Deconstruction and the Daring Church : A Brief Dis/(Re)-Assembling of Faith and Politics in Malaysia

Alwyn Lau

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived, What God has prepared for those who love Him” Isaiah 64:4

Introduction In March 2008, at the 12th General Election, Malaysia – arguably the world’s most complex society1 - experienced a political firestorm when the incumbent coalition (the National Alliance) lost the two-thirds majority it’s held for almost half a century2. This precipitated an emerging flood of theological reflection in the country on issues like justice, the role of the church in the political arena, the relation between faith and politics, the moral-political responsibility of Christians, etc3. The following essay is in many ways a contribution to the on-going theo-political conversation. I hope to introduce (at least one reading of) Derridean deconstruction, noting how it may act as a catalyst for rethinking faith and truth. This is followed by thoughts on how Jesus Himself may have behaved and spoke in ways which mirrored the deconstructionist mind-set, not least in climactic and critical events like the Temple-cleansing and the Cross itself. Finally, I hope to conclude with some thoughts on how deconstructive thinking contributes to fresh (and inconceivable?) ideas on how the church should ‘look like’ and what shape ethics can take. Throughout, I will be inserting examples from and applications to Malaysia’s recent history, culture and politics. Ultimately, deconstruction isn’t the main thing, the kingdom of God and what we’re called (or dared) by Him to do is. The former, nevertheless, feels like a great place to begin.

I. Deconstruction & the Christian: Daring A Method For Bedevilling Faith and Truth Deconstruction is never being satisfied with what people (including yourself) tell you. It’s a method for mutually assured disagreement. It’s a refusal to quit searching for alternative stories and viewpoints. It’s the Matrix moment when you realise that what you’ve taken for granted isn’t what they appear to be. Originating in the work of French post-modern philosopher Jacques Derrida, deconstruction is about ‘disabusing the Western tradition of its logocentrism’4i.e. the
A description endorsed by Barry Wain who described Malaysia as “three communities – Malay, Chinese and Indian – divided by religion, language, culture, value systems, place of residence, occupation and income”, see his Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times (Palgrave: Macmillan, 2009), p.9. 2 J. Hamid , Malaysia’s Ruling Coalition Suffers Poll Debacle, Reuters March 8th 2008, viewed Sept 1st 2008 at 3 For a summary of the recent theo-political issues in Malaysia since March 2008, see Sivin Kit Hsiao Ming, A Trinitarian Public Theology: Malaysian Churches and Civil Society, M.Th thesis submitted to South East Asian Graduate School of Theology, 2010. Kit is also a key figure in championing the formalisation of public discourse on politics and theology in Malaysia. 4 Stanley Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism (Wm. B.Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1996), p.147-8

