Category Archives: Pulse

Non-optional Option

September 2018 Pulse

In his book Dispatches From the Front, the Christian ethicist Stanley Hauerwas describes a commercial produced by the National Association for Retarded Citizens. The film begins with a couple standing in a dark room and looking into a crib, the contents of which are kept from sight.

Then the young mother looks up and into the camera and says, “Don’t let this happen to you. Our baby was born retarded. Our lives are crushed and we do not know where to run. Do not let this happen to you. Get prenatal counselling. Help us eliminate retardation.”

Whatever good intentions the Association may have in producing this commercial, it conveys the disturbing message that the best way to eliminate retardation is to terminate the retarded – an inevitable conclusion however we may choose to interpret the commercial. As Hauerwas points out, “We can care for cancer patients by trying to alleviate their cancer without destroying the patient, but you cannot eliminate retardation without destroying the person who is retarded.” However, this is clearly an approach that Christians could never accept.

Sadly, modern society has become so bewitched by utilitarian ethics (in its various guises) that it is no longer perturbed by its twisted moral logic or shudder at its frightful social consequences.

Throughout its history, the Church has always extended its service and care to the most vulnerable in society in ways that are truly self-sacrificial and counter-cultural. This is because Christians recognise the equal dignity and worth of every human being and seek to uphold and demonstrate the unconditional love of God.

In Western Christianity, this vision of the Church is encapsulated in the notion “the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable”.

Unfortunately, many Christians fail to understand this statement. For many, the term “option” suggests a particular course of action that one may choose to take or not to take. It therefore follows that to say that a course of action is an option is to suggest that it is optional.

It is thus imperative that we clarify the meaning and intent of the expression “preferential option for the poor and vulnerable”.

“Preferential” simply means that the needs of the poor and the vulnerable should come first. The expression “poor and vulnerable” refers to society’s weakest and neediest members – the elderly, the terminally ill, unborn children, and all victims of oppression and injustice.

This, however, does not suggest that the poor and the vulnerable are more valuable in the eyes of God. As the liberation theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez makes clear, “God has a preferential love for the poor not because they are necessarily better than others, morally or religiously, but simply because they are poor and living in an inhuman situation that is contrary to God’s will.”

What about the word “option”?

Here, “option” does not merely refer to choice. Rather, it has to do with a fundamental commitment.

As Prof Dr Jacques Haers puts it, “option” in this context refers to “the desire, the will and the ability to struggle in close connectedness with the suffering people against the evil that causes pain and exclusion”.

The Catholic theologian Karl Rahner asserted that while serving the poor and the vulnerable does, in a sense, involve a choice for Christians, it is never optional but a moral requirement.

Thus, for Christians, serving the poor and the vulnerable is a non-optional option. It is a moral imperative and a noble duty. In obeying this imperative and performing this duty, the Christian truly images or mirrors the God he worships, the God who always reaches out to the needy.

In fulfilling this moral requirement, the Christian stands in solidarity with the vulnerable in society by being a ‘neighbour’ in the biblical sense. Here, solidarity demands that the Christian takes concrete actions to alleviate the sufferings of the vulnerable, clearly illustrated by the story of the good Samaritan. As expressed by the eminent ethicist Henk ten Have, “Solidarity is not a pious intention, but shows itself in supporting a specific cause.”

The preferential option for the poor and the vulnerable is not a moral requirement for Christians only. It is the responsibility of every member of human society.

As Pope John Paul II puts it, “A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members; and among the most vulnerable are surely the unborn and the dying”.



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

Nanotechnologies and Ethics

September 2018 Pulse

Imagine creating robots so small that they are able to swim swiftly through fluids like blood to a specific destination to deliver medicine to treat a cancerous tumour. Such nanorobots would not only negate the need for invasive procedures; they would also make possible delivery of medical payloads that is so precisely targeted that it would significantly reduce the side effects of the drugs.

This (and many other mind-blowing applications) is the promise of nanotechnology, a new category of technology that involves the manipulation of materials or molecules at the scale of 1 to 100 nanometres. A nanometre is one-billionth of a metre.

Here is how one journalist describes a nanometre: ‘If a nanometre were somehow magnified to appear as long as the nose on your face, then a red blood cell would appear the size of the Empire State Building, a human hair would be about two or three miles wide, one of your fingers would span the continental United States, and a normal person would be about as tall as six or seven planet Earths piled atop one another’.

Although the study of nanoparticles can be traced to 1914 when Richard Adolf Zsigmondy used an ultramicroscope to investigate colloidal gold and other nanomaterials, it was only recently that scientists are able to manipulate, use and even produce them.

The current applications of nanotechnology are already quite staggering, covering areas as diverse a medicine, air quality control and energy efficiency. For example, in the field of medicine, nanoscale silver is being used as an antimicrobial agent in the treatment of wounds. Nanotechnology is also being used to increase the efficiency of fuel cells and solar cells, while reducing the costs.

Some nanotechnology products have already been commercialised and made available to the general public, often at a speed that has caused disconcertion among some commentators.

As Patrick Lin and Fritz Alhoff note: ‘These nanotechnology products are quickly entering the marketplace today, from stain-resistant pants to scratch-resistant paint to better sports equipment to more effective cosmetics and sunblock’.

Transhumanists like Williams Sims Bainbridge and Raymond Kurzweil have welcomed nanotechnology with much enthusiasm because of their firm belief that the technology would one day be so advanced that it could save human beings from illness, ageing and even death. Some transhumanists even envision the day when the human species itself with be transformed into something much more superior, free from the encumbrances and limitations it currently experiences.

