There seems to be a great misunderstanding in Malaysia of what secularism is (tag). Many, especially conservatives in Malaysia, see a secular society as immoral. I believe this originates from the myth that moral is dependent of religion. That belief is flawed.
Moral is independent of religion. For example, a devout religious person may use cuss words against a stranger that merely disagrees with former. In fact, a person that believes in god may kill, steal, rape and do everything a decent person wouldn’t do. A person that believes in god doesn’t necessarily have good moral. An atheist on the other hand may be a mild mannered and law abiding person. He might not even smoke. A person that doesn’t believe in god may have good moral. The logical relationship is almost as much as how being a Muslim doesn’t mean being an Arab.
Secularism simply means the separation of religion and the state. It asserts the state should be neutral from religion. Secularism is essentially part of libertarianism (tag) – it prevents a person from infringing another person’s rights. Perhaps, more relevant to the issue at hand, secularism is neutral on ethics, unlike what a lot of people like to believe. Secularism isn’t about morality.
Take the Malaysian national day celebration for instance. The celebration itself lacks religious connotation and by definition, it’s a secular celebration – unlike Eid or Christmas which is clearly a religious celebration. Since national day celebration is secular by definition, does that make it an immoral celebration?
Take Labor Day for instance. It’s secular. Does that mean it’s immoral to celebrate Labor Day? It might have some communistic tone in it but it isn’t immoral, is it?
Mathematics is secular. Does learning mathematics make a person immoral?
The answer is no.
Notice too that secularism is not atheism either. Secularism itself doesn’t dictate individuals’ beliefs. With this respect, the French ban on headscarf is beyond secularism and concerns more about xenophobia than anything else. Turkish ban on the other hand is more about trying to be more European than Europeans rather than purely about secularism. Making myself redundant, secularism by itself doesn’t dictate a person on how he or she plans to live his or her life. It doesn’t make a person any more or any less rich in term of morality.
Secularism isn’t anti-religion too. In fact, secularism coupled with guarantee of human rights is the ultimate guarantee to freedom of religion. It’s a bulwark against bias to and prejudice against any religion. It’s the best protection against religious prosecutions.
The idea of separation of religion and state has been misunderstood by many due to disinformation by religious right and ignorance.
Religious rights tend to blame everything on secularism despite the fact that secularism has nothing to do with many social issues. Secularism is religious rights’ favorite scapegoat. It isn’t too rare to see whenever religion unable offer solution to social problems, religious rights will be fast to point their fingers to secularism, regardless of correlation. The most prominent Malaysian example is the accusation made against secularism by Mufti of Perak earlier in July this year. Or the one that the Pope made last May.
Religious rights assume that moral is positively correlated with religion and hence, since secularism is neutral from religion, absent of religion would automatically mean lack of morality. However, as stated earlier, moral is independent of religion and presence of secularism does not automatically mean lack of morality or decency. Secularism, like religion, is independent of morality.
Religious rights are simply afraid to lose their power to dictate other people’s lives. This is because secularism guarantees freedom of religion. Secularism neither prevents a person from embracing religion nor encourage it. It’s neutral. If secularism takes over, these religious rights wouldn’t be able to use the state to dictate others of what’s right and what’s wrong. They wouldn’t be able to dictate through the state their self-righteous morality on others, especially so when that secular state guarantees human rights.
Some religious rights don’t even know what secularism really means. And they afraid what they know not. In order to make secularism easier to hate, religious rights spread deliberate disinformation about secularism, saying everything that is not true about secularism – again, as an example, secularism means immorality.
The saddest part is, some truly believe the lies about morality, religion and secularism when in fact, their assumption that religion and morality is positively related is false. This group believes everything that is said about secularism without investigation.
p/s – our government at work:
KUALA LUMPUR: The curtain may soon fall on Coliseum cinema.
One of the oldest landmarks in the city may be a picture of the past, if the authorities have their way in turning it into a National Heritage Centre.
And, this has distressed owner Dr Chua Seong Siew, who wants to know why the Government is trying to take away the almost century old cinema from him when there are so many empty Government buildings here that could be converted into a heritage centre.
His mother, who bought the building from a family estate in 1947, had restored and maintained the building.
Usually, it’s called stealing. But then, when the government steals from private citizens, usually it’s for the greater good, isn’t it? Suddenly, it’s called eminent domain.
If that’s bad, wait till you hear this:
He said that there were so many dilapidated buildings owned by the Government around the cinema that have become hideouts for dadah addicts, while the Coliseum provided an outlet for healthy activities…
“…The Government should consider using several government-owned unoccupied buildings and bungalows in the city and along Jalan Tun Razak, Jalan Kia Peng and in the Ampang area, instead.”
The Bok House at Jalan Ampang is abandoned and it would make a great site for cultural activities. Why don’t renovate that instead? As if they don’t have any other alternative.
This is one of the reasons the power of the government needs to be curbed. Else, our rights as private citizens will be eroded. Alright it seems that our government wants to limit our freedom over the net, and now, this.
Hey Mr Prime Minister or Mr Mayor, stealing is bad.
pp/s – with regards to the government forceful takeover of the Coliseum, more than a year ago:
Kuala Klawang – The Culture, Arts And Heritage Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Rais Yatim said, the government has no absolute powers to manage an old building.
According to the Minister, the building’s owner, its age and heritage value are among factors the government would take into account before deciding to restore or preserve a buiding with historical significance. Many of the buildings were built between 1940s and 1950s.
Datuk Seri Dr. Rais said, the government could not to do anything if an old building was owned by an individual unless the owner applied to the government to refurbish the building based on its historical value.
Apparently, a year later, the government can. Compare this to the first postscript.