Insight, Straits Times 21st October 2006
The following are quotes from the aforementioned article:
At work, if increasingly devout Christians use lunchtime for prayer sessions, when will they find time to sit with those of different faiths in the coffee shops?
When a person becomes more religious, he is likely to spend more time on activities at his place of worship. He or she may end up hanging out with friends of the same religion when doing non-religious activities such as volunteer work and social activities. This leaves less time to interact with those of other faiths.
“The increase in religious fervour,” says Institute of Policy Studies academic Lai Ah Eng, “will lead to weakening social cohesion only if religions are aggressively competing for members by deriding each other, and if religious interpretations are exclusivist, self-righteous and/or extremist.”
And it is this that has the Reverend Yap Kim Hao worried. The former Methodist bishop of Singapore speaks of the rise of what he calls 'evangelical Christianity' in Singapore since the 1970s.
“There is the prevailing conservative theology which calls for conversion of people of other faiths and the claim that they have the one true faith and the only way to salvation,” says the Rev Yap, a member of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO).
“But no one religion has the monopoly on absolute truth. Each religion can claim to be the true faith, but we don't have the complete understanding, therefore we need to have a dialogue with one another in continuously seeking the full truth.”
Catholic leader Brother Michael Broughton, also of the IRO, shares the concern, noting the “growth of fundamentalist sects within our religions, which are normally quite understanding.”
Says the deputy principal of St Joseph's Institution: “If you have really exclusive ideas about truth, it sometimes can lead to great misunderstanding, that because I belong now to a school of thought that is true, everyone else that doesn't belong to my denomination, church, temple, whatever, is false...that something is wrong with the rest of humanity, something is wrong with the rest of the citizens of Singapore who do not subscribe to my religious belief.”
“It's very simplistic thinking, but the trouble is that you're dealing with a lot of young people who embrace enthusiastically with fervour everything they're taught.”
The problem of an exclusivistic interpretation is not confined to Christianity. Prof Alatas highlights the presence of some “extremist Muslim Singaporeans who want to minimise contacts with non-Muslims.”