Lee Kuan Yew on evangelical Christianity

The Online Citizen has a long transcript of National Geographic Mark Jacobsen’s interview with Lee Kuan Yew, 6 July 2009. I thought this part about American evangelism interesting and worth highlighting. Lee said pointblank that the rise of evangelical Christianity was “a result of American efforts”.

The conversation led into religion via the question of racial tolerance:

Mr Lee:  “Well, it’s the education in the schools and at home partly because we’re such a densely populated kind of buildings, all high rises, so you have got to develop habits which are considerate to your neighbours. If you have loud blaring noise going through the walls, partition walls to the neighbours, they’ll soon complain to the the neighbourhood police or somebody will come up to say will you tone your volume down because you’re waking up the neighbourhood. And they learn to accommodate each other because we don’t allow our ethnic groups to choose to live together. When they are resettled, they have got to ballot for their neighbours, so you get Malays, Indians, Chinese all shuffled around together when in the first generation, they used to sell and relocate themselves, so we have quotas and no precinct should have more than this quota of the population. So in other words, we bring about an integration by spreading them which means we spread them in the schools too.”

Q:  “And it’s worked.”

Mr Lee:  “It’s worked. And so we have a more homogenous and more homogenous in the sense that they haven’t changed their religions, the Malays are still Muslims and they go to the mosques every Friday and they’ve slightly different habits. The influence from the Middle East has made them have head-dresses for no rhyme or reason.”

Q: “Actually, it’s an interesting question that just came up recently that I was going to ask you about. I know that you put a premium on racial harmony and religious harmony and it’s actually more or less legislated here, right?”

Mr Lee:  “Yes, because you can have enormous trouble once religions clash.”

Q:  “Well, the two things I’ve been interested to ask you about that because I agree with you is number one, the recent rise of Evangelical Christians in Singapore.”

Mr Lee:  “As a result of American efforts.”

Q:  “I don’t know if it’s American efforts but I went to the New Creation Church and you might as well have been in Tennessee , it was exactly the same. As soon as you walked through the door, it was exactly the same but it seemed very popular. Is that a new monkey (?) ranch in there?”

[Yawning Bread: It’s a bad transcription. It should have been “monkey wrench”]

Mr Lee:  “No, I don’t think so. You see most Chinese here are Buddhists or Taoist ancestor worshippers, I’m one of them, so it is a tolerant society, it says whatever you want to believe in, you go ahead. And these youngsters, the educated ones, Western-educated especially, now they are all English-educated, their mother tongue is the second language. Therefore, they begin to read Western books and Western culture and so on and then the Internet. So they begin to question like in Korea that what is this mumbo-jumbo, the ancestors and so on? The dead have gone, they’re praying before this altar and asking for their blessings and then they have got groups, Christian groups who go out and evangelize. They catch them in their teens, in their late teens when they’re malleable and open to suggestions and then they become very fervent evangelists themselves. My granddaughter is one of them. She’s now 28. My wife used to tell her look, don’t go for any more of these titles, just look for MRS. It’s just around the corner, God will arrange it.”

Q:  “Well, in the US, as you say, it’s import from the US or an export. These people have been very politically active.”

Mr Lee: “Well, they know here that if you get politically active, you will incite the Buddhist, the Taoist, the Muslims, the Hindus and others to do similar response. We used to teach in the schools in the 1980s to get back some moral values as a result of Westernisation, Confucian culture as a subject in itself for the Chinese whereupon the Malays, the Indians and so on, they reacted. They wanted not Confucian culture, they wanted their religion, so we decided we’ll stop this. So we took the concepts of Confucianism and put it into civic subject, that society is more important than the individual, that the individual must care for the society and the interests of the society must take precedence over the individual, which is contrary to the American or Western system which says the individual trumps everything, freedom trumps everything, freedom of speech, freedom of whatever you tolerate even at the expense of making others feel inconvenient. If I don’t like abortion, you’re a doctor who aborts people, I shoot you.”

Q:  “That may happen, that’s valid I think there is a rather large emphasis on individual autonomy in Western cultures that is sometimes detrimental to the larger society. But that’s the way you’re brought up, that’s what we’re used to, so it becomes….”

Mr Lee: “No, it’s the philosophy of society you start with. You get all the Kantian theories and the Rousseau and so on, so gradually it evolved and then along comes Maddox and Jefferson’s the right to happiness of the society and so on. So it’s an optimistic sort of approach to life. The Chinese start off with a completely different end of the stick that all men are born the same and you have got to educate them and perfect them, otherwise, they will not improve. So they put a lot of emphasis on upbringing at home and in the schools. Well, we’re losing part of it because the Chinese schools have disappeared. We’re trying to preserve it or introduce it into the English speaking schools but the teachers now are also educated in English speaking schools and have lost the old traditions. So they’re trying to get them to go to China and see how they preserve these qualities. But we find that in the cities, they’re also changing.”

