Is Secularism under Siege by Thio?

October 30, 2007

Recently, Thio Li-Ann wrote an article in the Straits Times entitled, “Secularism, the Singapore Way,” on the 30th Oct 2007,

There, she puts foward the proposition, 

“In Singapore, secularism is useful as a framework to promote co-existence of different religions and belief systems…..however, reading “secularism” in an anti- theistic manner to exclude religious perspectives would no longer be a neutral position.” 

To paraphrase, what she’s essentially saying: to exclude religious groups from ANY discussion of policy may NOT even serve the democratic process. As it may marginalize a segment of society.

She adds, Singapore may even have such a thing as a “unique” model of secular governance that doesn’t require the government to maintain as neutral an attitude as possible towards religion when deciding issues concerning the public policy.  

While, I don’t disagree consultation with religious bodies or for that matter the RSPCA does add considerably to the depth of any public debate and may even produce beneficial outcomes.  

The question is; whether it’s even desirable for political process to be influenced in part by religious groups?

No one disputes, churches, temples and mosques serve as bastions of moral rectitude and they even reach out deep into the community to reflect the sentiments of the ‘collective will’: however, what must be recognized is there are also systematic limits which will always work against the role religious organizations as being all inclusive to any dialogue – for example: religious organization are also counter cosmopolitan centers which regularly churn out the ideal, there is only ONE right way for ALL human beings to live: that all differences must be in the details.

How does any legal scholar propose to reconcile the diversity between religion and politics under those conditions? 

Well, it cannot be done. What Thio fails to recognize is the complexity associated with fusing religious alongside political discourse, not only do they differ conceptually. But they diverge in principle so acutely, as to even suggest these two incompatible dichotomies: cannot possibly ‘see eye to eye’ under practically every condition – to suggest one is able to compliment the other by adding value to the discourse remains facile and unconvincing. 

Not only does a wealth of evidence militate against such a proposition: religion and politics can consistently produce ‘good’ that necessarily out weights the bad 

That’s only possible, if “good,” isn’t wholly dependant on how the beholder perceives ‘good’ quotient. Another problem with linking religion and politics even under ‘limited’ terms is:

how does one propose to delineate the ‘religious’ discourse from overcoming the substantive text, precedent and logic of the law?

What ‘methodology’ does one deploy to ensure the respective threads in the debate remain coherent without spilling over? When does religious inspired legislative discourse degenerate into institutionalized bullying, harassment and persecution? Surely, even Thio recognizes the slipperly slope of pursuing such a strategy without first addressing the discipline of methodology.  

Neither does she seem to appreciate, whenever the line between religion and politics is blurred, it throws out the hubris: which one takes priority under a given set of conditions?  Do religious considerations take precedence over constitutional law or vice-versa?

After all doesn’t the former belong to divine pedigree that cannot possibly be challenged in any court of law presided by man? Can God really be wrong? Besides how does one harmonize the competing religious interest to possibly flesh out the law, policy or directive so that it best reflect the sentiments and interest of all religious quarters? Is that lofty goal even possible? Given, all too often the ‘issues,’ often tug in different directions – which viewpoint under any given conditions should be given primacy? What will happen, when there is a conflict between lets say, Quranic and Biblical text? Or Should the Bhavagad Gita or Sutra be brought to light?

Realism requires recognition that any attempt to link religion and politics can at best only produce aberrations and in worst cases even injustices: while nothing should prevent individuals from reaching political decision that are influenced in part by their religious beliefs in the private sphere. To even advocate a ‘limited’ dialogue that permits politics to be colored with religious considerations places the tenets of constitutional law in an untenable position.

This raises the nagging question: can religious organizations resist the temptation to cross the line between merely coexisting with governments to full blown active political participation?

Is there a danger when religion and politics become too closely link, one will leach into the domain of the other ghosting the lines even further? Will religious justification be used in the legislative and executive process, as in the case of Bush administrations ‘war against terror?’ Would this breed a type of complicity where religion assumes the ratio of law making at the expense of higher constitutional ideals? 

