Pastor Rony Tan: what if he were Richard Dawkins?

Richard Dawkins

What if Richard Dawkins, in a public lecture in Singapore, had said exactly what Pastor Rony Tan had said about reincarnation, karma, and Buddhism? What if it made its rounds in cyberspace and YouTube? Would the Internal Security Department have given him a phone call? Would he have transgressed the The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (1992)?

Restraining orders against officials or members of religious group or institution

8. —(1) The Minister may make a restraining order against any priest, monk, pastor, imam, elder, office-bearer or any other person who is in a position of authority in any religious group or institution or any member thereof for the purposes specified in subsection (2) where the Minister is satisfied that that person has committed or is attempting to commit any of the following acts:

(a) causing feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will or hostility between different religious groups;

(b) carrying out activities to promote a political cause, or a cause of any political party while, or under the guise of, propagating or practising any religious belief;

(c) carrying out subversive activities under the guise of propagating or practising any religious belief; or

(d) exciting disaffection against the President or the Government while, or under the guise of, propagating or practising any religious belief.

The answer would be in the negative because he is not “in a position of authority in any religious group or institution or any member thereof” unless Atheism has become a new religion of the masses. Would he be liable by law to any other charge from the Singapore law code?

And what if he had said something incendiary about Christianity like what he wrote in his book:

“”The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Will he draw  angry knee jerk reactions from red-faced Christians? I am sure there are those who will give him an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. The majority will just shrug it aside. Some would invite him to a debate. Which was what happened and you can watch it in Richard Dawkins-John Lennox Debate. It is wonderful when intelligent civil discussions can take place in a meaningful way over controversial, volatile issues.

Hopefully one day the issues raised by the Pastor Rony Tan’s webcast on Buddhism and homosexuality can be intellectually dissected and discussed and everybody, Christians and Buddhists and gays, can get enlightened in the process, or at least have their say.

35 thoughts on “Pastor Rony Tan: what if he were Richard Dawkins?”

  1. The Government will use the Sedition Act. Same as used against Internet bloggers coupl years back.

    See specifically :

    Seditious tendency.
    3. —(1) A seditious tendency is a tendency —

    (e) to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore.

    The Act will cover the hypothetical Dawkins’ public lecture as:

    “seditious” when applied to or used in respect of any act, speech, words, publication or other thing qualifies such act, speech, words, publication or other thing as one having a seditious tendency;

    “words” includes any phrase, sentence or other consecutive number or combination of words, oral or written.


  2. Not only do you not take Rony Tan to task for his insulting, offensive and highly infactual remarks (which he DID make), you bring in this hypothetical what-if to make your really weak point that Christians are the ones being persecuted.

    I find myself very disturbed by this. It makes your earlier talk about the need for a “loving and respectful witness” all sound empty now.

    1. Being loving and respectful does not mean agreeing 100% all the time. Jesus’s teaching was, is and will be highly disruptive to everyone.

      “His ways are not my ways” makes rational sense, whilst there are many wannabies, there are few genuine amongst the billions of professed religious believers (including the vocal and gifted orators and leaders).

      Who is not hollow? Yours truly included.

  3. Blogpastor —

    I find 2 things you are doing very intriguing. Firstly, those who have complained about the rise of “militant atheism” so far precisely consider it an imported problem from the West. I personally don’t believe it at all as I see this as naming something into existence rather than observing some real thing. But what you’re doing is to suggest that the answer itself is also to be found in the West! Does this “call and answer” approach even care about our specific Singaporean context?

    Secondly, it seems clear to me that, rather than wanting to mute debate, you like other beliefs to enter the same Enlightenment-humanist arena as Christianity. (It has been argued that Christianity itself might have helped to make this arena in Western history.) What is unclear to me is whether you recognise that different traditions enter with different premises about the form and goal of discussion. It is also unclear to me whether you appreciate what the Religious Harmony Act is trying to maintain.

    What puzzles me most is that you actually seem to find Rony’s videos as having intellectual rigour. And, when you speak of wanting intellectual dissection, you appear to ignore a whole range of online responses from the Buddhist-Taoist side, such as this one: Come now: let’s not be one-sided about this.

