Friday, October 27, 2017

Qualifying for the Singapore Bar; Christian and church life; and Life in general

This year, I have been caught up with doing my pupillage at a law firm for the earlier half of the year, and then taking the bar exam in the latter half of the year. I did my pupillage, first at a firm dealing with corporate litigation, and then moved to another firm that dealt with criminal and family law matters. I am still quite undecided as to which area of legal practice I should delve into. My good sense tells me that if I should decide to practice law, I should practice in a community-related legal discipline like criminal, torts, and family, but a part of me wish to be able to do corporate-related legal work like merger and acquisition, and insolvency. I find those contents very much harder to grasp though. Perhaps I should be doing something else other than law for a career, but I am not sure what that should be.

My long-standing illness with tension headache still gets the better of me at times. I have been suffering from this illness for more than 5 years now. I feel that it makes me more easily addled than what I would otherwise be, though it may very well be that the content by which I am trying to grasp may very well be beyond my mental ken. I have begun trying out certain therapies like acupuncture and tuina. There are quite many traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) clinics near my previous workplace providing for such alternative medicine treatment. Acupuncture doesn’t seem effective in my opinion. Tuina, a form of traditional Chinese massage, has some alleviating effect, but it is no panacea.

It is quite an experience doing my stint in the legal industry, and I truly enjoyed interacting with the various clients and working upon their various legal problems. It allows me to witness a snippet of society. I got to see some of the social ills from doing criminal and family related legal work. I think I have more of a fondness for litigation rather than simply corporate work. The former involves going to court and presenting a case before a judge. The latter is more sedentary in nature, and the daily routine is mostly being in the office working upon some corporate document. If there was anything that inspired me to study law, it were the legal dramas like Boston Legal,  games like Ace Attorney, and books like How to Kill a Mockingbird where the lawyer characters appear most charming and eloquent when they passionately argue their case on behalf of their clients in court with great panache. In that regard, litigation would be more in line with that initial conception of what legal work is all about.

I have been trying to brush up on my mother tongue throughout this year, which is the Chinese language. One reason for doing so is because I feel it would be useful for me in dealing with Chinese-speaking clients. Another reason is that I wish to be able to communicate more effectively with chinese-speaking Singaporeans. I try improving my Chinese by watching Chinese dramas. Some of the Chinese dramas I have watched are The Three Kingdoms and Battle of Changsha. The Three Kingdoms is a period of tripartite division of China between the states of Wei, Shu, and Wu in the 14th century. Battle of Changsha is a drama revolving around the lives of a family in China during the Japanese invasion in World War 2. 

I make it a point to attend church on Sundays. It would be nice if I could find the discipline to write on my blog about what goes on in my weekly church service. Indeed, there are plenty interesting things for which to write about, but for some reason, I find it difficult to go about writing about them despite wishing to.

I watch sermons by various pastors and priests on youtube, and read blogs by various Christian writers. Some of the pastors of whose sermons I watch are Timothy Keller, Jon Piper, and John F. MacArthur. I also watch monologue videos by Catholic priest Fr Mike Scmitz. I also find guidance in the secular wisdom of Alain De Botton, a british popular philosopher, in his narrated animated videos on the youtube channel School of Life

I also meet up with friends I know from law school, especially those whom I know from the batch prayer group. It’s my way of keeping in touch with people from the fraternity, and to fellowship with fellow believers in Christ. It also helps to strengthen my faith, and keep me from my proneness to excessive doubts and disgruntlement with God. Recently, I have been attending a cell group at my church. It is made up of church members a little younger than I am. The cell group that I was formerly in composing of guys around my age has pretty much become defunct because the other cell group members have stopped coming to church, or left for other churches. I guess there’s a homeliness to attending the church I am a regular at. It is also one in which I feel there is more of a sense of authenticity of what being a Christian means, compared to what may be talked or emphasized about at other churches. The church which I attend is a Lutheran church. From time to time, my pastor would meet me up for lunch, and I would talk to him about my struggles in life, and discuss with him what I think about his sermons, and what could be done to make things better at church.  

