Secularism helps maintain harmony

It is likely that future generations may in turn become more comfortable with inter-religious relationships.

Haji Mohammad Alami Musa's commentary on how societies should cope with the divisive force of religion ("Is religion a destructive and divisive force?"; Feb 15) offers food for thought. It was in the context of the recent Pew Research Centre's survey findings, which showed increasing social hostilities involving religion.

Be careful not to jump to the wrong conclusion that religion is evil and the main source of all human conflicts. History does indicate that some major wars and conflicts were fought on religious ideology, such as the Crusades and the Thirty Years' War.

Countries are also torn apart by religion, such as the partition of the Indian sub-continent into India and Pakistan because of historical animosity rooted in religion.

However, there were many more wars caused by non-religious factors such as border disagreements, fighting for resources, securing trade routes and territorial conquests.

In fact, many social upheavals are non-religious in nature. Joseph Stalin's Great Terror in the former Soviet Union, Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution in China and Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge in Cambodia caused catastrophic suffering and the deaths of millions. The leaders were atheists.

Religion has always been an integral part of societies. It emphasises love and humanity, promotes togetherness and emotionally bonds its flock.

Believers of the same faith help one another in times of need and personal tragedies. Studies have shown that religious values and virtues can lower juvenile delinquency and crime rate.

Notwithstanding, religion in the service of the wrong people can be a force of great harm. Sometimes, the fervent response of followers can make a leader averse to compromises.

Hence, the best way to protect multi-religious Singapore against religious absolutism is to guard and regulate our secular space through legal and institutional structures.

Secularism to our nation is not merely an ideology; it is a safeguard for peace and prosperity against the destructive potential of religion.

It must remain dynamic and adapt to changes in society. More safe space to allow no-holds-barred inter-faith debate and dialogue would allow secularism to evolve positively.

Beyond our different religious beliefs, we should aspire to seek a common identity sacred to us all.

Edmund Lam (Dr)

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