Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Favourite Christmas songs for the year

I have been hearing these two christmas songs playing alot in restaurants and department stores. They are Britney Spear's Santa can you hear me, and Dana's It's Gonna Be A Cold Cold Christmas. They do give a nice christmasty feeling.

Some of my all-time favourite christmas songs are Mariah Carey's All I want for Christmas is you and Wham's Last Christmas. I hear them playing on the radio where on car rides and there is a sort of nostalgic sentiment whenever I hear them.

I have grown to like Japanese pop as well since encountering it. Here are Christmas songs from two of my favourite J-pop music groups, Winter Story by Buono, and aitai lonely christmas by C-ute.

I started learning the piano during my time in the national service. One song which I fell in love with when I heard it being played by student at SAJC is Ryuichi Sakamoto's Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. It was the first piece I learned to play when learning the piano. Perhaps I should do a rendition of it and post it up here someday.

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas

I woke up late today and did not attend Christmas church service. It is certainly my fault to not set my alarm yesterday evening on my handphone before going to sleep. I do feel guilty missing church service on Christmas.

And so, I spent the morning watching television. The programme that was being played on television was an episode of Christmas special of the Simpson. As how that sitcom usually goes, it is a mic-mash of bizarre and funny story lines. Bart Simpson took a personal trip on the polar express to the north pole, armed with a shot gun, to threaten Santa to give him his desired Dirt Bike for his Christmas Present. Santa, played by Krusty the Clown, was in his seemingly dilapidated office. He told Bart about the hard times that his company has fallen into because the gratuitous giving of free presents for Christmas is simply 'not a sustainable business model', to the extent that he even had to cook his reindeers for his meal. The scene momentarily shifted to show Krusty's Santa looking behind to a set of stoves stewing on heat, and lifting up on a ladle what looks like the bright red nose of Rudolf the Reindeer.

After Bart had left the office, Krust's Santa cynically laughed at the naivety of children in believing his words. He pressed a button in his office, which mechanically redecors the office into a modern posh disco ball, with women dressed up in skimpily-cladded christmas wear coming into the office to dance with him and provide him alcohol. The camera angle zooms out of the room to reveal a corporate building with a running stock market ticker showing the stocks and shares in green surplus. It is an obvious dig at the nefarious corporate culture of America of unscrupulous managers and company directors underchanging their shareholders.

I will be having Christmas lunch with my parents, and then packing my bags for the Varsity Christian Fellowship Camp in Malaysia tomorrow. Till then, have a Jolly good Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Interesting observations from my trip to Hong Kong and Korea

I just came back from my oversease trip yesterday. I shall write about some of the interesting observations I made of both countries.

Hong Kong

I lived in the relatively sub-urban area of Po Lam during my stay in Hong Kong. My father had rented apartment which he stayed in during the past 2 years in which he worked at Hong Kong as a project manager for HSBC bank. I had advised him to come back to Singapore, and given the change in circumstances in the working environment in Hong Kong, he has since decided to come back to Singapore.

- Food is cheaper than in Singapore. I like the generous portions at restaurants. I loved going to a restaurant named Sakana no Aji which served great Japanese food at affordable prices. I just can't find such restaurants in Singapore.
- Hong Kong people are not very friendly or forthcoming in their personalities. They are generally rather serious people.
- An ageing population like Singapore. It is hard to find children or young people anywhere you go. Yum Cha restaurants are filled with old people slowly passing the time reading the newspapers and dining on yum cha cuisines.
- Japanese magazines in shops. I am not sure whether the Hong Kong people speak Japanese, but there seem to be an avid following of Japanese culture into Hong Kong society.
- Hong Kong has a much more developed system of cashless payment than Singapore. Its Octopus card, which is the equivalent of the EZ link card in Singapore, can be used to pay for items from shops in shopping centres.
- Free wifi on the bus which is convenient for a person like me who read
- Most Hong Kong people know only cantonese, and only a handful know a second language like chinese or english. I would try talking to them in chinese first, and then in english, and if all else fail, to point to pictures and labels on the menu.
- Sleazy pornographic magazines are on display at magazine stores which is quite an unusual sight for a Singaporean like me since the sale of pornographic materials are banned in Singapore. The convenience stores like 7-eleven have such magazines quite noticeably displayed at the back of their magazine section. I witnessed a middle-age man in the subway train reading such a magazine and smiling depravely to himself and at passerbys. Quite creepy.
- The Hong Kong people are always dressed up in winter wear even though weather is not that cold, and they don't remove their winter wear when they are in the shopping centres or in public transport where it is relatively warm. Perhaps they like to keep fashionable even at the expense of sweltering under those winter wear.
- Streets are not very well-lit at night. Traffic on roads are heavy and noisy, street sizes are rather small.

Korea

I lived in the Western Coop hotel at the DongDaeMun area during my stay in Korea.
-  Steamboat and grill restaurants at every corner kimchi and an array of side dishes at every restaurant. I just love the tasty oil-glazed seaweeds. There are quite novel steam funneling apparatus installed at restaurants at each table to channel away the steam from the cooking.
- Coffee culture with many different coffee chain brands. Most joints have a stock of coffee options such as lattes, mochiattoes, and cappuccinos
- Koreans are friendly and gregarious people. The sales personnels are most forthcoming in their advertising of their products. The locals are quite animated and passionate in their talking to one another.
- Celebrity culture pervades their public space. There are pictures of korean celebrities at every public corner, from subways to shopping centres, and for a range of products, from cosmetics to shoes and bags shops
- The human aesthetic industry is a major one in Korea. Advertisements showing the miraculous effects of plastic surgery with before-and-after photos are strewn in subway advertisment boards. Local cosmetic shops like skin food can be seen on many shopping streets, stocked with the quaintest forms of cosmetic products such as snail cream which is promoted to be anti-ageing.
- There are many Chinese working there as shop assistant. My dad says that they are actually ethnically koreans from the Heilongjiang district of China. The korean government allows them to obtain a work permit to work in the country because they make good workforce personalities with their proficiency in both the korean and chinese languages. For more information on the korean diaspora in china, see here.
- Gas masks cabinets in the subway. I suppose they pick their lesson from the infamous sarin gas attack on japanese subway in tokyo.
- There is quite an extensive and elaborate underground system, and well-furnished shopping centres in these underground areas.
- Korean society is quite affluent. I saw a plasma television placed in a glass case just outside a toilet area showing a music video featuring girls generation. I suppose they have so many television that they can afford to place them anywhere they like.
- Yet, there remain beggars in korean society. These beggars would postrate themselves with their face to the ground, and their palms outstretched. They presented themselves in the most pitiful state possible.
- There are quite cool technology in the public sphere which I have not seen in Singapore before- I saw this transparent glass pane in the  subway station which I can see through it the appliance being advertised. Yet, detailed moving animation forms on the transparent glass pane and play like a video.
- Korean society remains relatively untouched from the forces of globalisation. Korean society has managed to avoid influx of foreign products. Almost everything is local produced, from food, to technology. They have managed to imitate the business of global brands. Macdonalds food is quite effectively imitated as a local brand as LottsBurger, owned by the Korean corporate giant, Lotte. Starbucks coffee are imitated quite well with a local branding called Ediya Coffee which bears a logo quite resemblant to the logo of starbucks.
- Christianity has a popular following. There are residential areas where scores of churches sprout up around the neighbourhood.
- Terrible spitting culture. It is not just the older generation that is spitting about in the street. I saw a young lady, primp and proper, spitting onto the street pavement as well.
- And I made the pilgrimage to Gangnam as a fan of the viral video. It is quite a pleasant shopping area cum business district. Didn't see anyone doing the Gangnam dance there though.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Removal of Asperger's Syndrome from the Psyhciatrists' diagnostic manual; Asperger Syndrome just a label?

Asperger's Syndrome has recently been removed as a clinical diagnosis from the american psychiatrist diagnostic manual (read about it here). Psychologist think Asperger is simply a degree on the autism spectrum and should not be differentiated with a separate label as such. I suppose the Singaporean psychologist community would follow suit and similarly scrape Asperger's Syndrome from their diagnostic manuals.

However, i disagree with the removal of aspergers syndrome from the diagnostic manual. I think that there is a qualitative difference between aspergers syndrome and a plain cold case of autism. In autism, the symptoms manifest itself quite exhibitedly with a general inability to connect with the world and manifest itself with symptoms such as the total inability to communicate, whereas asperger syndrome features symptoms where the individual is cognitively functionable, and able to interact with the external environment, and socially, albeit in an awkward manner.

