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.

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