Religion can lead the way. Which is to say it has not—at least in the case of Amos Yee.
Among the charges Yee, Singapore’s most famous 16-year-old, is facing is one for creating content with the “deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of Christians in general”. Curious wording indeed.
I am no legal eagle but it seems it is not necessary to demonstrate if Christians’ feelings were, in fact, wounded as it appears irrelevant to the charge. Instead, to make the charge stick, does the prosecution have to get into Yee’s head and provide evidence of his state of mind at the time he posted the allegedly offensive material?
As the court is currently deliberating the merit of the charges, we wait to see the arguments and judgments in this case, for it will have great implications on future relations in Singapore between people of various faiths as well as between them and those who are non-religious, which is what Yee is.
Although some Christians made police reports and angry posts on social media, it appears the overwhelming majority of Christians are either praying for Yee, have forgiven him, do not see his youthful ranting as anything to be bothered by, or are plain embarrassed by the pettiness of the minority who purport to represent “Christians in general”.
Certainly there has not been any movement mobilising Christians to wear clothes, bands, or ribbons of a particular colour to protest against Yee’s video in solidarity—as has been done for other issues Christian groups have stood against.
The National Council of Churches of Singapore, which last year saw fit to make statements on issues of concern such as Pink Dot as well as the Health Promotion Board’s FAQ on Sexuality, has not said anything about Yee’s allegedly hurtful comments. It is calm on the matter.
Christianity has a long tradition of critical inquiry and debate that led to the Protestant movement in the 16th century and subsequent splinter denominations. Not only has Christianity been re-interpreted many times since then, in the 21stcentury, gay churches and clergy have become possible. Even in Singapore, research suggests there is wide diversity of views on issues among Christians.
Loss of faith or apostasy is not punishable as it was in ancient times. The concept of blasphemy has all but disappeared in Christianity. In fact, corruption and intrigue in the highest levels of the church are actually fodder for novels and films. Few films are made about good priests. No one is imprisoned for suggesting that the papacy colluded with the Nazis in World War II.
Through all of these shifts and ages, many Christians remain believers and the movement as a whole is under no imminent threat.
If I was compelled to hypothesize, because of a gun to my head, on what might be the undoing of Christianity, I would say Thomas Paine’s 18th century Age of Reason — available locally at both Popular and Kinokuniya bookstores—and a few hundred thousand books before considering Amos Yee’s verbal onslaught.
Christians are not as brittle as the Singapore Police may think.
So it is hard to imagine Yee’s comments would have been anything but water off a duck’s back to the Christian community.
If it is not the Christians who were offended, could it be—this is completely wild I know—that non-Christians were offended on their behalf? I suspect this notion is not as far-fetched as it may seem.
The authorities were clearly over-zealous in basing their decisions on a few reports made by those who experienced a sudden rush of blood to the head. These few come nowhere close to the number who protest Pink Dot each year about which the authorities concede nothing can—and should—be done in a secular and modern society.
Amos Yee’s video served as a perfect opportunity to demonstrate the resiliency of religious adherents in Singapore, the vast majority of whom laughed off Yee’s rant.
Instead, the Police will now be inundated with complaints from fringe elements whose religious sensitivities are wounded by all manner of inane minutia. This has been proven true in Malaysia, where sedition charges have been flying willy-nilly since the first police report was filed and in Singapore since convulsed netizens’ exuberance toward a single expression of angst by expatriate Amy Cheong caused her to flee the country in fear.
Leadership is sorely in deficit within organisations such as the NCSS, the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle, the Inter-Religious Organisation (Singapore)and the Government. These groups make grandiose statements about their aims, engage in trite rhetoric about the importance of religious and ethnic harmony, and throw money at staged events such as Interfaith Harmony Day, where no doubt everything will be lah-de-dah.
However, when it really matters, they have stayed silent. Rather than using religion to guide society, they have abdicated that role to the Police and courts. What a shame.
The IRCC, an initiative of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth started in 2002, are*:
“local-level inter-faith platforms in every constituency, formed to promote racial and religious harmony.”
Apparently the People’s Association’s Residents’ Committees—found in all HDB estates like it or not—are incapable of dealing with religious or ethnic matters. They quickly call the IRCCs.
The IRCC lists as its “partner”, Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (Islamic Religious Council of Singapore). Amazingly, despite being an interfaith entity, no other religious groups appear to be represented in the IRCC!
According to Minister for MCCY, Lawrence Wong:
“The IRCCs have worked hard over the years to build strong relationships amongst leaders of different racial and religious groups. This work is critical, because relationships are at the heart of building trust and understanding, which in turn are essential for maintaining racial and religious harmony.”
The obvious question is why has 13 years of taxpayer funded bridge-building work resulted in our present state of affairs? It seems society was more cohesive before the IRCC was created.
* If you are wondering if it should be “is” or “are”, from its website, IRCC appears to be one entity and many at the same time—confusing I know, like the Holy Trinity. And, it creates all sorts of grammar conundrums as well.