    Gwee Li Sui

    1. Yes you are right about the very sensitive and volatile emotions that have been stirred by the controversy. It may not be the best time. Perhaps our society is not ready for this kind of debate. The riot squad will have to be on standby. But think about it, at one time, the issue of non-involvement of Malays in National Service was once muted until the PM brought it out in the open. I am hopeful.

      It was good you used the word “seem” in your last paragraph. You are right: it only seemed.

      1. I said “seem” as I couldn’t work out from your piece what your own thoughts were. 🙂 in rony’s case, what is missing is not other faiths’ dialoguing: as i suggest, that’s actually in abundance. just google on responses to the rony scandal. it’s the christian end that is inadequate!

        1. RT represent the members of LE assembly only and not ALL Christians.

          Perhaps you should visit the great silent works done by faithful Christians in really bad, stinking conditions with refugees.

          There are many such works on the Thailand-Myanmar-Cambodian-Laotian. These guys do not live in airconditioned bungalows or drive Range rovers or have support of “mega” churches or have expat salaries.

          They live hand to mouth by faith.

          1. Google and watch “Prisoners of a White God”.

            And you failed to answer Li Sui’s assertion
            “it’s the christian end that is inadequate!”

            So where is the Christian’s response? Missionaries working in Thailand-Myanmar-Cambodian-Laotian is not answering the question at all.

            So what if there are Christian missionaries doing volunteer works? I fail to see how special is that? It is not a trait unique to Christianity.

            1. The Buddhists have been taking this opportunity to explain to the wider public tenets of Reincarnation, Nirvana, meditation, etc. They are actually doing a pretty good job so far. Christians can come onboard right now to explain their ideas of Resurrection, Eternal Life, Heaven and Hell, etc.

              Nothing is stopping us from having proper exchange of understanding even as we speak! But what are we seeing from the Christian side? We get jokers saying “Why can’t we say what we feel about Buddhist Reincarnation, etc.? Why can’t we tell Buddhists that their ideas are wrong?” Am I missing something here? Are we this perverse?

            2. All formal and organized religion have their own quirks. Its the “MAN” that is screwed or screwing when they to represent the God of space, time and matter.

              Einstein summed it up best – just to know the mind of God for an instant would be enough.

              BTW, most are not “missionaries” -they are just simple honest Joe and Jill – just trying to make a difference.

              So what is inadequate from the Christian end and so great about other religions or belief.


                Statements like these
                “I’m not defending Rony in this post but to show that these 4 conceptions exist not because non-Buddhists misunderstood them. Rather, it is because these doctrines are questionable and hence need further clarification from the Buddhists.”

                I am pretty sick of people who hasn’t a foggiest idea on Buddhism making statements like that. Instead of recognizing one’s ignorance on the subject matter, some Christian comes along and defend that it is not that they misunderstood Buddhist doctrine, but that these doctrines are questionable.

                And have you watched the documentary yet?

                Lastly, an assertion that Christian reactions have been inadequate does not logically leads to the conclusion that other religions are great.

              2. Good documentary – not surprising there are some predators masquerading as sheep.

                Surely this is a not uniquely Christian preserve – happens with missionaries of all the persuasions who have not been well vetted or adequately trained.

                Often these organizations operated by “professionals” – people who are motivated by money and honey not altruism.

                How would a chicken ever convince anyone of their authenticity when they quack and waddle like a duck despite their ability to crow extremely well.

              3. My main issue with evangelism in Christianity is where do you draw the line?

                Given an example in the documentary. You have a village that is functioning perfectly fine, primitive perhaps, but perfectly fine.

                Given that you know that the village practice pagan religion and that they are resistance to conversion. Would you still insist on building a school, and conducting bible classes to educate and convert the young ones?

                Knowing that it is inevitable that this will eventually lead to friction between the young ones with their parents?

                Is spiritual salvation sufficient justification for material disharmony?

                Where do you draw the line?

              4. Contact with other cultures will lead to some kind of friction no matter what. The line comes prehaps in what where we start to infringe on their ability to choose and decide.

                Ultimately the free will of the individual must be preserved, I believe that it is God’s intention for the intelligent life He created to self-determinate.

                That can be tough if you are contacting a culture a lot pooer then you. Your attempts to help can be construed as manipulation.

                My take? If you want to reach out to a culture you need to UNDERSTAND their ways first before presenting yours. That is only fair. A good note to take would be from Jesus himself and how he interacted with the woman at the well who quite obviously, had different ideas then him.

