On New Religious Movements & Jehovah's Witnesses

Source credit: Ioneelev8
Confession: I used to peruse many self-help books. How to speed read, mind-map, write poetry and manage interpersonal conflicts. How to meditate, find the center of peace in the universe within and pray to the unseen forces in the natural world. On hindsight, many of these authors, including Eckhart Tolle, are Americans associated with marginal religions. Have I been unknowingly exposed to New Religious Movements? These people are not organised groups; they are simply searching for fulfillment, trying to find their meanings in existence. And their quests to seek their raison d’ĂȘtre resonate, with many books hitting bestselling lists. Their laissez-faire organization leads to the diffusion – almost unnoticeable to laypeople – of their “religious” tenets.

Even prior to this module, I’m drawn towards their idea of putting together a religion for oneself. Picking and choosing theology from various religions can assist one in getting a most comfortable fit of beliefs. Perhaps this is a reflection of my thirst for freedom from the rules and regulations of institutionalized religions? What is the basis of this thirst, anyway?

The contemporary world is a supermarket, hyperlinked with virtual aisles, and even religions can be picked, chosen and assembled at will. To do well by a self-constructed bricolage of religious beliefs predicates on choosing them well in the first place. But do we always know what beliefs are good for us? Can we trust ourselves to choose wisely?

On a separate note, the case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Singapore is enlightening. Because this religion forbids their followers to handle firearms, some of them have to serve their mandatory national service as cooks in the detention barracks. When religion clashes with state policies, and every faction has competing demands, how do we resolve it?

In Sheffield, England, a Jehovah’s Witness once stopped me outside a bargain shop. He is British but can speak Chinese fluently. Upon discovering that I’m a Singaporean, he suggested that Singapore learn from Hong Kong, where they have successfully campaigned for male believers to serve their national service in hospitals instead. But Singapore is a secular state, I had exclaimed, if we are to make special concessions for one religious group, what about the rest? Would they claim privileges for themselves too? We had a vibrant discussion, standing in the middle of the street, with shoppers thronging around us, carrying their groceries, children and religious worldviews.

The State, by definition, has to exercise control, but to what extent and through what methods? By establishing boundaries for religious communication and propagation, the State is a force that prevents the endless multiplication of religions. It is, essentially, a force that is directed by other human beings. On what basis should we trust or contest its decisions? Can we, as the British person has suggested, temper our hard-line stance on certain policies with empathy?