Yawning Bread. August 2007

Religious affiliation of MPs


    

 

 

The first two comments that I received in response to the previous article Teacher's termination still unaccounted for pointed to the religious affiliation of the Ministers of State Ho Peng Kee and Lui Tuck Yew. Personally, I don't think the poor quality of the answers they gave during Question Time could be ascribed to their religion.

Nonetheless, the comments reminded me of a set of data that I have had for some time. For one reason or another, I have put off publishing it, but I suppose now is as good a time as any. If I hold back much longer, it may be out of date.

The data pertain to the religious affiliation of members of parliament. I found them from the Parliament website, in which the curriculum vitae of every member is shown. Most are in a standard format, which includes their religion. 

Here's an example, in the case of a PAP backbencher:

 

  

Cabinet ministers use a different format, and most of them do not declare their religious affiliation. Why not?

Out of 82 People's Action Party MPs, I was able to see the religion for 66 of them. The pie charts below show you the religious distribution of Singaporeans [1] compared to that of these 66 MPs.

As you can see, there is quite a significant difference. In fact one of the reasons why I had second thoughts about publishing the data was my concern that as soon as I reveal the pattern, they may change the format of the CVs so that in future MPs no longer declare their religious affiliation. It was precisely this concern that prompted me to put up a screenshot of Yeo Guat Kwang's CV above, to prove to future readers that as at August 2007, they did declare their religion.

If they do change the format, then you know they're trying to hide something.

The other reason I hesitated before publishing the data is my fear that people will read too much into it. Our political views are formed from many different considerations, and I really do not want any reader to draw direct conclusions about a politician's position on any issue merely by reference to his religion.

Hence, you should treat the detailed table below as no more than raw data. What use it will be to anyone in future, I really don't know.

Admittedly, I myself have often referred to the disproportionate number of Christians in government when discussing how homophobic the government's position tends to be. But you will notice I never say that all Christian MPs are of like mind, for surely they are not. I will only go as far as to say that just as a fraction of Christians generally are of the fundamentalist ilk, so one can expect a fraction of Christian MPs to be of fundamentalist ilk too. But whereas in the population, Christians are only about 14%, which means the fundamentalists must be even fewer, in Parliament, the Christians are 44% of the 66 who declared their religion (and some unknown percentage of the cabinet ministers who did not declare their religion). It stands to reason that the fundamentalists are likely to be disproportionately represented in Parliament.

Moreover, a case can be made that even if many Christian MPs do not subscribe to dogmatic strains of Christianity, the fact remains that Christians tend to mix among Christians. Even if not fundamentalist himself, it will not surprise me if a Christian MP or minister has a skewed reading of the ground. Vocal, organised homophobia is a rather church-driven thing. If one mixes around Christians, one is likely to end up perceiving that most people are strongly homophobic, and that the "ground" would rise up against any progressive moves. 

Anyway, here is the table:

 

  

 

Some clarifications: 
  1. The serial number refers to the numbering on the Parliament website.
     
  2. Quite a number of MPs declared their religion as "Roman Catholic" or "Catholic" instead of "Christianity", as you can see from the column on the right. I have grouped them in the same category as those who said "Christianity".
     
  3. Those categorised as "Nil" are those MPs who used the standard format, and in the field for religion said "No religion", "Free thinker" or something similar. They are to be distinguished from the "Not stated" category which are those whose CVs carried no mention of their religious affiliation.
     
  4. Wee Siew Kim declared his religion as "Buddhism/Taoism". For the purpose of this table, I have treated it as "Taoism". Pure Buddhists would not make such a mixed mention.
  5. Percentage figures are rounded, and may not add up to 100. 
     
  6. Data collected in July 2007.

My appeal to readers is to try to fill in the blanks with regard to those ministers who did not state their religion on their CVs. If you have come across other sources that indicate a minister's religion, please let me know (with suitable references). For example, a friend and I recall seeing a Straits Times report some time back mentioning that Lim Boon Heng is Roman Catholic, but unfortunately I don't have the source material with me now.

Yawning Bread 


 

 

Footnotes

  1. It proved unexpectedly difficult to find from the website of the Department of Statistics, the religious profile of the Singapore population. I finally had to make an estimate from a cross-tabulation of 2 tables. The first was the religious make-up of the three main races as per the 2000 census. The second was the population weightage of these 3 main races in 2006. I detect a reluctance by the Department to provide clear information about religious demography generally.
    Return to where you left off

Addenda

  1. Lim Boon Heng was mentioned by the Sunday Times as a Catholic. The citation provided by a reader (thank you!) was a Sunday Times (Sunday Plus) story 21 April 1996, headlined "St Joseph's Church is 150 years old". It contained the sentence "The exhibition will be opened by Minister without Portfolio Lim Boon Heng, a Catholic. It will end on May 12."