16 Responses to “Lee Kuan Yew on evangelical Christianity”


  1. 1 Desmond 31 December 2009 at 17:15

    So the gahmen see the rise of American based fundamentalist christianity too. That’s good to know.

  2. 2 sloo 31 December 2009 at 22:36

    Io can only say that I am glad the gov and Old lee himself is aware of the comings and goings of all these ‘fervent envangelists. What is interesting is how the interviewer says NCC is just like the evangelist churches in the US. Talk about aping the west and importing western values. I just hope all our educated people, including our christian cabinet ministers and MPs, are able to perceive the vital differences between their religious beliefs and responsibilities as leaders and representatives of our secular and multi-racial society.

  3. 3 Being aware 1 January 2010 at 22:49

    Hopefully they are aware of the whole political Transformations agenda. This article touches on it:

    http://www.psa91.com/aware5.htm

    Are thinly disguised evagelical organisations like Focus on the Family still getting gov. funding and tax exemptions and being allowed into schools?

  4. 4 Yap Kim Hao 2 January 2010 at 06:33

    One needs to be careful in using the term “evangelical.” Evangelicals come in different forms, shapes and sizes It is defined differently at different times and in different places.

    The German evangelicals are not the same as the American or Singaporean evangelicals. It was Martin Luther’s reformation movement that led to the establishment of evangelical Lutheran churches in Germany and in opposition to the exclusive claims of the Catholics. Evangelicalism in America/Singapore situations is an attempt to place itself between broad liberalism and narrow fundamentalism. It is leaning to the right towards fundamentalism and therefore the term “Religious Right.”

    Evangel comes from the word good news. The nature of the good news defines the forms of evangelicals. One can be broad and inclusive while the other is narrow and exclusive.

    It is the rise of narrow exclusive fundamenatalism and the Religious Right that we should be wary of. They tend to be religious terrorists who subvert and take over others who disagree with them.

    • 5 yawningbread 2 January 2010 at 09:34

      I agree that the term “evangelical” should be avoided when we’re speaking of the political aims of the Christian-based extreme right. I myself would use the term only to refer to the broad group of Christians who believe it is important to proselytise, and whose social views may indeed be diverse. Otherwise, if I am referring to those with extreme rightwing views mixed with some degree of political aims, I try to keep to terms like “Religious Right”, “Christian Right” and “fundamentalists”.

      The reason the word “evangelical” is used in the title here is simply because I wanted to be consistent with the words used by Jacobsen of National Geographic. One should also be careful: he could have meant it in a non-political sense, but more in the sense of charismatic Christianity.

  5. 6 Ben 3 January 2010 at 09:28

    I doubt if Jacobsen really knows what he’s talking about with regards to Christianity, or its form in Singapore. His starting point is problematic: the recent rise of Evangelical Christians in Singapore. It begs me to ask: what recent rise? what in the world is an Evangelical Christian?

    Yap brings more confusion than light! For example, he says: Evangelicalism in America/Singapore situations is an attempt to place itself between broad liberalism and narrow fundamentalism. It is leaning to the right towards fundamentalism and therefore the term “Religious Right.” Bollocks! Meaningless drabble!

    A lot of the terms listed by Alex and Yap are really politically-charged terms, and are used in arti fire, when people make speeches but dont engage. Like speeches made in UN.

    Yes, Alex is upset with Christians who are vocally against homosexuality, etc. The problem for activists like Alex is when governments kowtow to these elements, primaryly because these vocal groups can bring in the votes/support. But labelling these Christian elements meaningfully, is at its best problematic, and at its worst useless.

  6. 7 Ben 3 January 2010 at 09:43

    Jacobsen has no clue about Christian culture: “I don’t know if it’s American efforts but I went to the New Creation Church and you might as well have been in Tennessee , it was exactly the same. As soon as you walked through the door, it was exactly the same but it seemed very popular.” Talk about cluelessness!!!

    Protestant Christianity has some 400+ years of tradition. And not forgetting the 1200+ years of Roman Catholicism before that that continues. NCC just represents the “mega-church” profile, a more “recent” phenomena. And “mega-churches” can be found from South Africa to Australia. Is it an American invention? Who knows? I think it is a natural progression from when Luther broke away from the Pope and decided to do it his own way.🙂

  7. 8 sloo 4 January 2010 at 16:10

    *Ben

    I think you have confused the issue even further. So if labelling these Christians is poroblematic or useless, then how do we go about discussing this particular segment of politicised conservative christians without having any reference point. my mentioning of evengalists in my postings refers specifically to the article; in other psts i used the religious right or conservative fundamentalists – terms which the mass media in the US and Europe have used to refer to this particular segment. It is vital, as Rev Yap and Alex have explained, to have these ‘labels’ or terms that denote different segments found in a particular group ie. liberal, conservative etc.

