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News Reports

Religiously speaking

So the results of yet another big survey have been released by the Institute of Policy Studies. This time, on religion. Remember that it had  also released an earlier one on race? Again, more or less the same thing with similar results. People are comfortable with those of different faiths in the “public’’ sphere. But quite another thing when it comes to marrying someone of another faith, especially among the Muslims and Protestants. These two groups also disapprove of members giving up their faiths: Muslims (69 per cent) and Protestants (about half).

One thing I found lacking about the survey is that it didn’t give the proportions of people of different faiths in Singapore. So how many Muslims and Protestants are there? Are they “growing’’ religions? And how has the entry of foreigners and new citizens affected this balance? Also, aren’t there other surveys that look at the degree of religiosity?  How do they compare with this?

The survey doesn’t seem to cover the attitudes of those with a religion to those with none. Or attitudes towards particular religious groups. Maybe, that is not within the scope of the survey.

The authors have this to say about this aspect though: “Considering that for many Muslims, Protestants and Catholics, a mark of the good person includes the teaching of one’s morals, it is important that they temper this with a respect for those who do not share such values.’’

You know, there is this difficulty when talking about religion. Strong moral values equal religious values? Then what about those with no religion? Or should there be a set of universal, secular values grounded in this “safe’’ word – ethics? The survey shows that those with religion tend to view certain aspects of living – on divorce and pre-marital sex for example – quite differently from those who don’t have one. In fact, the label that can be attached to the second group is “liberal’’.

A couple of people quoted in TODAY talked about how potential clashes might not be between religious groups, but religious groups banding together against the non-religious group developing into some kind of “culture war’’ between the conservatives and the liberals. That’s worth thinking about when you recall the clashes over the seeming “promotion’’ of gay lifestyles by the Health Promotion Board and the existence of Section 377A criminalising homosexual sex.   

Anyway, here’s a quick run-down of what I think is notable about the survey results. Please note it’s just my one cent worth of opinion.

  1. Muslims and Protestants feel most strongly about their religions. The survey authors think that for Protestants, this is because the  “dominant form’’ is of the conservative variety where there is “an emphasis on doing the right thing’’. Plus, most are probably first-generation converts. They said nothing about the Muslims; guess it’s taken for granted that Islam pervades their life. Whether this is more so now than before isn’t answered.
  2. The Buddhists and Taoists are the most “zen’’ about values, hovering between the Muslims and Protestants and those with no religion. One departure – they are more tolerant about gambling than the rest – less than 60 per cent think gambling is wrong. I can already hear wags saying that this is more a Chinese trait than anything to do with religion.
  3. About 65 per cent of those with no religion say they disapprove of homosexual sex, compared to 78 per cent of those with a religion, according to ST. The authors tried to spin this gap as “not far off’’ and a reflection of Asian conservativeness’’. Hmm.. so the gap is NOT big. What would be big then? In fact, the authors tried very hard to say that the views between the two groups especially on same-sex issues are not too different.  
  4. If you want to know what people are most “relaxed’’ about, it’s cohabitation before marriage and divorce, with only about 44 per cent of people disapproving of them.
  5.  About 24 per cent of people surveyed think that religious groups should be given MORE rights. Again, the authors spun this as a reflection of how many people here believe concessions must be made in a multi-religious society for all to get along, that is, it is ONLY 24 per cent who want more rights. The thing is, the survey doesn’t say if this was the prevailing view among any group or if the view is scattered among every religious type. Yet, I’m sure the authors have the breakdown.

So is this from Muslims who think women should be allowed to wear the hijab in government frontline jobs? Or those who belong to churches a la Lawrence Khong who want the State out of what it thinks are church matters? What sort of “rights’’ are they talking about?

  1. As for whether increasing religiosity would hurt religious harmony, here’s how the media put it: ST says that “a majority’’ are confident that harmony won’t be affected. TODAY said: “While almost four in 10 felt that increasing religiosity could hurt religious harmony here, many others were ambivalent or did not agree with this proposition.’’

What are the statistics then? This is the statement: Increasing religiosity could harm religious harmony

Agree/agree strongly: 38.5 per cent

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Somewhat agree (the ambivalent group) : 33 per cent

Disagree/disagree strongly: 28.5 per cent

This is a typical glass half-empty/half-full syndrome. If you lump the somewhat agree and agree or agree strongly together, seven in 10 think it would be harmful. You decide.  

  1. People want the state to continue playing a role in maintaining harmony with two in three people saying they would “report to the authorities’’ acts of bigotry whether in the real or virtual world.
  2. One interesting nugget in TODAY: One in four people said they have attended a religious meeting or been to a religious place that is not of their faith. The survey authors think the number is small, and may be because people are hesitant about being “converted’’ if they learnt about another faith. I don’t know about you, but I thought one in four is a pretty good number.    

Well, that’s eight points I can glean from news reports. The bottomline: We are all getting along just fine, at least for now.



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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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