identity.

The socio-political climate of the Graeco-Roman world of the early Christians is radically different from that which prevails in modern democratic societies. Even then, the early Christians had always understood their role as citizens of the Roman Empire, and had sought, despite sporadic oppositions and persecutions, to fulfil it to the best of their abilities.

A Christian understanding of responsible citizenship is based on two important theological and ethical principles. Firstly, Christians maintain that civil authority is established by God for the ordering of human society, and that it is the duty of the Christian to submit to it. The Apostle Paul, writing to Christians in the capital city of the Empire (often described as the “eternal city”), issues this explicit injunction: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” (Romans 13:1).

Peter reiterated this injunction, urging Christians in Asia Minor to submit “for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men”. (1 Peter 2:13). Responsible citizenship requires also that Christians pray for those in authority, whether kings or governors, that they may fulfil their God-given roles. (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

The second principle governing responsible citizenship, according to the Christian perspective, is tied to the command to love the neighbour. The Christian’s political engagement and involvement are motivated by his profound concern for the welfare of others and for the common good of society. Even the quest for peace finds its motivation in this command. As the great 5th century theologian Augustine put it, Christians seek the “peace of Babylon” because they are called to love their neighbours (even their enemies).

As citizens, Christians therefore must be actively involved in the affairs of the political community to which they belong. Christian prayer for the peace of society, polisor nation can never be made from a ghetto, a safe haven of un-involvement and detachment. As neither a beast nor a god (Aristotle), the Christian citizen must actively engage in the affairs of the nation. If Christians are called to love their neighbour, then it is also imperative that they make every attempt to improve the political lot of their fellow citizens (regardless of race, language or creed). As responsible citizens, Christians must therefore pay their taxes, obey the laws of the land, respect the property of others, vote, and even defend their country. In fact, Christians must strive to be model citizens. (1Peter 2:11-12).

However, Christians must recognise the fact that they hold a dual citizenship. The Apostle who exhorts the Christians in Rome to recognise and obey earthly authorities also wrote these remarkable words to the Christians in Philippi: “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20).

No theologian has reflected so rigorously or written so elegantly on this profound truth as Augustine. In his famous treatise, The City of God (which took the theologian 13 years to write), Augustine argues that Christians are members of the City of God whilst living with members of the earthly city. While it is their responsibility to seek the welfare of the earthly city, and to serve their fellow human beings, Christians have a distinctive citizenship from which they receive their distinctive identity. As citizens of heaven, they often find themselves in the invidious position of trying to live a Christian life while at the same time struggling to keep the “peace of Babylon”. The members of the City of God can therefore never be fully “at home” in the earthly city.

More importantly, Christians must understand that their citizenship with the earthly city must be defined and shaped by their heavenly citizenship. This simply means that while Christians must do their best to serve the nation, this service must always be part of their greater service to God. Christians are loyal to the nation only if such loyalty does not call them to be disloyal to God. Christians are pilgrims in the earthly city, but their eyes are set on the eschatological City of God. This means, for the Christian, all earthly powers, kingdoms and dominions – indeed all political life – must be relativised. The nation or country to which Christians belong and of which they are citizens can never be the ultimate concern of the Christian.

Responsible citizenship, according to the Christian perspective, can never embrace an idolatrous form of nationalism. Responsible citizenship is not about elevating one’s nation or country to a status that does not belong to it, treating it as an absolute or as infallible. It is about enabling the state to achieve its true purpose, and to fulfil its God-given role: to serve God and the people.

QUOTE:
TWO PRINCIPLES

  • Christians maintain that civil authority is established by God for the ordering of human society, and that it is the duty of the Christian to submit to it.
  • The second principle governing responsible citizenship, according to the Christian perspective, is tied to the command to love the neighbour.

Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity. This article was first published in the Methodist Message.

Science and Wonders

December 2014 Pulse

At Johns Hopkins University, neurosurgeons and biomedical engineers collaborated to create tiny, biodegradable ‘nanoparticles’ that can transport DNA to brain cancer cells in mice. These scientists hope that one day they will be able to load these particles with ‘death genes’ and insert them in brain cancer patients by neurosurgery to selectively destroy tumour cells without damaging normal brain tissue.

‘We now have evidence’, says Jordan Green, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, ‘that these Trojan horses will … be able to carry genes that selectively induce death in cancer cells, while leaving healthy cells healthy’.

Across the Atlantic, scientists at Cambridge University have succeeded in printing eye cells with a 3-D printer for the first time. Since many blinding eye diseases are caused by the loss of the nerve cells in the retina, the promise of this new technology is truly staggering.

The advancement of science and its close cousin technology that we have witnessed in the span of just one century can be described, without exaggeration, as truly phenomenal.

But it is precisely because of science’s great achievements, nestled in an increasingly secular culture, that some are led to elevate it to a status of omnicompetence that it does not deserve. The spectacular success of science should cause us to be wary of a dangerous triumphalism that borders on idolatry that often accompanies it.

Ominous signs of this tendency are already evident in the last century. In 1941, the evolutionist scientist Conrad Waddington could declare that ‘Science by itself is able to provide mankind with a way of life which is … self-consistent and harmonious’.

And in 1960, Indian politician Pandit Nehru could say that ‘It is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and illiteracy, of superstition and deadening custom and tradition, of vast resources running to waste, of a rich country inhabited by starving people’.

