Forum: More consideration needs to be given to the non-religious in the discussion of social issues

In his article discussing identity and cohesion issues in Singapore, Mr Mohammad Alami Musa, head of the Studies in Inter-religious Relations in Plural Societies Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, touched on the non-religious constituency (Will Singapore 2030 be less or more cohesive?, Jan 21).

The writer says: "As the non-religious grow in numbers... and become more assertive, this may lead to greater tension as competition for social space intensifies between them and those who embrace religions."

This is conjecture at best, as there is no observable evidence that the non-religious are becoming more assertive.

In fact, the relative reticence of the non-religious on most social issues is cause for concern considering their presence - 17 per cent, according to the commentary - among the populace.

The Workers' Party won 11 per cent of the seats in Parliament and its secretary-general Pritam Singh was given the official title of Leader of the Opposition.

The 17 per cent non-religious segment in our society hardly receives any recognition by comparison.

Mr Alami pointed out the threat that exists when "Singapore's social fabric is exposed to the stresses of competing pulls when religions, ethnicities and cultures encounter one another and when they encounter politics and state".

He described the non-religious as "people who do not embrace religion but hold the view that they are nonetheless spiritual and possess the moral sensibilities and wisdom to contribute to discussions on public morality and public reason".

He went on to say that "people of religion tend to dismiss them as being less qualified to add to existing wisdom, given their lack of a supreme text for guidance".

The writer proposed three ideas for the future: to build a "dialogical society", to enhance Singapore's secularism, and to enrich Singapore's common values and attitudes. All these point to the need for more space for the non-religious in Singapore.

Yeoh Teng Kwong (Dr)