Thursday, July 17, 2014

Thoughts on the NLB book removal issue

I would like to write my thoughts about the NLB controversy that has been taking place recently in Singapore. The NLB is the National Library Board in Singapore, and it had drawn flaks from pro-LGBT and humanist circles for its removal of 3 children books featuring homosexual themes from its libraries. Just last weekend or so, pro-LGBT activists staged a protests outside the National Library by bringing the books removed and reading them there together with their children. Then there was the boycott movement by pro-LGBT writers to host their events under the premises of NLB. On the social conservative front, petitions numbering to about 26,000 or more were garnered to present support for the NLB decision. There has been many letters written in from both camps criticizing and supporting the NLB decision.

I suppose this NLB issue and controversy is simply a facet in a much larger cultural tussle that is happening within Singapore about the homosexuality issue. I just hope to be able to put some perspective on the issue by articulating the possible sentiments held by both sides, and proposing a way in which the issue can be dealt with in a more amicable manner.

Foremost, I think that the homosexuality issue is one that is not easily resolved, and is going to last for a long long time, perhaps even past the lifetime of people within this generation or the next few generations or so. Different people would have different sentiments of homosexuality and ideals on how it should be treated in society. A person with pro-LGBT sentiments probably sees homosexuality as an innate characteristic of a person, as much as is a person’s personality or preference. They thus view a person’s homosexual desires as something to be sympathetic about, and even condoned as a normal and acceptable aspect of human nature. A conservative on the other hand probably sees homosexuality as a deviant sexual orientation, as much as pedophilia or bestiality are considered deviant amongst the majority of society at this contemporary point of time. Even if a social conservative were to be sympathetic to the innate desires for same-sex relationships of a homosexual, such desires would still be considered as deviant and unacceptable for him or her.

I suppose the way in which conservatives and liberals view homosexuals is in part responsible for the vastly diverging approach in which they treat homosexuality. Conservatives view homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle choice, as much as how some people would choose to lead a promiscuous or sexually licentious lifestyle. For conservatives, the ideal sexual relationship is a monogamous relationship between a man and a woman. Liberals probably see sexual relationships as something that is acceptable as long as it between any consenting individuals. And with regards to homosexual relationships, a liberal probably wishes to allow for such desires to be expressed without being disapproved as morally unacceptable. More moderate individuals will probably differ about their opinions on the matter depending on whether they identify more with the arguments sympathizing a person’s homosexual orientation, or those professing a monogamous heterosexual relationship as the ideal of a family structure.

With such vastly differing view on homosexuality, I believe that the best way that society can deal with it is to first of all acknowledge and respect the existence of the opposite view, instead of simply belittling the other view as unintellectual or bigoted. I believe those with liberal sentiments struggle with the need to be sympathetic to the plights of those with homosexual orientation. On the other hand, conservatives probably acknowledge such sympathies, but still feel strongly that there is an appropriate cultural norm to which society should preserve or aspire to. It is ultimately a difference of ideals of what society should be like.

I think that as far as possible, a society affirming libertarian values of allowing individuals to lead life the way they wish to as long as it does not harm other individuals is the best and most peaceful approach to which people of differing views and sentiments can live amicably with one another. Homosexuals should be allowed to conduct their personal relational lives without fear of prosecution by the state, while conservatives should be free to express their disapproval of homosexuality without fear of being censured for hate speech by the state. And as far as possible, the proselytizing of views from either camps should be kept out of public institutions, such as our education system or our media. The matter is controversial enough such that should either a liberal view normalizing homosexuality or a conservative view condemning it is advanced in such public institutions where people of different faiths exists, it is bound to offend or incur the ire of another individual. So why not let’s agree to keep our moral views to ourselves, and speak of them only in appropriate occasions where people are agreeable to discuss and debate the issue. As much as one does not like it if someone from another camp forces his or her views down upon him or her, he or she should likewise not force his or her view on another person.

My view for the NLB matter is thus that libraries should be keeping away books professing either moral positions from either camps away from the children bookshelves. If there is anything that is really discomforting to people from either moral ideological camp, it is that their children are exposed to and being indoctrinated with views from the opposing camp without their knowledge or supervision. Perhaps books pertaining to such controversial issues may be included in the adults section where readers are of more discerning characters. But when it comes to children, let’s keep our public sphere neutral to the controversy by agreeing to not allow books aimed at a children audience and espousing a certain position on the moral issue away from the children bookshelf. I think that if liberals or conservatives can affirm on a value to preserve this middle ground in our public institution, and take their cultural war away from the public’s sphere, especially where children are the subjects caught in the crossfire, it would make for a slightly more comfortable co-existence between members of the two camps in society.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Obligation to tell the hard Christian truth?

