Sensational News on ‘Church Wall Defaced …’ / A Debate on Secular Liberalism and Religious Harmony

Netizens on Facebook have criticised a Straits Times report on graffiti outside a church building, entitled ‘Church Wall Defaced During Easter Weekend’ (Tuesday 10 April 2012), as being inaccurate and sensationalising.

In a status update circulated within Facebook, one wrote: “The graffiti had appeared some time ago. At least a week, if not two. It did not mysteriously appear over Easter weekend. I know because I walk past the cathedral almost every day. Trying to link it to Easter is disingenuous. Furthermore, it is not just the cathedral wall that was vandalised, but also the back of some of the bus schedules. Anyone who walks around that area would know.”

Another netizen posted on her Facebook wall on Tuesday night: “Just a while ago, I posted on Straits Times site that the headline for this particular article was [inaccurate] because I had seen and possibly even documented the graffiti some days before Easter Weekend, which might go towards proving that the Church was not, as it was rather strongly worded, ‘defaced during Easter weekend’. Now I see the message: ‘The site has blocked you from posting new comments.’ GREAT JOB AT JOURNALISM, STRAITS TIMES.”

Why the sensationalising?

While the case is still under investigation (anyone who has seen the graffiti earlier should inform the police), what seems unusual is the way the newspaper article highlights in the 3rd paragraph that the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd is a “national monument” and “the main church of the Singapore Catholic Archdiocese, and is also where the archbishop lives”.

Compare this with an ST report dated 8 September 2009 on ‘Widening cracks found in historic cathedral’ due to LTA construction work – it mentioned the church is a ‘national monument’ only towards the end in the 19th paragraph, and not a word on the ‘Archdiocese’ or the archbishop!

Surely some graffiti on a perimeter wall can easily be remedied by painting over it, and really negligible compared to cracks on the walls, columns and floors of the cathedral building? Is being a ‘national monument’ the real issue here?

Below are four paragraphs from the online ST report published on Tuesday:

“The wall surrounding the compound of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd was defaced during the Easter weekend.

A single word – possibly ‘Grow!’ or ‘Growl’ – was spray-painted in black across the white wall near the front of the church facing Bras Basah Road.

The cathedral, a national monument, is the main church of the Singapore Catholic Archdiocese, and is also where the archbishop lives.

Cathedral staff said they discovered the graffiti last Saturday afternoon and filed a police report on the same day. A spokesman for the archdiocese said it did not want to speculate on why the church was defaced or what the word meant.”

(The original full article was published in the newspaper below another news article entitled ‘Taoist upset over priest’s robe worn at fashion show – Designers’ society reportedly says sorry for not knowing the outfit is for religious purposes’)

What was the problem with Chjimes?

The news on graffiti outside the cathedral came just a week after the Catholic community here denounced the Escape Chapel Party that was supposed to take place at Chijmes over the Easter weekend, that had been promoted using girls in nuns clothing modified to look provocative.

In an article entitled ‘Why call the police over everything?’, local blogger Belmont Lay last week criticised the approach of seeking police help in resolving the issue: “If religious people are unhappy with secular event organisers, they should sort it out among themselves privately like adults.

Such matters involving taste and values lie completely outside the purview of the men in blue or any state official, for that matter.”

But some consider it in bad taste to promote the event using words like “sacrilegious night of partying”. The problem also seems to be that conditions on the use of Chjimes have not been clear and people do not think much of it as the place has already become commercialised. One netizen commented on Facebook: “I think before the place was developed, when it was gazetted and all the debates going on, this (only certain activities) was one of the things many wanted and was I think agreed on (with nothing concrete on paper, I think), but over the years, it got worse and worse.”

With regards to the controversial Chjimes party, the way Escape Recordings chief executive David Griffiths has described it as “a pity” to cancel the event, as the company was “looking to expand into Singapore” , also may not go down well with netizens. One described the tone as a form of “arrogance”, and such indulgence in Singapore as “moral bankruptcy”.

Another said: “The Catholic Church and State conflict must go back to 1987 Operation Spectrum. Understand today’s state of affairs in that light.”

A Debate on Secular Liberalism and Religious Harmony (Do we need the police?)

Below is an extract of comments on a personal Facebook wall reacting to the reposted status update that expressed frustration on comments being censored on the online ST report ‘Church wall defaced…’.  Part of it is a debate with regards to secularism and regulation of religious harmony.  (comments below reflect immediate reactions and may lack certain sensitivity or may sometimes be out of place in making generalisations on religious practices):

A: Whoa! Blocked?!! Is this how our once-in-50-years MICA Minister’s plan to introduce self-regulation on the Internet – by blocking those deemed critical? … A pattern is emerging… and it isn’t good.

B: I [am not on the side of] the Church here. Like it or not, rising religiosity in Singapore means there will be more clash between non-believers and believers. Instead of using the law to suppress non-believers, the law should be balanced [with regards to] believers as well.