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Church Sermon about wisdom

I went to church today, and I went to church last week as well. But I went to a different church that I usually go to from the one I went today as I had to pass something to a friend there. The church which I had went to last week was a Bible-Presbyterian (BP) church. I have been to that church a few times now, and my impression of it is that there is quite some difference in the stuff that they bring up there from the church that I usually go to. For example, in a previous service which I had gone to in the BP church, the Pastor gave a sermon about how the congregants there should bring the church to the world at large. He had a catchy jingo to capture the essence of his sermon. “Bring them in, see the change, send them out.” The church was a place for people to be reformed, and then to bring that change to the world outside the church. I don’t hear as much about bringing change from within my church to the outside world as much in the usual Lutheran church which I have been attending since young. It would seem to me that my church is more focused on the redemption part of the gospel than encouraging people to bring their reformed self beyond the church so that they can change the world positively in their likeness as well. There is a good I suppose to not being too assertive about the need for congregants to go out and make disciples of all nations and messages of such nature. Sometimes, what a church goer needs to hear is how the church or God is administering to his or her need, and not about how he or she should fulfill his or her obligation to God to minister to the world or society or large. Given my own stage in life right now where I find myself struggling with my religious faith and belief in God, I find myself being more drawn towards my own church than towards the BP church where the emphasis seems to be about how we as Christians can bring positive change to the world.

I shall write about what went on in service at the BP church last week, and then on what went on in my church today. At the BP church last week, the preacher there was giving a sermon on the passage of Daniel 2 where the biblical character Daniel had to give an interpretation to the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar. The message of the sermon was about how Daniel, in contrast to the other wise men in King Nebuchadnezzar’s court, recognize that his wisdom came from God, while those other wise men relied upon their own wisdom. The preacher made the point that true wisdom is not about knowledge or intelligence, but about a relationship with Jesus Christ. I have a question about the point made by the Pastor though. “Is that really what wisdom means in the bible?” I mean, a relationship with Christ is nice and good and all, but is that what the bible means by having wisdom? From my own reading of the bible, it seems that wisdom has a certain quality and merit of its own altogether apart from simply a relationship with God. Like there are certain characters who are called wise, and this wisdom seems to entail something along the lines of them having certainly qualities of mind or capabilities apart from their moral rectitude or devotion to God. Why, even a character like Ahitophel who went against King David by siding with Absalom in his uprising was esteemed for his great wisdom. On the other hand, there may have been other exemplary biblical characters like Moses or David, but they were not as much esteemed for wisdom. In terms of relationship with God, David is called “A Man after God’s own heart”, but this is not the case for wisest man who ever lived, Solomon who is described in 1 King 11 as having turned away from God. I would prefer to keep the term wisdom and the notion of relationship with God as separate categories.

The thing is, is that I don’t think that it is God’s will to grant high amount of wisdom to everyone. Sometimes, I feel that Christians make the mistake of thinking that wisdom or intelligence is a sign of a person’s close relationship with God, or vice versa, that a close relationship with God would grant one wisdom or intelligence. I myself am probably guilty of such thinking. Fact of the matter is, there are Christians who are smart, and there are Christians who are not so smart; And there are non-believers who are smart, and non-believers who are not so smart as well. Whether a person is smart or wise does not necessarily mean that he or she have a greater standing with God than someone who is less smart or wise. Someone might have a more prominent standing in church ministry, but he or she is still very much human nonetheless, and liable to err.

For service at my usual Lutheran church today, the sermon passage was on Matthew 4:12-23, where Jesus first began his public ministry. The Pastor’s message was about how Jesus ministered to a darkened world, and how we continue to live in a darkened world where many people in Singapore society are still non-believers and idol worshippers. The Pastor shares about how, for exercise, he would run up the stairs of a flat, across the corridor to the stairs on the opposite end, and repeat that until he gets to the top. As he goes about his exercise, he would observe the outside of the apartments he passes by, and notice that many households in Singapore display various paraphernalia indicating their adherence to various folk religions. According to the Pastor, these are still signs that we are trapped in the darkness of an unbelieving world.

What do I think of this characterization of unbelief as that of a dark world? Well, it’s pretty much conventional Christian paradigm of framing things. It’s kind of like a lingo actually which may or may not have as much negative connotation as one would intuitively associate with such a term "darkness". For myself, I am not so keen on characterizing mere unbelief as darkness. It is kind of hyperbolic in my opinion. But I do recognize that there are quite some disturbing or concerning social phenomena that take place in society or in the world, part of which may stem from lack of religious belief, whether Christian or others, and of which Christianity and other religions can serve as a guiding light.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Reflections about life and graduation from law school

It’s been quite a long time since I wrote a blog post. For some reason, I have found it difficult to find the motivation to write, even though I have had quite a lot of ideas of what I could write about. There is no shortage of significant happenings around the world which are common topics for discussion amongst families and peers. For this post though, I wish to write more about my own life - what has been happening in it, where I am at, and my own reflections about it.

