The world according to Amos Yee and the meaning of tolerance
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The world according to Amos Yee and the meaning of tolerance

In an astonishing act of self-interest—it couldn’t have been anything else, the notion of grace being quite foreign to the intolerant religionists, who we call ‘Christians’ when in polite company—one deluded worshipper of the malicious and deceitful fantasy deity, Jesus Christ, unwittingly posted bail for Singapore’s dearly beloved, prisoner of conscience, Amos Yee. Since Amos is a selfless, precocious, fount of wisdom and a boy-genius who will hopefully run our country someday; and since he is the epitome of what it means to be an underdog challenger of oppressive institutions; three lawyers have seized the opportunity to get in the good graces of Singapore’s next Prime Minister, his inability to obtain gainful employment from the MDA notwithstanding.

More startling perhaps is that the gullible believers of the cruel sacrifice of the sinless Son of God—a doctrine known to benighted followers as “penal substitutionary atonement”, but which the learned more accurately term “divine child abuse”—have presumed to know what their own faith teaches. For the uninitiated, almost 4,000 of these blind sheep have said that they have forgiven the indubitable Amos Yee. This is most surely an act of a guilty conscience—the Christians being the ones responsible for precipitating the entire incident through their worship of the aforementioned victim of divine child abuse—and it certainly has nothing to do with the exercise of virtues like forgiveness or grace because the religion teaches nothing that remotely resembles that kind of thing.

And as if to emphasise the absurdity of their doctrines of grace, they claim to forgive Amos because they are themselves the recipients of God’s grace, who have no greater boast or claim to righteousness than that obtained through the death of their sinless Saviour. They therefore suggest preposterous fantasies like: “Jesus loved us despite our own fallen spiritual state.” And they offer impossible promises such as reconciliation with an angry God: “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:10)

But all this is plainly absurd since we have it on good authority (based on an Amos Yee production) that “it is, of course, very easy for all Christians to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ… because they haven’t read it. No Christian has ever followed the Word of God…. No Christian has any loyalty or any reverence to anything that the Bible says.” So we know that Christian beliefs are all humbug. They must therefore either be liars or hypocrites if they claim to be acting in accordance with their belief in grace and forgiveness.

The enlightened followers of Amos Yee know best. Amos teaches them that all religionists are “stupid [and] horrible people,” responsible for “oppression, violence and… the dumbing of generations of children’s minds.” Those who disagree with the Philosophy of Amos Yee are “f***ing stupid” and they deserve to be the subject of derision, summed up by the leader’s two words, “f*** you”.

An explanation

The preceding section is my estimation of how the world according to Amos Yee might look like, minus the references to the male appendage, and without the frequent repetition of his second favourite word, “inane”. It is what I have derived after poring over most of the grand works of the 17-year-old—a task which frequently involved the lowering of the volume and the setting of the video to 2x speed—and it represents an approximate understanding of the worldview of the imperious Amos Yee.

It is a worldview that has made Christians (and sometimes the adherents of other religions) the frequent subject of Amos’ invectives. To him, they represent much of what is wrong with the world. They are “vile and avaricious people,” a cult that believes in stupid, illogical and inane ideas recorded in a Bible written at a time when “primitive sand monkeys did not have inductive reasoning.” And because they disagree with him on homosexuality, they are “stupid and ignorant people”.

Central to Amos’ worldview is the unalterable judgment of the supreme self and it is, in reality, no more tolerant than the religions it derides. Unfortunately, such a worldview is increasingly common. It does not merely consist of disregard for the ideas expressed by religions; it involves, most worryingly, contempt towards all persons who believe in a divine being other than Science.

To understand Amos Yee, then, is in some sense to understand the problem societies around the world face today, for his abusive speech consists not just in attacks on the ideas underpinning Christianity; it also involves attacks on the Christians who hold fast to those doctrines—the aim being to denigrate the intrinsic worth of others. By its very utterance, such abusive speech forecloses healthy discussion—for why would anyone hang around to suffer a vile assault, albeit a verbal one, on their very personhood—and it evinces unwillingness to participate in the discussion as equals.

The result of this worldview, then, is intolerance for people, not just ideas. If freedom of speech is important, it is important because it helps us achieve certain goals—attaining the truth, correcting error and converting opponents. But we cannot possibly achieve any of these goals with a worldview that is founded on contempt towards one’s opponents—a worldview that if logically followed leads one to despise his opponent’s arguments, no matter the merit, and to deny his opponent the freedom to speak as equals.

In the Amos Yee example, we find evidence of a worldview that cannot accept Christianity as a religion of grace and forgiveness, or as a religion founded upon the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Following its logic, one must reject attempts by Christians to express forgiveness as either deceitful or hypocritical. Simply consider the following: If Christianity’s doctrinal claims are false, then it doesn’t espouse grace and forgiveness and Jesus Christ was actually a malicious and deceitful person. Its adherents must therefore be lying when they claim to be acting in accordance with their beliefs, for they don’t really believe in being gracious. And should they claim to be gracious or forgiving, they must really be hypocrites since they are the followers of a malicious God.

As should be evident by now, there is little value in holding on to such a worldview that considers friendship, enmity, and kindness, contempt. So why should anyone hold on to it?