idea that there is some ultimate ‘word, presence, essence, truth or reality to serve as the foundation for our thoughts, language, and experience’5. In the speak of PWDs’6, logocentrism is the understanding that our words actually refer to something ‘beyond words’, that there are transworldly references to what we say. Contra this position, deconstructionists view language as a social construct, a product of the prejudices, power-plays, psyches and politics within the community. Mark C. Taylor even claims that: “(The line) between reality and language having blurred, deconstructive writing is thus always ‘paradoxical, double duplicitous, excentric, improper…errant…(it) calls into question the very notion of propriety and it possesses no final or proper meaning…deconstructive criticism constantly errs along the / of neither/nor.” 7 Deconstruction declares that nothing is really basic, absolute or fundamental in the world. It’s what we do when we question the polarities (some of) the world takes for granted. It’s when we find out that everything we know as ‘natural’ to our universe required someone to say so (and, often, to even make it so). Words (i.e. signifiers) do not really possess a corresponding reality (i.e. a signified) to which they point or signify. This is to say that words, instead of referring to something ‘beyond’ words, tend to refer to words which in turn point to other words which signal yet more words ad infinitum. The notion of there being one ‘true’ meaning, or us being able to attain it, is thereby resisted89. Farish Noor, in the context of Malaysia, even asks, ‘Are we finally going to admit to ourselves that this nation-state of ours – Malaysia – is an invented construct and as such is also open to deconstruction, revision, adaptation and subsequently evolution?’10 Noor, as a good deconstructionist, believes such questions are important as part of a continual task to free ourselves from being historically trapped. Deconstructionists undertake the creative disassembling of this view of the world, or the ‘dismantling the modern ideal that views philosophy as pure, disinterested inquiry and to repudiate as well the common nation that there is some sort of straightforward correspondence between language and the external world.’ 11 Whilst this view may understandably cause some angst for the faithful (see below), no one can deny there is at least some value in taking apart language to expose the power-plays entrenched therein, probing for (deliberately) hidden or silenced voices/views. For instance, the questionable usurping of terms by the ruling elite has taken fresh forms in Malaysia recently. Farish Noor provides a helpful reminder, to give an example, ‘there was no ‘Malay race’ (or ‘Chinese race’, or ‘Indian race’ for that matter) before the Western colonialists came over and stamped these labels on our heads’12. In the same article, Noor traces how the keris, a universal symbol of racial unity and religious devotion (which included even tantric themes) was over time twisted and exploited to become one about raceIbid. p.142 Brian McLaren’s acronym for People Without Doctorates. 7 Mark C. Taylor, Erring: A Postmodern A/Theology (University of Chicago Press, 1984), p.10-11 8 Leonard Sweet and Brian McLaren (quite literally) spell it out for us in ‘D is for Deconstruction’, see Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren & Jerry Haselmayer, A is for Abductive: The Language of the Emerging Church (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2003), p.87-90. 9 For example, take that thing from which we drink our morning coffee everyday. I think it’s fair to say we’d all call that a cup. And a cup is just a cup, isn’t it? Not quite. People can see it as a symbol of economic repression (think of all the workers slaving in sweat-shops or laid-off so your ‘cup’ can be produced), some can see it as a weapon, some as a paperweight and so on. The point is that the meaning of a cup is far from inherent, timeless and absolute! It requires at least a moderate kind of ‘social construction’. 10 Farish Noor, CMs’, 17 March 2008 DPMs’ and PMs’: Time to go Beyond the Old Taboos, The Other Malaysia viewed 6 April 2008, 11 Grenz, Primer on Postmodernism, p.148. 12 Farish Noor, Pity the Poor Keris: How a Universal Symbol Became a Tool for Racial Politics, 27 November 2006, The Other Malaysia, viewed 14 May 2008
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based politics13. What was once an object representing spiritual and even quasi-sexual bliss has been wielded (and waved) as a sign of racial-political macho-ness. In the case of khalwat14, too, what was previously understood as the very ‘state of private and secluded meditation in the presence of the Divine…(which) points to its intimate connections with the ideas of Love, contact and the bond between human beings and God’15, has been transmogrified into something dark and meriting the breaking down of your house door by the (Malaysian) police. Malaysian leaders need scholars like Noor to keep them at the edge of their (parliamentary) seats, to keep striking a quiet chord into the nation’s consciousness, to keep the questions flowing, to help (re-)jog and recover lost memories. Yet not only those who rule the secular realm but also (especially?) those governing the domain of the sacred, those who make it their business to understand the mind of God, would be blessed (albeit uncomfortably so) by the realisation that Christian thinking is being invaded by the inconceivable and it may help to not think we’ve got our theology all that absolutely right.

* Yet, shouldn’t Christians be fully aligned to the notion of ‘absolute truth’, the very anti-thesis and target of deconstruction? Robert C. Greer, a missionary-theologian in Mexico, shares his concerns about absolute truth: “(Absolute truth) is an encyclopedia collection of abstracted principles that are understood to be timelessly valid and therefore immutable – not subject to change. Existing independently from the specifics of any given culture and from any given historical moment, these principles are transcultural and ahistorical…the person who has access to this encyclopedia collection of truths is understood to possess God’s eye, enabled to see and assess reality with the precision and exactitude of God himself.”16 (bolded emphasis his). Beginning with Augustine and culminating with Rene Descartes, the search for ‘perfect knowledge’ led to the creation of a system grounded in radical doubt (what Greer calls the Cogito) which eventually launched the Enlightenment. The basis of the Cogito was that ‘finitude was not good, that only when human beings successfully escape the constraints of finitude and thus embrace and understand infinite truth can their knowledge be characterized as good.’17 Such a flight-to-infinity approach revealed the dark side of absolute truth in the form of : evidential apologetics (the notion of fixed and guaranteed formulas for apologetics); triumphalism (the creation of God’s self-appointed police force, guardians of truth who perceive themselves as
13 Manifested by the keris-waving song-and-dance by Hishamuddin Hussein in 2005 at the United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) General Assembly which led to protests that such an act reflected insensitivity to the other races at best and violent racial elitism at worst, see Jocelyn Tan, Hisham: The Keris is Here to Stay, The Star Nov 26th 2006, viewed on August 19th 2010 at Hussein, the UMNO Youth Head at the time, has since offered a public apology; perhaps it’s time for some to offer public forgiveness? See Hishammuddin Apologise for Keris-Waving Incident, The Malaysian Bar (used with permission from the News Straits Times), 26th April 2008, viewed on August 21st 2010 at 14 The crime of non-married Muslim couples being caught ‘in close proximity’ and committing ‘immoral acts’. This is the simplistic definition. For greater depth and some advice for Muslim women in Malaysia, Know Your Rights: Caught in Close Proximity for "Immoral" Acts (Khalwat) Women’s Aid Organisation, 2000, viewed 13 May 2008, 15 Farish Noor, Khalwat, Anyone? Moral Liabilities in Malaysian Politics, Off The Edge (May 2008, Issue 41), p.13 16 Robert C. Greer, Mapping Postmodernism: A Survey of Christian Options (Intervarsity Press, 2003), p.25 17 Ibid. p.33

