Rants of a Weird Little Bird

Random stuff involving myself…and people around me. Hello, and goodbye. :-)

Absence of Religion – In Primary School

with 7 comments

When I was studying in primary school, it was probably when my parents told me that we don’t believe in gods or ghosts – though it was only until a few weeks ago when I finally brought myself to ask my father about all the burning of joss sticks, the offerings of chicken and duck meat to the “Tian Gong” and such.

This sort of early education led me to an embarrassing incident in the classroom.

Back then, a part of Social Studies featured an introduction on the various religions in Singapore, and places of worship such as the Saint Andrew’s Cathedral, the Sri Mariamman Temple and the Hajjah Fatimah mosque were taught to all of us.

It was during such a lesson where the teacher got the entire class to stand, according to their religious beliefs. Firstly, she called on all the Christians to stand (they duly did), then it was the turn of the Catholics, the Muslims, the Taoists, and so on and so forth…and I was the only one left sitting in my chair.

“So what do you believe in?” the teacher asked. (She is a Muslim)

I replied hesitantly. “Nothing.”

“Nothing? But…you must believe in something!” she said. “What do your parents tell you to believe in?”


“Nothing,” I said, even more hesitantly.

“Then you go havoc?” (Yes, those were the exact words – never mind the grammatically awkward English)

The entire class laughed. Insides, I didn’t know what the fun was about – and somehow I had the queasy feeling that there must have been either something wrong with me, or something wrong with everyone else. I stared at the teacher, not knowing what to say.

“Ask your parents what you believe in, and I will ask you again during the next lesson,” she said.

It was a few days before the next lesson which I asked my parents exactly that.

“Nothing,” they said.

“But my teacher said that we must all believe in something?” I persisted.

“Just tell her that it’s the truth,” they replied.

Eventually, I can’t remember the exact answer that I told my teacher, who kept to her word to ask me about my religious beliefs, but as I had never come across the word “atheism” just yet, I said something like we believed that had to do good to others or else we would become cockroaches in our next life (funny, yes?). Whatever she thought of my answer, she mercifully did not query further.

It was probably around a year later that I came into contact with the word “atheist” that I started calling myself a (yes, an oxymoron) devout atheist to my friends – and it was somehow something which brought much joy to me – that there was actually a term which I could use to describe myself, that I was not deficient in any manner, simply because I did not have something which other people had – a religious belief.


Written by aweirdlittlebird

February 22, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

7 Responses

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  1. Hi, stumbled here off ‘Irreligious’.

    I think your last paragraph captures very well the attitudes of perhaps 50% of Singaporeans towards religion — that one must believe, because there’s something deficient in failing to believe. You might say, too, that these people are hedging their bets, following Pascal’s Wager. “God or gods may not exist, but one can never be too sure… don’t risk attracting their hypothetical wrath.”

    I used to hedge my bets too. On official forms asking for my religion, I’d put “Free Thinker” (one of those New Age phrases that don’t mean anything — is one ‘free’ to believe in Satanism or Zeus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster?).

    Now, I just put “No Religion”.

    la nausée

    February 27, 2010 at 4:31 am

    • Sometimes in the religion column, I’d put “Atheist.”


      February 27, 2010 at 4:53 pm

  2. la nausee,

    (1) If there are gods, then there is real wrath, not “hypothetical wrath”. Fallacy of arguing from presumptions.

    (2) We are one here.

    To the Writer:

    (2-10) That was not the right thing for a teacher to do. But perhaps the right thing for a very-indoctrinated (by the PAP) teacher to do. This illustrates the problematic stance of the government, and multiculturalism in general, towards the issue of religion.

    I would say that not only has the teacher succeeded in alienating you (which is thoroughly un-Muslim in any case), she has succeeded in trivialising her own religion and the religion of her students.

    This ethnicisation of religion does no-body any favours whatsoever.

    (1) Since this isn’t the main subject of your post, I shall make the quick comment that equating “God” and “gods” is a categorical error.

    (13-16) Inasmuch as the class and the teacher were wrong in the way they treated you, your parents were not exactly being helpful either. Even without being “religious” in the stereotyped-multicultural-sense (which isn’t the essence of religion anyway), you and your parents have had to have some kind of belief. Saying that you believe in nothing is not truthful; it is irrational.

    (19) Anyway, the atheists would be out at your throat for calling “atheism” a “religious belief”, since all atheism is – apparently – is the “lack” of a belief i.e. an ontological deficiency.

    Arix (@UK)

    February 27, 2010 at 10:41 pm

    • Eh? When did I mention that atheism is a religious belief? Let me know and I’ll correct it pronto. Thanks.


      February 28, 2010 at 2:21 pm

  3. Hello!

    Just to inform you. There is a freethought network in Singapore that meets up every month. We discuss about science, reason, and also share our life. =) It is called the Singapore Humanism Meetup. Links to our webpages are:

    Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=41667702434&ref=ts

    Meetup.com: http://www.meetup.com/Singapore-Humanism/

    You can read up about our activities in: http://sg-humanism-meetup.blogspot.com/

    Email me if you wanna join!


    February 28, 2010 at 4:38 am

    • Hi Jianyue,

      Thanks so much about the information. I’ve got quite a busy schedule lately, so I’ll hold off joining it for now, but will follow your blog as frequently as I can. All the best for the Freethought network!


      February 28, 2010 at 2:30 pm

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