Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What does 'Rony' show us?

[Updates 11 Feb 2010: Due to their incompetency, The Singapore Daily misrepresents my post.]

Rony Tan, the senior pastor of a mega-church Lighthouse Evangelism, is now busy salvaging himself, his career, his congregation and the religion he is representing from bad press. He has been preaching about Jesus saving all of us over the years, and now he is saving himself.

The video clip which has him and one of his congregation member ridiculing Buddhism is still around although Rony has petitioned to have it taken down. "I urge those who have posted those clips on the YouTube to remove them as well." (from the news column at http://www.lighthouse.org.sg/. Accessed 10 Feb 2010).

Rony was warned by the Internal Security Department for the remarks that he made. He was not arrested.

Four statements below are from Straits Times website.

Statement from Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng:
DEPUTY Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng told The Straits Times he was heartened that the religious leaders had met to resolve their differences.

'What Pastor Rony Tan said and did at his evangelism sharing sessions was clearly offensive to Buddhists and Taoists,' he said. 'In fact, it has angered even Singaporeans who are not Buddhists and Taoists.'

'I am also heartened to learn that the Buddhist and Taoist leaders, while understandably upset with the incident, have accepted Pastor Tan's apology and have urged restraint on the part of their religious communities. This is also the right thing to do.'

Mr Wong added that nobody should be allowed to exploit and escalate any issue to whip up emotions and tensions between ethnic and religious groups, and when problems arise, they should be resolved rationally and constructively.

'Religious leaders especially, must lead and set the right example in this regard,' he said.
Statement from Pastor Rony Tan's family:
'We understand the gravity of the issue. We have taken steps to resolve the matter, and would like to put this behind us and focus on promoting religious harmony.'
Joint statement from Singapore Buddhist Federation and inter-Faith Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO):
'WE HOPE HE HAS LEARNT A LESSON.'

'Pastor Tan has apologised to us in person. We accept his apology, and hope he has learnt a lesson from this experience. Here on, we will stay in touch to work on promoting mutual understanding between us. We want to clear up any misunderstandings.'
Statement by the National Council of Churches of Singapore in response to comments by Pastor Rony Tan:
Some of Pastor Rony Tan’s comments were insensitive and offensive to followers of the Buddhist and Taoist faiths. We are glad he has made a public apology, and has promised that such insensitivity will never happen again.

We support the statement made by the Ministry of Home Affairs to Pastor Tan that “he must not run down other religions, and must be mindful of the sensitivities of other religions.” In a guide on inter-religious relations issued to our member churches in 2008, the Council had advised Christians that as they carry out evangelism in a multi-religious society they are “not to denounce other religions” and that they “should always be respectful of the beliefs of others, careful not to create or sow ill-will.”

The Council is committed to continue its efforts in promoting religious understanding and respect while we go about practising and sharing about our Christian faith. We trust that Christian groups that are not our members will also share our values.
What do all these tell us about Singapore's politics, society and religious community?

1) The State has authority over religious practice, personal opinion, and religious doctrine when it comes to social order and harmony. If you really think Buddhism or Christianity are nonsense, you may do so as long as no outrage is caused in the society. So it is okay to allow books that condemn or ridicule religions like those by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Dan Brown and Sam Harris to be sold at public bookstores since there is no disorder caused by them.

2) Religious leaders are submissive to the State to the extend of allowing the State to determine what can they say and what can't they say. This is due to the fact that local religious leaders are more concern over social order rather than their religious beliefs. If their religious belief informs them that other religions are nonsense, they have to either suppress that information or change it. For eg. Muslims who think that the concept of Trinity is nonsense have keep that to themselves and not allow to express it. If not, they will end up like Rony, who has to apologize for what he sincerely believes as true: Buddhism is nonsense. So they can sign their doctrinal statement but must not produce it to the public.

3) Social stability is the constant concern for everyone, from politicians to pastors. In this setting, truth must conform to this aphorism. Individuals are allowed to have their own opinion and belief as long as no conflict is caused. If an individual's opinion when expressed can cause conflict, then the person must not express it even if it can be expressed in a well-mannered and respectful way. So there is no such thing as "agree to disagree" in this context. All just have to agree outwardly although inwardly we don't agree at all.

4) Society are taught to be hypocritical given the above 3 observations. It is like putting on a smile even if you hate the person you are talking to. You are free to stab each others' back as long as not doing it in front. Stabbing from the back might cause death, but definitely no conflict because the victims do not know who stabbed him or her. So it is not surprising that people stab each others' back in offices, not to mention churches and temples. Conflict is worse than death.

5) Death has taken a whole new meaning. Death is rendered insignificant, and hence the dying person became insignificant. There is no dignity in death. Death is not a closure anymore. It is not the determining factor of how well one's life is lived. Conflict is the measure. You may commit suicide but not create conflict. A culture that makes suicide more tasteful and delightful as a way of escape. And when death changes its meaning, life changes its meaning. Life is not organic any longer. Life became mechanic. Life became meaningless as no more senses are needed to be made out of it. Life is lived mechanically: wake up, work, eat, shit, sleep and die. The quality and value of life became determined by the quality of the person's bed, office, food, toilet bowl, and coffins. So life's pursuit is to get the best quality bed, office, food, toilet bowl and coffins. Consumerism and individualism prevail. It is not determined by the organic relationship among human beings anymore. In fact organic aspect of life became peripheral.

