Indonesia: Work, Eat, Pray in Malang

Group Photo

Photo Credit: Gio @ 2018 SABS Conference

Attending the Seventh Biennial Society of Asian Biblical Studies (SABS) Conference in the city Malang in Indonesia was a mind-blowing experience. The conference was held at the Catholic Seminary STFT Widya Sasana and lasted from the 16th to the 20th of July, 2018. About 88 biblical researchers from around the world (mainly from Asia) flocked to this “Bible Belt” of Indonesia, where a dozen theological colleges and seminaries from various denominations make their home. This incredible journey managed to stimulate my mind (work), spoil my tastebuds (eat), and let me observe the spirituality of others (pray).

Work

The diverse topics presented at the conference blew my mind. I especially enjoyed the session on the Malaysian/Indonesian Bible translations. Dr. Kar Yong Lim from the Seminari Theologi Malaysia and Dr. Daud Soesilo from the United Bible Societies in Indonesia presented an overview of how the Malaysian ruling government considers the Arabic loanword “Allah” a sort of proper name of the Muslims’ God, and thus prohibits the use of “Allah” by the non-Muslims. Some of the country’s Christians, who understand “Allah” as a common noun “God” in their Malay language Bibles, are particularly affected by this prohibition. Dr. Anwar Tjen from the Indonesian Bible Society, on the other hand, presented another kind of motivation that leads some Indonesian Christian communities to reject the use of “Allah” in their Bible translations. As he showed, these Christian groups, under the influence of the Sacred Name Movement in the US, think the term “Allah” is too Arabic and seek to rediscover the Jewish root of Christianity by simply transliterating the Hebrew term אלהים/אל/אלה into “Elohim.” At first sight, two different groups of people in two different countries seek to reject the use of the Arabic loanword “Allah” in the Christian Bible translations for two seemingly different reasons. On closer inspection, both groups actually are motivated by the same desire to sharply delineate their religious identity from the surrounding peoples. One (the Malaysian government) seeks to restrict the term “Allah” for the Islamic God, while another (some Indonesian Christians) strives to distance itself from the Arabic flavoured “Allah” and to highlight the Judeo-Christian origin of its own religion, by adopting the transliteration “Elohim.” The result is a starkly dualistic contrast between the Islam and the Judeo-Christian traditions. The question remains if an extra space can be created for those Christians, who wish to maintain both their national/linguistic and religious identities by using the Malay term “Allah” in their own Christian Bible translations.

I was privileged to preside at the session, where Prof. Koowon Kim, Prof. Zhenhua Meng and Dr. Kwan-Hung Leo Li utilised a comparative/dialogic approach to contextualise different parts of the Hebrew Bible for the Chinese people. The other sessions also include some stimulating analyses of the biblical texts from the Japanese and Korean perspectives. One of the highlights of the conference is the session on the queer readings of the biblical texts in Asia. Homosexuality is still a taboo in many Asian countries and in the traditional monotheistic religions. Therefore, the presenters, including Rev. Dr. Stephen Suleeman, Ms. Pearl Wong, and Prof. Yeong Mee Lee, should be applauded for bringing their research on this difficult subject to the table. All the above sessions have introduced me to so many lights that can be cast on the Bible through reading it in different modern-day societies. I cannot claim to have grasped or concurred with all the discussions appearing in the conference, but I sincerely think that all these different discussions in the academic context are necessary and even beneficial, since they allow us to temporarily jump out of the comfort zones and critically examine our commonly held beliefs.

In addition to learning from the others’ perspectives, I also presented a paper entitled “Seeking a Way Forward: Reflections on the Scholarly Imaginations of Good and Evil in the Book of Esther.” As seen from the above, most of the conference papers focused on reading the Bible in modern-day Asian societies. On the other hand, my paper explored how the Christian and Jewish commentators had used to characterise the book of Esther in their contemporary European, Northern American, Israeli, and African societies. At the end of the presentation, I concluded:

Reading the Esther story from the commentators’ own historical contexts is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the commentators’ prejudices can lead to distorting the textual ideology. On the other hand, the commentators’ own circumstances can also resonate with the narrative, so as to shed light on some textual elements that have been ignored, marginalised, or misunderstood.