I have just completed the credit requirement to graduate with my law degree at National University of Singapore this semester. It’s been a long time coming, since I took quite a long leave of absence from school on account of my suffering from tension headaches.

It has been quite a challenge for me in my university life as an undergraduate. I’ve got to say that I found law studies much more difficult than what I would have expected before entering university. I didn’t expect to find myself hard of understanding when trying to read law cases and materials in my first year at law school. Although I pretty much understand the concept of what a contract is about, the study of contract law, which broke down a contract into its constituent legal elements, was rather mind-jarring and other-worldly to me; and I found the austere test-like approach in legal reasoning strange and cold compared to how I or other people I know would normally intuitively reason things. It took some while to get used to it. I was also quite out of touch with studying since I had served the military for National Service for 2 years before entering law school. The copious amount of reading texts was intimidating, even though I had believed myself to be quite a voracious reader before entering law school. I was reading law cases in the same way I would read a story book, from start to finish, without paying attention to the structure of the legal judgment and how legal judgments tend to have quite a systematic manner of laying out its analysis based on the respective components or ‘limbs’ of a legal framework. It was easy for me to lose sight amidst the deluge of texts of the legal structural framework. I answered law hypothetical questions with the sort of ‘go for the bullseye’ approach, where I identify whatever issue that seems apparent to me and address that part instead of systematically going through the legal framework from start to finish and addressing those issues in the case facts of the hypothetical every point in turn. My mind did not seem to intuitively grasp this structural nature of legal reasoning. It just reads, process content, and digest them into a churned state where everything is mixed together in a mash of disorganized glob. Sure, I might understand the content and may pluck out ideas from my reading from out of my head, but I don’t conceive of the content in the structural manner typical of legal reasoning. All that I was focused on when reading legal material was to comprehend the piecemeal content, but I failed to make out that the respective content are the respective limbs that formed the larger framework of the area of law being studied.

I was quite easily stressed and anxiety-prone in my first year of law school. My difficulty with law studies did play a part, and for some reason, I found myself having a nervous disposition which I had not experienced before in my teenage days. Perhaps it might have been due to a minor car accident which I was involved in that triggered off an anxiety disorder. But for the most part, it was the high expectation that I placed on myself to succeed in law school. Such anxieties probably took a toll on me when I started experiencing a strange pressure-like sensation in my head after my first year of law school. I remember somewhat that it came during the time when I was doing my first internship, perhaps when I was visiting the subordinate court (as it was then called) with my supervising solicitor to represent a client for flouting money-lending regulations. I didn’t think it would be cause for too much concern at first, and that some rest would make it go away. But it became more concerning when it lasted more than a few days, and then for a week. And it was so severe on days as to be splitting. I hypothesized that it might be due to my wisdom teeth, which as I found out from visiting a dentist, had erupted quite pronouncedly; my lower wisdom teeth were growing horizontally and were nearly impacted. Apparently the army dentist I visited during my National Service term had failed to identify it. I asked for permission to end my internship one week early from schedule while I go and settle my wisdom teeth problem which I postulated was giving me the head pain.

However, even after removing my wisdom teeth, the pressure sensation in my head remained. I was then concerned with whether this might be an underlying tumor or aneurysm. As I reading about aneurysms one day in the school library, it unnerved me so greatly that I felt faint and breathless as I walked along the library corridor. My vision was darkening about me. I called for help and laid myself on the floor as I feared that I might be having a stroke from an aneurysm rupture which I had just read about. I was attended to by a librarian and a senior law student who was in the library, and I told them to call the ambulance. After a while, I recovered from the momentary state of weakness and felt much better, and the law school senior was of the opinion that we could just call off the ambulance as it was probably a non-serious fainting spell which he had seen quite often as a medic in the army, but the thought of it being an aneurysm rupture continued to play on my mind and I told him to allow the ambulance to come nonetheless.

I was taken to the hospital, and given several medical tests, including an MRI of the head. At the end of it all, the doctor couldn’t find anything wrong. The diagnosis was ‘idiopathic syncopation’, which is technical jargon for fainting from unknown cause.

