Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Now that he has apologised...

I suppose most of you all will, especially since it is front page news for today's Straits Times, by now be aware that Pastor Rony Tan of Lighthouse Evangelism (Church) has been warned by the Ministry of Home Affairs (specifically, the Internal Security Department or ISD) with regards to the disparaging remarks he made about Buddhist teachings in a series of videos (see here for more information). Pastor Tan has released a statement of apology on his website.

However, while I am glad that the authorities have stepped in and that Pastor Tan has apologised, I cannot help but to ask: now that he has been warned and apologised, what do we do?


Evidently, one answer to this could be to say that Pastor Tan's apology and the warning he received from the ISD is perhaps only a mere slap on the wrist, especially when contrasted with previous similar cases in which the authorities intervened more forcefully, and demand that more forceful action be taken against Pastor Tan.

Or we can choose to accept Pastor Tan's apology as a sincere one (and not one made due to pressure from the authorities) and forgive (but not forget?) his remarks about Buddhism. We can choose to move on in the hope that such incidents will not happen again and Singapore's religious harmony will continue to be maintained.

Another answer, more cynical in nature, would be to say that attempts by individuals to propagate their religious beliefs through criticising that of others have always taken place (and that Pastor Tan was "unlucky" to have been caught doing so) and will, despite the warning Pastor Tan received from the authorities (which, in my opinion, is also intended as a reminder/warning to the rest of us, especially those of us who intend to propagate our religious beliefs), continue to happen. The only difference, however, will perhaps be that religious groups will be more prudent in the future about not uploading videos of themselves criticising other religious groups.

Yet another answer will be for us to be glad that despite cases such as the one in question, Singapore nonetheless remain relatively religiously harmonious.

What then is my answer to this question I have posed?

Well, I suppose my answer takes a part from each of the four answers I have discussed above.

However, in addition, I would like to repeat my appeal, which I have previously made in this post, for the local Christian community and/or their leaders come out to disavow the methods employed by Pastor Tan, lest their silence be misinterpreted as perhaps a tacit endorsement of Pastor Tan's methods. Of course, this appeal of mine is not limited to only the local Christian community but also include other religious groups.

Also, although some may question their effectiveness, I would suggest more interfaith dialogues be organised, not only for the top echelon of religious leadership but also for the ordinary religious believer. Such dialogues should ideally be conducted as open sharing sessions and not as sessions in which one try to defend or propagate one's religious beliefs. Participants should thus ideally attend these sessions with an open mind, a desire to learn about other religious traditions, to share (not propagate) information about one's own religious beliefs and to clear up misconceptions others may have about one's religious beliefs.

And even if one does not participate in interfaith dialogues, one should hopefully inculcate in oneself a positive respect and appreciation for religious beliefs other than one's own and a desire to learn about other religious traditions (with the mentality that learning about other religious traditions will strengthen/enrich one's own religious beliefs and not undermine them).

In the end, while cases such as the one in question will most probably continue to take place in the future, this does not mean we should not take practical steps to prevent them from happening or to reduce the likelihood of them happening again.

Update No. 1 -- 9/2/2010, 2355hrs

According to this news report by CNA, the National Council of Churches Singapore has released a statement saying that "an advisory was issued to Christians in 2008 'not to denounce other religions' even as they evangelise".

The report also included comments from the Singapore Bible College, the Singapore Buddhist Federation and the Islamic Council of Singapore.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well not every church in the National Council follows those guidelines from my own and friends experiences. There are many other pastors who have condemned andinsulted other religions in the provacy of their churches. The seed planted in the dark soil is a lot more potent then the waving branches of the plant. And when the actions of the faithful affect religious harmony, who do we blame?

kelvintan73 said...

Is he being criticized for having those views, or for proclaiming those views from the pulpit?

Let's be clear about that first.

LCC said...

To Anonymous (10/2/2010, 1228hrs),

True. As I was discussing with a friend of mine -- which will be more dangerous: the Pastor uploading videos of what he said or he still making those remarks but without uploading the videos in the first place?

To Kelvintan73,

Good question.

Well, personally, after watching the series of videos, I think that Pastor Tan's remarks about Buddhism may perhaps be divided into two categories: one being remarks in which he criticised the supposed flaws in Buddhist teachings and the other being disparaging remarks about Buddhism.

For the first category, if I am not wrong, the furore is mainly because of the following reasons:

i) Pastor Tan and his interviewees mischaracterised Buddhist teachings

ii) Having mischaracterised Buddhist teachings, the pastor's criticism was basically attacking a "straw man".

iii) The pastor did his criticism in a rather derisive manner.

iv) While the pastor was criticising Buddhist teachings for its supposed failings/flaws, he seem to be unaware that his own religious faith could perhaps have similar failings/flaws.

For the second category, it is evident that the pastor's disparaging remarks about Buddhism were offensive and inappropriate.

Hence, I suppose, in light of the above, the pastor is being criticised for having misguided views and proclaiming them from the pulpit.

Anonymous said...

I do not believe this is the first and only "anti-religious" speech he had made. Neither can we guarantee that he will not make such remark in future. As a pastor, he has influences over large number of believers.
He is a religion worker and he should be more aware of what he did.
Thus in view of this, I feel that he should step down as a pastor.

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