‘wearing a “badge of divinity” upon their own theological systems’18); the doubting of the historical creeds and confessions (and the subsequent loss of a confessional theology divorced from the historic development within the church19); and the eclipse of the authentic realistic narrative of Scripture (being replaced by an understanding of the Biblical narrative as ‘a storehouse of data from which timeless and immutable principles are drawn – principles believed to be transferable from situation to situation regardless of one’s historical setting, cultural milieu and personal story.’20). Greer concludes by observing that the fundamental problem is confusing finite with infinitude. Deconstruction helps question the ‘finality’ of any particular interpretation of Biblical texts. World-renowned hermeneuticist, Anthony Thiselton, cites positively the deconstructive work of John Dominic Crossan (in particularly his writings on parable, aphorisms and inter-textual traditions) and David Clines whose study of Job revealed otherwise unnoticed features in the text. According to him: “Mere interpretations of texts can themselves take on the status of controlling paradigms in our lives, which, when they become both all-powerfully directive and unchallengeably ‘for-ever fixed’ begin to assume a quasi-idolatrous role, as securities in which we place absolute trust. Illusions need to be dispelled…The metaphor of the text as movement or as growing texture, rather than a fixed and static entity, calls attention to the capacity of biblical texts to lead us ever further on; not to let us rest in the illusion that by once reading them we have completed a finished journey, as if we had ‘mastered’ them”21 The Christian church has a great want of epistemic humility. Our theological traditions are no exemplars of scholarly and doctrinal modesty. We are more likely to brand theological innovators and path-breakers as heretics, more willing to burn, than listen to them22. Perhaps, then, its truly good news that deconstruction ‘gives old texts new readings, old traditions new twists… Deconstruction exposes them to the trauma of something unexpected, something to come, of the tout autre (‘the other’) which remains ever on the margins of texts and traditions, which eludes and elicits our discourse, which shakes and solicits our institutions. Deconstruction warns against letting a discursive tradition close over or shut down, silence or exclude.’23 Deconstruction humbles us in our quest to know and talk about God. It reminds us that our knowledge of God remains provisional, even as it grows in truth, clarity and consistency. This reminder is essential for theology to be faithful to be both faithful to revelation and also pertinent to things that matter in the here-and-right-now. ‘A theology that does not inquire after God’s will
Ibid. p.41 The situation with the historical creeds is less straight-forward, as emerging church leaders have not shied away from spot-lighting the ‘humanness’ (and the politics) of the early Church Councils, to their exclusion at various high-profile theological conferences. E.g., Tony Jones, National Coordinator of Emergent Village (USA), had a paper rejected by the 2007 Wheaton Theology Conference. In his words, which are quite representative of kingdom-like deconstruction, IMO: ‘Ultimately, I was told, I did not treat the Fathers and the Councils as normative to the life of the church today. I argued that we're in conversation with the Fathers today, just as they were in conversation with one another in their day. I also posited that the victory of one theological position over another was as much a matter of politics and context as a matter of divine providence. Finally, the lack of marginalized voices in all of the ancient (and medieval and modern) theological debates should give us all pause.’ See Tony Jones, June 29 2007, Rejected by Wheaton, blog-entry at, viewed 13 May 2008, 20 Ibid., p.43-4 21 Anthony C. Thiselton, New Horizons in Hermeneutics: The Theory and Practice of Transforming Reading (Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), p.124 22 For a short account of the Church and her heretics, see David Christie-Murray, A History of Heresy (Oxford University Press, 1989) 23 Caputo, Prayers & Tears, p.18.
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for the present may be orthodox but is not really listening to God.’24 This constant inquiring usually demands that we never be too sure of what we’re saying about God, never assume that the Spirit will not be giving us negative feedback about our conclusions. For indeed, ‘revelation is not a closed system of proposition truths but a divine self-disclosure that continues to open and challenge.’25 For many Christians, deconstruction is disturbing, because it doesn’t pull punches with the questions and probing, even with regards to the faith. There’s an affinity with the event we call Christmas: Its good news to anyone crying out for hope and positive change and bad news to all who love the status quo (love it so much, in fact, that alternatives tend to be put down rather quick). Whilst granted this may appear aberrant and anti-traditional, many Christian thinkers have come round to the (by no means certain) conclusion