It would be difficult, in my opinion, for people in the public to recognise this qualitative difference in experiences and the necessary remedies if Asperger Syndrome was treated as simply being on the autism spectrum. I am not sure whether the underlying cause behind Asperger's Syndrome is similar for that of autism. From my reading online, it seems that the medical community has yet to truly identify the cause of autism. It could be due to genetics which affects the neurological development of the individual, or it could be from environmental causes, such as teratogenic agents such as the mercury containing compound called thiomersal formerly used in childhood vaccinations. However, i believe that it might be the case that the underlying cause behind Asperger's Syndrome may be different from autism such that people with Asperger's Syndrome remain functionable cognitively and relatively functionable socially, and it would not be good to assume that Asperger's Syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder.

But it is difficult I suppose to define a character type even with the label Asperger's Syndrome. I may possess certain traits of Asperger's Syndrome but not others. For example, i have trouble knowing what to say in group conversation and feel disoriented in social situations, however, i don't think i possess an obsessive interest in any discipline, or exhibit stimming movements, or am socially oblivious (at least I think so). In my opinion, alot of personality archetypes which may be interpreted as simply introversion now falls under this label of Autism/Asperger's Syndrome - eg: The quiet shy girl, the nerdish boy, the emo gothic teenager, the absent-minded professor, the mystical hermit, the reclusive hikkikomori, the detached philosopher, the computer geek etc. It seems to me like it may very well be the case that these are simply manifestation of a certain personality types rather than a disorder or psychological condition of some sort.

Perhaps, the spectrum is not one of autism, but a general introversion-extroversion spectrum, with Asperger being the extreme end of introversion, whilst histrionic personality disorder being the extreme end of extroversion such as to be seen as a disorder. The question is simply one of degree.

So to end off this post, I shall present two videos of these two Aspie vloggers. The first girl is all for undiagnosing herself as having Asperger's Syndrome, whilst the second girl thinks that there is a genuine quality to the condition of Asperger's Syndrome such as to warrant its diagnosis


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Tension headache relief from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

My Dad brought me to see a Sinseh(Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor) in the afternoon for my tension headache and nervous tics. There is this Chinese traditional medicine clinic in Serangoon. I told the Sinseh of the tension headache and nervous tics that I have been experiencing. He pressed various nervepoints on my neck, and I could feel a sensation that twitches the muscles in my head. The sinseh says that the headache is brought about by blocked nerves which blocks off the flow of nourishment to the head, causing the symptoms.

The treatment seems to be very effective. Right now, I can feel the tension headache almost completely gone. I am actually very happy about the relief from the treatment for my tension headache which had plagued me daily for 6 months since June.

So it seems like there was something illusory about the feeling of pressure on the brain feeling. In the sense, it really does feel like there is a pressure on the brain, although the MRI scan I had revealed nothing wrong with my brain. And contemporary mainstream medicine is just not able to do anything to treat or relieve the tension headache at all. I was prescribed a host of painkillers, from paracetamol, to naproxen, to tramadol, which were all ineffective, and then I was referred to the psychologist. The psychologist carried out a guided meditation exercise during the consultation and dismissed the symptoms as psychological due to stress. And it just doesn't relieve my tension headache.

I have to say that there is an efficacy to chinese medicine that I think could be better studied and complemented into mainstream medicine. The studies of nerve points and meridian pathways could be incorporated as a discipline in contemporary mainstream medicine for the treatment of tension headaches. Or Chinese traditional medicine could be integrated into our national healthcare system such that patients seeking treatment can be readily referred or recommended to see a Chinese Sinseh if they do not respond to mainstream medicine.

I have the impression that doctors in mainstream medicine do not take an esteemed view of chinese medicine. However, I have seen from my personal experience of the efficacy of traditional chinese medicine to treat illnesses that modern contemporary mainstream medicine is unable to.

I have come away from my experience a believer of traditional chinese medicine as a viable alternative to mainstream medicine. I am not sure about the efficacy of other alternative medicine. Perhaps I might give Indian Ayurvedic a try to test its efficacy some day.

I hope and pray that the tension headache stays away. I still experience bad nervous tics which I hope I would manage to get rid off by having enough time to destress and relax during the holidays. But it is a joy to find a great measure of relief from my chronic tension headache from my trip to the Sinseh today.

The Sinseh also gave some nice words of wisdom. He said don't study too hard. Or at least, don't study until you go crazy. He said he had seen a patient who came back from overseas with psychological disorder from studying, and couldn't work at all after that. I think he is quite right. As the Aesop fable goes, don't kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Reasonable Faith 1 - How do I know Christianity is true?

I began reading on Reasonable Faith, an apologetics book written by William Lane Craig which I borrowed from a law school varsity christian fellowship senior.

The first chapter of William Lane Craig's book brought to my awareness the dispute within the theological world of the role of apologetics to Christian faith and belief. On page 29, William Lane Craig presents the issue of the relationship of apologetics towards belief in Christianity - "Does a case for Christianity proceed from a leap of faith or on the authority of the Word of God, both unrelated to reason? Or is an evidential foundation for faith necessary, without which faith would be unjustified and irrational?"

This tussle amongst the different school of thoughts plays out in the history of the church with various Christian intellectuals holding one view or another.  On one end of the spectrum, there are those who are strict authoritatrian; that is to say, they hold that the ground for faith is sheer unquestionable, divine authority. This authority might be expressed in either the Scriptures or in the church. And on the other end of the spectrum, there are the rationalist with the likes of John Locke who are thinkers borne out from the period of the Enlightenment, who maintain that religious belief must have an evidential foundation and that where such a foundation is absent, religious belief is unwarranted. Then there are those on the middle ground who attempt to provide a rational foundation for authority via historical apologetics (See Thomas Aquinas).

One of the more interesting contemporary views mentioned in the book at page 39 is that of Alvin Platinga. Platinga maintains that belief in God and in the central doctrines of Christianity is both rational and warranted wholly apart from any evidential foundations for belief. He questions why can't the proposition "God exists" be a foundational proposition, such that no evidence is necessary to substantiate it. I have excerpted the nature of his argument as presented in the book at page 40 below.

"Platinga does not deny that self-evident and incorrigible propositions are properly basic, but he does ask how we know that these are the only properly basic propositions or beliefs. If they are, then we are all irrational, since we commonly accept numerous beliefs that are not based on evidence and that are neither self-evident nor incorrigible. For example, take the belief that the world was not created five minutes ago with built-in memory traces...The evidentialitst's criteria for proper basicality must be flawed. In fact, what about the status of those criterias? Is the proposition "Only propositions that are self-evident or incorrigible are properly basic" itself properly basic? Apparently not, for it is certainly not self-evident or incorrigible. Therefore, if we are to believe this proposition, we must have evidence that it is true. But there is no such evidence. The proposition appears to be just an arbitrary definition - and not a very plausible one at that! Hence, the evidentialist cannot exclude the possibility that belief in God is a properly basic belief."

And Platinga also maintains, following John Calvin, that belief in God is properly basic. Man has an innate natural capacity to accept truths of perception (like "I see a tree"). Given the appropriate circumstances - such as moments of guilt, gratitude, or a sense of God's handiwork in nature - man naturally appreheneds God's existence.

Personally, I am convicted of the belief that God exists because I see such intelligence of design in the way human beings have their respective predisposition to their various vocations, which requires a certain finesse of allocation by nature to the development of diversity of human talents and potentials, and through this diversity does society functions appropriately.  So we see for example, that in society, there are those who are inclined towards the sciences, some towards the arts, some towards music, some towards athleticism, some towards manual labour, some towards learning and the academia, etc. Society functions adequately with the collectives of this diversity in human talents and potentials. This perception also gives me a sense of place and belonging in the world, that I have a purpose in my existence in contributing to society or to humanity in the way that I am created. I suppose this is what Platinga would qualify as a properly basic belief that is not self-evident that is from the innate natural capacity in man for the perception of truths. I have no doubts that communists would lambast my perception for entrenching the notion of classed-society, existentialists in the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre would deride my notion of human beings having vocation-characterized natures a case of bad faith, and evolutionists would explain away the apparent diversity of human potentials via natural selection (Do tell me if you know where I can find an account of evolutionary theory for this).

I suppose a good theory for the role of epistemology in Christian apologetics allows for a pragmatic functioning of society because not all people in society would have the time or capabilities to determine the truth of Christianity. The above-mentioned theory by Platinga allows for such pragmatism in allowing the common man to accord rationality to his belief without having to become a specialist in Christian apologetics. I don't disagree that a rationalist viewpoint of Christian apologetics would be very difficult on the common man because not all human beings can commit to such an endeavour. However, I see societal structure as providing the framework for which the rationalism filters down in society. It is this concept of the professional class which is obliged to fulfill the rationalist task of evaluating the veracity of religion by evidence, and then presenting their conclusion to the rest of society. Belief by people in society in religion is thence rational as it is backed indirectly by evidence. Such belief is qualified by the weight of authoritaty from expert's conclusion. Inasmuch as we trust the professional opinions of doctors, lawyers, and experts in their various fields, so is it that we trust a professional class devoted to determining the truth of religion based on evidence.