Perhaps, such a historical survey of biblical scholarship in the other parts of the world can provide some food for thought for the Asian biblical commentators, who are now appropriating and analysing the biblical texts in their own social contexts.

Remember, if you are interested in the abstracts of any of the other papers, you can always find and download them on the SABS official website.

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Photo Credit: Winner @ 2018 SABS Conference

Eat

Hospitality seems to be at the core of the Indonesian lifestyle. One of the many ways the Indonesians honour their guests is by inviting them to meals. All the meals (including breakfast, morning snacks, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner) during the conference were graciously provided by the host institution. (Photo Credits: Gio and Winner @ 2018 SABS Conference)

 

Each dinner, especially the end-of-conference party, was also accompanied by the fascinating cultural performances (Photo Credit: Gio @ 2018 SABS Conference).

 

After the conference, I was able to explore a greater variety of the Indonesian cuisines. The choices seemed endless and the rich aroma of the spices just chocked me with happiness 🙂

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Nasi Rawon: Rice Served with Black Beef Soup

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Breakfast @ Hotel Tugu Malang

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Pho @ SaigonSan Restaurant

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Bakso: Renowned Indonesian Beef Balls Soup

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Fresh Juice!!!

The Indonesians I met during this trip were extremely warm and friendly. When I asked for a “Bakso” and fresh juice with my very limited knowledge of Malay, the above young man and lady got very excited that they decided to converse with me completely in Malay for another 10 to 15 minutes. I could not understand more than half of the conversation, but I got the part when the young man asked for a photo shoot 🙂

Pray

Apart from food, religions also play an important role in the Indonesian society. Everyone here seems to belong to either Islam, or Christianity, or Hinduism, or Buddhism, or a syncretism of any of these religions with the folk beliefs.

Christianity 

Christianity, comprising about 10% of the country’s population, is not the main religion in Indonesia. Even then, the actual size of the Indonesian Christian population, according to one of the conference organisers, is roughly equivalent to the whole of the Australian population. Despite the fact that our conference was hosted at a Catholic seminary, the neighbouring Protestant seminary “Seminari Alkitab Asia Tenggara” also cordially invited us for a lunch. After the lunch, the Protestant seminary students gave us a tour around their beautiful campus.

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The Main Entrance of the Southeast Asia Bible Seminary (Photo Credit: Gio @ 2018 SABS Conference)

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The SEABS’s Vision. According to one Indonesian participant, this seminary adopts a maximalist approach toward the Bible.

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An exhibition displaying the history of the Christian missions in Asia (Photo Credit: Gio @ 2018 SABS Conference)

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English translation: “This one is truly the saviour of of the world.” Beautiful sculptures pepper around the campus.

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The founder of SEABS, Rev. Dr. Andrew Gih, and his wife. For a brief history of the seminary, click here.

Islam

The main religion in Indonesia is Islam, and the Muslims make up about 87% of the population. Some Indonesians told me that the Muslims in Malang are moderate, and they get along with people from the other religions very well. These Muslims also take their praying rituals very seriously. In every hotel room I stayed during the trip, I could find an arrow on the ceiling indicating the prayer direction.

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Can you find the “Kiblat” sticker?

Hinduism

Mt. Bromo, the active volcano near Malang, is a sacred site for the Hindu believers. According to this website, the name Bromo “derives from the Javanese pronunciation of Brahma, the Hindu creator god.” A lecturer from a neighbouring charismatic Christian seminary kindly offered to take some of the conference participants to hike Mt. Bromo at a small price. We set out at midnight and arrived at Mount Penanjakan when it was still dark. We waited patiently at the lookout point until the sun rose gently over Mt. Bromo at around 05:30am.

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Mt. Bromo above the clouds/mists

Then we waded through the “Sea of Sand” (Laut Pasir), while the sand and dust were blown all over our face.

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Getting ready to wade through the Sea of Sand.

We climbed along a rather steep slope of mountain.

