Thursday, January 31, 2013

Judicial Independence and the 1988 Malaysian Constitutional Crisis

Professor Kevin Tan gave a lecture on the aspect of the judiciary in the Westminster model featuring separation of powers for public law today. A highlight of his lecture is the concept of judicial independence. In short,  in order for the courts to do their job, they must be protected in some ways so that they can decide in as fair a manner as possible, without fear or favour. Some of the principles involved are 1. Security of tenure of the judge, 2. Security of renumeration of the judge (that is the judge's pay is protected from being docked), and 3. security of abolishment of office whereby a separate parallel legal system is set up, making the office of the judge irrelevant.

There are however, mechanisms for removal of a judge from his office for such reasons as misconduct, incompetence, or the inability to carry out one's business (such as if the judge gets a stroke). The gray area lies on how to determine what it means by 'misconduct'. The loose word may be used for the personal interest of politicians to remove judges whom they do not like. This was illustrated in the 1998 Malaysian Constitutional Crisis, where then Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhammad moved to impeach the Lord President of the Supreme Court, Tun Salleh Abas from his seat.

A brief overview of the 1998 Malaysian Constitutional Crisis, the Malaysian Prime Minister was unhappy with the Supreme Court's decision to render his political party, UMNO, unlawful, on grounds that some branches of the party had not been registered with the Registrar of Societies as required by the Societies Act. There were previous instances of rulings by the supreme court against the government. While Mahathir managed to resolve the predicament by registering a new party and transferring all the assets over to the new party, he began his hostility towards the judiciary, making statements criticizing the judiciary. Things came to a head when the judges convened a meeting where they wrote a letter to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King of Malaysia) which stated that the judges' "hope that all those unfounded accusations will be stopped". It is suspected that the Sultan showed the letter to Mahathir, who was not pleased at the action of the judiciary.

Mahathir decided to commence proceedings to remove the Lord president of Malaysia. He appointed chairman of tribunal of 6, Tan Sri Hamid Omar, who was then Chief Justice of Malaya and next in line for Lord President. He was most likely to gain from the removal of Salleh Abas.

The account that followed as described by Professor Kevin Tan was certainly most dramatic. Salleh Abas and his colleagues sought an injunction against the proceedings on grounds of the unconstitutionality of the tribunal. While Salleh Abas was being impeached, his judiciary colleagues scrambled to draft up the injunction, and there was a moment of panic when they could not find the seal. And when they had found the seal, there was a rush towards the tribunal court which was commencing, but the doors were locked. It was a frenzy as supporters of Salleh Abas tried to make their way into the building by barging down the locked doors. But by the time they did so, the tribunal had made its decision to remove Salleh Abas on grounds of misconduct in sending the letter to the Sultan. Subsequently, many of those judges who had carried the operation were similarly impeached and removed.

I suppose a more stringent court mechanism process to ensure the constitutionality of the tribunal trying a judge would help in preserving judicial independence. Maybe it would truly be difficult to make a determination on terms like 'misconduct', which is termed in such a manner so as to give discretion to the tribunal. But in this case of the Malaysian Constitutional Crisis, the tribunal was obviously rigged. I was thinking that an injunction mechanism which would act retroactively to affect decision made by such a tribunal would help ensure the constitutionality of the tribunal going to try the judge. But I suppose the problem would then be, who would determine the constitutionality of the tribunal. Surely the judges being impeached for misconduct would not have a say in this. Politics does complicates many matters. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Michael W. McConell - Religion and its relation to limited government - A clarification of the doctrine of church-state separation.

I read Michael W. McConnell's article Religion and its relation to limited government (2009) 33 Harv JL which made an interesting point about the reason behind the First Amendment of the American Constitution. According to McConnell, contrary to conventional wisdom that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the various disestablishments at the state level are the legal embodiment of the movement towards a secularization of America's public culture,  "The First Amendment at the national level, like disestablishment at the state level, was intended to prevent the government from exercising control over religion, which was seen as a particularly important and valuable institution for the formation of public character and opinion in a republic. The Establishment Clause is thus more akin to the Free Press Clause--indeed to free enterprise and limited government in general-- than to any impulse of secularization or anti-religiosity."

I suppose McConell seeks to clarify the relationship between the church and the state in American public life. I suppose the notion of church-state separation has the common connotation of a complete severance of relationship between religion and the state. It is a common argument by atheists pointing towards the First Amendment that demonstration of religious practices in the public domain is an infringement of church-state separation. But as McConell has made clear in his article, the Framer's intent behind the First Amendment is not to limit religion, but to prevent its subjugation by the state for the state's purposes.

In his article, McConell brought up the interesting point that in fact, David Hume advocated establishment of religion for precisely the reason of wanting to subjugate religion to the state. Hume, a skeptic, believed that active, enthusiastic religion was bad for the public sphere and that religion was a superstitious and deleterious influence. He believed that establishment of religion would render the clergy docile and suppress religious enthusiasm, which he thought would be a good thing.

While America's doctrine of church-state separation is clarified by the intent of its Framers, I wonder what is the nature of Singapore's take on the doctrine of church-state separation.

Discipleship group - Charting Directions

For discipleship group meeting yesterday, we were discussing about the direction we should take for discipleship group. For the past year, we had been going through chronologically in the bible, from Genesis to Exodus. We were introduced to a method of textual study of the bible created by my Discipleship group leader, Hobart.

