Monday, November 30, 2015

Memorial service for my grandmother

I went to Malaysia on Sunday yesterday with my family (my parents and my younger brother). We were there to go for the memorial service of my deceased maternal grandmother who had passed away in 2001. We went to the cemetery together with my maternal relatives. My maternal grandfather was there too. For the memorial, we sang the songs “shi shang zhi you mama hao”, “Mother of Mine” by Neil Reid, “What a friend we have in Jesus”, and “Amazing Grace”. The first two songs were dedicated to my deceased grandmother, and the last two were Christian songs. I believe all of us there were familiar with all of the songs except Mother of Mine, which was selected by an aunt of mine to be sung at the memorial service, but we tried singing along anyway based on the probably off-key rendition song led by that aunt of mine. No one would have ever guessed that the song would have sounded the way it does in the actual version on youtube after having heard my aunt’s rendition. We also said our individual prayers thanking God for the life of my grandmother. My grandfather prayed that my grandmother will bless all of her grandchildren in their studies and careers, and told her that we all love her very much. I don’t think that prayers directed to a deceased is appropriate according to Christian customs, but I can understand the emotional aspect of wishing to communicate to a departed loved one. Moreover, my maternal grandfather wasn’t a Christian most of his life, but conformed to the deathbed wish of my grandmother that he would become one so that he could be in heaven in the afterlife with her. He now goes to the same church as my family, but I don’t think he ever quite adopts the belief-system or practices (like praying) associated with the religion. In my opinion, he seems somewhat indifferent to religious matters. As someone who is more familiar with the Christian religion due to my upbringing, I have asked my grandfather whether he prays to God. He was taciturn about talking about such things, and I presume that it is most likely the case he does not.

Anyway, we went to celebrate my grandfather’s birthday at a Chinese restaurant later on that day. My grandfather is in his 80’s. The food was good, and it was fairly pleasant for me to be able to catch up with some of my relatives about their lives as we have not met in quite a long while. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Viewing God’s response to prayers as privilege and not entitlements

Part of my frustration with my chronic tension headache condition comes from the thought that God seems to be ignoring my prayers for healing. I wonder why God would not answer my prayers in the most direct and apparent way by healing me completely of my tension headache if he is indeed real, and hears my prayers. There are times when I feel so frustrated over this thought that I resolve to myself that the answer is God does not exists. But then, given some time, I would relent on that position, and attempt to find answers to give God the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps God is doing something to help me. He might be using gradual means rather than instantaneous ones. Or as the Christian trope would go, God’s will abides by his time. There might be some wisdom to such a saying. Moreover, when I consider that the alternative is one of disbelief in God, which does nothing to help me with my tension headache problem, I find myself perceiving God’s help in a different way – that it is a privilege more than it is an entitlement. If under the normal scheme of things, should things proceed according to nature without any intervention by God, that there be no healing, then healing on the part of God should be perceived as a favor to divert away from such an undesirable outcome, and the lack of such favor granted should invite no more disgruntlement than if God were not to exist and our problems persists in the natural course of things.

I wonder if this thought makes sense. Perhaps another way to explain my thought here is that often times, it is easy to get disappointed with God over the perceived lack of answer to one’s own prayers, when such disappointment is not warranted since God is not duty-bound to answer such prayers in the first place. On second thought, I think it is quite harsh that disappointment should be seen in such a negative light. Perhaps, it is understandable if one gets disappointed, but we shouldn’t go to the extent of being disgruntled with God because that shows that we are mistaking any positive response on God’s part as an entitlement rather than simply a privilege to ourselves. I wonder whether the same can be said of the ancient Israelites who grumbled against God in the desert because they wanted something which God was not duty-bound to give them. If they had merely expressed disappointment, God might not have been so angry at them.

I suppose I am guilty of such disgruntlement. More than that, I have probably expressed anger at God. I still want my healing, and I would hope that God would not make it so hard for me to get it, but I suppose I could very well have a certain greater depth of perspective regarding unanswered prayers, rather than instinctively becoming unhappy and getting angry at God. I would imagine a more emulable biblical character responding in a more dispassionate manner to unanswered prayers with “Well…if it isn’t the Lord’s will, then it is just as well, and so be it”, and I guess I could try to adopt the same attitude.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Thoughts about Euthanasia

I would like to write my thoughts about the issue of Euthanasia, or the right to assisted suicide. Part of the reason why I am motivated to do so is because I have been thinking quite somewhat about the issue, and another part is because I come across blog posts by fellow Christians who strongly oppose the legalisation of Euthanasia.

The brief summary of thoughts on euthanasia is that it should be legalised, but strictly regulated so that the option of euthanasia is only available to the genuinely dire and necessary cases. I don’t think that there are any stronger case for providing the option for euthanasia than when one reads about cases of patients with really insufferable diseases that torments them to no ends and with no respite until they die. For example, I once read of this case of a man with the well-known neurodegenerative disease, ALS, who requested to be given the option of assisted suicide, but was denied that option by the court. The way he died was by suffocation from choking on his saliva to death. I really can’t identify when conservatives argue that euthanasia should not be allowed because it infringes upon the principle of sanctity of life, or the right to life. Try saying that to those people suffering from these painful terminal illnesses pleading that they be given the option to end their own lives. “I know you are undergoing a lot of pain and want to die, but I am not going to allow you to, because principle of sanctity of life. You can choke on your saliva to death for all I care, or writhe in agony while the cancer eats away at you, but nope, no assisted suicide for you, because, well, principle of sanctity of life.” I am not sure whether conservatives who make these arguments are aware how cruel and unsympathetic their arguments sound, perhaps almost to the point of being silly. That is the problem of taking some principle as absolute and extrapolating them all the way I guess. It may sound rational, but only if you subscribe to the same paradigm of these principles being absolute. My thoughts is that the principle of sanctity of life, while a principle that should be accorded great weight, has to be considered together with other factors, notwithstanding the least, the principle of consent and dignity of life. If a patient is suffering from a really painful, terminable illness, and no other treatment options are able to cure or alleviate such pains, then perhaps, assisted suicide should be warranted with the patient’s consent.

The other argument conservatives raise is that such options are prone to abuse. I can agree with that, but isn’t this easily addressed by ensuring that certain regulatory features are in place? For one, there needs to be consent. For two, the illness must be recognised as being terminable, with all other forms of treatment options exhausted. Perhaps a more restrictive approach could employ a list regulating kinds of illnesses where the option of assisted suicide is available. Perhaps the regulatory issues are more complicated, but I am sure that they can be further refined. But to do away completely with the option of assisted suicide simply because of these regulatory issues seems to swing to the conservative extreme to me. While I identify with conservatives on a number of issues, euthanasia is not one of them. I hope that those conservatives who oppose euthanasia can somehow take on a more sympathetic view if they should consider their own personal susceptibility to such debilitating and tormenting illnesses. They might one day wish the option of assisted suicide is available to them should they find themselves beset with such illnesses someday, but find that it isn’t because they had opposed it their entire lives, and now find that those they had encouraged to oppose euthanasia similarly oppose them too from resorting to such an option at a time when they most wish it for themselves.

Visit to the neurologist; thoughts about visiting other specialists

I visited the neurologist at the hospital today. This is the third time I am seeing a neurologist over my tension headache condition. The short story of the end of the matter is that I left without a solution to my tension headache once again. Indeed, I had my reservations about seeing the neurologist as I expected such an outcome, but I figured that I should consult another neurologist for a third opinion, just in case he or she might have something useful. Guess that as it turns out, I am fully convinced that the neurology department is not able to provide a solution to my tension headache condition. All that I hear from the neurologist is that she is not worried about my condition as it is simply a tension headache. I was a little upset that the neurologist seems to treat my problem dismissively, but I guess I can’t really fault her when the limitation is inherent in the scope of the field of her medical knowledge. But I suppose that these neurologists could be a little more humble about the possible limitations of their medical knowledge, rather than assume that just because they can’t identify anything wrong, it means there really isn’t anything wrong, and that all is well with their patient, and the patient’s problems is irrational or imaginary.

