By Kirsten Han / additional reporting by Andrew Loh
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s remarks about how a “godless society” would bring “many other problems”, have raised the ire of some groups.
“Overall, we think religion is a good thing,” Mr Lee said recently in an interview with TIME magazine. “I mean, if we were godless society, we would have many other problems, the communists found that out.”
Mr Lee made those remarks when he spoke on the recent case of video-blogger Amos Yee whose online video on the late Lee Kuan Yew was also deemed to have “wounded the religious feelings of Christians.”
“In our society, which is multiracial and multi-religious, giving offence to another religious or ethnic group, race, language or religion, is always a very serious matter. In this case, he’s a 16-year-old, so you have to deal with it appropriately because he’s (of a) young age,” Mr Lee said.
The Prime Minister’s remarks about how a “godless society” would bring “many more problems”, however were criticised by at least two groups of non-religious groups.
“Recent history shows that a state’s success or failure has more to do with its economic and political ideologies, governance, people and external factors beyond the state’s control than with religiosity,” said Leftwrite Center and the Humanist Society (Singapore) in a letter to TODAY.
“As of the last Singapore census in 2010, 17 per cent of the resident population aged 15 years and above were recorded as having no religion,” they added. “These atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and others with no formal religious affiliation live, work and play peacefully with their neighbours and help contribute to the success of Singapore, a democratic society based on justice and equality, and not God or gods.”
Mr Lee’s comment also upset the Council of Ex-Muslims in Singapore (CEMS), a recently formed group intending to “discuss the issue of apostasy from Islam within the Muslim community in Singapore.”
“We the Atheists, Agnostics and Freethinkers (including religious Ex Muslim Converts) at CEMS strongly disagree [with] his statement of Godlessness being problematic,” the group said on its Facebook page. “[One] only needs to look back in recent history where unrest arose because of religious belief whereas one would be hard pressed to find atrocities done in the name of Atheism.”
A member told TOC that most of their members are anonymous due to the social stigma associated with being a former Muslim.
“The head of any religious organisation could have made that statement, but not a godless PM,” said Riz Rashid, a member of CEMS.
In his 2011 book, “Hard Truths to keep Singapore going”, the late former prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, spoke of what would happen if Singapore had a Cabinet of religious people, in particular Christians.
The late PM was speaking on the topic of homosexuality in Singapore and was giving his views on how the government handled the issue.
“It’s only a matter of time before it is accepted here,” the late Mr Lee said.
“If we get a Cabinet full of Christians, we’re going to get an intolerant Cabinet.
“We’re not going to allow that.”