that deconstruction (and post-modernism as a whole, if one could think of the movement thus) is healthy for the church26. For if nothing else it is, as John Caputo writes, ‘the thought…of an absolute heterogeneity that unsettles all the assurance of the same within which we comfortably ensconce ourselves.’27 He also says that: “(There is an irreducible pluralism in deconstruction which provides) the condition for any determinable faith (and the same is true of art, of architecture, or law, or whatever you need), but only a quasi-condition, not a full-fledged condition like a classical a priori…deconstruction exposes faith to indefinite recontextualization substitution, and translation. It does not so much surround faith with a horizon, or protect it with a shield and crossed arrows, as it leaves it vulnerable and exposed to multiple interpretation, to a multiplicity with which it is the business of faith to cope.”28 Faith, to be faith, cannot rely on absolute knowledge or certainty29. If you are 100% sure, then what space/place is there left for faith? Isn’t faith a kind of un-knowing, a kind of hoping? And who hopes for what one already has (or knows for sure30)? In a word, the believer must ‘keep the faith, fight the good fight, and that faith must be its own shield, fend for itself, and save the name of God.”31 But that’s not all. Even for an atheist (albeit a very religious one32) like Derrida, deconstruction was never meant to be destructive. Instead the practice sought to ‘tear things down’ in order that something new/improved may emerge.
Clark Pinnock, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit (InterVarsity Press, 1996), p.215. Ibid. p.221. 26 For example, see James KA Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault to Church (The Church and Postmodern Culture Series), (Baker Academic, 2nd ed 2006); Bryan Walsh & J. Richard Middleton, Truth is Stranger Than it Used to be: Biblical Faith in a PostModern Age (IVP, Academic 1995); Stanley Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism (Wm. B.Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1996). 27 John D. Caputo The Prayers & Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion Without Religion (Indiana University Press 1997), p.5. 28 Caputo, Prayers & Tears, p.48. 29 Caputo puts it delightfully, ‘The spiritual journey on which we are embarked is…a journey of faith. That means that those who insist they know the way have programmed their lives, have put their lives on automatic pilot. They are knowers (gnostics) who have taken themselves out of the game. They are like vacationers eager for an adventure, to set forth into the unknown – but not without an air-conditioned Hummer with four-wheel drive, an experienced guide, and reservations as a five-star hotel.’ (emphasis in the original), see John D. Caputo, What Would Jesus Deconstruct? The Good News of Postmodernity for the Church (Baker Academic, 2007) p.41. 30 Romans 8:24 31 Caputo, Prayers & Tears, p.48. 32 In Prayers and Tears, Caputo tries to show the spiritual/religious side of Derrida and deconstruction. It seems that Bruce Ellis Benson has followed suit with regards to another of anti-Christianity’s most famous philosophers, Frederich Nietszche in Pious Nietszche: Decadence and Dionysian Faith (Indiana University Press, 2007).
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Likewise, in relation to the kingdom of God, Caputo highlights how deconstruction is related to the ‘bursting in’, the advent, the in-coming of God, how the kingdom disturbs us everyday lives, exposes our hypocrisies, challenges our presuppositions and prejudices and in so doing adds life to our often anaemic existences. He views deconstruction as the hermeneutics of the kingdom of God. This way of reading and understanding is, in Caputo’s view, an: “…interpretive style that helps get at the prophetic spirit of Jesus – who was a surprising and sometime strident outsider; who took a stand with the ‘other’…Deconstruction is good news because it delivers the shock of the other to the forces of the same, the shock of the good (the ‘ought’) to the forces of being (‘what is’)”33. Such a view of faith, of theology, of the other, coupled with a seriousness about the surprising significance and breaking-in of the God’s justice into our worlds, leads naturally to a ‘hermeneutics of charity’ that recognizes how much we don’t know and how the only thing we know is that we need to listen and learn in love. This would entail the patient listening to and/or reading of an opponent’s work (as opposed to not bothering); the giving of the benefit of the doubt, ‘suspending judgment’ until more data/arguments are in (as opposed to instantly/hastily concluding they’re in error, illogical, etc.); acknowledging the value in their ideas (part of being fair is giving credit where credit is due); searching for value in their ideas (something we would truly appreciate if done to our theories); and when the occasion is right provoke a rethinking (and thereby a re-embracing) of conventional symbols and institutions in the renewed light of amazing grace which mazes its route into our hearts, in quite unexpected ways. This brings us to the master deconstructionist Himself, Jesus.

