Sunday, February 15, 2015

Meeting with Mormons – a reflection of personal attitude to faith

I had a chat with some Mormons whom I encountered while walking through the Botanic Gardens a few months ago. The two Mormon guys said that they were from America, in particular, the state of Utah. I have read up a little about Mormonism in the past, and occasionally see these caucasian Mormon missionaries in public places, but this was the first time that they had approached me. I know that within mainstream Christianity, most people regard Mormonism as a cult and not part of Christianity. Nevertheless, I decided to listen to what the two Mormon guys had to say.

The introduction was fairly uncontroversial, with talks about believe in Jesus Christ and his death on the cross for salvation of sins. Then comes the clutch, where one of the Mormons ask whether I would like to have a closer and more personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This, even though I had told them that I was already Christian and believe in Jesus Christ. What came next was talks about how a prophet in America named Joseph Smith established the true church of God, with the sole authority to administer forgiveness of sins on earth. I asked the Mormons why they regard Joseph Smith as speaking the truth. They described the account of Joseph Smith and his encounter with God in his prayers in which he asked which is the true church of God on earth, with God replying him that none of the churches on earth is true. I probed them further about why they should believe whatever Joseph Smith says. They came to a concluding remark that this is something which one can confirm by asking God, and cite James 1:5 on how one can receive wisdom by asking God.

I suppose I kind of expected the answers that they had to give. And I doubt that I would be able to give any conclusive rebuttal to whatever they are saying. All I can hope to do is to draw out doubts.

As I recount my encounter with the Mormons, I also reflect about my Christian faith. How far is Christianity similar or different to Mormonism? Is there a double standard in the way in which I express skepticism about Mormonism as compared to with Christianity? I am put off by the Mormon’s claim of exclusivity to have the sole authority of God on earth as a church, but I figure that the exclusivity of Christianity in proclaiming a belief in Jesus as the sole means to salvation could similarly be off-putting to people of other religions. The Mormon’s prod to take a step of faith to believing would also be similar to how Christians would prod a nonbeliever. Also if you should ask for a sign as proof, the Mormon would assert that faith is believing what you cannot see, and quite a number of Christian would also use that as a reply should a nonbeliever ask them for a sign. In likewise fashion, a Mormon would instruct a non-Mormon to seek wisdom from the Holy Spirit or God to know the truth, as would quite a number of Christians to a non-believer.


I wonder then what would be the superiority of mainstream Christianity over Mormonism. I suppose a Christian may argue that there is more credentials and testimonial witnesses to the historical account of Jesus and his claims than for the claims of Joseph Smith. I also suppose that a Christian may argue that Jesus did signs and miracles in his time on earth to prove his authority as God, but I suppose a Mormon may claim likewise about Joseph Smith. Sometimes though, I wonder how far signs and miracles are conclusive of a person’s divinity or divine authority. Can’t Satan and demons do wonders and miracles as well? Some Christians may very well charge a nonbeliever for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit for questioning whether the signs and miracles of Jesus are that of God. But I suppose a Mormon can very well lay the same charge on someone who questions the works or miracles of Joseph Smith.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Law IV 2015

I watched the Law IV concert on Saturday last week. The Law IV concert is an annual concert produced by the graduating batch of the law cohort at the National University of Singapore. I would have been in this year’s graduating batch if I had not taken my medical leave of absence, so I do know recognize most of the cast for the concert production. I wasn’t participating as part of the cast for the concert, but I did help out a little in the sponsorship team. This theme for this year’s Law IV concert is in commemoration of Singapore’s jubilee 50th year of independence.

The timeline of the story is set in the era of the 1960s or 1970s. The main plot revolves around the implementing of the suitability certificate for university admission by the government in order to deter communist influences within the university. There are some information about the suitability certificate on the Law IV production website here. The suitability certificate was introduced by the British pre-independence, but was kept by the local government until the late 1970’s. In the fictional account portrayed in the concert, a boy named Ah Seng was unable to get into university because of the communist background of his parents. He comes from a humble background, supported by his sister, Ah Mui, who runs a food stall at Great World City selling the local noodle dish, Mee Pok. Their parents were either detained, or deported by the government, or had already died.

