Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pastor Rony Tan, religious harmony and capitalism

Pastor Rony Tan, who was called up by the Internal Security Department with regards to his insensitive remarks towards Buddhist and Taoist beliefs and practices, has apologised for his "wrongdoing", in public and in person to leaders of both faiths.







The above videos are available on Hardwarezone forums at http://forums.hardwarezone.com.sg/showthread.php?t=2661905.

To say what the Pastor had said would be, as what the ISD would claim to be, "inappropriate" in the context of Singapore. But in all fairness to most strains of Christianity and most religions in the world, each will stake a claim to the "truth" and the "right" and "authentic" form of knowledge. Religion thrives on this, and is legitimised by those who believe in the "truth" it claims to hold.

If your religion claims to be "true" and "correct", other religions would be less "true", less "correct" and political correctness aside, "false religions", no? Why would you want to give "false religions" any credit or legitimation in the first place, and more so if it ever comes at the expense of your religion? Does that make sense for the survivability of your religion?

Religion happens to be situated in a modern yet continually violent world, and political correctness in the form of rhetoric and politics championing harmony and integration becomes the watchdog. National security and economic progress hinge on harmony derived from inter-religious peace, among many other things. The political correctness that governs the manner in which religion is articulated in the public domain, serves to protect this economic "peace".

If people get angry owing to inter-religious disharmony, and take action (violent and non-violent) to protect the perceived and non-perceived threats to their faiths and communities, it can cause large scale disruptions to the economic process. No bourgeoisie government will like that. By the way, the PAP government is one example of a bourgeoisie government that craftily exploits socialist policies to appease the working classes and lower-middle classes.

Religious harmony is thus very important to such nations in modernity and in the (new) globalising economy.

In my honest opinion, I believe that religious affiliation requires faith and conviction, although most religious communities do respectively define the practice of faith and the performance of conviction in their own terms. An apology from someone who stands for monotheistic faith is a bit odd for me. If you are of monotheistic faith, other faiths are less "correct", less "true", less "authentic". Why apologise for that? In fact, it could be society that deems what you say more "wrong" than it could have been. Society and the economy could determine the magnitude of your "wrongness" and punish you accordingly.

If you apologise, do you apologise for the form/content of your speech, or do you apologise for the function and implications of your speech? Any way, if you feel strongly about your beliefs and speech, why apologise? And if so, does that mean you're only apologise for what your speech might do or cause? So who and what are the stakeholders who will be affected by the implications of your speech?

Let me take one (of many, mind you) perspectives to understand this bewilderment. The gatekeepers of capitalism are in all of us. We choose to preserve an idea of "peace" and an idea of "harmony" that suits our agenda - the bourgeoisie agenda. We do not want disruptions to the economic process/progress.

The capitalist regime has its own disciplinary mechanisms. They may appear unrelated to capitalism in their form, but they still function to preserve it. For instance, internet flaming by non-Christian netizens directed at Paster Rony may appear as just natural angry reactions at his alleged insensitivity. It appears to be a reaction of Buddhists and Taoists who feel insulted. That's the form we see and know. However, the reactions function and serve to protect a peace that has always served us well, socially AND economically.

Same goes for the Internal Security Department, which serves to preserve social harmony and protect the "peace". Social disruptions like riots, heated arguments and intense mistrust between communities may be damaging to the political legitimacy of the government. However, they are not the only factor; economic disruptions too affect political legitimacy, especially for a government famed for its economic strategies and policies that made a poor nation less poor.

Political correctness today is policed informally and formally. Pastor Rony Tan has all the right to say what he said to his congregation. It is most unfortunate that his sermons and stand-up comedy routines are posted on the church's website and made public to everyone who has internet access. It is because of its (unintended, perhaps) public nature and presence, that the disciplinary mechanisms of political correctness kick in.

Our protection of peace and the insulted faiths are in form, protection of what we understand as peace and who we understand to be the aggrieved; but this protection functions to serve a higher, but not necessarily holier, power - capitalism.

We live in a society where we are concerned about having amenities in our HDB neighbourhood, not because we primarily and genuinely care about the elderly benefiting from these upgrades, but because we want the value of our flats to be higher.

We live in a society where we want to choose the best schools for our children so that they can go to even better schools and get the best and relevant qualifications and earn sackloads of money, not because we want them to be happy, but because we want them to be remain competitive and that wealth accumulation within the family is always a welcomed situation.

We live in a society in which our decision-making is mostly economically rational(ised).

Religion, religious (dis)harmony, and inter-faith politics are just a distraction from capitalism and its mechanisms.

Well, you see, inter-faith dialogue, gatherings, meetings, conventions and tea parties are just a function of post-industrial capitalism. Inter-religious harmony exists because it is forwarded in an era and in an economy we happen to live in and depend on. What is and how different is the relevance of inter-religious harmony and dialogue in pre-industrial society? I say, the terms of inter-religious harmony in modern day society is articulated, some how or another, in the terms of capitalism (ok, I'm flogging a dead horse, but that's the point from this one perspective).

Imagine this, what do religious leaders really think when they meet one another in the same building? How much of what they think are influenced by the disciplinary mechanisms of political correctness as characterised by/in the modern economy?

