Our Rector's Message
"In your hearts, revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an account to everyone concerning the hope you have but do it with gentleness and respect."
1 Peter 3:5
Very often, I hear the question, "What is the purpose of studying theology?" For me, this question is akin to asking why there is the need to even have a Catholic Theological Institute in Singapore. CTIS was started with the primary mission of providing a systematic formation in Catholic theology for the laity. This original focus has remained unchanged. It is hoped that the systematic study of theology will provide our laity with a better understanding and appreciation of their faith. This empowerment is necessary so that he or she may be able to give an account of his or her faith to others. To be able to account for one's faith is especially important in the Singaporean context where religious pluralism exists.
Religious pluralism is often perceived wrongly by many people as a threat to their religious beliefs. It conjures an image of a society filled with people of diverse faith, disagreeing with each other, resulting in religious strife and even the possibility of violence. This is neither what pluralism is nor what it should be. Religious pluralism is not the same as religious diversity. Diversity whether religious, cultural, racial or otherwise has often shown to result in strife, ghettoes and even violence as evidenced by what is happening in many parts of the world. This is because diversity does not call for any interaction among differing groups. It merely acknowledges that there are others who are different from me.
In a diverse society like Singapore, tolerance is often promoted as a key virtue in one's relationship with others. Tolerance is certainly necessary in such a society as Singapore but tolerance does not require a person to reach out, discover and understand the faith of the other person. Religious tolerance therefore, will never be able to remove ignorance and suspicions of the other person who profess a different faith from mine. It is still unable to break free from the ghetto mentally of your world and my world resulting in society still being trapped in its diversity.
On the other hand, religious pluralism is not the mere tolerating of the presence and religious practices of others. Religious pluralism requires a dynamic seeking and understanding of others who may not share the same faith as me. If we look at the world today, we can accept that religious diversity is a reality but religious pluralism is not, it has to be worked at. Religious pluralism requires the encounter of commitments from the leaders as well as the adherents of the diverse religions in a society, This new paradigm of pluralism does not require us to leave out own faith commitments or abandon our identities. In fact, it requires us to hold onto our deepest relationship with the others who may not share my faith.
Pluralism can only be achieved through dialogue or what is more commonly know as inter-faith dialogue. One must be clear about the purpose of such dialogues. They are not meant to create consensus. If consensus can be created, pluralism itself would disappear. To dialogue means the willingness to listen and speak so as to reveal both understandings and differences. Someone once put it very aptly by insisting that dialogue does not mean everyone at the table will agree with one another. Rather, it means the commitment to being at the table with one's beliefs, position and identity. I agree with this wisdom completely. While diversity may not necessarily argue for peaceful co-existence of people of different faiths, pluralism does not imply the availability of space in a society where there can be peacefull coexistence of people with different religions or value systems.
It is in this new paradigm and understandings of religious pluralism that a systematic and in-depth study of one's own faith becomes essential. It enable one to come to the dialogue table with confidence in giving an account of one's faith to others. CTIS hopes to play this role in empowering our laity to understand their faith better and thereby, enabling them to enter into meaningful dialogue with people of other faiths in Singapore and perhaps in the region. This must be our commitment to authentic religious pluralism which with time and patience will bear fruits of peace, harmony and a better society for all.
God bless us all!
Fr James Yeo, Ph.D., STL,