Category Archives: Pulse

Clarifying Inter-faith Dialogue

January 2019 Pulse

In a recent interview published by The Straits Times, Mohammad Alami Musa, said that faith communities in Singapore ‘are still at the lower level of inter-religious engagement and discussion, unlike America, Canada or Britain, where the level of inter-religious dialogue and communications is advanced’.

The Head of Studies of the Inter-Religious Relations in Plural Societies Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies added that ‘It is not enough for religious leaders to sit around and have a meal and bring the press in and take a photo of them drinking and eating together. That is good, but we need to go beyond that with regard to dialogue and conversation’.

Given the current global situation in which acts of atrocities and violence are repeatedly committed in the name of religion and where tensions between religious communities are at their tipping points, the call for faith communities to be more concerted in their efforts to foster friendly dialogue and engagement cannot be more urgent.

Christians should not shun such interfaith engagements, but should instead actively participate in them. Indeed, in the past 15 years or so, the National Council of Churches in Singapore has been actively involved in dialogue with other faith communities, especially the Muslim community (mostly through the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura or MUIS).

However, it is extremely important that we have a clear understanding of the nature and purpose of such interfaith conversations. There are a number of approaches to dialogue, proposed by religionists of a certain philosophical or theological persuasion (some of whom are Christians), that we should be quite critical of if we are to take the Bible and the teachings of the Church seriously.

For the orthodox Christian[1], dialogue cannot be conducted on the basis of the religious and epistemological relativism associated by pluralists like Paul Knitter and Stanley Samartha. For them, dialogue demands that participants regard the truth-claims of their respective religions as tentative, inconclusive, and therefore in principle open to radical revision.

For example, in his book No Other Name? Paul Knitter (a liberal Anglican) insists that ‘dialogue is not possible if any partners enter it with the claim that they possess the final, definitive, irreformable truth’. Based on such a criterion, evangelical Christians would find it quite impossible to participate in dialogue because it would require them to deny that the claim that ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ is ‘final, definitive, irreformable truth’.

In the same way, evangelical Christians would be very wary of interfaith dialogue if they were required to follow the rules prescribed by the Indian theologian, Stanley Samartha (Church of South India). In his book Courage to Dialogue, Samartha insists that no religion should claim to have absolute status. ‘A particular religion can claim to be decisive for some people’, he writes, ‘and some people can claim that a particular religion is decisive for them, but no religion is justified in claiming that it is decisive for all’.

For scholars like Knitter and Samartha, the participants of interfaith dialogue are all searching for an ever-greater insight and appreciation of the truth that no particular religion can claim to fully possess. As Knitter puts it, ‘dialogue must be based on the recognition of the possible truth in all religions’. It is only when the truths of the various religions are weaved together into a kind of spiritual and theological tapestry that the Truth (with a capital ‘T’) may be discovered.

For orthodox Christians, interfaith dialogue cannot be understood in this way. Dialogue cannot be seen as a common search for the truth.

This approach to dialogue would require Christians to hold the view that God’s revelation in Christ and in Scripture is incomplete, that the Christian Faith possesses only some aspects of the truth. According to this approach, Christians must be open to the truths found in other religions that are also necessary for ‘salvation’, however salvation may be conceived in the pluralist view.

Christians cannot accept this approach because we believe that God has revealed himself supremely in his incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. In accordance with Scripture, the inspired Word of God, Christians maintain that ‘there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given upon man by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12).

Does this mean, then, that Christians should not participate in interfaith dialogue, and that such activities are futile? I believe that the Christian who embraces and embodies these truths can still be fruitfully involved in interfaith dialogue, but not on the basis of the assumptions of writers like Knitter and Samartha – and certainly not on their terms.

In 2002, the National Council of Churches published a paper that outlines a Christian theology of religion. In that paper, it also discusses interfaith dialogue and argues that the fundamental purpose of dialogue for the orthodox Christian is to achieve greater understanding of the religious other. Interfaith dialogue or engagement is but an inescapable aspect human sociality, especially in a multi-religious country like Singapore.

‘Understood in this way’, the Council explains, ‘dialogue between members of different religions can be seen to be an aspect of the larger matrix of social intercourse between persons. Dialogue is a “natural” process of interaction, sharing, evaluation, discovery and respect that characterises every conversation between persons’.

The Council added that through dialogue, ‘we seek to discover one another, understand each other, appreciate our differences and develop respect for each other even as we cherish our common aspirations and commitments’. Dialogue can therefore go a long way in breaking down social barriers, exposing and correcting misconceptions, and dispelling prejudices.

Such engagements should therefore be honest and open. It should be conducted with civility and respect. And, as Alami has rightly cautioned in the interview, interfaith engagement should not be limited to specially orchestrated and sanitised gatherings, and characterised by superficial exchange of pleasantries.

Rather it must be enacted in the rough and tumble of everyday life, amidst its energies and messiness (‘dialogue of life’). And interfaith relations must achieve a certain character and depth that would spur different communities to work together for the common good of the society to which they belong (‘dialogue of action’).

The approach of the Council is in harmony with the 1991 document published by the Vatican entitled, Dialogue and Proclamation which states that ‘In the context of religious plurality, dialogue means “all positive and constructive interreligious relations with individuals and communities of other faiths which are directed at mutual understanding and enrichment”, in obedience to truth and respect for freedom’.

It goes without saying that genuine and robust interfaith engagement requires a profound theology of religions grounded in Scripture and tradition.

It is a theology of religions that clearly and unapologetically affirms the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, while at the same time acknowledging that the various religions contain moments of truth due to general revelation. On the basis of such a theology, Protestant Christians can, together with the theologians of Vatican II, declare that the Church should reject ‘nothing of those things that are true and holy’ (Nostra Aetate 2) found in the religions.

The presence of the ‘things that are true and holy’ in the other religions makes dialogue possible. But more importantly, as the documents of Vatican II also stress, the truth found in the religions ‘is considered by the Church to be a preparation for the gospel’ (Lumen Gentium 16).

This brings us to a very important point in the Christian understanding of interfaith dialogue.

For the Christian, interfaith dialogue can never be seen as an end in itself. Dialogue must always be understood as part and parcel of the Christian community’s mission of bearing witness to the grace and love of God revealed in Jesus Christ. It is an aspect of the ministry of reconciliation that God has given to his people (2 Corinthians 5:11-21).

The evangelical Christian can therefore fully and unreservedly declare with the Roman Catholic Church that ‘Interreligious dialogue is a part of the Church’s evangelising mission’ (Redemptoris Missio, 1990)


[1] In this article, I use ‘orthodox’ and ‘evangelical’ interchangeably to refer to Christians who believe in the primary authority of Scripture as the written word of God, and whose interpretation of the Bible is guided by the Tradition of the Church.

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.


The Internet of Things: Ethical and Social Concerns

January 2019 Pulse 

Imagine that your humble refrigerator is able to replenish your food supply by taking stock of individual items and ordering them directly from the supermarket. And imagine that your smart fridge is able to monitor your diet and purchase only the foods that are good for your health.

Now imagine that the computer in your home is able to track your whereabouts by GPS on your mobile phone. It can turn on the light and air conditioners in your house as you are parking the car, and unlock the front door as you approach it.

Welcome to the brave new world of the Internet of Things (IoT)!

IoT may be described as an integrated ecosystem where there is an increasing cyber-physical-biological interconnectivity, linking devices, systems, data and people. According to Andrew Whitmore et al., ‘The core concept is that everyday objects can be equipped with identifying, sensing, networking and processing capabilities that will allow them to communicate with one another and with other devices and services over the Internet to achieve some useful objective’.