Despite it being somewhat of a relief that I am not suffering from brain tumor, aneurysms, or anything of the like, the pressure sensation in my head remained, and was a source of major discomfort. It also made it difficult for me to study for what I already found challenging as a subject-matter. I did quite badly that semester for my exams. The tension headache, as the pressure sensation subsequently came to be diagnosed, persisted to the following semester. I was quite affected by this new and unfamiliar sensation which became extremely tight and painful at times. Indeed, it made it difficult for me to come up with something for a mid-term assignment because I found it so difficult to work under such an uncomfortable condition. That was the reason I decided to take a leave of absence. When I came back the semester after that, the tension headache was still troubling and was making it difficult for me to cope with work, and therefore I decided to take another leave of absence. I had to forfeit the entire term of tuition fees for both semesters because I applied for the leave of absences past the deadline for withdrawal. So for safe measure as I wasn't too sure whether I was well enough, I decided to take an additional leave of absence in the following semester, making it a total of 3 semesters, or one and a half years of leave of absence. During that time of leave of absence, I involved myself a little with political grassroot activities at my constituency, and came to school from time to time to sit in for lectures at school to determine whether I was well enough to resume school the next semester.

I think my tension headache improved somewhat after those leave of absence, even though they remained, even till this day. I am not as affected by it emotionally as when it first began, but it is still a source of discomfort which affects my ability to study well. There are days when it is so severe as to render me unable to do anything for the entire day. It also affects my motivation to study, even though I am someone who actually likes studying and learning about all sorts of things. I tried various medications, but to no avail. Some alternative therapy like gua sha from Traditional Chinese Medicine does help to alleviate the intensity of the headache, but not to a complete extent. I also try to practice stress management techniques like meditation since I am told that the cause of tension headache is due to stress.

I find myself at a crossroad in life after graduating from law school. For one, my dismal law school results make it difficult to get a legal training contract. For two, I am unsure whether pursuing a career in law would be the most sensible option for me given the possible high work demands of a legal career and my possible inaptitude at it. But I am not sure what else I could or should do for a living, and I am fearful that my tension headache might get in the way even in such other pursuits.

Throughout this stage in life, I have found myself wrangling with my religious beliefs and faith in God. Not that I didn’t struggle with my religious beliefs before such difficulties, but this has been quite a turmoil and crisis of faith for me in life. I pray to God for healing quite often, and have had Christian friends prayed over me. And it angst me greatly that these prayers do not afford me the healing that I want. I’ve got to admit that I find myself hating God a lot. Sometimes, I feel stupid that I might be hating a God that might very well not exist.

I am quite dissatisfied with way life has turned out for me thus far. It is a far cry from how I would have envisioned it when I first got a place to study law at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Indeed, I was very happy and thankful at obtaining a coveted place to study law at NUS, especially when I was rejected in my first application and only accepted the second time round the following year. Things seemed really hopeful for me back then, and the future seemed bright and optimistic. It’s a pity it has turned out the way it has, and I struggle to make sense of the significance of it all. Perhaps it is God's way of checking my pride or sense of security in my own capabilities. Perhaps I am reminded of the dissatisfactory nature of worldly existence and pursuits and to hope for, as according to Christian beliefs, in the more desirable state of the afterlife. But what is the point then of earthly existence if all that is to be desired is in the afterlife? I have been reading Pastor Timothy Keller’s book ‘Walking with God through Pain and Suffering’. I think it is a great book which ministers to the issue of personal pain and suffering quite well, and which I might blog about, if for any reason, as a form of personal spiritual therapy. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Dialogue session with Justice Antonin Scalia at NUS Law

Antonin Scalia, an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, visited my school yesterday for a dialogue session, which I attended. Justice Antonin Scalia is probably one of the more colorful judges on the US Supreme Court bench. At least, I hear more about him than the other Supreme Court judges. The other judge that I do hear and read somewhat about in the news is Justice Anthony Kennedy. The more popular American media outlets that I come more often across tend to be left-wing. They are shared more often by my peers on facebook, and have more channels on my cable television subscription. These include online news media such as New York Times and the Washington Post, and television shows such as The Daily Show with John Stewart, and Real Time with Bill Maher. Justice Antonin Scalia is one of the subjects which these more left-leaning media would lampoon or criticize. My more conservative friends in Singapore, especially those in my Christian community, have a much more favorable view of Justice Antonin Scalia, and I believe this is likewise in the US if I should watch some conservative television channels like FoxNews.