To give an overview of the method, we were encouraged to look closely at the passage in the bible and find patterns in the way the passages is written and elucidate finer points of the bible by inferring or hypothesizing the significance of these patterns.

Not all discipleship group members found this form of bible study palatable though. One of the discipleship group member, Shaun, wanted a discipleship group study that would focus on the aspect of Christian living. He says he wants something practical that would be helpful on how we can be better Christians in life.

Michael proposed that we have weekly thematic studies on specific concepts of Christian living, such as on Love or Faith. We can delegate the task of researching to the members tasked to lead bible discussion studies on that topic.

I thought that a run-through through the epistles would help bring out the aspects of Christian living. I thought the in-depth sermons on the book of Colossians by Rev Paul Wood at the Varsity Christian Fellowship Anntic Camp last December was great in helping Christians to reflect on living out as Christians.

Some of the members of the group seemed quite keen when I suggested that we each keep personal blogs that we write in and update regularly about our lives, and to make it a habit to check up on one another's blogs and write comments or provide links to informative articles so as to foster accountability within the discipleship group. I thought that it would be good for individual members to keep blogs so as to express themselves through writing, and to learn to understand one another and be understood. It would also provide a good platform for exchange for thoughts and ideas.This would help provide an avenue for Christian fellowship outside the limited discipleship group time that we have.

Reader, I would certainly appreciate any ideas you may have on how I can make discipleship group more fruitful and vibrant. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Central Bible Study - Daniel 4

For Central Bible Study (CBS) today with the Varsity Christian fellowship, we went through Chapter 4 of the book of Daniel where King Nebuchadnezzar lost his sanity. The CBS facilitator first got us to write down whatever questions we have after reading the text for 15 minutes. From there, she split the questions into those that were about the story that was presented through the text, and those that were "outside the text", such as the author's intention in writing the story.

A girl in our discussion brought up an interesting 'out of the text' question about the change in point of view in the narrative. Daniel 4 begins with a first person voice of King Nebuchadnezzar, and then switches to a third person description of King Nebuchadnezzar losing his sanity, and back again to the first person voice of King Nebuchadnezzar acknowledging God. It raises the issue of how Daniel 4 was composed such as to give this odd feature of a vacillating point of view. According to our CBS facilitator, there are no extra-biblical sources confirming that such a circular by King Nebuchadnezzar was ever distributed. This is so despite King Nebuchadnezzar being the most well-documented king in Babylonian history

One suggestion was that Daniel had added in the part from verses 19 to 33 when writing down the account because of the lack of description in King Nebuchadnezzar's account mentioning his encounter with God during his experience. According to our CBS facilitator, King Nebuchadnezzar's acknowledgement of "the Most High" in verse 34 was not necessarily a reference to God but could refer to a god deemed most superior amongst the Pantheon of gods in the Babylonian polytheistic culture.

The CBS facilitator also said that there was no extra-biblical sources that King Nebuchadnezzar ever went mad, nor was there suggestion of a lapse in the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar by historian. The CBS facilitator said that there was information however, of a lapse in reign of another King of Babylon. She suggested the possibility that the account of Daniel 4 could have been a description of the experience of that king with a substitution of his name with that of King Nebuchadnezzar. This, she said, was a common practice of typology in Middle-Eastern cultures. Notwithstanding this dilution of history, the theological significance of the account of Daniel 4 is preserved together with the narrative flow of the book of Daniel focusing on King Nebuchadnezzar as a pivotal character. This website though, mentions about new archaeological evidences hinting at the historicity of King Nebuchadnezzar's madness - "A recently published Babylonian cuneiform text seems to shatter the silence about Nebuchadnezzar's illness. The tablet is in the British Museum, No. BM 34113 (sp 213), and was published by A. K. Grayson in 1975. Unfortunately, it is merely a fragment, and the surviving text is not as clear as we would like it to be. But the lines that may refer to the king's illness".

Another issue brought up was the purpose of the author in writing down the account, in particular, to the Israelites who were under the babylonian captivity. A hypothesis is that it is to highlight the lack of actions by King Nebuchadnezzar to improve the conditions of the Israelites after his return to sanity and his acknowledgement of the Most High. What the author was trying to do was to criticize King Nebuchadnezzar as paying lip service to the Israelites when he had obtained his sanity after acknowledging God. I don't think that the lack of description in the text necessarily suggest a lack of action by King Nebuchadnezzar to improve the condition of the Israelites. In fact, I think the contrary. King Nebuchadnezzar is presented as describing himself being restored to the throne and becoming greater than he was before. If the passage is to have theological significance about King Nebuchadnezzar becoming greater due to him acquiescing to the exhortation by the prophet Daniel for him to "renounce his sins by doing what is right, and his wickedness by being kind to the oppressed, so that it may be that his prosperity will continue", it is possible to attribute his attainment of strength and greatness at the end as due to his being improving the conditions of the Israelite captives.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Conversation with a GLB student - Christianity as an unorganized religion

A GLB (Graduate LLB) student I know in school was talking to me about his practice of Christianity. For him, he does not go to church on Sundays, because he thinks that the contemporary conception of the church as an institution as not being biblical. Instead, his idea of church is meeting up with his group of like-minded Christian friends on Sundays.  He says that this notion of Christianity is known as 'organic Christianity'. I just did a check on this term but received no search result matching his description of unorganized church. He argues that the notion of the church as expressed in the bible was simply the fellowship of Christians. There was no concept of church having pastors.