An aside, there seems to be a following of William Lane Craig in the Varsity Christian Fellowship. A law school VCF senior borrows much of his curriculum from William Lane Craig materials in running his Seeker Cell meetings for non-christians interested to know more about the truth of christianity. When I was having dinner with some fellow VCF seniors one day, I heard them talking about the video featuring the debate between William Lane Craig and the late Christopher Hitchens, one of the prominent figures of the New Atheism movement. They were impressed with the delivery that William Lane Craig gave at the debate and his crushing defeat of Christopher Hitchens. In fact, they thought he would have made an excellent law school mooter.

We managed to get 2 converts from the Seeker Cell ministry. The Seeker cell leader commented at a VCF sub-com meeting about how he sees the role of apologetics in VCF ministry from the outcome. We later learnt that the 2 converts were the lovers of 2 of the cell group leaders in the vcf. I jokingly told the seeker cell leader that "While I don't discount the efficacy of apologetics, you certainly can't deny the forces of attraction in evangelism!"

Love is in the air. Within the cell group I am leading, Jireh, there is this 2 year ones, a boy and a girl, who are the more regular year 1 attenders of cell group meetings. The girl seems a little clingly to the boy, but the boy seems kind of oblivious. It's romance in the making, and I shall be hush about it and be in observance of the development of affairs. Now, what can I do as cell group leader to help things along? You thinking what I am thinking? Let's make them the next cell group leaders of Jireh!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Holiday Travel Plans; Law School examination; Wisdom teeth extraction; An examination of miracle healing

I just finished my law school examinations a few days ago, so it's going to be a month of school holiday. I will be travelling to Korea and Hong Kong for the holidays. It's going to be my second time to Korea and fourth time to Hong Kong. I did like my time in both countries in my previous vacations over there.

I don't think I did well for the examination, and I would be contented just to pass it. It has been a struggle for me in law school. For this semester, I had been suffering from what seems like a tension headache which makes it difficult for me to concentrate and learn. I don't know why my mind seems to shut off when reading law school materials, and it would not be practicable if I were to painstakingly examine the text sentence by sentence, or word by word, like how I did in the previous semester, in order to elucidate the materials. I find it hard to understand the lectures, take notes, do the tutorials, make my notes, prepare a presentation, and practice on the past year exam papers. I also seem to be having a very bad memory. I either seem to have lost touch with studying after about a 3 years break from schooling, or there is something profoundly different about law school which I am finding it difficult to adjust to. But I think I am getting a hang of it, and I am beginning to understand what law is about and how it works to facilitate society. I do find law interesting, and I wish my mind was more percipient to understanding law school materials and knowing how to go about doing well for law school examinations.

I had my 2 lower wisdom teeth extracted yesterday so my mouth is really sore and feel uncomfortable now. I look like a chipmunk with the swollen lower jaw (Or a Mitt Romney). It is kind of ugly. This was the first time that I have gone for a surgery under general anesthesia. Being sedated is kind of an interesting experience. As I was being administered general anasthesia, the last I could remember before going unconscious was the doctor telling me that i would be going unconscious within a minute as he administered a anesthesia. I was trying identify the point in which I would doze off, but I couldn't pinpoint how I became unconscious. And it seemed like the moment I came to was just as momentary as how I lost consciousness. It's just that my lower mouth felt sore. On the dental tray in front of me was a small container containing my wisdom teeth, broken up into many pieces during the extraction process. I didn't even feel that I was being operated upon during the entire period of unconsciousness. I couldn't believe I slept through so soundly throughout the operation. Tongue-in-cheek word of advice to lawyers or lawyers-to-be - Do not ever find yourself placed on an operation table of a surgeon whom you had represented a client in bringing a successful medical negligence suit against.
 
I have been thinking of attending a miracle healing session to seek healing for my hearing problems and tension headaches. I mean, I should give it a try before resorting to medical means like wearing a hearing aid right? I know, I have a rather pragmatic philosophy towards finding a solution for curing my illnesses, in the sense, I view miracle healing in my schemata of decision making as a try-and-see course of action before taking any radical medical action. If it works, well and good and praise the Lord. If it does not, that's not something to be too disappointed over, and I would proceed on to medical recourse or try to tolerate and accomodate my lifestyle to my illness if nothing can be done.

I am trying to find out more about how a Christian should be thinking about miracle healings. There are really conflicting sentiments that I have towards miracle healings. On the one hand, Christianity is a supernatural religion which acknowledges the presence of supernatural powers, one of which is miracle healing. On the other hand, there is a relative lack of observable supernatural phenomenas in the contemporary age, and I am not sure to what extent signs and wonders such as miracle healings take place in the current day and age. I also am afraid of being perceived or laughed at as being superstitious in resorting to the supernatural, but I must pause and reflect about the rationality of such fear. Christianity is afterall a supernatural religion, and the bible features things like raising of dead and virgin birth.

I once attended a miracle healing event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium about 3 years ago. The miracle healer was a man named Reinhard Bonnke, a Charismatic Christian evangelist known for his evangelism and missionary work in Africa. Posters featuring the miracle healing event was featured in MRT trains advertisement section prior to the event. I thought that this was my opportunity for to see some live miracles that I always hear about. My brother was keen too. He had seen videos of paralyzed individuals walking after a miracle healing session, lifting up their crutches, and shaking the crutches in the air in jubilation after having received their miracle healing. I asked my church discipleship groups whether they were going to the event, and they were keen on it.

I was fairly skeptical, yet hopeful when I went to the miracle healing event to see real cases and testimony of people being healed. There was first the song and worship portion, and Reinhard Bonnke talked about his experience in the ministry. And then there was the miracle healing segment, where Reinhard Bonnke begin to speak in a fervour to ask for God's presence and healing to come upon the congregation, and there was laying of hands, praying, and speaking in tongues, and an elevation of the mood of the gospel music played in the stadium that works up a good vibe of miracle healing in procession. After that, Reinhard Bonnke invited members who have received miracle healing to come up to share their testimony. There were quite some people who came up to give their testimony, such as a woman who said she has been cured of her sinus, or a man who said his shoulder stiffness went away. I was cynical of the apparent triviality of the miracle healing that were being testified about, and I thought that the congregation was deluded if it had not seen the ostensible cases of people who did not receive their miracle healing that was at the event.  I saw a paraplegic woman on a wheelchair, who at the supposed "high point" of the miracle healing session, was struggling to stand up and walk, her body convulsing in her effort to do so. She tried again and again, each time without success. And then when the miracle healing segment was over, she was back onto her wheelchair. I was praying to God constantly throughout the time of miracle healing that I would see that woman healed, and I wept when I saw her trying so hard to stand up and walk. I was disappointed when I saw that the healing did not happen for her because I felt she had so much faith in God to cure her of her paralysis and deserved to have been cured. I was commenting to my discipleship group mentor about the sheer inanity of the miracle healing session after the event.

Reflecting now about my attitude towards the testimony of miracle healings then, I think my cynicism about the miracle healing is misplaced. I shouldn't be discounting the healings that were testified to as being trivial. It probably meant quite something to those who obtained relief from their illness. I am sure that if I am healed of tinnitus and hearing impairments, and of tension headaches in a miracle healing session, and I were to go up to the front to give my testimony, some people would similarly discount my report of being healed as trivial. But from my own point of view, this would certainly be a meaningful miracle to me. I guess the reason for the skepticism about the nature of such miracle healing is due to the inapparent nature of the healing, such that one cannot verify whether there was any act of miracle healing at all, or that it was simply a placebo effect which had no actual remdying effect. Indeed, an accusation that is levied by conservative Christians and atheists against purported miracle effects in these charismatic miracle healing events is that there are no verified cases of people with ostensible medical defects or illnesses, such as amputees, having received healing for their conditions, which would have removed any ambiguity of the healing having its origin from divine power. But what is not apparent does not mean it was not substantial. Indeed, if I were healed of my hearing impairments and tension headaches, it would feel very substantial to me even if it cannot be verified by anyone else.

I am quite a conservative in my Christian outlook, and am predisposed towards being apprehensive towards charismatic beliefs and practices like prosperity gospel, glossolalia, and claims of divine truth via revelation.  I was pretty vexed by some criticisms about the church from a discipleship group friend who told me that the church we are in is lacking in spirituality or faith because it does not have revelation and prophecies amongst the congregation, the pastors don't conduct miracle healings, and people don't speak in tongues. I thought it necessary to educate my discipleship group peers about these things by reading up on it and telling my discipleship group mates in a discipleship group discussion about the correct biblical doctrine with regards to signs and wonders in the current times.

