Sunday, December 7, 2014

Movie Reflection : Bruce Almighty

I watched the movie Bruce Almighty. Bruce Almighty stars Jim Carrey, who plays the protagonist, Bruce Nolan. Bruce, a television news field reporter, is given the power to play God for a period of time by God. The character God, played by Morgan Freeman, was tired of Bruce’s constant grumbling against him for the various misgivings that Bruce had about his job and his life. God challenged Bruce if he could make a better God than he does.

With his newfound powers, Bruce foremost sought revenge against various people who had wronged him or disparaged him in the past. This includes taking out a gang who had beaten him up, and embarrassing an arrogant colleague by making him speak gibberish as anchor on television news. He also flaunted his powers, using it to impress his girlfriend by pulling the moon nearer to the earth to set up a view, inadvertently causing a tidal flood in Japan from the altered lunar forces on the earth. When presented with prayers in the form of emails on his computer, Bruce simply replied 'yes' to all of the prayer messages. This resulted in many people winning the lottery, which diluted the winnings to such an extent that the payoff was a meager $17. These people were unhappy and went onto the street to riot. Bruce also made use of his powers to gain the prestige of having the most exclusive news coverage as field reporter. He was able to engineer events on the ground which he then covered and reaped the credit for. He subsequently earned a promotion to become news anchor on television.

However, Bruce’s girlfriend, Grace, felt more alienated by Bruce’s success, which also attracted him the attention of a female news colleague. Grace decided to leave Bruce after catching him being kissed by that female colleague when she arrived on scene at a party. Bruce realized that despite obtaining success in his own eyes, he had lost the thing that had mattered to him. He also realized that his actions had resulted in more harm than good when he saw the town being burnt by the lottery rioters. While feeling heartbroken while walking along the road, he exclaims his surrender to the will of God. He was momentarily taken up to heaven where he had a conversation with God. When Bruce’s consciousness returned to earth on the road where he had exclaimed to God, he was hit by a truck, and ended up in hospital where his girlfriend attended to him and they rekindled their relationship. Bruce returned to his job as a field reporter and to his normal daily life, this time finding a level of satisfaction of his role as field reporter covering the simple stuff, and an understanding and contentment of his life as it used to be despite things not turning out the way he wants them to.

What do I think of the film? I like it, although I wonder whether I can accept its moral of the story, and particularly about its depiction regarding the character of God. The moral of the story would reflect the common Christian saying that we should trust in God because our will might not be for the best of things, and God might have a better plan than what we think is right or good. As the movie suggests, it might probably more difficult to play God than one would realize. The movie depicts the role of God as having to deal with countless prayer requests. Some people may argue that God is supposed to be omniscient and not hindered in responding to prayer requests by the sheer amount of it. I would think that even if God were limited in having to respond to prayer requests one at a time, he should have invented a system of delegation for his angels or saints to handle them for him. I find it troublesome that the God in the show seem to prefer to take a hands-off approach when it comes to dealing with human problems, believing that it is better that humans find their own way to their own solutions. It seems hypocritical to me that the movie’s God would necessitate that Bruce handles prayer requests when he himself is quite laid-back about it. But perhaps I shouldn’t be nit-picky about the representation of what God is like in the film, but to get the gist of what the moral of the story is about. I do hope that the real God is more caring about people’s problems, and is doing something about them. There are problems in the world which I feel that no one else except God can resolve, and where his dire intervention is needed, especially when it comes to issues of evil and suffering.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Doubts about the function of the holy communion

I have been attending a Lutheran spirituality course at my church led by my pastor. The material used for the course is a book titled “The spirituality of the cross – The way of the first evangelicals (Revised Edition)” by Gene Edward Veith, Jr.

The course so far emphasizes the viewpoint that grace and salvation comes from God, rather than it being the merit of good works by human individuals. Even the ability to have faith is deemed to be the work of God, as sinful human beings are unable to believe on their own accord. As such, no one should claim himself superior to his fellow human being, but should be humble and grateful for his belief and salvation.