II. Deconstruction & Jesus: Daring an Ethic of Astounding Love There is much to learn from Jesus about the how and why of deconstruction. He above all knew that to savour the new wine, the old wineskins had to go. Jesus deconstructed the Sabbath by reminding its (self-appointed) ‘guardians’ that the day of rest was constructed for man, and not the other way round34. In so doing, our Lord reconstructed the role of the Sabbath and the Jews’ relation to it. Demonstrating that something is a product is usually the first step towards redeeming it for its right(ful) purpose and something akin to reconstruction and restoration. Needless to say, the guardians of orthodoxy weren’t happy with such spiritual reverseengineering. Jesus’ temple-action juxtaposes deconstruction with symbolic destruction. His external actions of (relatively mild) violence embodied God’s judgment against the violence done to God and the world by Israel’s failure to be one’s servant and the other’s light. Instead, Jewish nationalistic pride had usurped the nation’s political praxis, manifesting itself in ideological compromise, community-wide oppression and spiritual darkness. Jesus’ half-destroyed the fixtures and props in order to fully deconstruct the exalted status of the Temple and show that because the ruling Jewish regime had been unfaithful to God’s plan, God was about to ‘break-in’ and break-up the old order, and out of the former covenant to reconstruct a new covenant35. It is not without some post-modern irony that Jesus then boasted that He could build (read: reconstruct!) the Temple again in three days should it be destroyed. Let’s be very clear about what
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Caputo, What Would Jesus Deconstruct? p.26-7. Mark 2:27 35 See N.T. Wright, Jesus & the Victory of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God II (Fortress Press, 1997),