I read Charismatic Chaos by John F MacArthur in preparing my discipleship group discussion session, which is not exactly a neutral manner to examine charismatic theology as the author presents a rather critical stance from a conservative perspective. In disputing the charismatic's theology of divine revelation in the present age, MacArthur asserts that God works through a historical process to establish the authenticity of the canon so that the whole church might have a clear standard. If we now throw out that historical standard and redefine inspiration and revelation, we undermine our own ability to receive God's truth. Regarding miracles, MacArthur distinguishes between acts of providence and miracles. Acts of providence reveal God's working in our daily lives and often come as answer to prayers, but they are not the kind of supernatural signs and wonders Scripture classifies as miracles. MacArthur asserts that although God continues to operate on a supernatural level today, he does not believe that God uses men and women as human agents to work miracles in the same way he used Moses, Elijah, or Jesus. MacArthur rationalized that the purpose of miracles is to substantiate God's revelation of the Old and New testament, and that since that is finished, the age of miracles is passed. I thought MacArthur put it quite sensibly when he substantiates his point by saying that God wants people to come to him in repentence for sin, and for his glory, not because they see him as a panacea for their physical and temporal ills.

My discipleship group discussion degenerated into a debate between me and my former discipleship group mentor who was formerly a member from a mega charismatic church in Singapore, before he came to my church. He disputed that the purpose of miracles was simply to validate the revelation of the testaments, and that there was a restriction of the gift of miracle healing to the apostles.

I suppose if there was any effect from my discipleship group discussion, it surfaced an perennial theological controversy that has caused a schism in the protestant denomination of Christianity. I realized that MacArthur's arguments were all inferential in nature, and therefore easily subject to disputation. I realized how this entire field was steep in theological controversies when I read up more about it later on. There is one camp, known as the cessationist, who believe that miraculous gifts and powers ended after a certain era of church history, and then there are the continuationist who believe that miraculous gifts and powers continue to the present day.

I take on a more moderate and pragmatic stance with regards to miracle healings these days. I think the cessationist-continuationist debate is moot for me. I don't discount that miracle healings take place in this day and age. I have been watching youtube films of such stuff, and reading up on the internet of purported verifiable miraculous signs and wonders that have taken place and were witnessed by many people, even though I think that it is rare and special, and one should not be too disappointed if he sees himself not healed in a miracle healing session. It is my belief that God works through human means, such as through doctors, to provide healing and relief.

I have come across the websites of some Singaporean churches providing miracle healings. One such church is Lighthouse Evangelism, which is ministered by the controversial pastor Ronny Tan who had previously gotten himself into trouble under the Internal Security Act for uploading a video on his church website featuring him making a remark about Buddhism and Taoism being religions from the devil in response to testimonies by members of the congregation who were former-buddhists. I have taken a look at the church's website. It has a page featuring testimonies from attenders of the service about how they have been healed from their respective infirmities. There is even a mother who shared her testimony about how her son's mild autism symptoms have improved. I think I shall give their miracle healing session a try.

What is the correct attitude towards the possiblity of miracle healings? I suppose I keep my expectations low. In part, I don't want to be disappointed if I don't see miracle healings happening. I want to have an explanation so that I can hold firm to my faith in God. I think that some of my fellow Christians would charge me for having doubts which is why I don't receive what I pray for, and it vexes me that there seems to be something correct in their opinion of things. Indeed, I have trouble about this concept of 'belief' that is necessary for the receiving of healing because it doesn't make sense to me that divine miracles should predicate on belief. Rather, I believe that it should simply be God's will that something should happen or not.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Write-in to Straits Times Forum : Need to ensure safe noise levels at concerts and for issuance of earplugs to protect hearing health of concert-goers

My letter to straits times forum to petition the relevant authorities to take measures to ensure safety of concert noise level to concert goers:

I sustained tinnitus and auditory processing disorder after attending a Sundown Festival concert in 2010. These illnesses have severely afflicted the quality of my life, such that I am afflicted by a constant ringing sound in my ear, and I find it hard to function in social situations because  of the difficulty in making out conversation sounds from background sounds in the environment. There is no cure or aid for these conditions. Hearing aids do not provide any relief.  It is the purpose of my letter to raise awareness of these conditions that may come about from loud noise exposure in loud concert, and to implore the relevant authorities to take action to ensure safety of concert-goers.

I attended the Sundown Festival Concert about 2 years ago. I was 20 years old then, and it was the first concert I was attending in my life after receiving complimentary tickets. There were about a few hundred people at the concert, and the holding area for the concert-goers was situated right in front of the stage. I was standing around 10m – 20m from the stage.

The music was being played at an extremely loud level on the audio system, such that one could feel a reverberation through one’s ears and body at the concert.

I came home that day with a ringing sound in my ear that perpetuated through the night and found it hard to sleep. I thought that the ringing sound would eventually subside, but until today, I still do experience ringing sounds in my ear in relatively quiet environment when I had not experienced so before the concert. This condition has robbed me of some of the pleasures of solitude and quietude in life. 

In addition to Tinnitus, I also suffer from a hearing impairment that makes it difficult for me to make out the meaning of conversation when there are background noises. Speech sounds appear muffled whenever there are normal background environmental sounds. This condition is known as auditory processing disorder in the medical community and it can be induced by loud-noise exposure. A less well-known name ascribed to this condition is “cocktail party syndrome” in reference to the difficulty that the person suffering from the condition has in functioning in a social situation such as a cocktail party because of his difficulty in making out speech sounds from background noise. Hearing aids do not help to resolve this problem as it only amplifies sound to the wearer and do not help the wearer to distinguish conversation sounds from background noise. I have developed a phobia somewhat of social situations in my life because of this difficulty which does not have a cure or any aid.  

It is my heartfelt imploration that the relevant authorities take step to ensure safety of concert volumes at concert to concert-goers, and to necessitate concert organizers to give out earplugs to concert-goers in loud concert so as to allow concert-goers to protect their hearing health. Concert goers are not knowledgeable about the risk that loud sounds from concerts may have on their hearing. Personally, it was my first time to the concert, and I had no warning whatsoever of this personal suffering that I have been facing ever since. I have come across health advice showing the maximum safe duration of exposure to the different levels of noise exposure by decibel(dB). The sound levels of rock/pop concert can range along the level of 130dB – 140dB, and the recommended maximum time exposure to such sounds is listed as being less than 1 seconds. It seems incongruous to these public health findings that there are no policies regulating safe limits for concert volumes. I have read that in Europe, earplugs are dispensed to concert-goers for loud concerts. I believe we should have regulations in place necessitating such protective measures to concert goers in Singapore here as well.

I have read of accounts of individuals who sank into depression from tinnitus, and some who have even been so tormented by the ringing sound that they committed suicide. There are probably many other fellow Singaporeans like me who have incurred tinnitus, hearing loss, or other forms of hearing impairments from going to one of such concert, and who have to live out the rest of their lives with these hearing difficulties. I would like to raise awareness of these unspoken sufferings in society, and implore for measures to be set in place to protect the well-being of concert-goers.

[Afterthought - Reads too much like a personal sob story. I would need to make it more like a public awareness raising message.]

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Of Dorian Gray, Jane Austen, and Sherlock Holmes

It was on a warm, fuzzy, Wednesday afternoon amidst a communion of Varsity Christian Fellowship law schoolmates. We had gathered for a time of lunch at a table outside the bookshop.

There was a girl on my right who began a conversation to the girl opposite her about a book that a friend had been recommending her to read. She mentioned the words Dorian Gray when talking about the book. The name sounded familiar to me, and then I recalled that I had come across it when I watched that romance film titled 500 days of Summer during the school term holidays. It was at the scene towards the end of the film when the girl, Summer, was talking to Tom, the guy, about how there was something unpredictable about the way life brings people together, and she related about how she was sitting by a deli and reading the book Dorian Gray when a guy came up to her and ask her about it, and before she could make sense of how it came together, he was her husband. I asked the girl who was talking about Dorian Gray to tell me more about what the book was about. She said it was a book written by the famous writer Oscar Wilde, and it is a story of a man living in extremes. Why, I thought, if anything else, Dorian Gray must be a portrait of the man himself. From what I have heard and read, Oscar Wilde was a man whose life was one of sensuality and decadence. He indulged in all the vices such as promiscuity, buggering, absinthe drinking, and the like. You know how it is with playwrights, they derive their inspiration from their quixotic lifestyle.