A: I do sympathise with the Church, but I don’t think this is a religious desecration. The graffiti is on the outer wall. It could be the work of some prankster with no intent towards religious malice.

B: I don’t think religion deserves any special treatment at all. It should be treated equally as any other human construct. The word ‘holy’ should have no legal interpretation or significance.

C: It’s a perimeter wall…

A: I agree that the ST article is unnecessarily ALARMIST.

D: This is just a way to divert certain attention. Sad to say, our society is getting worse.

C: If there are genuine cases of blasphemy or racist remarks, there can be civil lawsuits. But it’s irresponsible to publish a report with such sensational headline if one cannot confirm…

B: If [anyone wants] to use civil suit for blasphemy, he won’t be on my good side. I think such an act may be constituted as a declaration of war between believers and non-believers.

C: But one would argue then that the person responsible for blasphemy is the one declaring war. Have to put it in context. There have been artworks considered blasphemous too.

A: Grow… Growl… anything religious or blasphemous about the graffiti?

B: As if preaching religion is not offensive to non-believers in the first place… (Ed: this may be referring to separate cases such as Campus Crusade for Christ in NUS)

C: Well preaching itself is ok, it only starts becoming offensive when one claims that non-believers would go to hell. Same like advertisement, you can boast your product is the best, but you can’t claim other brands are fake.

B: If believers are free to preach religions, then non-believers are equally free to preach the rejection of religion. There is no equality if promotion and rejection of religion cannot be treated equally.

C: I think there is argument against that. Believers who adhere to their religion are duty-bound to defend their religion. But atheists are not bound by any such duty, based on faith in any supreme being higher than man, to defend their belief.

B: Too bad for believers. They volunteered to be duty-bound. Actually, you can claim other brands are fake. Go look up at medical journal papers that investigate the effectiveness of expensive pharmaceutical drugs against placebos.

C: Medical products are related to science and hence can be falsified. Religions are not falsifiable. Well one can choose to be a free man without treating others as inferiors.

B: The problem happens when believers attempt to regulate non-believers.

C: Well the issue then, whoever appears to be regulating who, is whether one’s sentiments and dignity get hurt. Everyone has the right to choose what he or she believes to be the truth, whether it’s a personal truth, or truth belonging to a community. To insist only science can be a source of truth is the same as insisting only one religion is the truth. Scientific theories can become obsolete anyway.

B: Yeah… That’s why science never claims to be truth. Science is a process that refines and rejects the understanding of natural phenomena over time.

B: Offence is taken, not given. If any, the ‘hurt’ is self-inflicted by choosing to take offence.

C: If one knows that certain things are taboo to a community, why would one deliberately try to provoke? It comes down to whether one is aware of the general sentiments of a religious community in a certain country or region, and whether one chooses to respect.

C: Interpretations of religious scriptures can also be revised over time.

B: But such revision doesn’t add legitimacy, unlike the process of scientific inquiry.

C: Scientific inquiry doesn’t add legitimacy either, the best theory is just what serves one’s practical application best. Whereas religion is institutionalised belief, there are religious authorities to refer to.

B: [Haven’t seen secular-vs-religion debate] for a long time in the local blogosphere.

C: When was the last time?

B: The last time was when Thio Li-Ann almost went to NYU.

C: I remember she talked about secularism and Christianity. Can’t remember the rest …

C: Any Catholic/Christian out there would like to comment?

E: I would love to, but I’m afraid my comments won’t contribute to a very satisfying discussion. My religious faith is based on personal experiences, I believe it ought to be based on personal experiences (“encounters”) and though I love a good debate as much as the next man/woman, I think Christians who engage in such discussions are trying to use reasoning to substitute for these experiences.

C: I think that’s a useful perspective actually. Instead of making judgments based on generalisations, one can also reserve judgment to prevent sentiments of ‘us’ versus ‘them’. Encounters always differ from one person to another.

Further comments on discussions above? (Do we all have our own blindspots?)

F: “I don’t know. I find it all feeds into the anger in Singaporeans. No one knows that the Catholic Church here is struggling to get the social teachings of the Church back on its feet after it was knocked down badly during Operation Spectrum. People seem to be angry with the Institution at large because of the paedophilia etc…I understand that but there seems to be no other position with more information from the inside so it does frustrate me. Everyone is so fucking quick to judge. There is so much smugness. Smugness that comes from anger but not accountability.

Singaporeans are blaming anything and everything these days. It’s ridiculous that they don’t at all implicate themselves or put themselves in the picture. I’m so weary of this attitude at the moment. It’s not going to get us anywhere. It’s true. There are times it’s necessary to point out the faults. But after a while, don’t you want to move on? Why do we harp and harp on it? It’s an ailment.”

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One response to “Sensational News on ‘Church Wall Defaced …’ / A Debate on Secular Liberalism and Religious Harmony

  1. Pingback: Daily SG: 12 Apr 2012 « The Singapore Daily

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