TODAY: Morality should be shaped by all in S’pore

In a letter published in Today Voices (21st June 2014), Committee members Zheng Huifen and Tan Tatt Si argue why morality should be shaped by all, including the non-religious. In response to the Bishop of the Lutheran Church, Reverend Terry Kee’s comments on a recent Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) survey.

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Original letter submitted to the press:


The Institute of Policy Studies’ (IPS) recently published survey on Religious Harmony (Matthews, Khamsya & Teo, 2014) is a goldmine of information. The Humanist Society (Singapore) (HSS) welcomes the opportunity to discuss attitudes regarding beliefs and morality.

For now, we wish to respond to comments by the Bishop of the Lutheran Church, Reverend Terry Kee, as reported by TODAY on 18 June.

Bishop Kee called on religious groups to work together to strengthen Singapore’s moral values. However, Bishop Kee foresees a problem of “a more united religious community versus the non-religious”. This seems to assume an “Us versus Them” approach in morality discussions, which the HSS must disagree with.

All members of our nation, regardless of belief, have an equally valid voice and role to play in building Singapore.

The HSS is a group for humanists and like-minded people who lead fulfilling, moral lives without the need for religion. As humanists, we emphasise the role of reason, compassion and tolerance in our lives.

The IPS survey appears to say, that “freethinkers” disapprove less of sex in non-married and same-sex relasionships. This may simply reflect greater tolerance of, and compassion for, people in these circumstances; circumstances they may not control. Most religions have a call to “love thy neighbour”. Surely we cannot discriminate against our neighbours based on sexuality?

As nations develop, so does the idea of what is moral or acceptable. Previously, interracial marriage or social mingling was “bad” or “immoral”. Countries such as the US and South Africa had brutal segregation and apartheid laws. Slavery was moral and acceptable in civilised society, often justified by using religion.

Now, attitudes are completely different. In most countries, people interact and marry freely without racial discrimination. Slavery is banned worldwide; no reasonable person would dream of using religion to justify slavery.

The HSS agrees with the IPS report, when it noted: “While religion provides its adherents a framework to evaluate morality, this will need to be tempered with a respect for those who may not share similar religious values. What is needed is greater dialogue to achieve coherence between the various principles espoused by different religions, and a set of universal principles agreeable to all, including secularists.”

As humanists, the moral question is: how we, as humans, can live with dignity and without discrimination, and help our fellow humans to do likewise. We look forward to the dialogue about Singapore’s morality.