August 2017 Pulse
Reader’s Question: There appears to be a rise in anti-Christian sentiments in America, especially in its institutions of higher learning, where discrimination against Christians is evident. What are the reasons for this attitude? Are there similar anti-Christian sentiments in Singapore?
The stats speak for themselves. And they paint a worrying picture.
According to a survey conducted by LifeWay Research in 2015, more than 63 percent of Americans agree that Christians encounter intolerance in some form and that such incidents are on the rise. The LifeWay study also states that 6 out of 10 Americans believe that religious liberty in the United States is on the decline.
In another survey, conducted by the Public Research Institute in 2017, 57 percent of white evangelical Protestants think that discrimination against Christians in America is quite pervasive.
In American society, there is a subtle but undeniable eclipse of religious language and secularisation of Christian events as the courts debate about the removal of the words ‘under God’ from the pledge of allegiance and as ‘Merry Christmas’ is replaced by ‘Happy Holidays’.
Discrimination against Christians is evident in the universities in the US.
According to The Baltimore Sun (April 23, 2014), Brandon Jenkins was denied admission to the Community College of Baltimore City because of his religious belief. Jenkins said that he was denied admission to the Radiation Therapy Programme because when asked in an interview conducted by college officials what was most important to him, he responded: ‘My God’. The Washington-based American Centre for Law and Justice is handling Jenkins’ lawsuit against the college.
At Sonoma State University, a liberal arts student Audrey Javis was asked to remove her cross necklace because it might be offensive to other students. Javis, a devout Catholic, told Fox News that she felt a sense of outrage. ‘I was very hurt and felt as if the university’s mission statement – which includes tolerance and inclusivity to all – was violated’.
Christian organisations are also being removed from university campuses. In its September 10, 2014, issue The Huffington Post reported that all 23 campuses of the California State University have ‘de-recognised’ Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, an evangelical Christian group with 860 chapters across the United States, because of its Christian beliefs.
These are all disturbing telltale signs of the growing secular hegemony in American society.
The situation is so alarming that, according to The Huffington Post, former GOP candidate Mike Huckabee opined that ‘We are moving rapidly toward the criminalization of Christianity’. Although this is obviously an overstatement, the growing presence of discrimination against Christians in America cannot be denied.
In addition, this development seems to be in tandem with the rise of global anti-Christian persecution documented in books such as Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians (2013) by Paul Marshall and The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution (2016) by John L. Allen.
One reason for this trend is the ascendency of a militant and toxic form of secular humanism in the West that is in essence anti-religion. In rejecting the existence of God – and with it, institutionalised religions – these secular humanists have fabricated the myth of human omnicompetence and might.
The radical anthropocentrism (some would say, anthropomonism) it espouses has mocked traditional monotheistic faiths like Christianity and Judaism for their belief in a non-existence transcendent being by employing the spurious arguments of atheist authors like Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens. But by professing unbounded faith in humankind, secular humanism has in fact erected an altar to a new god, and created a new religion.
This is evident in the writings of the Fathers of secular humanism. For example, in The Social Contract (1762) Jacques Rousseau proposed a civil religion where reverence and obedience are accorded to the sovereign state, whose dogmas and laws supplant those of traditional religions like Christianity.
John Dewey’s My Pedagogic Creed (1897) hailed the teacher in the secular society as a prophet of the true god, who will usher the children they teach into the kingdom of god. Except that Dewey’s true god is not the God of the Bible but the human community, and the kingdom of god about which he speaks is secular society from which religion has been expunged.
But it is precisely because of their anthropocentrism – their idolatrous worship of man instead of God – that makes the secular humanists prone to an insidious form of intolerance (an intolerance that is camouflaged by the rhetoric of inclusivity, diversity, and, yes, tolerance), tyranny and totalitarianism.
Secular humanism maintains that values and morals are nothing but mere opinions and personal preferences – there is no such thing as an objective moral norm. Yet it imposes its own dogmas and standards on society: even the staunchest secular humanist will admit, if he is honest, that he is shaped and guided by dogma.
This is nothing but an instance of self-absolutization.
The absolutist creed of secular humanism has spawned a history of violence and inhumanity. ‘Nobody except certain intellectuals’, writes Richard Bastien, ‘can ignore the fact that the two societies that have systematically fought Christianity root and branch – Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia – have also been the two most grossly inhumane’.
‘And as Western democracies do away with their Christian heritage’, he adds, ‘they become more and more cruel and inhumane. The deliberate starvation of Downs syndrome babies, unrestricted abortion, euthanasia, devaluation of life-giving and life-supporting roles such as motherhood and fatherhood, all bear testimony to the fact that ours is increasingly becoming a death culture like Nazi and Soviet culture’.
The intolerant dogmatism of the secular humanists is made evident in their penchant for closing down debates over opinions and positions they disagree with or are antithetical to their secular creed. They use the rhetoric of ‘hate speech’ or ‘inclusivity’ as political weapons to silence the people they disagree with, thereby disabling genuine public debate.
They assume that they alone have the authority to define ‘hate speech’ and they alone can determine the rules of the game as far as inclusiveness is concerned.
This is profoundly undemocratic!
Thankfully, this venomous form of secularism is not present (if present, it is not influential) in Singapore, a nation that takes pride in its religious diversity. The secularism of the state is not anti-religion, but a kind of ‘procedural’ secularism that celebrates religious plurality and recognises the profound contributions that religion can make to society.
Our constitution allows those who live and work in Singapore not only to profess their faiths but also to propagate them. The secularism of the state is a ‘minimalist’ secularism that respects and protects the religious liberty of its citizens. A survey conducted by the Institute for Policy Studies in 2014 showed that the majority of the respondents ‘agreed that there is religious harmony here’.
While there might be a few here who may find militant secularism attractive, it is doubtful that they are able to unleash the culture war we witness in the US here – at least, not in the foreseeable future.
But religious liberty and harmony in any society is always fragile, not least in this current climate of suspicion and hate.
To prevent religious discrimination brought about by hegemonic secularism, we must protect the religious freedom that we currently enjoy and never take it for granted. And we must strive to ensure that everyone in Singapore – people of different faiths as well as people with no religion – is valued and accorded proper respect.
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.