by Colin Low (ST Forum, 30 May 2007)

Invoking God does not advance public morals debate

I REFER to the letter, ‘God has a place in public morals debate’ by Ms Esther Chan Nek Fa (Online forum, May 26).

While Ms Chan notes that some people need the concept of a supreme being to validate their moral values, it is untrue that this must be the case for everyone, or that all theistic religions share the same moral values as Ms Chan claims.

Ultimately, the reasons why God should be excluded from public morals debates still hold.

Not all members of our society believe that a supreme being is needed for moral values to exist.

Most agnostics and atheists have moral values that they hold dear, yet they do not require the concept of a supreme being.

In fact, Ms Chan raises Confucianism as an instance of a value system, even though Confucianism posits no supreme being to justify the moral values that it promotes.

Furthermore, Ms Chan is wrong to say that all religions that posit a supreme being share the same values, not even in sex, family life, procreation and homosexuality.
Monogamy as central to Christianity is not shared by Islam, where a man can have up to four wives. Taoism, Buddhism and Hinduism tend to refrain from making judgments on homosexuality, whereas Judaism and Islam are more vocal.

Indeed, it must be noted that moral values are not fixed within each religion itself, let alone across all of them. For instance, various schools of Christianity are divided on issues such as contraception, homosexuality and divorce.

Ms Chan’s example of how different religious faiths share other moral values is also bewildering.

She claims that Buddhism stresses cause-and-effect relations in one’s life, while Christianity holds a natural law that ‘you reap what you sow’.

Yet I do not think that anyone, religious or not, would deny that all our actions have consequences.

Not only does this principle not show that approving homosexuality will have ‘grave’ consequences, but Ms Chan also does not concede to some obvious differences in moral values between religions.

For instance, controversies over the wearing of headscarves have erupted largely in Islam; few other religions have been as strict about modesty in dress.

Ultimately, the problem with invoking God in the public morals debate is that it does not help in guiding us to a reasonable conclusion.

The idea of a supreme being does not inherently contain any specific moral values.

If all parties were to start with the assumption that a supreme being has validated their own particular values, then the public morals debate would be fruitless, as there is no way to reconcile such dogmatic assumptions.

This is why Senior Writer Chua Mui Hoong found it important to exclude God from the public morals debate.

By appealing to the common ground between ourselves and those of different faiths, we can allow others to better understand with our position.

Indeed, Ms Chan follows this principle herself at one point, when she mentions that we are all moral beings ‘whether or not we have a religion’. It would serve us well if we followed this principle as the debate continues.