Rescuing RELIGION


November 4, 2018

DIVERSITY

Rescuing RELIGION

I would urge every person of faith (in this room) to take personal responsibility to move religion back to where it should be, on the side of right, and on the side of the rights of people.

There are many inspiring stories around the world. In Philadelphia, where I’m now on sabbatical, I visited the leading human rights group that stands in defence of Muslims in in the US, the Council on American Islamic Relations.

CAIR in Philadelphia is headed by a white Jewish American, its legal officer is an African-American Christian, and a Muslim is its education officer (main photo). So its three full time employees are a white Jew, a black Christian, and a Muslim immigrant. And they are fighting for Muslims’ human rights. This is what religion is capable of. It is capable of coming together in interfaith struggles to pursue social justice.”Singapore’s Public Intellectual George Cherian

An extract from the Q&A after my talk at the IPS Diversities conference.

Q: To what extent do you think a civic impulse is workable only insofar that we have don’t have religious groups that are seeking to expand?

A: We can tell how open this IPS dialogue is, when we can actually talk about religion, which is a third rail in many societies.

I still think that, despite the worrying rise in aggressively exclusive religious groups around the world that have also inspired groups in Singapore, politically it is not as serious a problem here as it is elsewhere. I study intolerance and hate around the world, so relative to the stuff that is going on in other parts of the world, we are in pretty good shape.

And I’m convinced that one reason why is that no matter how worrying some of these trends are within any one faith group — or more accurately within sub-groups within major religions — there’s a limit to how much damage will be caused as long as those force are not aligned with party political forces. That’s when it becomes very potent elsewhere, when it becomes in the interest of a political party to court and partner with some of these exclusive and intolerant religious movements. And that makes sense in countries with a dominant religion, whether it’s India or Indonesia or Myanmar or the US or most of Europe.

It simply does not make sense in Singapore. A political party could try it, but it would not succeed, because even if you court the 40% Buddhist population out there, you’re going to alienate the 60% that make up everyone else. The same applies to other religions. And that does give us some assurance that there is a limit to how much religious divides can translate into electoral advantage.

Of course politics is more than elections. So religious forces can influence how debates are handled. And yes, in that sense we are in a worrying phase globally as well as in Singapore. For whatever mix of reasons, which sociologists of religion will be better equipped to explain, the centre of gravity in many of the world’s religions is at the more intolerant and exclusive ends of the spectrum.

It’s important to realise that this wasn’t always the case. I’m convinced this moment will pass. It is up to us collectively to make sure this moment passes. It is especially up to those who are the most devout in your respective communities to make sure this moment passes.

It was not too long ago that religious groups were at the forefront of progressive change around the world. Think of the major successes in human rights and democracy over the last 200 years. Most of them were fronted by religious organisations. The Quakers in Britain helped to get rid of slavery. Think of the church’s role in the Philippines’ People Power movement or the American civil rights movement. Think of religion’s role in Indian nationalism, which we benefited from as well. So there is a strong history of religion being on the side of tolerance and expanding human rights.

Image result for George Cherian

It is depressing to see how this strong tradition of religions standing up for the rights of others, including the rights of other faiths, has somehow been relegated, and instead the wind is at the backs of those who are more exclusive. I would urge every person of faith in this room to take personal responsibility to move religion back to where it should be, on the side of right, and on the side of the rights of people.

There are many inspiring stories around the world. In Philadelphia, where I’m now on sabbatical, I visited the leading human rights group that stands in defence of Muslims in in the US, the Council on American Islamic Relations. CAIR in Philadelphia is headed by a white Jewish American, its legal officer is an African-American Christian, and a Muslim is its education officer (main photo). So its three full time employees are a white Jew, a black Christian, and a Muslim immigrant. And they are fighting for Muslims’ human rights. This is what religion is capable of. It is capable of coming together in interfaith struggles to pursue social justice.

One of the proudest achievements of Singapore is to host the world’s oldest interfaith organisation, the Inter Religious Organisation. This is one of the resources we have. Sadly, though, that’s not where the action is, so to speak, in public life. Sadly, the agenda has been seized by a minority of leaders and members within the world’s great faith groups, that are pushing intolerance and exclusivity. That needs to change.

FULL Q&A – VIDEO

 

3 thoughts on “Rescuing RELIGION

  1. With or without religious exclusivity, exclusivity is a reality of life that compelled a few to religion. The best one could ever do is to understand and appreciate how a religion, or a school of thought is exclusive. This includes the understanding how a preaching of inclusiveness could be comforting, albeit being an oxymoron.

  2. Ive often talked about the works of Jesus, and not the organised religion that used His name because the difference between two are oceans apart. Even in our times, the Vatican had banned contraceptives despite the terrible deaths due to abortions and the plight of those who just couldn’t afford large families. And who could forget the opposition to Liberation theology in Latin America and Cardinal Spellman’s encouragement to young GIs to die for Christ in Vietnam?

    Organised religion is pernicious for the very fact that those behind it often claim to speak for God. Just like Martin Luther calling Copernicus a fool who “wishes to reverse the entire scheme of astrology,” saying that the Bible “tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, not the earth.”

    As Bertrand Russell said, “It is possible that mankind is on the threshold of a golden age, but, if so, it will be necessary first to slay the dragon that guards the door, and this dragon is religion.”

    He was, of course, referring to organised religion.

  3. I rather that religions be not rescued – let them die naturally….. Organized religions are such poisons; and made even more so when politics are involved.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.