6) In parallel, conflict has also taken a whole new meaning. Difference is not appreciated as much. Conformity is the norm. No disagreement, hence no conflict, hence no point having discourse or debates, hence no creativity. In the end, no need to communicate. Conflict became a worse sin than death. Death is more acceptable than conflict. You must not have conflict, but you can die. It's better to abort a child than having conflict. Again, a culture of suicide.

7) Communication took on new meaning. It is not meant to express oneself or one's own thought, but to command. No point to express oneself because all are conformed. So communication functions only as commandment, when we speak, we are not expressing ourselves but to command. Hence bureaucracy became a given. In order for us to open our mouth to communicate, we have to be on top of the hierarchy since communication is only commandment. Space for creativity is abandoned. Not only that there is no such thing as thinking out of conformity, but no such thing as thinking out of the box too.

8) In the end, thinking is not thinking anymore. Thinking is reduced to mere reminding and not conceiving or perceiving anymore. Human life is not governed by thoughts but by conformity. Not governed by rationality but by superstitious. When human mind can't think anymore, the society is dead. There is no more life. There are only conformity, commandment, suicidal, and the Gross Domestic Product index. Anything more than these is irrelevant. And religion is either nothing more than conformity, commandment, suicidal and GDP, or as an irrelevance. Rony has show us that it is the former. This is more clearly so when seen through the statement of the National Council of Churches of Singapore.

So why the society is unfriendly, consumerism-driven, individualistic with persisting ugly politic in offices and churches, and among circle of friends? Why the rise of abortion, suicidal and divorce rate even among Christians? Why a materialistic culture? Why today's children as well as working adults are so stressed up? Why do people rather stay in their office until late night than doing something else? Why so many hypocrites in the churches?

Simply because everyone, including pastors and churches, is worshiping this false god. And they dare to profess their faith in Jesus Christ. They dare to profess the Apostle's Creed. They dare to partake the holy communion. They are really daring when it comes to idolization.

Agree or disagree???


48 comments:

akikonomu said...

I offer my disagreement and questions =p

1) The State has authority over religious practice, personal opinion, and religious doctrine when it comes to social order and harmony.

In what way was Rony Tan's speech and attack on Buddhism and Taoism "religious doctrine"? In what way was his circus act "religious practice"? In what way did his views on Buddhism and Taoism constitute "personal belief", when broadcast to his megachurch of 12,000 and the internet?

2) If their religious belief informs them that other religions are nonsense, they have to either suppress that information or change it.

Is their "religious belief" really due to religious doctrine or personal beliefs?

I think this point mistakes the call to spread the Good News with Rony Tan's circus act, which showed his beliefs misrepresented and are woefully ignorant of the religions he sought to criticise.

3) Individuals are allowed to have their own opinion and belief as long as no conflict is caused. If an individual's opinion when expressed can cause conflict, then the person must not express it even if it can be expressed in a well-mannered and respectful way.

Do you think Rony Tan's criticisms of Buddhism and Taoism was done in a well-mannered and respectful way?

Do you think they were not irresponsible, incendiary, mischievous and unchristian?

4) Society are taught to be hypocritical given the above 3 observations. It is like putting on a smile even if you hate the person you are talking to.

It's called tolerance. It's called trying to live together in a society where not everyone shares your beliefs.

I hope your points 1-8 were a representation of certain radical, reactionary mindsets you wish discussed, and not representative of your own =D

kelvintan73 said...

You sound so much like Eric Cartman. =)

Maybe the South Park creators should make a new episode based on the 'Rony' incident in Singapore.

rk said...

wow.

this is good meat to chew on.

i have to agree, you are right for the most part. i don't agree with rony's style but any conversation that reveals differences becomes a target board. there will always be people who are unhappy. like you said, conversations become meaningless, uncreative and boring. thoughts and assumptions are not challeanged. people stop thinking and growing because of fear. while we must not judge the person, we should and must just ideas, thoughts, world views. there must be a respectful way to do this. it requires maturity from both sides.

Yap Kim Hao said...

The issue is not about conformity. You cannot expect everyone to agree with you. There will always be differences of opinion and diversity of views. None of us has the monopoly to truth. We can only claim and confess what we believe and recognize that others do the same and have a different perspective of the truth. In the context of diversity we do not demonise other perceptions and regard them as satanic while we hold ours to be sacred. You prefer Penang assam laksa while others choose Katong nyonya laksa! While you like others to enjoy the same laksa as you do it is their decision ultimately.

Dennis said...

Dear Sze Heng,

Can clarify what idolatry has been committed? Conformity to world's culture?

Sze Zeng said...

Hi all who have commented, I appreciate and learning from you all. My views here are not final and still evolving according to inputs and conversation.

Thank you for the comments. I will look into them further later.

Hope that we can learn together from this saga. Whether we agree or disagree, that is secondary.

Blessings.

akikonomu said...

Simply because everyone, including pastors and churches, is worshiping this false god. And they dare to profess their faith in Jesus Christ. They dare to profess the Apostle's Creed. They dare to partake the holy communion. They are really daring when it comes to idolization.