Amos’ beliefs about Christianity seem to stem from a deep-seated animosity, both to its teachings and its adherents—especially its adherents—and they appear to be driven by his exclusive reading of books written by New Atheists whose harsh language he seems to have tried to emulate with his uncouth usage of every child’s favourite four-letter word. It is no small irony, then, that Amos was bailed out by a Christian youth counsellor, Vincent law. Perhaps with the experience of a little Christian charity Amos might begin to experience something he cannot quite fit into his worldview—an act of grace by a Christian, living in accordance with his beliefs. And perhaps, this might demonstrate to Amos just how untenable his worldview is.

A few clarifications are in order at this point.

First, all this is not to say that I have some superior insight into the mind of Amos that allows me to pass judgment on his character; it is merely to say that he has written and spoken enough to give us a sufficiently clear insight into his worldview—which is a rather unflattering one. My point is not to undermine Amos Yee’s intrinsic worth as a person; it is to reveal the problems inherent in a worldview that is contemptuous towards the intrinsic worth of other persons.

Second, this is also not to say that I am certain that Amos will continue to treat Christians and other religious people with contempt, or to say that he will be unappreciative of their acts of kindness. But if I am right about how he views the world, then any change of heart will be made despite his worldview rather than because of it.

Third, this is not to say that there is anything resembling a clear line of demarcation separating fair criticism of one’s ideas from an unprovoked attack on one’s personhood. In fact, as is so often the case when people identify strongly with their beliefs, an attack on one’s beliefs can seem like an attack on one’s personhood. For example, to affirm the reality of hell for unbelievers, as most Christians still do, and to tell others that the rejection of God’s grace in Christ Jesus will certainly lead to eternal damnation—such messages are often taken personally, as an insult to one’s goodness and an affront to the belief of one’s own innocence. But the meek pleading of an evangelist ought not to be confused with the crass invective of the one who seeks not to win over a brother but to put him down and shut him out of the debate. There may be still more confusion in between but the mere existence of a grey area ought not to prevent us from condemning clear instances of vile speech whose only purpose is to denigrate the worth of other persons.

Finally, I am not saying that the rest of Amos’ views on other issues are all without merit, or that they too reveal a fundamental contempt for other persons—although his obscene suggestion that those who mourn Lee Kuan Yew’s death are “c**k-s***ers” and “necrophiliacs” would count as a view without merit, and one which is indicative of a fundamental contempt for other persons. But I do hope that it is clear that his contempt towards the intrinsic worth of religious people, which constitutes a great majority of the good people of Singapore, effectively precludes him from considering their views. For if, according to Amos, they are ignorant fools, why bother considering what they have to say? Why not just read another one of Richard Dawkins’ moral proclamations—such as the immorality of not aborting a foetus with Down’s syndrome?

To conclude, Amos’ beliefs about religion are rooted in a worldview that is intolerant towards people, not just ideas; and though he is hailed as a budding intellectual by some starry-eyed commentators such as Nathan Heller from The New Yorker (an otherwise sensible writer), he is far more likely to be unable to progress beyond the frequent proclamation of loud platitudes if he continues on this trajectory.

If Amos wants to be taken seriously, he must take others seriously. And if we are to encourage the meaningful exercise of free speech, as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself, then we ought to be wary of adopting the worldview that I have just described. To be tolerant of ideas we disagree with is entirely unnecessary—in fact, it is impossible, for that is what it means to disagree—but we ought to give all persons the fundamental respect they deserve—to treat persons as persons, not objects, animals or property. For free speech to be something more than a noisy marketplace of insults, we must push the ideas above the fray, not sink them in the cesspool of abusive language.

[Postscript: To be clear, I am not advocating a humanist celebration of the inherent worth and dignity of every human being. Rather, as a Christian, I take as my starting point the understanding that men are made in the image of God, and it is for mankind that Jesus died on the cross. To denigrate the personhood of another human being is therefore not merely unwise, it is also morally reprehensible. But if the reader does not share my religious convictions, and will not accept either the premise that human dignity cannot depend on humanity itself (which would be tautological) or the premise that human dignity cannot depend on anything lesser like the philosophies of man (which would be trading down), and will not accept that human dignity must ultimately find its source in God; then I hope the practical problems inherent in a worldview which supports the denigration of one’s opponents are sufficient to convince the reader of its untenability.

I also hope that the reader does not walk away with a sense of superiority over Amos, or with a diminished view of Amos as a person. For while his worldview (or at least his public worldview, the one he expresses openly in his blog and on YouTube) is deeply problematic, he is nonetheless a person made in the image of God. So while we ought to condemn his attacks on the personhood of others, we ought not to do the same towards him. My purpose in examining his worldview is not to subject his name to yet more bad press. Rather, it is to use a recent example to illustrate where the problem in the whole free speech debate lies. The reason Singapore still lacks a coherent framework for understanding how to approach freedom of speech issues is because we have always shied away from examining the worldview that lies at the root of hate speech. It is, I submit, a worldview of self-as-king that is at the root of intolerance towards others—a worldview that, brought to its logical conclusion, will seldom lead to the meaningful exercise of free speech. Understanding it will do for us what no number of speech codes will ever accomplish.]

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