Review: Gellner, Civil Society & Conditions of Liberty

‘Civil Society’ has become fashionable in local political discourse. This slogan was overlooked despite the prominence it gained as a platform to rally human rights activists in their struggle against communist rulers in Eastern Europe. Only when the Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Anwar Ibrahim linked Civil Society (Masyrakat Madani) to democracy did the term generate curiosity and excitement. A relatively unknown term was suddenly transformed into a buzzword among the local intelligentsia.

CONDITIONS OF LIBERTY: CIVIL SOCIETY AND ITS RIVALS

Author: Ernest Gellner

Reviewer: Dr. Ng Kam Weng

‘Civil Society’ has become fashionable in local political discourse. This slogan was overlooked despite the prominence it gained as a platform to rally human rights activists in their struggle against communist rulers in Eastern Europe.  Only when the Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Anwar Ibrahim linked Civil Society (Masyrakat Madani) to democracy did the term generate curiosity and excitement. A relatively unknown term was suddenly transformed into a buzzword among the local intelligentsia. Continue reading “Review: Gellner, Civil Society & Conditions of Liberty”

Review: Summer for the Gods

There is a rumor abroad that the Christian religion has been discredited by the advancement of science. The death blow in this ‘Warfare of Science with Theology’, to echo a phrase by Andrew White, was inflicted in the Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, in 1925. It is alleged that Christian fundamentalism was so badly defeated that it was despatched to the subcultures of America.

TITLE: SUMMER FOR THE GODS:THE SCOPES TRIAL AND AMERICA’S CONTINUING DEBATE OVER RELIGION AND SCIENCE

REVIEWER: DR. NG KAM WENG

KAIROS RESEARCH CENTRE

There is a rumor abroad that the Christian religion has been discredited by the advancement of science. The death blow in this ‘Warfare of Science with Theology’, to echo a phrase by Andrew White, was inflicted in the Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, in 1925. It is alleged that Christian fundamentalism was so badly defeated that it was despatched to the subcultures of America.

The Scopes Trial has taken on a life of its own. Indeed, it has assumed mythological proportions in more than one sense. Continue reading “Review: Summer for the Gods”

Co-Creator or Priestly Steward

Protagonists in current debates on biotechnology are conscious of the fact that technology has brought mixed blessings. How one should determine the appropriateness and limits of applying technology for human betterment is difficult precisely because the terms of reference used in the debate – like well-being, freedom, dignity and human nature – are essentially contestable. Some clarifications of these terms is necessary before we can determine the limits of applying biotechnology for the perfecting of man.

Co-Creator or Priestly Steward

Theological Perspectives on Biotechnology and the Perfectibility of Man

Ng Kam Weng

Related article: Creation Care and Renewal

This paper attempts to uncover the hidden warrants and moral assumptions utilized by theologians who support the case for biotechnology and genetic engineering. The concept of man as co-creator, which underlies these theologians’ positive reception of biotechnology, will be critiqued in the light of recent philosophical history of human agency and biblical teaching on the stewardship of creation.

* This paper was published in Beyond Determination and Reductionism: Genetic Science and the Person ed. Mark LYChan & Roland Chia. Adelaide: Australian Theological Forum 2003.

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“Then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them” Genesis 11:6
Man is neither angel nor beast. When he tries to live like an angel he acts like a beast – Pascal

Protagonists in current debates on biotechnology are conscious of the fact that technology has brought mixed blessings. How one should determine the appropriateness and limits of applying technology for human betterment is difficult precisely because the terms of reference used in the debate – like well-being, freedom, dignity and human nature – are essentially contestable. Some clarifications of these terms is necessary before we can determine the limits of applying biotechnology for the perfecting of man.

This paper attempts to uncover the hidden warrants and moral assumptions utilized by theologians who support the case for biotechnology and genetic engineering. The concept of man as co-creator, which underlies these theologians’ positive reception of biotechnology, will be critiqued in the light of recent philosophical history of human agency and biblical teaching on the stewardship of creation. Continue reading “Co-Creator or Priestly Steward”

Feet of Clay: A Study of Gurus

We are truly living in an age of anti-heroes. This can be inferred from the way films make fun of traditional role models of society. For example, priests are depicted as hypocrites and law officers are often portrayed as incompetent and abusive. In response, some government authorities have resorted to religious education as a means to repel such cynicism. Unfortunately, in the process, religion also becomes a means of social control. Consequently, many people find spirituality desiccated and deadened by formal social rituals. Religious seekers looking for inspiration feel oppressed by legalistic authorities and their religious regulations.