Simply put: Who or what gave you the say-so to make such claims? Who or what gave you the say-so to pose this question? You're rather daring yourself, if I may say so.

SHWong said...

Well, I disagree. Mainly this statement:

"If an individual's opinion when expressed can cause conflict, then the person must not express it even if it can be expressed in a well-mannered and respectful way. So there is no such thing as "agree to disagree" in this context."

If the disagreement is expressed in a well-mannered and respectful manner, like in a inter-religious dialogue, this conflict would not have occurred. As it is, I think the uproar is mainly over the lack of respect. Hence I disagree with the accusation of conformity, expect the conformity to mutual respect.

As for the idolatry part, we all have our mini-idols. Singaporeans treasure their civil harmony as much as Malaysians their freedom of speech. I agree that's guilty as charged.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi akikonomu,

1) One eg. in the video clip is that Rony ridiculed Buddhism's practice of chants and belief that one can attain a higher level of being than God, more powerful than God. That's Buddhism's belief. Enlightenment is a superior state that surpassing God's being is the general notion in Buddhism (though I'm aware of the fragmentation within Buddhism itself, and though the 'God' might be a concept that is crossing each other without being identical).

Rony's personal belief when he made that remark was that it is ridiculous to think that one can surpasses God. And personal belief does not negate that belief as also a shared belief. One person's personal liking of white color doesn't negate the fact that there are, among the person's friends, others who also like white color. So liking white is personal and also shared. So personal does not necessitate exclusiveness of individuals.

2) Their religious belief is also their personal belief based on my reply (1) above. Unless that is the case, it doesn't make any sense to talk about a person's belief, not to mention to have any belief at all.

There is no mistake. In Rony's belief, in the clip, it is sensible that the reason he ridiculed Buddhism was because he thought that doing so is part of the call to spread the gospel. Whether was that really part of evangelism is another matter. What is firm is that he believed so when he did that clip.

3) I don't think Rony expressed it in well-mannered way. Yet that is not my point. My point is that the avoidance of conflict became the norm. So Rony's case as a bad example is not symmetrical with the point I wanted to make.

I think Rony was mistaken to talk about Buddhism in that way. However there is a different to say that one was mistaken in misrepresenting Buddhism and one still believe that Buddhism is nonsense. Rony still hold on to the latter while guilty of the former. So I was not drawing a symmetry between the former and the latter.

4) Yes, you may call that tolerance. But it is an immature one. It is a imbecile tolerance. To an extent a fake one. A mature society with mature tolerance is able to tolerate by agreeing to disagree. Disagreeing parties able to say to each other, "I may not agree with what you say but I'll fight to the death to defend your right to say it." Not by can't even say anything about it.

These 8 points are my observation. :D

You asked, "Who or what gave you the say-so to make such claims? Who or what gave you the say-so to pose this question?"

I dare to say so based on the 8 points which I can reasonably defend (or at least I humbly think I can). On this note, I'm different from Rony. He made claims which he can't defend (hence the only way for him is to apologize).

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Kelvin Tan,

Eric Cartman? hahaha... I'm much slimmer than him! :)

Sze Zeng said...

Hi rk,

Yes, the society is still too traumatized by disorder especially when the neighboring Malaysia is going through some tough time at this moment. It is natural that people rather stop talking about it than to talk about it. The fact that the social polity prefers the former betrays the immaturity for the society to accept differences. Exclusivity should be accepted through accepting exclusiveness as a given. From current stand point of view, the society in this part of the world is still far from that. Still like a child who can't handle discourse, not to mention 'communication' which itself presupposes disagreement.

Both sides are not mature because the society as a whole is not mature. This Rony saga shows us a glimpse of the degree of maturity of our society.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Yap Kim Hao,

I am not saying that conformity is the utmost pursuit of the society. I listed it as point 3. I was saying that the avoidance of conflict and disorder has become the utmost, if not the only, pursuit in public discourse.

Demonizing differing perception is of course should be shunned, but that is not the point I want to make. The point I want to make is that what if to the person a perception is really a demon? In that case, it is not demonizing anymore but just rendering proper pronouncement, naming it as it is. (I am not implying Buddhism is demonic here. I am just providing an observation on human's process of taxonomizing).

I am not into backing exclusivity of Christian faith here at all, if that is what you think I am saying. I am giving an observation of how matters relating to exclusivity (in this case, religion) is handled in our society.

So I'm not saying that everyone must acknowledge Penang assam laksa is the best. I am saying, "Hey, look how do we handle the fact that each of us prefer our own type of laksa."

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Dennis,

First, it's "Sze Zeng", not "Sze Heng." :)

The idolatry is in upholding a seriously flawed mechanism of handling disagreement. Worshiping this mechanism as the only mechanism. In effect, leading to the current detrimental scenes observable within the society.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi SHWong,

The disagreement was not done in an inter-religious dialog. And that is the problem.

Your suggestion is meant for inter-religious dialog instead of the discussed situation.

"Conformity" is not on the top of my priority list in this post. It is 'the avoidance of conflict and disagreement at all cost' that I'm focusing on here. Conformity is the corollary. A natural product. And one leads to the other. The post is to portray this chain of cause and effect; how one leads to the other.