happened: The old Temple has become the site for language about the raising of a new glorified one, a temple which isn’t a temple but nonetheless a temple beyond temples; a true temple to the Holy Spirit which (whilst not a recognizable temple) is more real and more universal than the original. Jesus declared that what’s possible is of much greater worth than what’s actual. Again, not unlike in modern times, God’s self-assigned faith-police weren’t pleased. Of course, whilst Jesus himself wasn’t pleased with people like the Pharisees, He nevertheless loved them. His command to ‘love our enemies’36 deconstructed the meaning of enemy because it first deconstructed the meaning of ‘love’, ‘perfection’ and what becoming a member of God’s kingdom entails. By turning one’s cheek for the second strike, you reveal the evil behind the striker and the willingness to bear more strikes and stripes for his sake. By walking the second mile, you show (literally and otherwise) how far you’re willing to go for the other person to take the journey of redemption. And then there is the Cross. On those three hours, Jesus took apart everything the world previously understood. Even today, we remain dumbfounded with the love and power demonstrated on Golgotha37. We’re not sure what happened but I would venture that the Cross was a supreme act of deconstruction. By suffering and dying (and then rising) Jesus exposed the violence of humanity and mankind’s addition to it38; He embodied a sacrifice more real and powerful than anything that went before39; He gave new meaning to the word love because He showed there was no escaping the most powerful kind of all, that of giving one’s life out of love40; He redefined victory; the Cross - for all intents and purposes - deconstructed what it meant to be God. N.T. Wright attempts a summary of the Cross: “(The Cross is) the place where paganism's great desire - to find something in the created order that one can worship, from which one will gain strength to be human in a new way - is fulfilled, and so subverted, once and for all. Here at least is a human being, a creature within the world of creatures, who can be worshiped without detracting from the worship of the one true God. Here, on the cross, is the one whom to worship is to worship the living and loving God Himself. Here, on the cross, is the one whom to worship is to find a true and full humanness. Here, on the cross, is the Creator God taking, once and for all, the place that the pagan gods had usurped.”41 Calvary has both God and Man caught up in an act of pagan torture yet also the source and crux of true divine obedience42. The Cross of Jesus Christ is an event of paradox, 'irrationality', contextualization, absolute authenticity, a Mission calling forth missions, systemic in more than one sense, a divine act of power and love. Perhaps it’s more awe-inspiring by its act of solidarity with (and thus deconstruction of) paganism and one of its worst manifestations, human sacrifice. What does the career of Jesus tell us about God’s aversion to risks, to His willingness to be ‘in the
Matthew 5:43-48. Joel Green and Mark Baker helpfully seek to recover the ‘scandal’ of Calvary by revisiting the New Testament images and metaphors behind the atonement of Jesus and by sharing contemporary retellings of the Cross, see Joel B. Green & Mark Recovering the Scandal of the Cross 38 Girard, Violence and the Sacred, B.Keith Putt has summarized Girard’s thesis and compared with John Caputo’s work in B.Keith Putt, Risking Love and the Divine 'Perhaps' : Postmodern Poetics of a Vulnerable God (Perspectives in Religious Studies 34, Summer 2007) p.193-214. 39 Hebrews 9:12-14 40 John 15:13 41 Tom Wright, Bringing the Church to the World (Bethany House Publishers 1992) p.94-95 42 Phil 2:5-8.
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wrong’, to His courage in ‘exploring options’, to His love for the weak and hated and to His penchant for deconstructing the sacred? He’s started it. Are we not called to build upon it?43 * The May 13, 1969 tragedy44 notwithstanding, Malaysians should be relieved that the violence index is far lower compared to, say, Pakistan or the Middle-East. I don’t personally recall anything more than virtual bombs and cyber-bullets exploding throughout the streets of Kuala Lumpur (although tear gas and water-cannons are, unfortunately, less a rarity nowadays45). Having said that, our politically charged words continue to kill. In the name of justice, political revival or even a ‘new dawn’, Malaysian voters accused, mocked, complained, criticised and berated politicians on both (or all) sides, with the ruling regime taking the brunt of the heat. Powerful bloggers like Raja Petra Kamaruddin46 have made a name for themselves by tearing away at top government personalities, parties, plots and projects everyday online. Things reached a fever pitch in 2008 when Kamarudin was arrested and charged with sedition for implicating the Deputy Prime Minister in a (rather gruesome) homicide47. Whilst I cannot speak about the accuracy (or lack of) of the evidence Kamarudin has presented (or will be) and whilst I certainly must give him the benefit of the doubt that all he wants to do is tell the Malaysian public the truth (he is, after all, a rather fine deconstructor), and with due respect (and sympathy) to him and his fans (including his Christian ones) I cannot avoid wondering – if you’ll forgive my use of a clichéd t-shirt slogan – what would Jesus do? Thankfully we don’t have to guess. Kamarudin declared (cyber?)-war on the government48; Jesus could’ve declared victory49, but didn’t. Kamarudin cursed his captors, Jesus prayed for them. Kamarudin would have certain murderers be sent to hell50; Jesus faced hell’s greatest fury for love of the very worst of mankind. Because if loving our enemies is a command, shouldn’t love be an overriding priority in our political actions and discourse (and isn’t a constant stream of angry, unkind and threatening words a mark of the opposite?). Kamarudin is, of course, not a Christian but a (very learned and sharp-minded) Muslim51. Still, it is perhaps all the more urgent why the church and Christian
1 Corinthians 3:12-15. Certainly the terrible defining moment for Malaysian racial political violence, in which Malays, Chinese and Indians slaughtered each other in the aftermath of the 3rd General Election (in which the National Alliance lost half the seats in a major state, raising Malay fears that the capital would fall into Chinese hands), see Barry Wain, Malaysian Maverick, p.25. A quick selection of other works (more below) include Donald Horowitz, The Deadly Ethnic Riot, University of California, 2001, p.282-285; Audrey Ooi, Ketuanan Melayu and May 13, 1969: The History of Sino-Malay Tension and Official Discrimination in Malaysia, Mount Holyoke College, Program in Asian Studies; Mark Disney, In Search of the Real May 13, Off The Edge (May 2008, Issue 41), p.63 and the very controverial Kua Kia Soong, May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969, Suaram Komunikasi, 2007. 45 Tear Gas and Water-Cannons Unleashed on Malaysian Protesters, ABC News, Aug 1st 2009, viewed on Jan 3rd 2010, 46 Kamaruddin blogs at 47 Blogger Raja Petra taken to prison after declining bail on sedition charge, The Star, 7 May 2008, viewed 8 May 2008 48 MALAYSIA: Blogger Raja Petra Charged with Sedition, 7 May 2008, Asia Media, viewed 9 May 2008, 49 Presumably, Pilate’s human troops would have been no match for twelve legions of super-human ones. Matthew 26:52-53. 50 The title of Kamarudin’s blog-post which started the process leading to his arrest was entitled, Let’s Send the Altantuya Murderers to Hell, Malaysia Today, viewed 8 May 2008, (since made available only to members of Malaysia Today) 51 When all is said and written, it is heartening to witness Kamarudin unclench his fists (somewhat) and accept bail for the sake of his family. See Raja Petra to be Freed, 8 May 2008, The Sun (used with permission by Malaysian Bar)
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politicians should choose our models carefully as we work to emulate the radical trans-political love of Jesus to the major voices in the country’s political arena52. Maybe the Church could embody the ‘mad’ and ‘nonsensical’ marching orders of the kingdom to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Perhaps, in addition to organising conferences and persuading people to vote for the Opposition (let’s not keep this in the closet, shall we?), Malaysian Christians could best live out the kingdom by, ‘speaking with self-sacrificial actions more than with words…(by) speaking not as moral superiors but as self-confessing moral inferiors.53’ How can Malaysian Christians replicate Calvary to the Islamic religious authorities who would care less (a lot less than the non-Muslims at least) about the Constitution’s ‘Freedom of Religion’ Article 1154? How can Malaysian Christians show sacrificial love to those who plunder indigenous land55, bomb churches56 and who demand exclusivity in the use of the word ‘Allah’57? How can we model the love of Christ to politicians from both the new dawn and the old dusk?

