05 July 2009

Eye on Christianity

Groundwork to Rethinking Secularism II

What does it mean to talk about the radicalisation and self-radicalisation of Christians in Singapore?

If we are to examine if the impression holds true, what sort of data should we be looking at? Who or what do we need to focus on?

Radicalisation and Self-radicalisation: a production of culture approach

The two terms were used in the immediate post-911 years to explain the rise of homegrown, DIY terror cells in Southeast Asia. University educated, white collar adults with rational, scientific training and professions became more religious and adopted fundamentalist or extremist strains of their nominal religion - becoming religious radicals. Allegedly, they took their initial leaps into radicalisation not through peer influence, but from their own research on the internet.

Yet the website does not exist in and of itself. Where does its credibility come from but trusted intermediaries (like art critics appraising and promoting an exhibition or artist) who confer credibility, trust and legitimacy to the website and its message. The trusted intermediaries do not exist in and of themselves, but exist in relation to a framework of interrelated complementary and competing groupings: a discursive universe with real life funding, institutional backing and even state backing. Tthe spread of Wahhabi Islam in Southeast Asia is instrumental to understanding this point of view.

The self-radicalisation thesis is charming and captures imaginations easily. It is also a piece of pop psychology, an easily sensationalised, dumbed-down interpretation of complex processes documented elsewhere, i.e. not true.

For one thing, the thesis relies on a foundation of the discredited Secularisation Theory of 'societal development' - it assumes wrongly that modernity and spirituality are exclusive modes of human existence, and on an inevitability, an irreversible arrow of time: where modernity gains, religion and spirituality must decline.

Radicalisation, taken as a set of attitudes, beliefs, worldviews that induce a propensity towards certain actions and speech, is a form of culture that not so much arises willy-nilly from a tabula rasa slate of mind (read: a secular mind within a modern society), but a form of culture that is produced. There necessarily has to be organisations, institutions, intermediaries, activists and theorists that create, define, promote and police their brand of radical culture.

Eye on Singapore Christianity: gathering evidence for a radicalisation thesis

The government and media of Singapore have been loathe to describe, in the aftermath of the Aware takeover, Christianity and Christians in Singapore as becoming radical and self-radicalised, despite the unprecedented and outrageous actions taken by the crew lead by Feminist Mentor Thio Su-mien and the Anglican Archbishop's support of their actions, the blatant case of Chick tractarian 'evangelism', a screening of a pseudo-scientific anti-Darwin, anti-evolution 'documentary' at the Anglican Saint Andrew's Cathedral, and so on.

But if we are to talk credibly about radicalisation, we need to collate an repository of undisputed facts of not just the recent past but going back a few decades, of Christian clergy and congregations, inter-denominational and pan-denominational organisations, theological colleges, their links with the wider global movement, and their actions, activities, and speeches.

The repository will comprise:
First-hand material reporting on these (publications, pamphlets, articles)
Second-hand reports
Other analyses on Christianity in Singapore

This is the Eye on Christianity project.

1 comment:

mira said...

Your blog is a remarkable resource in tracking the intolerant and bigotted strains within the christian community of Singapore. The AWARE saga was a rude awakening to me. Actually it should not have come as such a surprise - the offputting zealotry of evangelical christians over the years towards people like myself (atheist) and my family (hindu) should have been taken as ample warning. We tolerated too much intrusiveness and downright abusive behaviour from christians proselytising on our doorsteps. No more being nice guys. We must defend the secular public space especially institutions like schools(lots of creeping evangelism in schools, I have some stories). Kudos to you! You are not alone in this endeavour.