Good Catholics and ‘Oc­cupy Cen­tral’

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HK COMMENT - LAU NAI- KE­UNG The author is a mem­ber of the Com­mis­sion on Strate­gic De­vel­op­ment.

As more and more peo­ple have come to re­al­ize the ab­sur­dity of the so-called “Oc­cupy Cen­tral” move­ment, and the harm it would cause to Hong Kong, var­i­ous groups emerged to rally against it in the last month or so. Most of them are am­a­teur­ish, in­clud­ing the nu­mer­ous Face­book pages. While they show­case the in­creas­ing pop­u­lar­ity of anti-“Oc­cupy” sen­ti­ments, a lack of ex­per­tise and re­sources con­strains their abil­ity to reach a broader au­di­ence and cap­ture the lime­light. In this re­gard, the schol­ar­cum-pro­fes­sional-led Silent Ma­jor­ity for Hong Kong is a promis­ing ve­hi­cle to con­verge and co­or­di­nate anti-“Oc­cupy” ef­forts.

Do­na­tions are com­ing in. Ed­u­cated peo­ple are join­ing our side. Th­ese are very good signs, but we still do not have an ef­fec­tive dis­course to guide our al­lies in pub­lic de­bates.

Fu­tile ar­gu­ments are now be­ing thrown upon the oc­cu­piers, but they won’t leave even a scratch. Most of th­ese ar­gu­ments try to ex­pose the oc­cu­piers’ dou­ble stan­dards and in­con­sis­ten­cies, or prove that the pro­posed cam­paign could not achieve its man­i­fested aims. How­ever, ap­par­ent dou­ble stan­dards and in­con­sis­ten­cies at one level are, in fact, rec­on­cil­able at a higher level. If oc­cu­piers be­lieve they are fight­ing against evil, it does not mat­ter whether they ul­ti­mately pre­vail or not. The dif­fer­ence be­tween a be­liever and a bean counter is that the for­mer does not weigh prof­its and loss all day. Gandhi never tried to oc­cupy In­dia’s equiv­a­lent of Cen­tral, of course, but that does not mean that Gandhi’s prin­ci­ples would have pre­vented him from do­ing that if the sit­u­a­tion re­quired.

We have to go be­yond the sur­face of the bits and pieces of our op­po­nents’ ar­gu­ment to win the de­bate. We have to re­al­ize that we are deal­ing with some­thing more pro­found and fun­da­men­tal, for ex­am­ple, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the cen­tral govern­ment and Hong Kong and re­li­gion.

Democ­racy is an im­por­tant in­gre­di­ent in the de­bate, but it is more of­ten than not used to side­step and mask the real is­sue, which is the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the cen­tral govern­ment and the SAR govern­ment. Prof Ho Lok-sang re­cently pro­posed a sys­tem for univer­sal suf­frage where each el­i­gi­ble voter has two votes. He or she can cast both votes for one can­di­date, or two dif­fer­ent can­di­dates. His in­no­va­tion is that the votes can be used to sig­nal ap­proval or dis­ap­proval: all ap­proval votes and dis­ap­proval votes a can­di­date re­ceives can­cel out. It is in­ter­est­ing, but quite be­side the point as to who is the ul­ti­mate boss.

On the other hand, the re­li­gious front was sur­ren­dered long ago even be­fore the bat­tle is fought. The “Oc­cupy” move­ment is from day one a very Catholic cam­paign, with Benny Tai Yiu-ting and a few church lead­ers now be­ing sole in­ter­preters of what Catholi­cism has to say on is­sues such as civil dis­obe­di­ence and democ­racy. With the en­tire de­voted Chris­tian com­mu­nity in Hong Kong at stake, this is an area where real schol­ar­ship is needed.

Nu­mer­ous es­says ex­ist on­line dis­cussing whether civil dis­obe­di­ence is “bib­li­cal”. The ma­jor­ity sug­gest that it is not, or at least, ques­tion­able. Guess what, they are all writ­ten by Amer­i­cans.

A much cited ex­am­ple is the teach­ing of the apos­tle Paul. It was dur­ing the reign of Nero Claudius Cae­sar Au­gus­tus Ger­man­i­cus, who tor­tured Chris­tians and en­gaged in a va­ri­ety of il­licit acts, that Paul wrote his epis­tle to the Ro­mans. While one might ex­pect him to en­cour­age the Chris­tians in Rome to rise up against their op­pres­sive ruler, we find th­ese words in­stead: “Ev­ery per­son is to be in sub­jec­tion to the gov­ern­ing au­thor­i­ties. For there is no au­thor­ity ex­cept from God, and those which ex­ist are es­tab­lished by God. There­fore who­ever re­sists au­thor­ity has op­posed the or­di­nance of God; and they who have op­posed will re­ceive con­dem­na­tion upon them­selves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good be­hav­ior, but for evil” (Ro­mans 13:1–7).

Even un­der the reign of a ruth­less and god­less em­peror, Paul, writ­ing un­der the in­spi­ra­tion of the Holy Spirit, told his read­ers to be in sub­jec­tion to the govern­ment. Why shouldn’t we be more con­tent with ours?

Good Chris­tians be­lieve that dis­obe­di­ence to au­thor­ity is per­mit­ted when the govern­ment’s laws or com­mands are in di­rect vi­o­la­tion of those from God. In Ex­o­dus 1, the Egyp­tian Pharaoh gave the clear com­mand to two He­brew mid­wives that they were to kill all male Jewish ba­bies. The mid­wives “feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had com­manded them, but let the boys live” (Ex­o­dus 1:17). But this is about dis­obey­ing di­rect or­ders, not ac­tively seek­ing to change the rules.

So is the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal sys­tem in Hong Kong a di­rect vi­o­la­tion of God’s laws and com­mands? The truth is, the bi­ble has no di­rect men­tion of democ­racy. What we only know is that Paul once asked a run-away slave to re­turn to his mas­ter.

Lau Nai-ke­ung

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