III. Deconstruction & the Other: Daring a Community Beyond Itself The ‘other’ is an important term in post-modern deconstructive thinking. The ‘other’ is synonymous with the neglected, the marginalised, the silenced, the oppressed, the ‘bad guy’. The ‘other’ is the truth (or truth-bearer) we’d rather not see or hear or smell. The ‘other’ is the subject of questions we don’t want asked, the queries we’d prefer to stamp out. And yet deconstruction ‘incites discourse to inflame our passion for the impossible, (the inconceivable?), for the incoming of something absolutely surprising. Deconstruction is trying to inflame the passion of faith, to incite a riot, to drive us made with passion, not to neutralize exciting and inflaming discourses.’58 If nothing else, deconstruction is an on-going conversation which never rests until ultimate justice and goodness is manifested, which is to say it’ll never cease59. Institutions and individuals are kept on their toes with this kind of thinking and rethinking, for there’s always another side to throw the best meta-stories off guard and knock chips off even the most impregnable positions. There’s always something I’ve missed and my heart is kept open to the voice of those we’d rather

Kamaruddin was detained a second time in September 2008 and released two months later. He continues writing against governmental injustice to this day at Christians in Malaysia remain divided as to how much support the Church should grant to figures like ‘RPK’, although to be fair it’s likely that a majority consider him worthy role-model. 53 Gregory A. Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church (Zondervan Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2005) p.141. Boyd’s contends that when the Church takes up the ‘sword’ of national politics it necessarily puts down the ‘cross’ of God’s kingdom. In contrast to many among the American ‘Christian Right’ (and more than a few Malaysian Christians too, one suspects) Boyd doesn’t see voting as a Christian duty. That is reserved for living such self-sacrificial and self-giving (and, obviously, non-violent) lives so people (including our enemies) are transformed by the Calvary love of God. 54 Heavily cast in doubt by the Lina Joy case. Joy was a Malay Muslim who converted to Christianity and who sought, in vain, to have her conversion legally recognised by the Malaysian courts. Lina Joy’s Despair, 31 May 2007, The Economist, viewed 8 October 2007, 55 See Deborah Loh, Battling Over Land Rights in Batang Ai, The Nutgraph, March 30th 2009, viewed Jan 18th 2010 at and Jo-Ann Ding, Giving Orang Asli Land, The Nutgraph, March 29th 2010, viewed Aug 6th 2010 at 56 Malaysian Churches Fire-Bombed as ‘Allah’ Row Escalates, BBC, Jan 8th 2010, viewed on March 4th 2010 at 57 Kit, A Trinitarian Public Theology, p.22 and the references cited. 58 Caputo, Prayers and Tears 59 The reader by now would’ve guessed that a full explanation for deconstruction can never be given, at best alluded to.

keep silent. I find that deconstruction can be turned into an agent of love because it forces me to never cancel out, never put down, never permanently erase and always care for the worst of the ‘bad guys’ in society (plus some imaginary ones in my mind). Deconstruction pushes me towards the margins, the boundaries. By reflecting on how conceptual boundaries and community walls have been erected, by seeing that they have been constructed (as opposed to eternally present because absolutely desired by God), I also see how my notions of ‘enemy’, ‘outcast’ and ‘unloved/unlovable’ could themselves be nothing more than products of the darkness of our times. Wheatley & Kellner-Rogers write about boundaries, that they are the ‘place of meeting and exchange’. They continue: “We usually think of these edges as the means of defining separateness: what’s inside and what’s outside. But in living systems, boundaries are…the place where new relationships take form, an important place of exchange and growth as one individual chooses to respond to another.”60 In a word, deconstruction forces us to embrace any and all along the margins. If being open to the other is a sure (albeit risky and discomforting) way forward, if alterity (i.e. the exchanging of one’s own perspective for the other’s61) is a must for the community, if meeting at the margins of one’s revered horizons is to be a habit for deconstructing bad habits, then the issue of Christian ecumenism cannot be ignored. Here we need to acknowledge that Christian denominations, for all their value, have been the source of much angst and ungodly rivalry and hostility. Yet if the Church is to be an effective voice for the oppressed, we do not have the option of keeping each other at arm’s length on account of the variations in our creeds. If we are to champion putting food on the tables of the indigenous people, we cannot refuse fellowshipping on the same table as the very people of God. If we are to preach and practice socio-political justice, we cannot continue perpetuating the injustice of denominational supremacy.62 Commenting on the doctrine of ‘justification by faith’ which has so greatly divided Protestants and Catholics, N.T. Wright states: ‘The doctrine of justification is in fact the great ecumenical doctrine…Justification declares that all who believe in Jesus Christ belong at the same table, no matter what their cultural or racial (or denominational) differences. Because what matters is believing in Jesus, detailed agreement on justification itself…isn’t the thing which should determine eucharistic fellowship…If Christians could only get this right, they would find that not

Margaret J. Wheatley & Myron Kellner-Rogers, ‘The Paradox and Promise of Community’, in The Community of the Future, ed. Frances Hesselbein, Marshall Goldsmith, Richard Beckhard and Richard F. Schubert (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997), p.12 61 The word was made popular philosophically by the work of Emmanuel Lévinas. See his Alterity and Transcendance, Columbia University, 2000. See also Emmanuel Levinas, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Jan 26th 2006, viewed March 26th 2009 at; and Michael Brogan, Judasim and Alterity in Blanchot and Levinas (Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory, Vol. 6, December 2004), p.28-44, viewed on June 1st 2010 at 62 One such attempt to justify and thus maintain the schism between Protestantism and Rome is R.C. Sproul’s By Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification (Baker Books, 1999). It is a cheerless book as it doesn’t acknowledge Catholic and Protestant developments since the Reformation and offers no hope for unity.