Pundits believe that IoT can increase efficiency, create opportunities and respond to a variety of needs. IoT, it is said, can empower people through technology, and technology through intelligence. Other commentators, reflecting on its potential impact, have gone so far as to argue that IoT must not be seen only as the Internet of ‘things’. It will eventually become the Internet of ‘mind, body and soul’ – the Internet of ‘behaviour’ and even of ‘life’.

The size of the IoT is projected to be immense. Some commentators estimate that by 2020, there will be 20-50 billion things connected as part of IoT, and that 1.7 trillion U.S. Dollars will be invested in these technologies. This has led Tim O’Reilly to predict that ‘This wave of technology has more chances of reimagining swathes of the world than anything we’ve seen before. This is really going to disrupt everything’.

How will this emerging technological phenomenon – which is part and parcel of the Information Revolution – affect society? How will it change the way we live, and the way we relate to one another? What are the ethical concerns surrounding this integration that promises to blue the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres?


One of the main issues surrounding IoT is safety. By assembling an ecosystem of integrated sensors, processors and actuators we have in fact created what Adam Henschke has called a ‘network of vulnerability’. An incalculable number of things could happen that would result in serious (in some cases, very serious) consequences.

For example, the Internet connection may slow down at a particular point, suddenly shutting off critical life supporting devices. Or take self-driving cars, which are expected to be a common feature on our roads in the near future. The crashing of an IoT system can result in physical car crashes and loss of lives.

People with criminal intent can also exploit this vulnerability. Henschke describes a hypothetical case where a malicious actor exploits the vulnerability in the phone to manipulate linked devices, like the car. He then locks children in the car on a hot day until ransom is paid.


The second issue associated with IoT has to do with privacy. The problem of online privacy has been with us since the beginning of the Internet and Social Media Revolution. But IoT greatly accentuates the problem because it creates such an informationally rich environment that governing it and protecting the privacy of its users will be very challenging, if not impossible.

In addition, IoT is organised in such a way that seemingly innocuous data can carry the personal information of users. As Henschke explains:

‘… what the IoT represents is not just a vast capacity to collect and store information on people, but the capacity for that information to be aggregated, analysed, and communicated to people far beyond those receiving the initial information. This means that increasingly intimate elements of our lives can be revealed by the collection of seemingly innocuous data’.

It is not difficult to see how such data can be misused and exploited.


The third issue is security. The smart devices that are in the market today already pose the challenge of informational security. For example, strangers can easily access the camera in our smart phones remotely. In a similar way, hackers can access personal information in our phones and computers. The security mechanisms that come with these devices often provide inadequate protection.

IoT will predictably sharpen the tension between individual privacy and the use of personal information. Existing privacy laws have shown themselves not only to be difficult to interpret but also challenging to enforce. As IoT technologies become more pervasive and intrusive, privacy protection will become ever more challenging. As Francine Berman and Vinton Cerf put it, ‘personal information will become more valuable to a diverse set of actors that include organizations, individuals, and autonomous systems with the capacity to make decision about you’.

To compound the problem, the information that is variously obtained can be reused. As Peter Drahos and John Braithwaite point out, ‘Information doesn’t wear out. It [can] be endlessly recycled [and] repackaged’. To return to the example of the smart fridge, information about your shopping and eating habits obtained from it can be used to target advertising.

Some have called for an IoT ‘Bill of Rights’ that gives users the basic right to op out or delete data. But even if they have these rights and the know-how to remove the data, they may be able to do so. According to Berman’s and Cerf’s realistic assessment, ‘it may be infeasible or impossible for an individual to control all the data generated about them by IoT systems’.

Informed Consent

Related to the problem of the reusability of data is that of informed consent. According to the principle of informed consent, the source of the information must be informed about who is using that information, where they are using it, and what for. His consent must then be obtained before the information can be used.

But, as Henschke has pointed out, ‘given the range of devices, the networks that arise between devices and the potential for multiple users are so vast that prediction is close to impossible’. And if it is impossible for suppliers of the products and services to predict the full range of the uses of the source’s information, then obtaining the source’s informed consent will also be quite impossible.


Another important consideration related to the proliferation of autonomous systems is accountability.

A good example is the autonomous vehicle, which is required to make many decisions without human assistance as it navigates traffic. We may expect automobile companies to take responsibility for faulty engines or brakes. But who should be held accountable when an autonomous vehicle is involved in a serious accident that caused fatalities?

To be sure, this question relates to other kinds of autonomous or semi-autonomous entities, such as robots programmed to function with minimal human supervision or control. But as Berman and Cerf have rightly argued, ‘As systems take on more decisions previously made by humans, it will be increasingly challenging to create a framework for responsibility and accountability’.

Impact on Society

The question about how IoT will impact and change human self-understanding and sociality has not been sufficiently explored thus far. IoT has the potential to reshape human abilities and capacities beyond existing forms of ‘enabling technologies’, and in ways that we are unable to clearly foresee. In IoT, the challenges of the control of technological processes and the ramifications of actions mediated by technology are magnified.

As the European Commission’s (EC) report puts it:

‘In IoT the traditional modern construction of the subject – the subject of knowledge and the moral subject –, still pervading most current ethical and legal concepts, has to confront the complexities of the duty to know in context where knowledge can be limited, as well as the hybridized interactions between subjects and objects, agents and actors (object behaving subject-like)’.

Finally, when IoT becomes pervasive in society, it will introduce a division (a ‘digital divide’) and inequality in society. Those who are knowledgeable and skilled will be empowered to master the new technologies and take advantage of them to the fullest. They are able to choose which technologies they wish to use, protect themselves from abuses and opt-out from certain services and networks. But as the EC report points out: ‘Those who cannot keep the pace with the pervasiveness will progressively become deskilled, disempowered and unknowledgeable’.

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

Via Dolorosa (The Way of Sorrow)

December 2018 Pulse

In February 2015, Gay Byrne, host of the Irish religious television programme The Meaning of Life, asked militant atheist Stephen Fry what he would say to God if he found himself standing before Him at the Pearly Gates.

Fry replied with his characteristic sting: “Bone cancer in children: what’s that about?” He then proceeded with a lengthy diatribe on how evil must be the God who would so cruelly inflict such terrible suffering on little innocent children.

There is a sense in which Fry may be forgiven for working with that particular understanding of divine agency that informed his view of God. There are, after all, Christian writers who have postulated this concept of divine sovereignty and providence, and have – for example – attributed the tragedy of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami to the direct expression of the divine will.

The Orthodox theologian Bentley Hart rightly rejects such views as serious distortions of the biblical portrait of God.

“Such a God,” writes Bentley perceptively in The Doors of the Sea, “at the end of the day, is nothing but will, and so nothing but an infinite brute event; and the only adoration that such a God can evoke is an almost perfect coincidence of faith and nihilism.” Such an incoherent view of God, Hart points out, only provides ammunition for critics of the Christian faith (like Fry).

The God whose very nature is love cannot be the direct cause of suffering and evil. Their presence point to the fact that we inhabit a world that has come under the divine curse because of human rebellion and sin – a world that is sorely in need of redemption.

Although God cannot be said to be the author of suffering, He can use the trials and difficulties that we experience to fulfil His own purposes for us (and for the world). This is especially true for the Christian who trusts in God in the midst of the tribulations of life.

In the hands of the sovereign God, suffering can be a pruning tool to excise that which is unholy in our lives – the darkness in our souls that stunts our spiritual growth. In the mysterious outworking of divine grace, suffering removes our reticence and causes us to draw closer to God.

As Pope John Paul II put it in his apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris (Salvific Suffering), for the Christian, “suffering must serve for conversion, that is, for the rebuilding of goodness in the subject, who can recognise the divine mercy in this call to repentance.”

