Unrealistic to aim for inter-religious society

An "inter-religious" society is an ideal that is fraught with unrealistic expectations (Let's move from being multi-religious to inter-religious; June 6).

It may also lead to consequences that negate its good intentions.

According to Mr Mohammad Alami Musa, an inter-religious society is "one where its members are inclusive enough to genuinely embrace those from other religious communities and where active engagements across religious lines through cross-learning, conversations and dialogue have become a way of life".

Such a society is indeed worth pursuing, if not for the fact that all religions make truth claims which are exclusive to their faiths and have no room to accommodate other claims.

The idea of cross-learning, therefore, borders on wishful thinkingand may even be seen as sacrilegious by religious devotees.

Even within a religion, differences in doctrines and practices by various sects have been the cause of conflicts time and again.

All religions make truth claims which are exclusive to their faiths and have no room to accommodate other claims... Even within a religion, differences in doctrines and practices by various sects have been the cause of conflicts time and again.

Such conflicts and their ramifications are felt in places where people of different faiths try their hardest to co-exist and live in peace.

Against such a backdrop, it would be a long way yet before anyone can cross the barrier and embrace those from other religious communities without fear of consequences.

Furthermore, deep in religious practices are proselytising obligations.

An extraneous consequence of promoting an inter-religious society could be over-zealous efforts by one party to win over the other in the course of a dialogue, leading to deeper divisions rather than harmony.

Being an atheist myself, but not averse to learning about religions, I have had to contend with proselytising messages from various groups.

It is inconceivable to me that more inter-religious engagements will make for a better outcome than acknowledging the irreconcilable nature of the different religions.

The Singapore solution of fostering a multi-religious society with public and establishment support is uniquely effective, but only on account of our small scale, historical development and pragmatism. A similar top-down approach may not be acceptable in other places.

A multi-religious society endowed with a spirit of tolerance and understanding among its people is as good as it can get in the real world.

Yeoh Teng Kwong (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2018, with the headline 'Unrealistic to aim for inter-religious society'. Print Edition | Subscribe