Finally, we reached the smoking crater of Mt. Bromo.

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Mt. Bromo’s Crater

Some Hindu believers would throw offerings into the crater to appease their gods.

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A statue of Ganesha in front of the crater

The view from the crater to the bottom of the mountain was incredible.

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The Hindu temple was lying beneath the translucent mist in the midst of the “Sea of Sand”

Syncretic Religions

Some people in Malang practice a form of syncretic religion, combining their own religious traditions with the beliefs of their partners.  For instance, the hired driver who took us to Mt. Bromo with his Jeep was a Muslim married to a Hindu lady. Therefore, he, despite being a Muslim, made his offerings to various small Hindu shrines sprinkling at the feet of the mountains. The syncretism of various cultures and beliefs is perhaps best captured at the boutique Tugu Hotel Malang, which also acts like a museum of the Indonesian antiques and artworks. The great-grandfather of the founder of Tugu Hotels & Restaurants Group was a Chinese Indonesian tycoon known as the sugar baron. He then married to a local Javanese woman named Raden Adjeng Kasinem (1857–1935). Therefore, you can find a fusion of the Chinese ancestor worship and the other local/international cultures in the midst of the hotel. The whole place can be quite eerie but also magically beautiful especially after dark.

It must be quite challenging but also exciting to negotiate one’s identity amidst so many other cultural traditions. This trip was an eye-opening experience for me. I enjoyed it a lot, and I definitely want to visit Indonesia again when I save more money and time. Selamat tinggal, sampai jumpa lagi 😉

Germany: How Much “Progress” We Have Made after 500 Years of Reformation!

It is our human responsibility to remember what has happened, to try to understand why, and to ask how things could have been different. It is our Christian responsibility to reassess the structures of our beliefs and the effects of these beliefs on others. It is both a human and a Christian responsibility to take an active role for the sake of the future and begin by rejecting dehumanizing views and actions.

Brooks Schramm and Kirsi I. Stjerna,

Martin Luther, The Bible, and The Jewish People (2012)


1. Introduction

October 31, 2017 will be the five-hundredth anniversary of the posting of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, which initiated the Protestant Reformation. You see, I was born and have grown up in a Protestant environment. I used to imagine Martin Luther a superhero, who had the guts and intellect to challenge the religious perversity in his time. How ignorant of me! I still think that Luther has some merits, but now I realize that Luther and his contemporary were also the “pioneers” promoting the “equality” between animals and human beings. Can we say that they were the earliest “animal rights activists”?

2. Martin Luther on the “Equality” between Human Beings and Animals

Luther equated the papal church to animals:

  1. In 1523, Luther called the popes, bishops, sophists, and monks “the crude asses’ heads” / “die groben Eselköpfe” (cited from That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew / Daß Jesus Christus ein geborener Jüde sei).
  2. In one Table Talk / Tischrede dated to 1533, he named the cardinals and bishops “bloodhounds” / “Bluthunde.”
  3. In another Table Talk / Tishrede dated to 1540s, he bestowed the title “a sow” / “eine Sau” upon his theological enemy, Johannes Eck.
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On a pamphlet entitled “Papstesel” (1523), Lucas Cranach the Elder, a German painter and a fervent follower of Luther, pictured the Pope as a monster with a donkey head, fish skin, female breasts, and oxen hoof. Photo credit: ZEIT Geschichte 05/2016: 33 (N/B: I have blurred the original picture).

Luther equated the Jews to animals:

