Happy Christmas: Let’s keep religious sensitivities at bay

RELIGION and race are two issues which I would normally refrain from discussing in a public forum like this column. I have distanced myself from these two subjects for as long as I can remember as a writer.

I have often reminded my friends on my email lists not to broach these two rather sensitive subjects for discussion in cyberspace. This is because everyone will have an opinion about them and more often than not, any such discussion would likely end in a bout of disagreement, even bordering on animosity at times.

Years ago, many of my friends in the journalistic fraternity did not necessarily agree with me when I advised them not to highlight negative issues on race and religion in their publications.

I explained to them that editors should be able to judge whether such issues, particularly those stirred for political expediency, would be of benefit to readers. Or would they likely create discord and fuel anger among our people?

We should be wary of some crazy politicians in our midst bent on harping on religious and racial issues just to score points. These are the personalities we should not be promoting in the media.

In practising freedom of the press and freedom of expression, we should reserve the right to also practise freedom of choice.

Media practitioners should be aware that any debate on sensitive religious issues will not do the nation and citizenry any good.

There is nothing to gain from indulging in a debate over religion. It is a subject which is too personal, even too sacred, to discuss in the public domain. For believers, religion belongs to that tiny space within the heart and that is where it should stay.

Two years ago, I was very disappointed with some of our politicians when they started quarrelling (not debating, mind you!) over the ‘Allah’ issue.

Parties from both divides started using it to score points, attempting aimlessly and fruitlessly, to outwit and outsmart each other.

This is where our politicians made a fatal mistake.

They should never have started to tread on an issue which they have no answer to or do not know how to resolve later. But they never learn. Or perhaps, they don’t care.

What was so sickening to note was that some of them who issued statements on the ‘Allah’ debates seemed to be nonchalant about the deeper sensitivities of what should be considered a sacred matter.

They just debated as if this was just an ordinary political bout and waited for their opponents to respond. They just wanted to claim victory, as they would on other issues.

But the ‘Allah’ issue was too big for them to handle and sadly, though not surprisingly, some of our politicians have pea-sized brains.

They always and only want to win. But little did they realise that there were no winners in that case. If things got out of hand, they would only be losers.

Therefore, it may be prudent to remind our media people to stand above religious quarrels and debates for there are groups out there who just want to score points for personal interests.

There are times when I feel that suddenly, there appears to be people, especially those in the political arena who seem to know God better than God Himself. And our media should not give space to religious bigots. That is acting sensibly and responsibly.

Today is Christmas Eve – isn’t this the season to be jolly? Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem so these days for Christians in the country.

For the minority religious group, there is a sense of unease in the wake of rising tensions with the authorities.

Recent events did not speak well of the religious tolerance and harmony that we have so proudly declared to the world.

The recent raid on the Damansara Utama Methodist Church in Petaling Jaya, the appointment of a non-Christian head of the coveted Convent Bukit Nanas School — a Catholic mission institution, and the internal PAS squabbling over the Islamic state are issues which are raising concerns among Malaysians.

Christians have always had to be ‘cautious’ in dealing with the government, said Sam Ang, secretary-general of the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship, the country’s largest evangelical group.

“I think there is definitely a sense of Christians feeling threatened much more now, although not so much physically.

“Our situation in Malaysia is not new, and Christians have been facing this although over the past three years, it’s become worse,” he said.

Happily, in spite of the increasing tension between the church and state, there are also those who believe the maturity of believers will be able to mend the rift.

A report this week quoted Thomas Philips, president of Malaysia’s Council of Churches, as saying that “everywhere you go, you can see normal Malaysians of all religions celebrating Christmas together.

“I don’t believe there is distrust, and a feeling of any one religion being threatened.

Those are just games the politicians and media play.

“From what we have seen, there is still much hope for people of all religions to live peacefully here.”

Again, I’m proud to state that Sarawak leads the way in showing religious tolerance and harmony at its best.

A report in The Borneo Post with a photo spread of a 6,000-strong crowd taking part in a Christmas parade in Kuching early this week was a heart-warming sight.

More than 20 churches representing the various Christian denominations in Sarawak took part in the event, serenely lighted up by candle-bearing participants and angelic music and carols.

The Boys’ Brigade and Girls’ Brigade brass bands brought more cheer and joy to the parade and balloons were distributed to the public.

This Kuching parade was significant coming in the wake of the recently-legislated Peaceful Assembly Bill and the furore over certain OCPDs’ insistence of a police permit for Christmas carolling in Peninsular Malaysia.

This prompted a reader to comment in the paper that “we hope our fellow Christians in West Malaysia are allowed to do the same as Kuching Christians without being hit by water cannons”.

Seriously, there is an important prayer we Christians should offer on this joyous and holy Christmas season – that Malaysians may be filled with the grace and wisdom to harness and nurture the religious tolerance and harmony that we have held dear to for so long. I think that will be the main offering on my part for the Christmas midnight service tonight.

Have a Holy, Blessed and Happy Christmas and may the peace and love of the Lord be with you all. – Borneo Post

Comments can reach the writer at paulsir99@hotmail.com

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