Anyway, I am thinking of visiting a different specialist the next time. I have in mind an ENT specialist – one who is specialized in the medical knowledge of ears, nose, and throat. How would such a specialist help? I am too sure, but I encountered an article from a facebook support group that a patient who seems to experience a condition quite like mine found the appropriate treatment when he visited an ENT specialist. He had been struggling with chronic headaches for six years, and like me, had gone to numerous doctors and specialists, without finding an answer to his problem. In fact, the doctors started to regard him as having a psychiatric illness or angling for drugs due to his persistence. But he found an answer to his problem one day when he came across an old medical article (see here for more information) describing his condition and treatment for it. He took it to an ENT specialist, who treated him for the headache with some minor surgery, and was relieved of the headache almost immediately. I suppose I could consult an ENT specialist as well about such a condition and for his opinion on the matter. I am also seeking alternative medical therapies that might be helpful. I have been giving traditional Chinese medicine treatment involving gua sha a try, and I think it helps somewhat in alleviating the intensity of my tension headaches. I am also interested to give chiropractic a try as well, especially after viewing some youtube videos of it as being able to cure tension headaches. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Thoughts about addressing unbelief of others, and asking God to help with unbelief

At a Christian fellowship group meet today at school, a member leading the session went through the passage of Psalms 88 and Mark 9:14-29 where Jesus healed a boy with an evil spirit. The member leading the session talked about how the Psalmist in Psalms 88 experienced moments of doubts about God in his hardship, so much so that he made rather seemingly irreverent remarks about God in his lament that might seem blasphemous in nature. The member talked about how it is possible for fellow believers to experience similar doubts about God, and that quite often, such doubts go suppressed in Christian settings, and it is quite convenient for fellow Christians to push away such doubts from a fellow Christian because of their discomfort with handling it. The member referred to the Mark passage, and made the point that at times, what we can do about our doubts is to ask God to help us with our unbelief.

This session resonated with me because I have been experiencing some grave doubts about my faith in recent years given my hardships in life. And I can quite identify with the point made by the member that such sentiments are not too well accommodated in Christian settings at times. But to be fair, I am not sure what would be the right way to address such sentiments as well. There are Christians I know who would approach this by boldly telling the doubting person that he should just trust God and not doubt. Some other Christians would just try to allow the doubting person to talk out his sentiments without offering too much comments. Then there are those Christians who would try to afford an explanation, or some wisdom to the doubting person. For me, I will tell the doubting person that I too have similar doubts, but that I think it is okay to doubt, and that God is bigger than to be upset at our doubts, but that we should also try to give God the benefit of the doubt. I suppose different people may respond differently to different approaches, so I wouldn’t want to overly criticize any of the different approaches. But there are some which I find myself adverse to, so much so that I prefer not to relay my doubts to that Christian person whom I know would simply belittle my doubts.

Where I am with my own doubts right now, I think I am at the point where I think that there is a distinct possibility that God does not exist. It seems to me that he is virtually absent from the world, or from my life at least. Regarding the point made by the member that we can ask God to help us with our unbelief, I wonder to myself why I should even ask God to help me with my unbelief when it is quite possible that God does not exist in the first place. I guess my unbelief is the one talking there, rather than the believing part of me. I once watched a video featuring a talking session amongst four prominent atheists who are colloquially known as the Four Horsemen of Atheism– Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. In that dialogue amongst the four individuals, they talked about why believers seem so persistent in their belief in God. Christopher Hitchens made the point that one of the chief reasons which he identifies for persistence of belief is the act of the believer to ask God to help him with his unbelief. I guess from an atheist point of view, the asking for God’s help with unbelief is a rut which prevents the believer from embracing his unbelief and coming to the truth of atheism. Where I am at right now, I am pretty inundated by unbelief so much so that I don’t even want to ask God to help me with my unbelief. I tell God that if he wants to help me with my unbelief, he should remove my hardships in life, rather than demand my psychological attitude of belief towards him. I am not sure how God, if he does exist, will respond to my attitude towards him. I told the group that I think that God helps us with our unbelief even if we do not ask for it. Honestly though, I am not sure. But if there is any reason why I still continue believing in God, it is that I hope he would do something to alleviate me of my hardships in life.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Some thoughts about the Singapore general election – Coming to a tacit consensus for apportioning constituencies between PAP and the opposition.

The Singapore General Election is just around the corner. This would be my first time voting, since the last time the election was held, which was 5 years ago, I was a year too young below the minimum age requirement to vote. What are some of my thoughts regarding voting at this general election? Well, I believe that I should vote for what is good for my country, which would affect me and my loved ones as well in one way or another. As to what is good for Singapore and Singaporeans, I am not too sure, but I believe that the status quo of majority PAP as the ruling party, with WP as the minority opposition is comfortable and desirable.

I believe that the incumbent government composed of chiefly the PAP party has done a pretty good job since coming into parliament in the last election. But I can also empathize with the desire by Singaporeans to maintain a proportion of opposition members within the ranks of parliament to provide checks and balance on the ruling party, and also to keep the ruling party on their toes and not become complacent. The ideal composition I believe that most Singaporeans want would be a parliament with PAP as the majority ruling party, and an appropriately sized opposition in the minority.

I think it would work well if Singaporeans can come to some form of tacit consensus on who should vote for which political party based on the constituencies they reside in. I believe one such tacit consensus that may already be prevailing would be that those living in currently-held opposition constituencies should continue voting in the opposition, whilst those living in constituencies currently held by the incumbent ruling party, the PAP, should continue voting for the PAP. The difficulty however lie where Singaporeans wishes to vote in more opposition, but also keep the PAP as the majority ruling party. The difficulty and danger in an election though is that in trying to vote for more opposition representation in parliament without any form of tacit consensus, it is possible to swing too greatly in favor towards the opposition and grant them more seats than what ordinary Singaporeans would be comfortable with, or to be too adverse towards voting any opposition and not vote in enough. I am not sure what the prevailing sentiment amongst the majority of Singaporeans is regarding the number of opposition that should be voted in, whether this should be maintained at status quo, increased, or decreased. In my opinion, the status quo number of opposition is just right, and I don’t think there needs to be so much checks and balance on the ruling party by voting in more opposition if the PAP has been doing a good job, and remain clean and honest as the government given the existing number of opposition members. In my opinion, it would do well for similarly like-minded Singaporeans to vote along some lines of tacit consensus in order to reduce uncertainty of outcomes in the election, and my suggestion of where that line of tacit consensus would be is the status quo, both in terms of the numbers and the current constituencies held by the respective parties. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Thoughts about a blog article on unanswered prayer

I was reading an article about unanswered prayers. In that article, the author attempts to suggest some reasons why prayers remain unanswered, and how we should pray in order for our prayers to get answered. The author cites the Lord’s Prayer and attempts to distill some principles from it as a model. One key principle the author claims is that we should hallow God in our prayers, otherwise we will be praying self-centered prayers, and that may be the reason why a person’s prayers does not get answered. The author cites the passage of James 4:2-3 where James writes in his epistle to his audience that even when they ask, they do not receive because they ask with wrong motives. The author makes the point that even seemingly godly prayers like the author’s own asking for God to change his children could be self-centered in nature as it does not focus on the kingdom of God.

I have mixed feelings when reading the article. On the one hand, I am desperate for God to answer my prayers, especially with regards to physical healing of some of my chronic illnesses. Thus, I just hope to apply whatever the author is recommending so that God will answer my prayers for healing. I figure also that it couldn’t hurt to focus more on the aspect of hallowing God when I pray. I believe that I do indeed try to hallow God’s name when I pray. I would ask God to heal me because I believe that he is an all-powerful, merciful, and loving God. But perhaps I might have left out the part about asking for God’s kingdom to come, and that his will be done, or something like that. If praying that would make my prayer more effective, I would certainly do it.

On the other hand, I can’t help but feel that this suggestion of having to pray for God’s kingdom or otherwise my prayers are self-centered is legalistic and artificial. I hope I am not being overly-cynical, but it sounds to me that God is scrutinizing my prayers such that if I don’t add a particular phrase or clause, he will foul me and not consider my prayer requests. It doesn’t matter whether my prayers are heartfelt, or sincere, or whether I am pleading with God most earnestly, because if I haven’t hallowed God’s name, or asked for his will or kingdom to come, I am being self-centered in my prayers.

