Why Defacement of the Alkitab is Desecration

Some government officials have claimed that Christians are making an unnecessary fuss over the recent stamping of the Alkitab seized in Port Klang and Kuching. After all, they say, the Government also requires copies of the Quran to be chopped/stamped with a notice of government approval before they are sold in the shops.

Even some Christians also wonder why such a big deal is being made about the stamping since Christians, unlike Muslims, do not regard printed copies of the Bible with reverence. It is just a printed text. What matters is the message conveyed by the Bible.

This article seeks to address the failure to understand the reason for rejecting the stamping of the Alkitab. The terms of the debate need first be clearly defined to ensure accuracy in my analysis and coherence of my argument. Since the issue is whether the government officials committed desecration of the Holy Bible let me begin with some definitions taken from the Oxford English Dictionary

Holy

1. Of a thing, place, etc.: kept or regarded as sacred; set apart for religious use or observance; consecrated.

2. Of a god or icon: (to be) held in religious veneration or reverence; spec. in the Christian

Church, free from all contamination of sin and evil, morally and spiritually perfect.

Sacred

1. Consecrated to or considered especially dear to a god or supernatural being.

2. Set apart for or dedicated to a religious purpose and so deserving veneration or respect;

consecrated, hallowed (in names of animals and plants indicating ancient or traditional

veneration).

Desecration 1. Remove or violate the sacred nature of, profane; fig. spoil or treat with contempt (something venerated or admired).

 

From these definition I shall say that when Christians refer to “The Holy Bible” they are commending it as something set apart or dedicated to religious activity and thus to be held in reverence. There is some diversity among Christians in the way they approach the Bible. Some devout Christians approach the text with veneration. Other Christians feel they do not need to revere a printed book, but they will still consider the text to be indispensable in leading them into the presence of the Holy God.

We should also keep in mind that Muslims display great reverence for their holy text, as is evident from the way they physically handle the printed Quran and how they protest (violently in some cases) when the Quran is reportedly mishandled or desecrated.

 

How do we decide when a holy text has been desecrated, that is, violated and treated with contempt? Let us consider several scenarios pertaining to how the holy text could be treated:

1. A government official stamps on copies of the Quran to declare they are legally approved by the authorities.

2. A Christian stamps his name on the inside cover to declare ownership of a copy of the Bible.

3. A Christian highlights a scripture text while reading the Bible.

4. A critical scholar scrawls on pages of his Bible with the word “LIES AND MYTHS” while a militant atheist cuts off sections of the Bible he considers out of date and irrelevant (for example – miraculous stories).

5. A Nazi mob burns a heap of seized Bibles with wood carved in the form of the Swastika.

 

Comments on the above scenarios:

1. Obviously, stamping on these Qurans is not an act of desecration. Rather, it positively declares that these copies of the Quran are to be accepted as authoritative texts to be used by Muslims in their devotion. Its intention is one of positive regard in contrast to desecration that treats the text with contempt.

2. This action has no expressed valuation on the Biblical text. The owner simply declares his ownership of the book. The question of desecration does not arise.

3. For this devout Christian, highlighting the texts emphasizes his response while engaging with the text – as a human listening to the voice of God speaking through the text. It represents the personal response of the reader as he is led into the presence of the divine. Obviously, the reader’s attitude is one of reverence rather one of triviality and contempt.

On the other hand, other Christians may hesitate to highlight the text even when they experience spiritual uplift while reading the text because of their cultural background and personal sentiments.  In this case, both these groups of Christian should respect each other and give allowance to one another so long as both groups respect the Bible and more importantly, obey the spiritual injunction of its teachings.

4. There is no desecration when a critical scholar declares he does not regard the Bible as the revealed word of God. He may even exercise his academic freedom and publish articles that criticize the Bible. The scholar is entitled to his view but the militant atheist is expressing contempt for the Bible and commits desecration by cutting up the Bible.

5.  The Nazi mob is expressing publicly their contempt towards the Bible. The fire symbolically declares the intention of the Nazi movement to destroy both Christianity and the Bible. This is a desecration and a violent declaration of war.