I should clarify at this point that suffering in and by itself is never virtuous. Neither is it a sign of holiness and/or means by which we attain greater intimacy with God. As we have seen, suffering, and the evil that gives rise to it, is an antithesis to the purposes of God.

Lent summons us to grateful contemplation of the suffering and death of the Son of God on the cursed tree, for the salvation of sinful humanity and the restoration of the fallen creation, showing that the evil and suffering that plague this world was never part of God’s original intention.

But the Passion of Christ has not only brought redemption to this fallen world, it has also translated all human suffering into a new situation. “In the Cross of Christ not only is the Redemption accomplished through suffering, but also human suffering itself has been redeemed”, wrote the late pontiff.

This means that for the Christian, the death and resurrection of our Lord throw salvific light on human suffering in the most penetrating way. Although suffering is an evil that must be resisted, the Christian knows that God can use it to accomplish the good (Romans 8:28).

The resurrection of Christ demonstrates that evil and suffering do not have the last word. For a day will come when suffering will be totally eradicated, when “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore” (Revelation 21:4).

Those who live with this hope can declare together with the Apostle Paul that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

Thus, because of Christ’s death and resurrection, the Christian can walk the via dolorosa (the way of sorrow) with faith, courage, and hope.

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

A Decent Society

December 2018 Pulse

In his erudite and captivating book, Conscience and Its Enemies (2013), Robert George discusses the essential features of a decent society. According to the Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, the three pillars on which a decent society rests are (1) respect for the human person, (2) the institution of the family, and (3) a fair and effective system of government and law.

As a Roman Catholic, George established these foundations of a decent society on the basis of Catholic social doctrine (rooted in the teachings of the Bible and Christian tradition) as well as natural law.

The first pillar has to do with taking seriously the inviolable dignity of every human being. The Bible distinguishes the human creature from the rest of God’s creation by emphasising that it alone is the bearer of the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27).

‘The divine image is present in every man’, declares the Catechism of the Catholic Church. ‘It shines forth in the communion of persons, in the likeness of the unity of the divine persons themselves’.

When a society recognises, values and respects the human person, writes George, its institutions ‘and the beliefs and practices of the people, will be such that every member of the human family, irrespective not only of race, sex, or ethnicity but also of age, size, stage of development, or condition of dependency, is treated as a person – that is, as a subject bearing profound, inherent, and equal worth and dignity’.

A society that fails or refuses to nurture respect for the human person and acknowledge the sanctity of human life will embrace an inhumane utilitarianism that tramples upon the dignity of the individual for the sake of some nebulous ‘greater good’.

The second pillar is the institution of the family. With characteristic perceptiveness and clarity, George writes: ‘The family, based on the marital commitment of husband and wife, is the original and best ministry of health, education and welfare’.

For Pope John Paul II, the family is fashioned in such a way that it reflects the triune God himself. In his Letter to Families (1994), the late pontiff states that ‘the primordial model of the family is to be sought in God himself, in the Trinitarian mystery’. The family as a ‘communion of persons’ (communio personarum) is grounded in the triune God, who is Being-in-Communion.

So foundational and important are families to society that where they fail to form or where too many break down, writes George, ‘the effective transmission of the virtues of honesty, civility, self-restraint, concern for the welfare of others, justice compassion, and personal responsibility are imperiled’.

The third pillar of a decent society, according to George, is a fair and effective system of government. Based on the biblical revelation of the sinfulness of our fallen humanity, George provides an argument for the need for law and government that is consistent with Scripture (Romans 13) and the Christian tradition.

Law and government are necessary, he writes quite plainly, ‘because none of us is perfectly virtuous all the time, and some people will be deterred from wrongdoing only by the threat of punishment’.

Together with conservatives, past and present – e.g. Edmund Burke (in the 18th century) and Roger Scruton (in ours) – George believes that law and government are meant to protect the safety and morals of society and advance general welfare.

It should be quite obvious to many that we live in the world in which each of these pillars has come under assault – sometimes by totalitarian regimes and their dehumanising ideologies, and sometimes in the name of the ideals of modern liberal democracy, such as autonomy and rights.

In countless clinics across the world, foetuses are being routinely killed because women want to exercise autonomy over their bodies and parents want to exert their rights.

Take, for example, the routine abortion of foetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome.

Iceland could boast that no babies with Down are born there. This is not due to the ‘genetic exceptionalism’ of Icelanders, but the policy of prenatal screening and abortion. It is reported that in the United States, 90 percent of babies diagnosed with Down are aborted because genetic counsellors having been pushing this option very hard.

Canada legalised euthanasia in June 2016. Since then, over 1,029 patients have been euthanized. The Canadian Paediatric Society reported that doctors and paediatricians are increasingly asked by parents to euthanize their disabled or dying children or infants. Pro-life doctors who refuse to be party to this are required by law to refer their patients to other doctors who would provide the service.

Abortion and euthanasia are just two of many examples of the assault on the human person that we witness in modern civilised society.

Marriage and family have also been subjected to severe battery in our time.

The growing acceptance and legalisation of same-sex marriage has radically redefined marriage and altered the structure of the family. In fact, such legislations have in effect resulted in the abolition of marriage.

Science and technology have also contributed to the assault on the family. One example is assisted reproductive technologies that ‘create’ a child with the genetic contribution from a third party – through the use of donor gametes.

 Attacks on the family are also not uncommon in the academy, especially in the West.

George explains: ‘The line here is that the family, at least as traditionally constituted and understood, is a patriarchal and exploitative institution that oppresses women and imposes on people forms of sexual restraint that are psychologically damaging and that inhibit free expression of personality’.

The assault on government and law is seen most acutely in the totalitarian governments in modern history. Within regimes like Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao’s China, all power is located in the particular leader or group that controls everything, from politics to culture. In such regimes, the only form of power is the political.

But the rule of law has come under assault even in democratic countries, not just in totalitarian ones. This happens when ideology is allowed to shape the law, and the rule of law is manipulated and bent according to the ideological whims of the powerful. When this occurs, the rule of law is nothing but the rule of politics.

Christians in different vocations – teachers, doctors, civil servants, politicians, policy-makers, lawyers, judges, etc – must strenuously resist and oppose the forces that would destroy the moral and social fabric of society.

They must do their best to promote the three pillars of a good society – respect for the human person, preservation of the family and a fair and effective system of government and law – and prevent society from coming into the grips of the new barbarism.

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

Difficult Love

November 2018 Pulse

In 2017, ISIS detonated bombs at two Coptic churches in Egypt during their Palm Sunday services that killed at least 45 worshippers.

The first explosion, which killed 27 people and injured 78, took place in the Mar Girgis church located in the city of Tanta, about 90 km from Cairo. The second explosion took place three hours later at St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church, killing 18 and wounding 35.

Days after the incident, a journalist spoke to the widow of Mr Naseem Faheem, the Christian guard who was killed at St Mark’s Church. “I’m not angry at the one who did this”, she said, with her children by her side. “I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.’ ”

Mr Amir Adeed, arguably the most prominent talk show host in Egypt, was stunned when he heard what the widow said. “How great is this forgiveness you have!”, Amir exclaimed, his voice cracking. “If it were my father, I could never say this. But this is their faith and religious conviction.”

Naseem’s humble widow embodies and so profoundly exemplifies that radical self-forgetting love that the Bible calls agape.

There are a number of passages in Scripture with the injunction for Christians to love their neighbours, including their enemies:

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28, NIV)

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” (Romans 12:14)

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing…” (1 Peter 3:9, NIV)

Agape is a difficult love. It calls us to do something that clearly goes against our inclinations. By calling us to love our enemies, the very people who hate us and who have either done us harm or wish to do so, agape stretches human love beyond its limits.

