May 27, 2009
Religion still has its place
By Jeremy Au Yong, Political Correspondent
(Left, daughter of self-claimed Feminist Mentor) Nominated MP Thio Li-ann. -- ST FILE PHOTO
RELIGION and politics should not mix, but that does not mean religion has no place in public life.
Nominated MP Thio Li-ann argued at length in Parliament on Tuesday that secularism, as practised in Singapore, did not exclude religion.
Referring to Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng's recent reiteration that religion and politics must not be mixed, she said that while this was sound, 'there are difficulties of definition as no bright line demarcates 'religion' from 'politics'.
She added: ' 'Secularism' is a protean, chameleon-like term. What it means depends on the context and who is using it; it can be a virtue or a vice. It is timely to eschew glibness and examine the Singapore model of secularism with precision.'
In the first place no one is excluding religion, or saying religion has no place in public life.
2ndly, she is trying hard to link or blur public life with politics. Bcos if religion has a place in public life, then it should in politics too, since both are legitimate going by her argument.
But she is mistaken. For e.g. it may be my belief that eating sharks fin is a terrible thing and sharks fin eaters are stupid and irresponsible fuckers. This is private and this belief remains within me. My actions in public is also personal, i do not eat sharks fin. I do not vocalise my belief in public or go around getting other people to share this belief. Maybe there are some other people who also believe in the same thing. And the public calls us Sharkists or other stupid names. But that is about it. We don't start to go around invading Chinese restaurants and take over their menu decision.
So that is the difference between public life and politics. Politics affect everyone, not just yourself.
By way of elaboration, she pointed out that during the parliamentary debate a few years ago on whether or not to have casinos in Singapore, many MPs prefaced their speeches by stating their faiths.
'Everyone has values, whether shaped by religious or secular ideologies; all may participate in public discourse to forge an ethical social consensus. This is democratic and cherishes viewpoint diversity,' she said. 'While religion is personal, it is not exclusively private and has a social dimension which is not to be trivialised.'
Prefacing speeches by stating one's faith is perfectly ok to me. But to base their political decisions on faith or values grounded in faith is another thing. The latter will no longer be secular liao. Besides, the casino debate, if i recall correctly, ended up being one of weighing economic benefits against social ills.
Also, this is more of a case where we have PAP MPs who are simply going along with their political boss, appease their constituents or members of certain faiths. It is a no-brainer.
Rather naive for an NMP like Thio not to understand this but instead tries to subtlely reinterpret the facts.