The whole idea of even suggesting for one moment, it’s even possible to successfully balance the dichotomy of religion with politics, elides completely the a priori rationale; why secularism continues to be the only means by which so many successful governments around the world continue to maintain a fire wall between religion and politics – they see it as a deadly combination – a powder keg even! 

To the extent that all religions honor fundamental tenets of love, peace and justice is NOT in dispute. But to believe they are able to contribute to the ‘collective good’ without running the risk of breaching the doctrine of separation of powers, that requires religious organizations to remain outside the ambit of the legislative and executive process remains disturbing. As it denies the whole proposition; why there was even the doctrine of separation of powers in the first instance?

For if the truth be known our constitution and much of what forms the backbone of our constitutional law today, has little if anything to do with ‘Singapore’ or anything even remotely “unique” as Thio would have us all believe.

Rather much of what forms the substantive back bone of our constitutional law is simply an accretion that harks, all the way back to political philosophies which recognizes the importance of separating religion from statecraft viz- a-viz, Aristotle, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Montesquieu.  

To even suggest for one moment, the whole idea of ‘limited’ secularism can be sensibly mooted without first recognizing the need to address these higher constitutional principles, and. The limits they impose on the role of the legislature and executive is to miss the wisdom of what in the 8th century, the prophet Isaiah said, by way of teaching to the Jewish people,

“to strive to be in the world, but not of it.” i.e (keep God’s stuff separate from Man’s stuff.)

Thio would do well to remember Isaiah’s prophetic warning to all scholars in her future disquisitions concerning constitutional law in Singapore.

Only because by attempting to argue on the reverse of the dictum,

“to strive to be in the world, by being it.” (God and Man stuff are one of the same reality.)

All she’s doing is paving the way for religious denominations to directly influence public policy, allowing them to force their tenets on others, thereby repudiating the whole idea of the secular state – what I wonder would Ceasar think of that?

(By Dotseng, Anongal, Scimitar & Aurora – Law – EP 99018452 – The Brotherhood Press 2007)

19 Responses to “Is Secularism under Siege by Thio?”

  1. […] Posted by The Singapore Daily on October 31st, 2007 Section 377a – Siew Kum Hong: The great tragedy of Section 377A – The Daily Backtrack: Harvest Time – Zuco’s Blog: 377A: Some Straight Pro-Repeal Voices – nofearSingapore: Non-repeal of 377A: Remember Rosa Parks and Don’t Give Up! – GlasgowGloom: Let’s repeal extremism – Ridzwan.Com: Plague of the Pinks – Mr Wang Says So: Dr Thio Li Ann’s Infamous Speech – Zuco’s Blog: Two rather interesting things to read… – All and Sundry Singapore: 377A Issues: Social Acceptance of Gays and Lesbians – Just Stuff: Is Secularism under Siege by Thio? […]

  2. ST forumer said


    I would just like to ask, why are so many intelligent and eminently qualified ladies writing for a rat-tag org like the BH press?

    I would have imagined, if you wrote for lets say another established grp blog this will do both yourself and your cause immeasurable good.

    Even blogging alone or posting in the ST forum would be better.

    As it is, why associate yourself with a bunch of trolls and spammers?

  3. Lassie said

    Dear Dotty et al,

    It regrettable to read this piece. The explanation put forward for Prof Thio’s explanation for her preferences seems to be couched in the belief, much of her anxiety has to do with the real or imagined erosion of public values – the broad public culture – that presumably drives her politics.

    Like others of the same neoconservatiove generation, Prof Thio is hardly an anomaly as the authors have suggested. Far from it. She is first of all a cultural conservative, mistrustful of secularization, for valid reasons as this has led to the abandonment of moral values that once held civilized society together much to the detriment of many countries in the EU, I might add.

    What the authors failed to mention was Prof Thio’s article is hardly novel, neither does it attempt to usurp the role of the legislature.