I have read a synopsis of what the novel is about. It features a rather dark plot of a man who makes a pact with the devil to exchange his soul for eternal youth, and of a haunting mysterious picture of the man which age in place of him. I think I would give a movie adaptation of the book a watch, although the girl who had been talking about the book earlier tell me that it is not a book that Christians should be reading. I concur. I believe that there is something unhallowed about a book with such dark themes to have the potential to cause a person who reads it to become depressed, morose, or overly-introspective. Still, I am curious to know what the story is about.

There is something about girls and their love for reading literature. I had one such female friend from the arts stream during my junior college days. She was the kind of girl who had her head embedded with every socialised ideals of a relationship that is brought about by reading one too many pieces of classical literature. There was a time during a conversation when she said without too much thought that girls would only want to marry guys who became officers during their national service. She must have realized she made her assertion too unthinkingly when I told her I was going in to the army as a clerk. "Well", she said, trying to soften her stance, "At least, all proper girls from proper families would." I think I suffered from a heartache hearing those words. Anyway, she recommended me to read the book Pride and Prejudice. I found the prose version of the book rather dry, and so I borrowed a comic book adaptation of the novel from the library. It was a pleasant read. It painted an intimate picture of 19th Century Victorian England, with all the quaint english mannerisms, formal conventions, and social class-consciousness. I thought that the idea of paired ballroom dancing was quite a good way young men and women in society can get to know one another. The characters of the story were fairly interesting. There were five daughters of the Bennett family. The oldest was beautiful but not too bright, blissfully sanguine and a believer in the goodness of all human beings. The youngest was an idealist. She was the kind of girl who would have sung "soldier, soldier, will you marry me" and had her minds on eloping with one against the conformity of the aristocratic class. The third and fourth played relatively quiet parts in the novel, but they pretty much took on the role of the story comedic elements. The protagonist was the second daughter, Emily Bennett, who was, in my opinion, quite a shrew. The level-headed one in the family, she was intelligent, witty, and judgmental. And then there was Mr Darcy, the male protagonist, a wealthy man of the landed gentry, he was aloof and lacked social skills, and was not fond of dances and small talks. I identify somewhat with his social awkwardness.

As the name of the story goes, the story was about Mr Darcy overcoming his pride to marry Ms Bennett who was of a lower social class, and Ms Benett overcoming her negative prejudices she had formed on her first impression of Mr Darcy. Perhaps the genius of Jane Austen lies with her identification of these two chief elements that hinder a genuine love relationship from developing between two compatible persons, and it is a message that remains relevant for the current times. I think that pride and prejudice are somewhat conjugate traits of each other. The former bears out from a self-consciousness of the external perception from people around us, while the latter from the internal misconception of the other within us. We judge presumptuously of another person based on the class, income level, education qualification, and appearance of the other person, and we deny ourselves the love that we may have for another person because we think the other not worthy of ourselves. But I don't discount that intelligence level, cultural background, and physical appearance goes some way to ensuring a smooth relationship between two individuals.

Another girl on the opposite of the table to my left began talking about her love of the character of Sherlock Holmes from her reading of the detective novel. She was full of praise of the intelligence and wits of Sherlock, about his ability to make inference about a person's background from the minute details of a person's habits and accessories. I have watched other detective dramas like the Japanese series Furuhata Ninzaburo, and the American series Monk where the main detective characters also spot such a flair for deductive sleuthing as well. Perhaps Sherlock Holmes was the genesis of the archetype. And I must say I quite like the rendition of Sherlock Holmes given by Robert Downey Jr in the film released last year. I couldn't help but interject the monologue that the girl was giving about Sherlock Holmes by suggesting that these behaviors of Sherlock Holmes was symptomatic of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It provided some chuckle amongst the group. How far from perfect the ideal man is isn't it?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday Church Sermon : The Time Draws Near - Daniel 12 : 1-3

Today's sermon by Pastor Soh Guan Kheng was about how we as Christians have to keep unswervingly to our faith amidst the hardships that would follow in the end-times.

I have heard a lot of talks about end times in my church and in the varsity christian fellowship in my school, and how we are living in it. In popular culture, there are the likes of movies such as the Left Behind series which features a premillennialist interpretation account of biblical eschatology. But according to a talk I heard in a VCF faculty gathering event by Rev Paul Woods, Premillenialism is deviant biblical doctrine. The theme for the Varsity Christian Fellowship, 'Becoming Kingdom People', serves to emphasize the Amillennialist viewpoint that the kingdom of God is already here, amongst the people, and not an awaited occurence in the future.

Eschatology is certainly a prominent topic of the Christian faith. One of my church friend, a pastor's son, believes that the end time would be fulfilled within his generation and we would get to live to see it. His keenness is somewhat disturbing. If I am not wrong, the end-times is one of heavy persecution of Christians,  "a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then" (Daniel 12:1). If that movie that went by the eponymous title got it correct, the end of the world should be anytime soon this year. I have a Christian friend who posted on facebook a few days ago, "If the world is ending in 2012, why is Singapore still building so many skyscrapers for?" He was answered most wittily by another of his friend that the first word in his question aptly answers his question. Well, for those who take it with any modicum of credibility, as the date winds down to 31st December, we wait with bated breath, and with the premonition that we will all appear at once like fools when new years day hit the next morning. But the whole 2012 thing is Mayan mythology and what of it that we Christians should accord it with any regard? And Christian eschatology does not feature such an apocalyptic doomsday scenario of an end of the world scenario. It is instead a long-drawn out period of persecution and suffering, and then the second-coming of the Messiah. I once listened to a talk at a church retreat by a parish worker from my church that 2012 is by all accounts too early. There isn't enough fulfillment of prophesied events from the bible to indicate the second-coming of Jesus. As how one would say it by putting a twist to that amusing ACS motto, "the end is yet to be."

So what are the signs that the end times are near? According to  Ezekiel 37:10-14, one of them is the establishment of Israel as a nation state, and that is already so since 1948. The ever erudite Professor Thio Li Ann, a Christian constitutional law Professor at the faculty of law of the National University of Singapore, speaks with great conviction that the establishment of Israel as a nation state is the sign that the end times are near. She seems to be a great defender of the establishment of the state of Israel. In my opinion, there is something self-fulfilling about the prophecy of the establishment of Israel and the Christian western powers that supported and affirmed its establishment after World War 2. Professor Thio also speaks with great passion about the great evil of an ideology known as humanism that is insidiously taking over our world in the current times. She belabors the increasing permissiveness towards homosexuality in this contemporary age as the sign of the end times. On her part, she has had quite an eventful time during her prominent stint as a nominated member of parliament, championing the Christian cause by opposing the abolition of 377A of the Penal Code which criminalizes homosexual activities.  

I have been to quite a few of Professor Thio's talks, way back before I was even a law student at NUS. A church friend of mine, who is also a law school senior to me, is quite a fan boy of Professor Thio Li Ann, and he would frequently invite me to one of her talks. I had much free time during my days serving National Service as an admin because I was exempted from combat due to my having Asperger's Syndrome, and I relished going for these talks by Professor Thio Li Ann on one of the weekends. Professor Thio is a rather powerful speaker who speaks with knowledge and wisdom. She wows her Christian law students with the level of insight she has to biblical eschatology. She proffers some of the most original and interesting theories regarding the fulfillment of end-time eschatology and certainly sounds very convincing. One can't help but concur with her that there is indeed an over-looming diabolical evil from this secular ideology called humanism that is being wrecked upon the face of humanity by its adherents. I have posted about some of her other lessons which I have attended featuring biblical eschatology from the book of Daniel which you can view here and here.

It certainly feels very real when you are put in a Christian social environment where everyone around you is affirming this picture of the world. That there is a great conspiracy of evil that is descending upon the times. That there is a looming evil lurking across the horizon. And we Christians would have to prepare ourselves for it. Like Queen Boudica rallying the tribe with a battle cry for a bloodbath against the Imperial Roman Legion. Like Gandalf leading the Alliance for the final showdown with the evil horde. Sound the clarion call! Beat the battle gongs! Christians, Brace yourself for the onslaught!

But I think there needs to be some perspective here. Who are these 'evil' people? And what exactly are their world views? I remember watching this video of a talk by a man named Sean Faircloth, a director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. What Sean Faircloth talks about gives a paralleled version from an atheistic viewpoint of a nefarious looming global conspiracy that is taking over the world, except this time, the global conspiracy is Christianity and the Religious Rights of America. He makes fun of the Religious Rights of America by alluding to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. In his version of the Trinity, the Religious Rights that are taking play in power politics are composed of the iron trinity of right-wing mormonism, right-wing fundamentalism, and the right-wing catholicism. And together, these forces go about in power politics impinging upon the first amendment to the United States Constitution prohibiting the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion. It certainly seems like people on 'the other side' are afraid of us, inasmuch as we are afraid of them.