I am very skeptical of this unconventional notion of Christian practice of the Sabbath. I asked him how the liturgies, like the Holy Communion would be practiced without a minister. He addressed my question by saying that the practice of Holy Communion as expressed in the bible was not liturgical, but an actual feast. He refers to the account described in 1 Corinthians 11:21 where Paul addressed the improper conduct of the Corinthians in partaking the Holy Communion. In that context, the congregants were partaking the Holy Communion with substantial amount of food on the table such that some were eating to their fullness while others were starving.

In my opinion, the forms of early churches should be seen in its context and not taken to impute the model of the church that exists today. Taken to its extreme, why, we Christians should live in communes. Given the constraints of early Christianity, it was only practicable to be gathering in small numbers. I would like to discredit his notion of Christian living, and I would try asking my Christian friends and pastor about it. But even if I can't, I don't see why institutional practice of Christianity should be contradictory to the bible. After all, the predecessor Abrahamic faith to Christianity, Judaism, is marked with institutionalized practices. Now, I don't there is any specific mention in the bible frowning upon institutionalized practices of the church, and neither is there any prescription for Christianity to be an unorganized religion. We simply take each accounts of the type of practices to be descriptive and not prescriptive of the way the Christian religion can be practiced.  

It reminds me of what I have read about the Tolstoyan movement which takes after the teaching of the great Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy, who critiques the institutional practice of Christianity by the Russian Orthodox Church. The difference is that the Tolstoyan movement takes the practice of Christianity as an unorganized religion even further, with its mantra of 'the kingdom of God is within you'. I suppose it advocates for an even more ascetic, hermit-like form of Christian practice than what has been described to me by this GLB student.

Exploring online dating sites and social dating units

Just a few days ago, I was looking up the bible on biblegateway when I saw an online advert for a Christian online dating site. I have never considered using an online dating site before, but there was something about having a dating site for Christians which attracts me, and I thought I would should it a try. And so I signed up for an account, but there was unfortunately no other Singaporean users of the dating site.

It interested me to know how many users there would be on a mainstream online dating site that is used by Singaporeans. Two of the most popular website which turned up on my search list are and I signed up for an account, selected the listed options describing certain details about myself, uploaded a narrative about myself, and a photo of myself. I could then filter the search options of girls by age, ethnicity, religion, and a whole host of other factors. The database would churn out a list of profiles of users matching the search criterias, and you could go through the list, clicking the portrait of those you are interested in to see more details, and exhibit interest by selecting a ‘wink’ option which would notify the other party of your interest.

I am not sure whether it is advisable for a Christian to use an online dating site. I am sure many of my guy friends at church would dissuade me from using this method. I suppose it pays to be a bit cautious about the people you meet through an online dating site. An online dating site remains a curiosity for me, but I think I will keep an open mind about using it to find a relationship. So far, I have received notifications from two girls displaying interest in me. The unfortunate thing is that I have to pay a subscription fee in order to send a message via the online dating site to the person.

I heard that there is something called the social dating unit for undergraduates in Singapore. From what I have seen from checking it out, it isn’t exactly an online dating site, but a group that organizes activities for undergraduates to participate in.

I remain somewhat intimidated of approaching the opposite sex in any manner with intent towards forming a relationship. And I have never quite felt well-acquainted with girls or with the idea of being in a relationship with one. But I can’t help the fact that I do find myself attracted to girls, and I don’t think I can profess an easy satisfaction with the idea of being single for life, as much as I often feel like an individualist.

Sunday Church Sermon : God just can't keep quiet (Isaiah 62 : 1-5)

Yesterday's church sermon by Rev Soh was about how God communicates his will for the salvation of all people through his prophetic ministry of the church here on earth. Pastor Soh says that there are some things so importantt that God cannot be quiet about. What is it that could stir the heart of God so much that he simply has to say? This is the warning of God's judgement against the sinful.

In the passage of Isaiah, the message is directed at Zion. But Pastor Soh prod the question, "Who is Zion? Who is Jerusalem?" It is  the people of God which is the church. We have been forgiven and restored Ours is a glorious salvation that god does not want to keep quiet about

How does God make this evident? He speak through his word and witnesses. He speak through you and I who are called into a prophetic ministry. The prophetic ministry- what does this mean? It means to speak forth the goodness of jesus christ to all the whole world, to tell them God's demands and love. We are called to make disciples of alll nations. God does not want us to keep quiet about what jesus christ has done for us.

The problem is that this is what we are most silent about. We are not willing to risk sharing our faith against unpredictable reaction or that we might have not the answers. Belief that we must keep our faith private. But as Pastor Soh qualifies, Christian faith is personal but not private. The gospel is a public gospel.

The seeker cell group leader at the law varsity christian fellowship would be holding another series of apologetics session for non-believing people, and he has asked members to invite their non-believing friends to attend the talk. I am not much of a people's person, so I don't really have much friends to invite. I also don't think many people would be interested in attending such a talk beyond their busy study schedule, or they are simply too cool to care about religion. I think that there is a certain negative stigma with appearing too religious in society. You might be deem a faith-head or a fanatic. And I fear that I would appear a freak if I extend invitation to non-believing friends or acquaitances. But I suppose I would do my best to do my part for the Great Commission. If I do make any mistakes in my approaches and appear like a weirdo, well, I think I will try to learn from it. But the more difficult thing to do for me is to know how to approach non-believing friends in a diplomatic manner.

