What is the place of religion in society? Two recent news stories from the US pointed to this question. Both by themselves had little significance for Singapore, but nonetheless gave food for thought.
The first, Republican horrified to discover that Christianity is not the only religion, was about Valarie Hodges, a state legislator in Louisiana, changing her position with respect to a proposed law that would enable school fee vouchers, provided by the state government, to be tendered at mission schools. At first, she fully supported the law, assuming that religiously-run schools only comprised Christian schools. Then, she was aghast to learn that in line with the secular underpinnings of the US, other religiously-run schools would be equally eligible under the program, in particular, a Muslim school that had applied for inclusion.
“We need to insure that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools. There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana,” the article quoted her as saying. Continue reading ‘What limits to ‘religious liberty’?’
It would seem to me almost inevitable that if you were a preacher who went on and on about how, if you believe, believe, believe, you would be blessed with material riches, then you yourself had better live a life of luxury. If you didn’t, wouldn’t you run the risk that a member of your church might point to your lack of wealth and question your own piety? That might be a tad embarrassing.
Embarking on the prosperity gospel is to take the road to excess.
Continue reading ‘Crossing over from gospel to vanity’
Below is the speech delivered for the event on 23 June 2012 when yours truly was honoured by the Humanist Society (Singapore) with the Humanist of the Year award. I was asked for something touching on “gay-rights issues/humanism/religiosity”.
Thank you very much for the honour. I think it’s very generous of the Society, though I would understand if it had been a difficult decision since I am a gay man. Some of you may wonder why it is such a big deal that I would open with a sentence about my sexual orientation. It is a big deal because the world in which I am living now makes it so.
But it shouldn’t be so, and it wouldn’t be so if we applied reason upon empirical knowledge, which is the very essence of humanism. To be gay is now known to be a completely natural phenomenon, inherently harmless. Continue reading ‘Speech for Humanist of the Year 2012′
Brian Brown, the president of the National Organisation for Marriage, based in Washington DC, lived up to his billing. I had been forewarned: If Helen Alvare’s arguments were difficult to follow, the NOM’s would be even more so.
In fact, they were so difficult to follow, the one-hour session was almost enjoyable. There were huge opportunities to read between the lines. Continue reading ‘Opponent of same-sex marriage casts debate as between ‘elites’ and ‘people’’
Listen to this audio (only 1 minute 41 secs). A pastor tells this flock that when they see a limp wrist in their sons, they should “crack that wrist”.
“Give him a good punch,” he adds.
Called “a horrific anti-gay tirade”, it was featured on the Huffington Post, 1 May 2012. The recording was originally publicised (provided?) by Jeremy Hooper of the blog Good as You. The voice in it is said to be that of Sean Harris (pic at right), a pastor at Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, in North Carolina.
Harris is heard endorsing the use of physical force on boys if they show any sign of effeminate behaviour.
Continue reading ‘Pastor heard telling dads to strike sons’
Published 2 May 2012
homosexuality , religion
I have long argued in private that Singapore megachurch Christianity resembles folk Taoism as much as it does conventional Christianity. Adherents of megachurches, many of whom would have renounced Taoism to convert to Christianity, may rise in uproar. But I am undeterred in my observation.
There are many ways to look at the human phenomenon known as religion. Classifying people or groups of people by nominal self-declaration is one. Classifying them according to their doctrinal similarities is another, though it is one that some religious adherents tend to insist as the sole valid way. In part, this springs from the demand that religion is a phenomenon unto itself, and it can only be assayed on its own terms.
Continue reading ‘Megachurches and the cultural applications of religion’
Published 18 February 2012
Guest essay by Lim Jialiang
The growing religious extremism in the world today is not something that will come as a surprise to you. Regardless, we have the tendency to think that such extremism can only come from Islam, which is extremely wrong. Extremism and terrorism are two separate issues, and one might lead to another. This is a case of extremism. The recent incident that involves the Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) has indeed come as a shock for many of us, who have been born and raised in a multi-religious society. Currently, the Cru in Singapore has taken down all online material, in response to the large social media outcry. Continue reading ‘Crusades are conflicts by another name’
He had waited patiently to be served. Foreign workers from India have largely resigned themselves to be almost invisible to Singaporeans, unless when Singaporeans wish to make an issue of their (unwanted) visibility.
But today, he was alone, and not a threat to our beloved racial model. And so he was ignored even though he had actually come to the coffee counter before three other customers — construction supervisors who perhaps came from the same worksite as the Indian guy. The difference was that the supervisors were Chinese, with at least one of them from China, judging by his accent.
The three women behind the counter — Chinese Singaporean, middle-aged — engaged the men in banter as they prepared their orders. There was an easy familiarity, possibly because the men had become regular customers from working nearby.
Continue reading ‘Starting the new year with race and religion’
Published 10 September 2011
This weekend is the tenth anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York and two other attacks in the area. That event changed the course of history greatly, and its consequences continue to impact our lives, from heightened security for air travel, to the absence of trash bins in certain areas, to a shrill demonisation of Islam. While pragmatic measures might have been justifiable, the last was not. Moreover, it is seldom noticed that some who profess to be Christian go overboard as well.
Even lower under the media radar is that Hindu extremism also manifests in violence (typically against Muslims, occasionally against Christians), and it was stridently political Buddhism in Sri Lanka that was one of the factors precipitating the long civil war there.
To mark this dismal anniversary, I am sharing here a documentary Religulous by Bill Maher. It comes in five parts, each of about 20 minutes (with thanks to David Chein and Shawn Danker).
Continue reading ‘Bill Maher’s Religulous’
I did not say that — thundered Lee Kuan Yew this morning. After having caused much unhappiness among Muslim Malays through his book Hard Truths, he must be acutely aware that a Wikileaked cable from the United States embassy in Singapore risks another firestorm.
The Singapore government has previously taken the position that US diplomatic cables pouring out through Wikileaks are unauthorised releases and refused to comment on them. In this round of releases (end August 2011, unredacted versions) however, Lee Kuan Yew has had to put out a press statement, with the commandment that editors should publish it. That said, Lee Kuan Yew is no longer part of the government, so maybe it doesn’t count as any change to government policy.
But let’s take the story in chronological order.
Continue reading ‘Lee Kuan Yew denies ‘venomous’ remark’