It is okay to treasure civil harmony, but it is not okay to treasure a fake civil harmony. The idolatry part is treasuring a fake, a false perception. My point is to alert us to this fake harmony. It's time for the society to learn to embrace real civil harmony. A harmony that accepts exclusivity as a given.

So you are not guilty to pursue civil harmony, unless you are pursuing a fake one.

In the same way, Malaysians is guilty to pursue freedom of speech without knowing what are the right things to do with the freedom. Unless that is so, we are also pursuing a false god.

gweek said...

Sze Zeng --

I want to share with you what bothers me about your piece. It reads like it is going somewhere, but it is actually full of blacks and whites that are flipped around in different ways.

For example, you say that you fear people losing their right to believe absolutely and illustrate this with how you can't rubbish someone else's faith. But having deep faith has nothing to do with hitting another over the head to prove it. Didn't Jesus warn that many would cry "Lord, Lord", boasting of having done things in His name, who He would precisely turn away?

You lament how everyone's real concern seems to be social stability, and you speak as if that's a bad thing. You appear to forget Jesus's Golden Rule -- that we do unto others as we would others do to us -- IS a social rule that upholds stability through mutual respect.

You suggest that agreeing to disagree is farcical and so hypocritical as if it cannot be sincere. Why is someone who believes deeply but leaves others to believe differently with equal depth hypocritical? Do you not allow the sanctity of an absolute freedom of choice, the very hinge in the whole drama of creation, in your theology? Is God your first hypocrite?

Your whole life-death argument disturbs me greatly because you seem to overvalue death at the expense of life. When Jesus died for all of us, He did so in order that we may have Life. If a death produces or encourages more death, that is, if it cannot create a culture where others can live abundantly, it is categorically NOT Christlike.

You lament how, in today's world, conformity is celebrated over difference. But you fail to see how what you hail as difference is teeming with conformity. It promotes values that disallow you from seeing the validity of differences in the opinions and convictions of others. Conversely, it forces you to conform to values dictated by fear rather than openness, cynicism rather than love.

I hope that these thoughts can serve some purpose in your own earnest reflection. They are all I can offer at this moment, and so I thank you for your attention.

Gwee Li Sui

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Gwee Li Sui,

Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

I sensed that you picked up my post piece by piece as if each is not connected with the other. Point 1-8 are sequential, so have to be understood in the sequence.

I am not fearing people losing their right to believe. I am exploring the corollary when avoidance of disagreement at all cost is being the determining factor in the society. So I am not concern over the binarism you have drawn "deep faith v.s hitting each other to prove it".

I am not lamenting over everyone being concern with social stability, but am pointing out the current social milieu and its deficiency in achieving social stability. So it has nothing to do with the Golden Rule.

"Agreeing to disagree" is only farcial and hypocritical WHEN the society assumed the principle that avoidance of disagreement at all cost is the supreme determining factor in public discourse. You have to read point 1-8 in sequential relation.

My life-death argument is an exploration over the meaning of life from the stand point of view of a lived life. And I was writing the post primarily as a public discourse with an anecdote to Christians and churches. So I didn't explicitly discuss theology even though it permeates the post.

Lastly, I am not arguing for exlusivism, if that's what you think I am doing in the post. I am pointing the flaw of current handling of exclusivism in the society by the society in order to explore a more roburst mechanism to promote a society which is truly multi-cultural and matured in tolerance.

What you wrote helped me to crystalize some points. Hope my clarification able to help us to communicate to each other rather than talking across each other. Again, thank you for your comment.

Steven Sim said...

I just had a conversation with Joshua last night; his point 5 is of particular interest to me as I was working out on cultural/political hegemony for two years now.

Point 5: Contrary to Gweek, Josh did not "overvalue death". Instead, he meant to point out that;

1. Life necessitate communication
2. But communication presupposes conflict (of ideas)
3. In a hegemonic society, where conflict is undesirable, then communication becomes merely command (propaganda)
4. When that happens, the value of life becomes incidental, in that the power would rather see death happens than conflict happens. It is no surprise that dictatorial governments silence dissenters with death (or imprisonment - limiting life).
5. In such hegemony, conformity is desirable. Eg, in capitalist hegemony, brand is a form of conformity standard.

This is a prophetic warning to the church to look beyond the case of Rony Tan and see a more real structural problem in the society.

Rony Tan's problem is that he was uncharitable in his critic. Joshua agreed and he did not think Rony did wrong in apologizing. Rather the church while humbly admitting her mistake must also refuse to conform to hegemony.

But back to Rony Tan, my interest is to see his attitude as he returns to ministry. Too long we see christian superheroism in shouting out loud in church about bearing witness to Jesus and condemning sinners, often uncharitably. And then flop, a leader was found "sinning" or he had to compromise. Will the healing power still flow next Saturday/Sunday? I pray that God's mercy meet us at our self-righteousness.

Steven Sim

Li Sui said...

Sze Zeng --

Thanks for your swift reply! :) My only response to your qualification is, does the current case even call up such questioning, ie. of how an avoidance of disagreement has become the "supreme determining factor in public discourse"? If it doesn't, isn't this discussion leading us all down the wrong track?

what the Rony case shows again is how an INSISTENCE on disagreement -- even at the expense of the truth, what others really believe -- has become the way some Christians choose to engage the world. There is a dominant discourse here that keeps using militant self-exclusionary interpretations of "salt and light", spiritual warfare, holiness, evangelism, "being in the world", etc.