Personally, I have a different conception of how God is like, or how I think he should be. I conceive of God as loving and sympathetic to our needs, and even our desires. I like the idea in the bible of how we should think of God as our Father, and we his children. Some of the bible passages I favor about prayer are those like Matthew 7:9-11 where Jesus was telling his audience that just as we as human parents know how to give good things to our children, so much so will God, the Father give good things to those who ask of him. As such, rather than a legalistic God who would make such demands on the way we pray, I would believe that God is keener on trying to meet our prayer requests for our needs, even if they may be self-interested (or more negatively put, “self-centered”). I can accept the point about how God desires that we as Christians should want to advance God’s kingdom and do his will, but I am quite adverse towards the idea that I must have such desires first before God will consider meeting my needs. And to be honest, I often don’t feel that the advancement of God’s kingdom or doing his will is at the topmost of my mind. I don’t even feel like praying for this actually, because the concerns for my own needs or wants can be pretty overwhelming. It can seem forced for me to have to conform to this idea that I have to do those, so that God will answer my prayers.

Perhaps I might be overly-cynical by saying that the God that the author describes is legalistic and demanding. I know the author means well with his article, but this are my thoughts about it at the moment. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Reflections about suffering

Where is God when it hurts? I still ask myself this question quite often, especially in light of the chronic daily tension headaches that I experience. I wonder why God would not heal me of this tension headache. I believe I must have prayed at least a thousand times asking God to heal me of this illness. So why hasn’t God healed me yet of this tension headache?

I can’t help but find my faith in God challenged through this ordeal and hardship that I have found in my life. Does God exists at all? I tell myself this sometimes. And there are indeed times when I say to myself that God indeed does not exist. If he does, then why wouldn’t he do something about my plight?

I suppose if I should be critical of myself, I should have questioned the existence of God as critically as I am now even before I suffered these tension headaches. After all, suffering amongst humankind is pretty common. There are the periodical news report of some poor souls undergoing some form of hardship or another. I remember reading about a kid who died after he was kicked in the neck during a taekwondo sparring session. Then there was the case of a newly wedded couple where one of them fell down and died on his wedding day. The spouse committed suicide a few years later. Recently in the news, there was a report of a girl who had to have her legs amputated due to cancer, the news coming to her on the day when she got into the netball team of the Singapore Sports School. She succumbed to cancer later, even though she had underwent an amputation of her legs. I believe that she was Christian. The mother was quoted as saying that she is somewhat relieved that her daughter does not have to go through any more pain, and is in heaven with God.

I mustn’t be too surprised over my own experience. It is perhaps much more common than what I am aware of. At least, if I should consider my society as a whole, instead of just the communities which I interact with on a daily basis. And even within those communities which I am part of, I wouldn’t be too surprised that the respective individuals themselves face one sort of ordeal or another, ordeals that are hidden from the surface that can be observed by the eyes. But it can honestly seem like I am the only undergoing such undue hardship when everyone else seems pretty happy around me.

I would like to think that God exist, and he is merely testing me, or making me undergo trials through which I would become a better person. There is this underlying belief I had even before I experience this chronic tension headache, that suffering is God’s way of imparting divine wisdom. When I see my plight from such an angle, it makes me question what are the lessons or wisdom that God is trying to teach me from this suffering. Perhaps I have become more empathetic to the sufferings of those around me, and of other people in the world. I wonder whether I have been less than empathetic to the plights of others before the start of my own suffering. It wasn’t like I didn’t try to be empathetic, but I may not have been so intuitively pricked in my consciousness of such suffering. I believe I was a little more simplistic in the way I believe that God would be sufficient for those in suffering, without being aware that suffering can be a struggle even with that fact. It is not unheard of for me to hear people say in church that they are not afraid of suffering because they believe that God would sustain them through it. I too might have said to myself that if I ever were in similar suffering, I would not be perturbed, but maintain an easy serenity to myself because God would be with me. And that belief might have quite subconsciously made me less than empathetic to the possible emotional turmoil that those in suffering undergo. I might have told at least one or two of such people I know who lament about God through their suffering alot that they should count God’s blessings, rather than focus on their misfortune. On hindsight, I guess that might have been insensitive, even as it is well-intentioned.

I think I might be unfairly caricaturizing my past self here, because I remember that I did try my best to be empathetic to those in suffering, but such belief-system mentioned above might have been in mind, somewhere in the subconscious perhaps. Perhaps suffering brings such thoughts that lie in the subconscious to the fore, and make us realize their folly, or uncaring nature. Perhaps one such thought could be that when we read of someone else in suffering, even as we express pity, we might have the subconscious belief that such plight only happens to others and not to ourselves. Perhaps when we suffer, even if just a little, and not as much as those we had initially read about, we might come to realize that we are actually as susceptible to such misfortunes as they are.

That said, I still find myself angst at God. I ask God why he doesn’t just tell me what he wants me to know if indeed my suffering is a trial to make me a better person. And I can’t help but wonder whether this idea of suffering being a means by which God imparts wisdom is a vanity in itself. There are people who experience such suffering of the most extreme sort, such that it robs them of the ability of conducting a basic decent life. What comes to my mind was this video I saw on youtube of a boy who experience something called the butterfly syndrome. His skin would tear and bleed at the gentle rub of its surface. My heart certainly grieved for him when I saw the documentary of his daily routine. Living through every single day is nothing short of an arduous challenge for him. And I doubt he would ever be cured of it. I doubt he can ever look upon his ordeal, and tell himself that it is simply a way for God to teach him wisdom, after which he would be healed. And I guess I can’t help but also feel that even if it were the case that God intends to teach the boy wisdom through suffering, he is being quite cruel.

So I find myself flip-flopping in my faith at times as I reflect upon suffering. They flip flop according to the prevailing thought that may be in my head at the moment. There are times when I find myself pretty assured that the good Lord is simply giving me a temporary trial to teach me wisdom. And there are times when I feel quite the reverse, that God is malevolent, uncaring, or simply non-existent because I find it hard to reconcile the existence of suffering with that of a good God. Moreover, this chronic daily tension headache has been with me for a long time now, about 3 years.  And for the most part, I find myself just being unsure of which is the truth. It is not that I am comfortable with agnosticism, but I find myself more uncomfortable with professing complete certainty of either the truth of Christianity, or of atheism. I still go to church, and I still pray, though not as regularly as I used to, and not as fervent and convicted in them as I may have used to be. I guess I find it hard to put a label on myself at the moment regarding my religious beliefs. It is a little of all three – Christianity, atheism, and agnosticism. Quite a change from the exclusive Christian label that I would think of myself in the past.

Monday, July 20, 2015

I Don't Want to Be Poor: The Boyd Au Success Story.

Boyd Au. I Don't Want to Be Poor: The Boyd Au Success Story. Marshall Cavendish, 2013. See here to buy the book.

I first came across the book when I was browsing through Popular Bookstore a number of years ago. My first impression of the book based on its title and its cover picture of the author was that it was one of those “How I got from rags to riches” story. Honestly though, I was somewhat turned off by the title of the book because I had the impression that it was going to be one of those kind of books where the author is going to say that he got rich simply out of his own hard work or determination, and that if he can do it, so can anyone else. I was worried that it might implicitly carry forth the "pick yourself up by your bootstrap" kind of message that no one ought to be poor in life because they can change their financial circumstances as long as they are as hardworking or determined as the author. I find such views by some self-help authors repulsive.

But I had second thoughts and was willing to reconsider my negative prejudices when a friend of mine who was with me told me that the author of the book is a devout Christian. I was thus curious as to whether my negative prejudices were justified, or if I was mistaken instead. I was also interested to see whether there are any tidbits of Christian wisdom that they author might share which I may find edifying, and whether there are any pointers about how Christianity affects his own career as an entrepreneur. I came across the book again while browsing through the library recently and picked it up to borrow for reading.