The other point that is tied in is that of the sacraments. The sacraments seem to be a key feature in Lutheran spirituality on how God administrate his gifts and saving grace to believers. So rites like baptism of infants, and the partaking of the holy communion, are deemed to be essential practice for the salvation and forgiveness of sins.

I have some reservations though about this idea of sacraments, especially the part about the partaking of holy communion as being essential for the forgiveness of sins. For one, I don’t like the idea of the institutional church claiming for itself the key to forgiving people’s sins. I just have an aversion towards the idea that there needs to be another layer of ritual for the forgiveness of sins apart from the simple prayer for God to forgive one’s sins, and that the means of the latter is inferior to the former. The key bible passage for examination regarding the function of holy communion seems to be Matthew 26:27, where Jesus took the cup of wine, and told the disciples to drink from it, saying “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”

I suppose this saying by Jesus is open to interpretations. On the one hand, it could mean the partaking of the holy communion, which is representative of the blood of Jesus, is essential to receive the forgiveness of sins. On the other hand, Jesus could be referring to his crucifixion as the blood covenant that is poured out for the forgiveness of sins. The wine in the holy communion is simply symbolic and representative of the crucifixion, and Jesus intends it to be simply a reminder rather than having the function for forgiving sins.

I favour the latter interpretation. I just don’t see why it is that God would need the practice of another ritual to administer the forgiveness of sins. The death of Jesus on the cross seems adequate to me, and salvation stemming from this is freely administered upon petition via prayers.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Not just a culture of good customer service, but a more humane one as well

There was a news recently about an employee at a KOI bubble tea shop who was dismissed after a customer’s video complaining about service at one of its branches went viral. I have been thinking about the topic of customer service, and reflecting upon the prevalent ethos of good customer service that is sought to be promoted in society. I wonder whether this strife for making the standard of our customer service ‘good’, is actually in a way dehumanizing of those who work in the customer service sector. I wouldn’t deny that there are merits to promoting a better customer service standard, but my apprehension is that such campaigns can be taken too far, and devalue the humanity of those working as customer service personnels.

For example, take an oft quoted line that ‘the customer is always right’. Is this rhetoric really appropriate? I don’t think it is. There are times when a customer can be unreasonable, or even abusive, and I think that there are times when such treatment should not be put up with, and the customer service personnel is in his right to refuse the customer or tell off the customer. There are times when I think that the management of a customer-service company should help protect the dignity of their staff, and not acquiesce to every bellicose customer’s complaint about the customer service officer. Not every criticisms have their merits, and it is important for someone in management position not to unfairly punish them based on unfair criticisms or accusations.

I for one know how easy it is for a superior to simply ‘take his subordinate to task’ simply because of a complaint from an unreasonable customer, in a bid to wanting to be seen to be doing something. I am not saying that there aren’t times when the subordinate is to be rightly disciplined or dismissed, but I think that it is far more common in certain service industries for superior or supervising personnel to take the easy route and scold or dismiss the subordinate working in the customer-service capacity.

I also wonder whether the prevalent conception of what good customer service is needs some re-examination. For example, is it actually a customer service virtue for a customer service officer to serve with a smile? If we stop to reflect about our common humanity, we would realize that the customer service officer is very much a human being like any of ourselves, with his respective woes and worries, and things to begrudge. It could be that the customer service officer had just a rough patch with an unreasonable customer beforehand, or is experiencing certain difficult issues and trials in his family, or in his life. Is it not something to be empathized about if we see a customer service personnel in glum disposition, rather than something to be critiqued about as bad attitude which should be righted with the fixture of an artificial grin despite a wrenching heartache that could be simmering beneath?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Tort Law and the issue of suffering

One of the saddest areas of law that one can study is that of tort law. Torts deal with issues involving injuries caused by one party to another party in civil society. This can be intentional, in the case of battery, or unintentional, in the case of accidents due to negligence of one or more party. The role of the court in such cases is to make the liable tortfeasor compensate the injured party to such an extent as to restore him or her to his or her previous unharmed condition. The way in which the law seeks to achieve this, of course, is compensation in cash.