This highlights a serious problem with Christianity here today, and, the sooner we admit it, the sooner we can stop repeating the error. It is already damaging the impression everyone else has of our faith, one where God Himself gave of His life FOR OTHERS. The outer concern with (quick gestures towards) social stability is thus not the problem; it is a symptom of OUR problem. It isn't an issue of "why can't we believe what we want"; it IS the direct outcome of Christians believing what they want.

Gwee

SHWong said...

""Conformity" is not on the top of my priority list in this post. It is 'the avoidance of conflict and disagreement at all cost' that I'm focusing on here. Conformity is the corollary. A natural product. And one leads to the other. The post is to portray this chain of cause and effect; how one leads to the other."

I think we have to agree to disagree. ;)
1. I agree there is the avoidance of conflict, but I disagree that there is the avoidance of disagreement. No religious leader in Singapore is saying that we are the same. The only agreement we hold to is that we abide with mutual respect for civil harmony.
2. I disagree with "at all cost". The cost here is relatively minor, and I think the ISD knows, which explains the measured response. You or I simply do not know how far the various religious groups would carry this avoidance of conflict (not disagreement) because we do not have any severe degree of persecution yet. Your "at all cost" is an unsubstantiated assumption.
3. I disagree with the final logical leap from "avoidance of conflict" to conformity. Even if the avoidance is pursued "at all cost" (which is a big assumption), it would only imply extreme rules in what is allowed in public space. We may conform to civil laws and order, but it hardly means we conform in private beliefs.

"It is okay to treasure civil harmony, but it is not okay to treasure a fake civil harmony. The idolatry part is treasuring a fake, a false perception. My point is to alert us to this fake harmony. It's time for the society to learn to embrace real civil harmony. A harmony that accepts exclusivity as a given."
If exclusivity is your yardstick, then we surely have a true civil harmony. I am pretty sure that the Muslims in Singapore, for example, hold to extreme exclusivity, if not the Catholics and the conservative Protestants as well. I know this because it is a basic tenet of their beliefs.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Li Sui,

All significant public actions invite responses and reactions. So feedback is inevitable. What I'm doing here is to share an observation (like those who provided their observation on my observation. Did I call up these responses? I certainly did expect that since this is a public issue).

The sort of approach to engage public issue is not only exclusive to Christians. Everyone public intellectuals from politicians to sociologists to journalists who have an idea or perspective worth sharing (and worth commending) assume exclusivity in public discourse. I'm not a public intellectual, I'm just pointing out that it is a norm in human social interaction. Unless this is the case, there shouldn't be any universities at all. No point having them. Ph.D program itself and all famed prize from Nobel to Templeton to Putlizer assume such exclusivity. Whether how particular Christians use certain language ("salt & light") is another matter. And on this another matter (which you rightly identify as "a serious problem with Christianity"), I'm as critical towards. But that does not negate the assumption of exclusivity in public discourse.

:)

Sze Zeng said...

Hi SHWong,

It's absolutely fine to disagree, however allow me to crystallize further our disagreement (which might or might not turn into agreement) ;)

RE 2. The existence of ISA law itself already presumes the "at all cost" principle. The preventive law works on the notion that the authority reserves the rights to eliminate individual's social interaction and discourse, not to mention his/her social existence. When there exists a law that can alienate an existing citizen's social existence without trial is an "at all cost" measure.

RE 3. My reply (RE 2) highlights the existence of "at all cost" principle inserting into the society. So "conformity" is not a logical leap but a corollary.

Yes, we have to learn to accept exclusivity as a given. I'm not saying that all religions in Singapore do not have exclusive belief. What has happened to Rony shows us that we are still uncomfortable with this exclusivity made public. Like I've pointed out in the post, this society has been taught and is still being taught that exclusivity is okay to have as long as it is not brought up to stir social tension or disorder. But if this exclusivity rears its ugly head in the public sphere, then the head has to be chopped off. That's what we observed in Rony's case.

:D

SHWong said...

Looks like we would unfortunately have to agree with one another. The existence of the Internal Security law is susceptible to abuse, if there isn't proper check and balances. That may possibly lead to "at all cost". But so far,
1. The response is considered well-measured.
2. The religious people (which is the majority) sees no need for any civil disobedience.
3. The lack of an actual case of abuse renders all postulated scenarios of conformity, just speculations.

I don't think the public outrage (and government intervention) is over a public display of exclusivity. I may be reading the situation differently from you, but the issue is fundamentally about respect.

gweek said...

I find Steven Sim's summary very succinct, and I'm going to use it to extend my problems with Sze Zeng's argument:

1. Life necessitate communication
2. But communication presupposes conflict (of ideas)
3. In a hegemonic society, where conflict is undesirable, then communication becomes merely command (propaganda)


Point 3 is where it all goes wonky for me. Firstly, it's not an ideological issue about hegemony. The basis for the survival and well-being of any society IS the undesirability of conflict. And, as S.H. Wong points out, conflict is not the same as disagreement: to conflate the two is very dangerous.

Furthermore, it doesn't follow that, as a result, communication MUST become propaganda. This is hugely cynical as it doesn't permit the possibility of any sincerity in open dialogue. Also, it assumes that, where communication is indeed treated as command, the "corrected" speaker does not learn anything about proper dialogue in the process.

