Category Archives: Pulse

Back to the Basics

July 2018 Pulse

The last three decades have seen a slew of books on basic Christianity. A simple search on 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.

Worship and Witness

April 2018 Pulse

In his first epistle to the Christians of the disapora scattered throughout Asia Minor, the apostle Peter used vivid and powerful imagery drawn from the Old Testament to describe the Church. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9), he wrote.

But the set-apart status of the Church cannot be divorced from its awesome responsibility to be the witness of the electing God. Thus Peter added, “… that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9, NIV).

The Church’s doxology – her praises of the One who brought her into being – is inseparable from her witness, that is, her work of mission and evangelism.

Peter’s simple yet profound statement rejects the dichotomy, so endemic in the sensibilities of some modern Christians, between worship and witness. As a worshipping community, the Church is always also a missional community.

The Dutch theologian J. C. Hoekendijk stressed this vital point more than 50 years ago. “The ‘Church’, he wrote, “exists only in actu, in the execution of the apostolate, i.e., in the proclamation of the gospel of the Kingdom to the world”.

He added, “A church that knows that she is a function of the apostolate and that her very ground of existence lies in the proclamation of the Kingdom to the world, does not engage in missions, but she herself becomes mission, she becomes the living outreach of God to the world. That is why a church without mission is an absurdity.”

To gather as a body of believers to worship the sovereign God, whose cruciform love is revealed at Calvary, is to bear radical (and sometimes costly) witness to Him.

Think of the courageous Catholics in Krakow when Poland was languishing in the suffocating grip of the communists, who faithfully marked the solemnity of Corpus Christi by a public procession, despite attendant dangers.

By simply being true to its calling, and by courageously conducting worship in the face of opposition, the Polish Church bore prophetic witness to Christ in the dark decades of communist dominance between 1945 and 1989.

Just as the worship of the Church is inseparable from its public witness, so the Church’s engagement in the public arena must also be seen as an expression of its worship.

Think of the Barmen Declaration of 1934, composed by the Swiss-German theologian Karl Barth, which declared the unrivalled supremacy of Jesus Christ when Germany was under the sinister shadow of the Third Reich.

Barmen states categorically and without compromise that “Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy 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”.

In making this claim, Barmen rejects any political figure who masquerades as a god, and exposes as false the sacralising of any political ideology or programme. “We reject the 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.”

In witnessing to Jesus Christ, Barmen dismantles and destroys the idols conjured by the prevailing zeitgeist, and points to the true God who alone must be worshipped and honoured.

In the same epistle, Peter urges his readers to be prepared to explain the rationality of their faith and hope, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV).

The Greek word for ‘answer’ is apologia, which in this context means to commend the faith to the wider public and to defend it against its despisers. The fundamental theological assumption behind this injunction is the belief that the Gospel is public truth.

As Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon explained, “Our claim is not that this tradition will make sense to anyone or will enable the world to run more smoothly. Our claim is that it just happens to be true. This really is the way God is. This really is the way God’s world is.”

Christian witness can therefore be described as the kind of truth-telling that brings God’s truth not just in the sanctuary but also in the public square.

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.

Gene Editing and Ethics

April 2018 Pulse

One of the most significant and controversial recent developments in genetic engineering and genomics is CRISPR (Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats), a new genomic editing tool.

While scientists have been tinkering with the genome for decades, CRISPR promises to transform the field of biology – especially genetic engineering – because of its unprecedented precision, efficiency and flexibility. Not only is CRISPR more efficient than current gene editing techniques like ZFN (Zinc Finger Nuclease) and TALENs (Transcription Activator-like Effector Nucleases), it is also much cheaper.

Already the therapeutic applications using CRISPR as a tool for gene editing is promising.

For example, in cancer immunotherapy CRISPR can be used to edit the properties of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR-T) cells used especially in patients suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. The technique can also be used to treat latent infections with HIV or herpes by removing viral DNA in infected human cells. CRISPR is used in animal experiments to help scientists replicate the genetic defects in humans in the quest to understand them better.

However, CRISPR is also a useful technique that can be employed for human enhancement and the modification of the germ-line that may have unanticipated and irreversible consequences which may harm future generations.

These developments have generated considerable debate among ethicists. From the standpoint of Christian ethics, human enhancement through genetic engineering and the genetic modification of the human germ-line raise such serious ethical issues that they should be categorically prohibited.

