23 March 2007

Don't infect the state with religion

Gregory Paul, in a 2005 study, suggested a correlation between a society's religiosity and social ills. Looking at our Malay community. How secular should a 'secular state' be? Full essay.


Roger said...

Dear Author:

It is my firm belief that organized religion cannot be allowed to interfere directly in the state.

This is not to say that the state in making big decisions must ignore the value of religions. It simply means that organized religions should not directly interfere with the political process.

To borrow a phrase from Facebook which has caught on:

Get your laws off my body and your religion out of my government!

I like this phrase because it embodies the essence of the argument for the clear separation of all organized religion and state.


The United States "model" of secularism is difficult to understand. First of all, their political process is materially different from ours - the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the focus on diversity, the law of due process, the environment for activism... even the role of law is different in that society.

Not to mention the bicameral political process, the House of Representatives, The Senate and the organizational interaction (e.g. tension, politiking, restraint) between the House, Senate and President.

I believe that their society is fundamentally different. The Church has a hand in politics in the United States - yes - but the political atmosphere is one which is far more active - and involves a populace who are by and large - are far more politically aware and astute, having developed a political system passed down generations, with children growing up in families who are politically aware.

It all began with the clear separation of Church (Religions) and State.

X said...

I have read some articles that separates the states in terms of religiosity and compare crime rates across these states. The conclusion was similar to Paul's, in that the more religious states tended to also have very high crime rates, notably homicide. It has been 5 years or so since I came across that article so it's hard for me to track it down again.

That aside, Dwyer seems to have made a correlation = causality fallacy. From the looks of the description, the most I would be able to say is that religion does not make people behave better. This is quite distinct from a conclusion that says "religion makes people go bad/turn them into sex fiends/drive them into a homicidal frenzy".

Being an atheist, it is very tempting to go for such a stance, but I think I'd have to be content with hoping that Paul's wish for people to pick up from where he left off won't fall on deaf ears.

~[z][x]~ said...

Even as a firm believer of the separation of church and state, I can't help but realise two assumptions Gwynne Dwyer centred his arguments on, that:

1) A nation's crime rate is inversely correlated with its social spending.


2) A nation's social spending is inversely correlated with its religiosity.

I am not obliged, by the existence of contradicting evidence, to accept his rather simplistic assumptions. Not much difficulty accepting his intentions though. :)

Teck Soon said...

I also think that view of the US, namely that religion is allowed to interfere in state matters, is simplistic. There are a number of constitutional barriers to this. Whether or not the president prays in private is one thing, but your article implies that religious leaders have political power. This is not the case.

I would say that in spite of the huge Christian majority that exists in America, the fact that prayer is not allowed in public schools, public events, or in any type of court judgment shows that they do try to keep them separate at a non-individual level. While Alex is right that the original intent of the freedom of religion Amendment was to keep state out of religion, it has largely been interpreted to point the other way too. Pointing to a few words Bush said in a speech is not so important. In terms of real power, I don't really think that the US and European systems are so different.

Adrian said...


I've always enjoyed your thoughtful essays.

On the topic of state and religion, you may find an essay by Wilfred McClay entitled "Two Concepts of Secularism" interesting. Should be able to google it quite easily.


wang said...

To All,

Please note that the stated study was stated as nonconclusive and non verifiable see the same institute critique.

Religiosity, Secularism, and Social Health

A Research Note

Gerson Moreno-RiaƱo, Mark Caleb Smith, and Thomas Mach
Cedarville University
Volume 8 2006

Anonymous said...

Something interesting from City Harvest Church's (Singapore) mission statement:

"17. We believe that Government is ordained of God, and the powers that be are ordained as ministers of God to us for good. To resist the powers and the ordinances is to resist the ordinance of God. We are subject not only for wrath sake but for conscience sake, rendering to all their dues, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. We declare our loyalty to our Government and its leaders, and will assist in every way possible, consistent with our faith in the scriptures as Christian citizens.
(Romans 13)"

Does this mean that they believe Government ministers are ordained by God? I found this at http://www.chc.org.sg/english_d-u/our_church/statement_faith.cfm

YCK said...

A little disagreement is good. It shows that the academics are working on the problem. I am not a social scientist, but I wonder if the criticism is the death knell for Paul's work?

The impression I got is that the most serious criticism was directed at the sloppiness of the work, conflation of ideas, analysis and of course the accuracy of the work it rested on. On the whole it suggested that the work is unusable with serious methodological and conceptual flaws. It is beyond me to evaluate these matters and whether the first look status merits as a valid defence.

But at least another paper from the same site by Jensen did not think that the work is totally useless.

As with all branches of knowledge, progress is made in spurts. It is through discussion and crticism that issues gets clarified and problems get solved. Personally, I would look forward to Paul's response.

benita said...

know its kinda late to mention this, but just generally wondering...

if apparently Singapore's government does not allow religions to participate in state decisions and governance, how then should we explain the government's consult of the major religious councils and groups with regards to say biotech's laws on stem-cell research and also then the casino laws?

sorry if my questions appear naive. i'm but a student after all.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

benita -

I don't think there is any harm in consultation. It is one way to understand sensibilities coming from specific communities. In response to these sensibilities, some pragmatic solutions might be found that could address the communities' concerns without undercutting the broader secular state.

In many areas, things are never totally boolean, i.e. either/or, on/off. Even as we permit gambling, for example, a variety of restrictions can still be implemented that partially address people's ocncerns. I have no quarrel with that approach.

Where I get very critical about is the tendency of the Singapore state to formulate policy by triangulating various religious/racial community concerns with NO CONSIDERATION for (a) the non-religious, (b) constitutional civil rights, and (c) the general notion of liberty.

We shouldn't only remember that people belong to different faiths, but that citizens in a secular state have a right to be free from any and all religions.

benita said...

Hmmm.... Thank you. I'll really have to think about it again.

Seems like I have alot to think about.

Thank you again!