Monday, September 29, 2008

Religious tensions cannot be allowed even to simmer in our society

Sep 29, 2008

I REFER to last Wednesday's report, 'Religious tension simmers in Indonesia'. With a predominantly Muslim population in Indonesia, the context is different from Singapore which is more multi-religious with parity between Christians and Muslims. But there is always a fear that tensions may arise when members of different religions live in proximity with one another. We cannot afford to allow such tensions to even simmer in our society. We are alerted to consider the root causes of tensions.

The report indicated: 'Without the State stepping in more forcefully, there is a limit to how much grassroots efforts at religious harmony can achieve. Christians and Muslims must know that the state will be neutral and fair in protecting their rights.'

I applaud our secular Government in its enthusiastic proactive stance in promoting inter-faith dialogue as evidenced in setting up inter-racial confidence circles and harmony circles at the grassroots level, and the Common Engagement Programme in the national level. The media has engaged the public in discussion of the topic in a responsible way. Educational institutions have encouraged study and research on inter-faith relations.

There is widespread concern about inter-faith dialogue and this is reflected in the number of comments made by the reading public on this issue in the ST Discussion Board. Consistently, responses to inter-faith issues top the list and reach around the 500 mark in each case.

However, it has been reported that religious leaders are wary of participating in inter-faith dialogue because they are unwilling to compromise on what is regarded as 'core' or fundamental beliefs in their respective faiths. There is the threat of proselytisation as well. These are certainly causes of conflict, resulting in simmering of tensions between faith communities.

At some stage in the dialogue, we have to re-examine such core beliefs in the light of new study and research and experience of living together. What is traditionally regarded as fundamentals of faith may not be as relevant in our contemporary understanding and in current interpretation of sacred texts.

Perhaps an important core belief of every faith community is that God the Creator loves and continues to be present with all people in every part of Creation. The goal is that people should live in peace with justice and in harmony with nature for our common survival as created beings on planet Earth. We are now opposed to racism, slavery, patriarchy, dictatorship, global warming and exploitation of natural resources.

Another essential core belief is that there will always be differences among people of different races, cultures and religions and we need to respect diversity. Unity is not uniformity but unity in diversity. No one religion has complete monopoly of divine truth.

Meanwhile, we are to work together in addressing common social problems as they affect us in our daily lives. They are the matters of education, food, shelter, health and welfare of our people. Here it is the level of dialogue of ordinary living every day.

Religions have the continuing role to play in helping us to cope with life, motivating us to realise our hopes and directing us to shape a harmonious society.

Rev Dr Yap Kim Hao

[I am reminded of "Imagine" by John Lennon.
I think the problem is that religious tolerance may be an oxymoron. We all openly agree that religion is based on faith. So we can say openly, you believe what you believe. And I'll believe what I believe. But, I believe my faith is true. To me, it's not just faith, it's fact. So I tolerate your beliefs, like I tolerate a child trying to put a square peg in a round hole. In order for us to exists peacefully, you and I have to agree that our faiths are just faiths, not facts. But that is the first step to weakening our respective faiths within ourselves! To admit that my faith is just faith, and may not in fact be fact or be true, is to doubt and to lose faith.

So how can faiths live and let live?]

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