I Don’t Want to be Poor is an autobiography by entrepreneur Boyd Au who was former boss of public-listed electronics company Enzer. I don't know much about the company, but I heard it was quite big and well-known back in the 80's and 90's. The book describes, amongst other things, Boyd’s childhood growing up in the Salvation Army Boy’s Home in which he was placed in by his mother when his parents separated as they couldn’t afford to raise Boyd up. Boyd recounts how the Salvation Army took care of him, even though resources were scarce, and food had to be sparingly rationed. During his growing up years in the Salvation Army Home, Boyd shared about how he worked at a small chicken coop in the backyard to earn a sparing income, and even learned some mischievous tricks to hide some of the eggs laid by the chicken for himself. What seems to affect Boyd the greatest at the emotional level is the large absence of his mother during his childhood years, who did not visit him once throughout his growing up years in the Salvation Army Home. He resolved thus that he didn’t want to be poor when he grows up.

In later parts of the book, Boyd credits the Salvation Army for bringing him up, and also imbuing in him Christian values which continues to guide him as an adult. Boyd writes in the later part of his book about his experience with running and growing his business, from one based on a distributorship model, to one which manufactures electronic products of its own and sells them to the market at large. He subsequently listed his company, and his wealth increased several folds for him to become a multi-millionaire. Boyd writes at one part of the book about how the Christian religion even facilitated his business decision making process, such as when he sold off his company when his church pastor told him to do so, and was subsequently relieved when the Asian Financial Crisis happened which Boyd says would have greatly lowered the company’s value, and as such, he made a great deal by selling it off at a good price before the financial crisis. I was actually a little uneasy when I read that part about the pastor telling Boyd to sell off his company as I wonder whether the pastor was overstepping his line as a church authority by advising a congregant on his personal business decisions, but I was relieved when I read the subsequent part that Boyd thinks it was a good decision overall that he could not have foreseen except by divine wisdom and the subsequent impending financial crisis validated that decision. Nevertheless, this account by Boyd left me to question as to how far God actually advices people when it comes to such matters as business and career, and whether it is a prudent method to consider decisions in these areas of one’s life based on one’s impression of God’s prompting. I know of fellow Christians in my own Christian community who speak of making personal life decisions in such manner, but personally, I would be cautious against doing so because I think it is prone to misinterpretation as to whether the prompting is actually from God. Generally, I would be quite adverse towards mixing religion with personal decision making in one’s career, but I am actually glad for a person when I hear that he has made good decisions because of God’s promptings, even though I am a little uneasy when I hear about such sharing. I wouldn’t be surprised that there are also failure stories by Christians who thought they heard God’s promptings to do something in their career, and ended up making decisions that cost them dearly.

I enjoyed the book as being that of a story of a man who came from hard and humble beginnings to obtain the success he has in life, and who expresses thankfulness rather than pride for the success that he has in life. Boyd was thankful for the Salvation Army for providing for him both materially and spiritually as a child, and he gave back with the financial success he has obtained in his business to his church, and to the Salvation Army. I suppose I would say that I have a more positive change of view towards the book from my initial impressions after reading it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Sanctification by water a separate doctrine from blood atonement? A sermon by Pastor Joseph Prince

I have been visiting different churches for the past few weeks in the month. One church which I went to about a month back was New Creation Church, a megachurch led by Pastor Joseph Prince who is a quite well-known personality in the Singapore Christian community for being a megachurch pastor. Honestly, I have quite an aversion towards these non-denominational charismatic churches because of some of the doctrines they espouse, such as health-and-wealth prosperity gospel, and tithing-and-prosperity gospel. I am nonetheless curious about church communities beyond the church I attend regularly, and one impetus for me to explore New Creation was a friend who goes there regularly inviting me to join for service.

Pastor Joseph Prince gave the sermon for that Sunday. Actually, it was a telecast of his sermon in the morning service being displayed during the late afternoon service which I attended that day. One part of his sermon which I found both interesting and unfamiliar, perhaps also with the uneasy feeling of it being heretical, was his espousal of the doctrine of water sanctification. That excerpt of the sermon had been uploaded onto youtube and can be seen here. What Pastor Prince talked about on that point was that for a Christian who has accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, the redemption of sins by the blood of Jesus on the cross is administered once and for all on the believer upon his or her acceptance of Jesus. What is at work then when a believer asks for forgiveness thereafter is not the washing of sins by the blood, but sanctification by the water of uncleanliness. According to Pastor Prince, if we say that we have to be continually washed by the blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, it would imply that the blood of Jesus was ineffective in washing us of all our sins when we had accepted him as Lord and Savior in the first place. What then is acquired when a believer sin is not sin per se, but uncleanliness, and that is eradicated through the doctrinal process of “washing with water”. What “washing with water” entails though does not require the actual use of water, but is performed symbolically through ordinary Christian activities, such as listening to a sermon, reading a Christian devotional message, or reading the bible. Pastor Prince claims that this practice of sanctification with water was what was being done when Jesus washed the feet of the disciple. The Lutheran church which I attend regularly would have simply taken the significance of this act as a moral of servanthood Christianity, but Pastor Prince seems to think that it goes further to suggest a doctrine of continual water sanctification for spiritual uncleanliness. He goes on to substantiate this by referring to the Old Testament ritual practice for the purification of uncleanliness as described in Numbers 19. There, a heifer is burnt and its ashes mixed with water to be sprinkled over a person for purification of uncleanliness. A Lutheran church like the one I regularly attend would have taken the view that these rituals were for purification of ceremonial uncleanliness, and are thereby redundant given the new covenant. But Pastor Prince seems to make a distinction of such rituals described in Numbers 19 as ‘water’ rituals from that of rituals involving blood sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins, and he ties it in to his doctrine of water sanctification by saying that whilst the blood rituals have been fulfilled and circumvented once and for all by Jesus’ death on the cross, the water rituals still applies in the symbolic process of water sanctification through spiritual cleansing activities.

In that, Pastor Prince was critical of both mainstream denominational view and left-wing grace preachers. He says that both do not take into account this doctrine of water sanctification but focus only upon blood atonement for sins. He critiques denominational theology for leading to a self-condemnational attitude of the believer who constantly languishes with the need for cleansing of impurity by the blood for sins. He critiques other grace preachers for missing out on the need for sanctification through such spiritual practices mentioned above even as a Christian has been cleansed once and for all by the blood.

My own thoughts on this? On the one hand, I am somewhat positively surprised, because I have heard criticisms by Christians in my own church of Pastor Prince being antinomian with his grace teaching, and this doctrine of water sanctification seems to emphasize a need for spiritual discipline within his church. On the other hand, I am sceptical. For one, I don’t see how this doctrine of water sanctification is espoused in the act of Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet. I think it is quite a stretch to infer a doctrine of water sanctification out of this act alone when Jesus didn’t explicitly describe such a significance to it. For two, I don’t see how this process of water sanctification is now to be carried out in the symbolic way of spiritual devotional activities such as reading the bible, rather than in the manners described in the passages cited by Joseph Prince. How is listening to a sermon or reading a devotional material like the Daily Bread to be in the process of being sanctified by the water? Why shouldn’t it require the exact ritual of either sacrificing a heifer in Numbers 19, or the actual washing of feet as performed by Jesus in the new testament? Also, isn’t Pastor Prince subject to the same criticisms he levy on the other churches’ views? Wouldn’t this continual process of water sanctification come off as legalistic and condemnational as the traditional Christian view of the continual need for blood sanctification? Perhaps a counter-argument to that would be that according to Pastor Joseph Prince’s view, this prescription of the need for water sanctification is with regards to mere extant spiritual uncleanliness and not spiritual impurity that affects the spiritual core of a person. Pastor Prince used the analogy of a gold bar in dirt being washed with water, whereby the gold derives its value from it being gold, but is made clean from the dirt around it by washing with water. Likewise, a Christian has been justified as righteous by the blood of Jesus, but periodically comes into contact with spiritual dirt or uncleanliness, and thereby requires periodic sanctification by water. It is a technical distinction, and I am not sure how far such distinction matters to a lay Christian. Perhaps Christians who struggle with a sentiment of chronic self-condemnation might find this doctrine of water sanctification appealing because it pronounces him as righteous even though he might feel that he is still not righteous enough or sins too frequently as to be made pure in the sight of God for any considerable time extent, whereas a traditional blood atonement doctrine might make him feel continually condemned of spiritual impurity for his frequent sinning. A traditionalist response could be that the person in question who feels constantly self-condemned should not feel so because forgiveness of sins through the blood is so freely given by God upon confession of sins and repentence. But I know of Christians who struggle with the idea that their sins are too big to be even forgiven by God in the first place, even with the blood atonement of Jesus, and I don’t see how this doctrine of water sanctification would resolve such self-condemnational attitude because such a Christian wouldn’t think he has been made righteous by justification by the blood in the first place.

