Monday, May 5, 2014

A Matter of Legalism versus The Human Conscience

The hudud debate is potentially an intellectual conundrum that frames Malaysia' current problems into Muslim and non-Muslim issues. (Just as Obama probably intended in his widely publicised comments at the University Malaya. Imagine the predictable public responses if he told an American audience that Christians should not be prejudiced against non-Christians.)

We should not see this debate as some kind of national referendum (starting with Kelantan) which can be decided by a simple majority vote just as one would simply decide whether or not to vote for capital punishment versus the abolishment of the death penalty. We need to probe deeper and not be blind-sided by naive reasoning (e.g. it is a Muslim issue and therefore would neither affect nor concern non-Muslims).

But the 2 key points that distinguish the hudud issue from other less controversial issues (e.g. Goods & Services Tax) are that: (a) hudud is unconstitutional and (b) it is an issue that relates to the basis of the spiritual life of man.

This debate of legalism vs the mysterious sovereign will of God is a common dilemma faced by all believers in the great religions of the world: Can spiritual values be legislated or is legislating our faith-based values just an outward symbol of righteousness?

When we, as Malaysians discuss hudud, we must be intellectually sharp to enlarge the debate in the context of the bigger spiritual debate (which also includes the values of atheists). We understand the perspective of the religious legalists in a world of rampant crime and violence.

But the evil consequence of the human conscience being shackled and rendered useless in a rules-based society means that we (whether Muslims, Christians, Buddhists or Hindus) become spiritual robots who allow external laws to infringe on our inner life. The mercy of God extended to man is an affair purely between God and an individual. Judgements of morality are never between the state or religious councils and man.

Hudud is just another form of religious legalism that also exists in catholic and Jewish religions. There is no need to educate us on the Kelantan version as legalism in any religion is often an outward show of power and prestige masking the poverty of our conscience to produce mercy and forgiveness to those considered immoral/unethical. Let the judge who is without a single sin be the first to execute punishment. This is the divine principle of making moral judgement as alluded by Jesus in the book of John chapter 8: verse 7 when the religious legalists asked him whether an adulteress should be stoned to death according to the laws of Moses: 

"Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." 

In other words, only God can dispense judgements of morality and spirituality. Man should confine himself to making civil laws that prevent crimes and misconduct. If the punishment in terms of years in jail or amount of fines is not commensurate with the severity of the crime, then by all means increase the jail-time or fines. The root cause of many of today's social problems come from the lack of proper upbringing, traumatic past experiences and bad social habits. Punishments can never pull out the roots of criminal behaviour. 

And punishing criminals with the pain of amputations or other capital punishments to extract feelings of repentance is neither morally or psychologically defensible. It only works on the fear factor and for some people of different world-views, capital punishment of this kind is akin to repaying a wrong with another wrong (i.e. an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth). True repentance starts with the realisation of the human conscience that a sin has been committed and a moral regeneration is urgently needed.     
Is A Tree Not Known By Its Fruits?

Nonetheless, the on-line discussions on this hudud issue is also getting nowhere because both sides are not on the same page: for those against legalism, proof of the ill-effects of its actual practice is sufficient (i.e. look at Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan). In other words, a tree is judged by its fruits and this is the most practical way of assessing its viability. 

But for the pro-legalists, there is no need to know if the practice of legalism is effective in curbing immorality or unethical conduct. To them, the tree itself is more important than its fruits, which seems quite illogical but understandably rational from their perspective. 

It is with this insight that we can better understand that the concept of hudud from the legalists point of view is that it is a  kind of flag or branding of a state, which is in itself, sufficient in endorsing the religious credentials or credibility of their community in the eyes of God. 

The current problem with Malaysia is that this issue of religious legalism, while it is clearly to me an ancient problem, has been made more complex by politicians who use it as a means of dividing good people of all races and faiths. 

Do You Want To Know God?

Do You Want To Know God?
Say this: Heavenly Father, I have sinned against You. Forgive all my sins. I believe Jesus died on the cross for my sins and rose again. I give you my life to do as You wish. I want Jesus to come into my life & heart. In Jesus's name. Amen