TOC: Narrow path walked by the non-religious just got narrower

President Tatt Si wrote this column for theonlinecitizen (TOC) on Oct 13, 2017, where he talked about the difficulties faced by the non-religious in expressing their views in Singapore and other issues they face.

Link to TOC: https://www.theonlinecitizen.com/2017/10/13/narrow-path-walked-by-the-non-religious-just-got-narrower/

Narrow path walked by the non-religious just got narrower

By Tan Tatt Si 

Lately, the non-religious are in the news for all the wrong reasons : from Malaysia’s minister denouncing atheists and wanting them tracked down; to Singapore’s former top civil servant insinuating atheists to be the potential cause in Singapore’s imminent demise; to Amos Yee’s release from a Chicago immigration jail and vowing to ply his old tricks. I feel the non-religious community in Singapore is very much misunderstood by people with religion, and hence marginalised by the politics of majority.

Perhaps a walkthrough of the life of a non-religious person and his community will begin to convince the rest to see us differently. Born as the first Singaporean grandchild, a boy, of my Chinese family’s first immigrant here, my life seemed privileged. While I had no say regarding my birth and unable to dictate my gender or birth order, I was at the head table of a paternalistic majority race with probably the majority religion in those days. Growing up was easy, after comparing my life with minorities years on.

Born as the first Singaporean grandchild, a boy, of my Chinese family’s first immigrant here, my life seemed privileged. While I had no say regarding my birth and unable to dictate my gender or birth order, I was at the head table of a paternalistic majority race with probably the majority religion in those days. Growing up was easy, after comparing my life with minorities years on.

Learning morality was a long and arduous road, of wondering why I had to treat others fairly, in a world where fair complexion is coveted why others of darker complexion and seemingly dubious religions deserved my respect, and why the world shouldn’t only revolve around me. Grandpa’s passing was a great devastation and awakening because his funeral was one that piqued my consciousness – versus grandpa having me cycle out to buy cigarettes and subsequently keeping the change, his funeral rituals were alien and impersonal. We never practised religion in our everyday life, and it showed, and I felt it.

Inevitably, my younger siblings diluted the love that was exclusively mine; education taught me of everyone’s inviolable rights; and, I realised humanity walked out of Africa, not China. Others begin to take centre stage when I stepped down from my illusion of being the centre of the universe. This was the same time a letdown and a relief, and over the years, I was able to move from my staunch anti-abortion and homophobic stance to one that returns the rights to the real parties involved.

Not having a religion, means not having any baggage, not without morality. We do not plunder, we do not have a quota of babies to kill, nor a number of virgins we need to sacrifice every month. In fact, we do things out of goodness, from out of our hearts, without duties required by and conditions set forth by religious creeds. We do good, despite not being forced to do it. Ethics, continue to change over time and are very much pegged to the Golden and Silver rules. Many of the non-religious are guided by these, almost religiously.

Active atheists and humanists are critical thinkers, and some might at one time or another, have religion. We go beyond demystifying aspects of religion, and we dissect dogma in general. It is not uncommon to see us laying into religious stances as we lay into government policies, earning us the nicknames of “militant atheists” and the “liberal left”, depending on whether we are perceived to be against religions or appearing to buck accepted social norms. Our critiques had the unintended consequence of pushing religions and politics closer, with MoRH Act enacted to limit much-needed discourse, allowing the religious to voice disgust or feign being offended any time a conversation gets difficult.

We do not outsource our morality to religions, just as we feel people should not outsource thinking to only the government. There may come a point in our nation’s future, that the dynamics of policies being swayed by people mostly holding religious views, or worse – with only one religion’s view. Some religious organisations are ever more open about their intentions in guiding national policies, attacking the non-religious because we are immoral for lack of a god-belief system or absolutism, pitting us to defend attacks from across the full religious spectrum, while we always remind ourselves to temper our responses, since we have no deities to feel offended. It is tiring, and walking the secular way is no guarantee that those with religious DNAs won’t express their agenda when given a chance. Secularity must be run with diversity being the foundation, under an ‘a-religious’ framework.

It is tiring, and walking the secular way is no guarantee that those with religious DNAs won’t express their agenda when given a chance. Secularity must be run with diversity being the foundation, under an ‘a-religious’ framework.

