I submitted this letter to the Straits Times Forum Editor today, but I guess they wouldn't publish it. Yap Kim Hao's interfaith agenda is too important for them.
Religious Harmony With Religious Diversity Is A Possibility
I refer to Dr Yap Kim Hao’s Straits Times Forum letter dated 6 September 2008, “Issue of inter-faith talks must be addressed.”
While I agree with Dr Yap that the various religious groups in Singapore should promote religious harmony in our multi-religious society, there are a number of points in his letter that I would like to highlight.
In his letter, Dr Yap states that, “there is no one Absolute Truth. No one Sacred Text contains all the truths. No one religion has the monopoly of Truth.” In addition, he emphasizes that “there will be different roads to God,” and that “we have to lay aside our exclusive truth claims and admit we do not possess all the truth.”
If Dr Yap is so certain that “there is no one Absolute Truth,” my question would be, “Is his belief - that there is “no one Absolute Truth” - absolutely true?”
Is it, then, the “Absolute Truth” that “there will be different roads to God?” Should Dr Yap likewise “lay aside [his] exclusive truth claims and admit [that he does] not possess all the truth?” If Dr Yap does not possess “all the truth,” and if “there is no one Absolute Truth,” why is Dr Yap making the exclusive truth claim that “there will be different roads to God?” How is Dr Yap so absolutely sure about this claim of his?
If Dr Yap is right that “no one religion has the monopoly of Truth,” and that “there is no one Absolute Truth,” then he should realize that whatever religious beliefs he has cannot be the “Absolute Truth.” Surely Dr Yap is not claiming that he has “the monopoly on Truth.”
The key to religious harmony within a multi-religious context is not to deny these religious groups the right to hold differing, albeit exclusive, truth claims. Harmony between two groups of people with different beliefs can be achieved with mutual understanding, empathy, and common goals. For example, two nations with differing political ideologies and economic agenda can live in harmony without giving up any of their distinctiveness or exclusive beliefs.
In contrast, the demand for religions to forsake their exclusive truth claims could be perceived as an attempt to undermine their faith. This might result in unnecessary religious tensions, and widen the gap between liberal and conservative religionists in Singapore.
While interfaith dialogues might lead to better understanding between the various religious groups, there is no necessity for these religions to forsake their exclusive beliefs in order to achieve societal harmony. As long as Singaporeans are willing to set aside their differences to build a harmonious and cohesive society, Singapore will continue to be a peaceful and prosperous country.