CRISPR is also being used to modify animals or insects in an effort to eradicate certain diseases. For example, CRISPR is used to edit the genes of disease vectors like the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits dengue fever and a subspecies of the Anopheles mosquito that carry the Plasmodium parasite (which causes malaria).

Although this strategy may significantly lower the incidence of dengue and malaria, it may also have dire consequences to the environment and the ecology. As Arthur Caplan has pointed out: ‘The use of gene drives … also poses a much larger risk to the environment, as they have the potential to decimate an entire species, eliminate a food source for other species, or promote the proliferation of invasive pests’.

Regulatory bodies such as the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHS), an arm of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), have produced guidelines for research on genetically modified organisms. However, there seem to be a growing trend of deregulation in the US as techniques like CRISPR become more widely used. The European Union (EU) follows a stricter regulatory regime compared to the US that requires extensive risk assessment before any research on transgenic organisms could be carried out.

Although measures are in place to regulate research in this area, the question is whether it is possible to sufficiently control the off-target effects of CRISPR. Is it possible to prevent the unanticipated mutation of organisms that would result in the emergence of an undesirable phenotype?

Related to this is the problem that some ethicists have described as ‘directed evolution’. The artificial mutations that result from gene editing could lead to the emergence of organisms that are alien to the natural ecosystem, which may not have the capacity to accommodate these organisms should their population increase exponentially.

Is it possible to guarantee that mutated organisms will not enter the environment, replicate themselves and in the long run irreversibly damage the ecosystem?

Bio-safety issues loom large in the debate about CRISPR and gene editing.

Gene editing raises the similar set of ethical issues that other dual-use techniques or technologies present.

On the one hand, CRISPR can be used effectively for therapeutic purposes or for research that may result in therapeutic applications. However, on the other hand, the same technique can be used to create new strains of viruses (that can be used in warfare). This had led the U.S. intelligence community to include gene editing in the list of threats posed by ‘weapons of mass destruction and proliferation’ in its 2016 report.

The best way forward is to ensure that proper governance is exercised on the use of this and other gene-editing techniques. In addition, there should be meaningful engagement on policies governing the use of such technologies with a wide spectrum of the public, including religious bodies.

In framing policies, governments should not only consider technical or safety concerns surrounding the technology in question, important though they undoubtedly are. Moral or ethical considerations or objections should also be taken seriously.

Technical or safety issues could be resolved as the technology advances. But their resolution does not necessarily legitimise the use of the technique or technology. The larger philosophical and moral issues must also be properly addressed before policy decisions are made.

More than thirty years ago, the influential philosopher and ethicist Hans Jonas emphasised the imperative of responsibility in the wake of what he calls ‘super technology’. This call to responsible action is even more pressing today in light of the unprecedented advances in science and technology, which only a few decades ago would be regarded as the stuff of fiction.

Our responsibility is not only to ourselves but also to future generations. For as Daniel Callahan has perceptively pointed out, to exclude any humans, present or future, from our moral community and our moral consideration is not only irresponsible, it is also to be guilty of a form of oppression.

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.

On Christian Exclusivism

March 2018 Pulse

It is perhaps common knowledge that Singapore is the most religiously diverse country in the world. According to a 2014 study from Pew Research, 33.9 per cent of its population is Buddhist, 18.2 per cent Christian, 14.3 per cent Muslim, 5.2 per cent Hindu, 2.3 per cent adhering to folk religions, and 9.7 per cent classified in other religious groups. 16.4 per cent of the population claim to have no religious affiliation.

In the wake of the tense security climate in the region – and indeed, worldwide – the Singapore government has repeatedly urged Singaporeans not only to be vigilant, but also to arrest the spread of extremist ideologies and keep in check exclusivist religious views.

However, the pairing of extremism with exclusivism may give the unfortunate impression that they are the ‘evil twins’ that are harmful and detrimental to the delicate social and religious harmony that we must all strive to preserve. Exclusivist views, especially religious ones, are invariably seen as divisive and a catalyst for fostering ill will between the different faith communities.

While the fundamental concerns of the government are very real and therefore should be taken seriously by faith communities in Singapore, some important clarifications are in order if we are to achieve a more nuanced appreciation of religious exclusivism.

These clarifications are important because Christianity makes exclusive claims about God and the world. It declares that the one God who created the universe is revealed in Jesus Christ, who is the way, truth and life (John 14:6) and therefore the only Saviour and Lord of all people at all times.

Of course, Christianity is not the only religion that makes exclusive truth-claims about God, the human condition and the world in which we inhabit. Most religions, especially the monotheistic faiths, present a vision of reality that it holds to be true in some absolutist sense.