4. When that happens, the value of life becomes incidental, in that the power would rather see death happens than conflict happens. It is no surprise that dictatorial governments silence dissenters with death (or imprisonment - limiting life).

Here again is another twist in logic. Yes, dictatorial regimes do silence dissenters with death, but the pursuit/allowance of conflict itself is not free from the threats of death. I'd have thought that was pretty obvious. The "conflict validates the value of life" argument reads perverse, if not hauntingly naive.

5. In such hegemony, conformity is desirable. Eg, in capitalist hegemony, brand is a form of conformity standard.

In a hegemony, difference is also desirable: eg. in capitalism, there are always endless self-differentiating brands to keep you wanting. My point here is simply, if you're talking about hegemony, then you must realise control through division is as effective as control through conformity. But, if you're more concerned with conformity, then you'd better be clear whether you are aiming to let the world be free or beat it into your own ideas.

Gwee

rk said...

alamak people, a lot of you are missing sze seng's point. if you're using them as a springboard to widen then topic under discussion, then it's ok.

sze seng, perhaps your points are not clear enough or you could have used a better illustration than the rony incident. otherwise you run the risk of being misunderstood. aiyah, all communication has that risk anyway. i say as long as we are all learning and don't start making personal attacks, let the party continue.

i understand what it feels like not being able to share a different voice because many people are simply not able to handle anything that makes them uncomfortable. differences makes people uncomfortable. i can frankly tell you that i've almost given up trying to have a meaningful conversation with friends and colleagues. boring. communication is deduced to superficial talk on non-threatening subjects. someone once told me that we can talk about anything here except religion and politics.

reasonable said...

Sharing some thoughts for all to critique (if anyone is interested):

The way our society functions is such that religious freedom is to be subjected to the higher priority of prevention of obvious harm at both the individual and the national level. I think this is the correct approach in our secular state and pluralistic society. Whether or not the way this approach is being implemented here has any flaw is of course another matter.

If one's religion teaches that widows should be burned alive together with their dead husband, that religion would be banned here (unless it modifies that practice/belief). If one's religious belief & practice is such that one should not participate in our mandatory national service (i.e. serve in our armed forces), one would be imprisoned as the government authority's reasoning may be that such a belief if allowed to spread without negative consequences would threaten the smooth functioning of our national defense system and hence increases the chance of the nation suffering national harm.

So freedom of religion is not absolute (and I would say we should not allow an absolute freedom of religion anywhere in this world) but is subjected to a higher priority of prevention of harm (at both individual and national level).

Having said the above, I think we do have freedom here for any religion to give a critique of another religions. We ought to be given such freedom. Religious leaders should not shy away from giving critiques of other religions as long as these are done without distortion or morkery of other religions or worldviews (including atheism, new age spiritualities etc).

If Rony Tan has done the sessions in a way that does not make fun of Buddhism, I do not think the ISD would have acted even if some Buddhists or some members of the public complains about Rony Tan.

In other words, Christian leaders probably have the freedom here to conduct serious teachings in churches on things such as only the Christian worldview is the true worldview and all other religions' worldviews (including Buddhism's worldview of samsara and nirvana/nibbana) are false, that Buddhism contains a deep contradiction, that those reincarnation experiences reported (btw Buddhism, because of its fundamental concept of not-self and emptiness, does not believe in transmission of soul from one life to the next; such an reincarnation idea is more of an idea belonging to Hinduism and Chinese folk religions) are probably demonic visions planted in some people's mind in some cases while in other cases those experiences are actually mistaken perceptions due to other natural causes. [I say all these as an illustration, and not necessarily mean that there is true contradiction in the core of Buddhism or all reincarnation experiences are false etc].

Basically, we probably have, and ought to have, the freedom to offer reasonable critiques of other religions and worldviews as long as we do it with mutual-respect instead of doing it with mockery and distortion of other religions and worldviews.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Li Sui,

RE 1, 2, 3: I don't see conflict in anyway differ with disagreement. Conflict means incompatibility and does not necessarily means violent battle, although it can also mean that. But in the post, I made it clear that disagreement and conflict as identical, hence I didn't meant it to mean violent battle.

Thank you for highlighting this up. That's the curse on words and languages, especially so when a word like conflict can be used as a noun as well as a verb. So when one sees how I used 'conflict' (which is dictionally valid) as identical with disagreement, then one has no problem with that (or at least I don't see any problem so far).

Without the possibility of disagreement, communication is nothing more than a commandment. The very idea of communication assumes the encounter of plural minds. In such encounter, disagreement is a real possibility and often being expressed openly (like what you and I are doing here, like what Rony was doing in the video clip). And the only type of communication which has the encounter of plural minds WITHOUT the real possibility of disagreement in mind and expression is commandment. (I'm not sure how much can 'propaganda' stretches, but I'll stick to the word that I used in the post for familarity's sake: commandment). You may know of other sort of communication which has these two aspects and yet is not a commandment. If yes, please share what is it.

RE 4: What Steven meant to say is that the power would rather see death happens than conflict (incompatibility in perception) happens vis-a-vis the power's agenda. Hence "conflict validates the value of life" means that without the incompatibility in perception, the value of life becomes mechanical and not living (the point I made in the post). If life becomes mechanical, we are like machines and trees, so what's the point of living?