A student at the university named Ah Hock, decided to organize a peaceful protest in the school campus. Ah Hock is a capable and popular guy in campus who had secured a scholarship to study in Singapore from Malaysia. He was also the President of the student committee. The protest was indeed a historical incident, and took place at the upper quad, which is part of the current law faculty which I am now studying at. Ah Hock was also in love with the Ah Mui, the sister of Ah Seng. I am not sure how they initially encountered each other because I was 20 minutes late for the concert, , but I presume that they must have met when Ah Hock ordered from Ah Mui’s Mee Pok stall. Anyway, Ah Seng decided to join in the protest organized by Ah Hock. The protest was sabotaged by another student named Richard who called in the police alleging the protest was organized by communists. Richard came from an affluent background, whose family owned the Great World City. He was particularly jealous of Ah Hock for being more popular than he was, and thereby sought to ruin him by calling in the police at the protest. He was also, in what would seem rather unlikely, best friend with Ah Seng, whom he was a childhood friend with. Because of the clampdown on the protest by the police, Ah Seng was caught by the police and detained in prison. Richard was remorse about his act, and offered evidence about his false allegation to the police, and Ah Seng was released.

Ah Hock’s scholarship was thereafter revoked for the protest he organized. He was not able to say goodbye to Ah Mui because she wasn’t around at her stall when he came by, and he thought she was angry at him for including her brother Ah Seng in the protest. The epilogue of the story shows Ah Seng helping out her sister with the Mee Pok business, which had expanded and become very successful. A radio announcement was heard overhead announcing the end of the suitability certificate policy. When asked by the friendly neighboring Malay stallholder whether he intends to go back to study now since the end of the suitability certificate, Ah Seng replied that his priority is with his fledging Mee Pok business. Throughout the scene, an unidentified person sat at a stall table with his face covered by the newspaper he was reading. When Ah Mui went up to the person to ask for orders, the person slowly lowers the newspaper, revealing that it is Ah Hock, who casually replied for a bowl of Mee Pok.

During the credit stage of the concert, Professor Tommy Koh, who was in the audience was invited up by the producer of the concert to speak. Professor Tommy Koh, who was then dean of the law faculty, had personally advised the student organizers of the protest to avoid confrontation with the authorities and confine the protest to the school campus. In the actual historical event, the police did not clampdown on the protest, but the authorities threatened to do so if the protest took place in the public. According to Professor Tommy Koh, some prominent Singaporeans, such as Kishore Mahbubani, current dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, was part of the protest against the suitability certificate. In Professor Tommy Koh’s concluding remarks, he thanked the concert producers for aptly portraying the dark side of Singapore history along with its happier side for this jubilee year concert.

I wonder whether the suitability certificate was really a necessary policy, or whether it was too draconian. I wouldn’t want to be too critical of it, especially since communism was deemed to be a particular threat then. But it would seem harsh to me if people like Ah Seng could not get into university because his parents had communist affiliations. I would think that the purpose of the suitability certificate would be to deter admission of students who had strong communist affiliations themselves. So I don’t think it would be fair to simply characterize the suitability certificate as an infringement on academic freedom or freedom of speech. There are probably national security at stake as well, considering that communist students from other schools had created public disorder by starting riots against the government.

                 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Does God heal to a limited extent?

I have been suffering from a tension headache for about 2 and a half years now. I honestly wish for my tension headache to completely go away, and pray often for this request. Yet, it would seem like my prayers are inefficacious, given its persistence despite 2 and a half years of waiting. That said, I can’t deny that its severity has alleviated quite substantially from its beginning, and thus do not want to discount the possibility of God’s intervention in my situation. The question which puzzles me though, if indeed God is responsible for the alleviation of my tension headache, is why God doesn’t go the whole mile and relieve me completely of tension headache? Why just the half-mile, whereby vestiges of my tension headache lingers? Would it be valid for me to think that there is no God in my healing, which is more to be credited to the natural healing capabilities of the body over the casual elapse of time?