In fact, anyone who is really concerned about the truth would have exclusivist convictions in one form or another. Even the religious pluralist, like the famous philosopher of religion John Hick, who argues that all religions point and lead to the one and the same Ultimate Reality is making a claim that has an exclusivist overtone.

Two fundamental reasons are routinely rehearsed for the current rejection of exclusivism that has become so pervasive in Western societies.

The first has to do with the view that exclusivism – especially religious exclusivism – is simply false. Exclusivism, it is argued, is the result of a kind of jaundiced or blinkered view of reality that is fostered by some version of religious authoritarianism.

And the second reason – which may or may not be related to the first – is that exclusivism is bad or even immoral. Exclusivism is arrogant, abrasive and hostile. It breeds intolerance and discrimination. It results in extremism and, in some cases, even violence.

The present relativistic culture that is so easily scandalised by the claims of objective truth, and where the careless rhetoric of inclusivism and pluralism dominates, has supported the attack on exclusivism by appealing to both its alleged falsehood and intolerance.

Christian theologians and apologists have written tomes to demonstrate the rationality and reasonableness of the Christian Faith. But Christians must also take seriously the second issue related to the modern war on exclusivism, namely, that it spawns intolerance, exclusion and violence.

Christians maintain that the truths they have received by divine revelation are not true only for the Christian community. Rather, as the missionary bishop and theologian Leslie Newbigin puts it, Christians are called to proclaim the Gospel because it is public truth.

Of the original communicators of the Gospel Newbigin writes: ‘They affirmed that the message which had been entrusted to them was one which concerned the destiny of the whole human race. The one who had died and risen again was the saviour and judge of the world. The news was of vital concern to every human being’.

While Christians must continue to uphold and proclaim the truths concerning God and the world they have received from Scripture, they must always do so with sensitivity and respect for people who do not share their convictions. Christian witness must always be governed by agape, a love that is both patient and kind towards the religious other.

This is clearly articulated in The Cape Town Commitment (2011), prepared by the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelisation. While the document states that the ‘[s]poken proclamation of the truth of the gospel remains paramount in our mission’, it is emphatic that this must always be done respectfully.

Furthermore, in a pluralist society Christian witness should always include dialogue. As Newbigin has succinctly articulated it: ‘To affirm the Gospel as public truth is not to assert dominance but to invite dialogue’.

In its paper on inter-faith relations entitled, ‘On Being a Neighbour’ (2002), the National Council of Churches in Singapore maintains that inter-faith dialogue must be seen as ‘an aspect of the larger matrix of social intercourse between persons’. It adds that ‘Christians should not be afraid to dialogue with members of other religions’.

Dialogue should not be seen as the sure road to syncretistic compromise or confused with some form of pluralistic theology where truth-claims are relativised and subjected to negotiations and revisions. Dialogue must be seen as part of Christian witness because Christian witness itself must always be understood relationally (and therefore dialogically).

This means that Christians should reject all forms of coercion and use of force to pressure the religious other to accept their vision of reality or their way of life. Rather, they must always respect the religious rights of others and therefore their inherent dignity by acknowledging their liberty of conscience.

As The Williamsburg Charter (1988), that was penned by Os Guiness and signed by 100 prominent figures in the States, puts it: ‘The right to freedom of conscience is premised not upon science, nor upon social utility, nor upon pride of species. Rather, it is premised upon the inviolable dignity of the human person. It is the foundation of, and is integrally related to, all other rights and freedoms …’

Finally, Christian exclusivism should never be arrogant or abrasive. The Church must see herself as God’s humble witness that is given the special privilege and an awesome responsibility to testify to God’s unimaginable love, grace and mercy that she has herself received (unworthy as she is).

It is out of this deep sense of gratitude and thanksgiving that the Church faces the world as God’s witness. As Newbigin explains, the Church faces the world merely as the ‘arrabon of that salvation – as sign, first fruit, token, witness of that salvation which God purposes for the whole’.

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.

AI and Religion

March 2018 Pulse

Reader’s Question: How would you envision pastoral ministry in an age of robots with Artificial Intelligence.

I would like to broaden the question by examining some of the ways in which AI could impact religion, and the issues and questions this might raise.

In September 2017, The Guardian reported that Anthony Levandowski, the engineer in Silicon Valley behind Google’s Waymo, has founded a new techno-religious pseudo-cult called ‘Way of the Future’, dedicated to the worship of Artificial Intelligence.

