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 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 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 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 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.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The over-inclusiveness of Asperger's Syndrome diagnosis

I came across this article yesterday titled "Are you on it" where the author presents his views about the phenomenon with Asperger's Syndrome diagnosis in America. It affirms my sentiment somewhat that there is a liberal use of the diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome from psychologists. It seems incredible to me that the likes of many famous figures who do not display any noticeable traits of Asperger's Syndrome are suspected for it, such as the comedian Dan Akryod. When I surf youtube for videos of vloggers who have Asperger's Syndrome, I come across a number of individuals who appear either normal, or extroverted to me such as not to warrant the diagnosis.

It does cause me to wonder about the extent to which the condition of Asperger's Syndrome is a 'scientifically substantial' one. Yet I wouldn't go so far as to dismiss the diagnosis as simply a label.  For one, I don't have any other explanation for my difficulty in social interaction, and there are many symptoms from the condition which describes my experience. And there are individuals who truly display such traits of Asperger's Syndrome such as these 2 individuals from these youtube videos below.

I don't think that they can simply be deemed 'normal'. And it would not be good to do away with a diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome because these people cannot be regarded as normal and their eccentricities as a deficit of personality. Asperger's Syndrome is a real condition that affects people in such a manner.

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