A Pastoral Letter to Catholics in Singapore

My dear People of God,

Since the beginning of Christianity, the Church has always championed the promotion of the arts.  Artists, through the use of songs, music, words, sculpture and painting inspire humanity to appreciate the beauty of creation and thereby lead people to connect with the Sacred and the Transcendence.   Through his works, the artist communicates his values and thoughts about life.  He seeks to fathom the depths of the human soul and the mystery of life.   In the final analysis, the vocation of an artist is at the service of beauty, truth and love.  Artists, therefore, must use their vocation for the common good.  “Artists who are conscious of all this know too that they must labour without allowing themselves to be driven by the search for empty glory or the craving for cheap popularity, and still less by the calculation of some possible profit for themselves.” (Pope St John Paul II, Letter to Artists, 1999, para 4) Rather, true arts must help to inspire and renew the lives of people, giving them hope.  That is why the Church promotes music and the arts.

Unfortunately today, art has become synonymous with anything that is avant-garde.  It has become the licence for people to push the boundaries of convention.  It has become the platform for people to put down and mock anything that they do not agree with, such as religious beliefs, in the name of ‘freedom of expression’, and advocate a nihilistic philosophy that is destructive to the well-being of humanity, confusing good with evil, love with selfishness, truth with lies, beauty with what is repulsive. It is in this context that we need to be vigilant in our discernment of what is truly art, and what is vile disguised as art.

Whilst we must respect that people have different tastes and values, yet, we have a moral duty to ensure that peoples of all communities, religious or otherwise, co-exist and live in peace and mutual respect for each other.  No religion, organization or form of art should be permitted to incite hatred, violence and disrespect for others.  We must be wary of those who promote a culture of death, suicide, individualism, intolerance and promiscuity, and sow seeds of hatred, division and rebellion in the minds and hearts of our people, especially the young.

Hence, governments have an obligation to protect the common good of society by ensuring that arts promoted are for the service of truth, love and unity.  We thank God for the gift of enlightened leaders who have the courage and moral integrity to ensure that arts promoted in Singapore do not degrade into something banal, destructive and divisive, inculcating values contrary to goodness, truth and justice.

As Catholics, it is equally incumbent on us to be ever watchful of any attempts that seek to compromise our Christian values, our beliefs, and promote a hedonistic and suicidal culture. This is all the more so when there is an increasing number of young people who are attempting suicide today, and falling into addictions of all forms.

I am edified that many of our Catholic parents have risen to their role as guardians of our youths to speak out against the potential dangers of events that may have negative effects on the well-being of our young.    I call upon all Christians and people of good-will to recover the true meaning of arts and encourage all artists to promote arts that inspire peace, true love and beauty, give life, joy and hope to our peoples.

Like all Singaporeans of good-will, we desire to live harmoniously with people of all faiths.  All of us must remain committed to protecting our society, to ensure the right values are instilled, especially among the young.

We must remain vigilant against the evil forces. Indeed, St Peter warns us, “Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.”  (1 Pt 5:8) And St Paul makes it clear, “Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”  (RSVCE, Eph 6:10-13)

Finally, we must continuously pray for God’s grace and protection of our society, that those entrusted with the responsibility to keep us safe be discerning and courageous in making the right decisions at all times.  As individuals, we too must play our part and safeguard what we hold to be truly good, beautiful, noble, right and just for the well-being of our peoples.

Yours devotedly,

Most Rev. William Goh
Archbishop of Singapore

09 March, 2019