RE 5: During my conversation with Steven, we are clear that at the end of the day hegemony is a matter of degree. Hence we agree with you that it is hegemony. And the point in my post is to highlight the flaw of the current degree of hegemony.

Hope this has clarified the matter further. :)

Sze Zeng said...

Hi SHWong,

"The lack of an actual case of abuse renders all postulated scenarios of conformity, just speculations."

I know of two actual cases of abuses. Obviously these are not made public. The two victims are now living their quite & peaceful lives.

You don't agree with me because you did not know about these cases previously.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi rk,

It's "Sze Zeng", not "Sze Seng". :)

I have tried my best to make clear my point. Perhaps it has to do with my competency in articulating and expressing myself. Or that's just the perennial problem in human's communication. So I'm glad to clarify further on this here.

Thank you for understanding the point I want to make. Me and Steven (one of the commenter here) also have conflict in our perception even though we have much similarity. We enjoy each other's contribution and differing stance as much as similar thoughts. :D

akikonomu said...

Would you say then that your post is really dealing with the injustices of these two unpublicised cases of "abuse" and not really about Rony Tan?

You realise you are giving material evidence that these two people who are now leading their quiet lives, actually broke any agreement they might have made to keep their cases out of public eye?

As a side note: If they are living quiet lives, if their cases were never made public, if they were not prosecuted by the law or were punished by the courts, how do you qualify your use of "abuse"?

Sze Zeng said...

Hi reasonable,

"Whether or not the way this approach is being implemented here has any flaw is of course another matter."

I'm engaging on this "another matter" and not asking for anarchy or reducing State's intervention. And yes, I'm all for well-mannered discourse over differences and affirm it. :)

SHWong said...

SZ, agreed. As always, I abide with the empirical evidence.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi akikonomu,

No, my post is NOT dealing with the injustice of the two mentioned cases.

My post is responding to Rony's case with all sorts of consideration being in placed. The two cases are just one of the considerations.

They are NOW living quiet lives AFTER they have been handled. One of them have been imprisoned while not too sure about the other.

I risk myself by sharing these. But I have to do it in order to validate my post. So far I think I'm doing fine defending it. I recognize that this is an intellectual (theological) exercise which has political implication. But as Aristotle already noticed, all spheres of life is political.

akikonomu said...

Hi, I was curious because like some others, I feel that the Rony Tan case does not warrant any of the eight observations you made at all - and was wondering if in fact you wrote them in light of what you knew about the other two cases.

kelvintan73 said...

Chinese New Year is coming and I don't really feel like visiting relatives, get bombarded by all the usual questions, knowing that no one is really interested in knowing you in the first place.

But I should not speak up about why I believe this tradition is losing its meaning since that might disrupt the "family harmony".

Sze Zeng said...

Hi akikonomu,

It's fine for you to have the curiosity. But just as I have defended my post with those "some others", the 8 points still hold water. :)

Each one of us respond to every situation and scenario in light of what we know. So it's not unusual.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi SHWong,

I always believe that rationality often converges rather than dissent. It depends on what we know. If we know the same thing, it is not surprising we are able to share same perception.

:)

-ben said...

Copy and pasting a post by some dude on another blog:


[START QUOTE]

Señor Torquemada says:
10/02/2010 at 2:12 pm

The rest of Singapore will be watching you. We will not allow self-serving, myopic half-wits to tear apart the social fabric of Singapore just so that you can wank off to your fetish for Armageddon and Rapture.

Read on and consider yourself warned:

Aggressive preaching – proselytisation. You push your own religion on others, you cause nuisance and offence. You have read in the papers recently about a couple who surreptitiously distributed Christian tracts which were offensive of other faiths, not just of non-Christians but even of Catholics. They were charged and sentenced to jail. (Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, National Day Rally Speech 2009)

Also, a press release from the Prime Minister’s Office:

PM’s 4 Basic Rules for Religious Harmony

Last but not least, acquaint yourself with The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (1992), or, the Internal Security Department (ISD) will make you acquainted with it.

Consider yourself educated.

El que hace la paga,
Tomás de Torquemada

[END QUOTE]


Some people may be all for conflict and the consequent social upheaval and unrest, but personally, I like Singapore safe and stable, with a strong dollar, great investor confidence, and a robust economy. It makes me enjoy my shopping more when I cross the Causeway. If you prefer "an exciting society" with a volatile (and plunging) Ringgit, burnt churches and prayer rooms, and pigs' heads left outside mosques, please stay in Malaysia.

I realize that the back of Trinity Theological College on Upper Bukit Timah Road faces the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and reminds one of Malaysia, but rest assured that most of us have no desire to see our society crumble and us revert back to swinging from trees.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi ben,

I already noticed that post before you share it with me here.

It is pretty obvious you didn't get what I mean here. If you think my post is to invite chaos or anarchy into the society, you are wrong.

I have no desire to see society crumble and us revert back to swinging from trees. Neither do I have desire to see diminished human axiology which nothing to live on and nothing to live by except through shopping. The most perverse reversion is not humans back to swinging trees, but humans became primarily a 'consumer' rather than a 'person'.

Thank you for the comment.

gweek said...