                Unfortunately the Christian creed is not exactly one that allows its adherence to leave the world alone… if you believe that souls are in inherent danger, inaction would be immoral and wrong. HOWEVER, that does not justify acting in ignorant and insensitive ways.

              5. Hi eterna2

                We seek out altruistic people to work with. One such group is:
                They wear their heart on their sleeves and are utterly transparent in their dealing.

                Another is on the Thai-Myanmar border too busy trying to save as many as possible with their very limited resources. They live very similar to their charges in the new “temporary shanty town,” with imperceptive different shack and dress like their charges – sarong and T-shirt.

                They render help without any precondition nor do they impose their religious beliefs. They only discuss after being badgered to do so by their charges.

                They are just a silent beacon of light and hope in a sea of darkness and despair.

                They did not seek our help or assistance but their hospitality was tremendous and gracious.

                Like these partners, we do our due diligence on site and also try to be silent and quiet when we extend our help.

                Religious conversion is not a kpi for our partners or us, delivery of hope and help is.

            3. I agree completely with Rex, and I, too, have been thinking much about Jesus’s interaction with the Samaritan woman. In fact, Jesus’s esteem for the Samaritans is quite interesting. When his disciples wanted to call down fire and brimstone on a Samaritan village for rejecting him, Jesus rebuked his disciples for even having the thought.

              If we set Jesus’s example against the history of Christian missionary work, there’s a lot not to be proud about. I hope that we are at least learning.

  4. Double standards!!! When material offensive to Christians like the Duhhh… Vinci Code and the host of blasphemous documentaries that followed, not to mention the trash in Times bookshop about who Jesus married, are given the ban, I say, preach on Pastor Rony and don’t apologise so much.

    1. My take is that it is not double standards, though I sometimes have question marks about the balance in media coverage. The authorities would respond if the majority of Christians and the National Council of Churches of Singapore had made appeals. But generally, we have responded to such materials with more education in the church and created more opportunities to share our faith with those outside our faith.

    2. What about Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie – understand the Muslim had the same visceral reaction.

      Unfortunately until we can accept our imperfect neighbour like our imperfect selves, is there any point in going to Church or PTLing, shouting Hosanna, saying Amen?

  5. Blog pastor,

    Your comparison with Dawkins vs RT is at best biased one, at worst incompatible.

    That qoute from ‘The God Delusion’ is a statement based literal observation on the God of OT.

    Given today standard of human rights, it is accurate, no?

    Dawkins book is based on scientific observation drawing its conclusion, but RT comments on homosexuals are based on what exactly?

    1. It just popped up in my mind, “What if Dawkins had said those things Pastor Rony said, would he have had problems in regards to the law?”

      I thought it was an interesting and provocative angle from which to look at the issue. I bear no malice towards Richard Dawkins, or any other party for that matter.

          1. A Christian friend once remarked – Christians are “well meaning people” and behave like manure.

            Cluster alot together, they stink to high heaven, spread them out, they become extremely productive:-) Shalom

  6. What’s this about Malay discrimination in the army? The suggestion you make is that the issue was too sensitive, and that people had to wait for ‘society to mature’ before the unpalatable truth can be rolled out to the public.

    Actually, it has nothing to do with the Malay ground being more open to the brutal fact that they had been systemically excluded from certain positions in the armed forces. In February 1987, during a constituency tour, then DPM Lee Hsien Loong was asked why there weren’t more Malay officers in SAF. His answer was: “”If there is a conflict, if the SAF is called upon to defend the homeland, we don’t want to put any of our soldiers in a difficult position where his emotions for the nation may come in conflict with his emotion for his religion, because these are two very strong fundamentals, and if they are not compatible, then they will be two very strong destructive forces in opposite directions”

    This did not come from a prepared speech. He was speaking off the cuff. This of course resulted in the DPM being grilled by opposition member Chiam See Tong when Parliament was in session. The DPM was evasive about the issue, and took the official line of ‘things are gradually, cautiously improving’, instead of admitting the the government had been lying all those past years when they said there was no racial discrimination in the army and Malays did not make the upper ranks because they ‘lacked merit’.

    The PM ‘brought (the issue) out into the open’ only to close a lid on it. There have been no real discussions on the issue, and it remains as muted as ever, assiduously managed by compliant Malay MP’s who say ‘there are more important problems like teenage pregnancy’ and ‘things are improving’.