I would like to reach out to people i know in law school. I think that christianity can have a solid foudation in society if the future elites of society come to know about it and accept it. I think that is the way christianity can effect its ideals in society. So on my part, a christian, I would need to be a fisher of man. And my field is law school.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A conception of a morally neutral political philosophy; Liberalism not morally neutral

During Professor Thio Li-Ann's second lecture for public law, she talked about the competing forms of political ideology that could underlie constitutionalism. One part of the topic was about the possible forms of secularism. In particular liberalism. She distinguish between two types of liberalism, specifically, politcal liberalism and the contemporary strain of philosophical liberalsim. In her words, it is philosophical liberalism which has tyrannical implications as a comprehensive world view masquerading as a 'procedural' or skeletal framework for organizing Man and society. While affecting a value-neutral posture, philosophical liberalism imposes its own value system by stealth while silencing its detractors. As Professor Thio would say, this is illiberal liberalism. In her Christian book, Mind the Gap, Professor Thio states that a political ideology which opposes traditional morality, including Judeo-Christian values, is not neutral.

On the other hand, in the conception of political conception, liberalism is not a comprehensive 'doctrine' which includes "an overall theory of value, an ethical theory, an epistemology, or a controversial metaphysics of the person and society" Rather the goal of liberalism is to "provide a political framework that is neutral between such controversial comprehensive doctrines." In other words, it is a tool to manage conflict between competing world views seeking to influence law and policy. Political liberalism thus claims to be 'neutral' or thin in terms of substantive content, advancing only a few basic principles such as that of the equality of the citizens and their equal right to engage in pubic policy debates. Implicitly, it assumes that all views are morally equal. Liberalism itself apparently contains no mechanism by which to prioritize between competing substantive visions of the good; its default mechanism is to let the individual decide. This provides thin gruel unable to lend much heft to the concept of the common good and the character of the community.

I was wondering whether there could be a form of political philosophy that is more morally neutral is nature. From my legal theory class, I read the debate between Devlin and Hart about the different paradigms that can be used to assess the legislation of morality. Both legal theorist seem to present a morally neutral paradigm for legislating morality. Devlin goes with the notion of popular morality, that is the view of the masses, whilst Hart espoused the ancient utilitarian philosophy as the basis for legislating morality. I wonder whether a strictly utilitarian political philosophy is compatible with Christianity. Perhaps all the moral dogmas in the bible may be justified on utilitarian grounds. I suppose Devlin and Hart's models are not mutually exclusive and when deciding on whether to legislate on a particular issue that is morally controversial, both paradigms would give considerations that can be taken into account. We ask the question of what society thinks, and whether the thing being legislated against is inimical towards society.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A reflection on suffering

For my write-up today, I shall write about my reflection on suffering. I do know of people around me who face or have faced a lot of hardship in life. There are friends in my church discipleship group who undergo alot of trials in life. In church, I know of people with Down Syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, schizophrenia, depression. A pastor in my church has the terrible misfortune of losing his wife to cancer, and suffering Parkinson disease which will progressively see him degenerate into total paralysis. His children are only less than 10 years old. I know of a law graduate from the varsity christian fellowship who found out that he has an eye condition that would progressively deteriorate into total blindness. I have been wondering about how to make sense of suffering in this world. I have also been trying to make sense of the difficulties and suffering that I have been undergoing in life.

I think personal suffering raise our own awareness of the sufferings of those around us. For me, I think I am now better able to empathise with the trials of others, or at least, I am more motivated to try to. 

When I surf the medical forums to try to find a solution to my headache, i come across people who suffer the same symptoms as I do. There was this person who suffered from this pressure in the head sensation for 6 years! And he is still suffering today and desperately trying to find a cure to his ailment. I suppose I am not the only one in the world facing this problem. I don't think I would have known about this guy nor would I have cared to truly empathise with his plight had I not experience this myself, and I do pray for a solution for him as well as for myself.

I am not sure how comforting it is to say to someone who is suffering to "count your blessing". I suppose there are people out there who suffer worse, but that does not detract from the suffering a person is going through. Nevertheless, it does try to frame things in perspective. I did find inspiration from reading the accounts of Nick Vujicic, who was born with tetra-amelia syndrome and had no arms and legs. Watching the life of pi, and how the protagonist lost all his family members in the shipwreck. I can only imagine the plights of those who lost family members in tragedies or disasters. I really don't know about the plights of widows and orphans in my society. I do have friends who come from single parent families, but I have never been quite able to understand the difficulties that they go through. But when they reveal that information to me, there is a tone in their voice which speaks of a long history of hardship.

I suppose we try to deal with our illnesses by finding out solutions, but let's not forget the spiritual dimension behind illnesses. When researching for a solution to my tinnitus, I came on the internet a lady who did a series of youtube videos detailing her struggle with tinnitus and deafness until she found a solution in the end. A particular video somewhere near the end of her video series struck me deeply because it resonated with the sentiments that I had felt, where she said that there would be times in your suffering where you would wonder whether God loves you, or whether God has forsaken you for your sins, or you start blaming your illnesses on yourself for your ignorance, and you start losing faith in God. All these, she said, are lies the devil were putting into your mind. I suppose it helps reminding ourselves that within our physical suffering, there is an element of spiritual struggle to it, and not to lose our faith amidst the trial.