Sze Zeng --

Disagreement = Conflict but may not = Violence sounds like a pretty funny formulation. The terms are different only by degree: growing disagreement will become conflictual and then turn violent. It is why rules of engagement and means of moderation need to be inserted between disagreement and conflict. These provide means of keeping disagreement in check by providing means of AGREEMENT, on eg. how to disagree, what is offensive, the final value of mutual respect, etc.

But you seem to question the very necessity of such "command"/"commandment"/"propaganda" (your words) when disagreement is escalating into conflict. I could be wrong, but this isn't just about ISD, is it? After all, you even seem to regard the creator of conflict as only cursorily at fault. You say: "without the incompatibility in perception, the value of life becomes mechanical and not living. ... If life becomes mechanical, we are like machines and trees, so what's the point of living?"

What a whole bag of dubious assumptions! The value of life is NOT dependent on "incompatibility in perception", and "incompatibility in perception" does NOT equate with a rejection of rules of conduct. Communication may bring together "plural minds", but this meeting does NOT assume a persistence in disagreement. In fact, why CAN'T plural minds agree? Why CAN'T there be real moments of agreement when people talk, and why must these moments be seen in a cynical light, as conforming? I remain both unenlightened and disturbed.

Gwee

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Li Sui,

Disagreement = Conflict (in the way I used this word).

As I have interated, it is dictionally identical. So I'm not forcing a meaning to a word.

There is no escalation between disagreement and conflict in the post.

My goodness. I guess none of us here is so stupid to assume that plural minds persist in disagreement. Neither anyone here think that incompatibility in perception = rejection of rules of conduct. That's why I didn't use "different minds" which I thought of using, but that is not accurate. So I chose "plural mind". Plural means more than one. So whether differ or not is not relevant here.

As I stated, I am not inviting anarchy or chaos. Neither am I looking to persist in disagreement. My post is to give observation of how the society is prioritizing certain trait and not others. And I highlighted some of the corollary of that trait. I look for convergence too. You remain disturbed because you make too much assumption on me. Perhaps I may appear like a moving target to you, but you are always welcome to ask for clarification on my stand or what I mean.

-ben said...

Hi Sze Zeng,

You wrote:

I recognize that this is an intellectual (theological) exercise which has political implication. But as Aristotle already noticed, all spheres of life is political (11:58 AM)


Please pay close attention to the following excerpts from a Singapore Parliament session, dated October 8, 2005:


Foreigners are not allowed to participate in local political activities. Under the law, foreigners, especially during elections, are strictly prohibited from taking part in any election political activities. It is covered under our Parliamentary Elections Act as well as the Presidential Elections Act. So, if they do break the law, they will be dealt with. (Encik Mohamad Maidin B. P. M.)


But as to foreigners' interference in local politics, the Government's stand is very clear. Foreigners have no business in Singapore politics. They cannot interfere in our domestic politics. That is clear, unless Singaporeans want others to come and tell them what to do and how to run the country. (Wong Kan Seng, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs)

(Singapore. Parliament. Question and Answer Session. 10th Parliament, vol. 80, No. 13, October 2010. Singapore: Singapore Parliament, 2005.)


Thank you for reading.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi ben,

Thank you for highlighting these remarks. They just prove my point further.

Are there some more? Do share with us if there are.

Sze Zeng said...

BTW ben,

So the document is from the future?

(Singapore. Parliament. Question and Answer Session. 10th Parliament, vol. 80, No. 13, October 2010. Singapore: Singapore Parliament, 2005.)

-ben said...

My bad: it should read 2005.

*shrug*

I'm a Singapore citizen. I am entitled to participation in local politics. You are not. 'Just giving you a friendly heads up, that's all. However, you are bent on having tea with the ISD...

Contact Info

Happy Chinese New Year.

gweek said...

Methinks the moving target moves too much. :O

Sze Zeng said...

Hi ben,

That very much depends on what do you mean by "participate". If giving an observation of local society is consider "participating", then reading newspaper printed in Singapore about other countries is also consider as participating the politics in other countries since those reports are local observation of overseas countries, not to mention overseas companies.

Besides, did I ever say that I want to participate in local politics?

Each sovereign country has its own society to deal with. Yet whenever a country publishes news report about another country in newspaper owned by the sovereign of the country, it is already a sort of political "participation" (if you want to stretch the term so far that giving an observation is equivalent to participation).

ang said...

I chanced upon this blog & now coming to a month after the Rony Tan Affair, the initial heat has abated somewhat.

Fascinated by the exchange between Gwee & Sze Zeng.

At the end of it all, I think Gwee made more sense & showed a mentality more grounded to the real concerns of this society.

Sze Zeng is a brilliant debater but gives the impression of being too clever with words, ideas & concepts. Twist & turn too much is the impression.

I disagree that SZ is simply airing lofty ideas & concepts.
In between the lines & in his various protestations, what it reveals is he appears to me not to understand the nature & seriousness of Rony Tan's transgressions.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi ang,

Thank you for your comment. Both Li Sui and myself come from very different framework and information.

Your observation is very much dependent on how much you share these cognitive sources with. If we have more similarity, then we tend to agree more. If not, then we tend to disagree more.

I saw the seriousness of Rony's remark. Add to that, I also saw the seriousness of the public reaction over his remark. :-)