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Moral Absolutism and Religious Tolerance

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.

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July 22, 2009 - Posted by | Politics, Religion, singapore

4 Comments »

  1. Do the Author have an axe to grind?

    The thrust of the Author’s letter is merely an anti-religion rant: Assertions without substance, and imposition of particular moral and religious standards under the shameful guise of ‘tolerance’, ‘secularism’ and ‘intellectualism’.

    Is the Author guilty of what she accuses others of doing?

    The Author declares that one cannot be morally absolute (normative statement/judgment)

    Then she asserts “To describe a person who is non-religious as a heathen is wrong, and such a view has no place in a secular Singapore”.

    Isn’t this itself a morally absolute statement?

    Is the Author really saying that:-

    1. Statements concerning moral, sexual or religious values acceptable to her are ‘good’ for our ‘secular’ society in line with ‘religious tolerance’

    2. Statements concerning any value that she rejects, has “no place in a secular Singapore” (clearly she uses her own conception of ‘secularism’ to fit her personal beliefs).

    3. Freedom of speech and religion should protect only those who uphold certain views and beliefs.

    What arrogance and hypocrisy!

    Comment by Give us a break | July 23, 2009 | Reply

  2. I love this peculiarly Singaporean way of arguing, where people try their very best to point out that one is guilty of the very same thing that s/he accuses someone else of – to the extent of stretching logic to breaking point.

    —–

    Yes I think Miss Indulekshmi has a very valid axe to grind.

    If she makes assertions without “substance”, consider that perhaps her substantiation couldn’t be squeezed into a pathetically-sized 400-word letter. (I know; I’ve tried.)

    Any particular set of values, of necessity, excludes others that don’t agree with them. The point is that tolerance and secularism, by definition, exclude the least. Consider this statement: “the only thing I can’t tolerate is intolerance”.

    Moral absolutism refers to the belief that certain actions are absolutely right or wrong, no matter what the justification. For instance, one might believe that abortion is morally wrong, even to save the life of the mother – that’s moral absolutism.

    What the author asserts – describing someone as “heathen” is wrong – is an issue of FACT, not MORALITY (although many often conflate the two, as they are judged by the same confusing words “right” and “wrong”). Heathen is an outdated, outmoded and highly offensive word that implies that the “heathen” are to be converted to the right path – and there are many right paths for us all to discover.

    To describe someone else as heathen is as good as saying: I am morally right, you are wrong, and therefore beneath me. It is an elitism of morality, as dangerous as any other Wee-Shu-Min-esque social faultline.

    Pathological religiosity of the George Lim variety has no place in a secular Singapore. No religion or ideology has a monopoly on goodness, ethics or truth.

    I think what the author means is, let’s have an open-minded, constructive dialogue. Agree to disagree, if need be. That’s what freedom of speech and religion really means.

    George Lim wrote to what is called the “Forum” page – “Forum” for a reason. It is a place for reasonable, logical discourse. For ideas to flow and for people to argue in search of a higher truth. (Not just for complaints about bad taxi drivers or restaurant service.) If he wishes to come to the Forum, he better be ready to defend his views – not simply assert that they are right, on the force of his misguided interpretations of God or Morality.

    Cheers!

    Comment by mcpeanuts | August 3, 2009 | Reply

  3. Hmm.

    “Give us a break”

    Who?

    “The thrust of the Author’s letter is merely an anti-religion rant: Assertions without substance, and imposition of particular moral and religious standards under the shameful guise of ‘tolerance’, ’secularism’ and ‘intellectualism’.”

    Don’t speak too soon. Have you seen the original letter the author was replying to? I’m interested to know what you think of that, and how he hijacked an important topic for his own ends. http://www.straitstimes.com/ST+Forum/Online+Story/STIStory_405677.html

    “shameful guise of ‘tolerance’, ’secularism’ and ‘intellectualism’. ”

    Shameful? You just smear-campaigned a lot of people on the planet.

    “Assertions without substance”

    Exactly what you have done there above.

    “Then she asserts “To describe a person who is non-religious as a heathen is wrong, and such a view has no place in a secular Singapore”.

    Isn’t this itself a morally absolute statement?”

    Are you nitpicking? “Heathen” is a perjorative. Read the bible and note its use. It might have been acceptable in that religious context and to the religious, but not here, not now, in Singapore. Notice, too, that I mention context. What does that say about the supposed absolutism of the statement?

    “Statements concerning any value that she rejects, has “no place in a secular Singapore” (clearly she uses her own conception of ’secularism’ to fit her personal beliefs).”

    Elaborate where the author is wrong about secularism.

    “What arrogance and hypocrisy!”

    The hallmark of arrogance is seemingly not having read the original letter and then taking the author’s reply out of context. It was obvious you didn’t read it – “Do the Author have an axe to grind?” – I wonder if you would say the same about the original.

    Also, the epitome of hypocrisy is if you have indeed have read the original and take the stand you have taken against the author while condoning the original.

    Just by the way you start your comment, you’re at about the same level as you claim the author to be, methinks.

    Comment by Ambrose | August 3, 2009 | Reply

  4. Ah, I see how I have proven mcpeanuts’ point on singaporean-ness.

    Oh no! =P

    Comment by Ambrose | August 3, 2009 | Reply


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