They’ve done it again

No, I’m not talking about the Worker’s Party.

When I was in my Honours Year, I came across a poster outside the Science Library, which led me to a Christian website that misrepresented some parts of Buddhist doctrine. I have no doubt that it was put up by someone from an organisation on campus.

Just now, a photograph floated up on facebook showing some smiling Theravadin monks and a small girl with hands clasped in anjali. The words were (emphasis mine):

Thailand. The land of the free. The constitutional monarchy is a very well-loved and respected King. The country of smiles.

But did you know? Thailand is a place of little true joy. Buddhism is so much a part of the Thai national identity and permeates into every level of society and culture that only about one hundred Thais accept Christ each year in the country of over 68 million people.

Do you share the burden of being the one small change agent, bringing gospel to the Thais, one at a time?

With its many temples and monks, it is hard to ignore the fact that Buddhism is Thailand’s national religion. With only 1.6% Christians, most Thai students see Christianity only as a foreign religion. The land of smiles needs to hear the gospel message. Come and share with Khonkaen university students that Jesus is the Way, the True [sic], and the Life!

Go. Change. World.

http://gen12ii.cru.sg/projects/

Visit that website, and you will find that it is run by the Campus Crusade for Christ, which has a chapter in NUS.

The style and spirit seemed inspired by the beautifully illustrated but roundly condemned coffee table book, Peoples of the Buddhist World.

Thailand is not the only place they are training people for:

[Japan]

Though most Japanese students profess to be Shintoists or Buddhists, they do not show much interest in religion. Yet, by the power of God, previous Gen12ii teams have had the privilege of seeing converts go on to disciple others and become life-long laborers for the Lord. Will you avail yourself to bring the good news to the Japanese where many have never even heard about Jesus?

[“East Asia”. I suppose this means China.]

As a country that has witnessed one of the fastest growing Christian population, this is an exciting ministry to be a part of! However the spiritual need in this country remains huge. Along with the growth in wealth, East Asia is witnessing increased materialism and moral decline. There is a great need for us to bring the life-changing message of Jesus to them. Will you step out in faith to partner Him to change nations?

[Turkey. Note that instead of writing “Muslim”, they abbreviate it as “M”. Why the stealthy reference? Afraid of search engines?]

In a country where much of the population is M, much prayer and work is needed in this place. As our first team to be sent to this place, you will be reaching an unreached people group. This is a pioneer work where you will get to help start movement on their campuses! Come & be a part of this team and trust God for greater things!

[New Zealand.]

You may remember New Zealand as the filming location for “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, but do you know that the country has become increasingly secular in recent years? Today, almost 40% of New Zealanders claim to have no religion at all. A new venture for GEN 12ii, go to New Zealand and share the Good News with university students!

[North-East Thailand.]

With its many temples and monks, it is hard to ignore the fact that Buddhism is Thailand’s national religion. With only 1.6% Christians, most Thai students see Christianity only as a foreign religion. The land of smiles needs to hear the gospel message! Come and share with Khonkaen university students that Jesus is the Way, the True and the Life!

[India.]

The Incredible India, the second most populous country in the world, its cultural history spans more than 4,500 years. India is notable for its religious diversity, with Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam, Christianity, and Jainism among the nation’s major religions. Take this chance to help pioneer campus movements at Bihar, which have been previously attempted yet failed for 3 times.

I jumped up, borrowed a camera, and rushed down to the lecture theatre where it was stated to be found, but I could see no signs of it. Only a group of ?students on a bench outside. I could catch fragments of what they said, and they were most probably discussing the issue.

While I must say that since becoming Buddhist, I have mellowed in my opinions and reactions to such things. Still, I had at least some blood boiling to deal with. That is my defilement, and I acknowledge that I need to deal with it.

But meanwhile.

The photo is making the rounds on facebook. Following the case study of Rony Tan, let me guess what’s going to happen:

1. Someone is going to send it to TOC, TRE, ST, or it gets picked up somewhere and the authorities cannot ignore it any longer. Some political leader will speak out.

2. The people responsible will apologize to the Thais and Thai Buddhists, and note that the poster has been taken down at the first opportunity. They say they regret the words, which were poorly chosen, and say they have the highest respect for Buddhism and Thailand, or words to that effect. Maybe they will also beseech everyone not to share the photo.

3. SBF or the elder Sangha will accept the apology, and urge all Buddhists to move on.

4. Everything is then assumed to be well and dandy, and the bad feelings are swept under the carpet.

5. NUS OSA and authorities clamp down on religious and racial student societies. They will use a very big, indiscriminate clamp, meaning that the ones that have never made trouble and on the contrary have always showed great respect for others, such as Catholic Students’ Society, Muslim Society, and of course Buddhist Society, will see greater controls exerted on them. As it is, my juniors have complained to me that they are finding more and more restrictions and demands placed upon them by the administration. One particular conversation was recalled to me: an officer asked the committee if our speakers, who are monks and nuns, can come in ordinary clothes and not robes. So robes are deemed to be religiously sensitive or offensive? At the same time, student societies are experiencing a change in the incentives to join extra-curricular activities.