I wonder how far Pastor Joseph Prince’s view are prevalent in the Christian community, or whether they are unique to his church and his teachings. I also wonder whether it is something he came up with himself, or endorsed from some other Christian thinkers or preachers.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Better Call Saul

I finished watching the first season of the American television drama series Better Call Saul. Better Call Saul is a spin-off from the popular television series Breaking Bad. I really enjoyed watching the Breaking Bad series, and was quite keen about the spin-off when I first heard about it being in the making. It features Saul Goodman as the protagonist. Saul was the infamous lawyer in Breaking Bad who aided the main characters there, Walter White and Jesse Pinkman in their drug-related business. The name of the show takes after the iconic line used by the titular character, Saul Goodman, in his outlandish advertisements promoting his service as a lawyer. The show is a prequel to the Breaking Bad series, and portrays Saul Goodman in his early career life. Back then, he was known by his real name, Jimmy McGill. Before continuing, I must warn readers of spoilers in my write-up.

Prior to being a lawyer, Jimmy was a professional conman, who together with his friend and partner-in-crime, pulled numerous scams over greedy and unsuspecting victims. He was given the nickname Slippin’ Jimmy for his unctuous ways. When he got into trouble with the law later on for some misdemeanor against an influential person who used his connections to get the public prosecutor to press harsh charges against him, Jimmy promised his older brother Chuck, who was a well-respected lawyer, to give up his illicit ways if Chuck would defend him from those charges. Subsequently, after being acquitted by having those charges dropped, he started working in the mailroom in the big law firm which his older brother was a named partner in. He subsequently got a law degree through an online course, and proceeded to his career as a lawyer.

The purpose of the series is supposedly to show how Jimmy McGill began from the ‘little fish’ he was to become the ‘big shark’ Saul Goodman he was in the Breaking Bad Series. From my impression of Jimmy McGill so far in season one, he seems to be a pretty likable person as a deeply flawed man who retains within him some level of conscience. Even though he succumbed to the temptations of choosing the wrong ways at times, he would recant of his wrong actions subsequently and speak about ‘doing the right thing’. He even exhibited virtues at times such as courage and magnanimity when trying to obtain a lighter punishment for his accomplices who had ratted on him to the hot-headed gang boss Tuco Salamanca. And when he ventured to elder law later on in the show, he was a pretty nice guy towards the old folks in the elderly institution and was soft on them when they couldn’t afford his lawyer fees. I was thus wondering while watching the show as to how such a character could transform into Saul Goodman.

I guess the writers of the show must have struggled with trying to write a script which presents Jimmy McGill as a flawed but likable character, with his relatively more unscrupulous and nefarious persona as Saul Goodman. If the trajectory of the show had continued the way it was up to nearing the end of the season’s episode, and without the need to reconcile with the backdrop of his future facade as Saul Goodman, it might very well have made for a heart-warming ‘flawed but good-hearted man with an insidious past changes for the better to help the weak and oppressed’ kind of show. It wouldn’t have dawned on anyone who is unfamiliar with Breaking Bad that Jimmy McGill would go on to become the lawyer that actively helps drug lords get away with their crimes.

I am unsure whether this portrayal of Jimmy McGill makes for a huge gap in his characterization with that of Saul Goodman. I guess there was an attempt towards the ending of the season’s episode to try to bridge this gap by introducing a precursor to why Jimmy would go back to his shady Slippin’ Jimmy ways. This precursor was when Jimmy’s brother Chuck revealed to Jimmy that he was the one who had opposed Jimmy’s employment as a lawyer in his law firm because he thought Jimmy was not fit to be a lawyer given his innately shady character. And Jimmy, instead of trying to prove his brother wrong, decides to go back to his Slippin’ Jimmy ways and vows that he would not allow himself to be held back by his conscience to do the right thing in the future. I wonder whether this a little bit of a stretch to try to converge the character of Jimmy McGill with Saul Goodman. The show could very well have started Jimmy off along a different footing as not being such a nice guy in the first place, with the sort of unethical, hard-nosed traits that one might come across in other lawyer shows like Suits. That said, I actually appreciate a lawyer show where the main lawyer character comes off as humane and nice, rather than a show where the main lawyer character is an alpha-male top dog who comes up top when it comes to an ego fight. It is one reason why I didn’t like Suits even though a lot of my peers like it because the protagonist Harvey Spector seems almost like a human cyborg who goes about bamboozling his opposition without breaking a sweat or a shred of respect for them. Compared to Harvey Spector, Jimmy McGill is more of an underdog, who faces tougher and meaner opponents than him, and that makes Jimmy more likable and relatable as a character for me

Perhaps the moral of the show can be taken as being about how a person trying to change for the better can relapse into his shady ways because of wrong decisions, and also because of the lack of faith or support in him by those who could have had the ability to help him change for the better.

Friday, April 10, 2015

John 19:11 – Who is from above? And who guilty of the greater sin?

I went to church last week for Good Friday and Easter Sunday services. I can vaguely recall what the sermon was about for easter, but there was one point made on the passage of John 19 when Jesus was being interrogated by Pontius Pilate which stuck out to me. In verse 11, Jesus answered Pilate after Pilate had told Jesus that he had the power to crucify him and release him that Pilate could have no power against him unless it was given from above, and therefore, the one who delivered him to Pilate has the greater sin. According to the pastor, Jesus was telling Pilate that God’s power was greater than Pilate’s, and that if God had not ordained Pilate to have such power, he would not have been able to boast of it. With regards to who is being referred to as having the greater sin for delivering Jesus to Pilate, the pastor says that this refers to the chief priest, Caiaphas.

I was perplexed by this verse because the sentencing suggest some relation between the power that had been given from above to Pilate, and the one having the greater sin for delivering Jesus to Pilate. It seemed that a literal interpretation might suggest that the one from above is guilty of the greater sin for delivering Jesus to Pilate. I was checking commentaries about this passage during service, but the more devotional sources online expresses similar opinions with what my pastor says, although some commentaries suggest that Judas Iscariot was included in the one referred to as having delivered Jesus and thus being guilty of the greater sin.

I looked up the passage online again today, and found that there were a few forums (see here and here) where some commentators expressed the same perplex about the verse. One answer on the forum referred to the original language of the word ‘from above’, anōthen, as being used in other passages of the bible, and in most instances referring to God or heaven, but it disapproves of the idea that the authority mentioned as being guilty of the greater sin refers to God and that this refers rather to the Chief Priest and the Sanhedrin. However, it doesn’t really explain why the logical structure of the sentence is the way it is. Why is there the word ‘therefore’?

I looked up the word ‘therefore’ in its original language on blue letter bible. The original language is in greek, and is called dia. I am wondering whether ‘therefore’ has a different connotation in its original form. From my brief perusal, it would seem that the word ‘therefore’ is used in a manner largely consistent with how one may understand it in today’s times. But there are some instances in other passage where the way ‘therefore’ is used in other parts of the bible where I find them as perplexing as the John 19:11 verse. For example, Matthew 12:30 – 31 writes “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” I am again perplexed as to how the second part of the passage relates to the first. What relation does blasphemy against the Spirit being unforgivable have to do with whether one is with or against Jesus?

I was hoping that the easier solution to John 19:11 would be to interpret the one from above as mentioned by Jesus as referring to the authority who had delivered Jesus to Pilate. I thought it would make sense if it was Caiaphas who had given authority to Pilate to put Jesus to death, and is therefore guilty of the greater sin for being the principal of the decision. But in light of the argument that ‘from above’ in its original language has largely been used to refer to God or heaven, I don’t think this interpretation is as viable as I would had first thought.