But the more important part of the message of today's sermon is about remaining faithful in our faith amidst persecution in the end times. Now that is the real challenge. It seems like Pastor Soh did not get a response when he asked the congregation whether any Christians amongst us experience persecution. Now, it should actually be worrying that we Christians in Singapore are not facing any persecution. I find it troublesome on how to square this observation of the lack of persecution with the statement made by Jesus in John 15:18-20-  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.” Certain propositions naturally extend from this statement. That is, by logic, if you are not persecuted, then you belong to the world. I once asked my discipleship group mentor whether one can still deem himself a Christian if he leads a relatively uneventful life without any persecution. He enunciated in a matter-of-fact manner that we, as Christians, would certainly undergo persecution; There is no two ways about it. And I debated him about this necessity of having to undergo persecution in order to be proven a Christian. At the end of the debate, he told me, "Samuel, it seems like you are asking to be persecuted or something."

Well, I think it is hard enough for one to keep the faith even without persecution. For me, it's doing badly for exams, experiencing social difficulties in life due to Asperger's Syndrome, sustaining tinnitus and impairment to my hearing, suffering a chronic tension headache that doesn't go away despite the medicines I have been taking. Do forgive me, reader, for my penchant to grumble here on my blog. I just need to find some catharsis for my pent-up frustrations. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Playing witness for a friend's mock trial; My own mock trial

I volunteered to be witness for my friend's trial advocacy on Monday. It was held in Allen and Gledhill, one of the big 4 law firms in Singapore. This is my first time to one of the big 4 firm, and I was eager to see how such a firm looks like. I was indeed quite impressed with the decor of Allen and Gledhill. It bore a resemblance to the law firms in the law-series American dramas I have watched on television such as Boston Legal and Suits. It had a clean minimalistic feel, a spacious layout. Quite a contrast to the cramped, stuffy work environment I saw when I interned at Martin and Partners. We waited at a boardroom for my friend's trial advocacy tutor who was playing the mock trial judge. There was a large oval-shaped boardroom table in the room. "Do you know what these two metal traps on the table are?", my friend asked. "Dustbins?" I replied. "No, they actually conceal power sockets. Cool huh? Short of being laptops." One of the walls of the room was made of glass and I could see through it the landscape of the Central Business District area from the heights of the office.

It sure must feel good to work in such a cool firm. I could only imagine working in such a firm as a lawyer, and peering out over the city from the confines of my office after a hard day of work. The feeling of prestige that it gives. Reminds me of the colourful character Denny Crane played by William Shatner in the show Boston Legal. As he overlooks the skyline of Boston from the balcony of his law firm, he muse to himself, "This is my city, my domain".  The ancient men were not very different. In the book of Daniel 4:30. King Nebuchadnezzar was walking on the roof of his palace in Babylon, and he said to himself, "Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty" As with Nebuchadnezzar who was struck with madness, so was it with Denny Crane, whose Alzheimer disease dwindled him down to a shadow of a man he once was.

The trial advo tutor of my friend who played the mock trial judge was a man by the name of Jason Chan. A partner of the firm, in his 30s, bespectacled, crew hair cut, a mild moustache, and a distinctive upper class Singapore English accent. My friend told me that he won the prestigious Jessup cup when he was a student at NUS law school. The year 1 girl who played the witness for my friend's opposing counsel was totally gushing about him after the mock trial. "Oh, he's so sharp...so eloquent......so successful at so young an age....I think he is just in his 20s?....and he is already a partner of the firm at his age...do you think he is married?"
 
The mock trial proceeded apace. I rattled out the information as a witness for the Examination-in-chief segment from the script my friend gave to me. And then I was cross-examined. I tried to make things as difficult for the opposing counsel. "It was 3am in the night, and you said in your confidential statement that you could see the loots the robbers were carrying?", "There were street lights", I replied. "You said you were certain that the 3 men were robbers, yet you did not tell your sister whom you accuse of harboring them about it?""I say that I am certain only in retrospect". I think I did a fairly good job playing an adverse witness.

I am afraid I can't say the same about playing prosecution for my own mock trial. I encountered the same problems that I did when giving my criminal law presentation and delivering my moot at the preliminary rounds for the AG cup. I found it hard to do more than one thing at the same time, whether it is to listen to opposing counsel and note down what he says, or to read from my script and internalize what I am saying, or listen to the opposing witness testimony during cross-examination and adjust my case theory. It doesn't help that I have been suffering from a bad chronic tension headache which makes it difficult for me to think. I don't know why I find it difficult to hold on to my train of thought. I stammered, had trouble flipping my notes to the correct page, had attention lapses of what the opposing counsel was saying, was straining to think out the correct words to say. I was a wreck.

Professor Lim Lei Theng played the judge for my mock trial. I told her that I had similar problems with mooting. She was understanding, gave me feedback that she could observe that I had the innate ability to articulate, and I could organize better by using ring files and tabbing the documents, that I should try out more trial advo and mooting competitions, and that I could join a toastmaster's club to learn to be a better presenter. I suppose I am contented with passing with a C+ for trial advo. I don't think I could have done any better, and the grades could have been worse.

Sigh....I hope that God has a plan for me in life. I think I will join the toastmaster's club.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sunday Church Sermon : The Widow's Offering (Mark 12:41-44)

Today's church sermon by Pastor Richard Chiu was on the passage of Mark 12:41-44 about the story of the Widow's offering. As the story goes, many rich people were putting in large amounts into the temple treasury. The poor widow put in the two small copper coins that was all she had to live on. Jesus commended her offering over those from the rich people because the rich people gave out of their abundance while the poor widow gave what she had to live on out of her poverty.

An interesting point that Pastor Richard Chiu pointed out was that the original Greek word for wealth in the the passage, "Periseuontos", has the the connotation of 'leftovers'; That is, the rich people gave what they had after accounting for their other needs and expenses. This gives a rather critical view of the offerings of the rich people which is not captured in a literal reading of the passage. But nevertheless, that may still be quite alot isn't it, perhaps even more than the 10% tithing ratio that is featured in various parts of the bible.

I suppose I do account my tithe, lest I give too little, or too much. And I usually give at least 10% of the allowance I get from my parents. Regarding tithings, a pastor in my church says that there is no compulsory need to tithe, and one should tithe simply out of one's charity and circumstances.

Now, what does it mean to give 'like a poor widow' (that is a bad meme!). I am wondering, what is the distinction that Jesus is trying to draw out here between the rich people and the poor widow?

I suppose the possible difference is the belief in divine providence? But wouldn't it be radical if someone were to give all his allowances and savings to church offerings and simply trust in divine providence? I mean, if I hear a fellow Christian friend saying that following the preaching of Jesus, he wants to give his all his income and savings to the church, I would have that instinctive response to tell him 'hang on a minute, is that what the bible really advocates?' And I would try to come up with some explanation for how it is biblically substantiated that one should be prudent in giving tithes and give within his or her own means

I can't think of any reason from the bible about why this is 'radical' and not being prudent. If Jesus says this is wise, who is to say otherwise?

My discipleship group leader, Hobart, who has in my opinion, a very radical contextualist approach towards scripture interpretation, would probably say that Jesus commendation of the widow would have to be looked in context, perhaps with regards to the religious structure that governs the contemporary societal life. Perhaps the communal arrangment within society would have allowed the woman to find her sustenance from the church, or from other societal sources, unlike the Singaporean society. I really doubt that the passage can be read too contextually.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Asperger's Syndrome in the news - Alex Ong; My experience with Asperger's Syndrome

I came across a news article in the Home section of the Straits Times two days ago about this boy named Alex Ong who is charged with causing voluntary causing hurt by pushing an old lady off the bus. You can read about it and watch the video clip of the incident that was secretly filmed by a passenger on the bus here. According to what I have read in a previous news article, he was apparently upset with the old lady for pressing the bell just as the bus was leaving a bus stop along Upper Thomson Road and wanted to teach her not to do that. But somehow, he didn't get his message through, and there was a heated exchange between the old lady and him before he snapped. When interviewed by the New Paper, he said that he had been diagnosed with clinical depression, and obsessive compulsive disorder and Asperger's syndrome since he was in primary school.

There is not much awareness of the condition of Asperger's Syndrome in Singapore. And I wonder how prevalent the condition is in Singapore. According to estimates in America, the data shows quite a figure of 1 in every 88 people, and I suppose the figures should be somewhere around the same in Singapore as well. I hope that the Alex Ong incident would not create the impression amongst the public that people with Asperger's Syndrome are dangerous. The features of Asperger's Syndrome are quite different in different individuals, and to different degrees as well. In the case of Alex Ong, Asperger's Syndrome affected him in a manner such that he finds it difficult to communicate his intentions clearly, and to rationalize what ticked him off as to trigger off his anger.