No entity holds a monopoly on morality or right answers. The non-religious are certainly no pariahs of society, in fact, we are followers of the scientific method, and task ourselves to be the conscience of humanity unencumbered by dogmatic, doctrinal constraints. From Animism to Shamanism, from Amun-Ra to Zeus, from Abrahamic to Zoroastrianism, we have skirted them while still managing to lead a fruitful life. We could have strayed, and wandered into what we feel are ‘entrapments of religions’. We didn’t, not for long anyway. Some of us might have dabbled with religion in our past, but most of us live free from the day we were

We didn’t, not for long anyway. Some of us might have dabbled with religion in our past, but most of us live free from the day we were born, to the day we marry, to the day that we die, and we welcome those who relinquish religions to embrace rationality along our journey. We do not see this a de-conversion, but we adhere to our personal commandment of ‘saner heads shalt prevail’. Of this finite time, we spend the only life we each have, let not others rob us of that which we have no recourse. Our lives we live for ourselves and for others, and our deathbeds are for repose, not for others to bicker over funeral rites.

We use our senses, to enrich ourselves and empower those around us. We stress sensibility, so no one can run amok using baseless claims. And, borrowing the style from a writer ahead of her time : we are a truth, universally acknowledged, that free thinking people in possession of good wisdom, are in want of a simple thing called freedom from religion and dogma.

TODAY: Religious or not, S’poreans’ morality is growing

Our President, Tatt Si, wrote a letter in response to former civil servant Lim Siong Guan’s speech on Lessons for S’pore on the rise and fall of empires. (IPS version here)

URL to our letter: http://www.todayonline.com/voices/religious-or-not-sporeans-morality-growing

TODAY: Religious or not, S’poreans’ morality is growing

I refer to the article “Lessons for S’pore on the rise and fall of empires” (Sept 13).

In it, former top civil servant Lim Siong Guan discusses Singapore’s future in reference to Sir John Glubb’s essay, The Fate of Empires and Search for Survival, which analyses the rise and fall of great nations.

Mr Lim cites Glubb’s remarks about the “weakening of religion” and proceeds to note that Singapore’s non-religious population is increasing, implying that this is a possible sign of the Age of Decadence.

I have some points to make. First, our morality has roots in our ability to empathise with others. This quality of empathy is, in turn, a result of natural selection, behavioural evolution, education and literacy.

Mr Lim should not be surprised that ethics change as society progresses. For example, humanity no longer finds concepts such as slavery, racial segregation or religious genocide tenable.

Second, non-religious Singaporeans continue to do good.

At the Humanist Society, we have helped the needy, taken care of our environment and raised funds for aid organisations, all without supernatural motivations.

We believe that humans are responsible for giving meaning to and shaping their own lives and, in doing so, building a better world. Many within our non-religious community have found ways of living moral, productive and meaningful lives.

There should not be any insinuation about their lack of a belief system, and they should not be seen as pre-believers, either to be proselytised to or ridiculed.

Lastly, intellectual debates are vital because they expose our biases, blind spots and irrationality. One feature of a resilient country is its ability to ask difficult questions about itself and adapt to changing circumstances.

During Singapore’s formative years, questions about merger and independence, communism and capitalism, national identity and cultural identities were raised.

Though we have been successful in walking the path we did, we should not think that to be the only path. Glubb’s essay, published in 1978, should be tempered by the present social and geopolitical dynamics.

We look forward to Mr Lim’s next two lectures.

Taiwan approves a Pastafarian organisation, the first in Asia to do so

Last month, the Taiwanese authorities became the first government in Asia to recognise a Pastafarian organisation. Called the Humanistic Pastafarianism in Taiwan (台灣人文煮意麵團), the group has attracted about 30 sign-ups and has more than 2,000 fans on Facebook. The Humanist Society (Singapore) talks to one of its representatives, Kevin Feng (酆景文), to find out more.  [Read more…]

The Human Library at the Harmony Games

We are often told, you don’t judge a book by its cover, a reminder that we should not form an opinion of someone by what’s seen on the surface. [Read more…]

On CNA’s ‘Regardless of Religion’ and search results on the non-religious

Recently, Channel News Asia has released a programme (above) exploring fault-lines in Singapore and how terrorism and religiously-motivated hate crimes has affected how Singaporeans view each other’s religious communities.