The speed with which nanotechnology is developing and the scope of its applications has led some ethicists to worry that ethical reflections have lagged behind, and perhaps are even unable to catch up with the science. To be sure, there is a paucity of rigorous ethical discussion, and scientists and ethicists alike have not always greeted the new-minted ‘nanoethics’ with enthusiasm.

The good news, however, is that ethicists wrestling with the problems tossed up by this rapidly developing science need not start from scratch. As Mette Ebbesen, Svend Andersen and Flemming Besenbacher have rightly argued, ‘a number of ethical aspects of genetics, biotechnology, and environmental science parallel ethical issues in nanotechnology’.

Following Tom Beauchamp and James Childress, they insist that principles such as respect for autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence and justice can help ethicists navigate the complex labyrinth of ethical and social issues associated with nanotechnology.

Be that as it may, there is still an urgent need to directly address the ethical and social concerns that are specifically tied to this new technology and its applications.

One serious concern has to do with the uncontrolled proliferation of self-replicating nanosystems that may in the long term irreparably harm the ecosystem as it spreads in the environment. In addition, nanobots that malfunction and could no longer be controlled or even detected could not only cause untold damage to the environment but also endanger human lives (K. Eric Dexler’s famous ‘gray goo’).

The dual-use nature of nanotechnology means that products that are meant for therapeutic applications can also be used for biological warfare and terrorism. Although this is a common issue for many technologies, in the case of nanotechnology the problem is much more complex and magnified (pun intended).

The list can easily be expanded.

In an important document on the ethical and social issues raised by nanotechnologies, UNESCO identifies several other peculiarities associated with nanotechnology, broader issues to which serious consideration must be given.

The first has to do with the fact that the ramifications and consequences of nanotechnology are global, affecting ‘even countries and societies that are not participating in nanotechnology as researchers, producers, or consumers’.

And the second has to do with the fact that nanotechnology will most certainly increase the inequalities that already exists between developing and developed countries, what some commentators have described as the ‘nanodivide’.

Although Ebbesen et al are right to point out that the issues addressed in nanoethics and general ethics related to technology bear some familial resemblances, there is still a need to think outside the box and anticipate novel scenarios when it comes to this new technology.

To do this scientists, ethicists and policy makers must not only learn to ‘problematise’ nanotechnology. They must also learn to ‘fictionalise’ it, that is, imagine possible utopian or dystopian futures in relation to this technology. As M. L. Brake and N. Hook note: ‘Science fiction helps to train our intellects to accept our imagination as a useful tool within science’s “toolbox”’.

Because the social and ethical issues associated with nanotechnology are immense and complex, scientists and policy-makers should not be too quick to commercialise nanotech products.

Engagement with the public involving as many sectors of society as possible is not only desirable; it is imperative. This is because the social ramifications of nanotechnology – positive or negative – can potentially impact everyone, users and non-users alike.



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

Body Dynamics

August 2018 Pulse

One of the most interesting concepts peculiar to Methodism is ‘connectionalism’, a neologism coined to describe how the Methodist Church is ordered and organised.

At the practical level, connectionalism refers to the ways in which Methodist churches support each other by sharing their resources – pastors, leaders, and financial support – so that they may fulfil their common mission to spread the Gospel. Seen in this light, this concept points to the symbiotic relationship between different local congregations.

Connectionalism, therefore, is the way in which the unity of the Methodist Church is made manifest. Some have described it as an aggregate model of unity where different groups – local conferences, Annual Conferences, ministry networks – are denominationally bound together in a network of relationships.

While this practical aspect of the concept is generally well understood, more attention must be directed at its theological foundations. As Methodist historian Russell Richey has rightly observed: “Seldom unpacked theologically, this practical and practiced ecclesiology can be an extraordinary resource for self-understanding and for Christian unity, but only if Methodists think about it seriously.” (emphasis added)

Connectionalism should not be seen merely as a pragmatic arrangement, an ecclesiastical polity that is practically appropriate but not in any way theologically grounded. Rather, it expresses what the Church in essence is, and what it should always strive to be. Put in slightly more technical terms, the concept points to the Church’s ontology, its very being.

The most important image of the Church in the New Testament that helps us to understand the essence of connectionalism is the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). Once a believer puts his faith in Christ and is baptised, he becomes a member of what theologians like Augustine of Hippo call Christ’s mystical body (Latin: Mystici Corporis Christi).

The believer becomes a member of God’s universal (‘catholic’) Church by becoming a member of a particular church, for example Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church, through baptism. The believer’s vertical fellowship (Greek: koinonia) with God results in his horizontal fellowship with God’s people, the Church.

The body of Christ metaphor portrays the members’ communion with one another in a relationship of love, mutual responsibility, and interdependence, with Christ as their Head. Each member is equally important (1 Corinthians 12:14-20), and the relationship obtained by the power of the Holy Spirit is such that “if one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Now, the metaphor ‘the Body of Christ’ is used for the local church as well as the universal Church. This means that the local church should never be regarded simply as merely a part of the larger Body of Christ – the local church is the Body of Christ in the fullest sense, regardless of its numerical size.

Nowhere is this more clearly stated than in a paper titled ‘The Church: Local and Universal’ by a joint working group of Roman Catholics and Protestants. In paragraph 14, we read: “The local church is not an administrative or juridical sub-section or part of the universal Church. In the local church the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church is truly present and active.”