    Rather it has more to do with the genre of the neo-conservative movement, which was first mooted when British PM Maggie Thatcher argued for a return to Victorian values, her British admirers, at first were horrified, and her critics mocked her for espousing the ethics of the narrow minded and hard hearted factory owners who populated Victorian novels. But history has proven her to be on every account ‘right’ in so far as the Thatcher years is still considered by many to be one of greatest periods in British 20th century history.

    There is certainly room for disagreement about the directional approach which Prof Thio suggested, but to impute that she was advocating the de-construction of the secular state is in my opinion incorrect and a gross misrepresentation of fact.

    It is regrettable that Darkness did not step in to correct the mistake.

    Good day!


  4. drummergirl said

    spammers and trolls LOL. I don’t really think, you will get many ppl to agree with you, they fall under that category. Where have you been lately?

  5. miss manners said

    Dotty and her erudite gang of Amazonian lawyers set out rather unsuccessfully to argue two somewhat unfashionable points.

    Firstly, Prof Thio attempts to gloss over the constitution by suggesting, there’s even such a thing as a Singaporean way when it comes to engaging religious quarters in policy matters. How Dotty and her gang are able to make the mental leap between mere discourse and any attempts to either color or deconstruct the secular nature of politics in Singapore is completely beyond me.

    FYI, I read Prof Thio’s article and I must say for one, I was extremely impressed by the quality of her writing, which has verve and sharpness absent from most of what I read in this article commented upon.

    FYI, Prof Thio qualified herself on at least two specific occasions by stating categorically religious discourse should be actively curtailed where there’s evidence to suggest, it leads to extremism or undesirable social consequences. The authors in this case have suggested Prof Thio is advocating a card blanche approach which is clearly not what was written.

    The second point, by launching a philosophical argument in defense of secularism, Dotty proposes to maintain secularism and is akin to some form of universal value or code of conduct that enjoys some timeless, natural and popular status. She does this time and again, by suggesting that no alternative system exist to seek a compromise between theocons and law other than either the secular system or nothing! I would have her know there exist a multitude of alternatives some limited and others wholly interlocutory which exist to effectively harmonize the relationship between theocons and the legislature, without compromising the integrity of the secular system! Do check it out and may I draw your attention to the latest book written by Gertrude Himmelfarb, “The Road To Modernity,” just to illustrate my point under the strongest possible terms.

    Perhaps Dotty would do best to write about matters which relate directly to her métier, as an in-house counsel, she obviously lacks the capacity for original thought and her article displays almost a vicious streak that is completely at odds with her caliber as a scholar.

    Yes, I would have expected darkness to come in to temper this article with his usual dose of common sense, but as I can see all he seems to do is to sit in one corner and do nothing. I have been following the BP for nearly 4 years and I must say, this is indeed a sad turn of events, when the likes of Dotty and her gang are allowed free rein to disparage, insinuate and presume indiscriminately without regard to either facts, reason or basic common sense.

    Indeed very disappointed! Yes, please, do come our dear and defend yourself!

  6. dotseng said

    …—… help!

  7. dotseng said

    Don’t worry, be patient…we will sink soon enough.

  8. LHL said

    Where may I ask is darkness? It’s patently clear to all of us dotty and her gang are obviously incapable of fielding these questions.

    May I respectfully ask whether the great darkness will fulfill his obligations? Or are we suppose to believe, he has conveniently gone cycling again.

    What never ceases to surprise me is how that hack can conveniently disappear whenever there is a controversy. I can only draw the conclusion, this must be one reason why he has survived so long.

    Clearly, ineptitude is key. Shameful, dear sir, that you have left the matter to incapable charges, yet you do absolutely nothing!

  9. LHL said

    Dear Madams,

    The great darkness in the tradition of the great debate would have risen to the occasion to rebut every single point that we have raised. Instead Dotty and her team have remain stoically silent, I can only draw the conclusion, since they have nothing to add further that the matter is truly settled.

