Quick Quiz: What do LKY, Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin all have in common? They refused to consider themselves as an atheist. LKY wrote in his recent book One Man's View of the World this, "I wouldn't call myself an atheist." But lest the Christians out there start to do the jig and celebrate, LKY further clarified that statement by saying, "I neither deny nor accept that there is a God."
Now, a second quick quiz: What separates LKY from Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin? Buddhism. LKY admitted in the book that he considers himself a nominal Buddhist. By this, he meant that he would "go through the motions and the rituals like offering to his ancestors food and so on." He further said, "It is like clearing the graves during Qing Ming. With each passing generation, fewer people go. It is a ritual."
Well, at almost 90 years old, this warm blooded, cold logic and lukewarm believing nonagenarian has seen it all, said it all and done it all. LKY has lived his life, led a democratic nation into economic prosperity, put this little red dot on the map of a gigantic blue and brown globe, fought his enemies into either silent acquiescence or quiet admiration, effectively passed the leadership baton to the next generation, married his childhood sweetheart in a blissful union made for life, and last but not least, is not afraid to face death in his own terms.
In the book, he said that he had executed an AMD before a lawyer and doctor friend, which gives his treating doctors the right "to remove the tube" and allows him to make a "quick exit". Alas, even in pending death, LKY wants to have a say in it. This is the same man who had set the stage for leadership in Singapore and is now setting the grounds or terms of his earthly or mortal departure.
So, it is tempting here to ask this, "Where does LKY draw his comfort from, if not from religion?" (This was in fact a question asked of him at page 302 of the book). Here is LKY's reply, "It is the end of my aches and pains and suffering. So I hope the end will come quickly."
Imagine that, a man, who is highly regarded as an international statesman and as a consultant to top companies, admired by everyone who has ever known him personally - even his enemies cannot deny his political savviness and practical shrewdness - wealthy and healthy, and living in a cocooned and much envious existence - at least from a reasonable bystander's view - and still he wants to leave his stars-spangled life as soon as possible or as soon as it is expedient, I guess. He in fact said that he does not see a point in intervening to save his life if to live his life is to be in a state of non-living, that is, to be comatose or half-comatose and fed through a tube. In short or briefly, LKY is desirous of going naturally and to get it over with by a flip of a switch.
Further, he once said that there is no point trying to convert him at his age to any religion, except to nominal buddhism I guess. He even admitted that any attempt to do so is a "hopeless case" (or cause). I believe, to him, religion is just one of the many ways people deal with their unavoidable death or expiry. The Christians subscribe to a heaven of eternal bliss. The Hindus believe in reincarnation or the returning of life from death and back to death again. And the atheist, like Hitchens, would rather just accept it as an eternal shuteye or blackout.
So, LKY is too "stone-cold" pragmatic to pine for a restful place after his death. In his book, he was challenged by the interviewer on the generally accepted fact that it is only human to believe in the hereafter and he replied stoically, "No, it goes against logic. Supposing we all have a life after death, where is that place?" Well, if I may cheekily add here, and if LKY has his way in the afterlife, heaven would not only be firmly democratic, it would also be defiantly meritocratic.
On marriage, there is no denying that LKY misses his wife and thinks of her fondly. He even said, like all devoted husbands would say, "I wish I can meet my wife in the hereafter, but I don't think I will. I just cease to exist just as she has ceased to exist - otherwise the other world would be overpopulated." Amazingly, this man is even thinking about social policies when he was hypothesizing about the afterlife. As such, it came as no surprises when he was asked, "What are the things that keep you awake?" and he replied, "I think our changing population."
Let me end this way. I guess LKY will always be LKY. He has done his part for Singapore and one cannot imagine a Singapore without him. In fact, a Singapore without LKY can very well go in any direction. If one rewinds the clock back, I think the chances of Singapore (without LKY) being a clean, green and corruption-free nation-state is not very high. Or I may be wrong. Nevertheless, my counterfactual instinct counts for little in a nation that has already taken its chances with LKY and no one else.
So, if you really think about it, his views about governing the country and dealing with the world at large is not very different from his views about the afterlife or religion. In a nutshell, it is this: If it can't be reduced to facts and figures, it really doesn't matter. When this is applied to religion, one can understand why LKY is not convinced or persuaded. I guess to him religion and the afterlife is all about sentimentality and such things are hardly tangible, measurable or manageable. And if it is not reducible, then it really doesn't matter.
However, for some believers out there, for those still hoping for an eleventh-hour, bedside conversion, like many wanted for Darwin, maybe this matter-of-fact admission from LKY might keep the hope afloat? "I neither deny nor accept that there is a God...I don't know. So I do not laugh at people who believe in God. But I do not necessarily believe in God - nor deny that there could be one." Fingers crossed I guess. Cheerz.