A case for religion

In a country that celebrates diversity in culture and religion, Singaporeans who do not see themselves affiliated to any is on the rise.

GRAPHIC: BRENDAN TAN

The number of Singaporeans who expressed no religious affiliation increased from 17 per cent in 2010 to 19.5 per cent in 2015, according to the Department of Statistics’ General Household Survey.

This trend is particularly evident in the younger generation, with 23 per cent of people aged 15 to 24 not identifying with any religion, as opposed to 14.6 per cent among residents aged 55 and above.

Families are slowly losing the knowledge and patience to perform religious practices, according to Mathew Mathews, senior research fellow at The Institute of Policy Studies. This causes them to grow distant from their religion, he said.

Furthermore, as people are exposed to different ideologies through the Internet, they form their own opinions of the world. More independent thinking, especially among youths, changes their attitude towards religion, said Singapore Buddhist Federation president Seck Kwang Phing in an interview with The Straits Times in 2016.

It may seem that religion has become obsolete in this age of science and reason. However, I believe that there is still a place for it in our lives.

Born into a Hindu family, I was never given the opportunity to fully understand my religion. I simply accepted the place that Hinduism had in my life.

But as I grew older, I began to question its legitimacy. As I could not find any satisfactory answer, I grew detached from it.

And yet, what pulled me back to engage with religion was something beyond reason. A conversation with a friend made me realise that there are moments in life when we simply cannot rely on science or logic.

She lost her mother as a teenager and she explained that the grief she experienced was not something that could be rationalised and explained away. She understood that this was part of a natural process in life. Yet the void in her heart still remained.

It was faith that pulled her through, she said.

I had never thought of her as someone who was religious.

But it prompted me to reconsider the value of religion and the benefits of believing in a higher calling.

Shared values

Religion forges a strong sense of community. It brings people together and grounds them with the same values. Common practices, such as praying five times a day for Muslims or giving thanks before meals for Christians, serve to provide a form of order in a family.

Furthermore, learning that someone who is unrelated by blood performs the same rituals and believes in the same values can give one a sense of familiarity and comfort.

Religion also provides an alternative way for us to learn morals and ethics. Unlike subjects taught in school that primarily focus on imparting knowledge and skills, religion emphasises our adherence to principles that can guide our thoughts and actions in the real world.

“What religious education might do that no other subject can, is to help people think about this kind of moral reasoning and imagination,” writes an editorial piece published in The Guardian this February.

“Ethics, and even to some extent, philosophy, can’t be taught only in the classroom.”

Religion facilitates the crossover between the classroom and the real world, allowing us to apply the principles we have learnt in real world contexts. What does it mean to truly forgive? How can people realise their inner selves?

By learning more about religion, we can go one step closer to understanding why people choose to act a certain way.

Holding on

Whether we seek out supernatural forces or choose to place belief in ourselves, aren’t we all constantly trying to find meaning in life?

Religion suggests an answer to that. Though it may not be in line with the beliefs of science and logic that the modern world hold, it does provide the emotional and spiritual support that many of us find absent in our lives.

Knowing that there is a higher being that we can look to for guidance in times of need, or a religious community we can fall back on, can provide that anchor we need in our lives.

Rather than disassociating ourselves from religion, perhaps we can lean towards a better understanding of it. Let us strive to keep the faith.