According to some sources, the mission of this ‘church’ is ‘to develop and promote the realisation of a Godhead based on artificial intelligence and through understanding and worship of the Godhead contribute to the betterment of society’. In his apocalyptic vision of AI, the autonomous cars guru does not only envision that AI will bring improvements to human lives but that it will one day demand our worship when it acquires ‘godlike’ qualities (e.g., omniscience).

There is little doubt that AI would become more and more ubiquitous in our world as the Fourth Industrial Revolution – a neologism coined by Klaus Schwab – marches relentlessly on. From mobile supercomputing to intelligent robots to autonomous weapons, AI is set to impact society in many and varied ways.

Scholars maintain that there are two types of AI. What is mostly used today is narrow or weak AI, designed to perform specific tasks such as internet searches or driving a car. But many researchers hope to create general or strong AI that has the capacity to outperform humans in every single cognitive task – although some have questioned if this is in fact possible.

Authors like Russell Bjork have argued that creating machines with strong AI can potentially have an idolatrous outcome as they might usurp the place of God himself. In her article entitled, ‘Creating in Our Own Image: Artificial Intelligence and the Image of God’ Noreen Herzfeld perceptively points out that ‘If we hope to find in AI that other with whom we can share our being and responsibilities, then we will have created a stand-in for God in our own image’.

Thus, we enter into a dangerous and dehumanising bind: we create machines with superior intelligence and then worship them as our new gods, thereby becoming enslaved by the very things we have fashioned in our own image.

Writers like Cody Volkers have compared this desire to develop strong AI with the creation of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). But this attempt, Volker rightly asserts, will only end in failure and judgement.

‘When humanity grasps for God-like status’, Volker writes, ‘it is condemning itself to God’s curse. This applies for all history, including today in the pursuit of AI. In conspiring to create AI that takes on divine attributes, such as omniscience, the only outcome can be failure – and judgement’.

Another side to this debate about the impact on AI on religion has to do with the possibility of creating robots in the future that display such intelligence and humanlike emotions that they are even regarded as sentient entities.

Robots with weak AI are already in high demand. For example, in 2014 a Japanese company created a companion robot called ‘Pepper’, equipped with weak AI. Pepper went on sale in 2015, and it was reported that within one minute, the initial 1,000 units were sold out.

Companion robots and robots that are designed to take care of the elderly have sparked a discussion in some circles about whether one could envision a day when intelligent robots would replace pastors. Some scientists debate the possibility of not just programming a robot with general rules of ethics, but with specific Christian values as well.

Rev Christopher J. Benek, a Presbyterian pastor and one of the founders of the Christian Transhumanist Association believe that a robot with ‘the passion of a Billy Graham and the justice implications of a Martin Luther King and the theological consideration of an Augustine’ would gain a large following.

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Benek mooted the idea of robot preachers that could ‘use the inflection and verbal prowess of a Billy Graham or a Martin Luther King and the compassion of Mother Teresa’. ‘That would allow people’s needs to be met because a lot of times we pastors can’t do that’, he adds.

This discussion brings us to the question of what constitutes personhood. Can a robot with super intelligence and that is able to display humanlike emotions be said to be a person? Or, to put the same question differently, can we say that such robots have souls?

Philosophers who argue that personhood may be said to be present when a set of qualities or capabilities – e.g., reason and emotion – are evident would be inclined to believe that machines displaying them can be said to be persons or possessing personhood.

This view, however, is mistaken. In the first place, intelligent autonomous robots that display human traits are in essence only machines that are programmed in this way.

It would therefore be a mistake to conclude that such a robot could be the bearer of the image of God. Only human beings are created by God to be the kind of creatures that by divine grace can reflect their Creator. Only human beings are created with the capacity to be in fellowship with their Creator and with each other.

Thus, a robot with super intelligence that displays human emotions can utter the words of the Lord’s Prayer (perhaps in 50 languages!), but it cannot pray.

In similar vein, the robot that appears to be able to provide sensitive ‘pastoral’ counsel is in fact unable to establish a real relationship with his counselee, since social robots do not experience emotions (the ‘emotions’ it displays are merely simulacrum of human emotions, not the real thing). And according to John Redstone, the empathy that people have with social robots is nothing but a perceptual illusion.

Put differently, the relationship between a human being and a super-intelligent and autonomous robot will always be an I-It relationship. It can never be an I-Thou relationship.

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.