Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Freedom of Religion versus Freedom from religion

TODAY reports that Malaysia Airlines had sneakily stopped serving alcoholic beverages to all customers for short haul flights since 1 Jan 2016, a move that was apparently not widely publicized, much to the surprise (and chagrin) of unsuspecting passengers. 

When discussing the utility of religion, it is not uncommon for religious people to argue that their practice of religion is deeply personal from which they derive solace, comfort and, believe it or not, moral guidance. And that it should not offend secularists like myself that there are people who would like to have the freedom of religion. 

Certainly, I am completely for freedom of religion. However, one must understand that there is a competing and equally valid right, that is, the right to have freedom from religion. If my posts have shown you anything, it is that, unlike secularists, religious people are often not quite content with the freedom to privately practice their religion. 

In the case of Malaysia Airlines, the reason given is that muslims cannot imbibe alcohol. At first glance, this reason appears absurd since Malaysia Airlines is not a muslim-only carrier. The corollary immediately becomes apparent: Muslims are not going to be satisfied with just private abstention. No, no, uh huh, the entire plane is not to have alcohol lest their rights to practice their religion be grievously infringed. 

Closer to home in Singapore, at least one muslim felt deeply aggrieved by a public mainstream newspaper which ran an article on (gasp!) ham on a day of contrived religious significance.

Likewise, a secular, private event (costume party featuring nuns with bad habits) had to be cancelled after the Catholic Church felt that it did not align with its values of shielding sex offenders.

Perhaps I am terribly mistaken but it does appear that religious people understand freedom of religion to actually mean: if I cannot do/eat/say something, I make sure everyone else suffers the same restrictions. 

If I cannot have abortions, I want laws that make it unavailable to everyone else. If I cannot draw my prophet, I want to make it illegal for everyone else to do so. If I do not approve of homosexuals, it should bloody well be criminal to be one

When organized religions lobby to deny rights to other people or society in general, it is not about defending their right to freedom of religion. That is a non-sequitur because they already have that. There are no secular groups picketing churches and mosques. There is no legislation criminalizing their more questionable practices. Quite to the contrary, society has bent over backwards to accommodate these practices in the name of freedom of religion (e.g., polygamy, genital mutilation of children, etc.)  

It is painfully obvious that "freedom of religion" is used as a misleading and ill-founded excuse for oppression. It is and has always been about negating and removing the right of other persons to have freedom from religion. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Sad Affairs of the State

TODAY Voices reader Francis Cheng Choon Fei wrote an impassioned plea to Singaporeans to eliminate Islamophobia. I reproduce the piece herewith in parts:

I agree with the Home Affairs and Law Minister that the fear of Islamophobia creeping into our community is real. Fortunately, Singapore is ready to rein in such unwarranted beliefs and behaviours (“Shanmugam cautions against Islamophobia again”; March 31).
For a letter that cautions against Islamophobia, the most important question is regrettably left unanswered. Exactly what constitutes Islamophobia? 

Is one expected to be tolerant of intolerant beliefs or otherwise risk being labelled a racist or Islamophobic? It is no secret that Islam preaches the use of capital punishment on apostates. It is further no secret that Islam considers the testimony of a woman to be worth markedly less than that of a man. I find these teachings to be self-evidently intolerant and grotesquely offensive. Is religion to be immune to criticism simply because society has somehow elected to place religion behind bullet-proof glass? I find such a position, if left unquestioned, to pose an infinitely larger threat to society. 

Most of us are tolerant and respect one another’s race, language and religion. If we are otherwise not careful, society may become polarised. Singaporeans cannot take for granted that our country is safe from Islamophobia.

The Orwellian sub-text of this paragraph is apparent. Any criticism of religion should be curtailed and censored for the greater good of society. This is a false dichotomy. Society is already polarised. In any case, not discussing these differences is certainly not the same as saying these differences do not exist. Case in point, when FCBC (a charismatic church led by the talent-less, stuttering Lawrence Khong) publicly calls for the criminal prosecution of (male) homosexuals or blatantly denounces well-accepted scientific theories, are we supposed to keep mum out of tolerance and respect? When theists are unequivocal that they intend to impose their religious views on secular society, are we supposed to acquiesce in silence to "avoid polarizing society"? To adopt this perverse view is to completely disregard the actual source of polarity, i.e., the intolerant fundamentalism that is poisoning the monotheistic religions.

As a Chinese-majority country, Singapore cannot afford to let Islamophobia go unnoticed and must nip it in the bud before it develops into an uncontrolled phenomenon.

This is arguably the worst paragraph in the entire letter. In one sentence, the author manages to conflate the religion with an entire ethnic group. There are Chinese who embrace Islam as a religion, just as there are Malays who are not Muslim. Drawing ethnic lines across religious affiliations unnecessarily obfuscates the issue at hand. More importantly, this (intentional?) confusion then allows misguided apologists like the author to invoke the bogeyman defence of "racism" whenever criticism of religion is applied.

If society fails to develop the necessary maturity to critique morally questionable religious beliefs, then it would truly be a sad state of affairs.