The one-hour special, Regardless of Religion, features candid conversations between presenter Dr. Janil Puthucheary, and everyday people of different faiths. It also conducts several social experiments with participants from different faiths.

As part of the programme, there was a look at some of Google’s most-searched questions about religion in Singapore. The search threw up a concern about religious illiteracy, which could easily breed misunderstanding and distrust. For example, people have avoided sitting next to female madrasah students while on public transport.

CNA’s and Dr. Puthucheary’s efforts to facilitate conversations between people of different faith communities are commendable. The Humanist Society (Singapore) has always supported more candid dialogue over conversations that must be had, regardless of its sensitivity.

Out of curiosity, some humanists conducted a Google search about some questions that people ask about atheists and humanists:

Our own Google search shows that prejudices of non-religious people still abound in society-at-large. While some are curious questions, such as how atheists get married and why some celebrate festivals, the search throws up some hostile sentiments.

Considering this is a Google search customised for Singapore, some search terms are troubling. It also does not help that some religious texts and religious leaders occasionally cast aspersions on the non-religious. A common aspersion is how we have no morals without a belief in God.

Ironically, although many non-religious people are no longer interested in religion, the non-religious remains a religious issue. For example, the mere decision to be an atheist can trigger feelings of religious offense.

Like all religious and racial communities, the non-religious should also be included in national efforts to build social resilience. Our experience with humanists, atheists, agnostics and other like-minded people at our events has taught us that the non-religious, despite not being part of a faith tradition, have plenty to say about religious harmony and living ethical lives.

Richard Dedekind: A deeply religious yet secular person

By Wang Haina

I am a chemistry major at the National University of Singapore but in my free time, I indulge in my love for German culture and mathematics. In the process, I had the privilege to read the works of German mathematician Richard Dedekind, whom I regard as my hero, and appreciate the little wonders that he left behind.

A brilliant German mathematician from the 19th century, Dedekind made important contributions to abstract algebra. He was far ahead of his time and his theories are still influencing our computing methodologies today. Although Richard Dedekind was a giant in the world of mathematics, it was the littlest things he did that impressed me the most.

For example, I had read Dedekind’s now-famous Section 66 of Was sind und was sollen die Zahlen, where he half-jokingly claimed that “my world of thoughts is infinite” (which I feel is simply a way of saying “you can regard the existence of an infinite set as an axiom”)

He also wrote a letter to his sister Julie that says: “A rainy day = a gray day = a nice day” Well, a rainy day allows him to stay in his room reading math books, a prospect that was definitely great for him!

On another occasion, he wrote to the editors of a calendar book which wrongly stated that he had died on some day in 1899: “The date may be right; the year is certainly wrong.”

Considering these, please forgive me for finding Dedekind cute sometimes!

Dedekind’s care for the tiniest details went beyond maths and can be seen even in matters of religion and secularism.

Dedekind himself was a devoted Lutheran. On his grave lies the inscription “2 Timothy 4. 7-8”, a biblical verse.

I recently stumbled upon a little discovery regarding his correspondence with Mrs. Elise Riemann, carried out in order to compose a biography of her husband, German mathematician Bernhard Riemann (i.e. Bernhard Riemanns Lebenslauf).

This little finding will probably give you an idea of how considerate Dedekind was:

Although most of the biography was written by Dedekind, the last paragraphs were borrowed from Elise Riemann’s letter. (Apparently, Elise approved such copying!!) Therefore, it is meaningful to compare what Elise wrote with what appears in the final published biography. I will just put the original German text here, but the important parts will be explained later.

Elise Riemann:

Rs Ende war ein sehr sanftes, ich möchte sagen ein Heimgehen ohne Kampf und Todesschauer, es schien mir als ob er mit Interesse dem Scheiden der Seele vom Körper folge, ich mußte ihm Brod u. Wein reichen, er trug mir Grüße auf an die Lieben daheim, sagte mir küsse unser Kind, ich betete das Vater Unser mit ihm, er konnte nicht mehr sprechen, bei den Worten, Vergieb uns unsere Schuld richtete er gläubig das Auge nach Oben, ich fühlte seine Hand kälter werden in der meinen, noch einige Athemzüge, und er war aufgegangen in Gott, wo er schauen wird was hier seinem Forschen versagt war.