I just don’t want to be presumptuous either way, whether this be presuming God’s benign intervention, or his absolute apathy. But given the persistence of my tension headache, albeit in its alleviated form, my reasoning seems more inclined towards attributing my healing process to impersonal healing capacity of the body, rather than towards God. Unless, it can be thought of that God heals, but only to an extent and not completely. I am just unable to understand the reason though why God would heal in such a limited form, rather than exercise his powers to its ultimate effect of complete healing. All this said, I can’t disprove either that God would heal, but only to a limited extent. But I am more inclined to believe that if God heals, he would heal completely and not in such half-baked measures.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Confessions by Tetsuya Nakashima, and thoughts on the inadequate juvenile laws of Japan

I was rewatching snippets of a Japanese movie that I had watched about 5 years ago when it was first released in cinemas. The movie is titled Confessions directed by Tetsuya Nakashima. I was interested in watching the film because it was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards. The movie is about this strange plot of a junior high school teacher whose daughter was killed by two of her students, and who sought revenge against those students of hers. The two students of hers were not punished for their crimes because under a certain constitutional provision in Japan, juveniles were protected from being punished under criminal laws for murder. One of the student who killed the teacher’s daughter is a psychopath genius who knows he can get away with murder under those laws and therefore deliberately killed the teacher’s daughter for the fun of it. The two students were ostracized by their classmates for their crimes, and even physically assaulted by some of the male classmates. One of them turned insane from the torment by his classmates. A girl classmate sympathized with the other murderer boy, and sought to befriend him. There was even some romance between the two.  She sought to understand his motivations, which was to impress his estranged scientist mother who had always held high expectations of him for intellectual achievement when he was a child. The boy wanted to attract the attention of his mother by doing something newsworthy, even if this amounted to killing someone.

However, the girl herself was killed by this psychopathic boy as well. The boy then decides that he would next kill himself and his schoolmates by blowing up a bomb in the school assembly while he is due to give a speech for being the top student. However, the bomb he had planted failed to go off when he pressed a remote detonator at the end of his speech. He received a call from the teacher whose daughter he had killed. She tells him that she had kept tabs on him, and was aware of his plans. She had defused the bomb and placed it into a box which the boy had kept his various scientific inventions. The boy had intended to take the box containing these items to his mother at her workplace at a research institute upon learning the location of the workplace of his mother. The teacher had actually imposture as the boy’s mother over the internet to inform the boy of the locations of his mother’s workplace. She kept track of the videos uploaded by the boy describing his intentions to blow up the school so as to impress his mother. The teacher told the boy over the phone that she saw the boy taking the box containing the bomb to the mother’s workplace at a time when she wasn’t around, which he angrily threw to the ground and left in anguish when he was told by a fellow staff that his mother was on a honeymoon with a new lover. By now, the boy was in tears at the realization that he could have accidentally killed his mother with his own bomb. The film did an artistic reverse slow-motion take of the blowing up of the workplace of the mother, with a scene showing the mother sitting at her desk and looking at a newspaper cut-out containing a write-up on a scientific prize award won by her son, a gentle tear strolling down one of her eyes, before the bomb blew up on her. The boy collapsed on the floor of the school hall in utter dejection, much to the bewildered and frightened stares of his school mates. The teacher, with the phone still beside her ears, walked up slowly to where the boy was at the scene. The last words of hers to him before the end of the film was “just messing around with you.”


