Intrusion into Common Space, Tolerance and Respect
When too little done is just too much, for the intolerant, on the lack of government hand.
With increased visible religiosity and inter-religious friction as one result, the secularists are getting alarmed at what is happening at their doorstep. The Rony Tan incident hints of how the hot-headed from any side can jeopardise harmony to an extent just like that and the secularists should be concerned.
Fundamentalism of any type is looked at cynically and rightly so. But if religion is generally one belief system on how one should live in society, then secularism is another competitor belief system as well. So if we are wary of some religious-fundamentalists and how they try to impose their views on others or are insensitive to others, we should be similarly wary of secularist-fundamentalists trying to impose their views and being insensitive as well.
When someone says his prayers in public, that person is not imposing his views. Be Zen about it and have a Yin-Yang balance towards secularism and religion. On common space being shared with the religions – it is common space after all and the secularists can use it next if they want to. Furthermore, from the Rony Tan incident, I know I don’t want the government to step in and tell me what is intolerant or intrusion.
A sign of tolerance or intrusion?
Religious events in public areas: Guidelines needed on ‘how much is too much’ says inter-religious group
Updated 04:00 PM Apr 19, 2010
by Alicia Wong, Today
SINGAPORE – It has been, in recent years, a popular choice to hold church services and functions. Now, the Singapore Expo is seeing more interest from other religious groups, too.
Two months ago, it hosted a Buddhist event and, next month, Buddhists will head there again to commemorate Vesak Day. An Islamic organisation, meanwhile, will be holding a lecture there in May.
It is not just the queries and bookings from religious groups that have gone up in the past two years, said an Expo spokeswoman: “They’re taking up a larger space for their events, too.”
At a more central location, Suntec Singapore has become another venue where faith has found a foothold.
New Creation Church holds services at an auditorium there, while City Harvest Church is proposing to take a $310-million stake in Suntec Singapore, paving the way for its congregation to use the facilities there.
With religious groups becoming more visible in commercial places, have their activities become a little too intrusive for Singaporeans’ liking?
On Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng flagged this trend – and that of religious groups going into business as well as more assertive evangelising – as areas of concern for the Government.
A straw poll by MediaCorp of 20 Singaporeans evoked mixed reactions. Eight did not find this growing visibility to be “intrusive”, nine said they did, while three were in two minds.
With most Singaporeans living in public housing, many have become accustomed to Housing Board void decks being “converted” to a place of worship of sorts when altars are set up for funeral wakes.
Managing director Lee Chee Yong, 36, said: “Religious tolerance cannot be fostered by segmenting recluse zones or by keeping behind the walls of mosques, temples and churches … Permitting public expressions of different faiths is just allowing that choice (adopting a religious belief) to be made intelligently.”
Those who felt otherwise were inclined to view religion as a private matter, not to be “flaunted”. Senior marketing executive Charlynn Kah, 26, said: “It’s also a sign of respect for people of other religions, to not ‘showcase’ your religion in a public display.”
These are complex issues that require “careful consideration, dialogue and a deep understanding” among communities, said Bishop Dr Robert Solomon, president of the National Council of Churches of Singapore.
Religious leaders themselves are also starting to weigh up such issues.
Singapore Buddhist Federation secretary-general Seck Kwang Phing told MediaCorp it was “okay” for temporary events to be held in commercial venues, but drew the line at long-term activities.
The nature of the event also matters, he said. Buddhist groups once held a fun fair-type event at Ngee Ann City plaza, but they held a cultural programme at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. The coming Vesak Day celebration is held at the Expo because it can accommodate more people.
But while the central objective for events may differ, “there are usually some elements of proselytisation … even if subtle”, said the Inter-Religious Organisation Singapore.
It suggested the Government draw up guidelines on “how much is too much” when it comes to publicity efforts and usage of prime areas, so there is “no sense of unfair encroaching on common spaces”.
The concern, said political analyst and law lecturer Eugene Tan, “is premised on the need to delineate public and private spaces clearly.” Otherwise, “there may be a view that these commercial venues have been commandeered for religious purposes.”
There is also the element of competition between religious groups, according to Dr Terence Chong of the Institute of South-east Asian Studies.
“New strategies, both in business and proselytising, are thought up to attract individuals into their fold, he said, observing that churches are ahead of the curve and it is not uncommon for others to follow.
But S Rajaratnam School of International Studies associate research fellow Yolanda Chin was more optimistic.
Laws addressing assertive proselytising have been enforced recently, she noted, and “the trend does not seem likely to spiral out of control”.
And, so long as activities are confined to their designated space in commrcial venues, “the dual use of public spaces in this manner is evidence of tolerance”, she said.