While compensation in cash does have its uses, such as allowing the injured party to obtain the necessary medical treatment to cure him of his injuries, or to receive the financial support due to the loss in earning capacity from him being injured, it also has its limitations. There are some forms of injuries that no amount of money would ever resolve. Money cannot bring a dead man back to life. And the victims of torts sometimes have to live their lives with the pain and suffering.

What strikes me from reading the tort cases, is the realization of my own susceptibility and vulnerability to forces of incapacitation. I have been reading on cases of torts in aviation law. A man could be sitting in a plane in a section that is close to a non-smoking section, and because of the pervading second-hand smoke into his non-smoking compartment, die from the inhalation. A woman could lose a hearing after what is the normal occasional depressurization of the passenger cabin during flight. Another man or woman could simply be taking a flight from one destination to another, and suffer from the effects of deep vein thrombosis leading to stroke and paralysis a few weeks after. And if you think about it, such individuals could be anybody. It could be you, it could be me. There is just no reason stemming from a deficit in care by the individual to avoid his or her contracting such a condition. And the repercussions are serious, leading to loss of life, or pain and suffering for the remainder of one’s life. Sometimes, the compensation is not adequate as well, or are unrecognized by the court for one reason or another. Such was the case of that woman who lost her hearing from that plane depressurization episode, because the court found that it was due to her own internal predisposition that resulted in her deafness. It’s life affecting, but there is just no compensation to be had.

I also wonder how to think about my Christian faith in light of all these knowledge that I come across in my reading of tort law. Should I say to myself that I should trust God more because there is only so much I can do to prevent such injuries to myself, and I should appeal to God to avert such injuries to myself? Or should I say that there is no point trusting God in ensuring my well-being since he has failed to protect the well-being of so many other individuals as well? Indeed, I have suffered injuries to my health, and I don’t think I was in anyway dismissive of God when it comes to wanting him to protect my well-being then. Yet, I have to contend with the fact that I am living with these injuries to my health.

I just think that the most prudent approach to take regarding such things in life is to take reasonable cautions when going about one’s life. It would be remiss to say that one should just trust God, and not worry about harm coming one’s way. Yet, one should also realize the susceptibility of oneself to such ills in life that may very well be caused to oneself through no fault of his or herself. I am not sure though what one can do about it. I pray to God, partly simply out of self-interest that I wish that God can control such circumstances to avoid such ills upon myself, but I am not truly sure whether God is doing anything or is effective at all. But then again, I can’t dismiss the possibility that God has been protecting me from various harms that I am just not aware of, even though he may not have prevented certain harms upon me. Yet, I can’t discount the fact that bad things do happen to good people, and God seems not to be doing anything to help. It is precisely because this is so that we have such societal measures as social security and insurance, and a legal system of tort to try to ameliorate the hardship of individuals. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Did Satan want Jesus to be crucified?

The pastor at my church was giving a sermon on the passage of Matthew 16:21-23 last Sunday. In that passage, Jesus predicts his death and resurrection. His disciple, Peter, rebukes him by saying that such an outcome shall not happen to Jesus. Jesus, in turn, rebukes Peter by saying “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

The message of the sermon was about how God’s plans may differ from the plans that we think God has. However, what caught my attention was the pastor’s claim based on the passage that Satan’s plan was always to prevent the crucifixion of Jesus and thereby avert the salvation of humanity that comes with the death of Jesus. This differs from what some other speakers I have heard say about Satan’s plan being always to kill Jesus.

One part of the bible that I think lends argument to that view that Satan wanted Jesus crucified is Luke 22:3, where Satan entered Judas Iscariot and made him confer with the chief priest on how he may betray Jesus.

One attempt at an explanation of this apparent incongruity that I have encountered is in this transcript of a sermon by John Piper who says that Satan saw his efforts to divert Jesus from the cross failing. Therefore he resolves that if he can’t stop it, he will at least make it as ugly and painful and as heartbreaking as possible. Not just death, but death by betrayal. I can’t say that I am too convinced by this explanation. It seems too petty a reason to me for why Satan would make this last-minute ditch at his attempt to avert Jesus’ death on the cross.