One of the reason why Justice Antonin Scalia would be viewed more favourably by social conservatives is because he is more guarded against reading certain rights, such as right to abortion or same-sex marriage, as stemming from the American Constitution/Bill of rights. His position would be that these rights ought to be legislated by the government of the respective states rather than through a blanket constitutional guarantee when the constitution doesn’t say anything explicit about providing for such rights. He propounds a originalist textualist approach towards interpreting the constitution, which is an even more restrictive approach than textualism per se in that the meaning that can be inferred from a statutory text is limited to what it could possibly encompass during the time it was promulgated to the public at large. Proponent of an alternative approach towards interpretation would suggests a ‘living tree’ approach, such that the Constitution should be read to correspond with the needs of its times, or of its ethos. For an enlightening discussion on this topic, see this video featuring a debate between Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Stephen Breyer. Justice Stephen Breyer posits that there are underlying principles undergirding the Constitution that makes the Constitution relevant and applicable to social issues beyond the time of its enactment

Indeed, one of the pet subjects talked about by Justice Antonin Scalia in the dialogue session yesterday was his adherence to his preferred form of interpretation jurisprudence. Words, he says, must be given their ‘fair meaning’, according to the texts in its contexts, rather than subverted from this by some other broader method of interpretation that are prone to the subjective whims of individual judges. From the Wikipedia page about him, it says that he also dislikes using legislative history as a tool for interpretation. Legislative history involves things like reviewing changes to a statute over time to determine how to interpret the words of the statute. I am not sure whether Justice Antonin Scalia frowns upon using parliament/Congress readings from when the bill is being passed to aid in interpretation of the statute. At least in Singapore, this is allowed in the Interpretation Act section 9A, and is not discouraged.

There were several other things that were talked about at the dialogue session. But at least two of the students at the dialogue session asked him questions relating to Obergefell v. Hodges, the case where prohibition against same-sex marriage was ruled as unconstitutional in the US. The first student asked Justice Scalia what he meant when he said that the decision didn’t affect or interest him that much as reported in some article. I suppose why people found this remark by Justice Scalia puzzling was because it seem relatively indifferent compared to his dissenting judgment which was rather forceful and scathing of the majority judgment. Justice Scalia replied that what he meant by that was that even though same-sex marriage was deemed a constitutional guarantee, he as a Roman Catholic was still free to not practice it or to recognize it personally, and as such, it doesn’t affect him personally, though he acknowledged that it might have some repercussion on related issues such as whether a priest can refuse to solemnize a same-sex marriage. I wonder though what Justice Scalia would say if an analogous case were to come before a lower court subsequently. Would Justice Scalia condone a lower court judge bucking the trend of precedence and doing a Kim Davis by upholding a prohibition law against same-sex marriage as constitutional? Kim Davis is the county clerk for Kentucky who gained international attention when she defied a US federal court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples following Obergefell v. Hodges. I doubt Justice Scalia would condone that, as much as he might be disagreeable to the majority judgment in Obergefell. The second student asked Justice Scalia whether his scathing remarks in his judgment affected relationship with his colleagues on the bench. Justice Scalia replied that all said and done, he did shook hands with the other judges whose opinions differed from his, including Justice Kennedy. I don’t know what relationship is like between Justice Scalia and all the other judges, but I have read at least that Justice Scalia and Justice Ruth Ginsberg are good friends, even though they stand on opposite sides on many issues of the law, especially where there is a divide of social ideology.

In response to the moderator's question 'What makes a good lawyer?', Justice Scalia began by saying: "Instead of telling you what makes a good lawyer, let me tell you what makes a bad lawyer." He continued, "A bad lawyer; when the judge asks him a question in the middle of his oral argument to the court, rolls his eyes upwards, as if towards the ceiling of the Supreme Court being a miles high above him." Justice Scalia rolled his eyes upwards and sighed in a disgruntled tone to mimic how such a lawyer would react to the judge's interjection. "He does this to express his displeasure that he is being interrupted in the midst of something important in his speech.", Justice Scalia continued. "But it's when the judge asks a question and you answer that question; That's when your oral argument to the court is actually important!", Justice Scalia bellowed emphatically. Indeed, Justice Scalia is known for his inquisitorial approach in the courtroom, and is reputed for asking more questions from the bench than any of his other associate judges. I guess some lawyers might not take too well to being interrupted in the middle of their oral presentation by Justice Scalia, but Justice Scalia would think that they are missing the point since their oral presentations are not addressing the points he wants clarified.