    Really darkness, you disappoint all of us! To imagine that you had to sink so low to allow the bp to be taken by the collar by a bunch of cheap scholars who have absolutely no idea what it means to stand up and speak in the tradition of the brotherhood.

    Sir, you are trully unadulterated shit!

  10. Chronicler said

    Darkness has gone cycling. We have absolutely no idea, when he will be coming back. Happy Reading. Thank you very much.

  11. macabresg said

    we should never allow religion to influence political decisions before Singapore turns into a theocracy.

  12. Darkness said

    Hello Scimitar,

    I am planning to go down to Bukit Timah for a spot of Mountain Biking this sat. I have prepared a bike for you. We would have to start early, probably at 5.00 am, but I can pick you up.

    Would you like to come? It will just be you and me.

    I want to show you this new trail, I have discovered, it’s called the Tiger trail and it runs abt 5 click, it wonderful bc it overlooks Mc Ritchie.

    I do hope you can make it.

    Your Trully

    Darkness 2007

  13. scimitar said

    Dotty Dearest,

    Can you pls tell him very politely, I have made other plans for the weekend. Many thanks.


  14. Ester said

    Good Morning,

    May I ask whether it is possible to write an article against the proposition posted by Dotty et al. Since none of them show any inclination to respond to our question?

    We would like to prove beyond the shadow of doubt Prof Thio was not spurious in her claim that homosexuality remains a bane in our society.

    Pls note, we wish our article to carry the brotherhood press banner and we expect the chronicler to ensure it is circulated.

    Many Thanks


  15. dotseng said

    Hi Darkness,

    Scimitar just wants to inform you that she has other plans this weekend, thanks for the invite.

    Yours Always


  16. Mother Superior said

    This idiot Darkness seems to remind me too much of this character, only worse:

    Can someone pls tell him off, once and for all. I fear Scimmy may not have the moral fibre to do so! As secretly, she may even harbor a liking for what he is doing!

  17. Soothsayer said

    It will not end well,

    It’s best, if you forget him. I see too much fire in him.

  18. Darkness said


    May I share with you something? I have to believe, more is out there than is inside this body. I must believe. You could say, this is really the only thing that keeps me going. I don’t want to be afraid in believing, I want to be comfortable in this believe, to even snuggle somewhere in the folds of its wings – I believe there is much delight there. I want to long for this place, I don’t want to be afraid to stick my hand up and grope in darkness, I want to throw myself on my doubts in the way a bird takes flight for the very first time. One has to be prepared for devastation to be crushed even, till every bone and sinew is broken and you may ask what for? The belief perhaps? Time and again one has to be prepared to be torn apart by the facts of life to discover oneself. I must believe, that is why, I am doing all this and more if required – do you understand?

    From today, I want you to talk to me. I don’t want to talk through. The rest will come naturally with time.

    I must return to my work. I am working on a new invention.

    Yours Sincerely


  19. Darkness said


    Do you know where I am? I am on a boat headed to Ubin. They say there’s a new mountain bike trail. I have decided to wing it alone again. Many thoughts preoccupied me just then, most selfish, some even giving, but all reminding me, its difficult for one to throw out the habits of a lifetime. Doing so would be like losing a limb.

    It’s a question of resource allocation. I don’t mean to sound technical, only when one is behind, its normal to look back to seek comfort and solace from the knowledge there are others who are slower, to even revel in their struggles – but these are empty victories as so long as I do battle with my immaturity, I am not allowing myself to grow up.

    This morning I went for my Kendo class, my line was scraggy and messy, I tried many times to find that mythical balance, distance and moment, it never even came once, but somewhere between two bouts, I simply said, its not important to win – it was then, that it all came to me quiet beautifully.

    All of us may still have to struggle no end with our past and make peace with how short we may measure to our ideal. But somewhere in all this, all of us are still free to choose the stillness of our heart.

    Darkness 2007

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