  1. In 1523, Luther appeared to be sane enough to maintain a distinction between animals and human beings. He chided the papal church for dealing “with the Jews as if they were dogs rather than human beings” / “Denn sie haben mit den Jüden gehandelt, als wären es Hunde, und nicht Menschen” (cited from That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew / Daß Jesus Christus ein geborener Jüde sei).
  2. But later in 1543, he himself called the Jews the “bloodthirsty bloodhounds and murderers of all Christendom” / “durstige Bluthunde und Mörder der ganzen Christenheit” (cited from On the Jews and Their Lies / Von den Juden und Ihren Lügen).
  3. Earlier in 1541, he named the Jews “filthy swine” / “unflätigen Säue” (cited from A New Preface to the Prophet Ezekiel/Neue Vorrede auf den Propheten Hesekiel). In 1543, he invoked the grotesque Judensau image in Wittenberg to mock the the Jewish reverence of the divine name (cf. On the Ineffable Name and on the Lineage of Christ/Vom Shem Hamphoras und von Geschlecht Christi).
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The defamatory picture “Judensau” (Jewish sow) is found on many European churches from the thirteenth century onward. St Mary’s Church in Wittenberg, where Luther preached most of his sermons, houses a small sandstone relief of this image. Luther referred to this image in his treatise entitled “On the Ineffable Name / Vom Shem Hamphoras” Cf. Schramm-Stjerna, 2012: 18, 178. Photo Credit: ZEIT Geschichte 05/2016: 77 (N/B: I have blurred the original picture).

Didn’t Luther and his contemporary find the comparisons between animals and human beings offensive? Apparently not. They “loved” the animals so much that they wished to turn their fellow human beings into animals such as dogs and pigs. These people were so “civilized” toward the animals that they ate horses, dogs, and cats only during the famine. According to ZEIT Geschichte 05/2016: 73, a famine struck Münster when some radical reformers took over the city (1535). The citizens then ate their horses, dogs, and cats (“Die Bürger essen ihre Pferde, Hunde und Katzen”).

3. Martin Luther in Today’s Germany

ZEIT Geschichte 05/2016: 108 features an interview with the media lawyer Jörg Nabert. According to the lawyer, if Luther lived in Germany today, he would not only face criminal charges on account of libel and defamation, he would also be fined a great amount of money:

ZEIT Geschichte: Luther ging mit seinen Gegnern nicht zimperlich um. Wäre er Ihr Mandant, was würde ihm heute für seine Schmähungen drohen?

Jörg Nabert: So einen Mandanten wünscht man sich der kein Blatt vor den Mund nimmt. Allerdings langt Luthe so sehr hin, dass er heute durchaus mit Unterlassungsklagen und Strafanzeigen wegen Beleidigung oder Verleumdung rechnen müsste.

ZEIT Geschichte: Wie hoch wäre das Strafmaß?

Nabert: Nehmen wir mal an, dass Luther trotz Reichsacht nicht vorbestraft ist, dann käme heutzutage eine überschaubare Geldstrafe dabei heraus. Die Kosten eines zivilrechtlichen Verfahrens wären meist schmerzhafter.

Mr. Nabert must be an expert in his field of specialization and I do appreciate his good intention to give voice to the fact that people who speak like Luther should be sued and fined. From the text itself, it is not very clear to me how Mr. Nabert defines Luther’s “Schmähungen.” The left column cites some sentences where Luther attacked the pope, cardinals, bishops, and a European noble (Heinz von Wolfenbüttel), but did not mention the cases where the Jews were villified. Even though Thomas Kaufmann has mentioned Luther’s hatred for not only the papal church, but also the Jews and Turks in another article of the same magazine (pp. 74-79), only Luther’s attacks on the papal church and European nobles have been selected in that column next to the interview. In any case, I have grave doubts if Mr. Nabert is being realistic about the world he is living in. In my view, if Luther and his contemporary lived in Germany today, these two scenarios would arise in all probability:

  1. Luther’s contemporary who ate dogs, cats, and horses would face legal punishments and would ultimately commit suicide due to cyberbully. Since 1986, the German Law on Meat Hygiene has forbidden monkey-, dog-, and cat-eating. Last month, a popular Spanish huntress, Melanie Capitan, committed suicide weeks after she had received online threats from animal rights activists, according to the Daily Mail’s report. The exact connection between those threats and her suicide cannot be ascertained. Striking are the critics flooding her Facebook page AFTER HER DEATH. One person wrote: “You have done a favour to humanity! Bye Bye.” Another mocked: “Ciao Mel! You made a favour to nature.” Still another penned: “She’s finished the lives of many animals and no one defended them…I think our [lives are] worth the same as theirs.” Don’t some European royals and Melanie’s followers hunt animals at their leisure? Based on the principle of the “equality” between animals and human beings, do these animal rights activists expect the royals and followers start committing suicide too?
  2. Luther’s popularity among his people means that instead of being charged on account of slanders, he would be acquitted with impunity. On the principle of “freedom of speech,” Luther would be allowed to continue propagating his idea about the “equality” between human beings and animals. To spread this idea as widely as possible, Luther’s followers would even print out “Papstesel“- and “Judensau“-like images on T-shirts and sell them publicly on Spreadshirt’s website. A legal reply from the Leipzig public prosecutor (Herr Staatsanwalt Merkel) gives weight to the validity of my imagination. A few months ago, a Chinese from the Chinesischehandel courageously filed a criminal complaint against the Spreadshirt company’s T-shirt “Save a dog, eat a Chinese” on the ground of defamation and incitation of racial hatred. My husband got in touch with him and received a copy of the dissappointing reply from the prosecutor. If you can read German, you can understand the content of the letter (see below). If not, here is my attempt to summarize the letter’s content. In response to the charge of the incitation of racial hatred, the prosecutor responds that the call to “eat the Chinese” is not meant to be serious but is clearly humorous and satirical (“Angesichts des offensichtlich humoristischen bzw. satirischen Charakters des Äußerung…”). [My comment: Well, Luther also meant to “satirize Jewish reverence of the divine name” when he invoked the offensive image of the Judensau in Wittenberg (cf. Schramm-Stjerna, 2012: 178). His satires of the Jews further influenced and fueled the anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism sentiments in Nazi Germany (cf. Probst, 2012).] According to the prosecutor, designating a human life (more specifically a Chinese life) as less than a dog’s life in no way diminishes the human dignity. In response to the charge of defamation, the letter states that the accusation only stands when the statement under inspection refers to a clearly defined and manageable group of persons. The overgeneralized statement encompassing all Chinese does not constitute a slander. [My comment: Don’t you think his utterance of “einen klar abgrenzbaren und überschaubaren Personenkreis” very fuzzy? I am a Chinese, and I have never eaten a dog. The T-shirt clearly targets every single Chinese, it is saying that you can save a dog by eating a Chinese. Its overgeneralization conveys a false information of an individual, but does not constitute defamation. Well, I don’t get it.]
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To protect the privacy of the letter’s recipient, only the content of the letter is shown.

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4. Conclusion

About 500 years ago, Martin Luther, who translated the famous “Lutherbibel” and gave the Germans a new language “Lutherdeutsch, contributed a lot in “promoting” the “equality” between animals and human beings. Many pastors, bishops, and theologians, and Nazi members reused Luther’s anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish writings to reinforce their perceptions of German Protestant nationalism during the Third Reich (cf. Paras, 2008; Probst, 2012; ZEIT Geschichte 05/2016: 94). Did Luther’s words exert their reality-altering power when human beings were gathered into cattle carts during the Second World War?

Today, “about 30 “Judensau” sculptures still exist on churches [including St Mary’s Church in Wittenberg] mostly throughout Germany, and the majority without explanatory plagues,” according to the Christianity Today’s report. What has changed is that many people now take pride in their equality to animals. Right now, Spreadshirt’s “Save a dog, eat a Chinese” and other similar T-shirts are still available online for sale. These T-shirts show us how those who deem themselves as the equal counterpart of animals, like their ancestors, happily compromise the lives and dignity of other human beings they do not like. Wow, the Europeans have “progressed” so much within these 500 years!

After all these ruminations, I think I should not be hypersensitive by taking the attacks on my people “too personally.” I ought to embrace the European, esp. the German “sarcastic humour” (as one William Sherman and one Ines Nitsch told me on the facebook pages of VIENNA.AT and Spreadshirt.de respectively. For reasons unbeknownst to me, Ines Nitsch deleted her comments after I had replied to her very politely on the Spreadshirt.de’s facebook page), despite the fact that their jokes are based on stereotypes / overgeneralization / discrimination / cannibalism. I must understand that the European passion for animals has been cultivated from their long historical traditions, which are to be “admired” and even “emulated” by the rest of the world. Germany/Europe is indeed the yardstick of “enlightenment,” “freedom,” and “democracy.” Now let us stand up “respectfully” and give them a round of applause for such “wonderful” expressions of humanism/animalism.