You go from "I think all of you are wrong" to withholding that remark and putting on a smile and say "We all can coexist". That is religion and faith meeting modern society, modern economy and the political correctness that protects them.

We see religious struggle in other countries, and somehow it dovetails with the struggle against economic and cultural imperialism. Wonder why? They are all linked some how or another.

Okay, enough of this perspective on capitalism.

We are Singapore. We don't like criticism. We want solutions.

Here is my solution. You can say all the insensitive things you like to your socio-religious community, but please keep it within the community. There will be sensitive people out there who will find it sufficiently offensive to make it an issue, and there will be trolls who will stoke the fire and not help the situation, and the government will have its thong/mankini in a knot as a result.

Unfortunately, this solution only erects higher and thicker barriers between socio-religious communities and spaces. And everyone will be bunkering in and not mingling like how Ministry of National Development would like us to categorically mingle. It is not without its own implications, and socio-religious communities will find it difficult to renew their flock, a critical variable to their survival. They will probably do more covert recruitment and conversion as a result, and it may let to wilder gossips, rumours and greater unrest.

For now, the apology is made and accepted. We should let it go like Mas Selamat out of the toilet window, and move on like a Wong Kan Seng.

-add-
Forget Wee Shu Min. Forget Mrs Goh Chok Tong. Forget Ris Low. Rony Tan is the next person who is going to be cyber-lynched. That's what disempowered Singaporeans with internet connection do any way. Nothing new.

8 comments:

Illumination said...

Giving in to the "lesser" religions is different from methodically bashing them.

I agree much with what you have written. This is one of the many perils of organized religion and its weaving into our lives.

Secularisation despite its constant claims that it is strong and present is nothing. Organized religion is far too big to not have influence in everything.

Personally, we should forgive this pastor but never forget. Never.

chemgen said...

"Here is my solution. You can say all the insensitive things you like to your socio-religious community, but please keep it within the community. There will be sensitive people out there who will find it sufficiently offensive to make it an issue, and there will be trolls who will stoke the fire and not help the situation, and the government will have its thong/mankini in a knot as a result."

Well put, although the idea of Wong Kan Seng in a thong/mankini got stuck in my mind. This goes on to the private-public no man's land side topic in the internet, which is relevant here. Is everything supposedly private in the internet publicly fair game?

steve said...

Convert by being a great witness for your faith. Play up the positifves in your faith and not harp on the 'negatives' in anyone elses' beliefs. IOnspire not despise.

Nn most cases of evengalisation, it always comes back to christianity. rarely do u see the other faith propagate their belifes so aggresively as the fundamentalist christians. In part arrogance, in part conviction and in part inspired, these well-meaning christians irritate and insult others in their pursuit for one nation under (their) God.

Malcolm said...

Wait until you see Rony Tan's other video recorded interview with a 'healed' lesbian. I still believe such bigoted individuals are a danger to society at large.

Sam Ho said...

malcolm, do share with us the link. thanks!

Riglin said...

Hi Sam,

Here's the link
http://kennethism.com/2010/02/10/pastor-rony-tan-of-lighthouse-evangelism-needs-to-apologise-to-gays-and-lesbians-too/

-ben said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
-ben said...

Here is my solution. You can say all the insensitive things you like to your socio-religious community, but please keep it within the community.


Nope. Nada. No can do. That is not going to fly.

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The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (1992)

Restraining orders against officials or members of religious group or institution

8. —(1) The Minister may make a restraining order against any priest, monk, pastor, imam, elder, office-bearer or any other person who is in a position of authority in any religious group or institution or any member thereof for the purposes specified in subsection (2) where the Minister is satisfied that that person has committed or is attempting to commit any of the following acts:

(a) causing feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will or hostility between different religious groups;

(b) carrying out activities to promote a political cause, or a cause of any political party while, or under the guise of, propagating or practising any religious belief;

(c) carrying out subversive activities under the guise of propagating or practising any religious belief; or

(d) exciting disaffection against the President or the Government while, or under the guise of, propagating or practising any religious belief.

(2) An order made under subsection (1) may be made against the person named therein for the following purposes:

(a) restraining him from addressing orally or in writing any congregation, parish or group of worshippers or members of any religious group or institution on any subject, topic or theme as may be specified in the order without the prior permission of the Minister;

(b) restraining him from printing, publishing, editing, distributing or in any way assisting or contributing to any publication produced by any religious group without the prior permission of the Minister;

(c) restraining him from holding office in an editorial board or a committee of a publication of any religious group without the prior permission of the Minister.


Restraining orders against other persons

9. —(1) Where the Minister is satisfied that —

(a) any person is inciting, instigating or encouraging any religious group or religious institution or any person mentioned in subsection (1) of section 8 to commit any of the acts specified in that subsection;

(b) any person, other than persons mentioned in subsection (1) of section 8, has committed or is attempting to commit any of the acts specified in paragraph (a) of that subsection,

he may make a restraining order against him.
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The above information taken from Blog Pastor.

This hermeneutics authority obviously thinks differently.

Malcom and Riglin, the video reminds me of the mess other foreign evangelical pastors have caused in other countries. E.g. American evangelical Christian groups behind death penalty for homosexuality in Uganda, and American Role in Uganda 'Death Penalty' Gay Law Revealed.