 

The Question

Obviously, the issue of desecration is a complex one. We need to take into account the cultural values and the intention of the actors in making judgment when someone makes a mark on a holy text. We need to be sensitive to both the intention of the actor (message sent) and the perception of the believers of the holy text (message received). They may or may not coincide.

How then do we evaluate the action of the government officials when they stamped the Alkitab with the words: “FOR CHRISTIANS ONLY” “BY ORDER OF THE HOME MINISTER”.

 

Background Information

The root cause of the problem can be traced back to the December 1981 when the then Deputy Minister of Home Affairs gazetted the prohibition of the Alkitab in Malaysia under Section 22 of the Internal Security Act 1960 (PU (A) 15/82).

It was a draconian order prohibiting absolutely the printing, publication, sale, issue, circulation or possession of the Alkitab. The gazette contained a very serious accusation, which might even be considered seditious, stating that the prohibition was made on the grounds that the Alkitab is prejudicial to the national interest and security of the Federation.

In March 1982, a subsequent decision of the Deputy Minister repealed the above order in recognition of the fact that it is unacceptable to prohibit Christians from using their Holy Scriptures. This was done vide PU (A) 134 which, while retaining the prohibition, subjected it to the condition that “this prohibition does not apply to the possession or use in Churches of such publication by persons professing the Christian religion throughout Malaysia”.

It should be emphasized that such a restriction is unacceptable by any standard of modern democracy. But even then the Christian community went along with the government. As such, there was no attempt to display and sell copies of the Alkitab in public bookstores like MPH.

In December 2005, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi made an agreement with Church leaders whereby Christians were allowed to import the Alkitab on condition that its front cover has the words “Penerbitan Kristian” along with the symbol of the cross.

Although the word ‘compromise’ is used here, it was actually the case of Christians giving ground. After all, even the unacceptable gazette in 1982 did not require imprinting of the words “Penerbitan Kristian” and the symbol of the cross. So when Cabinet Minister Max Ongkili now suggests that Christians should compromise in a spirit of give and take, he should be reminded that it has always been the case of the Christians compromising – the Christians are always giving and the government is always taking.

 

Analysis

The issue of desecration did not arise when Christians agreed to print the cross with the caveat onto the cover of the Bible since it was to assure the government that Christians are not engaging in covert evangelism. Unfortunately, this did not stop the government from continuing to seize the Alkitab and other Christian teaching materials. The harassment from the government climaxed with the recent stamping of the Alkitab without consent from the Christian community.

To add salt to injury, the chop includes in bold print the words, “FOR CHRISTIANS ONLY” “BY ORDER OF HOME MINISTER”. This imprint amounts to discrimination against Christians and displays contempt towards their Holy Scripture. Two concerns arise immediately.

First, Christians cannot in good conscience limit the Word of God only to Christians. It is for anyone who freely seeks him including the animists in East Malaysia, atheists, secularists, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. By the same token the Buddhists and Hindus also say their holy writings are also for every interested seeker. They don’t have to apologize for their view and Christians respect their freedom to share their holy writings to all and sundry. Christians want to ask the government: “Why single out Christians and the Bible?” This is religious discrimination to say the least.

Second, the government officials obviously displayed contempt towards the Alkitab in the act of stamping it. How else can Christians react but to reject such an imposition? Why should Muslims feign surprise that Christians feel their Holy Bible (Alkitab) has been desecrated? Indeed, some Muslims would respond with violence if their Quran is treated in the same manner. Be assured that Muslims understand the need to respect and give reverence to printed copies of holy texts.

Further, the government acted with arrogance towards both Christians and the Alkitab when they went full throttle to stamp on the Alkitab, even while the Christians cried “Desecration!” This is nothing less than an “in your face” insult.

To cap the arrogance, the government now arrogates for itself power over God’s Word with the bold imprint, “BY ORDER OF HOME MINISTER”. Such a statement imposed and imprinted upon the Alkitab is alarming as it can amount to BLASPHEMY (arrogating for oneself the honor and authority which belongs to God). It is already an act of defacement when the government utterly disregarded the fact that Christians regard the Alkitab as Holy Scripture. It is a hostile and contemptuous action that ignores the protest from Christians.  In the light of these factors, any self-respecting Christian who loves God and His Holy Scripture can only judge the government’s action as one of DESECRATION of God’s Word.

