TODAY: Secularism is about reason, tolerance and compassion

A letter written by a HSS member, Balach Hussain, to Today Voices explaining the real meaning of secularism in responses to concerns over ‘militant secularism’. Original letter submitted to the press:

Secularism is about reason, tolerance and compassion

I REFER to “Secularism at its extreme can be intolerant” by Sanjay Perera (April 18) when Mr Perera raised his concerns about the dangers of an intolerant, “extreme secularism”.

He also said that “to say that your motivation and values must be based on a secular humanism,  whatever that means, before it can be allowed in public is not only hard to verify but smacks of  intolerance of one’s personal beliefs.”

As a representative from the Humanist Society (Singapore), I would like to clarify that secular humanism is a human-centered life stance that affirms human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own life. Far from being intolerant, it promotes an ethical life style based on reason, tolerance and compassion.

It is a myth that “spiritual” values are incompatible with secular humanist values. Many people  in the world today are non-religious but consider themselves spiritual. They are capable of living an ethical life without belief in God, and are tolerant of dif erent views whether in the areas of religion, political beliefs or cultural practices.

Mr Perera has also misunderstood the relationship between secularism and secular humanism, which are two separate concepts. While secular humanism is a life stance centering on human welfare and rational inquiry, secularism, in essence, means that no single religion is given a privileged place in social discourse.

Indeed, Singapore’s brand of secularism aims to protect the private religious practices of her citizens. We believe that the secularism practiced in Singapore, where more than 80% adhere to religious beliefs, has been successful and has broad support from the public. Secularism has brought inter-religious harmony and peace between religious groups and also between religious and non-religious people.

Lastly, when one suggests that values ought to be based on (secular) humanism, one is suggesting merely that people must act on basic principles of morality, whether these principles are backed by spiritual ideologies should not matter, as long as the values one promotes are not discriminatory; thus spiritual people can endorse compassion as well as non-religious people while intolerance will be condemned regardless of the beliefs that inspire it.

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