This is a letter that was co-written by the Humanist Society (Singapore) and Leftwriter Center in response to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s comments on godless societies. Due to copyright issues, we are showing only our unedited letter here. Click here to view the published letter.
We would also like to recommend this letter by Tan Tatt Si on how atheism is a by-product of beliefs, not a cause of problems.
Communism failed to flawed economic ideology
We refer to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s comments in an interview with Time, published on Thursday (Jul 23), where he said: “If we were (a) godless society, we would have many other problems, the communists found that out.”
This statement seems to make two implications. Firstly, that communism failed because it was “godless” or irreligious. Secondly, that to be “godless” would bring “problems” for Singapore and for society in general.
The Humanist Society (Singapore) and the Leftwrite Center would like to respectfully disagree with the above two implications.
Firstly, it is true that the communist ideology does not include religion per se. However, the same is true of most political ideologies, including democracy. The only political position which takes religion into account would be a theocracy, where the national religion is part of the country’s constitution or method of governance. Modern theocracies have a mixed record of success; these include Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, to name a few.
Communism failed not because of its position with respect to religion but due to a flawed economic ideology and the mythical meta-historical ideas such as dialectic materialism. Most importantly, it also does not take into account the nature of human beings to want to compete and succeed.
A glance at recent history shows that the success or failure of a state has more to do with its economic and political ideologies, governance, people and other external factors beyond the state’s control, than religiosity.
To address the second point about godlessness, we would like to point to several democracies where religious affiliation is dropping nation-wide: Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and the United Kingdom. Although many in these countries retain religious affiliation, few consider religion as an important part of everyday life.
Yet, these nations enjoy some of the best quality of life in the world by any measurement, and have not descended into war and chaos. These are hardly problematic or failed states.
As of the last Singapore census in 2010, 17 per cent of Singapore’s population were recorded as “freethinking”. This is an umbrella term covering atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and other persons here with no formal religious affiliation.
These non-religious Singaporeans, residents and their families live, work and play peacefully with their neighbours and helped contribute to the success of Singapore.
Singapore is a democratic society, based on justice and equality – not based on God or gods. While we acknowledge the positive role that religion can play in society, we must not lose sight of the secular basis of our state.
Ms Zheng Huifen
Humanist Society (Singapore)
Ms Nurul Fadiah Johari
Leftwrite Center LLP