    What I gather is that you seem to think that the reason why there was such an outcry over RT’s methods of proselytising is that people can’t ‘handle the truth’. I am all for inter-religious discussions, debates even. But let’s have a level playing field. If you really want to have a proper conversation about the merits of each religion, choose the right sparring partner.

    RT decided to bring on stage an ex-Buddhist who didn’t even understand what Buddhist teachings were about, offering a misleading caricature of the religion and mainly saying ‘yes’ to RT’s insinuations. I have no problems at all when the guy claimed that praying to Jesus cured him of anorectal bleeding.

    He wants to give this kind of testimony, fine. I don’t think any right-thinking person will object to that. But when he’s used as a tool to laud the superiority of one religion over another–and based on utterly false and misleading premises, I consider the whole sorry affair to be conducted in bad faith.

    1. Thank you for filling in the background facts with regards to Malay discrimination in the army. I appreciate it and acknowledge my ignorance here.

    2. There are many unpalatable “truths” in the REAL world – almost every human creature prefer to be cocooned within a comfortable construct of “reality” acceptable to our inherent fears and anxiety

      There are few intrepid explorers or entrepreneurs in the human species. My limited understanding when one follows Jesus, one undertakes the ultimate risk adventure. The reward is life abundant and eternal life. Since I do not see too many who are eager to accept death as a necessary passage to eternal life, one must question what the professed faith is really worth (marked to market the sexy financial instruments when we try to deconstruct the current evolving economic crisis).

      Follow the money and honey trail to see the vesting of leaders. the rest of us prefer to follow and chant the slogans and belong to a “comforting community.”

  7. Bernie.

    Da Vinci Code is under Fiction section is most of the bookshops out there.

    Dawkins books are under Science category.

    However, all things Christian are under Religion.

    As far as I can see, they dont physically come in contact with each other. So where’s the offence to your christian sensitivity?

    Just wondering.

  8. Lol. I believe Richard Dawkins wouldn’t make the same mistake as Pastor Rony Tan in the first place. He probably has a better understanding of Buddhism than Rony Tan.

    And even if he does not believe in reincarnation he would pose his arguments based on FACTUAL information to show that reincarnation is unlikely to be possible.

    In contrast, what Rony Tan did was nothing but sheer ignorance and disinformation on Buddhism.

    It got NOTHING to do with the criticism on Buddhism, but the MISREPRESENTATION of what Buddhism is.

  9. Well, I am Christian, and the problem with Rony Tan is that when he said the things he said, he was basically showing others that he had very little understanding of the subject matter, made worse by the presentation.

    Nobody said you could nor critique their beliefs or worldview, but you jolly well know what you are talking about before you speak. It’s one thing to say idols are worthless, but you owe the person who believes in them a reason as to why you think they are worthless, and be willing to discuss on a fair and level ground.

    That’s the problem I do feel that infects a lot of us Christians today? We want others to listen to us on OUR terms, but we are less willing to listen to others on more level ground.

    People like C.S. Lewis or G.K. Chesterton had their convictions, they spoke their mind on what they felt on other creeds… but at no one point were were ever dismissive or ignorant of the claims of the creeds they critiqued.

    I wonder if anti-intellectualism is one of the issues facing Christianity in Singapore… as in we’ve forgetten that the Christian ought to love the Lord with his mind as well, and that means cultivating ones mind to be sharp on these matters to properly further His will… nowadays it seems the habit is just to take a general impression from the pulpit and run along carelessly with it.

  10. Did I find the Da Vinci Code offensive? Not really cos basically once you knew the facts of the matter and that it’s pretty much a rehash of an old conspiracy theory to which there has already been apologetical answers to.

    I don’t see the need to like pull up the sedition act to ban stuff just because it seems to be “threatening”. That is a sign of insecurity.

    If one believes that what his beliefs are the truth, one should not be afraid to bring them out to the world so that they will be tested against reality. If they are true they will hold.

  11. Regarding the RT episode(s), it’s not so much as to ‘what’ was being said but rather, ‘how’ it was being said.

    It’s Ok to spar….but don’t even hit below the belt!

  12. The Buddhists will make police reports.

    The Muslims will call for his beheading.

    The Christians? I think they will take it lying down.

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