Singapore: Buddhist monk expressed skepticism over the usefulness of inter-faith dialogue to prevent another Rony Tan fiasco

Temasek Rewbiew, February 16, 2010

Singapore -- A Buddhist monk Venerable Dhammika has expressed his doubts about the effectiveness of inter-faith dialogue to prevent another Rony Tan fiasco from arising.

An Australian by birth, Venerable Dhammika have been a Buddhist monk for 32 years and am the spiritual advisor to the Buddha Dhamma Mandala Society in Singapore.

Lighthouse Evangelism Pastor Rony Tan was hauled up for questioning by the Internal Security Department (ISD) last Monday for making disparaging remarks about Buddhism and Taoism during a church session which was video-taped and uploaded to Youtube.

He has since apologized to the leaders of the Buddhist and Taoist faiths and the government has refrained from taking further action against him out of fear of sending “shockwaves” to the Christian community.

The Straits Times carried a report yesterday quoting several religious leaders as saying that inter-faith dialogue may be the way to prevent such unpleasant episodes from recurring in the future.

Venerable Dhammika, however, was unimpressed with the inter-faith dialogues as conducted in Singapore. Writing on his personal blog “Dhamma Musings”, he shared his experience at such sessions:

“I doubt that inter-religious dialogue, at least as it is conducted in Singapore, really brings about a change in how the different religions feel about each other. I have often attended inter-religious gatherings and I have noticed that everyone is friendly, accommodating and open-minded. The participants are already respectful of other faiths. The ones who could do with a bit of tolerance – the bigots, zealots, fundamentalists and the evangelicals, won’t come. Here in Singapore several major denominations have pointedly refused to join the Inter-religious Organization which they see as fratranizing with Satan.”

The Singapore government frequently organized such inter-faith dialogues to promote interaction between leaders of various religious faiths in Singapore.

As they are not compulsory, the participants are usually those who are tolerant and respectful of other faiths, as pointed out by Venerable Dhammika and as such is “all too often just an exercise in the converted preaching to each other.”

Venerable Dhammika proposed the government rewards tolerant leaders to marginalize those who are intolerant:

“The government should consider something like the Public Service Award, the PBM or the BBM, but to be given for service to interfaith understanding. When such people are looked upon as commendable, socially responsible and worthy, the bigots gradually come to be seen as out-of-step, as a public nuisance, as un-respectable. You can marginalize the intolerant by rewarding and lauding the tolerant.”

While the state media has been quick to sweep the saga under the carpet, religious fault-lines still lurk beneath the veneer of normalcy in Singapore, waiting to be exposed once more.

Pastor Rony Tan’s running down of other religions would not have come to light had he not video-taped his preaching and uploaded it to Youtube where it was subsequently circulated in cyberspace.

With the combustible situation exacerbated by the relentless influx of foreigners in Singapore, the social tension in Singapore society is set to grow in the years ahead.