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. 

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.

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