    And before you make any statement about mega churches, do your research. large churches may not be mega churches – the terms is used in the article to refer clearly to the emergence of a particular kind and type of evengalistic church that rose out of the US and are semi-indiependent of major christian deniominations. There are certainly many other characteristics of the US based mega churches that make labelling them justifiable. Check out wikipedia. It certainly is not a traditional instituition of movement and excludes the Roman catholics.

    • 9 Ben 5 January 2010 at 12:33

      Dear sloo,
      At least get your terms correct: “evangelical” or “evangelicalism”, not “evangelist”. And if my lack of research is limited to knowing the difference between large churches and mega churches, then I’m covered.🙂

      Firstly, there was nothing interesting or insightful wrt MM Lee’s comments on Christianity. He just responded to stupid comments that Jacobsen made.

      Jacobsen talks nonsense when he suggests a rise of evangelical Christianity in Singapore, and then stupidly describes NCC as “Tenessee Christianity”. There are probably 50 types of churches in Tenesse. Oh, maybe Tenessee is the name of a church Jacobsen attended.

      And I responded to meaningless drabble from Rev Yap in Paras 2-4 of his comment. Read his comment again, break it down, and you’ll realise it’s meaningless drabble. Btw, Alex’s reply was good and demonstrated a keen understanding that the terms “evangelical christianity” and “righteous right” can be mutually exclusive.

  8. 10 Being Aware 6 January 2010 at 22:23

    When fundies have nothing of substance to say, they just go for semantics.

  9. 11 Being Aware 7 January 2010 at 01:07

    There’s a detailed analysis of the history of the import of American whatever-you-want-to-call-it, into Singapore, here:

    http://dogemperor.newsvine.com/_news/2009/05/07/2790052-the-aware-steeplejackers-and-their-deep-connections-to-joels-army-and-american-dominionists

  10. 12 tk 7 January 2010 at 10:20

    If you want to talk about “western values”, what you’re really talking about are “Enlightenment” values, not Judeo-Christian values.

    That is, the Universe is explainable and measurable and knowable, without the need for any mysterious men in the sky or demons under the ground.

    From that it follows that everyone is born equal, and deserves to be treated equally, no-one is “chosen” or “special” because of the God they pray to, and everyone has a right to live their life as they choose, as long as they don’t impose that lifestyle on other people or interfere with the way othher people live their lives.

    Atheism / Rational humanism is the final destination for anyone willing to engage their brain.

  11. 13 jellyfish 18 January 2010 at 22:57

    “The influence from the Middle East has made them have head-dresses for no rhyme or reason.”

    I believe that the muslim wearing head-dresses because it is a behavior which Islam prescribes. (Chapter 24 Al-Nur (The Light); Verse 31)

    If I don’t like abortion, you’re a doctor who aborts people, I shoot you.”

    I don’t think that happens in the states. Well, some crazy people may do that but it can happen anywhere in the world.

  12. 14 K Das 13 February 2010 at 14:57

    There is a lot of growing up and life learning required before man can truly become qualified to embrace a religion of his own choice and out of his own freewill. By then he would have sufficiently known about the viles and virtues of men and the machinations of pseudo Godmen who bring untold misery to the human race with their false and foolish preachings in the name of religion.

    If I were to be a ruler I will ban proselytisation and conversion to anyone up to the age 59 and below. No questions asked if you want to convert to another religion if you are 60 and above. I will facilitate your conversion by setting up a government office unit for this purpose (like the Registrar of Marriages)

  13. 15 lost dreams 9 March 2010 at 06:55

    Mr Lee: “No, I don’t think so. You see most Chinese here are Buddhists or Taoist ancestor worshippers, I’m one of them, so it is a tolerant society, it says whatever you want to believe in, you go ahead. And these youngsters, the educated ones, Western-educated especially, now they are all English-educated, their mother tongue is the second language. Therefore, they begin to read Western books and Western culture and so on and then the Internet.

    i like this part…. imho i think what’s really lost in between is Tradition…. our tradition….

  14. 16 cynicholas 21 March 2010 at 11:17

    i have no issue with these evangelical christians other than their lack of sincerity in trying to convert you over lunch. it takes true friendship and love to win anyone over, not from a mere handshake or pamphlet.


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