Include atheism, freethinking in discourse on religions

Mr Wayne Wee Woon ("Study of religions not the same as religious studies"; last Wednesday) disagrees with Ms Maria Loh Mun Foong ("Leave religious studies out of secular schools"; March 19).

But there might be a way to satisfy both sides, by thoughtfully building freethinking, atheism and even the notion of "undecidedness" into the new curriculum.

In multicultural, multiracial, multi-religious Singapore, we must also allow space for freethinking and atheism.

If we leave these out of the classroom, we would have introduced a bias towards religiosity.

It would interesting, if the curriculum were more open as such, to ask if the religious would be comfortable with their children being exposed to alternative, non-religious belief systems.

These can include the reasoning behind why some people choose not to believe in any god or gods, or to believe in all gods, or to believe in universal values such as love and kindness.

The notion that the fostering of good values belongs in a separate civics and moral education class is outdated, discriminatory and possibly even counterproductive.

Should freethinkers, atheists or even the "undecided" be kept out, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, of a comparative religion class because they do not have a religion, and wait for the other students to take the civics and moral education class together?

It is almost universal that religions teach good values.

On the other hand, one can also acquire and practise good values without having a religious belief.

An inclusive, rich and fulfilling discourse on this subject should and must take place in one united classroom, as one united people.

Chew Seng Chye

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2016, with the headline 'Include atheism, freethinking in discourse on religions'. Print Edition | Subscribe