Last Sunday at church, a fellow church mate of mine who is quite active in the leadership ministry of the youth service gave his maiden sermon. The message of his sermon was about how we need to tell the hard truth about God’s punishment for sin to the world, even though this message is displeasing to people out there. He brought up the passage featuring the prophet Jeremiah, who spoke the bitter prophecy about Israel’s future exile, and contrasted this with the more optimistic sounding albeit false prophecy by Hananiah in the passage of Jeremiah 28. The point of this biblical passage is that the good news is not necessary the truth.

I wonder how I should relate to the sermon message for that day. The speaker was saying that if you talk to people about how they are in sin, and that Jesus is the only way to be saved, they would scorn you for being judgemental and exclusive. He then went on to cite the verse about how it is only natural for Christians to be persecuted for their message.

For the most part, I don’t see it as my business to tell people who are living sinful life to repent and turn to God. If I have the opportunity, I prefer to tell them about my Christian faith, and introduce them to a friendly loving image of what it is about, and then let them accept the doctrines on sin and punishment by themselves once they start attending church. I do acknowledge that we live in a sinful world with sinful people, and that I am myself someone who struggle with sin. I think that Christianity has a good message to preach in telling people to avoid living a sinful life. But I think I will just come off as an overzealous religious nut if I tell people that they are sinful and need to repent right in their face. And I don’t exactly like invoking the doctrine of hell and punishment as a way for people to acknowledge their sins and repent of them. I think sin should be avoided for its own sake, more than just out of fear of punishment.

I also am not sure how to carry out this Christian obligation, if indeed it is a Christian obligation, in a socially appropriate manner. For example, if I am sitting with school peers who are non-Christian and they are talking things which are lewd at the lunch table. I don’t join in with such conversation if it gets too lewd, but I don’t want to appear self-righteous or overly-holy either by telling people that such conversation is not something I like or condone from my Christian convictions

Updates about my life

I am feeling much better and calmer these days compared to when I first started suffering my anxiety attacks along with the tension headache. I guess the medication does help, and I shall stick to it for the time being. That said, it really isn’t an easy question for me to answer on how I should go about dealing with my tension headache problem. It still exists, albeit in ameliorated form. I wonder if I am indeed well enough to go back to school this coming semester. Every once in a while, I get this tingling or prickling sensation within my head. I am hoping that this is sign of nerve functions coming back again in the head, and I think it is because my tension headache seems to be less now as compared to before.

I still wonder about the exact nature of my tension headache. Until now, I don’t really know what causes this strange pressure sensation within my head. It is like some nerves or muscles within the head are constipated or something. There is this hard sensation within my head, and it feels like it is exerting pressure within the regions of the brain. It used to feel much worse, such that the constricting feeling seems to permeate within the brain as well. Now the sensation feels more like a pressure sensation from the outer areas of the head exerting inwards, which is still uncomfortable, but much more tolerable.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Visit to Malaysia - Melecca, Tai Ping, Penang, and Ipoh

I just came back from another trip to Malaysia. This time, I travelled with my parents by car on our own to various destinations. We visited Melacca, Tai Ping, Penang, and Ipoh. I think I got to have myself time away from the computer, and from reading. Most of the time, I was in the car, and simply just relaxing my mind. I think the trip has helped alleviate my tension headache somewhat, although it still remains there. But this is the best I have felt so far since the tension headache started. I am hoping that it would completely go away before I resume school next semester in august.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Visit to Malaysia - Genting Highlands and Pulau Ketam

I just came back from a 3 days trip to Malaysia over the weekend, during which, my parents and I went with a tour group to Genting Highlands and Pulau Ketam. Despite having visited Malaysia quite a number of times, this was my first time to the two places. I like the food in Malaysia. It is definitely better and cheaper than what can be had in Singapore. There are many Chinese restaurants around Malaysia which you can visit for decent food at affordable pricing. It is more difficult to find good restaurants in the heartlands of Singapore, and they do come at a high price. I had plenty of seafood during my trip.

There is something about travelling in Malaysia that is quite stress-relieving. There are plenty of land, and the landscape is much less developed than what you have in Singapore, although I wish that Malaysia was a little more developed, somewhere along the standard of Japan or Taiwan where there are plenty of goods and services, and places of attraction. Malaysia certainly feels more spacious than Singapore. You can drive for miles seeing only forest and mountains on your peripherals. A Malaysian friend of mine who came to work in Singapore complains that Singapore is too congested for her liking, and that she intends to go live in Australia in the future. I am relatively comfortable with the way Singapore is, and don’t find myself being as stressed up about living in Singapore as my friend does. I like the area in Singapore where I live, which is relatively sub-urban in nature, and less populated than the more heavily resided areas. I just wish that there was better food around because I think that the food fares at the shopping malls or at the hawker centres can be pretty sub-standard. My complain is that food prices seem to be going up, while food quality seem to going down. I wish that there were more quality western and Japanese food stalls around, and at affordable pricing. I also wish that stalls serving Chinese mixed dishes served healthier and more palatable varieties. I usually find the Chinese stalls serving mixed dishes in Singapore too salty and oily for my liking.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Thoughts on the Christian comment - "Do not worry. Trust in God"

A oft-said remark by fellow Christians with regard to one’s sharing about problems in life is to trust God and not to worry. If there is any passage that is quoted, it would be Matthew 6:25-34.  Some Christians might even press on the point that it is a command by Jesus not to worry (eg: see this relevant magazine article). Just at church this morning, the pastor was giving a sermon in which he said that lack of trust in God is in part due to one’s sinful nature.

