Rants and raves about stuff happening in and around my life in Singapore

Friday, February 26, 2016

On the Church in Singapore

10:00 PM By Barry Smyth , No comments

Before I begin this post I really do what to emphasis that regardless of what religion you may subscribe to that it is a personal choice. As an individual regardless of that choice I hold nothing against you and judge you solely on your personality and not that chosen religious preference. That said I am within in this post going to comment on religion more specifically on the Church in Singapore.

You can choose to continue reading or not but remember that you make that choice willing and that this post contains my own opinions which may or may not be shared by you. Any offence caused is unintentional (i.e. a by-product of the way your own brain processes information, a refelction of the morals and standards that have been super imposed on you since childhood coupled with the influences that have exerted themselves on you throughout the same period for which I can take no responsibility).

And so I begin.

There are many religions here in Singapore, Buddhism, Hindu, Muslim and Christian to name a few. Singapore is in fact a secular society. By that I mean there is near-complete freedom of religion (beliefs on religion generally are not subject to legal or social sanctions), and the lack of authority of religious leaders over political decisions. The separation of religion and state is the foundation of secularism. It ensures that religious groups don't interfere in affairs of state, and makes sure the state doesn't interfere in religious affairs.

Secularism seeks to defend the absolute freedom of religious and other belief, and protect the right to manifest religious belief insofar as it does not impinge disproportionately on the rights and freedoms of others. Secularism ensures that the right of individuals to freedom of religion is always balanced by the right to be free from religion. Religious people have the right to express their beliefs publicly but so do those who oppose or question those beliefs.

And so moving onwards.

Of all the religions present in Singapore the most vocal is the Christian Church, indeed painfully so. It has been vocal on a concert here by Adam Lambert solely because of his sexual orientation. It has been vocal on Pink Dot which is a day that celebrates the freedom to love regardless of sexual orientation and has since been adopted by many other countries globally. It has been vocal on section 377a which is an old colonial law that criminalizes the intimacy between two men even as the government has openly stated that it will not enforce this law (the latest declaration of the same to the Human Rights commission).

And more recently the Catholic Archbishop has slated Madonna’s first ever concert in Singapore (yes, seriously). Indeed one of the reported comments in relation to the last item was “Nevertheless (the Church) has a moral duty to enlighten and speak the truth on moral issues unflinchingly for the good of humanity”. And it is for that reason that I decided to write this particular post.

While the Church has the freedom to publicly express their beliefs it does not have the freedom or the right to impose those beliefs on the wider society many of whom do not share those beliefs. It is not now, nor has it ever been, nor does it even have the remit to be the moral compass for humanity. That statement shows an ignorance that is beyond contempt.

Don’t get me wrong by all means feel free to instruct those that choose to follow that religion but you do not, nor will you ever have the right to speak for me or millions like me who do not share those beliefs. With that statement in my opinion the Church has over stepped its boundaries in relation to the definition of a secular society. It is not the first time and it will not be the last either. The Church’s definition of “moral issues” is tainted by its religious beliefs, it cannot be otherwise.

Take section 377a for example. The Church has repeatedly and publically called for this to remain on the statute books in Singapore based solely on it’s religious beliefs. This runs contrary to the definition of a secular society as it is clearly an attempt to interfere and/or influence the affairs of state and force its’ moral view on a wider society. It is not acceptable. “Secularism seeks to defend the absolute freedom of religious and other belief, and protect the right to manifest religious belief insofar as it does not impinge disproportionately on the rights and freedoms of others” in my opinion the Church’s is in direct conflict to this fundamental ideal of secularism.

Again and again the Church seems to take every opportunity it can to push it’s beliefs into the wider society and I have to admit that I am totally sick and tired of it. Enough is enough. It throws those beliefs around like stones, concrete and absolute ideologies that are unquestionably morally correct and yet the beliefs of the Christian church are as malleable as clay.

In the past you could not touch the holy communion with your hands, that’s changed. In the past women were required to bring the bloody sheets to the church and be shriven from the sin of losing their virginity to their husband, that’s changed (incidentally the husbands committed no sin in the act of consummation only the women). In the past you had to attend mass on a Sunday, but with the congregation dwindling the Church changed it so you could go to mass on a Saturday evening and it still counted. In fact as and when the Church looks to be in danger of losing its congregation it changes.

While I can take or leave religion I find the Church to be an insidious institution that is almost malicious in its attempt to impose its religious and moral views on the wider society. In fact I would almost go as far as to say that on a personal level I find it, and its double standards given all of the scandal in the news on child abuse it has had to dodge, almost repugnant.

The government here has a difficult task. It needs to maintain and manage a multicultural multi-religious society. And that is not easy. Indeed the government has mentioned the need for its citizens to actively work towards maintaining religious harmony. It has also taken action against citizens who have stepped too far over the line.

But what is to be done when the Church itself steps over the line, when it states that it “has a moral duty to enlighten and speak the truth on moral issues unflinchingly for the good of humanity”. What happens when the Church violates the tenets of secularism and seeks to impose its beliefs or morals on that wider society. It simply cannot be acceptable. I certainly do not accept it.

The Church is absolutely free to encourage its followers but that is where the line must be drawn and any encroachment on the views, beliefs or morals of the wider society must not only be ignored but firmly rejected not just by that society but by the Government responsible for maintaining that society as a secular society.

Ministers and members of that government must always remember that regardless of their own personal religious views they have an obligation to the citizens of Singapore to ensure in all of their official duties they are guided not by their religious beliefs but by the fundamental precepts of secularism as much as by Singapores national pledge “one united people regardless of race, language or religion to build a democratic society based on justice and equality

The continued interference of the Church within Singapore's secular society needs to stop.

And I am sure that I am not alone in that view.

A tamed down (or politically correct) version of this post can be found in the ST Forum

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