These were some personal reflections I wrote on my flight from America back home about four months ago.
And what should they know of England, who only England know?
– Rudyard Kipling, “The English Flag”
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
On my other trips to America I’ve often ended my trips with comments on America itself in comparison to Singapore. However this time I want to write a little more about Singapore itself. This time, I think my trip to America has helped me learn more about the nature of Singapore and my life as a Singaporean.
I was privileged to have been invited by a friend to an Independence eve house party hosted by someone who grew up as a Singaporean but moved to America in her late teens and settled down there. We talked a bit about Singapore, our respective backgrounds, etc. Finally I asked her if she ever misses Singapore and she replied that whenever she hears about Singapore’s education or maths and science achievements, she feels proud to have been Singaporean and she’s thankful for the work ethic instilled in her as a student when she was in Singapore. However, as glorious as it might be on hindsight, it was certainly not an enjoyable thing and it was in fact quite gruelling for us who went through the gauntlet of the Singapore education system.
However after my friend said that she felt pride in being Singaporean whenever she hears of our achievements, she went on to say that she would never move back to Singapore because America is where all her loved ones are.
I realise then and there the superfluity of the idea of nations, cultures or whatever other idealised macro civic or political entity. In the end we just have the command to love our neighbours, as in, our real immediate neighbours, not romantic visions of cultures or peoples. To love mankind belongs to God, to love our neighbours, ourselves.
Coincidentally this is also the year when Singapore celebrates its fiftieth year of its existence as a nation. But having heard what my Singaporean turned American friend had to say, the question of national, cultural or even civilisational identity seems trivial in the end. In the end, the particularity of the peoples in our lives take precedence over our national or civic identities.
It seems to me that it is futile to redeem or define our place in this world with idealised civic or cultural polities, rather we are obey the command of God to love our neighbours according to the will of God, with the means, opportunities and the particular people whom God has placed in our lives.
Perhaps here what has often been reviled as the American weakness is its greatest strength. In this cultural wasteland void of history, memory and even identity, there is a pure focus upon the primacy and immediacy of the needs of our neighbour without wasting time on idealised cultural abstractions only of interest to aesthetes but of no concern of God whose only care is meeting the needs of our neighbours.
Maybe this is the true lesson this great Protestant Republic can teach us, civilisations, cultures, systems and nations shall eventually perish, but there shall always remain our neighbours and in this great space of America is given the barest and most arid of frameworks for the maximal exercise of such divinely commanded love and the most exclusive focus upon the human qua human. Perhaps here in the land where civic entities are forged out of the most intensive of localised actions can be found the true foundation of a human civic polity.