If the correct interpretation to be taken is that the one from above refers to God, and the one who delivered Jesus to Pilate and is guilty of the greater sin is the Chief Priest, perhaps a way to explain the logical connection would be that God has given the right to Pilate to put Jesus to death, but this is not so for the Chief Priest, and therefore, the Chief Priest is guilty of a greater sin since his exercise of authority to crucify Jesus is not intended by God, whilst that of Pontius Pilate is.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Lee Kuan Yew

Today brings about the passing away of Singapore’s first Prime Minister and Founding Father, Lee Kuan Yew. I learnt about this news while on my way to school in the morning, and had turned on the facebook application on my phone to see people sharing news on the matter.

It certainly is a momentous event in Singapore, and a ubiquitous conversation topic amongst people from all circles of Singapore society for the day. For many people in Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew cuts a larger-than-life figure that is almost intertwined with the core of Singapore identity. For supporters, Lee Kuan Yew was chiefly responsible for the economic success and well-rounded development of modern Singapore society, whilst for detractors, he was an authoritarian whose heavy-handed methods suppressed democratic ideals and civil liberties. I know of a handful of people around me who fall into one camp or the other, though often, I am unsure about the reasons for either their support or hatred. I would like to be objective, but this is certainly not an easy task. I just think that credit should be given where they are due, and criticisms levied for where they are justified.

The only time I have come across Lee Kuan Yew in person was when I was walking through the Botanic gardens after school. That was some time ago last year in October I think. Lee Kuan Yew was being driven in a golf cart within the park, with two bodyguards sitting at the back of the cart. I was caught up with excitement with the sighting, and turned to an unacquainted schoolmate walking behind me to exclaim in as calm a manner possible that the person in the cart upfront was Lee Kuan Yew. But the cart moved quickly, and it wasn’t long before it had moved into another section of the park out of sight, so the schoolmate whom I had exclaimed to didn’t get to see it.

I guess a part of me was in awe, another somewhat intimidated, and yet another eager enough that I just might have called out “Hey! Uncle Harry! Take a photo with me!” But that would have been downright awkward and inappropriate given the formidable figure Lee Kuan Yew is. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Salvation of the unevangelised : inclusivism, monolism, and universalism

I came across an old email featuring a discussion my cell group in the varsity Christian fellowship had a few years ago. It was about the topic on the salvation of the unevangelised. A fellow cell group member had shared an article with us giving an answer to the issue. In that article, the writer, who goes by the name Craig Bluemel, talks about how the passage in Roman 2:14-15 allows for those who do not know the gospel to be saved by living to the precepts of God’s ‘Law’. According to Craig Bluemel, this ‘Law’ is summed up with the saying ‘Ye shall love your neighbor as yourself’. Craig Bluemel then goes on to talk about how knowledge of such a law is inherent even in those who have never heard the gospel, such the indigenous people whom the missionaries visited, who “instead of finding ‘savages’ or those still practicing cannibalism in remote parts of the world, to their amazement, they find people with a sweet, gentle, and even childlike nature, who also possess a strong faith in the ‘Creator.’” Craig Bluemel writes that Jesus can bring these people into oneness with the Father as sons and daughters of the Most High, and that once they have made a heart confession of Jesus, they can partake in the path of the glories of salvation found only.

I shared a Q and A article by the Christian apologist William Lane Craig with my group where he talks about the basis for his subscription to the idea of Molinism when it comes to salvation of the unevangelised. Molinism speaks about how God has arranged for those whom he knows would be receptive to the gospel to be placed in parts of the world where they would be exposed to the gospel. The corollary to this idea of Molinism is that God has placed those who are not receptive to the gospel within parts of the world where they are not exposed to the gospel. The reason why William Lane Craig subscribes to Molinism is because he thinks it would be unfair if God sends to hell those who would have believed in the gospel, but did not because they were not exposed to it, and also failed to believe in God based on general revelation according to Romans 1:18 which states that God is apparent from creation and therefore, there is no excuse not to believe in him.

I have some thoughts about these two ideas regarding salvation of the unevangelised. With regards to Craig Blumenthal, I wonder whether his idea that those who did not receive the gospel can be saved through following the ‘Law’ is adequate. For one, it appears to me that this creates the problem whereby those who did not receive the gospel are held to a higher standard in that they have to fulfill the ‘Law’ before they can obtain salvation, rather than simply by believing in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. I don’t think following the ‘Law’ by simply loving your neighbor as yourself is as easy as what it would appear to be. According to mainstream Christian thoughts, it is precisely because of humanity’s inadequacy in following the ‘Law’ which is the reason that God provided Jesus as the means for salvation. So I really am not too sure whether it is so easy a solution to the problem of salvation of the unevangelised for Craig Bluementhal to say that a lot of these people intuitively followed the ‘Law’ and are thereby saved.

And with regards to William Lane Craig’s Molinism, I also wonder how adequate it is. For one, I think it doesn’t quite get rid of the notion of unfairness that William Lane Craig is concerned with regarding God sending unevangelised people to hell, even if they should have believed if they had been exposed to the gospel. I mean, how can God be justified in sending these people to hell on the basis that they would never have believed even if they had been exposed to the gospel? That seems to me to be the same as if a judge would send someone to be punished for a crime which he didn’t commit on the basis that he would have committed it given a different circumstance. Secondly, it would appear to me that Romans 1:18 is saying that there is no excuse for someone not to believe in God based on general revelation alone, even if he would have believed if he had been exposed to the gospel. Taken literally, it is saying that God is just in sending to hell those who are unevangelised and did not believe based on this general revelation alone. Nevertheless, I personally do think that this is quite a harsh outcome and can agree with Craig that this seems unfair.

Honestly, I have been toying with the idea of Christian universalism when it comes to the issue of salvation. If one wants to talk about fairness, it would seem to me that the fairest outcome is for everyone, whether believers or non-believers, to be saved into heaven. No one deserves hell I think, except for really wicked or evil people. But I realize that this idea doesn’t square off with mainstream Christian beliefs or explicit texts of the bible. I am just attracted to this idea based on my thoughts of what would be fair.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Meeting with Mormons – a reflection of personal attitude to faith

I had a chat with some Mormons whom I encountered while walking through the Botanic Gardens a few months ago. The two Mormon guys said that they were from America, in particular, the state of Utah. I have read up a little about Mormonism in the past, and occasionally see these caucasian Mormon missionaries in public places, but this was the first time that they had approached me. I know that within mainstream Christianity, most people regard Mormonism as a cult and not part of Christianity. Nevertheless, I decided to listen to what the two Mormon guys had to say.

The introduction was fairly uncontroversial, with talks about believe in Jesus Christ and his death on the cross for salvation of sins. Then comes the clutch, where one of the Mormons ask whether I would like to have a closer and more personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This, even though I had told them that I was already Christian and believe in Jesus Christ. What came next was talks about how a prophet in America named Joseph Smith established the true church of God, with the sole authority to administer forgiveness of sins on earth. I asked the Mormons why they regard Joseph Smith as speaking the truth. They described the account of Joseph Smith and his encounter with God in his prayers in which he asked which is the true church of God on earth, with God replying him that none of the churches on earth is true. I probed them further about why they should believe whatever Joseph Smith says. They came to a concluding remark that this is something which one can confirm by asking God, and cite James 1:5 on how one can receive wisdom by asking God.

I suppose I kind of expected the answers that they had to give. And I doubt that I would be able to give any conclusive rebuttal to whatever they are saying. All I can hope to do is to draw out doubts.

As I recount my encounter with the Mormons, I also reflect about my Christian faith. How far is Christianity similar or different to Mormonism? Is there a double standard in the way in which I express skepticism about Mormonism as compared to with Christianity? I am put off by the Mormon’s claim of exclusivity to have the sole authority of God on earth as a church, but I figure that the exclusivity of Christianity in proclaiming a belief in Jesus as the sole means to salvation could similarly be off-putting to people of other religions. The Mormon’s prod to take a step of faith to believing would also be similar to how Christians would prod a nonbeliever. Also if you should ask for a sign as proof, the Mormon would assert that faith is believing what you cannot see, and quite a number of Christian would also use that as a reply should a nonbeliever ask them for a sign. In likewise fashion, a Mormon would instruct a non-Mormon to seek wisdom from the Holy Spirit or God to know the truth, as would quite a number of Christians to a non-believer.