I wish I had the opportunity to ask Justice Scalia for his personal insights about making sense of the depiction in the American media about the judiciary being as polarized as its politics, but I didn’t get to ask it due to lack of time, and the dialogue session had to end. It was actually my fault, because I tend to be hesitant to raise my question in a crowd until the last minute. From my casual viewing of sources from the American Media, a lot of things seem to be polarized between left and right, liberals and conservatives, democrats and republicans. Is this necessarily an accurate picture when it comes to the American judiciary as well? I believe that there are many issues where things are not as polarized, or at least, not along the same lines as the liberal and conservative agenda. Most areas of law involve somewhat mundane issues such as determining liability for breach of contract and the appropriate remedies to be awarded, compensating victims of accidents and torts, deciphering the Bankruptcy code, and unraveling the mysteries of the Tax Act, etc. There is little to disagree about on these issues based on liberal or conservative ideologies. I wanted to glean whether Justice Scalia adhere to his interpretation jurisprudence because he genuinely believes that this is the right way of doing so, or whether there is some other motivations to it, such as politics? I believe some people who believe in the realpolitik or legal realist brand of school of thought would construe it as the latter. That is however a question that cuts close to the heart, and I doubt that those whose motivations are in the latter category will be honest about it. At least from my impression, Justice Antonin Scalia’s adherence to his espoused method of legal interpretation seems to be out of his genuine conviction that this method of legal interpretation is sound on its own merits, rather than out of some other motivations that is political in nature. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Memorial service for my grandmother

I went to Malaysia on Sunday yesterday with my family (my parents and my younger brother). We were there to go for the memorial service of my deceased maternal grandmother who had passed away in 2001. We went to the cemetery together with my maternal relatives. My maternal grandfather was there too. For the memorial, we sang the songs “shi shang zhi you mama hao”, “Mother of Mine” by Neil Reid, “What a friend we have in Jesus”, and “Amazing Grace”. The first two songs were dedicated to my deceased grandmother, and the last two were Christian songs. I believe all of us there were familiar with all of the songs except Mother of Mine, which was selected by an aunt of mine to be sung at the memorial service, but we tried singing along anyway based on the probably off-key rendition song led by that aunt of mine. No one would have ever guessed that the song would have sounded the way it does in the actual version on youtube after having heard my aunt’s rendition. We also said our individual prayers thanking God for the life of my grandmother. My grandfather prayed that my grandmother will bless all of her grandchildren in their studies and careers, and told her that we all love her very much. I don’t think that prayers directed to a deceased is appropriate according to Christian customs, but I can understand the emotional aspect of wishing to communicate to a departed loved one. Moreover, my maternal grandfather wasn’t a Christian most of his life, but conformed to the deathbed wish of my grandmother that he would become one so that he could be in heaven in the afterlife with her. He now goes to the same church as my family, but I don’t think he ever quite adopts the belief-system or practices (like praying) associated with the religion. In my opinion, he seems somewhat indifferent to religious matters. As someone who is more familiar with the Christian religion due to my upbringing, I have asked my grandfather whether he prays to God. He was taciturn about talking about such things, and I presume that it is most likely the case he does not.

Anyway, we went to celebrate my grandfather’s birthday at a Chinese restaurant later on that day. My grandfather is in his 80’s. The food was good, and it was fairly pleasant for me to be able to catch up with some of my relatives about their lives as we have not met in quite a long while. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Viewing God’s response to prayers as privilege and not entitlements

Part of my frustration with my chronic tension headache condition comes from the thought that God seems to be ignoring my prayers for healing. I wonder why God would not answer my prayers in the most direct and apparent way by healing me completely of my tension headache if he is indeed real, and hears my prayers. There are times when I feel so frustrated over this thought that I resolve to myself that the answer is God does not exists. But then, given some time, I would relent on that position, and attempt to find answers to give God the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps God is doing something to help me. He might be using gradual means rather than instantaneous ones. Or as the Christian trope would go, God’s will abides by his time. There might be some wisdom to such a saying. Moreover, when I consider that the alternative is one of disbelief in God, which does nothing to help me with my tension headache problem, I find myself perceiving God’s help in a different way – that it is a privilege more than it is an entitlement. If under the normal scheme of things, should things proceed according to nature without any intervention by God, that there be no healing, then healing on the part of God should be perceived as a favor to divert away from such an undesirable outcome, and the lack of such favor granted should invite no more disgruntlement than if God were not to exist and our problems persists in the natural course of things.

