Thursday, October 26, 2006

Driving in Taiwan

Last week we went on a field trip to Taiwan as part of our foundation course, and one of the Singaporeans we met there told us that many Singaporeans find Taiwan messy and disorderly. He said that you can tell the difference between Singaporean and Taiwanese culture just by looking at the way people drive. In Taiwan, cars swerve in and out of lanes and traffic lights are more like suggestions rather than legal requirements. The Taiwanese have this proverb that means "order in disorder", and they are very tolerant of inconsiderate driving. If you pull up alongside the road to let people off, causing a backlog of cars behind you, people will just wait because everyone recognises that they would have done exactly the same had they been in your position. But if you did that in Singapore, the drivers stuck behind you would be pounding on their horns.

We Singaporeans are a very law abiding lot, but we are extremely intolerant of people who do not obey what we perceive to be the rules. At the same time however, the Taiwanese are also extremely intolerant of intolerant people. Quite of few of them see Singapore as inflexible and authoritarian, and China is regarded as the antithesis of democracy and a system that just cannot be accepted.

I was keenly reminded of how Tim Keller once pointed out that all cultures are oppressive - they set up an ideal (say, of law-abidingness or liberal tolerance) and everyone who does not conform is "condemned". The Bible tells us that all cultures are fallen (because all people are fallen), and that all cultures oppress, because every single culture puts in front of people certain objects and says “If you don’t have them, you’re nothing.”

Ancient cultures, and traditional cultures today, tend to have collectivistic idols: Follow the rules! Obey the law! Toe the line! But modern Western cultures tend more to have individualistic idols: Break free! Define yourself! It’s your choice, so choose! Every culture that ever existed and that exists today, is telling you to build your identity on something.

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"

"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."
Mark 12:28-31

It is no accident that Jesus tells us to love our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength first, before telling us to love our neighbours, because the latter would be completely impossible without the former.

It is impossible to love your illiberal neighbour just as much as your avowedly liberal self, if you do not love God more than your liberal credentials.

If you build your identity on being liberal, you will despise illiberal people. If you build your identity on being law-abiding, you will despise "law-breakers". Only if you build your identity on God, a God who loves you with an everlasting love despite your weaknesses and flaws, a God who will tear himself apart to make you whole, will you be completely incapable of despising anyone.

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