However, although complete in itself, the local church also participates in God’s universal Church. Conversely, the universal Church (which stretches across space and time) may be said to be a communion of particular churches.

Here communion must be understood theologically and not simply from the standpoint of organisation or affiliations, formal or otherwise. This means that the universal Church must not be seen simply as a sum of particular churches, a web or federation of churches.

Thus when we speak of the universal Church as a communion of churches, we are pointing to its essential mystery.

As the Roman Catholic document on communio ecclesiology puts it: “…the particular Churches, insofar as they are ‘part of the one Church of Christ’, have a relationship of ‘mutual interiority’ with the whole, that is, with the universal Church, because in every particular Church ‘the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and active’.”

As a neologism, ‘connectionalism’ is at first blush admittedly clumsy and theologically unsuggestive. It gives the impression that it is only of practical – administrative, organisational, utilitarian – import.

But when the concept is unpacked theologically, connectionalism expresses the very essence of the Church, its mystery. It points to the Church’s organic unity.



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

The Politicisation of Science

August 2018 Pulse

The Swedish meteorologist working in the UK, Lennart Bengtsson, is without doubt one of the most respected climate scientists in the fraternity. In April 2014, Bengtsson joined the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a think tank that raised questions concerning the current ‘consensus’ on climate change based on data.

Bengtsson pointed out that climate change predictions that are based on computer models might not give the true picture of the actual state of global warming. ‘Since the end of the 20th century’, he said, ‘the warming of the Earth has been much weaker than what climate models show’.

Note that Bengtsson did not deny that global warming was occurring. He merely raised the scientifically valid question about the accuracy of model simulations and pointed out that observational results have differed.

Shortly after raising this issue, Bengtsson faced the ire of the climate community for challenging the prevailing orthodoxy. He came under such unbearable pressure from his colleagues that he was forced to resign from the think tank.

‘I have been put under such an enormous group pressure in recent days from all over the world that has become virtually unbearable for me’, he writes. ‘If this is going to continue I will be unable to conduct my normal work and will even start to worry about my health and safety’.

He adds: ‘Colleagues are withdrawing their support, other colleagues are withdrawing from joint authorship, etc. I see no limit and end to what will happen’.

The politicisation of science is an inevitable fact, argues Roger Pielke in The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics. Politics is enmeshed in many of the hot-button issues raised by the biological sciences, including evolution, stem cell research and protection of endangered species.

‘The only time you can stay above the fray is when you are a grad student’, says Pielke in an interview. ‘The minute you have to file a grant proposal with NSF or NIH, you’re in the realm of connecting science with the world outside of science’.

That science should be the candidate for politicisation should not surprise us. In the modern world, scientific authority is replacing religious authority, and the pronouncements from the scientific community have achieved the status of dogma. ‘The scientists have spoken’ appears to be an updated version of ‘This is the Word of the Lord’.

Science has ventured beyond the laboratories and exerted its influence in almost every aspect of society. Science has pontificated on how parents should raise their children, how relationships should be conducted, how we should have sex and what food we should eat.

In an age of moral relativism, as politicians find it more and more difficult to justify their agendas and ideologies by moral arguments, science has become an invaluable ally. The authority of science is asserted surely but subtly in our habits of discourse across the disciplines.

For example, with regard to climate change, Sir David Read, the vice-president of the Royal Society, is reported to have said: ‘The science very clearly points towards the need for us all – nations, businesses and individuals – to do as much as possible, as soon as possible, to avoid the worst consequences of climate change’.

The profound significance of the definite article before the word ‘science’ must not be missed. As Frank Furedi puts it, ‘“The Science” is a deeply moralised and politicised category’. Science is hailed as an authority that demands almost unquestioning submission.

The politicisation of science is an extremely complex and multifaceted phenomenon.

One the one hand, we have politicians commandeering scientific evidence – albeit selectively and at times even dishonestly – to advance their own political agendas. On the other, we also see scientists jumping on this bandwagon and aligning their scientific findings to certain ideological commitments.

Politicians and scientists could respond to the same published research in dramatically opposing ways, depending on which side of the political fence they happen to be situated. A case in point is the 2003 paper published in Climate Research that argued that from a millennial perspective climate changes in the 20th century are unremarkable.

Advocacy groups comprising politicians and scientists who oppose the Kyoto Protocol on climate change praised the paper as a sterling example of ‘sound science’. But the groups that supported the Protocol immediately denigrated it as ‘junk science’.

This example makes it painfully clear that issues like global warming are no longer of just scientific concern. They have become political causes. As Kim Holmes observes, ‘Political activism has so penetrated the science of climate change that one can barely tell the difference between a United Nations conference of scientists on global warming and a rally of political activists lobbying governments to adopt controls on carbon emissions’.

To make matters worse, there is also considerably bullying going on in the scientific fraternity. Those who dare to question the findings and conclusions of the majority or contradict the prevailing orthodoxy are sometimes humiliated and ostracised.

Such baneful attempts to shame and shun dissenters go against the spirit of science, which encourages open inquiry. But it shows just how politicised science can be in our modern world.

It should be noted that both the political right and left are guilty of the politicisation of science, even as they blame each other for this crime. So, if as Pielke points out the politicisation of science is a fact of life, what should our response to this state of affairs look like?

For the Christian, both science and politics are moral activities that should be carried out in the service of the truth. While the politicisation of science cannot be entirely avoided, one should nonetheless always strive for an ever-greater objectivity and truthfulness.