I once had a conversation with a friend who relayed about the experience of his grandfather in his final stages with cancer. The cancer causes the walls of the organs in the body to burst, causing excruciating pain. It is the unheard cries of suffering that goes on behind the walls of the sound-proof rooms designated for cancer patients nearing their death, as they rant with madness at the pain caused by the cancer ravaging their bodies, their face contorted with agony. We had initially been talking about how we had screwed up for the law exams. Being aware of such face of human suffering does put certain things into perspective.

As I was coming back from school today, I past by two paralyzed kids from the school of mentally challenged MINDS being strolled by their caretakers. Their bodies were contorted, their skins blistered, and the expression on their face seemingly betraying a lack of mental percipience. I think they were suffering from cerebral palsy. Who knows what goes within the mental faculties of these individuals. Perhaps some sentience lie within those defected bodies, silently crying out for some way to express their grief and sorrows.

Sometimes, I do wish that suffering was simply a test, a temporary one that God has placed in our lives, to teach us a certain wisdom through its process, and that after we have obtained such wisdom, we shall be restored to health. Or that suffering was a test of faith not unlike that in the book of Job, and that God would restore us to health and stature after we have been proven true in our faith. It does inspire some form of hope that we may see an end to our respective sufferings in this life at some point of time.

It would take quite some fortitude, but there would come a time where we should step out of our comfort zone to reach out to others in their hardship, to comfort them and help them, and see things beyond our personal struggles. I once read an insightful blog post on how everyone of us is a mixture of light and darkness. Some of us have more light than darkness in our lives, and some, more darkness than light. But then there are some of us who allow the darkness within us to cloud the light within us, and become self-absorbed that we are unable to see beyond ourselves to see the plights of others. Again, when we suffer, we can easily allow our hurt to become our identity. With my having Asperger's Syndrome and social difficulties, I am prone to bitterness and misanthropy, and I was quite so during my teenage years, but it helps that I have been able to improve socially and obtain friends in life who truly care for me, and I want to try my best to achieve certain degree of social functionality and to be able to reach out to others.

I suppose as I go about in life, trying to do well in school, get a job, and if possible, find a nice Christian girl to marry and start a family, I don't ever want to lose sight of the existence of suffering, or the fleetingness of life. It is so easy to become self-centered and lost with a materialistic mindset of pursuing success here in Singapore society and forget how vulnerable we are to suffering or death, or to lose awareness and compassion for those in hardships and trials. I want to be in awareness of the trial and hardship that people here on earth face, knowing how hard it is to be facing these ordeals, and to contribute in my own ways to alleviating the sufferings of those around me, and that are in the world.

I suppose one starting point which we can do for people who are suffering in our midst is to pray for them. I was listening yesterday to a podcast of an interview of the Christian apologist William Lane Craig with regards to the terminal cancer of the late prominent atheist Christopher Hitchens who was then alive. William Lane Craig was talking about how there were actually many Christians who were praying for a miracle healing for Christopher Hitchens, and also for his conversion. Espousing the usual naturalist world-view of atheism, Christopher Hitchens criticized the faith of the religious in miracle healing as superstition and advocated seeing the doctor as the way to dealing with illnesses. Ironically, the doctor that Christopher Hitchens was seeing for his illness was the eminent genticist-physicist, Francis Collins,who was an evangelical Christian. Francis Collins, perhaps being respectful to the beliefs of Christopher Hitchens, said that he would hope not for a miracle healing for Christopher Hitchens, but a medical miracle. This of course, as pointed out by William Lane Craig, did not disavow the role of the supernatural in healing because a miracle is implicitly connotative of the role of supernatural powers. William Lane Craig surmised that the correct expression that Francis Collins was trying to convey was a medical breakthrough. Nevertheless, he said this did not discount the possibility of God being instrumental to helping the doctors find a medical breakthrough to treat the illness. God can intervene to help cure an illness by either miracle healing, a medical miracle, or empowering doctors to find a medical breakthrough. I found it insightful in what William Lane Craig said about praying for illness. He said that sometimes, we should be praying for the spiritual fortitude of the person in affliction instead of a cure, that he or she would not lose faith in God. God has a role too in maintaining the spiritual well-being of a believer in his or her affliction.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Introductory Lecture on Public Law - Professor Thio Li-Ann

The morning introductory lecture on public law was by Professor Thio Li-Ann. She spoke about the role of the constitution in the role of governance. Constitution, she says, serves as a kind of map telling how power is to be distributed. But in the study of constitutional law, it is also important to have a "compass" to tell what the power is to be used for. Constitutional law serves as a limit to the government.

Professor Thio says that the more restrained the government is when exercising power, the less law you need to externally restrain them. There is a relationship between the degree of internal restraint and the need for external restraint. Professor Thio then posed the question, "Should you or should you not trust your government?" That, she said, depends on your view of human nature.

In the view of Confucian idealism, where power is viewed as indivisible and wholly belonging to the emperor, the idea is that political authority is based on personal morality. This restraint is termed as li. Professor Thio said that this notion of good faith is not absent in Singapore constitutionalism. This notion of good governance is not just an Asian conception. The philosopher Plato conceived of the notion of governance by philosopher kings who would rule with wisdom and benevolence. In society where there is a high degree of trust of the government, we can be more comfortable in giving discretion to the government.