N/B: On the Spreadshirt.de website, if you type “Chinese,” you will no longer find those offensive T-shirts clutter together as they did in March. But they are still there online for sale. To be fair, I have read that Germany has a really good legal system that trains dogs and integrates them into human society. I do not endorse the abuse of animals. But does that mean we should accept animals’ rights at the expense of human lives and dignity? I think we should not erase any evidence that demonstrates how much “progress” the Europeans have made in their treatments of other fellow human beings. But should such evidence be sold online publicly as just any other commodity? Why can’t they just put those T-shirts in a museum that displays the European attitudes and actions toward other peoples throughout the centuries? I shall refrain myself from saying any further. According to the Chinese proverb,  it is better to be a dog in peace than a human being at war (宁为太平犬,莫作乱离人). Now you have to be less than a dog to maintain peace,  however superficial peace is.

5. Bibliography

  1. Frank Werner (ed.). Luther. Die Revolution des Glaubens. ZEIT Geschichte 05/2016.
  2. Brooks Schramm and Kirsi I. Stjerna (eds.). Martin Luther, the Bible, and the Jewish People: A Reader. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012.
  3. Christopher J. Probst. Demonizing the Jews: Luther and the Protestant Church in Nazi Germany. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012.
  4. This website contains the Weimar Edition of Martin Luther’s works (in Latin and German). The spelling of “Lutherdeutsch” used in this edition is a bit different from the modern German’s spelling, which I deploy in the above citations.
  5. Paras, Emily. “The Darker Side of Martin Luther,” Constructing the Past (2008) Vol. 9: Iss. 1 , Article 4. Available at: http://digitalcommons.iwu.edu/constructing/vol9/iss1/4

Last Updated: 23.08.2017

News: Die großartige Antwort von Angela Merkel auf die Islam-Angst eines besorgten Bürgers

“Gegen terroristische Gefahren muss man sich wappnen und ansonsten ist die europäische Geschichte so reich an dramatischen und gruseligen Auseinandersetzungen, dass wir sehr vorsichtig sein sollten, uns sofort zu beklagen, wenn woanders was Schlimmes passiert. Wir haben überhaupt keinen Grund zu größerem Hochmut, muss ich sagen. Das sage ich jetzt als deutsche Bundeskanzlerin.”

At the University of Bern in Switzerland, one German-speaking lady asked Angela Merkel if the influx of refugees would bring about the threat of Islam to the Judeo-Christian root of Europe.

Let me attempt to summarize Merkel’s amazing response.

First, Merkel pointed out that Europe is also responsible in contributing some of the ISIS fighters in the Middle East, so “wir können nicht so tun, als ob uns das nichts angeht.”

Second, we must guard against the terrorist attacks, but fear is not the solution to protect a society or culture.

Third, can we really exclude the 4 million Muslims who have already resided peacefully in Germany for a long time and relegate them to social pariahs just because of their faith? What we Christians must do in a free society is to get to know our faith better, and not just whine about why the Muslims know their Koran better. We have to be brave enough to embrace our own faith, and then we can be brave enough to enter into dialogues with the others from different faith systems.

I love her conclusion:

Of course we must attempt to fight against terrorism, but the European history is already so full of dramatic and gruesome confrontations, so that we must be very careful not to jump to an immediate complaint about the terrible things happening in any other places. That means, we must try to overcome the bad things, but we have no reason for a greater pride. This is what I say as the German chancellor.

From what I have heard from others so far, Angela Merkel is pretty awesome! 🙂

For a fuller report of this occasion, see Huffingtonpost: http://www.huffingtonpost.de/2015/09/08/angela-merkel-antwort-bee_n_8101800.html?ncid=fcbklnkdehpmg00000002

Or you can read it in Katholische Nachrichten: http://www.kath.net/news/51931