Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Living my beliefs while adapting to society

Sep 7, 2009

By Jonathan Kwok

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong mentioned in his National Day Rally speech that rising religiosity in Singapore could lead to future problems, such as aggressive proselytisation, and people not mixing with those of other faiths.

He advocated a 'live and let live' mantra, tolerance on all sides, and the preservation of common secular spaces.

In a Sunday Times article, columnist Sumiko Tan also said she hoped the deeply religious would not try to impose their religious beliefs on her.

However, a slight conundrum is present, in that some religious people define their faiths in very exclusivist terms. In their world view lies a religious obligation to convert others, and to preserve the purity of their own doctrines.

During my own evangelical Christian upbringing, I was often reminded that 'God desires the salvation (read: conversion) of all peoples', and thus was encouraged to take every opportunity to proselytise people of other faiths.

In addition, some religions decry marriage with people of other faiths, encouraging or insisting on religious conversion before considering marriage.

I have also heard laments that some Christian denominations shun inter-faith dialogues, for fear that they will dilute the faith and compromise their proselytisation activities.

These attitudes show that some fundamentalist and conservative elements do have uncompromising world views, and while practitioners are willing to 'live and let live' and respect the sensibilities of those from other faiths, they may feel it is indeed their religious obligation to spread their views and to convert others.

The fault lines in the United States due to the split between the Conservative Christian Right and the Liberal Left are due not only to social or political factors, but are also a result of doctrinal beliefs.

Here in Singapore, the call is for religious people to examine their faiths critically and with the scepticism that they apply to all areas of their lives.

We need to remember that we live in a pluralist society. Which aspects of faith cannot be compromised, and which aspects need to be re-examined in the light of the realities of modern life?

While I still hold on to the essentials of my Christian upbringing, and rely on the faith to guide my morals, I have come to the conclusion that some aspects are peripheral and can be adapted to the realities of our pluralistic society.

When I meet people, I judge them according to the goodness in them, not whether they belong to my faith.

Personally, I also see nothing wrong with dating a non-Christian girl, and am open to marriage with someone not of my own faith.

I see the central command of my faith to be to love my neighbour, not to convert him.

My view would probably not sit well with some religious people, but it is one way for all of us to live happily in our pluralistic society.

The writer, 24, recently graduated with honours in economics from the National University of Singapore.

[Yes, there are some people with intransigent views and an evangelical bent that borders on the psychotic. And their wrold view, coloured by religious passion does not sit well within a secular society with other religions. Religions evolved as part of the social culture of a people and in the past when homogeniety and monolithic religions were part of the social fabric, it is understandable. But religion is starting to be more a liability than an asset in a multi-cultural, multi-religious society. Evangelistic religion is looking more like a divine pyramid selling scheme.]

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