Resourcing and Developing Christian Apologetics in South Asia – A response to Asif Mall

Author: John Hayward, , CMS Regional Manager for Central Asia and Pakistan

Abstract:

Asif has provided a very useful paper, distilled from his front-line experience of apologetics. It gives a number of sub-topics to explore.
Polemics is engrained in South Asian cultures although it is reflected differently across the sub-continent. Some groups of peoples are very laid back, others are particular about what is done and said in public while having no concern about what happens within the home, while others, and I think of Punjabis in particular, are keen to interfere in the public and private lives of others. The Punjabi-lead government in Pakistan is currently arranging to trawl the internet to expose any deemed insult to Islam.
In South Asia folk religion is widely followed, enabled by rote learning and the generally low level of literacy. In this form of Islam it is held that ‘ignorance is bliss’ – one cannot be judged on actions of omission or commission if unaware of the law. It also means that cultural practices are taken to be true expressions of the faith and cultural practices take precedence over religious injunctions. A senior church leader in South Asia once told me ‘the Bible may say that but this is the way we Punjabis deal with it.’ Honour killing was justified in the Pakistan parliament as being Islamic, so a right that should not be taken away by law. Cultural influence on faith practices is of course not restricted to people in other faiths or cultures; it is universal but not always acknowledged. The British church reflects cultural attitudes to self, wealth and sexual morality. The understanding of religious injunctions and cultural impacts is important in establishing polemical debate, and the level of understanding will determine the quality of that debate.
Rote learning itself can be a handicap to discussion. Memorising what is written replaces understanding it. Memorising in an ancient language is a pre-occupation, more important than knowing or understanding, for many people. Apologetics then becomes an exchange of dogmas, a dialogue of the deaf – in the way Asif has depicted the history of polemics in South Asia from the Christian perspective of being reactive and defensive. Distortion of the truth is likely to have a central part, such as the accusation that Christians worship three gods – a father, mother Mary, and their son Jesus.

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