Book Review by Dr. Ng Kam Weng

Book Title: Anthony Storr. Feet of Clay: A Study of Gurus. Harper Collins

FEET OF CLAY

We are truly living in an age of anti-heroes. This can be inferred from the way films make fun of traditional role models of society. For example, priests are depicted as hypocrites and law officers are often portrayed as incompetent and abusive. In response, some government authorities have resorted to religious education as a means to repel such cynicism. Unfortunately, in the process, religion also becomes a means of social control. Consequently, many people find spirituality desiccated and deadened by formal social rituals. Religious seekers looking for inspiration feel oppressed by legalistic authorities and their religious regulations. Continue reading “Feet of Clay: A Study of Gurus”

Asian Values, Western Dreams

Western media experts tend to rely on convenient stereotypes in their representation of Asia and in news coverage. Such stereotypes may provide some good entertainment. Thus Hollywood presents to us mysterious Kung Fu masters and Tibetan monks who speak in riddles and dish out aphoristic wisdom. On the other hand, shallow stereotypes can also perpetuate prejudices that mislead policy makers. For instance, Western media reports on Asian societies rightly critique the abuses of authoritarian governments in Asia. Unfortunately, these reports show little awareness of the complexities that arose when diverse ethnic communities were artificially bonded together by colonial administrators in history of these new modern nation-states.

BOOK: ASIAN VALUES, WESTERN DREAMS by Greg Sheridan

REVIEWER: Ng Kam Weng (Kairos Research Centre)

Jan 2000

Western media experts tend to rely on convenient stereotypes in their representation of Asia and in news coverage. Such stereotypes may provide some good entertainment. Thus Hollywood presents to us mysterious Kung Fu masters and Tibetan monks who speak in riddles and dish out aphoristic wisdom. On the other hand, shallow stereotypes can also perpetuate prejudices that mislead policy makers. For instance, Western media reports on Asian societies rightly critique the abuses of authoritarian governments in Asia. Unfortunately, these reports show little awareness of the complexities that arose when diverse ethnic communities were artificially bonded together by colonial administrators in history of these new modern nation-states. Continue reading “Asian Values, Western Dreams”

Confronting Modernity

Criticisms against globalization take many hues. In times of economic crisis, we campaign against unfair trading between rich and poor nations. When western news agencies highlight any political fracas, we protest against the mischievousness of their journalists. When western rock concerts enraptured our youths we sound the clarion call to protect our culture against the corrupting influence of foreign values.

Confronting Modernity: The Cultural Challenge of Globalization

Ng Kam Weng

Criticisms against globalization take many hues. In times of economic crisis, we campaign against unfair trading between rich and poor nations. When western news agencies highlight any political fracas, we protest against the mischievousness of their journalists. When western rock concerts enraptured our youths we sound the clarion call to protect our culture against the corrupting influence of foreign values.

Evidently, critics of globalization attempt to seize the moral high ground, couching their rhetoric in moral terms. Our critics, however, need to go beyond assigning blame and move towards a constructive critique. We should first try to understand why we are lagging behind the more developed nations. This should be followed by cogent analyses of the forces that propel the overwhelming onslaught of globalization, the market mechanism and cultural dynamics that make globalization such an irresistible phenomenon today. We will then be able to formulate a comprehensive response to globalization. Continue reading “Confronting Modernity”

Declaration of Malaysia as Islamic Country

At the recent Parti Gerakan Conference, the Prime Minister made a declaration that Malaysia is now an Islamic country. In the wake of the declaration came confusion which easily erodes social consensus.

Declaration of Malaysia as Islamic Country

Ng Kam Weng

At the recent Parti Gerakan Conference, the Prime Minister made a declaration that Malaysia is now an Islamic country. In the wake of the declaration came confusion which easily erodes social consensus.

On the one hand, one may interpret the Prime Minister’s declaration in liberal terms, based on the Prime Minister’s statement that “non-Muslims have the right to consider Malaysia as a secular nation, but UMNO viewed Malaysia as having satisfied enough conditions to call itself an Islamic country” (STAR 1 Oct 2001). The Prime Minister, however, stressed that there was no need for the issue to be tabled in Parliament since there was no need for amendments to the Federal Constitution. The libertarian interpretation expressed by the Prime Minister was perhaps sufficient to persuade the other component parties in the government coalition to endorse the new concept from the Prime Minister. Continue reading “Declaration of Malaysia as Islamic Country”

Intellectuals in Politics

The modern state no longer needs to imprison or shoot intellectuals. It has become pragmatic and welcomes intellectuals albeit on terms set by the state itself. As one senior government commented, current leaders are only interested in the question of whether a policy works. “Don’t complicate it with the question of truth.�? This seems an easy requirement for intellectuals to accept and comply with in exchange for state patronage and job security. But the outcome is the disappearance of intellectuals in the traditional sense, i.e. as those who speak out of a non-partisan commitment to the wider truth even if it means confronting the state. Hence the prophetic fulfillment of Julian Benda’s classic essay on the “betrayal of the intellectuals�?.

