Originally published on Sayoni.
“Fridae has been told that a total of 85 people including filmmakers Sun Koh and Royston Tan have lodged police reports over the long Chinese New Year weekend about pastor Rony Tan’s offensive comments concerning gay men and lesbians in an online video.”
Read the rest of the article here.
Freedom of religion is a tricky thing. Take it too far and you can justify theocracy, give it too little and you have oppression. When freedom of religion and freedom of speech attempts to go together, it becomes even more of an unnavigable thicket.
Did Pastor Rony Tan make a mistake? Of course he did. He said things that were both ignorant and arrogant, as well as extremely bigoted. He acted in a way that no religious leader should have, in openly disparaging another religion, especially without much basis. Very few people would say that what he said was completely acceptable. And he has been reprimanded for it, by the ISD no less. The implications on this being considered a national security issue are for another author to debate thoroughly, but this author believes the use of the ISD to be heavy-handed and to send a chilling effect on political discourse and legitimate criticism of religion.
The ground gets more slippery when one considers his remarks against the queer community. I watched the video and found myself rolling my eyes at his ignorance. But what’s new? He is only echoing what every other pastor says, when they might choose to speak on the issue. I am not sure he has had the opportunity to know better, and even if he hasn’t, whether he even realises the damage he is doing. After all, he is doing what a lot of religious leaders do: latch on to one issue of moral significance and use it to gain popularity and following.
Everyone knows about my love for babies and children. If someone hasn’t heard me go *squee* at a cute baby, they don’t really know me.
So when I heard my friends in New York just had a new baby, my ovaries were positively tingling (to borrow a mysogynistic phrase). K & T are the most loving lesbian couple I know (and will probably exist). They have been through a lot of crap from the beginning that has very little to do with their sexuality, but just the general way life tends to throw you smelly dungbombs. So to have gone through all that, and still be together, and happy, and in love, and have a happy family with two beautiful children… there is nothing in the world that gives my cynical hardened heart more hope than that.
There is also nothing in the world which intensifies my desire to have that family life, more than this happy story either. But of course, the problem being that it is probably not possible to have that life here. I don’t intend to hide my family or live a lie, like the local gay parents do, in fear of their children being taken away, just because they are gay.
What kind of twisted people would break up a happy family just because the parents are gay, in order to uphold their own ideals of what a family should look like? If the child is well-cared for, and lives in a happy loving home, there really is no ground for prohibiting gay parenting, in reliance of woolly unproven pop-psychology ideas of a child needing two parents of a different gender, or fears of the child “turning gay”. There is plenty of research which shows that children in gay families grow up just as well-adjusted as those in straight families.
What the conservatives and anti-gay people do not realise is that it is homophobia which destroys families, not homosexuality. When they beat the drums of intolerance, a parent in a home hears the beat and moves to reject his gay child who just came out to him. Family values are upheld by acceptance and love, not rejection and hate. If people think anti-gay vitriol does not have a negative impact, think again. When you say that gay sex is like sticking a straw up your nose, a teenager who is struggling with his sexuality hears it and hates himself even more. Yes, suicide rates are indeed higher in gay teens, and the reason isn’t too hard to find: rejection from peers and society.
So when you preach you have a right to spout anti-gay stuff and that we are restricing your freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Stop, and think, beyond the political ideas. Think about what you are doing to people. Think about what your words mean to a clueless parent, to a conflicted teenager. Think about the families and relationships you tear apart with your vitriol. Think about the effect of palpable hate surrounding you.
Because this isn’t just politics or ideology. These are lives. These are people.
A lot of things have clearly been pushing my buttons lately, so when this ridiculous letter came out, I just had to say something. Here’s another edition of a mangled letter to the forum which looks nothing like what I initially wrote. But at least the point is made.
MR GEORGE Lim in Monday’s Forum Online letter (“Let’s reinforce unity of purpose in fighting terrorism”) sayswe are not a morally relativist society, and argues that only good, absolute values exist in Singapore. How is that so when different religions have different ideas of morality and what is “good”?
Moral absolutism and religious tolerance cannot co-exist. If we are to be morally absolute, then there is no room for diversity or tolerance. For example, Mr Lim states that polygamy is wrong. Well, polygamy is allowed for Muslims in Singapore.
Also, religious freedom includes a person’s right not to be religious as well. If Mr Lim’s argument is to be upheld, what do we teach the children of parents who do not subscribe to a major religion? To describe a person who is non-religious as a heathen is wrong, and such a view has no place in a secular Singapore. It also contradicts Mr Lim’s calls for religious tolerance.
Indulekshmi Rajeswari (Miss)
And here’s the original:
I refer to George Lim’s letter “Let’s reinforce unity of purpose in fighting terrorism” on 20th July.
We can never overemphasise the need to remain vigilant against the threat of people who claim moral superiority over everyone else.
Firstly, George Lim says we are not a morally relativist society, and only good, absolute values exist in Singapore. I do not accept his unproven and extreme argument that we thrive on absolute morals. The fact is that different religions have a different ideas of morality and what is “good”. If we learn from our religious leaders, and since we are all learning different things, how do we draw the line between good and evil? Sure there are some overlaps, but there are differences. Moral absolutism and religious tolerance cannot co-exist. If we are to be morally absolute, then there is no room for diversity or tolerance. For example, he says polygamy is a wrongdoing – whether or not he is right, he seems to be forgetting that polygamy is allowed in Singapore for Muslim men.
Secondly, religious freedom includes the right of the person to not believe in anything. What do we teach the children of parents who do not subscribe to a major religion? I take offence to his description of me as a “heathen”, just because I am not religious. He is creating dangerous boundaries between the religious and non-religious, setting this up as a war between the two sides. This is clearly against the Prime Minister’s objective to create a more harmonious society. Also, there is only one step from considering the non-religious as heathen, to considering everyone outside your religion as heathen. This attitude goes against his own calls for religious tolerance.
Thirdly, if I could remind George Lim teaching our children “values” through religion was already tried once in Singapore, through the Religious Knowledge program. This was wisely removed by the government after 6 years, as they acknowledged that the program was creating disharmony in a global and national climate of increased religious fervour.
Fourthly, abuse of human rights usually starts when one person or group starts considering themselves the morally superior group, and starts imposing their ideas on the rest. Do I need to bring up Nazis to make my point? I am pretty sure they thought they were being righteous, and exalting their nation.