I wonder then what would be the superiority of mainstream Christianity over Mormonism. I suppose a Christian may argue that there is more credentials and testimonial witnesses to the historical account of Jesus and his claims than for the claims of Joseph Smith. I also suppose that a Christian may argue that Jesus did signs and miracles in his time on earth to prove his authority as God, but I suppose a Mormon may claim likewise about Joseph Smith. Sometimes though, I wonder how far signs and miracles are conclusive of a person’s divinity or divine authority. Can’t Satan and demons do wonders and miracles as well? Some Christians may very well charge a nonbeliever for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit for questioning whether the signs and miracles of Jesus are that of God. But I suppose a Mormon can very well lay the same charge on someone who questions the works or miracles of Joseph Smith.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Law IV 2015

I watched the Law IV concert on Saturday last week. The Law IV concert is an annual concert produced by the graduating batch of the law cohort at the National University of Singapore. I would have been in this year’s graduating batch if I had not taken my medical leave of absence, so I do know recognize most of the cast for the concert production. I wasn’t participating as part of the cast for the concert, but I did help out a little in the sponsorship team. This theme for this year’s Law IV concert is in commemoration of Singapore’s jubilee 50th year of independence.

The timeline of the story is set in the era of the 1960s or 1970s. The main plot revolves around the implementing of the suitability certificate for university admission by the government in order to deter communist influences within the university. There are some information about the suitability certificate on the Law IV production website here. The suitability certificate was introduced by the British pre-independence, but was kept by the local government until the late 1970’s. In the fictional account portrayed in the concert, a boy named Ah Seng was unable to get into university because of the communist background of his parents. He comes from a humble background, supported by his sister, Ah Mui, who runs a food stall at Great World City selling the local noodle dish, Mee Pok. Their parents were either detained, or deported by the government, or had already died.

A student at the university named Ah Hock, decided to organize a peaceful protest in the school campus. Ah Hock is a capable and popular guy in campus who had secured a scholarship to study in Singapore from Malaysia. He was also the President of the student committee. The protest was indeed a historical incident, and took place at the upper quad, which is part of the current law faculty which I am now studying at. Ah Hock was also in love with the Ah Mui, the sister of Ah Seng. I am not sure how they initially encountered each other because I was 20 minutes late for the concert, , but I presume that they must have met when Ah Hock ordered from Ah Mui’s Mee Pok stall. Anyway, Ah Seng decided to join in the protest organized by Ah Hock. The protest was sabotaged by another student named Richard who called in the police alleging the protest was organized by communists. Richard came from an affluent background, whose family owned the Great World City. He was particularly jealous of Ah Hock for being more popular than he was, and thereby sought to ruin him by calling in the police at the protest. He was also, in what would seem rather unlikely, best friend with Ah Seng, whom he was a childhood friend with. Because of the clampdown on the protest by the police, Ah Seng was caught by the police and detained in prison. Richard was remorse about his act, and offered evidence about his false allegation to the police, and Ah Seng was released.

Ah Hock’s scholarship was thereafter revoked for the protest he organized. He was not able to say goodbye to Ah Mui because she wasn’t around at her stall when he came by, and he thought she was angry at him for including her brother Ah Seng in the protest. The epilogue of the story shows Ah Seng helping out her sister with the Mee Pok business, which had expanded and become very successful. A radio announcement was heard overhead announcing the end of the suitability certificate policy. When asked by the friendly neighboring Malay stallholder whether he intends to go back to study now since the end of the suitability certificate, Ah Seng replied that his priority is with his fledging Mee Pok business. Throughout the scene, an unidentified person sat at a stall table with his face covered by the newspaper he was reading. When Ah Mui went up to the person to ask for orders, the person slowly lowers the newspaper, revealing that it is Ah Hock, who casually replied for a bowl of Mee Pok.

During the credit stage of the concert, Professor Tommy Koh, who was in the audience was invited up by the producer of the concert to speak. Professor Tommy Koh, who was then dean of the law faculty, had personally advised the student organizers of the protest to avoid confrontation with the authorities and confine the protest to the school campus. In the actual historical event, the police did not clampdown on the protest, but the authorities threatened to do so if the protest took place in the public. According to Professor Tommy Koh, some prominent Singaporeans, such as Kishore Mahbubani, current dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, was part of the protest against the suitability certificate. In Professor Tommy Koh’s concluding remarks, he thanked the concert producers for aptly portraying the dark side of Singapore history along with its happier side for this jubilee year concert.

I wonder whether the suitability certificate was really a necessary policy, or whether it was too draconian. I wouldn’t want to be too critical of it, especially since communism was deemed to be a particular threat then. But it would seem harsh to me if people like Ah Seng could not get into university because his parents had communist affiliations. I would think that the purpose of the suitability certificate would be to deter admission of students who had strong communist affiliations themselves. So I don’t think it would be fair to simply characterize the suitability certificate as an infringement on academic freedom or freedom of speech. There are probably national security at stake as well, considering that communist students from other schools had created public disorder by starting riots against the government.


Saturday, February 7, 2015

Does God heal to a limited extent?

I have been suffering from a tension headache for about 2 and a half years now. I honestly wish for my tension headache to completely go away, and pray often for this request. Yet, it would seem like my prayers are inefficacious, given its persistence despite 2 and a half years of waiting. That said, I can’t deny that its severity has alleviated quite substantially from its beginning, and thus do not want to discount the possibility of God’s intervention in my situation. The question which puzzles me though, if indeed God is responsible for the alleviation of my tension headache, is why God doesn’t go the whole mile and relieve me completely of tension headache? Why just the half-mile, whereby vestiges of my tension headache lingers? Would it be valid for me to think that there is no God in my healing, which is more to be credited to the natural healing capabilities of the body over the casual elapse of time?

I just don’t want to be presumptuous either way, whether this be presuming God’s benign intervention, or his absolute apathy. But given the persistence of my tension headache, albeit in its alleviated form, my reasoning seems more inclined towards attributing my healing process to impersonal healing capacity of the body, rather than towards God. Unless, it can be thought of that God heals, but only to an extent and not completely. I am just unable to understand the reason though why God would heal in such a limited form, rather than exercise his powers to its ultimate effect of complete healing. All this said, I can’t disprove either that God would heal, but only to a limited extent. But I am more inclined to believe that if God heals, he would heal completely and not in such half-baked measures.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Confessions by Tetsuya Nakashima, and thoughts on the inadequate juvenile laws of Japan

I was rewatching snippets of a Japanese movie that I had watched about 5 years ago when it was first released in cinemas. The movie is titled Confessions directed by Tetsuya Nakashima. I was interested in watching the film because it was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards. The movie is about this strange plot of a junior high school teacher whose daughter was killed by two of her students, and who sought revenge against those students of hers. The two students of hers were not punished for their crimes because under a certain constitutional provision in Japan, juveniles were protected from being punished under criminal laws for murder. One of the student who killed the teacher’s daughter is a psychopath genius who knows he can get away with murder under those laws and therefore deliberately killed the teacher’s daughter for the fun of it. The two students were ostracized by their classmates for their crimes, and even physically assaulted by some of the male classmates. One of them turned insane from the torment by his classmates. A girl classmate sympathized with the other murderer boy, and sought to befriend him. There was even some romance between the two.  She sought to understand his motivations, which was to impress his estranged scientist mother who had always held high expectations of him for intellectual achievement when he was a child. The boy wanted to attract the attention of his mother by doing something newsworthy, even if this amounted to killing someone.