I wonder if this thought makes sense. Perhaps another way to explain my thought here is that often times, it is easy to get disappointed with God over the perceived lack of answer to one’s own prayers, when such disappointment is not warranted since God is not duty-bound to answer such prayers in the first place. On second thought, I think it is quite harsh that disappointment should be seen in such a negative light. Perhaps, it is understandable if one gets disappointed, but we shouldn’t go to the extent of being disgruntled with God because that shows that we are mistaking any positive response on God’s part as an entitlement rather than simply a privilege to ourselves. I wonder whether the same can be said of the ancient Israelites who grumbled against God in the desert because they wanted something which God was not duty-bound to give them. If they had merely expressed disappointment, God might not have been so angry at them.

I suppose I am guilty of such disgruntlement. More than that, I have probably expressed anger at God. I still want my healing, and I would hope that God would not make it so hard for me to get it, but I suppose I could very well have a certain greater depth of perspective regarding unanswered prayers, rather than instinctively becoming unhappy and getting angry at God. I would imagine a more emulable biblical character responding in a more dispassionate manner to unanswered prayers with “Well…if it isn’t the Lord’s will, then it is just as well, and so be it”, and I guess I could try to adopt the same attitude.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Thoughts about Euthanasia

I would like to write my thoughts about the issue of Euthanasia, or the right to assisted suicide. Part of the reason why I am motivated to do so is because I have been thinking quite somewhat about the issue, and another part is because I come across blog posts by fellow Christians who strongly oppose the legalisation of Euthanasia.

The brief summary of thoughts on euthanasia is that it should be legalised, but strictly regulated so that the option of euthanasia is only available to the genuinely dire and necessary cases. I don’t think that there are any stronger case for providing the option for euthanasia than when one reads about cases of patients with really insufferable diseases that torments them to no ends and with no respite until they die. For example, I once read of this case of a man with the well-known neurodegenerative disease, ALS, who requested to be given the option of assisted suicide, but was denied that option by the court. The way he died was by suffocation from choking on his saliva to death. I really can’t identify when conservatives argue that euthanasia should not be allowed because it infringes upon the principle of sanctity of life, or the right to life. Try saying that to those people suffering from these painful terminal illnesses pleading that they be given the option to end their own lives. “I know you are undergoing a lot of pain and want to die, but I am not going to allow you to, because principle of sanctity of life. You can choke on your saliva to death for all I care, or writhe in agony while the cancer eats away at you, but nope, no assisted suicide for you, because, well, principle of sanctity of life.” I am not sure whether conservatives who make these arguments are aware how cruel and unsympathetic their arguments sound, perhaps almost to the point of being silly. That is the problem of taking some principle as absolute and extrapolating them all the way I guess. It may sound rational, but only if you subscribe to the same paradigm of these principles being absolute. My thoughts is that the principle of sanctity of life, while a principle that should be accorded great weight, has to be considered together with other factors, notwithstanding the least, the principle of consent and dignity of life. If a patient is suffering from a really painful, terminable illness, and no other treatment options are able to cure or alleviate such pains, then perhaps, assisted suicide should be warranted with the patient’s consent.

The other argument conservatives raise is that such options are prone to abuse. I can agree with that, but isn’t this easily addressed by ensuring that certain regulatory features are in place? For one, there needs to be consent. For two, the illness must be recognised as being terminable, with all other forms of treatment options exhausted. Perhaps a more restrictive approach could employ a list regulating kinds of illnesses where the option of assisted suicide is available. Perhaps the regulatory issues are more complicated, but I am sure that they can be further refined. But to do away completely with the option of assisted suicide simply because of these regulatory issues seems to swing to the conservative extreme to me. While I identify with conservatives on a number of issues, euthanasia is not one of them. I hope that those conservatives who oppose euthanasia can somehow take on a more sympathetic view if they should consider their own personal susceptibility to such debilitating and tormenting illnesses. They might one day wish the option of assisted suicide is available to them should they find themselves beset with such illnesses someday, but find that it isn’t because they had opposed it their entire lives, and now find that those they had encouraged to oppose euthanasia similarly oppose them too from resorting to such an option at a time when they most wish it for themselves.

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