The American Catholic social activist Dorothy Day, who has poured out her life to serve the poor and disenfranchised, confronts the impossible possibility of such love with undisguised honesty.

“All men are brothers,” she wrote, “but how to love your brother or sister when they are sunk in ugliness, foulness, and degradation, so that all the senses are affronted? How to love when the adversary shows a face to you of implacable hatred, or just cold loathing?”

The command to love our enemies is a call to love in the way God loves. In Paul’s epistle to the Romans, he tells us that while we were sinners (i.e., God’s enemies – see Romans 5:10), God showed His love through the sacrificial death of Christ (Romans 5:8). On the cross of Calvary, Jesus prayed that God the Father would forgive the people who tortured and crucified Him (Luke 23:34).

Thus, in loving an adversary who emanates only “implacable hated” or “cold loathing”, we reflect in our lives the very ‘agapic’ love of God.

Approached from another angle, in loving others in this way, we become more human, for to be human is to be the bearer of the image and likeness of God.

But is such love even possible? Naseem’s widow has clearly demonstrated to us that it is. Agape is possible because of the power of the Spirit who dwells in us.

Following the approach exemplified by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Dorothy suggests that we could begin to love in this way by seeing Jesus in the other. “Jesus is disguised and masked in the midst of men, hidden among the poor, among the sick, among the prisoners, among strangers,” she wrote, no doubt with Matthew 25:35 in mind.

But decades of selfless service to the poor and marginalised have disabused Dorothy of all puerile idealism. ‘Agapic’ love is never easy, and very often she feels that her “love is too small”.

But Dorothy recognises that the Bible commands such love, and obedience requires nothing less than a strenuous act of will. In her book, On Pilgrimage, she put this again in manifest honesty: “If you will to love someone, you soon do… It depends on how hard you try.”

For Dorothy – as it should be for all Christians – loving our neighbour is not an option for those who have themselves received the forgiveness and love of God. It is a responsibility.


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

Normalizing Homosexuality: How Should Christians Respond?

November 2018 Pulse

Reader’s Question: How should Christians respond to the attempts to normalize same-sex relationships?

Without a doubt, the LGBT advocacy movement may be said to be one of the most successful in modern history. Within a short space of fifty to sixty years (slightly beyond one generation), we have seen the seismic shift in cultural sensibilities, from viewing homosexual behaviour as a reprehensible taboo to legalizing same-sex marriage.

These winds of change are not only blowing in liberal societies in the West, but are also felt in more conservative countries in Asia. The ruling of the Taiwanese Constitutional Court on 24 May 2017 that same-sex couples have the right to marry is a case in point.

LGBT advocates have exerted influence in different sectors of society – education, business, media and even religion – taking full advantage of the internet and social media to advance their agenda. Some have tried to repeal prohibitive laws against homosexual conduct by challenging the constitutionality of such legislations.

The main strategy of these advocates is to convince the world that homosexuality is normal, that people who are same-sex attracted are born that way. Many have appealed to the modern concept of sexual orientation and insist that the genetic and neurological basis for homosexuality is well supported by science.

If homosexual orientation has a biological basis, then discrimination against people with same-sex attraction amounts to bigotry and the infringement of their fundamental rights and liberties – so goes the argument.

How should Christians respond to the obvious agenda of LGBT activists to normalize homosexuality in society? Because of the multi-faceted nature of the LGBT strategy, the Christian response must take different forms and be made at various levels of society.


 We begin with the Church. A recent study conducted by the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity revealed that the majority of church leaders and young adults think that not enough is being done to educate Christians on the LGBT issue.

Pastors and leaders could do more to help members appreciate what the Bible and the Christian tradition teach about sexuality, marriage and family through sermons, seminars and discussion groups. They must also be aware of the work of revisionist scholars who try to show that the Bible only prohibits certain forms of homosexual acts but not faithful homosexual relationships. And they must be able to show how these arguments are fundamentally flawed.

In addition, the church must also engage members who are struggling with same-sex attraction, and create an environment of trust where they can receive prayer, support and encouragement to choose obedience.

The National Council of Churches of Singapore has also played an important role in addressing this issue, and will continue to do so. In 2003, the Council issued a statement that clearly articulates its position on homosexual behavior and current legislations (377A) against such behavior. It also urged the government not to put in place liberal policies that would promote the homosexual lifestyle.

The Council has continued to intermittently address the issue since its 2003 statement whenever it has been necessary to do so.


Parents have a special responsibility to nurture their children in such a way that they would take the teaching of the Bible and the Church on human sexuality seriously. A number of studies have shown that the home environment and parental guidance play an important role children’s understanding of sexuality.

Parents should be willing to discuss with their children the liberal notions about sexuality that they may encounter in social media and in popular TV networks such as Netflix. They should also take an interest in the books and website articles that their children might be reading.


One of the strategies that LGBT activists employ to normalize homosexuality is to influence public education – its curriculum, policies of inclusivity and ethos. Here, Christians involved in public education at various levels – from ministers to policy makers to principals and teachers – must be especially vigilant.

Parents should also take a special interest in what their children are being taught and the books they are required to read, especially on topics like sexuality and the family.

In Singapore, vendors are engaged by the school or the Ministry of Education to provide sexuality education in public schools. Christian principals and teachers should be aware of the background of the vendors and their views on human sexuality. Parents must likewise be aware of the assumptions and values of the vendors engaged by their children’s schools.

Social Policies

Christians involved in shaping policies should try to prevent the promotion of radical views on sexuality or the gay lifestyle. This includes, for example, granting licenses to operate explicitly gay bars or clubs or to organize big public events that promote the LGBT cause.

Much of the rhetoric for allowing LGBT to organize themselves in ways that make their presence more prominent in society revolves around cherished ideals and values such as inclusivity, equality and rights. For Christians, these values are important, but they must always be tempered by other considerations that are of no less importance, such as morality and the well-being of society.

Here, Christian politicians and civil servants can also play a crucial role in checking the information posted on government websites. For example, in 2014 the Health Promotion Board of Singapore posted its ‘FAQs on Sexuality’ that encourages readers (mostly youths and young adults) to explore their own sexuality.

The FAQs used the Kinsey Scale that originated from Alfred Kinsey, a controversial sex researcher who argued that human sexuality is fluid and therefore cannot be neatly classified as either heterosexual or homosexual. This theory has been refuted by a number of studies that show that human sexuality is not as fluid as Kinsey would have us believe. They indicate that the majority of adults are distinctly heterosexual while a small minority has homosexual or bisexual tendencies.

The National Council of Churches of Singapore flagged this with the authorities. Unfortunately, the reference to the Kinsey Scale has not been removed from the FAQs and the document still promotes a version of the Kinseyan theory of sexuality.

Christian civil servants should try to prevent the publication of materials for public consumption if there is cause to believe that they are either based on dubious science or promoting liberal theories about sexuality.


Christian politicians play an important role in preventing the normalization of homosexuality in society. For example, in 2007 when the status of Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalizes male homosexual sex was discussed in Parliament, a number of Christian (and some non-Christian) MPs argued against its repeal.

In his speech in Parliament Christopher de Souza argued that a ‘repeal of 377A will not merely remove an offence. It is much more significant than that. Because of the concept of negative liberty, the removal of section 377A puts homosexual lifestyle on par with heterosexual life. It is to accord both lifestyles a sense of parity’.

De Souza goes on to show the undesirable consequences that the promotion of this lifestyle would have on marriage, spousal rights, adoption, and education. Christian politicians must have the courage to make such arguments even in the face of domestic pressures and global trends.


Much more could of course be said on this important subject. What is offered here is merely a sketch of how Christians at various levels and playing different roles can respond to this threat.