Part of the reason why there is a lack of awareness of Asperger's Syndrome is that there is no impetus to get a diagnosis. Most people would simply dismiss the symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome as being that of a personality defect. I would say that I have observed some individuals in my life who display characteristics of Asperger's Syndrome but who perhaps remain undiagnosed.

I remember watching a youtube video of Temple Grandin, a noted autistic who is an American doctor of animal science and professor at Colorado State University giving a talk at a TED conference.She said, half in jest, that the pool of IT professionals at Silicon Valley are all somewhere along the autism spectrum. I suppose the equivalent professional field in Singapore where such individuals might be is the engineering faculty or computer science faculty of the National University of Singapore? I say this with some circumspection lest it is not truly the case or it causes offence to anybody for any reason. Hey, there is one over at the law faculty!

I have read up on the internet of famous people with Asperger's Syndrome. There are quite a handful of famous people in history as well as in the present times who are suspected of having Asperger's Syndrome. Psychologists put Albert Einstein on the autistic spectrum for his childhood account which detailed his obsession and wonderment with the way the magnet in the compass always points in the same direction. The accounts of Bill Gates having a poor social life in his youth and even in his adulthood (name-calling levied perhaps by his opponents in the computer industry?), together with his aversion towards eye contact and exhibition of stimming behavior of rocking back and forth, have made him suspect for being on the autistic spectrum as well. Well, I suppose it doesn't feel too bad to be diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome when you can call yourself in the same company of these great people, although I don't think I possess the same amount of intelligence as them, and I would be skeptical about presuming these people as truly being on the autistic spectrum. See my post here about the possible phenomenon of the overdiagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome. But do note that Asperger's Syndrome is not necessarily associated with high achievement. There are people with Asperger's Syndrome in different levels of strata of society, and quite a handful who are not doing very well.

I was diagnosed with the condition by a psychologist after a very difficult social experience during my high school days at St Joseph's Institution. I think that I am at more socially functionable now. My condition may be quite mild compared to the rather severe ones that I have seen, including the likes of Alex Ong. My friends have commented that they would not suspect that I would have such a condition. They just thought that I was the quieter type of person. I think that I have insight about what is socially appropriate, and am not totally oblivious to social norms.

But I have to say that my social experience is in my opinion, not fully normal. At least, when I see the sort of social interaction amongst my peers in day-to-day life, and the photos of their social life that they put up on their facebook account, I would have to say that my exclusion and lack of participation in such social activities is evidence of my social abnormality. I am just rather inhibited and aloof, and I would find myself feeling awkward if I have to participate in such social activities.

But I have come to be able to accept myself for who I am, and not be too self-conscious about my lack of conformity with social conventions. It is only recently that I have begun to 'come out' as someone with Asperger's Syndrome, after about 7 years of keeping it confidential. I suppose there is a sort of relief in being able to get people to understand my condition, and contrary to my worries of people thinking me weird and avoiding me, the people around me whom I have told about my having Asperger's Syndrome have been quite understanding and helpful.

But of those who do not know that I have such a condition, there are some who after having interacted with me conversationally or socially and formed their impression, behave in a rather chilly and unfriendly manner towards me thereafter, not wanting to acknowledge my presence when they pass by me in school, or are quite lukewarm in their manner of greeting me. There are some who would treat me quite meanly or with disrespect, such as a girl in my company law tutorial group, who in order to save word count from the group assignment, delete a substantial portion from the part of the tutorial question I was assigned to do without asking my permission and submitting the document for grading, which is to my detriment because the professor looking through the submission would think that I have left out on answering on those issues. I asked her about why she did what she did, and she offered a rather unconvincing explanation that I could present these materials during the presentation. I suppose I could probe further but that would be too confrontational for my liking. I suppose I smile, say I understand, and pretend that there is still mutual congeniality. But I think it is necessary for me to be shrewd about who she is as a person.

I suppose such social experience is not unfamiliar to me. It was much worse when I was in high school. But I have come to accept myself and not to be too self-critical about my difficulty in changing myself.

Well, I suppose I will do my part to raise awareness for Asperger's Syndrome, and I would certainly like to extend a helping hand to anyone in society who may be experiencing difficulties due to having such a condition.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Reconcilation of Mark 9:38-40 and Matthew 7:21-23

Both passages mention good and spectacular deeds done in Jesus name, yet Christ evaluation of these two passages are so different. In the first one he says that such people are in His side and to the second group he says, "I don't know you. Depart from me you evildoers!"
I have managed to garner a few hypothesis from my search to reconcile this apparent contradiction. The first is that the miracles performed by the person in Matthew is not by God but by evil spirits, though the person had invoked the name of God (see http://www.ukapologetics.net/mightywork.htm). I am doubtful of this explanation in light of what Jesus replied to the Pharisees in Matthew 3:25 when the Pharisees accused Jesus of driving out demons by using the power of the prince of demons. Jesus seems to have rebuffed the doctrine that Satan would support the design of him(Satan) driving out another demon. I do see that there is grounds for the possibility for someone to invoke the name of God to do miracles as a guise for the wielding of evil powers such as cults who infuse christian references and symbolisms in the crafts.

The other hypothesis that I got from http://bible.cc/matthew/7-21.htm under Barnes commentary seems to posit that though the powers that were exercised in Matthew were from God, they were not done to God's will. Barnes describes the power that is being exercised in Matthew 7:21 as one in an "agency" mode, such that the holder of the power is free to wield it in a manner which he likes after it has been endowed by God. In such a sense then, though the power bestowed is of divine origins, it can be done for reasons other than God's will.

A personal hypothesis that I may offer, is that the working of miracles through the name of God is not enough to merit salvation. And hence, even though one is able to invoke and exercise successfully divine powers, this is not sufficient if he has not accepted Christ, thus being treated in the manner as depicted in the passage where Jesus replies that he does not know the person.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

On a proof for the veracity of religion

I was thinking about how one can rationally come to a conclusion over the choice of his religion, or absence of it. I think that there are systematic methodologies towards the analysis of religions which can be applied to determine the veracity of the various religions in the world. I believe that the study of religion can be approached with the same intellectual rigour as the study of other veritable human learnings. I am as of yet unsure how practical it would be for everyone on earth to engage in an independent study on his on part to determine the truth of the religion which he or she chooses. I would like to think that the discovery of the truth of religion is both a necessary and accessible endeavour to every human beings so long as one applies his intellectual faculties to such an endeavour. I would think the examination of the truth of religion necessary because the condition of being a human being situated in this mysterious dimension of reality is one that simply begs the question of how one is to make sense of this world around him. I would like to think the examination of the truth of religion as being accessible to all human beings in the sense that all human beings would be able to conclusively come to a right conclusion regarding the choice religion if he or she applies his intellectual faculties to such an endeavour because the choice of religion is an important one which determines the fate of a person in the afterlife, and it would be unfair for a person to suffer in the afterlife if it was not open or possible for him or her to arrive at the truth of a religion either because of the lack of materials or revelation disposed for his or her examination, or because the endeavour regarding the examination of the truth of religion is one that requires an intellect that is not available in all human beings.

Nevertheless, should it be the case that such an endeavour be neither practical nor possible for all human beings, the second best alternative would be to have a professional class devoted to such an endeavour. There should be institutes of learning, training, and researching of such a professional class, very much like how other university courses operates. The curriculum for such a course would feature topics such as  historical methods for the study of religions, discourses on comparative religion analysis, study of the sciences and how they relate to religion, statistical methods to evaluate probability of creation hypothesis, philosophy, etc. This might seem radical, but I think that it would be good if all religious leaders, or people who are designated to assume appointments as leaders in religious organizations, were made to undergo education through such an institute.

It would be from this class of people who would be deemed experts relating to knowledge of religion that other people can find a conclusive answer to questions on the truth of religion. Their opinions can thus be accorded a status of expertise such as expert opinions in specialized disciplines.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Youtube video - Wonderfull Chill Out Music Love Session on Amazing HD Video


I happened to come across this video when I was looking up youtube for music that would help me relax. This chillout video is perfect for listening to on headphones after a day at school. The music is beautiful and the video of various areas in mexico is scenic.

