Religious discussion in Parliament: an alternative view

Yes – I agree that difficult issues should be discussed in Parliament, but that is only half the stand I take. It goes a little further.

There are difficult matters…and then there are religious matters. In religion, there can be no conclusion, no consensus and you can debate for an eternity with no satisfactory conclusion for all parties.

No one said anything about making decisions behind closed doors either. Not having it debated in Parliament doesn’t mean decisions are being made behind citizen’s back. There are issues where a society needs to develop organically and without fanfare. Perhaps change would start when a local bank declares that they welcome the use of a headscarf. And then soon, another MNC says they will do it too. Next thing you know, it has become a part of our society and practice.

There is no legislation nor Parliament debate (to my knowledge) that excludes Sikhs from wearing a helmet on a motorbike – yet it is common knowledge that they are exempted, or that it is not enforced on them. We accept it as it is without much thought. There are some issues that need to be this way.

Legislation and policy are not the only ways to introduce practices and norms into a country.

When Section 377 got amended, ending the criminalisation of female-to-female sex – were there big announcements? Was there huge debate? Was there also protests by religious groups? None at all – our practices and norms adjusted with changing social views. I am very sure it will be a matter of time S.377A will slip out the backdoor quietly.

Religious matters are above and beyond the genre of “difficult” issues.

A difficult issue is one where debates are about secular laws, at least then we are able to observe, prove and gain some sort of agreement. With religious laws, where the stakes sit between eternal condemnation and fighting on the sides of an omniscient and omnipotent being – it is not so easy. It is beyond difficult. Religion alone is very fractured – within an order alone there are a multitude of interpretations, practices and beliefs. Each will passionately insist on their own beliefs to be established.

Faith is incompatible with reason. Parliament is all about reasoning and no amount of debate and discussion will satisfy. If anything, taking a stand in this highest order of national discussion will spark pockets of anger across the country.

History is burdened with these long lasting conflicts. Some continue into this modern day with no relief in sight. Some have sparked from very small matters. Matters that you’ve never thought would have been dangerous in the first place. Look no further than our own history books. All it took was for a newspaper to publish a picture of a girl kneeling before a statue of the Virgin Mary to plunge a nation into riot – causing the death of 18 people and injuring 173.

For these reasons, I agree with Masagos – there are issues that are not the domain of Parliament. Rather it should be left to society to evolve these norms naturally. I am also not suggesting that difficult issues not be debated in Parliament – as many have rightfully pointed out, Parliament is precisely the platform for the discuss, debate and decision making of national policies.

However the reality is, religion is a little above politics and it has its own life – if we do not want to risk starting a fire we cannot end, politicians do have to be very careful how they tread these waters.

Some issues are best managed when no one takes a stand and where people think “it just is”.

About the author

Tay Leong Tan

Tay Leong Tan is a collective of 3 writers. Tay, Leong and Tan. (Who were you expecting?!) We are enthusiastic about labour issues, economics and current affairs in particular.

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