 

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7 Responses to “Why Defacement of the Alkitab is Desecration”

  1. SP Lim Says:

    The Christians in Malaysia cry “Let our Bibles go” But the the Lord seems to continue to harden the heart of the Home Minister as in the days of Pharaoh. And hopefully as in the days of Pharaoh, the Home Minister and his minions will by judged and drowned in the sea of anger. The anger of the voters in particular those from Sarawak. I believe in providence.

  2. Sakthi Says:

    Yes and there shall be an uprising. Revival shall began in Sarawak.

  3. responder Says:

    Hi Nkw, thanks very much for your thoughtful response. I agree with your position. My concern, as a young person, is that the public perception of Christians in Malaysia is being shaped by these types of events, rather than by our good conduct in our communities, to our neighbours etc. It seems to me that many of us might not have not been prioritising the selflessness and meekness presented to us by Christ; choosing instead to stay silent (in our actions) and only acting when there are flashpoint episodes like this. If we want this nation to know that our Bible is Holy, then let us let the truth of the Bible set us apart: through the sanctification of our thoughts and actions, through the perfecting of our love for our all including our enemies, and perhaps even through the courage to turn the other cheek and give our cloaks away a bit more often. We are called to be Christians first, then members of a democracy. And I believe the first reality of ‘being Christian’ will surely then leave an incredible mark on the second. I don’t mean that we should stay silent while persecution such as this takes place, but hopefully our neighbours will know us first for our love. I hope these thoughts contribute to your discussion.

  4. KON onn sein Says:

    Freedom of religion means nothing if a Christian or one of another faith is not allowed to read scriptures other than his own. The debate should go to the core of the problem and question whether the Internal Security Act directive is void for contravening constitutional legality. A multi racial and religous state like Malaysia has to respect every faith and a restriction on the use of the Alkitab wrong. Whilst the government needs to balance the tension between religous freedom and sensitivities of a volatile minority, it should not proscribe fundamental rights of freedom of expression and religous belief for the sake of a radical minority. In order to foster a lasting progressive society which values dignity of everyone including their different faiths, the government must be bold enough to put the overarching fundamental rights of humanity before any group. Failure to do so, will leave the system to abuse and tyranny of the few. The innate dignity of every individual has to be protected and this must surely be an essential premise for all religions as God is the creator of all humanity.

  5. YH Tham Aaron Says:

    Bro, TQ!

  6. Lee Yik Sheng Says:

    Although I disagree strongly with the policy of the home ministry (more so the attitude of the minister as reported in the media), I think using the word desecration is not appropriate and could raise more confusions than finding solutions.

    Our bible is inspired by God and because of this, it is considered the word of God worthy of following and submitting our lives to. But the bible is not by itself, a sacred religious object like what pagans considered some objects to be, which would mystically bring miraculous powers to the wielder.

    Such an object can be desecrated, but this is very much a pagan concept. However, such a concept, in my view, should not be applied to our bible because in its physical nature, the bible is just another normal object, made out of paper and print, or digital ink if you wish.

    Nevertheless, it is holy and it is the word of God in every spiritual sense because when we follow or preach it, God chooses to work through it, confirming it with miraculous signs, as if saying that these are His words that represent His character. Only in this sense, I believe, is our bible considered holy and sacred.

    Nothing from the outside can defile a person, says our Lord. Equally, nothing done by man physically to our bibles can ‘desecrate’ it because the ‘desecration’ of our bibles, God’s word, can only happen from within our hearts, when we ourselves choose to ignore, dishonour and disobey it.

    Yes, we resist the kind of high handed way in which the home ministry and the obnoxious minister are handling the issue, but we ourselves must not be confused and raise unwarranted fears when the circumstance does not warrant it.

    My two cents to clarify on the issue to lessen the confusion, and to reduce the tension. May the peace of God be with you.

  7. Jason Kay Says:

    Lee Yik Sheng: You have written more than what was going on in my head. Thank you so much for taking the time to do so.

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