This is in contrast to what Professor Thio Li-Ann calls Madisonian Idealism, after the views put forth by James Madison in his paper Federalist No.51, which is an espousal for auxiliary checks to power such as a constitution.

Professor Thio also talked about how political ideologies shape constitutions and have consequences. For example, China's political ideology places centrality of power in the communist party. Article 128 of China's constitution states that the Supreme People's Court is responsible to the National People's Congress and its Standing Committee. This effectively removes the ability of the court to check the power of the communist party if it infringes upon the rights of the people, even if there are more rights described in the chinese constitution than there are in Singapore.

Professor Thio also picked dirt of the western political ideology of liberal democracy, which although gives great freedom, leads to 'hyper-individualism' and rights talk, a litigious society, erosion of personal and social responsibility, coarsening of public discourse, and excessive consumerism, materialism, and commodification.

Professor Thio used the term 'Paternal Democracy' to describe Singapore's political ideology. I suppose this is a reference to the strong one-party rule in Singapore by the People's Action Party (PAP) government, and its top-down approach to governance.

Professor Thio also highlighted another prevailing political ideology in Singapore called Communitarianism, which is a social philosophy that maintains that society should articulate what is good. This is often contrasted with classical liberalism, a philosophical position that holds that each individual should formulate the good on his or her own.

I was quite taken aback to see an excerpt of an interview of Lee Kuan Yew in 1984 which quotes him as saying "it is anathema to Chinese culture that the Emperor’s mandate from heaven should depend on the counting of heads. It depends on the chopping of heads and that mandate was exercised not through a rabble in a legislature but through a strictly quality‐controlled Mandarinate that went through a series of Imperial examinations." To a fairly liberal english-educated Singaporean, I think we are naturally apprehensive of authoritarianism

In my opinion, the ideal government rules by benevolence and is restraint by morality. However, I believe that human beings are fallible in nature and easily corruptible by power. Hence, there must be restraint on their power. But we can and should cultivate a culture that is conducive towards providing internal restraint within government. I do see religion playing such a part in providing guidelines and principles for governance.

1. What kind of exam questions will be featured for public law exams? How do I study for it?

1. Trading of muggers (Senior notes).

First day of school for Second Semester of Second Year

School begins again for the second semester of second year. I am feeling much better after the period of rest during the december holidays. I feel calmer and more emotionally balanced. My tension headache has lessened substantially than it was during the previous semester. I suppose I would try to take this semester within my stride. I pray that God would give me the ability to think clearly and understand the materials for this semester, and that I may study effectively and efficiently. If I can, I shall blog about the lectures or materials I went through and pose some questions that I may have. Perhaps, if you are someone from law school as well, I would be very thankful if you would be so kind as to provide any helpful advice or information on the topic or on how to study, or offer to trade school notes with me. And if I have any misconception about any concepts, I would be greatly appreciative if you would correct me on my misconceptions. I figured that a blog could be a good medium to discuss law stuff with law school friends, and considering that I have been quite a weak student at law school, I will appreciate all the help that I can get.

1. I am really impressed with the initiative of a law student to set up an internal portal for the sharing of muggers (Law School notes). It is still relatively undeveloped though.

2. The Lawnet Downloader program is really cool. Goes to show the potential of IT in alot of things. I believe that there could be further developments of such tools to enhance the efficiency of law school studies and law research.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sunday Service – Baptised for you! (Luke 3 :15-17; 21-22)

Today’s Sunday sermon by Pastor Richard Chiu was about the role of baptism to believers in the Christian faith. Pastor Richard Chiu said that in our baptism, we are spiritually put to death on the cross with Jesus, and similarly raised to life so that we need not hence die the spiritual death for our sins. The passage that was used for the sermon was John’s baptism of Jesus at the river Jordan. Pastor Richard Chiu also explained the various allegories inherent in the passage. He pointed out that in the baptism of Jesus, the heavens opened. The only other time in which the heavens open was in the Great Flood of Noah, and that was the punishment of sin with water. I can’t exactly remember what Pastor Chiu said about the significance of the opening up of heaven, but he said something along the lines of original sin separating us, and the baptism of Jesus hence a reconciliation of God to man, and that with baptism, we find our identity as a child of God. Pastor Chiu also pointed out the Holy Spirit which descended on Jesus like a dove, and drew parallel of this with the dove in the story of Noah. Just as the dove’s return to the ark represents life, so is it with the holy spirit in our lives.

For today’s service, we had a special bowl of water placed on a small table in front of the youth congregation. Pastor Chiu told us to dip our hands in the bowl of water when coming up for Holy Communion, as a reminder of our baptism and our identity in Christ.

I like the songs that were used for worship today. In particular, The Great I Am and a new worship song which has the lyrics “Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life”. I like the lyrics and the emotive building-up tune of the bridge to the chorus of The Great I Am, which goes “There is no power in hell, or any who can stand, before the presence of the Great I Am”. I found it comforting to be reminded of the all-powerful nature of God. I find myself liking songs which describes God’s great and mighty power, and evil forces fleeing before him.  In fact, one of my favourite Christian song is the hymn Onward Christian Soldier, which features lyrics such as “At the sign of triumph Satan's host doth flee”, and “Gates of hell can never gainst that church prevail”. I suppose it comforts me to know that God is sovereign over everything, even when things seems to be out of control.