only would they be believing the gospel, they would be practicing it; and that is the best basis for proclaiming it.’63 * Alterity begins among God’s people, after which this new-creation community can affect kingdom alterity wherever they are. We proclaim the Gospel best when the love of Christ trumps creedal (and other kinds of inter-church) conflicts64. This book itself is an attempt to bring representatives from two traditions together to focus on higher kingdom issues which impact our worlds65. In Malaysia, the issue of other-ness is almost the defining issue of the nation. Like other fallen communities, we tend to define ourselves over against the other, as per a form of tribalism66. The racial riots of May 13, 1969, remain the non-pareil of racial tension and continue to haunt the Malaysian national consciousness (though very few personal memories, this author included)67. Much debate continues as to whether it was a manifestation of racial frustration, a natural eruption in a multi-racial country, a Communist (or an Imperialist or Government or Opposition) plot or, as most recently claimed, a coup d’état organised by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) to topple the then-premiere Tunku Abdul Rahman68. Whilst not entirely original, perhaps the suggestion that resolving a public crisis should begin with personal reformation needs to be reheard. Thus, I ask : How many times have I as a Chinese poked and threw ridicule at the ‘laziness’ of the Malays (whom I felt conveniently put off their sloth when it came to eating) and failed to curb my own hedonism and fishing for rewards? Could my stereotyping of the backwardness and alcoholism of the Indian community be a chief cause for my hesitation in standing up for them whenever they are ridiculed unfairly by my fellow Chinese? Is my frequent (though hidden) hatred for (what I see to be) a system celebrating kulitfication69 for the Malays a distraction and an excuse to look away from the Chinese addiction to gambling, over-eating, over-spending and over-working? (Is this unfair stereo-typing of the Chinese?) Moving across the causeway, do I instinctively label my Singaporean neighbours ‘kiasu70’ because it’s easier to flog another publicly than to face and correct my own insecurities and ‘fear of losing’?

63 N.T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Lion Publishing, 1997), p.158-159. Wright goes on to quote Richard Hooker who said that one is not justified by believing in justification by faith – one is justified by believing in Jesus. 64 John 13:35 65 In this sense, it follows in the footsteps of books like Chuck Colson & Richard J. Neuhaus, Evangelicals and Catholics Together: Toward a Common Mission (Dallas: Word, 1995) 66 What Gregory Boyd identifies is a key element which fuels the violence of the tit-for-tat kingdom of the world. See Boyd, Myth of a Christian Nation, p.24-26. 67 One of the most recently published articles on the May 13 incident is the deconstructive write-up by Mark Disney who sounds very much like Derrida when he says that, “The truth…will always be out because history does not belong to the past; it shifts and changes as we shift and change; ‘facts’ emerge, disappear and re-emerge; and the lesson one draws ultimately depend upon the questions one asks. One measure of Malaysia’s putative post-election political maturity is the extent to which such questions can or will be asked.’ Mark Disney, In Search of the Real May 13, Off the Edge, p.63 68 Kua Kia Soong, May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969, Suaram Komunikasi, 2007. Kua drew heavily on foreign diplomatic dispatches and foreign news reports released about a decade ago 69 This home-grown Malaysian term, kulit-fication, refers to material or career advancement via the colour of one’s skin, for which kulit is the Malay word. 70 The word even merits its own Wikipadia entry, fabulous. See Kiasu, Wikipedia, viewed 19 May 2008

Maybe it’s time Christians from specific races worked together to offer public confession and forgiveness for the sins of the fathers (and uncles and everyone else), in service, in symbol and what-not? Maybe Chinese families should tell stories of heroic Malays to their children spotlighting what’s honourable in the tradition (and vice-versa; seriously, when’s the last time an elder told the young ones in his care about the noteworthy goodness of another race?). Maybe each race should publicly confront the unspoken pain and injustice dealt towards the other. Even as I write this, my mind tells me it’ll be impossible to hear regular coffee-shop chats in which another race is sincerely commended and offered up as a positive model for emulation. But then aren’t all things less than impossible with God? The future suffering-for and suffering-with each other can serve to reverse the historical suffering-by each other. An incident like May 13 can then be thoroughly deconstructed and redeemed.

Conclusion The prophet Jeremiah’s internal turmoil was deconstructed by God when the weeping servant was challenged: “If you're worn out in this footrace with men, what makes you think you can race against horses? And if you can't keep your wits during times of calm, what's going to happen when troubles break loose like the Jordan in flood?”71 The church is in a race against fiery steeds of nationalistic ideology and power-plays. A flood of ethnic unrest always threatens. We need to keep running (though always willing to stop to give a helping hand), to keep our eyes fixed (though not so rigid we can’t see anything beyond our dogmas) and to keep proclaiming God’s good news (and use fresh words, if we want). We can then, like the psalmist, end up feasting (or, in Malaysian parlance, enjoying makanmakan) in the presence of our enemies72 at the finishing line.

71 72

Jeremiah 12:5-6, The Message Psalm 23:5

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