Notes on doing political theology in Malaysia
Modernity, it was once argued, will drive religion out of the public sphere. Modern political discourse focused on the immanent ground of the sovereign will of the people. The discourse on God , on the other hand, was relegated to the private sphere of conscience and faith. To talk about God in the public sphere is presume to be an act of bad faith.
Nonetheless, the past few decades has witnessed the resurgence of the divine not only in the worldly affairs of man but also scholars from disciplines that are traditionally hostile to theology are taking seriously theology in their scholarly meditations. Atheists like Alain Badiou, Terry Eagleton and Slavoj Zizek, to name but a few, are rigorously quarrying from theology for concepts to understand the world that we live in. On the other hand, theologians like Graham Ward, Max Stackhouse and Oliver O’Donovan are infusing theology with the political in their works. In short, we are witnessing the return of the divine in political discourse which saw the marriage of the politics with theology in what is commonly called as political theology.
As a discipline, political theology is a relative late-comer in the world of academia but judging by the prodigious output of scholarly works and the infusion of “God-talk” in political discourse, political theology is here to stay for quite a while.
Political theology has yet to take root in the local Christian community whether in the context of the Church or the seminary. Alien as it maybe for Christians, we cannot avoid the need for rigorous thinking about the relationship between the political and the theological especially given the challenging times that we live in.
In this piece, I seek to outline some of my own thoughts on how should we begin to do a political theology within the Malaysian context. I argue that any local political theology needs to take into account the horizons that will frame our thoughts on the political and the theological.
I will list here a few horizons that must undergird our political theology. They are:
1. History – much of the works on political theology that we have today are produced in the West. Although invaluable in themselves in helping us to think about the local situation, nonetheless we must not forget that such works are formed in a historical context that are different from ours. For Malaysia is a post-colonial nation-state which requires a sensitivity to the historical contingencies that inform the local context.
2. Information-capitalism and its underlying zeitgeist – we live in the age of information-capitalism and its underlying assumption of the uber-consumer and virtual spectator which effectively ensures the status-quo. What we require is not only a sensitive diagnosis of the effects of information-capitalism on our society but also ways to shake us from the stupors of being just a consumer to one that, in the words of the theologian M.L. .Taylor, “bear the weight of the world.”
3. Other – living in a pluralistic society with varied religions and cultures, there is a need to to form a political-theology that seeks “the peace and prosperity of the city.” It is a sad commentary when churches constructs ghetto to barricade themselves from working with others for the good of all. This task have become more urgent today as we are witnessing a fragile inter-religious and ethnic relationship in the country.
4. Authority – by what authority should a political theology be constructed upon? As a spiritual descendant of the Reformation (particularly that of Calvin), I’m reluctant to let to go of sola scriptura as the basis of authority. Nonetheless, I recognize the inherent problems that comes with this doctrine. As such, I believe that this will be one of the central task of constructing a Malaysian political theology.