To begin with, scientists should be more self-conscious of their political commitments and scrupulously avoid conflating science with ideology in a way that is misleading.

In addition, scientists should also make it clear to the public when they are engaged in advocacy. And instead of merely championing a particular cause, scientists should clarify how the data allows for a variety of policy choices.

Pielke and others have argued that both scientists and politicians must understand the difference between politics and policy. The political perspective is necessarily narrow, limiting the range of alternatives as it pursues a particular agenda and desired outcome.

However, as Pielke explains in an article entitled, ‘When Scientists Politicise Science’, ‘For science, a policy perspective implies increasing or elucidating the range of alternatives available to decision-makers by clearly associating the existing state of scientific knowledge with a range of choices’.

One way in which science can be depoliticised, Pielke suggests, is to ‘ask scientists to participate in the process of connecting science with policy alternatives, to explicitly consider what alternatives are and are not consistent with scientific understandings in relation to different valued outcomes’.

Finally, both scientists and politicians need to achieve a more realistic appreciation of the possibilities and limits of science. Sobriety is the best response to scientism’s distorting portrayal of science and its alleged omnicompetence.

A sober appreciation of science would lead us to conclude that although science is helpful in many ways, it can never be the sufficient basis for solving the world’s problems. By itself, science cannot even resolve political debates on important issues.

To accord science with the competence it does not in fact possess and to use it for political ends is to court disaster for the human community.

As Daniel Kemmis perceptively argues: ‘… the repeated invocation of good science as the key to resolving complex ecosystem problems has itself become bad science. What is infinitely worse is that this bad science is all too readily made the servant of bad government’.


 

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

Back to the Basics

July 2018 Pulse

The last three decades have seen a slew of books on basic Christianity. A simple search on Amazon.com would yield titles like Christianity 101 (1993), Basic Discipleship (1992), and Christianity: The Basics (2014). These books receive their inspiration from their celebrated predecessors, namely, C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity (1952) and John Stott’s Basic Christianity (1958).

The main purpose of these books – as their titles reveal – is to state as succinctly as possible the fundamentals of the Christian faith and its most essential tenets. Their intended readers are either people who are interested in Christianity but are mystified by the varied accounts, or young Christians who wish to get a handle on the faith they have recently embraced.

These books, therefore, have a significant role to play in the spiritual and theological formation of young believers who wish to acquaint themselves with the doctrinal terrain of Christianity. But the habitual return to the basics may prove enlightening and refreshing even for more mature Christians.

What constitutes the basics of Christianity, its non-negotiable essence, is an important and inescapable question. How does one go about distinguishing the essential bits of the Christian faith that must be ‘canonised’, and the rest that should consequently be regarded as theological opinions that can be subjected to discussion and disagreement?

These questions must be carefully considered. This quest can go disastrously wrong if it is guided by false assumptions and alien canons.

In the early 20th century, a formidable group of German theologians led by the eminent Adolf von Harnack sought to recover what they described as the “essence of Christianity”. They wanted to repristinate a Christianity which, in their minds, had been distorted by Hellenistic philosophy.

To cut a long story short, Harnack and his followers began to peel off the husk of the ‘Hellenised’ theology of the Church in order to recover the kernel, namely, the simple teachings of Jesus Christ and His early followers.

The results of Harnack’s research were presented in a series of lectures in the University of Berlin in 1899 and 1900, and subsequently published as What is Christianity? (Das Wesen des Christentums) in 1901. This book, which is the modern re-statement of the essence of Christianity, became the inspiration for liberal theology in the 20th century.

Rejecting what he considered to be the metaphysical accretions of the historic creeds of the Church, Harnack maintains that the essence of Christianity has to do with the universal fatherhood of God, the universal brotherhood of man, and the ethic of love.

Harnack’s project is instructive because it shows us how not to look for the fundamentals of the Christian faith.

Christianity’s essence cannot be sought by severing Scripture from its authoritative interpreter, the Church. Neither can it be sought by privileging the modern scientific worldview over the theological vision of the Church that was informed and shaped by Scripture itself.

In other words, to understand the essence of the Christian faith, one needs to take with utmost seriousness the very things that Harnack had rejected as farcical and redundant.

One needs to return to the historic ecumenical creeds of the Church – the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Chalcedonian Definition – for they are, to use Luther’s fine expression, the “ground upon which the Christian Faith is laid”.

In the creeds, wrote Luther, “you find the whole essence of God, his will and his work beautifully portrayed in few but comprehensive words”.

Basic Christianity, as presented by the creeds, has to do with non-negotiable truths about God and the world that the Word reveals, like the triunity of God, the incarnation of the second person of the Godhead, the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, the final judgement, and eternal life.

Going back to the basics of the faith should never be regarded as an exercise of simplifying the faith, as some writers seem to suggest. It is never reductionist. Rather, it is an attempt to discern the fullness and wonder of God, who in His revelation remains incomprehensible.

In returning again and again to the essence of the faith, we are brought ever deeper into the boundless and inexhaustible mystery of the One who is Love.


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

Liberal Authoritarianism

July 2018 Pulse

In its April 10, 1993 issue The Washington Post reported Dr Ben Carson’s withdrawal as commencement speaker at Johns Hopkins University due to students’ concerns about his view regarding marriage.

