I have been quite busy lately getting ready for a trip to Malaysia – Malaysian Borneo to be exact. I will be attending my 40th high school reunion in the city of Kota Kinabalu, capital city of the East Malaysia State of Sabah. For the Survivors fans, the city of KK was the staging city for the first season of Survivor in 2000. Survivor Borneo was filmed on an island called Pula Tiga, about 3 miles east of the city. It turned out that one of my former classmates was responsible for getting the show to be filmed there 9 years ago and so I am looking forward to meeting up with him as well as many of my other classmates I have not seen for 40 years.
In getting ready for our big reunion, and thanks to the age of electronic communications, I have had the opportunity to be re-acquainted with many of my old classmates over the Internet before we get to actually meet face to face in a couple of month. I was quite dismayed to learn that a couple of my classmates who have immigrated to the USA have become full blown Creationists! What? Yes, card-carrying Young Earth Creationists! How can that be?
If you have read Dr. Novella’s blog here on how the Creationist movement in the US has been trying to get a strangle hold on the education authorities in this country, you will have to agree that they are quite a persuasive bunch with oodles of financial and legal resources at their disposal. All this I am aware of. But how did they to get one of “us?” – I kept wonderings when I found out that I have creationist classmates.
For the first 12 years of my educations, I attend a mission school in what was then North Borneo – a British Colony (North Borneo was renamed Sabah when it gained independence and became one of the states of the Federation of Malaysia in 1963.) The school was run by the SPG – Society for the Propagation of the Gospel – a missionary arm of the Anglican Church. All of us in that school, from kindergarten through Form 6 (equivalent of grade 12 in the US) had scripture and bible class two or three times a week, in addition to morning prayer and hymn assembly every day. Out of this experience, many of us were converted to the Christian faith and out of this experience of being together for twelve of the most formative years of our early life, we became a very close bunch of friends until we were scattered all over the world in search of higher education – not then available in Borneo.
Of the thousands of Christian denominations, the Anglicans (Episcopal in the US) are as moderate as they come! Evolution was taught in their mission schools and Charles Darwin was revered as one of the greatest scientists of the British Empire. Yes, we were also taught the glory of the British Empire – on which the sun will never set! Thanks to the mission school system, we were given a great science education (and that our souls were saved was primary for the SPG!) We learnt more world geography and history than many high school student in the US today and since most of us in that school were of Chinese ancestry, we were fed Chinese history even more intensely. All in all, we have 12 years of superb primary and secondary education, not just for a bunch of kids in Borneo but by any standards of the developed countries. Many of my classmates ended up in some of the best schools in the UK (Cambridge, U of London), Canada (McGill, UBC, McMaster, U of Toronto) and the US (MIT, Ohio State, UC Berkeley, RPI.) Due to the lack of opportunities back home in the 1970’s when we graduated, many, including myself, ended up being immigrants in the country of their higher education.
So, how did a couple of these well educated and well read immigrants to the US ended up buying the whole Creationists line of thinking? I am really curious. I checked with a few of my classmates with whom I regularly communicate, just to see where they are spiritually. A few of them remained on the “liberal” end of the Christian spectrum while most of us have de-converted. The problem I have with Chinese fundamentalist Christians is how could they discard their own history? For better or for worse, we come from an ancient culture and definitely have the baggage to show for it. We have written history as old as any Middle Eastern civilizations. We have our own legends and sagas to tell the stories of our glorious ancient past. So how can a Chinese, knowing his own culture and historical past become a Young Earth Creationist? How can a person have two histories? What kind of mental gymnastic must my YEC classmates perform to adopt the Genesis stories as real and to discard the narratives of our forebearers was mere legends?
Strictly speaking, Chinese has no religion – just lots of superstitions. Religions so often associated with China like Buddhism (imported from India), Confucianism and Taoism are really philosophies of life. Our “spirituality”, if that’s what we want to call it, is manifested in veneration of our eldest, and those who came before us. “Make your ancestors proud of you!” is the battle cry of the Chinese culture. These “religions” which are based on philosophical principles of men like Lao Tzu, Confucius and Buddha blend ethics and philosophical contemplation with spirituality. As such, Taoist Confucius and Buddhist teachings are not based on “revealed truths” recorded in sacred text. And because they do not rely on divinely inspired text for their authority, they can change with the times and culture. Their teachings merely point to pathways and anyone is welcome to make sense of those pathways and make them relevant for the morels, customs and culture of the time. You can walk those pathways in the spirit of compassion, peace and civility. More liberal Christianity (like the Anglican mission school I attended) is willing to interpret the message of Jesus as one such pathway and urged us to augment our spirituality with the concept of redemption of sin and the preparation for an after life. That message can be incorporated in any culture and philosophy. The success of the Anglican missions in many disparate cultures throughout the British Empire attest to the cogency of that message.
At the fundamentalist end of the spectrum is of course the biblical literalists/inerrantists. It requires the believer not just to accept the message of hope, love and salvation, but also the central theme of the story which is the creation, fall and redemption of the Hebrew Nation. Believers must definitely adapted and incorporated into their cultures this Hebraic Messianic story. But we Chinese had written history longer than the Hebrews and Egyptians. How can a Chinese Fundamentalist accept as literal history obviously legendary stories in the Bible like Creation in Six Days, Tower of Babel, Noah’s Flood, and sagas like the battles between the northern nations and the southern kingdoms, etc. and make them his own history? In a strict and literal interpretation of the bible, Jesus was the messiah promised to the Jews by God to redeem their sins and their failings in the millennium before they settle in Palestine. Nothing is said about the Chinese (or anyone else for that matter!)
I am looking forward to meeting up with my YEC classmates and to picking their brains on this matter. It really bothers me! Stay tuned when I report back about this in a couple of months.