Update : The name of the new worship song, as told to me by the worship leader today, is Remembrance by Matt Redmann]

Description of symptoms of pressure sensation in head

I have been trying to find a solution for the pressure sensation in my head during this school holiday. It started since June last year, and has persisted everyday and is present with me all day long. It could be due to stress because I had a number of anxiety attacks during that period of time due to bad school results and difficulty coping with a moot competition. The sensation feels like something is pressing upon my brain from every side, or a pressure pressing upon the top of my brain. The sensation changes in intensity in the way it pushes against either sides my brain when I move my jaws. When I slide my upper teeth, there feels to be a grinding or clicking of muscles/nerves/arteries/veins within my head or upper jaw region. There does not seem to be any predictability to the intensity of the pressure sensation. It is usually mild to moderate, but on a particular occasion, quite severe as to be painful so much so that I went to the emergency ward at a hospital to see a doctor. It seems that the intensity of the sensation is mild in the morning, but is heavier later in the day. It also seems to increase after an afternoon nap. The sensation is usually around the head region, but on a particular occasion, seemed to migrate to my jaw area. The painkillers that I have been prescribed, such as paracetamol, naproxen, and tramadol, do not seem to relief or alleviate the pain or intensity of the sensation. On a related note, I have also been experiencing nervous tics and involuntary utterances since about the same period of the onset of this pressure sensation in the head. I also seem to be experiencing difficulties in my cognitive capabilities, such as finding it difficult to concentrate or understand my study materials.

I have visited two different dentists on two different occasions, one in July to remove my upper wisdom teeth, and another in December to remove my lower wisdom teeth because I initially suspected the problem to be due to pressure from wisdom teeth. I was admitted to Alexandra hospital in August when I had a fainting spell at the school library after what seems to me to be an anxiety attack when I read in the internet about the symptoms of brain aneurysm and suspected that my pressure sensation in the head was due to it. After I described my symptoms to the doctors at the emergency ward, I was admitted to a ward. The doctors first conducted a strength and balance test on me and concluded no apparent abnormalities. During the next few days, I was given blood tests, electrocardiogram (ECG) tests, oxygen tests via pulse oximetry, blood pressure tests, electroencephalography (EEG), and an MRI scan of my brain. The doctors concluded that I was not suffering from any abnormalities and referred me to a psychologist. The psychologist at Khoo Teck Puat Hosital dismissed my symptoms as psychological, and recommended stress-relief exercises

I went to see a doctor at the emergency department at Khoo Teck Puat hospital in October after I had a very strong painful pressure sensation around my head during the evening. I refused a preliminary CT scan because of my fear of radiation. I was admitted to a ward thereafter. The doctor at the ward said that he did not recommend another MRI scan because I had taken a previous MRI scan not too long ago and it was thus unlikely I was suffering from any brain abnormalities. A senior doctor conducted a preliminary dental check and diagnosed gingivitis. I was discharged with prescription of painkillers.

My dad brought me to see a Chinese Sinseh in December. The Chinese sinseh did what seems to me to be acupoint nerve massage on my neck, back, arms, and hands. The intensity of the pressure sensation seems to alleviate substantially but not completely subside after the treatment. However, it seems that immediately subsequent to treatment, the frequency and severity of my nervous tics and involuntary utterances increased, but decreased to the normal frequency after a few days.

The pressure sensation aggravated after I did some jaw stretching exercises. I think I overly exerted while stretching. My jaw now seems to experience a popping sensation if I move my lower jaw to the side, and it makes a cackling sensation when I open my mouth.

I would suspect that the symptoms I have are indicative of either a tension headache, or temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD).  I think it should be safe to rule out more lethal conditions like brain aneurysm or brain tumour since the neurologist has not made such diagnosis after the MRI scan, but I am worried that the neurologist may have missed out certain details when examining the MRI images, or that the condition was not apparent even in the MRI scan.

Any useful information on what I may be suffering from or possible remedies would be greatly appreciated.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Matthew 5:39 - Dilemma of enforcement of secular law

I had a discussion with some friends from the law VCF a year ago where we discussed the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:39 to 'turn the other cheek'. A girl in our discussion brought up the dilemma of  whether Christians can enforce secular law against their wrongdoer. A friend of mine answered the dilemma by referencing the works of Martin Luther in his work titled Secular Authority. In Secular Authority, Martin Luther argues that the secular sword/government is introduced to protect Christians. Christians should thus have no qualms about doing violence in the name of the secular rule. Luther’s conclusion is that the two governments (secular and church) must be kept separate, since they have completely different functions. The church makes men just and good, government keeps the temporal peace. The church clearly serves nobler aims.

I was wondering though whether the principle of 'turning the other cheek' may extend beyond simply desisting from assuming personal action against one's wrongdoer and relegating the meting out of punishment to the state. Perhaps there may be instances where one should forgo the right to vindicate himself with state punishment against the wrongdoer. One such example is in the story of Les Miserables, where Jean Valjean, a former convict, ran off with the silverware of the Bishop Myriel who had housed him when all other innkeepers had turned him away. When the police caught Valjean, Myriel exculpated Valjean of his crimes by pretending that he had given the silverware to Valjean and pressing him to take two silver candlesticks as well, as if Valjean had forgotten to take them.