More sophisticated thinkers have recognised the fallacy of this popular but inordinate confidence in science. Although science has indeed contributed greatly to human flourishing, insofar as it remains a human enterprise, it can never be anointed as humankind’s saviour.

Theologians and philosophers have long exposed the myth that says that science holds the answers to the world’s problems.

Observing its imperialistic tendencies, the British philosopher Mary Midley points out that from its birth, modern science ‘was associated with two strangely ambitious claims, infallibility and the formal unity of the whole of thought’.

Both these claims are of course patently false.

The diverse and often competing scientific theories suggest that science is not an infallible source of knowledge. For scientists like Peter Atkins and Richard Dawkins to claim that science is the only way to truth and that it can in principle explain everything is therefore unbelievably naïve. Such claims betray a simplistic view of reality, shaped by the narrow rationalism of the Enlightenment.

The scientific imperialists of our day have failed to recognise (or perhaps refused to acknowledge) what other scientists, philosophers and theologians are able to see so clearly: the limits of science.

The theologian Thomas Torrance argues persuasively that science raises questions that it is incapable of answering. Francis Collins, the Director of the Human Genome Project, rightly observes that ‘Science is powerless to answer questions such as “Why did the universe come into being?” “What is the meaning of human existence?” “What happens after we die?”’

As long as scientists refuse to acknowledge the limits of science, their search for truth will be futile. As the Harvard cell biologist and religious naturalist Ursula Goodenough has tragically admitted, ‘The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless’.

Science requires a larger framework of meaning that only Christianity can supply. In fact, both science and religion have indispensable roles to play in the human quest for truth.

As the late Pope John Paul II has eloquently and perceptively put it: ‘Science can purify religion from error; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish … We need each other to be what we must be, what we are called to be’.


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity. This article was first published in the Methodist Message.

Entertaining Satan

December 2014 Pulse

In May this year, about 50 members of the Satanic Temple dressed in black ropes held a black mass at a Chinese restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts. According to the BBC report, dated 19 May 2014, the satanists wanted to conduct the ceremony on the Harvard campus itself, but was forced to relocate because a Harvard campus group pulled its support.

A statement issued by the Archdiocese of Boston warns of the ‘danger of being naïve about or underestimating the power of Satan’. ‘This activity’, it continues, referring to satanism, ‘separates people from God and the human community, it is contrary to charity and goodness, and it places participants dangerously close to the destructive works of evil’.

Contrary to popular belief, satanism and the occult is alive and well in the modern world. Many factors have contributed to the revival of satanism and occultism in the West including secularism, the rise of a new militant atheism, a reaction to Enlightenment rationalism, distrust in institutionalised religion and a renewed interest in neo-paganism and esotericism.

There are basically two types of satanism. Perhaps the most famous version is LaVeyan satanism, named after the colourful founder of the first Church of Satan in California in 1966, Anton Szandor LaVey (real name: Howard Stanton Levey). LaVey is also the author of many books on satanism and the occult including the infamous The Satanic Bible (1969), which has sold millions of copies.

According to scholars of the occult like Carl Raschite and Jeffrey Russell, LaVeyan satanism is an anarchist cult that promotes hedonism, amoralism, atheism, and a rejection of everything Christian. Interestingly, LaVeyan satanists do not believe that God and Satan are real metaphysical beings. Satan, for them is but a Jungian archetype, a collective unconscious that devotees share that shape their understanding of reality and life.

For LaVey and members of the Church of Satan he founded, satanism has to do ultimately with the promotion of the self. At the founding of the Church of Satan, Anton LaVey declared: ‘The flesh prevaileth and a great Church shall be builded, consecrated in his name. No longer shall man’s salvation be dependent on his self-denial’.

LaVeyan satanism is therefore very different from spiritual satanism (also known as theistic or traditional satanism and Luciferism), which dates to ancient times and whose followers not only believe in the existence of Satan, but regard him as the true creator of the world. Spiritual satanists claim they have met and talked to Satan.

Spiritual satanists regard Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, as a false entity. They claim that Jesus Christ is a fictitious figure Christians concocted from pagan legends to deceive the masses. Thus, one of its documents states: ‘The Nazarene is a fictitious entity, whose identity was stolen from some 18+ crucified Pagan Gods, such as Odin, who hung from a tree and is nothing more than a tool to keep humanity under the control of a chosen few’.

Modern satanism promotes itself through various expressions of popular culture including music (especially but not exclusively heavy metal), films, video games, pornography and books. Young people are introduced to satanism in its various forms mainly through the Internet, and many find its anti-authoritarianism, sexual license and anti-aestheticism attractive.

Satanism in whatever stripe is destructive and enslaving.

Various heinous crimes have been committed in the name of Satan by self-styled satanists. Of special notoriety are the Manson murders of 1969 in America for which Charles Manson and his followers were responsible. Another well-known case is the murders committed by the Matamoros drug-smuggling cult led by Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo in 1989. Both Manson and Constanzo were occultists and satanists, and the murders they and their followers committed were ritualistic killings.

The Lutheran theologian Ted Peters, in his book entitled Sin calls modern satanism and occultism ‘radical evil’ because they represent the ultimate blasphemy, a blatant and systematic attack on God. Modern satanism may also be described as the new barbarism because it creates a destructive subculture that seeks not only to undermine but also to dismantle the fundamental mores and values of society.

Needless to say, Christians should have no truck whatsoever with satanism and occultism.


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.