I do like the aestheticism of the film, even though it is quite macabre in nature. However, I struggle to understand what the moral of the story is. All throughout the viewing of the film, I couldn’t find myself having any love for the villain of the show, the psychopathic boy, who killed with impunity and without remorse. Even the girl character who had sought to befriend him in her own endeavor to find out more about what she believes to be a misunderstood character was herself killed. I was also wondering to myself about whether the film’s portrayal of the way the law works in Japan regarding juveniles is true. For one, it seems like the boy and his friend who killed the teacher’s daughter were still able to walk freely in society and attend school as per normal without any form of detention. If it were Singapore, I think the authorities would have had them detained up in a boys’ home, even if they are not charged with murder punishable by the death penalty. But perhaps, Japan’s juvenile laws is based on the assumption that a child below a certain age can never form the requisite intention to murder, and therefore should not be punished in any way for killing someone. My gripe is how much of a devil incarnate the boy is in having a knowledge of this law, and seeking to exploit it to kill innocent people for his own amusement. While the teacher sought to teach a boy a lesson by placing the bomb into a box which was to be sent by the boy to his mother, I can only assume that she did not carry out her plan in the end. Perhaps the ending part where the teacher tells the boy that she was just messing around with him is just a cheap plot twist to add to the aesthetic nature of the film, or perhaps, it can be seen as the magnanimity of the teacher that instead of devastating the boy by actually killing his mother, she sought to teach the boy the importance of life by making the boy realize that as much as he values the life of his mother, he should value the life of others around him as well. I really am not too sure about the point of the ending, but from the way the film had portrayed the boy throughout the film, I don’t think that there is any likelihood of redeeming the boy from his sheer evilness. He seems more likely to find another way to effect his plan to commit mass murder than to change his ways. If it is true that juveniles like him bent on killing people can walk around freely in Japan, I think it is an indictment of the way the law works in Japan, and there should be reforms to ensure that even children at that age are placed in detention so as not to endanger the lives of others in society.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Monkey market manipulation

This is an allegorical story told by one of my aunt’s husband on how certain players manipulate the market. A certain unscrupulous businessman sets up a company with the objective of catching all the monkeys in the wild. The catching operation is successful to the point of removing up to 90% of the monkeys in the wild. The businessman then advertises to the public that he would be buying up any of the remaining monkeys in the wild for a handsome sum if anyone is willing to catch these monkeys and sell it to him. Soon, there are people from the public who pay heed to the advertisements and set out catching the remaining 10% of monkeys in the wild. They are successful too and sells the businessman the monkey for the generously offered sum. Now, there are no more monkeys in the wild, and the businessman sends out another advert offering to pay an even greater sum for any monkeys in the wild that the public can get hold of. Concurrently, the businessman sets up another anonymous company selling the monkeys that his first company had caught at a price lower than what he had offered to buy the monkey from the public for. Certain greedy traders in the public decide to seize the opportunity to buy the monkeys at the lower price offered by the company, and resell them to the businessman at the higher price. They were in for a rude shock to discover that the businessman was nowhere to be found after they had bought from the company all the monkeys. These greedy traders found themselves with all the monkeys on their hands, but with no one else willing to buy the monkeys from them.

The fact of the matter is that the unscrupulous businessman had duped the public into buying the worthless monkeys by generating a false demand for them in the market, and then enticing the public to buy stocks of monkeys from a company linked from him.


The allegorical tale about market manipulation involving monkeys could similarly involve other form of tradable assets within the market, such as shares or commodities. There are probably syndicates in the real world who pull off more complex versions of the scheme. I wonder how authorities regulate markets to stem such unscrupulous practices. There are law books out there on financial regulation which I can read if I have the time.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Thoughts about the abortion issue

I recently read a blog post by Ionsg where he gave his remarks on a debate on the abortion issue that has been going on in the Straits Times. The debate is about whether the 24-week limit for abortion should be lowered. One of the writer, taking a hesitant view on the lowering of the limit writes that such lowering of the 24-week limit could cause hardship for the parents of the unborn child. He was met with the response of a conservative writer who writes that characterizing child rearing as undue hardship is unhelpful as raising children is an important responsibility in life and can be a source of joy instead of being an impediment to it. The former writer qualifies his viewpoint by saying that when he talks about undue hardship, he is referring particularly to women who are unwilling or unable to carry a baby to term, but are forced to.

It got me reflecting about the issue of abortion. In particular, I was thinking about the issue raised by the writers in the debate. Does lowering the 24-week limit for abortion cause undue hardship for parents of the unbornt child?

