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Mixing religion and politics May 28, 2009

Posted by laïcité in Education, Politics, Religion, Singapore.
Tags: ,

NMP Thio Li-Ann recently denounced the bewildering notions of “militant secularism” and “secular fundamentalists” in parliament. I suppose this is in contrast to mere secularism, where a certain dose religion can be allowed into politics? What a load of pointless semantics; what can only be perceived as an attempt to demonize secularism in order to legitimize the entrance of religion into public discourse. Indeed, she did argue that religion would sometimes be appropriate in policymaking, given the fact that many MPs themselves are religious. This view is flawed on so many levels.

 Firstly, MPs should be aware that they are not arguing for or against policies in their own individual capacities. They are representing the interests of all Singaporeans (or at least those in their GRC), inclusive of people of different religions, and nonbelievers. Because of this, it is essential that they put their own personal beliefs aside.

 Secondly, religious arguments are simply not applicable to those who are not in their religion. In alienates the rest of us, the same way conversing in Chinese to exclude a non-Chinese friend is alienating, non-inclusive and demeaning. By asserting that Policy A should be implemented because Religion X thinks it is good, it is making the self centered assumption that Religion X’s values must also apply to all other Singaporeans. Or worse, it is making the suggestion that the values of Religion X take precedence over the beliefs and principles of other Singaporeans.

 Thirdly, if an argument is made solely on religious grounds, it is usually an indication that there is no scientific or sociological evidence to illustrate its merits. Stating that something is a “sin” or an “abomination to God” makes an appeal to our emotions. But in no way is such an argument based on facts. In this way, an argument based on emotion instead of reason and logic simply has no place in public discourse.

 So what is considered an acceptable argument to be made in a secular public space?

 Take, for example, the debate from a few years ago over whether or not to allow a casino to be built in Singapore. Let us consider the following hypothetical arguments in parliament:


1. I am from Religion X. Gambling goes against my religion.

(Bad argument. So what if gambling goes against an MP’s religion? We’re talking about national policy here, not an invitation to poker night.)


2. Religion X says that gambling is a sin.

(Bad argument. Singapore is a secular country, not a Religion X-ian country.)


3. The Singaporeans from Religion X are against gambling because it goes against their religion.

(Bad argument. Why should that mean anything for the construction of a casino, or the other people who are not of Religion X who wish to gamble or reap in its economic benefits?)


4. Studies from other countries have suggested that the construction of a casino would lead to the following social problems:…

(Good argument. Instead of appealing to the beliefs of a single individual or a religious group, a good argument appeals to the issues that affect society as a whole, and provides facts and statistics to back up its claim.)

 Perhaps my point can be made most aptly with one of my favorite quotes from US President Barack Obama:

 Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason.



1. The Singapore Daily » Blog Archive » Daily SG: 1 June 2009 - June 1, 2009

[…] Secular Fundamentalism and Fascistic Harmony – comment on Thio Li-ann’s speech – Laïcité: Mixing religion and politics [Thanks Seelan] – My Little Corner: Secularism has a place in policies – Sam’s thoughts: […]

2. xtrocious - June 1, 2009

Religion by itself cannot lend itself to logic…

Whatever is taught is bought on faith, there’s no credit for logic…

See the divide here – however, some of the benefits do overlap and what we should do is focus on these overlapping benefits…

Like gambling is bad socially because it disrupts the social fabric etc etc

Is there a tinge of religion in there? Yes – gambling is a sin but in another light, it is also a bad thing socially if done to excess…

But other stuff like homsexuality is less clear – and if so, it should be debated from the point of overall harm and benefit, not just because it’s a sin in x religion.

3. Trembling in my Pants - June 2, 2009

The devil’s signature are word twisting and false accusation. Evidently Ms Thio is well tutored..

4. The Singapore Daily » Blog Archive » Weekly Roundup: Week 23 - June 6, 2009

[…] Secular Fundamentalism and Fascistic Harmony – comment on Thio Li-ann’s speech – Laïcité: Mixing religion and politics [Thanks Seelan] [Recommended] – My Little Corner: Secularism has a place in policies – Sam’s […]

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