In the published biography:

Sein Ende war ein sehr sanftes, ohne Kampf und Todesschauer; es schien, als ob er mit Interesse dem Scheiden der Seele vom Körper folgte; seine Gattin musste ihm Brod und Wein reichen, er trug ihr Grüsse an die Leben daheim auf und sagte ihr: küsse unser Kind. Sie betete das Vater Unser mit ihm, er konnte nicht mehr sprechen; bei den Worten “Vergieb uns unsere Schuld” richtete er gläubig das Auge nach oben; sie fühlte seine Hand in der ihrigen kälter werden, und nach einigen Athemzügen hatte sein reines, edles Herz zu schlagen aufgehört.

There was this significant change to Elise Riemann’s account made by Dedekind.

The Christian expressions for passing away “Heimgehen” (going home) and “aufgegangen in Gott” (going up in God) were removed, and changed to neutral expressions like “sein reines, edles Herz hatte zu schlagen aufgehört” (his pure, noble heart stopped to beat), which are unrelated to religion.

Dedekind, despite being a deeply religious person, cared about readers who had other faiths than Christianity. He made these changes so that Riemann’s biography can appeal equally to people with all beliefs.

I have to say that I was greatly surprised, and even touched when I discovered these little modifications. After all, even today, we still hear US presidents proclaiming “God bless the United States of America!” regularly even though there are many atheists in America.

But perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised, as Dirichlet, Dedekind’s colleague and close friend, was reported to be non-religious.

I believe I don’t need to emphasize how precious such active thoughts of secularism and religious harmony were in the 1870s Germany, especially from a person who was deeply religious himself.

Dedekind’s open-mindedness and considerations for all readers are qualities I really like about him.

Haina is a fourth-year student at the National University of Singapore and a member of Singapore’s Humanist community. An earlier version of this article was first published on the NUS website on May 2017.

SG Narratives: Latiff and Hakeem

SG Narratives held a conversation between Latiff and Hakeem, a Muslim and ex-Muslim respectively. You can watch the conversation in the video above. Both Latiff and Hakeem talked about the definition of God and describing the Islamic faith to someone who has never heard of Islam. Hakeem also asked Latiff what scared him most about being a Muslim.

This video is interesting because it is a rare moment in Singapore where an ex-Muslim has spoken about leaving Islam openly in front of a camera. Although discussing ex-Muslims is a sensitive topic in Singapore, ex-Muslims are part of parcel of Singapore society and it is a discussion that must be had, sooner or later. Four minutes into the video, Latiff asked Hakeem to describe the moment he knew he could no longer remain a Muslim. Latiff also asked Hakeem about the biggest misconception that people have about being an ex-Muslim.

On the first question, Hakeem said he reached a stage in his life where he wanted to know who he was serving and worshipping. He wanted to know whether the belief system he was in was the right one. As Islam claimed to be the ultimate truth, Hakeem felt it should be able to withstand “ultimate scrutiny”. Hakeem began a long process of questioning and eventually, he couldn’t reconcile what he knew about matters pertaining to the nature of God as proclaimed or asserted by the Quran, and by all Abrahamic religions as well.

With regards to the biggest misconceptions that people have about ex-Muslims, Hakeem said many believe that ex-Muslims were “never Muslims to begin with” and they had left the wrong religion. Hakeem felt this was an unfair comment that doesn’t do justice to a lot of ex-Muslims because many ex-Muslims had an Islamic upbringing and had spent a lot of effort studying and practicing Islam. According to Hakeem, he knows ex-Muslims who had graduated from Madrasahs and visited Mecca. Thus, ex-Muslims were as Muslim as many other Muslims are.

 

Freedom of religion includes freedom from religion

This is our official response to the backlash against the Atheist Republic in Malaysia, first shared on our Facebook page on August 14, 2017. Please read and share.

Freedom of religion includes freedom from religion

It is alarming that one of Malaysia’s ministers, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim has called for Malaysian atheists to be “hunted down” vehemently by the Malaysian public.

What sparked such a call? A photo of an atheist meeting organised by an international group, the Atheist Republic, in Kuala Lumpur that had gone viral online. The photograph sparked anger because it appeared to feature young Malay Muslims.