In an email to the dean of the medical school, Carson writes: ‘Given all the national media surrounding my statements as to my belief in traditional marriage, I believe it would be in the best interest of the students for me to voluntarily withdraw as your commencement speaker this year’.

More recently, students from Notre Dame University walked out as Vice President Mike Pence gave his commencement speech, while the audience at Bethune-Cookman University booed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos during her speech.

This has led CNN host Fareed Zakaria to decry the ‘anti-intellectualism’ and intolerance of the left. ‘American universities seem committed to every kind of diversity except intellectual diversity’, he is reported to have said. ‘Conservative voices and views are being silenced entirely’.

These incidents are but the tip of the iceberg. They point disconcertingly to the hegemony and authoritarianism of modern liberalism, the coercive politics of the left.

Classical liberalism is an intellectual tradition that invests heavily in the two political ideals of equality and liberty. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whom philosophers like Roger Scruton have christened as the first and greatest liberal, believed passionately in both these ideals. The same can be said of the liberal manifesto set out by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty.

Classical liberals like Rousseau may not have always been successful in giving equal weight to these ‘sacred’ ideals, but they have always scrupulously tried not to favour one at the expense of the other.

With modern liberalism, however, a subtle but significant shift may be discerned. As Scruton points out, ‘the present-day American “liberal” tends to sacrifice liberty for equality when the two conflicts’.

But Scruton has I think put the matter rather too mildly. The truth is that equality has become the central tenet of progressive liberalism, an ideal that trumps freedom. In privileging equality over freedom modern liberalism has not only signalled its ideological departure from the classical expression. It has also inspired a fascistic creed that ridicules the very meaning and essence of liberalism itself.

What, then, is the left’s understanding of equality? Or, as former assistant U.S. Secretary of State Kim R. Holmes puts it even more sharply: ‘What is it about how liberals think of equality that makes them so prone to recommend authoritarian policies to achieve it – confiscatory tax policies, campus speech codes, fining pastors, and the like?’

It appears that the new liberals have favoured a rather skewed concept of equality, one that sanctions and energises its politics of intolerance and coercion. In his book, The Closing of the Liberal Mind (2016) Holmes argues that modern liberals work with the notion of inequality that sees the slightest difference in how certain groups fare in our society as an injustice.

Hence same-sex couples are perceived as victims of unequal treatment (and therefore of injustice) because their unions are not regarded as marriages. A boy suffering from gender dysphoria is seen as a victim of social inequality (and ipso facto of injustice) if the school does not allow him to use the ladies toilet.

In its attempt to actualise its radical egalitarianism in society, the new left believes that it is engaged in nothing short of a political and cultural revolution, and the only way to assure success is to employ aggressive and coercive methods. As Holmes has arrestingly put it, ‘If you want to transform society, as gay activists and even President Obama want to do, then clearly some eggs will have to be broken to make an omelet’.

To be sure, the politics of the new left cannot be said to be a mirror image of the old totalitarianisms. However, as writers like Holmes have pointed out, it is plainly evident that ‘they are willing to dip into the totalitarians’ illiberal tool box’ to achieve their goals.

It goes without saying that leftists are willing to use the powers of the ‘technocratic’ state to push their agendas. In this sense, they display the familial traits of thinkers like Rousseau, who through the mechanism of the social contract, has vested enormous power in the government to ensure that the freedom of citizens are protected, their equality secured and justice is served – regardless the view of the majority.

Modern liberals therefore celebrate state-dictated social engineering programmes like same-sex marriage, affirmative action and open borders – just to name a few.

According to its rhetoric, all these are undertaken in the name of ‘social justice’ and for the sake of the alleged ‘victims’ (defined according to their vision of an egalitarian society). But in reality, these programmes are designed to undermine the kind of social order the left refuses to tolerate.

Christians should be especially wary of the illiberal liberals because they are frequently on the receiving end of much of their intolerance. In his book The Intolerance of Tolerance (2013), D. A. Carson rightly observes that a ‘disproportionate part of the intolerance that masks itself as (the new) tolerance is directed against Christians and Christianity’.

The liberal authoritarians are crusaders against every form of bigotry, except their own.

If bigotry is a negative bias against persons because of their association with a group cast in a negative stereotype, then, as Holmes points out, the ‘progressive liberals have got a problem’. ‘They have developed a bigoted attitude that dare not speak its name – that is, anti-Christianity, or to use a progressive turn of phrase, “Christophobia”’.

Examples of leftist bigotry against Christians are not hard to find.

Christians oppose same-sex marriage because they hold that marriage should be between a man and a woman. But the left insists that Christians reject same-sex marriage because they hate homosexuals. Christians oppose abortion because of their strong view regarding the sanctity of human life. The left, however, accuses them of using pro-life rhetoric to deprive women of their rights.

‘Without the slightest bit of self-awareness, or even irony’, Holmes writes, ‘progressive liberals today regularly make negative stereotypes of Christians that, if they were directed against blacks, would make a white supremacist smile’.

Christians must never be afraid of the authoritarianism of the left or be cowed or paralysed by the venom of its attacks. Christians should stand their ground and continue to courageously speak and embody the truth in obedience to the Word of God.

Christians should take heed of the admonition of Peter to the believers in Asia Minor: ‘… do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence’.

‘Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame’ (1 Peter 3:14-16).



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

Evolving Marriage?

June 2018 Pulse

In her article entitled ‘The Trouble With Modern Marriage’, published in Psychology Today, Erica B. Slotter echoed the questions asked by many marital researchers: “‘What gives?’ What has changed about the nature of marriage since the 1970s that makes it less appealing to some, less satisfying to others, and generally less stable?”

