11 August 2009

RDS: The remaining issues

Religious Diversity in Singapore is a collection of research papers originally presented in a series of workshops between 2004 and 2006 by the Institute of Policy Studies.

1. When is the line crossed? Cross-reading with recent comments on religious harmony
No restraining orders have been issued under the MRHA since it came into effect.

However, the Government came close to invoking it on a number of occasions to stop religious leaders from mixing politics with religion and putting down other faiths, Mr Wong Kan Seng, the Home Affairs Minister at the time, said in 2001.

The religious leaders stopped their activities after they were summoned and warned by the police and Internal Security Department officers, he said.

Had they persisted, the law would have been used against them.
- "Religious harmony: 20 years of keeping the peace", in The Straits Times, 24 July 2009.

Some argue that because no restraining order has been issued under the MRHA, it has been only a showpiece. Others say it worked mainly as a deterrent. What is your response?

Showpiece? Well, when I spoke in Parliament during the third reading of the Bill on Nov 9, 1990, I did foresee 'the best case scenario is that no occasion arises where we need to invoke this Bill'. I also said then that we will exhaust all other remedies, like advising, counselling, etc. So the best scenario has happened: We have not had to issue a restraining order under the Act.

That does not mean that we have no problems but rather that we have been quick to defuse the problems through active management, mediation and, where necessary, admonition, sometimes working with religious leaders.

So non-invoking of the MRHA does not mean that it is a white elephant or showpiece. It is part of our suite of tools to maintain law and order and communal harmony.
- "Jaya: Don't take harmony for granted", in The Straits Times, 24 July 2009

The Minister may make a restraining order against any priest, monk, pastor, imam, elder, office-bearer or any other person who is in a position of authority in any religious group or institution or any member thereof for the purposes specified in subsection (2) where the Minister is satisfied that that person has committed or is attempting to commit any of the following acts:
(d) exciting disaffection against the President or the Government while, or under the guise of, propagating or practising any religious belief.
- Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, Chapter 167A, Part III (8)

Singapore has to be a "fun" city attractive to its own and open to the world, so they argue, albeit with moderation but evolution as time and tide of society norms change. In order to be globally attractive and competitive, society has to loosen up and be in tune and in line with the progressives, the so call (sic) "mature", so they say. In the midst of all these, for God's faithful people, Paul's sentinel call should be voiced and heard clearly once again: "Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God, without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life..." (Phil 2.14-16; also 2 Time 4.1-4). But don't get Paul wrong! He is challenging us to build up extra robust capacity over the childish level of debate and controversy, and it could not be more timely and urgent.
- John Chew, "Shaping of Maturity", Disocesan Digest, September 2003.

The claim here is essentially that this generation has become "crooked and perverse" because the government initiated a "childish level of debate and controversy" in favour of the "progressives" but has excluded the views of the religious communities because of formal secularism. This jeremiad - one of several that were preached from pulpits and published in the press - can have the effect of summoning a level of conservativism that goes beyond what is normally held by well-meaning and "right-thinking" individuals...
- Kenneth Paul Tan, in "Relgious reasons in a secular public sphere", RDS.

2. Recross: When is the line crossed?

Compare the following:

I. Anglican Bishop (Saint Andrew's Cathdral) John Chew's statement on the government creating a crooked and perverse generation above

II. "It's not a crusade against the people but there’s a line that God has drawn for us, and we don’t want our nation crossing that line." - Derek Hong, Anglican Pastor, COOS

III. "How then should Christians, as faithful watchmen and committed citizens living in secular democracies, respond to a political agenda driven by a godless philosophy which has harmful social and spiritual consequences?"

"She examines how the spirit of the anti-Christ, the spirit of lawlessness, manifests in the philosophy, morality and politics that shape our laws, systems and mindsets." - The blurb to Thio Li Ann's new book, Mind the Gap

What similarities do these 3 sets of speeches and speech acts have in common? What are their common rhetorical and philosophical ground, if any? Why was only one of these speakers/actors be called to apologise and retract their statement?

3. The rise of religiosity

What does the increasing rise of religiosity mean for Singapore? Various RDS authors recite 'increasing religiosity' as a fact to be dealt with. Only one RDS author has cited an actual survey that wasn't a population census that showed "rising religiosity" in Singapore - and a Straits Times survey at that.

If Singapore's leadership had decided to incorporate various religious groups in selective consultative policy-making, the question needs to be asked:

Where in the survey of rising religiosity that the political leadership and RDS authors love to quote, does it say that increasingly religious Singaporeans want their religions and religious leaders to play a role in policy-making?

Where is the survey that shows Singaporeans expect and find this desirable?

Where is the survey that shows Singaporeans, increasingly religious, want public policy to be brought in line with their religions' or religious leaders' interpretation of a good society?


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