However, Christians must always assert their influence in a civil and respectful manner. Ours is a religiously and ideologically plural society that is subjected to numerous influences. In this multicultural and multi-religious context, the Christian position on this issue (on any issue for that matter) is often reduced to one viewpoint amidst many conflicting and competing opinions.

The church, however, must never be cowered by this. She must always speak the truth clearly, courageously and without compromise. But she must always do so with gentleness and love. But above all, the church must pray for those in authority so that they may always seek the welfare of the nation and not simply act for the sake of political and economic expediency.

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.


Loving Obedience

October 2018 Pulse

At the beginning of the 19th century, the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley declared that obedience is the “bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth, “for it makes slaves of men, and of the human frame a mechanised automation.”

A child of the European Enlightenment, Shelley waxed eloquent in echoing the disdain of many of his contemporaries over the suffocating authoritarianism that obedience sardonically implies.

As the late Roman Catholic theologian and indefatigable essayist Fr Richard Neuhaus puts it: “… obedience became a dirty word already in the 18th century Enlightenment, when it was frequently construed as meaning ‘blind obedience’ – a stifling and unthinking conformity to authority.”

This attitude still holds sway for many in our society today.

Obedience, however, is one of the most important themes in the Bible. In Scripture as well as in the theological and spiritual tradition of the Church, obedience is understood as the most appropriate attitude and response of the believer to God.

Now, it is imperative that we achieve a clear understanding of what the Bible has to say about this important virtue. This is because the biblical concept of obedience is radically different from secular accounts and the doctrines of other religions, such as Islam.

In the Bible, faith and obedience are intricately interwoven with each other. The obedience of the Christian flows out of his faith (trust) in the God whose extravagant love is demonstrated in the giving of His Son for the salvation of the world. Paul highlights the relationship between faith and obedience in the expression “the obedience that comes from faith” in his letter to the Christians in Rome (Romans 1:5, NIV).

So inseparable is faith and obedience in the Bible that the German Lutheran theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, could aver that “only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.”

In the Bible, obedience is not only joined with faith; it is also joined with love. Christian obedience should never be understood as a contractual transaction or as slavish adherence to a set of rules and regulations. Rather, obedience is always an expression of responsive love on the part of one who has received the undeserved but generous love of God.

The profound relationship between love and obedience is portrayed repeatedly in Scripture. Jesus said to His disciples: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). And John, the Apostle of Love, wrote to the Christians in his community: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (1 John 5:3).

The Christian obeys not because he is forced or coerced. The Christian obeys because he loves. He loves because he knows that he is being loved.

Christian obedience, therefore, can never be reduced to crass legalism. It is rather the sure and concrete proof of our love for God.

Understood in this way, Christian obedience is never a chore or a burden. “His commandments”, wrote John crisply and incisively, “are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3b). The Spanish theologian Ignatius of Loyola has put it plainly: “It is not hard to obey when we love the one whom we obey.”

As an expression of gratitude and love, obedience brings exceedingly great joy to the Christian. The obedient Christian lives a doxological life – a life that reverberates with praise, a joyful life that honours God.

Finally, it is by obeying the Word of God and by bending our wills to His that we become truly free. It is by yielding to the will of the Creator that we are gradually being transformed from inauthenticity to authenticity.

Secular thinkers like Shelley often mistakenly regard this paradox as some pious mumbo jumbo at best, or a silly contradiction at worst. For them, we are truly free only when we are not bound by the fetters of dogma or morality that are imposed from outside.

Only the sovereign individual, they insist, is truly free.

But the sovereign individual is a myth. So is the freedom that he purportedly enjoys. In truth, the person who rejects God in the name of freedom and self-determination is in the state of delusion and ‘un-freedom’.

To put it forthrightly, as the Bible does, the person who chooses disobedience instead of obedience is in bondage. He is “a slave to sin” (John 8:34).


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

罪恶还是犯罪? – 论道德立法



许教授在他的文章中讨论了一系列广泛的问题。 它们包括了与同性性行为的罪恶与犯罪的概念、性取向的科学证据、法院的角色以及宗教在法律辩论中的地位。

然而,在我看来,许教授的文章中充斥着许多扭曲的泛泛之论和以偏盖全的陈述,这些陈述有可能造成误导。所以, 我希望在这篇简短的文章中讨论其中一些问题。


许教授认为,对于同性恋行为,人们必须区分罪恶与犯罪。 他与前司法部长(Walter Woon)都认为,鸡奸或许被某些宗教视为罪,但却不应被国家视为犯罪行为。

从表面上看,这一论点似乎非常具说服力。 但是,仔细审查的话,这种构建课题的方式可能具有误导性,因为它无法带出道德与法律之间的深刻关系。 虽然道德与法律之间存在着区别,但彼此间也存在着一种错综复杂的关系,不应该被如此轻描淡写的带过。

首先必须说的是,一个社会的法律体系是建基于该社会的道德观。 因此,我们可以说没有道德观就没有法律。

这种道德观念部分表达于地方的法律中,对任何社会的福祉都至关重要。 正如Lord Patrick Devlin在其题为“道德与刑法”的文章中所说:“社会意味着一个思想共同体; 如果没有政治,道德和伦理上的共同意念,任何社会都不可能存在。”

法律的制定就是因为它们具体表达了一个社会的道德观念,即它对是与非的理解。 这个命题是不言而喻的,并不需要额外的补充和辩护。


杀人被视为是一种犯罪行为,因为社会认为执意夺走另一个人的生命是错误的。 同样的,强奸是一种犯罪行为,因为社会认为对妇女或男人的性暴力是一种在道德上应受严厉谴责的可恶罪行。


换句话说,它们是为了反映我们社会所应建基的共同道德信念和承担而制定的。Lord Devlin会说这些法律是为了表达“社会的构成道德”。



在2014年IPS进行的一项调查中,78.2%的受访者表示反对同性恋生活方式,72.9%反对同性婚姻。 在最近的IPSOS(2018年)有关377A条文调查中,55%的受访者不赞成废除这条法律,只有12%希望将其删除。

李总理在2014年接受BBC的采访中说,377A条文的存在与否是“社会价值观的问题”时,正是表达了这点。 若借用Lord Devlin的说法,这条文在刑法中的存在是对“社会的构成道德”的阐释。

但是,必须强调的是,法律与道德之间的关系是相互关联的。 这意味着社会价值观纵然能够塑造法律体系,立法者也同样可以对社群的社会习惯施加影响。

这对377A条文来说也是一样。 正如Christopher de Souza在2007年国会辩论中简明扼要地指出:



新加坡基督教全国教会理事会(NCCS)非常了解这一点。 它最近的声明表示其所关注的,是废除377A条文“将鼓吹并导致这种同性恋生活方式的正常化,这将进而带来不良的道德和社会后果。”

罗马天主教会大主教William Goh也理解维持现状的重要性。 在他的牧函中,他写道:

我认为在目前情况下不应废除S377A。 这是因为,接受同性恋行为为一种社会规范,对于我们家庭的稳定,子女的福祉以及对共同利益的风险所带来的可怕后果将是长期性且不可逆转的。

道德与法律之间的关系是复杂的。 它拒绝许教授在他的文章中所提出的简单二分法。


在他的文章中,许教授略略提到了美国最高法院在Lawrence v. Texas的标志性的裁决,认为对鸡奸的定罪是违宪的。 他引用法官Anthony Kennedy的话说:“请愿者有权要求他人尊重他们的私生活。 国家不能通过将私人性行定为犯罪来贬低或控制他们的命运。”

我们无需被现代法学中有关法律在公共和私人道德领域的角色的辩论所阻碍。 然而,许教授似乎与Kennedy法官一致建议,成年人的私人性行为应该是不受法律约束的。

即便一般情况是如此,但也有一些明显的例外。成人乱伦就是一个令人信服的例子。 正如新加坡刑事法典376G条文所明确规定的,成年人之间的乱伦性关系,即使是双方同意并且是私下进行的,仍算为一种罪行,并可判处监禁。