The signs that marriages are not only less resilient today, but that marriage itself is falling out of favour, are altogether obvious and ominous. These trends are not confined only to the West, but are also mirrored in Asian countries like Singapore. For example, in 2015 there were 7,500 marital dissolutions here, compared to 3,500 in 1990.

But why are we witnessing the collapse of marriage and the family?

Some scholars believe that part of the reason for this is the sexual revolution, a social movement in the 1960s responsible for the liberalisation of moral attitudes towards sex and the eradication of taboos. Its libertine attitude is expressed well by the rockers of Woodstock: “If you are not with the one you love, love the one you’re with.”

The sexual revolution has unleashed experimental sexual practices and habits such as ‘open marriages’ and ‘public intercourse’, all of which have wide and disconcerting ramifications to familial and social relationships.

Self-styled progressives and liberals, who are promoting novel models of marriage, are simply not perturbed. They often argue that marriage is evolving. But what exactly do they mean by this?

In his book Defending Marriage, Anthony Esolen rightly takes issue with this liberal evolutionary view of marriage and the family. He points out that the inner meaning of the biological metaphor has to do with the unfolding “of ever greater and more powerful potentialities that had lain latent within”.

In other words, to speak of evolution is to suggest that a more complex and sophisticated organism has emerged from something more primordial and basic. “So a seed germinates and develops into a seedling,” Esolen writes, “which then unfolds in trunk and limbs and leaves and becomes a tree.”

Esolen therefore asks if we can really say that marriage and the family have evolved, “in the common sense of the word”. By what criterion, and on what basis do the progressives and liberals make such a claim?

“Is the family, I say, now something mightier than it was, as the tall oak is mightier than the sapling it used to be? Has it not been disintegrating – not evolving, but collapsing?” he asks.

This discussion brings to the surface another issue that Esolen and many Christian commentators have alluded to but which still deserves more attention. It is the view that marriage, like all other forms of social institutions, should change and adapt with the times. It is the view that, just like other social and cultural customs, marriage should morph if it is to remain relevant, and that society can and perhaps should direct this metamorphosis.

The Church can never endorse the evolutionary view of marriage and the family because it believes that they are instituted by God Himself, and are not merely malleable human customs or conventions.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “the intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws… God himself is the author of marriage”.

Furthermore, marriage as a human vocation cannot be extricated from the nature of humanity itself, for it is “written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator”. In other words, marriage is in a profound sense intrinsic to the order of creation itself.

To understand marriage and family in this way is to see just how essential they are for the ordering and flourishing of human society. The Catechism is again very clear on this: “The wellbeing of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life.”

This means that the attempt to evolve or ‘update’ marriage and family by replacing the model that God had designed with something avant-garde would have serious and perhaps irreversible long-term consequences to society.



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

In-Vitro Gametogenesis

June 2018 Pulse

In its May 18, 2017 issue, The Straits Times reported that researchers in Japan have succeeded in creating viable eggs from the skin cells of adult female mice. Using a technique known as in-vitro gametogenesis (IVG), the team led by Professor Katsuhiko Hayashi of Kyushu University in Fukouka was able to create eggs ‘outside the mouse’ for the first time.

IVG is used to generate sperm and egg cells in a petri dish from adult or pluripotent cells that are capable of becoming any cell type in the body. This includes embryonic stem cells (in this case, induced pluripotent stem cells or IPS cells) that are found in the blastocyst or zygote. Scientists believe that these cells may have therapeutic potentials, such as treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

Currently, scientists are able to derive sperm-like and egg-like cells from murine (mouse) embryonic stem cells (mESCs). It has been reported that a live offspring has been produced after fertilizing natural mouse eggs with sperm-like cells derived from mESCs.

Although progress in humans has been slow, scientists believe that not very far down the road, the success that they have had with mice can be replicated in humans. As Glenn Cohen, Eli Adashi and George Daley state in their paper on IVG: ‘These findings suggest that experimental refinements likely will permit derivation of functional eggs and sperm from [human stem cells] in the not too distant future’.

There are a number of foreseeable applications of IVG.

This technique would enable scientists to study human gametogenesis (that is, the formation of gametes) in vitro as well as diseases of the germline. The technique would also enable scientists to create a vast supply of gametes that can be used either for research or fertility treatment. Finally, it will enable scientists to genetically manipulate the human germline.

As Léa Suruge puts it, IVG has the potential to redefine ‘the notion of what is possible in reproductive and regenerative medicine, as it opens up the possibility of creating human sperm and eggs from induced pluripotent stem cells’.

For example, patients whose reproductive functions have been lost – for instance, because of chemotherapy – could possibly have a child through IVG. Furthermore, when used together with the rapidly advancing genome editing techniques, future scientists and physicians could root out inherited diseases even before fertilization.

However, despite these exciting prospects IVG does present scientists and ethicists with very grave ethical and social concerns. Even the seemingly positive application of IVG may prove deeply vexing for policy makers, ethicists and society.

Take the production of gametes, for instance. As Cohen, et al., have perceptively pointed out, ‘There’s something troubling about an inexhaustible supply of gametes that can be fertilised into an inexhaustible supply of embryos’.

With its potential of creating an almost unlimited supply of eggs or embryos, IVG may raise the sceptre of embryo farming and commercialisation on a scale that is hitherto unprecedented. From the standpoint of Christian ethics, this would result in the unconscionable devaluation of human life.

