Posts Tagged ‘Occupy Central’

Bishop, and mates

When I was a student we were required to eat a certain number of dinners. While at the table there was a traditional rule that we should not discuss religion, politics or any living lady. Students at this particular institution were all male in those days. The rule was enforced by the threat of being forced to drink copious quantities of beer. As drinking beer in large quantities was one of my hobbies at the time this was not a very serious deterrent, but generally we obeyed the rule anyway. It embodied the idea that the pursuit of a shared objective will go more harmoniously if we avoid unnecessary topics on which people have passionate and rarely changed opinions.  A similar rule has traditionally applied to the Church of England. A national church will have adherents with a wide variety of prejudices and opinions; bringing them together to worship goes more smoothly if God is the only topic which comes up. Bishops have occasionally broken this rule, usually with unhappy results. The 17th century Archbishop Laud got caught on the wrong side of the English Civil War and was beheaded. In 1688 seven bishops were thrown in to the Tower of London and charged with seditious libel for petitioning against Catholic emancipation. They were later acquitted. More recently I remember an unholy row — immortalised in a charming piece by Bernard Levin — over a Bishop of Bristol who expressed the prescient view that the incipient Concorde project would produce a white elephant and end in tears. As the British part of the plane was to be made in Bristol this incensed some Anglican aeroplane builders. So I expected the worst when the Anglican Bishop of Hong Kong, the Most Reverend Paul Kwong, appeared on the front of today’s City Section. I note without comment the Post’s interesting news values: the possibility that Occupy Central might be repugnant to God was merely the lead on the City section; the equally dubious proposition that it might depress the property market was on the front of the main paper.

Back to our Bishop. His Reverence had adorned his latest sermon with the view that the appropriate response to threatened execution was silence, basing this on Jesus’s reported refusal to respond to a question from Pontius Pilate. This meant that the Church was not only able but perhaps obliged to say nothing about current political discontents. As a retired Bible reader I have several problems with this. The first is that picking the odd phrase out of a big book is a dangerous game. This point is traditionally embodied in the observation that “even the Devil can quote scripture.” The second is based on the observation that everyone except the most benighted Bible-bashers now accepts that the Gospels were written well after the event by people who had not witnessed the events they reported. Consequently the phrase “Jesus remained silent” may mean anything from “I am told he said nothing at this point” to “If anything was said I have not found a record of it.” The third is that we must suppose Pontius Pilate to have spoken Latin and Jesus to have spoken Hebrew, so the possibilities of meaningful communication were quite limited for reasons which have nothing to do with the merits of silence, whatever they may be. Well, I leave this point to Anglican enthusiasts.

The Bishop went on, however, to make a gratuitous and offensive remark about the students who were arrested following the July 1 march. Some people thought this rather unChristian, coming from a Bishop. Personally I think the loss of liberty, even for a few hours, is a serious matter and not suitable for flip remarks from bishops, or anyone else. The students had, apparently, said that they were not fed, and had to queue to use the toilet. “I would say,” said the Bishop, “‘Why didn’t they bring their Filipina maids to the march?'” This may be a point which is not widely understood in the social orbits inhabited by the Bishop, but actually most Hong Kong people do not have maids.

Some commentators observed that Bishop Kwong appears to be in the position which in different contexts would be called a conflict of interests. Jesus may have been silent about the prospect of imminent crucifixion but he was, on other occasions, quite vocal about the impossibility of serving two masters. Bishop Kwong is, apparently, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Thingy. This is an office of some profit and prestige to which he was appointed by the local despotism — whose opponents he now slags off from the pulpit. This is not a good idea. Bishops are judged by their conduct more than by their speech. It is no good urging the imitation of Christ if the biblical figure you most resemble is Judas Iscariot.



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