The backlash is troubling. Online responses have called for the government to arrest these alleged apostates, with some even going as far as to suggest beheading the group’s founder, Iran-born Armin Navabi.

For a long time, God (or to the atheist – the notion of god) has been seen as the source of morality, and atheism equated to the lack of moral values. For perspective, a Pew Research Center’s global study in 2011, of 230 countries and territories found that 16% of the world’s population is not affiliated with a religion.

Globally today, there is still considerable hatred towards atheists and Malaysia is not the only country where such hatred exists. The government of Saudi Arabia has equated atheists to terrorists, and Bangladeshi government’s inaction in reining in atrocities towards atheist bloggers, real or suspicious are but two.

The notion that atheists are immoral simply because they do not believe in a God, is nonsense.

THE MYTH THAT ATHEISTS ARE IMMORAL

The Humanist Society (Singapore), a community of atheists and agnostics in Singapore, had organised more than 150 gatherings since its inception in 2010.

The Society had long known about the presence of atheist groups in Malaysia. Many Malaysian atheists who had travelled to Singapore for Humanist Society events are well-educated, articulate and forward thinking Malaysians. These Malaysians are also very respectful of the rights of all people to hold religious beliefs or none. There are many Malaysian atheists working and living in Singapore, too, as productive members of the cosmopolitan Singapore society.

Photo below: The Humanist Society organising a Charity Book Sale to raise funds for the needy:

Atheists are capable of being good people, doing good things and living in harmony with religious people. People do bad things regardless of race or creed. Many freethinkers still share universal human values with the religious, such as the cardinal rule of treating others as one would like others to treat oneself.

The two largest charitable donations in the history of the world were by atheists: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates donated US$30 billion and US$11 billion of their wealth respectively to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The rest of the list is long, and many of them atheists.

The religious often ask: Where do atheists get their morality from?

A growing volume of scientific literature is shedding light into the origins of our morality over the course of our evolution into human beings. It is found, for example, that many mammals are also capable of empathy and kindness, just like human beings.

Evidence suggests that humans have an innate capacity to do good for goodness sake. While there are many instances of selfish behaviour around the world, the bulk of human beings is generally good, regardless of race and religion. This includes atheists too.

Young children, with limited capacity to understand complex religious ideas, have demonstrated kindness and empathy towards fellow children, adults and animals at a tender age. Children can sometimes display selfless and selfish behaviours, and as atheist parents, we encourage the former and dissuade and educate them away from the latter. This is moral education that emphasises on treating other humans and living things as equals.

MUSLIMS AT ATHEIST EVENTS IMPROVE SOCIAL HARMONY

The Malaysian government, public and religious clergy have expressed alarm at the presence of Malays who are officially Muslims at the Atheist Republic event.

Firstly, Muslims do not become an apostate simply by mingling with atheists.

In Singapore, Muslims have visited the Humanist Society (Singapore). We have also visited Muslims during Iftar to reciprocate their gestures. Over time, friendships have formed and we talk about a great deal many things, such as culture, history and language.

Photo below: Humanists and atheists with interfaith activist Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib, at one of the Iftar talks held at SCWO during the Ramadan of 2016.

These Muslims have remained Muslims and the atheists have remained as atheists. Not every interaction between people of different beliefs has to be about conversion, but it must be about understanding.

Muslims at atheist gatherings act as a valuable bridge between Muslim and non-religious communities. For example, Muslim visitors can clarify misconceptions about Islam and offer religious points of view.

We feel that Islamic leaders should applaud, rather than condemn, the efforts of well-meaning Muslims. In Singapore, we have very vibrant interfaith initiatives, led by the government as well as civil societies, with the aim of forging even closer ties.

Photo below: Singapore regularly conducts interfaith gatherings, with representatives from ten different faiths taking part.

Secondly, if any person wishes to change his or her religious beliefs out of pure conviction, not even the most eloquent atheist or religious person can change his or her mind, and neither will the largest atheist or religious gatherings change their minds. However, just like there will be people who will take up religion or switch religion, there certainly are people who may eventually leave religion, through their own volition and needs, and there has to be a legal path to that which does not involve being threatened by death.

