Thursday, December 26, 2013

Would Jesus Have Gone to Jail in Modern Singapore?

Yesterday was Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the founder and inspiration of the Christian faith. As usual the world his birthday was celebrated by the conspicuous amounts of shopping and consuming lots of food and alcohol. The great and good who “plan” and “comment” on our economy got their moment to discuss the possibility of whether the “Christmas” factor would help to spur the economy to greater heights and create prosperity for everyone.

Since I live in Singapore and spent my second Christmas in a row over here, I had to ask what Christ would have thought of the consumption in his name. Why is it such that we become obsessed with consumption for the birthday of a man who became God in the eyes of over a billion people by preaching the value of poverty and suffering?

The Christmas of 2013 should also prove significant in as much as it comes after the riots of December 8, 2013 in Little India – an event that involved 400 foreign workers from the Subcontinent. This was Singapore’s first riot in 40-years. It involved what society calls the “lowest-of-the-low.” The great and the good who run the show were quick to denounce the “barbarous” behavior of the rioters. The official stance was that there was “no excuse” to become “violent” and cause “damage to poverty.”

While I like to think that Jesus would never have approved of violent behavior, I do believe that Jesus would have decried and condemned the basic treatment of the conditions that foreign workers live in. My knowledge of Christian theology is 20-years rusty but the Christ that I read about would have deplored the way in which the society I live in for ignoring the fact that our prosperity was built on the back of exploiting the poor and desperate.

In a way I have the Young Muslim Politician from Pasir Ris GRC Who Drinks in the Middle of Ramadan aka Thambi Pundek to thank. He tries to toss out ideas like, “Oi, we’re giving the Indian labourers a better life,” and “Wah – the Bangla go onto the MRT – so smelly.” Apparently there is also something called “inbuilt migrant resentment to the host society.” He tells me that this is what people tell him about life in Singapore with so many foreign workers.

Well, our local residents might not realize it but these smelly and poor people doing the lowest of the low jobs were precisely the people that Christ stood for. The reality for a labourer from the Subcontinent is that he not only works long hours for low wages (S$1 an hour for a 12-hour day), he lives in conditions that a damp and dirty and expensive. It’s not just the pay and the living conditions but the way in which people look at him – like a bad smell personified (I had to make the point the Young Muslim Politician from Pasir Ris GRC who Eats Pork during Ramadan aka Thambi Pundek that if he spent 12-hours in the tropical sun he wouldn’t smell too good either). Whenever labourers get screwed by their employers, the laws are such that they remain under the mercy of the very employers who have cheated them.

These are the people without a voice in society. These are the people who Christ stood up for. Whatever you may believe about his divinity, Jesus of Nazareth was a man who told the world that God lived in the pits.

Unfortunately this is a message that governments regard as highly provocative. I can imagine Jesus in today’s Singapore. The Christ that I got to read about in his scriptures all those years ago would have been hanging around places like Geylang or Little India. He would have done things like publically admonish the powers-that-be for allowing people to go hungry. He would have told the labourers and the prostitutes that they had rights to be treated as people and not as mere digits for the greater good of the well to do.

This would be the type of character our society would have jailed and denounced in the media. How dare he tell the voiceless that God spoke for them?

Unfortunately our perceptions of the world have shown us that we have grown to love money and things more than God. Isn’t that just too bad for us that we, for the most part, would fail to see God if he appeared before us and lived amongst us…..  

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