Marketing Promotion Strategy learning point from Breadtalk

The breadtalk poster says 'Trans-fat free toasts'. I am not sure whether toast generally contains trans-fat, but the caption in this breadtalk poster got me wondering whether there is trans-fat in normal toast. I suppose by highlighting that its toast is trans-fat-free, it is making a subtle assertion that toast from other bread shops contains trans-fat, and it also raises awareness that one point of consideration in choosing where to buy toast from is whether the toast from that shop contains the unhealthy substance called trans-fat.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sunday Service Church Sermon by Brother Geok Seng: Active Faith Living

The sermon for church today was on actively living out one's faith as a Christian. The sermon text was taken from Deuteronomy 6: 1-9. Brother Geok Seng was the sermon preacher for today's sermon. Brother Geok Seng has a dialectical, logical style in which he delivers his sermon, although sometimes, the argument might not necessarily be as solid as he asserts it to be. A classical logical argument that is heavily featured in his sermon is the modus ponens, or reasoning by implication which takes on the structure of if x, then y; x, therefore y. However, he usually fails to substantiate from any sources why there should be a proposition that y should follow from x. For example, he would say something like "God is one" (Deuteronomy 6:4), and then simply assert that from this premise that "God is one", he should get all our love and worship.   I do appreciate his efforts to use classical formal logic to present his propositions, but I think he could do better if he substantiates such reasoning using biblical sources, or else provide a more complete reasoning process behind why a conclusion should follow from a premise.

Anyway, today's sermon message was about how we should actively live our faith and not be passive about it. Brother Geok Seng says that it is usual for a person to be passive in how he lives his Christian life, relying on the church ministers and speakers to guide their spiritual growth and making them responsible for it. Loving God is a choice, Brother Geok Seng emphasizes, and we have to choose to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength. However, I would have to say that I have been finding it hard to love God since I have been experiencing certain difficulties in life and God does not seem to be answering my prayers to alleviate me of my hardships. I suppose the question I usually find myself asking myself is whether God loves me, and if he does not love me, it would be fruitless for me to love him as my God. I know that God has given me salvation by sending Jesus to die on the cross for me, and in my daily life, I am abundantly provided for. Yet, things like sustaining a hearing impairment, and suffering from tension headaches, and finding it difficult to cope with school work makes me ask why God doesn't answer my prayers to cure my problems. I know that it is possible that God has a plan for me through such trials, but it really feels like God does not exist when I have been so sincere in my prayers but find my problems persisting. And thus, I do find it difficult to think of the notion of loving God as being simply one of choice. I feel that he needs to love me first, and to show it not just through dying on the cross to save me from my sins, but through ensuring my well-being as well and answering my prayers to cure me of my bodily afflictions.

Another significant point that was brought up in Brother Geok Seng's sermon was about how we should be consistent in our daily conduct with that of our declared faith and witness. I used to be stronger in my faith in God, and was more deeply committed in my church activities. But since having experienced bad results in last semester for the exams, I have also assumed a more 'secular' mindset in going about doing things, such that I believe that I have to be 'practical' and 'realistic' in the way I do things. I don't like this idea that a Christian has to be 'practical' in his outlook of life by evaluating his commitments to the church and cutting down on them as part of being 'responsible'. For me, I would say that if God is real, and Christianity is the true religion, then it is the most important thing of an individual's life. And since the Christian God is a personal God who is infinitely powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving, we need not worry as Christians about a thing in life, but trust God in every aspects of our life. I would certainly wish not to have to work too hard in life but be able to find my sustenance. I would like to be able to come for my weekly discipleship group meetings in church without having to feel guilty that that was time that should have been responsibly spent studying. I mean, that was how I lived before this semester, attending all discipleship group meetings, going for every sunday service, and tithing 10% of my allowances, with the firm belief that God could help me do well in the exams the relatively less time that I was putting into studies. So I was upset, both at myself, and at God for not helping me do well in the examination. But I really don't wish that I have to follow the secular wisdom of living 'realistically' or 'pragmatically' by cutting down on my church commitments. I really wish that I could rely on God all my life and do well in the vocation that I am placed in. And I don't see how this supposed 'unrealistic' mentality that I take of my Christian religion is being inconsistent with the Christian teachings that I have been getting from the bible and from the church - that God helps. It is not qualified help, such as the usual aphorism that God helps those who help themselves. God simply helps. And that is the notion of God that I wish to have in my life, that he would help me without me having too try to hard or have to be wise enough to know how to help myself.

I suppose I have been struggling alot with my faith in God given all these difficulties and dismal results that I have been obtaining in life. I wonder why God doesn't seem to be as helpful to me as how the bible would portray him to be. Sometimes, I feel that perhaps Christianity is the wrong religion, and that I might find the true God in another religion, or that perhaps those high-minded and clever atheists were right when they say that God does not exist. But I just don't wish that to be the case. I wish that God exists, and that he is the Christian God, and that he loves me, and would do everything in his infinite power towards providing for my well-being, and answering my prayers.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Discipleship Group a fundamental part of Christian Life?; Discipleship Group Discussion - Rituals as reminders of the New Covenant; How we should respond to God given these reminders

I had been giving my church discipleship group a miss for a number of weeks because I wish to put in as much time as I can into my studies. I did not do very well for my law exams last semester and so I want to be as responsible as I can by putting more effort into my studies.

I received a text message earlier in the week from a friend in my discipleship group which he had sent to the members of our discipleship group. In the message, he talks about how most of us have not been attending discipleship group and he thinks that we are being drawn away from by our various commitments. I replied him by asking him whether it is necessary sometimes to cut down on our christian commitments in order to give priority to our work or studies. He replied that while it is necessary, we should draw the line in determining what we should cut down, and that activities like Sunday service and weekly discipleship group meetings should be compulsory.

I do like the idea that weekly discipleship group meetings should be treated as being an important aspect of a Christian life as Sunday service. I know that many Christian students around me have the mentality that Sunday service is compulsory whilst discipleship group meetings is optional. It seems like that has become my mentality as well. I suppose I would like to have a lifestyle in which discipleship group can be a fundamental part of my Christian life and that I would not have to forgo attending discipleship group meetings for work. I guess it is worth asking myself the question what I want in life, and I do wish that I have a discipleship group in which I can find the company of my fellow Christian friends in church. I hope my I would not be bogged down with a work schedule that would force me to have to forgo discipleship group meetings.

But I have been struggling with my studies at law school for this semester. In part, I have been experiencing an uncomfortable tension headache throughout the semester that affects my concentration, comprehension, and memory capabilities. I might not be as intelligent as I would like to be, and this may be the reason that I am finding it harder than most of my peers in law school in grasping the curriculum of my law studies.

My church friend's text message to me caused me to reflect about whether I should be skipping discipleship group meetings. I would certainly like to never have to skip a single discipleship group meeting. I used to have a belief that I never have to give discipleship group meetings a miss because God can help me do well in my examinations and I need not study so hard as to miss discipleship group meetings. I thought it somewhat an antithetical notion to one's christian faith to think that one has to weigh the priority of his christian life with that of his other commitments because I thought that God can help one do well in these other life commitments. But my dismal results in law school for the last semester has made me question whether it is necessary weigh the priorities of my christian commitments and cut down on them to make more time for other commitments in my life. I sometimes wish that God could help me out in my life as how I would think it good for me, such as making me as intelligent and wise as like Daniel and Solomon, gifted in knowledge and understanding for everything so that I would not have to spend much time on studies. I wish that I could have knowledge and understanding in my head without having to study.

I decided to go for today's discipleship group meeting. We went through on various passage in the old testament about how the Israelites turned away from God and worshiped foreign gods, to which God would turn them to the hands of foreign rulers by allowing them to be defeated in battles, after which God would raise up various judges to rescue them from the foreign rule. The cycle repeats itself. My discipleship group leader talks about how we might find it easy to identify such stiff-neckness in our own conduct in our lives as well. I would have to admit that this is quite true for me. I believe that God has bless me in life and has shown his graciousness to me in times in my life. I can recount times when I could have died in a road accident had the car driver not been as careful or had I been a little more careless. And I believe that I would not have gotten into law school if not for the help of God. But now, when I find myself experiencing difficulties in life, such as my difficulties making out the meaning of conversation when there are background noises and tinnitus because of the loud noise exposure from the sundown festival concert I went to in 2010, and my dismal law school results, I began to question whether God exists especially when I have prayed a lot for healing and for him to help me to do well in law school. And so, thinking about it, I am really not much different from the Israelite in the bible, and their forgetful nature isn't as puzzling as how I used to think it to be.

One important lesson from today's discipleship group lesson was the concept of symbols and rituals in the jewish and christian religion to serve as reminders of covenants between God and his people. The Jews had circumcision and monuments to serve as reminders of their covenant with God. For Christians, the reminder of the new covenant comes from the Holy Communion and from saying the creeds like the Apostle's creed and the Nicene Creed. The take-home lesson was about how we should be reminded about the new covenant when we partake in these rituals, and how by being reminded, we should behave towards God differently than how the Israelite did.

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