2012年,“海峡时报”就报道,有一名24岁的女子就因与父亲发生自愿性行为被判处12个月的缓刑,并被令去看精神科医生。 她的父亲则因乱伦被判处三年徒刑。

这意味着并非成年人之间的每一种私人性活动都超出了法律的管辖范围。 因此,许教授有责任说明为什么他认为法律不该侵犯私人性关系的论点只适用于刑事法典377A条文而非376G条文。

在著名的Hart-Devlin辩论中,Lord Devlin有力地辩称,如果私人行为对社会的道德构成威胁的话,就不能免于公共制裁。 英格兰和美国原先的鸡奸法就是基于这个道理。


在他的文章中,许教授声称虽然科学家不知道什么决定了性取向,但他们“倾向于根据生物学理论,接受基因因素”。 他坚持科学家并不将性取向视为一种选择,给予人一种科学界已就此问题达成共识的印象。


从20世纪90年代开始,已进行了大量的科学研究,尝试寻找同性恋的生物学基础。 但是这些研究未能确凿的表明同性恋取向是由基因因素决定的。

事实上,这些研究恰恰指向相反的结论。 例如,最初由John Michael Bailey和Richard Pillard于1991年进行的双胞胎研究,随后被许多其他科学家复制就显示了,生物学并不能决定同性恋倾向。

在《科学人》杂志的一篇文章中,William Byrne得出结论,认为Bailey和Pillard的研究“显然挑战了一个简单的基因假设,并强烈暗示环境对性取向有显着贡献。”

这一结论得到了Peter S. Bearman和Hannah Brückner于2002年以及Niklas Långström在2010年进行的关于双胞胎的广泛研究的支持。

在他们于2016年发表在新亚特兰蒂斯期刊(The New Atlantis)题为“性与性别:生物,心理和社会科学的调查结果”,Lawrence S. Mayer和Paul R. McHugh得出以下的结论:

有关性取向其中一些最普遍的观点,如“天生如此”的假设,根本没有科学根据。 的确,该领域的文献描述了非异性恋者和异性恋者之间一小部分生物学上的差异,但这些差异不足以预测性取向。

Jeffrey Satinover在他的著作《同性恋与真理政治》一书中就写道,“硬科学远无法对同性恋提出完整的解释,更不用说将其简化为基因决定论了。”

即便科学迄今仍未能证明同性恋存在着生物学决定性的因素,同性恋游说者还是不断的使用“科学”来推动他们声称同性恋取向是天生且不可改变的主张。 许教授似乎是不加批判的接受并传递这类的表述。


1974年,美国精神医学学会(APA)从DSM(II)中公布的病理性精神病清单中删除了同性恋。 修订后的判决书指出,“……同性恋本身就是性行为的一种形式,就像其他形式的性行为本身并非精神失常一样,因此并不列在失常的术语中。”

然而,这种改变并不是由于同性恋取向的基因或神经学基础有任何新的科学证据的结果。 正如Ronald Bayer在其题为《同性恋和美国精神病学:诊断政治》(1987)一书中清楚地表明,这一修订乃是APA里头的同性恋游说者的政治压力。

Bayer写道:“最终的结果不是基于理性所带出的接近科学真理的结论,而是一种被时代的意识形态所推演的行动。” 因此,Albert Dean Byrd和Stony Olsen能宣称“基于政治原因,疾病的耻辱已经完全消失”。

Charles W. Socarides在其1992年题为“性政治与科学知识”的文章中警告说,APA的决定:





“我会恭敬地提醒他们[基督教和回教领袖们],”许教授写道,“新加坡是一个世俗国家。 它不是基督教国家或回教国家。 实施这些宗教的教条并不是国家的事情。” 他继续强调新加坡乃是政教分离,“教会领袖和回教领导人应尊重这种分离”。

许教授的语调是傲慢和大家长式的。 他认为新加坡的宗教领袖们都必须接受他关于宗教与国家之间正确关系的指导。

认为像NCCS这样的宗教团体发表声明,就因为他们希望国家强制执行他们的教条是一种荒谬的看法。 当NCCS就一个问题发表声明时,它并不是试图将其世界观强加于社会,或将新加坡转变为基督教神权国家。 其目的仅仅是帮助其成员教会理解其组织在该特定问题上的立场。




在过去的几十年里,NCCS就各种问题发表了一系列声明,包括安乐死,器官交易和同性恋。 理事会之所以发表这些声明,是为了教育和指导基督徒,及谋求共同利益,而不是将其观点强加于他人。

理事会了解新加坡是一个多元宗教的社会,没有一个宗教可以在社会和道德问题上独断独行。 但同样地,也没有个人或少数群体可以向大多数人强加他们对性行的看法。

有关公共道德问题的辩论,如377A条文,宗教的立场尤为重要。正如李总理所说,这与“社会价值观”有关。 只要宗教人士及其社体是我们社会的一部分并致力于后者的蓬勃发展的话,他们就有权提供对这个问题的观点。

在这种对话中排除信仰团体就是否认他们在我们多元宗教社会中的合法地位。 事实上,我们甚至可以这么说,在这种辩论中查封宗教声音是对协商民主精神的侮辱。 它与我们一直在努力建设的包容性社会是背道而驰的。



例如,在最近刑法典的审查中,内政部和律政部安排了特别会议会见了宗教领袖,以征求他们的意见。 事实上,内政部和律政部长尚穆根甚至分别与不同的宗教团体会面以解释审查的必须并征求他们的意见。

与许教授不同,新加坡政府承认世俗社会不应在公共道德问题上行使霸权。 它认识到,在这些问题上,必须寻求并认真对待宗教团体的观点。 这与多元宗教的新加坡特别相关,因我国有80%以上的人口都信奉宗教信仰。


谢正金博士是新加坡三一神学院周福兴基督教教义教授,并“思潮” 基督教公共研究所的神学与研究顾问。




A Sin Or A Crime? – On Legislating Morality

(Click here for Chinese version)

October 2018 Pulse

On September 24 (2018), The Straits Times published an article by Professor Tommy Koh entitled ‘Section 377A: There is a difference between a sin and a crime’. This article was written in the wake of renewed debate in Singapore on Section 377A, sparked by the recent decision by the Indian apex court to repeal Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.

Both the ‘repeal’ and ‘retain’ parties have organised online petitions to garner support for their positions. Several prominent public figures, including Koh, have jumped into the fray and expressed their support for its repeal. The National Council of Churches, the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church and the Islamic Authorities have issued official statements arguing against the repeal.

In his article, Koh discusses a wide range of issues. They include the concepts of sin and crime in relation to homosexual sex, the scientific evidence for sexual orientation, the role of the courts and the place of religion in debates on the law.

However, Koh’s article, in my view, is riddled with a number of distorting generalisations and sweeping statements that have the potential to mislead. I hope to address some of them in this brief article.


Koh argues that with respect to homosexual acts a distinction must be made between a sin and a crime. Sodomy, he asserts – in agreement with former attorney-general Walter Woon – may be seen as a sin by some religions, but it should not be regarded as a crime by the state.

On the surface, this argument may seem quite compelling. But upon closer scrutiny, this way of framing the issue can be misleading because it fails to capture the profound relationship between morality and the law. Although there are distinctions between morality and the law, there is also an intricate relationship between them that should never be trivialised or ignored.

It must be said at the outset that the entire legal system is in some profound sense based on the moral vision of a particular society. Thus we can say that there can be no law without morality.