I suppose in addressing this question, I would need data on the profiles of those who this abortion issue actually affects. It would be those people who actually have to consider abortion as an option because of unwanted pregnancy. The immediate impression of the people that falls into this category that comes to my mind are the likes of teenagers or young adults who caught up in the heat of sexual passion, find themselves with the scenario of unwanted pregnancy thereafter. I wouldn’t discount though that there are relatively late-aged adults who also find themselves in this scenario of unwanted pregnancy, especially if the pregnancy was caused in a relationship out of wedlock, such as an affair.

I am just trying to think of the nature of this hardship that can be experienced by these people who find themselves in the scenario of unwanted pregnancy because I want to understand how such hardship can be so difficult such as to warrant a decision to choose abortion. I mean, I could try to imagine such a scenario for myself where I find myself with a case of unwanted pregnancy. Personally, in my opinion, if I got a girl pregnant by accident, I would think that it would be pretty awkward, but not too much of a hardship for me. Well, for one, I am a guy, so I wouldn’t have to bear so much of the stigma of the unwanted pregnancy. Another reason is that I think that I have fairly supportive parents, and even though I am not working and drawing an income, I could receive an allowance from my parents so that I can support my child. As such, I wouldn’t be pressured to stop my education and go out and work to earn an income. My parents tend to be socially conservative on the abortion issue as well, so I think they would be more in favor of me keeping the child rather than aborting it.

But I can imagine it differently for another person in different circumstances. Let’s say, if I were a teenage girl, and have parents who are disapproving of the unwanted pregnancy, and who perhaps even threaten to throw me out of the house if I don’t get an abortion. In addition to that, there would be the stigma attached if I were to walk around in school pregnant, and the possible ridicule and ostracizing that I would get from schoolmates. To top it all off, the guy who is the father of the child could renege all responsibility to support the child, and even disclaim parentage of the child. I would think that this nightmare scenario would qualify as the undue hardship for those in the situation of unwanted pregnancy.


Well, I guess someone from the conservative camp could argue that a lot of these hardship stem from societal stigma rather than means to support the child. I may agree with that, but I think societal stigma is as much a part of the picture which shouldn’t be discounted. Personally, I am hesitant on denying the choice for abortion for others because I think that there is the possibility of undue hardship, even though I wouldn’t choose that option for myself, and am discouraging of it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

"My Grace is sufficient for you"

On Sunday last week, I had a chat with a few church mates over lunch after service. Our conversation came to a part where I was talking about the doubts I have about the existence of God these days because of my disappointments of God for not healing me completely of my headaches despite my prayers to him. I was lamenting to these church mates of mine how God seem to promise so many things in the bible, but seem to under-deliver in reality.

One of the church mates decided to share with me his experience with depression. He says that the epiphany that he had from God that keeps him staying strong in his faith is from the 2 Corinthians 12:9 verse where God says “my grace is sufficient for you”. He tells me that how he tries to overcome his own suffering is to focus on God and not his suffering.

I am appreciative of such testimonies and words of Christian encouragement from Christian friends. In part, I am glad that Christianity has provided a source of strength in their own hardship. Some of these illnesses like depression seems really dreadful, and I would be hesitant to trade tension headaches for depression if I could. I have actually reflected on the 2 Corinthian verse mentioned by this church mate of mine before, but have found myself asking more questions than finding answers. What does God mean by “my grace is sufficient for you”? It seems so unconcrete a thing to be capable of helping anyone. I mean, if I were to go up to a homeless person, or someone begging for money from me, and tell him “my grace is sufficient for you”, that is almost equivalent to a slap to his face in addition to a cold shoulder.


Perhaps God’s grace could have a more concrete connotation than what it appears on the surface. Perhaps God does take steps to ensure the well-being of a person even though he has a reason not to perform the desired request of a person. What I just feel is that grace alone is insufficient. It has to be accompanied with something substantial in order to be helpful. I am honestly not satisfied that God seems to take the “my grace is sufficient for you” approach most of the time. I guess this is where I am spiritually at the moment.

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