I have several thoughts about this Christian rhetoric. For one, I am not sure what it means to trust in God. Trust in God for what? For his providence? That things will be smooth-sailing? That ultimately, everything works towards good? But how does a Christian concile this trust in God for his goodness with the bad things that happens in the world, whether it is to people around them, or to themselves? Should he go away consoling himself that things could be worse? And if bad things can happen to one who trust in God, then what is the subject matter to which one should trust God in? Surely it can’t be then that one should trust in God to prevent bad things from happening to him or her, because there are fair well too many examples where such bad things indeed happen to good people.

I have settled with the answer that trust in God simply means trust in his will for ultimate goodness, no matter how ambiguous or enigmatic such notion of good may seem. However, does this mean that one should suspend his or her reasoning faculties, or capacity for evaluation when it comes to determining whether good or bad is indeed resulting in his or her life? I have always found it inconsistent that some Christians would say that one should suspend one’s evaluation of God’s goodness, but give thanks for perceived goods that they have received from God. How can you give thanks for something good if you are suspending your evaluation of whether it is good or not? A half-way house approach to this would be to not dismiss the use of such rational faculties in evaluating God, but to acknowledge that there are limits to how such faculties can be used to appraise God. After all, evaluations are subjective, and may be incorrect.

Secondly, what does trust in God entail? A fellow Christian I know would go so far as to suggest that making decisions or personal planning is contradictory to putting one’s trust in God. For him, as far as possible, one should rely on the promptings or direct revelation of God. A moderate like me would try to concile the function of personal planning and decision making as the responsible use of the intellectual faculties that we have been endowed with as human beings. But I have been countered before with the reply that if one makes his or her own decision, one has only oneself to blame if things go wrong for him or her. The mantra is that it is either God’s way, or your wrong way.

One problem I have with such an approach is that I don’t think most Christians actually receive instruction from God in managing their personal affairs. And even if God is speaking, it is usually very subtle, and might be difficult for the individual to discern correctly what is being said, or that it comes from him. I have learnt to keep this reservation of mine more discreet when talking to a “hyper-spiritual” Christian, because I know that saying out this reservation would only invite the sort of condescending perception that I must be some lower-spiritual Christian or even not a Christian at all, thereby not being able to discern God’s instructions.

I am not sure whether it is possible to still adhere by the instruction not to worry, yet deal with the pressure of problems and decision making. I am not sure how to circumvent this problem in trying not to worry as much as I do. There is always the lingering worry that I can be remiss or wrong in my decision making, and face more troubles. And I don’t think being told that I should trust God and not worry sound sensitive or understanding in any manner.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Visit to a Pentecostal church

I decided to church hop on Sunday and went to another church near where I stay. This church was a Pentecostal church that was built quite some years ago. I was asking another church hopping friend what church would be good to visit, and he had suggested churches along the same Lutheran denomination as the church that I usually attend. However, the other Lutheran churches were quite some distance from where I stay. I was wondering whether this Pentecostal church would be a pleasant Christian environment where I can find suitable young adult company.

I believe that I saw a number of people around my age group over there, but they mostly seem to be couples rather than social groups. And most of the people there were actually middle-aged couples with young children, or older generation folks. The sanctuary where the service was held was also quite dark as the lights were dimmed for service, so I couldn’t really see clearly the people in my surroundings. It was a large hall capable of seating about a couple hundred of people, although the occupancy for that Sunday was much less than full house. And after the service, I was hoping that there would some refreshment in the lobby where congregants can intermingle, but there was unfortunately none of that, and most of the congregant dispersed quickly by taking the shuttle bus that stopped nearby. I guess I am really not sure whether there is a young adult community there after all.

As for the service, well, you can pretty much guess how a Pentecostal service is like. If the service leaders are not shouting half the time, they are crying the other half of the time. Okay, this is an exaggeration, but you know how it that the people at Pentecostal churches are usually emotional people. I am pretty much staid in disposition, and would prefer a quieter, more peaceful sermon. But different strokes for different folks, I suppose. And I am still interested to interact with people in general, whatever faith, denomination, or religion they are from. I try my best to waylay the cynicism on my part, and to learn the positive things that I can from others. 

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