This moral vision, expressed in part in the laws of the land, is absolutely vital for the well-being of any society. As Lord Patrick Devlin has famously put it in his essay entitled ‘Morals and Criminal Law’: ‘Society means a community of ideas; without shared ideas of politics, morality and ethics, no society can exist’.

Laws are made because they bring to concrete expression the moral sensibilities of a society, that is, its understanding of right and wrong. This proposition is so self-evident that it requires very little elaboration or defence.

A few examples would be sufficient to illustrate this.

Homicide is a crime because it is wrong to intentionally take the life of another human being. Rape is a crime because society deems sexual violence on a woman or a man as a morally reprehensible offence that should never be countenanced.

The recent review of the Penal Code also brings this out very clearly. New laws pertaining to marital rape, the protection of minors from sexual predators and crimes against the vulnerable are made because they uphold the moral vision of our society.

In other words, they are put in place to reflect the shared moral convictions and commitments on the basis of which we want to order our society. Lord Devlin would say that these laws are there to give voice to ‘society’s constitutive morality’.

Incidentally, in all of the examples cited above, what religion (in this case, Christianity) calls sins, the state also regards as crimes punishable under the law.

In relation to section 377A, we must therefore ask what is the moral stance of the Singapore public on the issue of homosexual intercourse and lifestyle.

In a survey conducted by IPS in 2014, 78.2 per cent of the respondents said that they were against the homosexual lifestyle, and 72.9 per cent were against same-sex marriage. In the recent IPSOS survey (2018) on section 377A, 55 per cent of the respondents were not in favour of the repeal of the law, while only 12 per cent wanted it removed.

PM Lee is surely right when he said in a 2014 BBC interview that the status of section 377A is a ‘matter of society’s values’. To use Lord Devlin’s expression, its presence in the Penal Code is an articulation of ‘society’s constitutive morality’.

However, it must be stressed that the relationship between the law and morality is a reciprocal one. This means that while societal values can shape the legal system, the lawmaker can also exert influence on the social habits of society.

This applies to section 377A. As Christopher de Souza has succinctly put it in the 2007 debate in Parliament:

A repeal of section 377A will not merely remove the offence. It is much more significant than that. Because of the concept of negative liberty, the removal of section 377A puts homosexual lifestyle on par with heterosexual lifestyle. It is to accord both lifestyles a sense of parity.

In other words, the repeal of this piece of legislation can gradually result in significant changes in the ‘constitutive morality’ of our society (Devlin).

The National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) understands this very well. Its recent statement expresses its concern that the repeal of section 377A ‘would result in the normalisation and promotion of this [i.e., homosexual] lifestyle, which in turn would lead to undesirable moral and social consequences’.

The Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church, William Goh, also understands the importance of maintaining the status quo. In his pastoral letter, he writes:

I am of the view that S377A should not be repealed under the present circumstances. This is because, by accepting homosexual acts as a social norm, the dreadful consequences for the stability of our families, the well-being of our children, and the risks to the common good will be long-term and irreversible.

The relationship between morality and the law is complex. It defies the simplistic dichotomies suggested by Koh in his article.


In his article, Koh briefly alluded to the landmark ruling by the United States Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas that the criminalisation of sodomy was unconstitutional. He cited Justice Anthony Kennedy, who said that: ‘The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The state cannot demean or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime’.

The debate concerning the role of the law in the spheres of public and private morality in modern jurisprudence need not detain us. However, Koh seems to suggest, in concert with Justice Kennedy, that private sexual conduct of consenting adults should be off limits to the law.

While this may generally be the case, there are notable exceptions, adult incest being a compelling example. As section 376G of Singapore’s Penal Code makes clear, an incestuous sexual relationship between adults, even if it is consensual and conducted in private, is an offence punishable by imprisonment.

In 2012, The Straits Times reported that a 24-year-old woman was sentenced to 12 months’ probation for having consensual sex with her father and ordered to see a psychiatrist. Her father was sentenced to three years imprisonment for incest.

This means that not every private sexual activity between consenting adults is beyond the reach of the law. The onus is therefore on Koh to show why the argument that the law should not intrude on private sexual relations applies to section 377A and not to section 376G of the Penal Code.

In the famous Hart-Devlin debate, Lord Devlin argued persuasively that private acts should not be free from public sanction if they pose a threat to society’s morality. The sodomy laws of England and America were originally made in part on the basis of this reasoning.


In his article, Koh asserts that while scientists do not know what determines sexual orientation, they ‘favour biologically based theories, which point to genetic factors’. He maintains that scientists do not view sexual orientation as a choice, giving the impression that the scientific community has achieved consensus on the matter.

This, however, is not the case at all, and to make such sweeping and unqualified statements is surely to mislead.

From the 1990s onwards, a slew of scientific studies have been conducted to find a biological basis for homosexuality. These studies have failed to show conclusively that homosexual orientation is determined by genetic factors.

In fact, these studies suggest the contrary. For example, the twin studies, originally conducted in 1991 by John Michael Bailey and Richard Pillard and subsequently replicated by many other scientists, show quite conclusively that biology does not determine homosexuality.

In an article in Scientific America, William Byrne concludes that the Bailey and Pillard study ‘clearly challenges a simple genetic hypothesis and strongly suggests that environment contributes significantly to sexual orientation’.

This conclusion is supported by the extensive studies on twins conducted by Peter S. Bearman and Hannah Brückner in 2002 and Niklas Långström in 2010.

In their wide-ranging report on sexuality published in 2016 by The New Atlantis entitled Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences, Lawrence S. Mayer and Paul R. McHugh conclude:

Some of the most widely held views about sexual orientation, such as the “born that way” hypothesis, simply are not supported by science. The literature in this area does describe a small ensemble of biological differences between non-heterosexuals and heterosexuals, but those biological differences are not sufficient to predict sexual orientation.

‘[H]ard science’ writes Jeffrey Satinover in his book Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, ‘is far from providing an explanation of homosexuality, let alone one that reduces it to genetic determinism’.

Although science has hitherto failed to demonstrate that there is a biological determinant for homosexuality, gay lobbyists have repeatedly used ‘science’ to advance their claim that homosexual orientation is innate and immutable. Koh appears to be uncritically parroting that narrative.

In his article, Koh also mentioned the removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

In 1974, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) removed homosexuality from the list of pathological psychiatric conditions published in DSM (II). The revised verdict states that ‘… homosexuality per se is one form of sexual behaviour and, like other forms of sexual behaviour which are not themselves psychiatric disorders, is not listed in the nomenclature of disorders’.

This change of status, however, was not the result of new scientific evidence for the genetic or neurological basis for homosexual orientation. As Ronald Bayer has clearly shown in his book entitled Homosexuality and American Psychiatry: The Politics of Diagnosis (1987), this revision was made due to political pressure by the gay lobbyists within APA.

‘The result’, writes Bayer, ‘was not a conclusion based upon an approximation of the scientific truth as dictated by reason, but was instead an action demanded by the ideological temper of the times’. Albert Dean Byrd and Stony Olsen could therefore declare that ‘The stigma of a disease was gone due to politics’.

In his 1992 article entitled ‘Sexual Politics and Scientific Knowledge’, Charles W. Socarides warns that the APA decision

… remains a chilling reminder that if scientific principles are not fought for, they can be lost – a disillusioning warning that unless we make no exceptions to science, we are subject to the snares of political factionalism and the propagation of untruths to an unsuspecting and uninformed public, to the rest of the medical profession and to the behavioural science.

This is a story that is not widely known and needs to be told.


We turn finally to Koh’s remarks on the role of religious communities in the debate on section 377A.

