Friday, December 21, 2007

Faithfully faithless

What do you call someone who doesn’t believe in any religion or any god(s)? What do you call someone who does not write “god” with a capital G?

Atheist? Faithless? Non-religious?

Irreligious? Ignorant? Misguided?

I believe that the faithless, just to label this group this once, are lesser privileged than the ones with faiths, belonging to state-recognised religious organisations.

The constitution protects some aspects of your identity, such as your skin colour, your culture and your religion. Is being faithless or having no religion considered a legitimate belief that will be protected by the constitution and law?

What happens when a faithless person is being labelled ignorant and misguided, and also have insinuations made about him/her not knowing the “truth”? To what extent is his/her esteem, psychological and emotional well-being taken care of? What if he/she feels lowly or guilty about his/her present condition?

If you said Christians/Muslims/Buddhists/Hindus are ignorant, you are promoting ill will against the particular group. If you do the same for faithless people, things are different. Firstly, the faithless are not seen as people, but as persons who are incapable of being organised or forming communities that the state will recognise.

Secondly, there are probably a lot less visible and a lot less processes and rituals that define the faithless person’s way of life.

Thirdly, faith itself appears not be play an integral part of a faithless person’s psyche and way of life. A person with subscriptions to a religion/faith is willing to die for his/her religion/faith. How likely is a person with no faith willing to die for his/her faithlessness? And how can this difference, if it exists, ever be articulated on the same playing field, in a system which protects faiths and not the faithless?

Does the willingness to die for a belief, or to organise a riot a community which subscribes to the belief, dictate the definition and degree of sensitivity for a particular faith community? Are we trying to say that the faithless are less sensitive and have lesser sensitive issues at hand, such that when hate speech is directed towards them, it is less likely to be considered a sensitive issue?

Do the faithless have lesser protection, hence lesser rights?

There are religious groups that are out to “save” people from their “ignorance”. That is not illegal.

What about active atheism, which seeks to “unconvert” the religious? That might be illegal, because it can cause social upheaval. When you talk about upheaval, I think of the analogy of the tree. On a piece of land they call Singapore, religious people are like trees that form rather deep roots into the ground, because the gardener gave these trees an abundance of fertiliser. The non-religious, or the faithless, are trees too, but are provided with lesser amounts of fertiliser, and will not develop roots as deep as the former trees. When the strong wind blows, the “faithless” trees will uproot and topple, but the soil isn’t messed up to a great extent. If the “religious” trees were to be uprooted, the soil will be all over the place and gaping holes will be left. The very privileges accorded to religious organisations in Singapore are the very source of oppression they exert on the social fabric, which is represented by the piece of land in the analogy. The “topple” of the faithless, on the other hand, does not qualify anywhere near “social upheaval”.

What about representation of faithless people? Are they properly and fairly represented?

Are the beliefs of faithless people being culturally and structurally impinged upon by the religious? Moreover, there are spaces for the rituals and practices for the religious. What about spaces for the faithless? Are there spaces for the faithless to articulate their beliefs and perhaps even do the equivalent of proselytisation?

I see religion and religious institutions as a function of the authoritarian government. Central authority with obedience centred about it. The development of these institutions is analogous to the development of central governance at state level, hence serving the central needs. In governance, there is power and hierarchy, and systems of reward, discipline and punishment to ensure the “status quo” is being maintained. The status quo itself consists the very central system that defines it. Therefore, some degree of protection is required for the domains and sub-domains that seek to upkeep the central system. There is thus the creation of an illusion of “shared” and “common values”.

This is also why I believe the Singapore government fears those with religion, more so than those without religion. There are great efforts to integrating the religious into the social fabric and efforts to integrate the faithless, if any, are a lot non-comparable.

Will a belief that rejects religion ever be recognised and respected as a belief, on equal footing as a religious belief in Singapore?

If we are a country that wants to talk about tolerance of beliefs and ideologies that may form integral aspects of our identity, can faithlessness be as equally incentivised as religiosity? After all, the faithless pose a great a threat to the social fabric as the religious, if not lesser. You do not see atheists gathering around some public domain or the internet calling for the heads of religious people who claim the existence of a supreme being, or crying foul that there are active campaigns to marketing religion, in the process impinging on the rights and spaces of the faithless.

I think it is very damaging to social cohesion when you have groups implying and accusing each other of worshipping false gods, being ignorant and unreceptive of the “truth”. And caught in the crossfire are the faithless, who probably have less of a voice to articulate their concerns, nevermind if society is ever interested in hearing them in the first place.

Since Singapore is a place where criticism is not tolerated, but solutions are welcomed, I believe religious organisations here should keep an open-door policy. You leave your doors open without sending out your salesmen. You make your materials available. Those who choose to have a faith or a religion, will do so voluntarily and with consent.

It is never a battle for space and supremacy. If it is so, just declare it.

Moreover, don’t give the faithless more respect; just give them equal respect.

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