In my opinion, it can be just as vindictive to use state instruments to exact revenge. I think that a better approach to interpreting the words 'turn the other cheek' would be to qualify the extent of he wrongdoing that is inherent in the words "being struck on the cheek" rather than a delineation of the role of who is to exact punishment on the wrongdoer. Perhaps being struck on the cheek could be purposively interpreted to mean inflicted wrongdoings which are not too severe in nature? Whereas there might be circumstances where the wrongdoing is of such a severe nature that a Christian is justified in seeking retribution personally or by recourse to state instruments.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Movie - Life of Pi

I watched the movie Life of Pi yesterday. I did not really get the conclusion of the show though.  The writer who had come to visit Pi was presented with two versions of the account of the shipwreck, neither of which explained the shipwreck, and asked which account he preferred. The writer replied that he preferred the one with the animals in the boat over the one with humans in the boat, to which Pi replied, "And so it is with God". Is it trying to imply that since we do not have an explanation for our existential predicament, so it doesn't matter whether we have a rational reason for believing in God as the explanation? Is it also trying to imply that the God explanation is preferable simply because it is the more beautiful one?

I thought that a better storyline explaining Pi's path to spirituality or belief in God could be the sheer tribulation he faced stranded in the shipwreck, during which he witnessed the magnificence of creation, and the encounter with God from the divine providence of fishes and the signs directing him towards civilization. But certainly for cinema, some form of new-age sophistry would make for entertainment value.

I thought that the the tiger who was stranded in the boat with Pi could be an allegory of man. The blood-thirsty nature of the tiger parallels with the sinful nature of man. Yet as Pi loves the tiger by providing food for the tiger and taming it, so is it with God towards man.

With regards to the characters, I wonder what is the reason for the author presenting the protagonist of the film as being embracive of all religion simply out of his love for God. I have met people who holds such unificative views on religion, including Christians, who think that all people who seek God would go to heaven whatever their faith. I do see the reasons for preferring such a view, but I don't think it conciles easily with the exclusive nature of the doctrines of the respective religious faiths.

Personally, I am more like Pi's father, who quipped at the dinner table that one cannot choose all religions, but should start with reason, and then determine for himself which is true, or if all are not. It does explains my interest with Christian apologetics and comparative religion.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Back from Anntic Camp

During my time at the varsity christian fellowship camp in malaysia, we had daily sermons by Rev Paul Woods on the book of Colossians from chapter 1 up to chapter 3. I like the sermons about how Christians undergraduates in university should recognise the sumpremacy of God in all affairs of life, be contented with what we have and not be materialistic in our pursuits in life, be more open and inclusive in the way we conduct our relationships with fellow believers, and be a counter-cultural Christian influence in moulding society into a more loving, inclusive, caring, and compassionate one. I always feel that happy optimism of warmth and joy when hearing sermons like these speaking of such simple, yet inspiring message of being God's people and living out our lives in such a manner with one another and towards society.

It's nice to see fellow undergraduates from the National University of Singapore from the various faculties sharing the same Christian faith. I got to interact with people from medicine, engineering, architecture, social sciences,etc. My interaction helps me regain a perspective of what being a human being is about, that there is some sort of commonality in all humanity that is not describable in simply vocation-specific terms. I liked what Han Ting, a law undergraduate senior shared about how he is able to see how small his knowledge and study of the law is compared to everything in the world. He put it quite aptly in his example that he still has to visit a doctor when he is sick and all his knowledge in the law would not help him.

We also had an inductive bible study session to learn how to study the bible. I liked the presentation given by the speakers for the session. However, I had much difficulties in the group work because of my hearing difficulties, disorientation in a group discussion, and general difficulties in research work such as inability to read and comprehend fast enough. I would leave the group on these occassions, frustrated that I am exhbitedly expressing such aloofness by 'stoning' there inappropriately in a social situations, and not participating in the group activity. I experience such frustrating episodes as well in group works for my Law and Research Writing Skills module in law school as well. I am struggling to find a solution to my predicament.

Still, I was quite quiet in social situations like meals with the group that I was assigned to in camp. The groupmates from the other faculties must have been baffled by my apparent aloofness, which is different from the typical conception of a law student as being articulate and outgoing in mannerism. My hearing difficulties and condition with Asperger's Syndrome are just rather debilitating to me socially.

After a while, certain people in the group stopped trying to interact with me. I am not sure what their impression was of me. I told the group leader of my hearing difficulties, and she was kind enough to get a quiet room for bible study discussion sessions. I later told the group of my having Asperger's Syndrome when sharing about how I have found the Christian community being an inclusive and caring one to me despite my social aloofness, and I told them that I would like them to recognise such symptoms around them in school as stemming from an autism spectrum disorder and to reach out to these people as a Christian community. I told them I was not trying to be arrogant when I am quiet, but I do experience this general inhibition in my mannerism which I can't help myself.

I later also shared about my condition to my law VCF community and about how I wish to function normally as a human being despite having such a condition because I felt that some people were avoiding talking to me or even looking at me when I pass them by because they might have some misconception about my character based on my behavior. I told them about how I was trying to reach out to them, but I find it difficult due to my social deficit disorder. Truth be told, I don't think anyone cared much about my sharing. No one approached me after my sharing to ask me more about my condition. But I suppose I hope that they would perceive me in a different way and not be prejudicial of my character from my social awkwardness.

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