In addition, because of the ease with which embryos can be created by this method, parents (especially wealthy ones) could opt to generate scores of embryos from which to select the ‘best’ for implantation. ‘IVG could’, write Cohen et al., ‘depending on its ultimate financial cost, greatly increase the number of embryos from which to select, thus exacerbating concerns about parents selecting for their “ideal” future child’.

The ‘rejects’ would either be destroyed or used for research (which would result in their eventual destruction).

When IVG is seen within the framework of the so-called Principal of Procreative Beneficence (PB), the outcome is nothing less that a form of disguised eugenics.

According to Hannah Bourne, Thomas Douglas and Julian Savulescu, PB ‘holds that when a couple plans to have a child, they have significant moral reason to select, of the possible children they could have, the child who is most likely to experience the greatest wellbeing – that is, the most advantaged child, the child with the best chance at the best life’.

Among the ethical objections to PB (and there are many), arguably the most serious is that it creates a eugenics mindset – an ‘arms-race’ as parents iteratively seek to ensure that their child is not placed at a competitive disadvantage.

There are also other serious ethical and social concerns surrounding IVG that must not be ignored. For instance, it could change the meaning of parenting and the received and conventional structure of the family.

IVG could result in ‘single-parent babies’ (not to be confused with single parenting). The cells from a man or a woman could be used to create both sperm and egg that could result in a baby. Such a baby would have only one genetic parent.

Although with the current state of the technology it is unclear whether this will in fact be possible, but if it were possible serious ethical and social implications are not difficult to imagine. Furthermore, it is also not clear if such single-parent babies would have the same health issues that arise from having closely related parents.

IVG would also allow older women to become a parent. Many of these women chose to delay pregnancy in order to pursue their career or find the right partner. Once the technique is perfected, IVG would be a more convenient way to achieve this than social egg freezing, which require the painful and dangerous process of egg procurement.

But there are serious ethical and social implications for women who choose to be mothers in their 40s, 50s and 60s. These issues have to do with the ability of these older mothers to properly nurture their young children and also the burdens their children may be subjected to.

Finally, because IVG enables scientists to generate egg and sperm cells from cells obtained from shed skin flakes, it might be possible for people to become parents without even knowing it. Again this raises serious and profound ethical and social concerns that must not be ignored.

As a ‘frontier biotechnology’, IVG would be accessible only to the wealthy in technologically advanced countries. This would exacerbate the already widening inequality in medicine and healthcare.

It is impossible to put a halt to this developing technology. The therapeutic potentials would spur scientists to pursue this technology to its very limits. Policy makers would be more inclined to introduce rigorous safeguards and protocols rather than imposing a ban or even a moratorium.

But, as experience has repeatedly taught us, international protocols and safeguards, important though they are, are unable to prevent transgressions and abuses that have serious social consequences.



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

Hospitable Classrooms, Inclusive Society

 

May 2018 Pulse

The Straits Times reported on 4 Nov 2016 that the government would be extending the Compulsory Education Act, which was passed in Parliament in 2000, to special needs children. This will take effect in 2019.

Minister for Education (Schools) Mr Ng Chee Meng said that this is “an important milestone in Singapore’s continuing drive towards national inclusiveness”. He added that it “is a reaffirmation that every child matters, regardless of his or her learning challenges”.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) also gave the assurance that no special needs child will be denied of education because his or her parents are unable to pay the school fees.

The move by the government to ensure that all special needs children have access to education is a step in the right direction. It must be welcomed and supported by all who are committed to the common good.

In recent decades, there has been a growing acceptance in Western societies of the role that public schools can play in providing special education to children with learning disabilities. According to some commentators, this development is due to the changing attitudes towards disability and the rise of professional and parental advocacy.

Christian writers on special education like Professor David W. Anderson have long argued that special needs children should be given the opportunity to enjoy the full benefits of an education. In addition, they have insisted on the inclusion of such children as equal members of the classroom community.

Some writers have attempted to envision special education within the framework of a Christian theology of reconciliation. Others have allowed the Christian conceptions of inclusion and interdependence to inform and shape their approaches.

However, in thinking about the inclusion of children with special needs in our schools and classrooms, it is the Christian virtue of hospitality that has proved most helpful.

In her book about hospitality in the Christian tradition, Christine Pohl explains that “the distinctive quality of Christian hospitality is that it offers a generous welcome to the ‘least’, without concern for advantage or benefit to the host”.

Amy Oden helpfully adds that “hospitality does not entail feeling sorry for someone and trying to help…” To understand hospitality in this way is to cause it to degenerate into condescension, where the host becomes the hero and the guest the victim.

As a reflection of divine love, Christian hospitality is neither condescending nor coercive. Rather, true hospitality acknowledges the dignity of the other by respecting the other’s freedom and difference.

Applying this virtue to education, Anderson wrote: “Hospitality, seen in the teacher’s approach to students, and as characteristic of the classroom milieu, conveys welcome, acceptance, and belonging to all students.”

The practice of hospitality in the classroom and the school where there are disabled students requires a radical shift in perspective and orientation. It requires a re-visioning of people with disabilities, and an honest interrogation of the way in which we have understood disability itself.

In the hospitable classroom, the primary focus must be the student, not his disabilities as such. Of course, this does not suggest that the student’s disabilities are unimportant. Rather, it acknowledges the fact that the disabilities of the student and the limitations they impose are not the totality of his being, but one aspect only.