As Gus Dur once said – God, can take care of himself. Freedom of religion, as enshrined in Article 11 of the Malaysian Constitution, is not as narrow as a one-way street – it includes freedom from religion and the safe passage of people between religions or non-religious, at least of faiths other than Islam. No single group should be singled out for prosecution or persecution.

Atheists are found in every country on Earth, from every era and from all walks of life. No society has been completely religious. The fact that Malaysia has atheist gatherings is nothing unusual. If the situation were reversed, that a country was to unilaterally ban all religions, the humanists and atheists will be the first ones to denounce such draconian moves.

Humanists and atheists have a fundamental understanding that borders are man-made and ideologies see no borders. We hope there can be space for Malaysian atheists to form supporting communities in their own country. In our view, Malaysian atheists are great ambassadors for Malaysia. Rather than sidelining them, they should be celebrated as part of the diverse richness of Malaysian society.

Tan Tatt Si
President, Humanist Society (Singapore)
For Humanist Society (Singapore)

HumanistSG Read for Books

Read for Books is the Singapore National Reading Movement‘s book charity drive in which for every 10 people who read for 15 minutes, one book will be donated. This year, the organisers are aiming to give 4,000 books.

In support of the National Reading Movement, we held a Read for Books session on 22 July at the National Library Hanis Café from 3-5 pm. This blog post contains some of our readers and their books!

You can still submit a photo of yourself reading a book – simply upload it to our Facebook event wall, or email it to events@humanist.org.sg by 30 July. We hope to submit at least 30 entries to NLB by the end of the campaign. Have fun!

Here are some of the 30 photos. Photos by TheLook.sg


Yuekong read The AWARE Saga: Civil Society and Public Morality in Singapore, by Terence Chong. He said that it’s an interesting analysis of the conflict between civil society and religion


Chee Hoew read The Duck That Won the Lottery: 100 New Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher, by Julian Baggini. To him, it is a great guide to critical thinking.


Kelvin read Persuasion, a novel by Jane Austen. “I like it because the book has very rich and interesting characters.”


Anita read The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli. “I like how it describes the importance of treating the country’s people well-being first.”


Ashley read Against Empathy, The Case for Rational Compassion by Paul Bloom. “It is about how we can be more aware of our cognitive bias even as we try to do good.”


Xianghong read a book titled A Manual for Creating Atheists by Peter Boghossian. He feels it gives him very specific, constructive and layman advice.


Nic read Islam and the Future of Tolerance, by Maajid Nawaz and Sam Harris. “It is a necessary conversation about Islam and the future.”


Shamima read Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell. “It provides a literary analysis of a book I previously read for enjoyment.”


Megan read Inside the Kaisha, a book by Noboru Yoshimura. She likes its unique insider perspectives of Japanese business conduct.


Zhang Quan read The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli. It taught him some of the common thinking errors made by people.


Paul Amazona read Mastering Logical Fallacies: The Definitive Guide to Flawless Rhetoric and Bulletproof Logic, by Michael Withey. Paul likes reading about logic and the book has shown him examples of logical fallacies and how to counter them.

 

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Angela reads Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote. “When I was in Primary 2, my form teacher wrote in my report card ‘She is a good girl. She loves to read.’ Guess I’m still a good girl.”

 

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Dillon reads On the Move by Oliver Sacks. “While I enjoy most mediums of art & storytelling, reading holds a special place in my heart. While the words may guide & shape the story in the reader’s mind, it’s imagination & personal experiences that truly elucidate the details in the text.”

 

dan read for books

Dan read the The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life (e-book) by Anu Partanen. “My interest with the book starts with American election of 2016 when Bernie Sanders talks about the Finland’s way of doing things. This book arrived at the right time to enlighten my knowledge what the Finnish do right in their society to make them a happy, productive and less stressful people as a whole.”

 

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Denise read ‘The Life You Can Save’ by Peter Singer. The book argues that citizens of affluent nations are behaving immorally if they do not act to end the poverty they know to exist in developing nations.

Humanists hold their first music day at Selegie

Music is an arrangement of sounds that are pleasing to the human ear. To many, it is the lifeblood of their souls. Humanists and freethinkers are not immune to the feelings of wonderment, luminosity, or bliss. One could be overwhelmed and moved to tears by a symphony orchestra without having to attribute these feelings to imaginary beings.