6. At the next fellowship meeting, those who are unhappy with the noise made about this issue will discuss how it is to be expected that they are being persecuted for carrying out their Good Work, and that such obstacles are a test of their faith.

What is a test of faith? When your loved ones suffer immensely from sickness and misfortune, and you are wringing your hands about how to help them – that is a test of faith. When someone insults you, bullies you, betrays you, trespasses upon you, and you feel that hate rising uncontrollably – that is a test of faith. When emptiness strikes, and life seems meaningless – that is a test of faith. But when you trespass, you impose, you ignore the good that others are doing, and then society and law lays a heavy hand on you, is that a test of faith?

So, will a sorry be enough? I spent the 1.5 hour journey back home thinking about this. It’s very difficult. On one hand, there is no point in an apology if it does not reflect a true change of heart. Saying your regrets and expressing your respect is pure hypocrisy if it just means that you are biding your time for the hue and cry to die down again.

So, should they then remain completely blatant about it? To refuse to repent, to refuse to recant, to stand tall and say, I have not changed my mind about you? But, this was what happened above, and here we are feeling offended about it.

But when they speak their minds, at least everyone knows that this is the truth about how they feel, and what they believe in. Maybe only then can members of society judge collectively. We will have to choose: should people with such beliefs give in and toe an acceptable line on proselytization? Or should the rest of us accept that we should open ourselves up to this, and it is all fair game? Communities have their own way of weeding out behaviour unacceptable to them. As members of this community, our role is to voice out what we feel, and not keep things under wraps.

Unfortunately, one complication is that these are precisely the kind of people that refuse to come to inter-religious forums to talk. Because they find it no point acknowledging the other religions by conversing with them, perhaps?

On this note, I think the people that most deserve an apology are the Thais. Those that are insensitive while misrepresenting the complexities of Thailand should be scrutinized for their views before being allowed in.

*Update*

The photograph has also been taken down from facebook, along with all the shares (300 at last count) and comments that people had.

One of the comments that disappeared was by a Buddhist friend who noted that these people are pushing the boundaries to see how far they can get away.

*Update 2*

I saw the photo on facebook at 8pm, and by then it was stated that it was posted 3 hours ago. Which means it first appeared around 5pm yesterday. By 12 MN, not only has the photo been removed from facebook, the website that the poster pointed to has also been disabled. This tell us much about these people’s resources.

This also brings up an alternative to the “bowing away” scenario I outlined above, called the “slinking away” scenario. Because the primary sources of controversy has been removed, there is little reason for authorities to blow up the matter further. The mainstream media will probably profit much more from hounding Yaw Shin Leong. Yes, people have saved and re-posted the photo, yes, hardware zone forum moderators have no reason to take down the discussions on it, and yes, maybe it will make it to TOC. But they can now say that they have done all they can to remove the offensiveness. Heck, they probably won’t even need to say sorry about it.

Unfortunately, we all have less of a chance now to learn from the whole matter.

*Update 3*

NUS Provost has issued a circular saying that CCC has apologised.

Have we, however, made any progress along this issue?

a. Was the CCC apologising purely for losing control of what was intended for internal circulation?

b. If the CCC is apologising for offensiveness of the material, why was it endorsed in the first place? Whether internal or external, circulation meant that you approved the message.

c. Does the apology mean that those who created and approve the material have reflected and changed their minds about Thais and Buddhism?

I hope those that were present at the meeting where the apology was issued had asked these questions. If not, nothing has changed.

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4 Comments

  1. Yee Boon Wei said,

    15 February 2012 at 23:55

    Hey, just for your info, the website’s down too, completely. Not even googlecache will provide it, the gen12ii

  2. N said,

    16 February 2012 at 01:15

    Hi Kwekings,

    I arrived at your blog by googling the phrase “little true joy” after I heard about the debacle. It is not my place to do so but please accept my apology on behalf of those who created, thought of and published that poster. I am a Christian and I think it smacks of being insular, insensitive and it is just wrong. Unfortunately, I don’t think I speak for all Christians. We are unfortunately, still quite lagging behind, in coming out of our small communities and realizing that the world does not revolve around us.

    The text on the poster and the thought process behind it is wrong. Again, it is not my place to apologize but please accept my apology. I don’t think the Bible teaches us to behave this way at all.

    Sincerely,
    N

    • kwekings said,

      16 February 2012 at 13:42

      Hi N, really appreciate your voicing of your views. Several wonderful Christian friends of mine have expressed disgust as well. Thanks, and may you be well and happy always.

  3. Schoen said,

    17 February 2012 at 21:22

    Thanks for an insightful and thought-provoking article.

    Agree with you – it’s unfortunately ironic that all religious groups will find themselves under scrutiny due to the actions of one particular group.


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