Jul 23, 2011
'I've no God - and am proud of it'
Humanist Society grows as more who don't believe in a God seek like-minded people
Humanist Society president Paul Tobin (left, seated) with his children Elizabeth, three, and William, four, and wife Jacqueline, at a gathering of humanists on Thursday evening at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
A GROWING number of people here who do not believe in a God have banded together, determined to be unapologetic about being non-religious.
Registered as the Humanist Society (Singapore) last October, their ranks have since expanded from 10 to 100 registered, fee-paying members.
Their backgrounds are as diverse as their reasons for not professing a faith, but they are united by their belief that morality comes from humanity itself.
Calling themselves 'secular humanists', they are also united in their rejection of a theistic or supernatural explanation of reality, and their embracing of scientific inquiry.
Today is a red-letter day: The society presents its inaugural Humanist of the Year award to author Catherine Lim.
Another recent milestone was the society's application to join the International Humanist and Ethical Union, a European body of humanist societies around the world.
The humanists here include artists, government officials, students and entrepreneurs. The youngest member is 19 and the oldest, 65.
Most describe themselves as atheists or agnostics, though some eschew labels. Others are adamantly definitive. Take Nanyang Technological University student Eugene Tay, 24, who declares: 'I'm an atheist-agnostic secular humanist.'
Statistically, the proportion of people here with no religion has climbed steadily in the last 30 years - from 13 per cent in 1980 to 17 per cent last year.
Since non-believers have no church, temple or mosque to go to, they have carved out their space online.
The founding members of the Humanist Society came together in 2008, through www.meetup.com, a social networking website.
The online group they formed has more than 500 members.
Since it was set up, the society has cast itself as the voice for the non-religious here. Its president Paul Tobin, 46, wrote to The Straits Times' Forum page last December, in response to a report that suggested that non-religious young people were prone to violence and cynicism. In his letter, he rejected the claim and concluded: 'One does not need to have a religion to lead a good, happy and meaningful life.'
He told The Straits Times: 'That was a watershed moment. After that letter, our numbers shot up. I feel now that we have a say in what goes on in Singapore.'
Land surveyor Loh Kwek Leong, 58, who learnt of the society through this newspaper last year, said he grew up in a typical Chinese household - one that was 'a bit Taoist, a bit Buddhist, a lot superstitious'.
As an adult, he found putting his faith in science better. He said: 'The questions I had about the world, about life and death - I found my answers in science, not religion.'
The group pulls together because of a shared sense of being alone in a society where four in five people profess to believe in a Supreme Being.
Communications manager Winston Chong, 36, who said he has philosophical debates with his parents, who are religious, said: 'It's about time we had a group for ourselves. I've been waiting for this, to find like-minded people.'
As a recipient of the society's award, Dr Lim joins a list of internationally honoured humanists, including astronomer Carl Sagan and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.
Asked for her take on religion, she replied via e-mail: 'I suppose if I had a religion, it would be the 'religion of humanity', based on confidence in the indomitability of the human spirit. I would rather have faith, than a faith.'