Since its founding, the Humanist Society (Singapore) has strived to promote the fullest possible use of science and the arts for human welfare. While the Society has organised many sold-out lectures on science and nature, it took a little longer to embrace the world of music and art. Apart from singing sessions at Winter Solstices and some guitar performances at year-end dinners, the Society had no music performances on a scale seen at religious institutions.

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This changed on June 24, 2017, when the Society finally put together its first event dedicated to music. The performance was also held to celebrate World Humanist Day, which usually falls on June 21 every year. President Tatt Si, a saxophone player himself, rallied musicians scattered across the humanist community and persuaded them to contribute some songs. Together, these musicians planned a simple but genuine programme over the months of May and June.

The venue, Selegie Arts Centre (above), is a three-storey colonial-era shophouse that is home to the Photographic Society of Singapore. The privilege to perform in such a picturesque and historic place, however, was earned with considerable sweat. Without the help of elevators, musicians and volunteers had to lug instruments, stands, and PA systems up three flights of stairs!

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On the top floor, we were given a small hall, with a capacity to seat up to 80. Adorning its walls were rows of award-winning photographs, bathed in gentle light. While a far cry from the massive halls of a megachurch, it was no less meaningful to both players and listeners.

From 230pm to 6pm, humanist musicians presented a diverse offering. From classical Bach pieces to stripped down acoustic singalongs, from the blazing extreme metal to indie rock & roll, the performers surprised many fellow humanists their long-hidden music talents. Just as humanists demand no conformity in terms of intellectual positions, no genre limits were given to the performers either.

The first player, Paul Amazona (below), started with an amazing ukulele performance of the well-loved While My Guitar Gently Weeps (by Beatles) and Rolling In The Deep (by Adele). The audience broke into enthusiastic applause after his songs ended.

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Watch his feature & performance here.

 

Bryan Gan (below) followed up with a sizzling electric guitar performance of Great Architect Of Nothing and Crossing the Bridge of Siraat. No windows were harmed in the process.

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Watch his feature & performance here (watch this space)

 

Bryan’s electrifying performance then gave way to soothing classical music from the Bach era. Jianyue and Haina performed a piano-violin duet of a modified Bach Prelude No.1 in C major. The modified piece, called Ave Maria, consists of a melody by the French Romantic composer Charles Gounod that he superimposed over an only very slightly changed version:

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Watch their feature & performance here (watch this space)

 

Other performances include a series of classical guitar pieces by Adam Quek, accompanied by his daughter. Adam played Bach Cello Suite No 1 Prelude in G major, Bach’s well-tempered clavier Prelude in C major, and a modern piece called Circular Logic. Adam had just completed his exam in guitar and was clearly comfortable with these classical pieces!

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Watch their feature & performance here (watch this space)

 

Throughout the performances, Tatt Si (above) served as emcee, constantly engaging the audience and the performers. Ashley assisted with logistics and powerpoint slides. Supergrapher Ruey Loon provided video support.

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Shawn Somerby (below) sang Richie Jen’s (任贤齐) classic favourite Xin Tai Ruan (“心太软“), accompanied by guitar music by Ponybard (below, right).

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Watch the feature performance here (watch this space)

 

Nora sang Tekad, song poem by a musical group called Nuradee. Tekad is one of the poems from Mohd Latiff Mohamad’s antologi ‘Segumpal Api Selingkar Pelangi’, written between 1967 and 1977. It highlights the position of the Malays in Singapore at a time when the country was experiencing rapid change. Ponybard provided the guitar accompaniment.

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Ponybard himself performed four songs: The Path, the Epitaph of Seikilos, Merrigan’s I know you and U2’s The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)”. His vocal performance accompanied by his own guitar playing.

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Our President Tatt Si gave a saxophone performance of Dave Brubeck’s Take Five. Tatt Si himself served as a band player back in his school days.

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A National University of Singapore student band called ‘The Roses’ performed three songs: 1. Immigrant Song, TL;DR, Something There, and Greatest Night. The Society also invited professional buskers and encouraged the audience to sing several classics such as Yu Jian by Stephenie Sun.

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Watch the feature performance here (watch this space)

Overall, the Humanist Music Day was a success. The Society hopes to repeat this music day next year, and invite new musicians on board to perform! If you are interested in performing at a Society event, please contact us info@humanist.org.sg