‘I would respectfully remind them [Christian and Islamic authorities]’, Koh writes, ‘that Singapore is a secular state. It is not a Christian country or a Muslim country. It is not the business of the state to enforce the dogmas of those religions’. He goes on to stress that in Singapore, there is a separation between religion and the state and that ‘Church leaders and Islamic leaders should respect that separation’.

Koh’s tone is condescending and paternalistic. He assumes that the religious leaders in Singapore need to be tutored by him on the proper relationship between religion and the state.

To suggest that religious bodies like NCCS issue statements because they want the state to enforce their dogmas is ludicrous. When NCCS makes a statement on an issue, it is not trying to impose its worldview on society or to transform Singapore into a Christian theocratic state. Its purpose is merely to help its member churches to understand its position on that particular issue.

It is therefore extremely unhelpful for a public figure like Koh to politicise the statements that the Council issues for the purpose of guiding Christians on social and moral issues in this melodramatic fashion. In fact, such a suggestion coming from him may sow the seeds of suspicion and distrust that can compromise the fragile social harmony and cohesion that we have worked so hard to achieve.

In reminding the religious authorities that in Singapore there is a separation between religion and politics, Koh is implying that they have no right to comment on section 377A.

But the institutional separation between religion and the state, enshrined in the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act of 1990, does not banish religion altogether from the public square. Neither does it prohibit faith communities from commenting on moral and social issues that affect their members.

In the past few decades, NCCS has issued a number of statements on a variety of issues including euthanasia, organ trading and homosexuality. The Council made these statements to educate and guide Christians, and for the sake of the common good – not to impose its views on others.

The Council understands that Singapore is a multi-religious society and no single religion can pontificate on social and moral issues. But in similar vein, no individual or minority group can impose their views on sexuality on the majority.

Religion’s input is especially important in debates on issues pertaining to public morality, like section 377A, which as PM Lee has so clearly said, has to do with ‘society’s values’. Insofar as religious people and their communities are part of our society and are committed to the latter’s flourishing, their views have a right to be heard on this issue.

To exclude faith communities in such conversations is to deny them of their rightful place in our multi-religious society. In fact, we can go so far as to say that censoring religious voices from such debates is an affront to the spirit of deliberative democracy. It flies in the face of the inclusive society that we have been trying so hard to build.

To steer public discourse by silencing religious voices instead of encouraging an ever-greater inclusivity is to fuel a new and insidious form of intolerance.

Thankfully, the Singapore government does not share Koh’s perspective. Instead of excluding religious communities, it has made every effort to seek their views and feedbacks on important issues.

For example, in the recent Penal Code review, the Ministries of Home Affairs and Law organised special meetings with religious leaders to obtain their comments. In fact, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam even took the trouble to meet up with the different religious communities separately to explain the reviews and solicit their views.

Unlike Koh, the Singapore government recognises the secular state should not exercise hegemony on matters of public morality. It recognises that in such matters, the view of religious communities must be sought and taken seriously. This is especially pertinent to multi-religious Singapore, where more than 80 per cent of the population professes religious affiliation.

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

Populism and Democracy

October  2018 Pulse

In his op-ed article published in The Straits Times (11 October 2017), Jonathan Eyal examines the problem with referendums in the wake of the one conducted in Catalonia, Spain. While some have hailed referendums as the highest form of democracy, others see it only as an instantiation of mob rule.

One of the practical problems with referendums, Eyal correctly points out, is that ‘it tends to reduce highly complex matters to a binary “yes” or “no” answer’. The reductive aspect of referendums makes them a valuable tool for the rising political trend that we have been witnessing in America and Europe, namely Populism.

Numerous articles have been written to warn of the dangers of populist rhetoric and the tendentious political culture it engenders. Appealing to base instincts and social angst, populist rhetoric sacrifices intellectual rigour and careful deliberation on complex issues for the sake of quick solutions and instant gratification.

Populism jettisons public-spirited dialogue and compromise the common good. It creates the naïve but harmful division between the ‘virtuous people’ (those who stand with the majority) and ‘the dangerous other’ (those who hold a contrarian view), thereby forcibly polarising society.

Populism also polarises by arousing prejudices and encouraging misconceptions through the epistemic silos it creates that ignore those facts and arguments that may serve as counterbalances to the visceral fervour or ideological vision of the masses. Populism therefore is in this sense not interested in arriving at the truth.

Eschewing the subtleties of a truly democratic culture, populism promotes a superficial and anaemic version of majoritarian politics, which can easily become a form of tyranny. Populism subverts democracy in the name of democracy.

I have argued elsewhere that Christianity does not favour or commend any one political system, not even democracy. However, Christianity upholds rationality, justice, compassion and the dignity and value of every human being. Thus, Christianity would deem a particular version or practice of democracy laudable if it promotes these values.

In his famous social encyclical of 1991, Centesimus Annus (‘Hundredth Year’) Pope John Paul II, who played a pivotal role in the collapse of Communism in Poland, discussed democracy at length. ‘Authentic democracy’, he writes, ‘is possible only in a State ruled by law, and on the basis of a correct conception of a human person’. The Roman Catholic Church, John Paul II maintains – and here Protestants can readily agree with the pontiff – values democracy because it fosters citizens’ participation in public life.

But the democratic process must be guided by truth, especially moral truth, the pope insists. ‘[I]f there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity’, he argues, ‘then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power’. Events in the twentieth century, he notes, have shown that ‘a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly-disguised totalitarianism’.

The rise of populism has engendered a political culture that is especially susceptible to the dangers that John Paul II warns about – if not a ‘thinly-disguised totalitarianism’, then different shades of demagogy and irrationality. Perhaps this is the reason why deliberative democracy, which was once dismissed as being a touch too idealistic, is making a comeback.

Deliberative democracy, championed by conservative philosophers and politicians like Edmund Burke and more recently Roger Scruton – is a political philosophy that is primarily concerned with improving collective decision-making, especially on important issues that affect society at large. It insists that the democratic process must be rational and that it must involve as many citizens as possible.

Deliberative democracy is a form of participatory democracy where participation in collective decision-making goes beyond the mere casting of votes. It is a political system or culture that recognises the rights of anyone who is subjected to a collective decision to participate in what some writers have called ‘consequential deliberation’ about that decision.

Consequential deliberation’ suggests that the viewpoints of the participants – especially those of the ‘common man’ (i.e., non-expert) and those of minority groups – are taken seriously. Furthermore, it implies that their viewpoints will in one way or another shape the deliberative process and possibly influence the decision itself.

Deliberative democracy (or argumentative democracy, as Rowan Williams termed it in a recent lecture in the Netherlands) requires participants in the conversation to engage with the arguments and viewpoints presented with an open mind. It requires a willingness to listen to and engage with alternative views. It requires participants to be fair-minded and to recognise the merits of the arguments of fellow citizens whose views are different from their own.

In other words, deliberative democracy urges the electorate to take a more matured approach to decision-making, one that requires patience, fairness, understanding and even mutual accommodation. It is a stark contrast from the kind of politics where protagonists simply refuse to budge from their position, regardless how persuasive and sensible the alternative view might be.

Deliberative democracy insists that the complex issues that we face cannot be resolved by the ballot box. Neither should the results of the vote be seen as the final word on a particular issue.  Deliberative democracy insists that these issues can and should be revisited when necessary and our position on them can be changed or modified as a result of the deliberation.

Critics of deliberative democracy have pointed out its shortcomings ranging from its epistemological assumptions to its practicality. For example, while the democratic virtues of the mini-publics are generally acknowledged, how deliberation can be scaled up so that these mini-publics can be properly linked to broader discourses remains a practical problem.

Despite these weaknesses deliberative democracy is a better approach to decision-making than populism.

The Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw once said, ‘Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve’. Deliberative democracy, while by no means perfect, will in some ways prevent modern society from short-changing itself.

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.