Tuesday, April 26, 2005

dividing the person into the secular and religious

Politically correct language. Very important in today's world. A PSC scholar gets blasted for politically incorrect blog postings. Government strongly encourages us to talk about "integrated resorts" instead of casinos.

What is a half-truth? A fact that has omitted something else that would change its meaning? But you'd have to depend on the person telling you that to judge if the particular omission did change its meaning, wouldn't you? Unless you you knew all the facts yourself, during which you wouldn't even need to bother with the person.

Similarly, word play is very useful when people want to make themselves heard the way they want to be heard. After all, everyone has an agenda to persuade, right? And so with it this whole casino debate was. To steer as much of public opinion into their logical conclusion and favour.

Everybody knows about Huntington's "Clash of civilizations" theory that fundamental differences in culture, religion and values across this "West and the Rest" divide will be the "fault-line" of the future. But to me, its just a highly sensationalised conflict theory, and you will see by his selective use of facts that will serve his case, while ignoring the other realities of the world. Suffice to say, the types of culture, values and civilizations in this world exist on a continuum, and even further down, culture, values are hard to define and vague in themselves!

For example, what is Chinese culture? Speaking the language, Lunar New Year, gambling, or what? Must you fulfill all the criteria? Or just one?

Or maybe the "faultline" is something else. Like, religious fundamentalism. Islamic states, jihad, Christian fundamentalists, Zionists, whatever. But herein lies a tricky thing. Sometimes faith is mistaken for fundamentalism, when the expressions or principles of one's faith goes into the public sphere.

Let's put it this way. "Tolerance of multiple religions" is not the same as "no religion". But religion is a private thing, what business does it have doing in the public sphere.

This is the first presumption I need to break down. People tend to think religion means the acts or rituals that people perform at certain times, like on visits to 'holy places' or at weddings and deaths. But really, its more than that. It changes your whole world-view and paradigm of living, of what your existence is and is for. And that, would include things in work, society and so on, wouldn't it? So how can we not?

So, when citizens bring their religious viewpoints and arguments into the picture, they are merely exercising their rights as citizens in a democratic country. To shoot down their arguments on the mere basis that it 'impedes' or 'imposes' itself on others is a weak counter.

I won't be especially surprised if most people who argue for freedom of religion as the reason to ignore religiously grounded arguments are secularists themselves. So its the person with no religion who wants freedom to (and not to) worship. And maybe people whose religion does not change their view of the world or give them principles to guide their life could be considered secularists as well. And perhaps we ought to put people who define what their religion is according to their whim and fancy in this same category too.

As for the dangerous mix of religion and politics, there needs to be better definition. It is one thing to say "God says there will be no parliament" and abolish it, and another to bring religious viewpoints in a discussion on public policy. So all the fears of the Reformation and all the religious wars aren't relevant here, because the Diocese or the Mufti or the Abbot are not about to seize power soon and help to crown the King of Singapore. (The King would hardly want such a now dubious claim to secular power anyway)

So, can a person's religion be shut out in public life? Not at all, if people so wish to remain participants in public policy, which the government encourages.

But back to the Casino debate, it wasn't as much about religion as to the very real fear of gambling addiction and its consequences. As Asians most of us have experience with this, and anyway we have govt-sanctioned Toto and 4D and Score so its no big loss to add one more. But once the govt gave enough promises to check and curtail the 'social effects', many were won over.

The second trump card(hehe) the govt had was the pragmatic value. 30k jobs! "I couldn't say no," was what the Labour Minister said. All the revenue, thousands of tourists! Yeah! More hearts won over.

So, its the people with religious values left. "We must not impose on others our personal religious beliefs" was the final answer. How about people with no religion but insist its a moral value? The answer is the same - your moral is a personal, private matter.

Am I personally disappointed with this? Yes, but I'd expected it. For the Singapore Government's basis of existence is a fully secular one, that it is a government that can provide jobs, ensure peace and keep the economy. So that is what it is here for, and so will it be its lifeline. Although the government is secular, the people in it are not. They'd have some values, if they're people of course. Otherwise they're just mathematicians calculating the most efficient, most productive way to produce results. But are they to blame? After all, we expect results of them too don't we? We will surely blame the government when things go bad for us, won't we?

But in the search for solutions, one can see desperation in the casino mandate. Singapore needs to continue as an economic and information hub and also to join the research and intellectual spheres of the modern economy. But can we? Considering what excellent muggers we are? Overhauling the education system is too painful, so casinos are easier. Maybe they meant casinos as a short-term fix. But once its in, we can't get out.

So, are people who put religious views across in public debate 'fundamentalists'? Well, nobody ever called such anti-religious zealots 'secular fundamentalists' did they? How do I define such a zealot? Going back to the roots of secularism - everything in this world is here and now and I will do what I like according to my own benefit and wishes.

Secularists cannot pretend to be 'neutral'. Cause there's no such thing as a neutral ground in values. You either obey the values of religion, or, of yourself. But what gives you the right to impose the values of yourself over that of religion?


wezzer said...

well i guess the PAP is just following the oriental orientalist's (LKY) way of moving forward. Trying to modernise...and become westernise...

regardless of whether the government is imposing their secular fundamentalist or religious beliefs on singaporeans doesnt really matter. The fact is they are imposing THEIR beliefs on us, docile Singaporeans. Well, at least they are giving us som 'face' being having some 'discussion' before the decision.

But thats the way things go isnt it? We vote for the party, the party runs the state. The state sets the law, we citizens follow it. If everything had to come to a vote, we wont have a need for a government already. Too bad there arent many ppl passionate enough to run a strong opposition party...

(p.s. this sounds like a 212 discussion board posting...)

impz said...

Hmm, i actually go about in a very pragmatic approach with this dealing of the casion issue. My friend, who is a very devout Christian, was personally very disturbed by the fact about the casino thing.

Maybe because i am a pragmatic person at heart, I simply told him that religion in Singapore is often something that is need culturally, but in the face of economic progress and continuing to be the "first", it will be shoved to one side.

Also to valren, it's useless to talk about passion because in our case, we see completely no need to run a opposition party. Oppose. Oppose what? The pragmatic side of me comes again. I guess when people are living in fine conditions like us, politics are no longer a concern or important. It is only when the social conditions are bad that opposition parties gain recognition and support.

My view anyway. I would want to say " I told you so" but then the casino issue was a foregone conclusion at the start, and it was only to what extent.