However, the girl herself was killed by this psychopathic boy as well. The boy then decides that he would next kill himself and his schoolmates by blowing up a bomb in the school assembly while he is due to give a speech for being the top student. However, the bomb he had planted failed to go off when he pressed a remote detonator at the end of his speech. He received a call from the teacher whose daughter he had killed. She tells him that she had kept tabs on him, and was aware of his plans. She had defused the bomb and placed it into a box which the boy had kept his various scientific inventions. The boy had intended to take the box containing these items to his mother at her workplace at a research institute upon learning the location of the workplace of his mother. The teacher had actually imposture as the boy’s mother over the internet to inform the boy of the locations of his mother’s workplace. She kept track of the videos uploaded by the boy describing his intentions to blow up the school so as to impress his mother. The teacher told the boy over the phone that she saw the boy taking the box containing the bomb to the mother’s workplace at a time when she wasn’t around, which he angrily threw to the ground and left in anguish when he was told by a fellow staff that his mother was on a honeymoon with a new lover. By now, the boy was in tears at the realization that he could have accidentally killed his mother with his own bomb. The film did an artistic reverse slow-motion take of the blowing up of the workplace of the mother, with a scene showing the mother sitting at her desk and looking at a newspaper cut-out containing a write-up on a scientific prize award won by her son, a gentle tear strolling down one of her eyes, before the bomb blew up on her. The boy collapsed on the floor of the school hall in utter dejection, much to the bewildered and frightened stares of his school mates. The teacher, with the phone still beside her ears, walked up slowly to where the boy was at the scene. The last words of hers to him before the end of the film was “just messing around with you.”

I do like the aestheticism of the film, even though it is quite macabre in nature. However, I struggle to understand what the moral of the story is. All throughout the viewing of the film, I couldn’t find myself having any love for the villain of the show, the psychopathic boy, who killed with impunity and without remorse. Even the girl character who had sought to befriend him in her own endeavor to find out more about what she believes to be a misunderstood character was herself killed. I was also wondering to myself about whether the film’s portrayal of the way the law works in Japan regarding juveniles is true. For one, it seems like the boy and his friend who killed the teacher’s daughter were still able to walk freely in society and attend school as per normal without any form of detention. If it were Singapore, I think the authorities would have had them detained up in a boys’ home, even if they are not charged with murder punishable by the death penalty. But perhaps, Japan’s juvenile laws is based on the assumption that a child below a certain age can never form the requisite intention to murder, and therefore should not be punished in any way for killing someone. My gripe is how much of a devil incarnate the boy is in having a knowledge of this law, and seeking to exploit it to kill innocent people for his own amusement. While the teacher sought to teach a boy a lesson by placing the bomb into a box which was to be sent by the boy to his mother, I can only assume that she did not carry out her plan in the end. Perhaps the ending part where the teacher tells the boy that she was just messing around with him is just a cheap plot twist to add to the aesthetic nature of the film, or perhaps, it can be seen as the magnanimity of the teacher that instead of devastating the boy by actually killing his mother, she sought to teach the boy the importance of life by making the boy realize that as much as he values the life of his mother, he should value the life of others around him as well. I really am not too sure about the point of the ending, but from the way the film had portrayed the boy throughout the film, I don’t think that there is any likelihood of redeeming the boy from his sheer evilness. He seems more likely to find another way to effect his plan to commit mass murder than to change his ways. If it is true that juveniles like him bent on killing people can walk around freely in Japan, I think it is an indictment of the way the law works in Japan, and there should be reforms to ensure that even children at that age are placed in detention so as not to endanger the lives of others in society.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Monkey market manipulation

This is an allegorical story told by one of my aunt’s husband on how certain players manipulate the market. A certain unscrupulous businessman sets up a company with the objective of catching all the monkeys in the wild. The catching operation is successful to the point of removing up to 90% of the monkeys in the wild. The businessman then advertises to the public that he would be buying up any of the remaining monkeys in the wild for a handsome sum if anyone is willing to catch these monkeys and sell it to him. Soon, there are people from the public who pay heed to the advertisements and set out catching the remaining 10% of monkeys in the wild. They are successful too and sells the businessman the monkey for the generously offered sum. Now, there are no more monkeys in the wild, and the businessman sends out another advert offering to pay an even greater sum for any monkeys in the wild that the public can get hold of. Concurrently, the businessman sets up another anonymous company selling the monkeys that his first company had caught at a price lower than what he had offered to buy the monkey from the public for. Certain greedy traders in the public decide to seize the opportunity to buy the monkeys at the lower price offered by the company, and resell them to the businessman at the higher price. They were in for a rude shock to discover that the businessman was nowhere to be found after they had bought from the company all the monkeys. These greedy traders found themselves with all the monkeys on their hands, but with no one else willing to buy the monkeys from them.

The fact of the matter is that the unscrupulous businessman had duped the public into buying the worthless monkeys by generating a false demand for them in the market, and then enticing the public to buy stocks of monkeys from a company linked from him.

The allegorical tale about market manipulation involving monkeys could similarly involve other form of tradable assets within the market, such as shares or commodities. There are probably syndicates in the real world who pull off more complex versions of the scheme. I wonder how authorities regulate markets to stem such unscrupulous practices. There are law books out there on financial regulation which I can read if I have the time.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Thoughts about the abortion issue

I recently read a blog post by Ionsg where he gave his remarks on a debate on the abortion issue that has been going on in the Straits Times. The debate is about whether the 24-week limit for abortion should be lowered. One of the writer, taking a hesitant view on the lowering of the limit writes that such lowering of the 24-week limit could cause hardship for the parents of the unborn child. He was met with the response of a conservative writer who writes that characterizing child rearing as undue hardship is unhelpful as raising children is an important responsibility in life and can be a source of joy instead of being an impediment to it. The former writer qualifies his viewpoint by saying that when he talks about undue hardship, he is referring particularly to women who are unwilling or unable to carry a baby to term, but are forced to.

It got me reflecting about the issue of abortion. In particular, I was thinking about the issue raised by the writers in the debate. Does lowering the 24-week limit for abortion cause undue hardship for parents of the unbornt child?

I suppose in addressing this question, I would need data on the profiles of those who this abortion issue actually affects. It would be those people who actually have to consider abortion as an option because of unwanted pregnancy. The immediate impression of the people that falls into this category that comes to my mind are the likes of teenagers or young adults who caught up in the heat of sexual passion, find themselves with the scenario of unwanted pregnancy thereafter. I wouldn’t discount though that there are relatively late-aged adults who also find themselves in this scenario of unwanted pregnancy, especially if the pregnancy was caused in a relationship out of wedlock, such as an affair.

I am just trying to think of the nature of this hardship that can be experienced by these people who find themselves in the scenario of unwanted pregnancy because I want to understand how such hardship can be so difficult such as to warrant a decision to choose abortion. I mean, I could try to imagine such a scenario for myself where I find myself with a case of unwanted pregnancy. Personally, in my opinion, if I got a girl pregnant by accident, I would think that it would be pretty awkward, but not too much of a hardship for me. Well, for one, I am a guy, so I wouldn’t have to bear so much of the stigma of the unwanted pregnancy. Another reason is that I think that I have fairly supportive parents, and even though I am not working and drawing an income, I could receive an allowance from my parents so that I can support my child. As such, I wouldn’t be pressured to stop my education and go out and work to earn an income. My parents tend to be socially conservative on the abortion issue as well, so I think they would be more in favor of me keeping the child rather than aborting it.

But I can imagine it differently for another person in different circumstances. Let’s say, if I were a teenage girl, and have parents who are disapproving of the unwanted pregnancy, and who perhaps even threaten to throw me out of the house if I don’t get an abortion. In addition to that, there would be the stigma attached if I were to walk around in school pregnant, and the possible ridicule and ostracizing that I would get from schoolmates. To top it all off, the guy who is the father of the child could renege all responsibility to support the child, and even disclaim parentage of the child. I would think that this nightmare scenario would qualify as the undue hardship for those in the situation of unwanted pregnancy.

Well, I guess someone from the conservative camp could argue that a lot of these hardship stem from societal stigma rather than means to support the child. I may agree with that, but I think societal stigma is as much a part of the picture which shouldn’t be discounted. Personally, I am hesitant on denying the choice for abortion for others because I think that there is the possibility of undue hardship, even though I wouldn’t choose that option for myself, and am discouraging of it.

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