It recognises that disabled students share many things with their able-bodied classmates, that they are “more like the other students than different”, as one writer puts it.

In a hospitable classroom, positive attention is given to all students, and necessary accommodations and modifications are made for the disabled so that they can participate in all activities. As Nilsa Thorsos has written, in this welcoming environment, special students are made to see that “they too are included and required to make significant contributions to society”.

Inclusive education disabuses us of the deep-seated assumption that children – as well as adults – must be ‘normal’ if they are to contribute to society. As Norman Kunc points out, inclusive education compels us to “search for and nourish the gifts that are inherent in all people”.

It is only when a society recognises the intrinsic worth of every person (including the disabled), and welcomes and accepts them, that it can be said to be truly inclusive.



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

An Unholy Alliance

May 2018 Pulse

In one of his epistles, the apostle John exhorts his readers not to believe every spirit, but to ‘test the spirits to see whether they are from God’ (1 John 4:1). John was of course urging his readers to exercise spiritual discernment ‘because many false prophets have gone into the world’.

While John’s exhortation sought to warn Christians of falsehood within the church, it can surely be extended beyond that context. Christians must be cautious and prudentially critical in processing the tsunami of information that comes their way every day.

They must not believe everything they read in the media and embrace every idea that they encounter. Instead they must ‘test them’, that is, subject them to careful and critical evaluation to ascertain their truth or falsehood, and to discern the subtle ideologies and hidden agendas that fuel and shape each perspective.

One of the most politically and socially debilitating phenomena that we witness today, especially in the West, is arguably the curious ‘alliance’ between Islamism and left-wing ideology and politics.

In the context of this article, ‘Islamism’ refers to that ideology that seeks to impose a version of Islam, namely, political Islam over society. ‘Left-wing’ broadly refers to that species of politics that exhibits a radical and socialist bent.

This strange alliance, which is sometimes described by the neologism ‘Islamo-Leftism’, has captured the attention of numerous scholars and social commentators. It has also been subjected to severe criticisms by some leftist thinkers, notably Michael Walzer who offered an interesting analysis of this phenomenon in Dissent.

The circumstances and reasons that led these two quite disparate parties to become bedfellows are intriguing and merit careful study.

One of the reasons why the left wittingly or unwittingly colludes with Islamists is the former’s vociferous anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist attitude. The left vehemently condemns western intervention in Iraq, Libya or Syria, believing that these powers – the United States or Britain – are not acting in good faith but are attempting to increase their wealth and influence at the expense of the people living in these countries.

The left supports the Islamists because they not only see them as victims of ruthless western powers, but also as a resistance movement against imperialism. This has inspired wildly outrageous statements from leftist academics and public intellectuals.

For example, the Slovenian Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek could declare that Islamic radicalism is ‘the rage of the victims of global capitalism’. And Judith Butler, the American feminist philosopher, opines that ‘understanding Hamas and Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of the global left, is extremely important’.

This has led the left to turn the proverbial blind eye to the atrocities committed by the Islamists.

Deepa Kumar suggests in his book, Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire that even though the left recognises the crimes committed by Islamists, they are slow – almost reluctant – to lay the blame on them because they perceive the Islamists as opponents of western – especially American – imperialism. As Walzer puts it starkly: ‘So “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”’.

Additionally, the leftists have naively conflated the Islamic supremacists with Muslims. Consequently, criticisms of Islamism are equated with criticisms of Muslims, and are swiftly and decisively condemned. But in doing so, the leftists have willy-nilly supported the very narrative that the Islamists are promoting in an attempt to feign representation.

Consequently, the left commandeers ideas like inclusivism, multiculturalism, group rights and Islamophobia – along with many others – to condemn the actions of people with whom they disagree, regardless of whether these actions are justified or not. The Islamists have much to thank the left for providing the rhetorical tools that they can employ to their fullest advantage.

Take ‘Islamophobia’, for instance. Now anti-Muslim sentiment is a real phenomenon in the wake of the current situation, and a potential threat to social peace.

But both leftists and Islamists have used Islamophobia (and racism) as a political and rhetorical devise to scaremonger people to silence. This has led Pascal Bruckner to observe in his book, The Tyranny of Guilt that Islamophobia is ‘a clever invention because it amounts to making Islam a subject that one cannot touch without being accused of racism’.

The same can be said of ‘multiculturalism’. The left has used multiculturalism (again, with racism) to defend the oppressors – the Islamic supremacists – whom, as we saw above, they had regarded as the oppressed. ‘Multiculturalism’ is employed to silence dissenters without even giving them the chance to articulate their views and their reasons for holding them.

As Maryam Namazie puts it, ‘this politics doesn’t merely ignore dissent, in many ways it forbids it. The likes of StWC, Socialist Workers Party, Unite against Fascism, Islamophobia Watch, and Respect Party or Ken Livingstone and George Galloway are there as prefects to silence dissenters and defend Islamism as a defence of “Muslims”’.

Namazie has rightly described the pro-Islamist Left as promoting a ‘politics of betrayal’ that is extremely dangerous and that has and will continue to cause the deaths of innocent people.

In the West, leftist ideologues have made their presence felt in many sectors of society – in academia, media and the law – imposing their vision of the human community, very often with an undercurrent of threat and coercion.

‘Do not believe every spirit’, John writes. Instead, ‘test the spirits’. In our complex world, this call for discernment is something that the Christian simply cannot afford to ignore.



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