Being “sensitive” enough to hide our intolerance February 10, 2010Posted by laïcité in Religion, Singapore.
Tags: buddhism, censorship, christianity, intolerance, Religion, religious harmony, taoism
It was all over today’s newspapers: Pastor Rony Tan of the Lighthouse Evangelism independent church was called up by the Internal Security Department for his insensitive comments about Buddhists and Taoists in videos posted on his church’s website.
Let’s not pretend that this is shocking news. I even wrote about it a couple of posts ago: religious texts, especially those of monotheistic faiths, do not lack in their praise and justification for the intolerance of other beliefs. So why would it be surprising if the religious leaders themselves expressed such opinions? Having attended some Christian services myself (Don’t ask why. Long story), where palmistry, astrology, atheism, Islam and “mystical” religions like Buddhism and Hinduism, were described as being the “worship of false idols”, “black arts of the devil”, or “sure ways to damnation”, all in the span of a single sermon, I can say that the only thing unique about Pastor Tan’s case was the fact that it was recorded and exposed to the public eye.
All this brings me to an important question: does this mean that such “insensitive” comments should be censored out of sermons? In his apology, Pastor Tan himself stated that he would not make such comments again. The ISD’s position is also one which requires being sensitive to other religions.
But what good would this do, except merely to maintain a thin veneer of religious tolerance over a festering sentiment of continued disrespect and intolerance that is never addressed? What is the point of trying to shield ugly beliefs from the scrutiny of the multi-religious public sphere, when those beliefs are still held in the individual and collective minds of the faithful? Is that really a better option than allowing those ugly beliefs to be expressed, and condemned, out loud? We will never reach true religious harmony (a fragile equilibrium state of peace, maybe, but not harmony) if we continue to mistakenly equate “the hiding of intolerance” with “tolerance”.
Racism, intolerance, sexism and homophobia have been protected and defended by the untouchability of religion for too long. It’s time we question the morality and validity of religious beliefs and texts, instead of just sweeping these jarring examples of intolerance under the rug of false harmony. Censoring intolerance would not make it disappear, especially when such intolerance and disdain for those who are not “like us” continues to be glorified in holy texts.
In this way, I’m glad that Pastor Tan said what he did, and all of us Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists and nonbelievers came to know about it. If anything, it serves as an excellent opportunity for religious leaders and followers to re-examine their beliefs, and to open their eyes to see the fuels for intolerance not so subtly hidden in their religious texts and teachings.