My impression of the matter has always been that Satan wanted Jesus killed, but was outwitted instead when Jesus’ crucifixion brought salvation and his subsequent resurrection instead of his eternal death. One view that I proffer is that Jesus was not really talking to Satan when he rebuked Peter. It was simply an allegory of how Peter’s plan is such an impediment to Jesus’ own plan to be crucified, that it is akin to something from the devil. I don’t think that Peter was necessarily being possessed by the devil when he said those words. Jesus’ words were only meant to be a stern rebuke to Peter. However, the real Satan does want Jesus dead, but just didn’t know that Jesus was making use of that plan to obtain salvation for humanity.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Law of Evidence : Thoughts on rules of admissibility, and character evidence

The law on Evidence is really an interesting topic actually. There are all these concepts governing the procedural aspects of evidence in court, like whether it is admissible. The rule of thumb is that an evidence is relevant so long as it has probative value to the issues at hand, but may be excluded if the judge deems that the prejudicial effects of the evidence outweighs its probative force. So for example, a person’s bad character would not be admissible because it would prejudice the jury into assigning greater weight in their evaluation of the accused’s guilt than what might have been so should the evidence not have been admitted. But there are the catches. For example, prosecution is allowed to adduce evidence of an accused’s bad character if the defence raises arguments bolstering the defendant’s good character. The rationale is that the prosecution should be allowed to attack the accused’s character if it is part of the case of the defence that the accused’s good character makes it less likely that he committed the crime.
I have some thoughts about this. The first one is whether evidence in favour of the accused’s good character should be admitted in the court of law in the first place. Isn’t evidence of good character similarly prejudicial as evidence of bad character? So let’s say, a person accused of committing a crime has a record of being a good public citizen like participating in community works or things like that. How does this exactly help the defence case that the accused has not committed the crime in question? If it is going to be argued that it is less likely that someone of upright reputation or standing in his community has less likelihood of committing a crime, then why can’t it be similarly argued that someone of bad reputation has a greater likelihood of committing a crime.
Perhaps the rationale for allowing good character evidence in the first place is because it has indeed great probative force in the defence case that the accused did not commit the crime, whilst this does not apply so much to bad character evidence. No one is totally all bad or good. But if he is generally good, he will not do bad. While if there are some bad in a person, it does not mean that he is all bad throughout.
But if this is the case, then shouldn’t there be circumstances whereby a defendant should be allowed to adduce evidence of his good character, without entire records of his misdemeanor or mud-slinging allegations by any Tom, Dick, or Harry, to be casted upon him? As the law is, once the defendant decides to present evidence of his good character, the gloves are off, and either the prosecution or the co-accused can impugn the accused’s character.
There is a quality about how the law of evidence works which seems pretty ‘gamey’ to me, in the sense that how the case turns out depends on the strategies used by either side in presenting his or her case. I dislike the idea that law is simply a game between lawyers. But perhaps there is a way in which such intricate procedures are necessary in an adversarial legal system as Singapore’s, and ultimately beneficial to the objective of obtaining justice.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Back to School – Questions about the concept of the Bills of Exchange

It is back to school for me this semester, and it is the second week of the school term. I am taking Evidence, Aviation law, Banking Law, and Advanced torts. I find banking law the most confusing of all the subjects. In part, I am not that familiar with the rationale for the different method of business financing, and the legalese used to describe the various parties involved in a transaction can be confusing. There is this concept known as the Bill of Exchange which is purportedly used commonly in international business dealings. I believe that this video on youtube explains the concept well, although I am still a little hazy on the rationale for such a method for business financing. For one, I am not sure what is the advantage of such manner of financing over a simple bank loan. I might be missing something in my understanding of the Bill of Exchange, but my understanding of it is that the seller of goods allows the buyer to pay for the goods at a later date on condition of a promise written in a legal document known as a Bill of Exchange that the seller buyer would pay at a later date. The seller then takes his copy of the Bill of Exchange and trades it in with the bank for money. The bank collects the money from the buyer at a later date. I wonder though why the buyer doesn’t just loan from the bank to buy the goods and pay the bank back at a later date. 

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