INTELLECTUALS IN POLITICS

Publisher: RKP 1997

Editors: Jeremy Jennings and Anthony Kemp-Welch

The modern state no longer needs to imprison or shoot intellectuals. It has become pragmatic and welcomes intellectuals albeit on terms set by the state itself. As one senior government commented, current leaders are only interested in the question of whether a policy works. “Don’t complicate it with the question of truth.” This seems an easy requirement for intellectuals to accept and comply with in exchange for state patronage and job security. But the outcome is the disappearance of intellectuals in the traditional sense, i.e. as those who speak out of a non-partisan commitment to the wider truth even if it means confronting the state. Hence the prophetic fulfillment of Julian Benda’s classic essay on the “betrayal of the intellectuals”. Continue reading “Intellectuals in Politics”

Pluralist Democracy or Islamic State

Recently, DAP leaders criticized PAS for insisting on establishing an Islamic state while Syed Hussein Ali of the PRM called for a public debate on the issue. He suggested a compromise which seems to allow for some form of Islamic governance. Not surprisingly, leaders from BN were quick to exploit the situation by pointing out that the coalition between the opposition parties has no credibility if they could not agree on such a crucial issue.

Significantly, politicians who reject PAS’s Islamic state have not gone beyond a negative rejection and proposed a positive alternative while a forthright rejection of PAS’s proposal is appropriate, especially since PAS has characteristically dodged objections with the vague suggestion that the apprehension non-Muslims have about the Islamic state is simplydue to their inability to understand the true nature of the Islamic state.

PLURALIST DEMOCRACY OR ISLAMIC STATE?

Recently, DAP leaders criticized PAS for insisting on establishing an Islamic state while Syed Hussein Ali of the PRM called for a public debate on the issue. He suggested a compromise which seems to allow for some form of Islamic governance. Not surprisingly, leaders from BN were quick to exploit the situation by pointing out that the coalition between the opposition parties has no credibility if they could not agree on such a crucial issue.

Significantly, politicians who reject PAS’s Islamic state have not gone beyond a negative rejection and proposed a positive alternative while a forthright rejection of PAS’s proposal is appropriate, especially since PAS has characteristically dodged objections with the vague suggestion that the apprehension non-Muslims have about the Islamic state is simplydue to their inability to understand the true nature of the Islamic state. Continue reading “Pluralist Democracy or Islamic State”

Covenant and Democratic Consensus in Pluralistic Society

How can the covenant principle be extended to wider society that is pluralistic in nature? In this regard, a covenant way of life demands participation in building of democratic consensus in modern democratic societies. That is to say, the challenge of any covenant religious community is to nurture citizens who are able to transcend their religious and ethical framework and adopt what Hannah Arendt calls ‘enlarged mentality’ or ‘representative thinking’. Seyla Benhabib describes this as “the capacity to represent to oneself the multiplicity of viewpoints, the variety of perspectives, the layers of meaning which constitute a situation.�? In other words, good and acceptable moral judgments arise from an exercise of reversibility of perspective either by actually listening to all involved or by representing to ourselves imaginatively the many perspectives of those involved.

Covenant and Democratic Consensus in Pluralistic Society
Supplement to earlier paper Covenant Community in a Divided World
by Dr. Ng Kam Weng

How can the covenant principle be extended to wider society that is pluralistic in nature? In this regard, a covenant way of life demands participation in building of democratic consensus in modern democratic societies. That is to say, the challenge of any covenant religious community is to nurture citizens who are able to transcend their religious and ethical framework and adopt what Hannah Arendt calls ‘enlarged mentality’ or ‘representative thinking’. Seyla Benhabib describes this as “the capacity to represent to oneself the multiplicity of viewpoints, the variety of perspectives, the layers of meaning which constitute a situation.” In other words, good and acceptable moral judgments arise from an exercise of reversibility of perspective either by actually listening to all involved or by representing to ourselves imaginatively the many perspectives of those involved. Continue reading “Covenant and Democratic Consensus in Pluralistic Society”