Sunday, December 30, 2007

Killing My Brain Cells Reasserted

After posting my last entry on my frustration on people, especially faith-fellows, who are not encouraging the expansion and exploration of human’s mental capacity, I have received warm advises and comments from friends.

This post meant to clarify certain issues involve in my previous post.

Perhaps some readers might find that my post is “groundless, irresponsible, prideful, uncharitable” etc. The only reason I can think of the cause of such response is due to their misunderstanding of my intention and frustration.

Some might also think that I am depreciating my friends, parents, and clergymen in my previous post.

But first of all, the post is NOT about the ‘tension’ between my relationships with those who are around me, if there is any. I have deep affection towards my friends, parents, and clergymen, but deep affection does not mean ‘anything goes’.

Secondly, my frustration goes beyond my private sphere. The trend of discouraging intellectual engagement within the Church itself is prevalent and rampaging. If we don’t cultivate intense criticality among faith-fellows, we shouldn’t be surprise with medias like Christopher Hitchens, Dan Brown, and Philip Pullman popping up around the world.

Yes, intellect shouldn’t be the only one priority, but doesn’t it dawn to anyone that it is not a priority at all in most corner of the Christendom?

Mind and heart together? Yes, but doesn’t the ‘mindless heart’ that is being promoted within the churches?

If ‘Yes’ to both questions above, then how should one responds when he/she was asked not to pursue the matter of ‘the mind’?

“That's why I frequent and drink at clubs a lot. Drinking coupled with dancing help to hasten the alcohol to kill brain cells.” :)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Killing My Brain Cells

Last Friday, went out for dinner with my dearest faith-fellows: Eve, Kevin, Mario (known only on that day), Zhen Hao, and Nalika. We had Japanese food at Waraku (or something like that). That was my second time there. My first visit was with my dearest clubbing-fellow Angie Babydoll.

Food was nice. Expected that.

Then we went to Coffeeclub at Clarke Quay to chill and hang ourselves out. In the middle of the conversation, i shared the bit about the Philip Hefner's idea of Human Becoming with them. I'm not going to blog my sharing here because it's good to leave you to read from Hefner himself because it worth grappling with such unconventional yet stimulating perception.

Anyway, after my short sharing, all who were present were shocked by the idea. Zhen Hao said it is bizarre. Well, I cannot agree more. It is bizarre when I was first exposed to it, and it is still as bizarre now. But the idea is sinking in slowly.

After sharing all these really amazing ideas with my faith-fellows, do you know what was the main response?

"Joshua, you have been reading and thinking too much. It's good to read and think but you are doing it too much. You should do something else..."

This is not the first time I was told to toned down, to shut off my mind, to make myself suiting to those who are around. That means I have to read only the newspapers or magazines or, at most, the Daily Bread, which everyone else reading everyday, so that we all have the share the same perception of reality bla bla bla.

My mom is another one that always discourage me from reading, learning, and thinking. Think about it: what kind of mom (in this case, faith-fellows) that discourages her son (in this case, another faith-fellow) who are making much use of his brain? Doesn't this forbidding gesture reminds anyone of the Magisterium in The Golden Compass? Human's mind should be encouraged to be utilized, productive, and performed by the Church! (Think Augustine of Hippo or Athanasius or Rowan Williams!)

And this is not my first time getting this nonsense from faith-fellows. I remembered visiting Wesley Methodist at Butterworth, Penang, where the preacher exhorted the congregation to "leave their rationality" at the door before coming into the church. He went on to said that the number one vice that prevents Christians from edification is "logical thinking". Hey preacher, you are shitting on the pulpit! These are the creatures that help Philip Pullman to sell his books.

Anyway, my point is this. The very next time whenever someone ask me to stop reading, learning, and thinking (or something along this line), I will just reply "That's why I frequent and drink at clubs a lot. Drinking coupled with dancing help to hasten the alcohol to kill brain cells."

Christmas SMS 2007

Since last year, i started sending Christmas SMS to my faith-fellows. This year is without exception. Christmas text for this year:
Christmas demands us to re-appreciate the incarnation and re-appropriate our participation in Christ's project for God's creatures and the entire creation. Blessed Christmas :)
One SMS length, short, original, and uplifting.

Note: I think for faith-fellows to contemplate only on the birth of Jesus is just a slightly more devotional manner than what a non-believers can be. And if Christians are satisfied merely with this consolation, then he/she runs the risk of being a privatized faith-fellow. Therefore Christmas must be an appreciation of not merely the 'birth' but the 'incarnation', not merely the works of Christ, but our participation in His continual work as well.

More Thoughts on Calvinism's Noetic Effect

A few months back I wrote against Calvinism's noetic effect (part 1, part 2). My contention is that this particular theology is philosophically rootless (24 Oct) and inconsistent (30 Oct).

Some of the criticisms that I received are that I "utterly misunderstand" the Reformed's definition of noetic effect, "attacking a strawman", inadequate understanding of "chim" stuff, and etc:
Leon (29 Oct): I do know is that Total Depravity does not mean the faculty of reason is non functional nor that the "depraved" man is non rational. Otherwise they wont be the long tradition of classical apologetics in the likes of Augustine, Aquinas and Sproul that aim to convince a person via the faculty of reason to the point of conversion by the Holy Spirit.

Steven (30 Oct): why are you forcing your IDEA of noetic effect on those who ACTUALLY believe in noetic effect?

Dave (30 Oct): To paraphrase Jeremiah 12 "If you have run with the Calvinists, and completely misunderstood them, then how can you understand with more "chim" stuffs?"

Steven (30 Oct): In the first place, leon has already pointed out the noetic effect he knew (he may not believe it, but he is fair enough to know what IT IS), is not like what you defined and what you criticized.

Steven (30 Oct): you are utterly mistaken about TULIP and noetic effect…attacking strawman is ridiculous and waste of time...don't do that, ppl will not take u seriously.

Jason Loh (1 Nov): The noetic effect of sin does not render objectivity impossible. The mind is not precluded from *understanding* the Word of God. What is lacking is *faith* which is a gift of the Holy Spirit. The Christian believes that the Bible is the Word of God because the internal witness of the Spirit and the external witness of the Bible. In other words, the noetic effect of sin is not *ontological* but metaphysical, moral and spiritual. Man remains a man after the Fall, only that he now is an unrighteous man who suppresses whatever remnant of divine knowledge in him. So, he knows as in understand, but he does not know as in believing.

After taking in all these criticisms, I started to doubt my critique against Reformed understanding of noetic effect. I consulted books of Millard Erickson, Wayne Grudem, Alvin Plantinga, R.C Sproul, Robert Reymond, Stephen Moroney, and James Boice. Their works widen and strengthened more on what I already know on the subject. But these reference are still not precise because they are not distinctively Reformed or claimed to be that.

No doubt all these theologians are from the Reformed persuasion but their works are more of descriptions of their own personal reflection as an individual theologian rather than a definitive and authoritative view on the subject from a Reformed position. For eg. Erickson describes the noetic effect as he understands it, and he does not make any claim or whatsoever that his understanding is or represents THE Reformed understanding on the subject. Neither do Grudem, Plantinga nor Reymond do the same. Their systematic textbooks do not claim to represent the "Reformed" theology, faith, or both. Their books are all personal exposition of Christian theologies resulted from their own studies rather than representing any particular theological system. That means even though they inclined to the Reformed tradition, yet their works do not represent the voice of the wider Reformed community. In other words, they do not view themselves as speaking on behalf of the Reformed circle.

(Some might argue that the right Christian theology is the Reformed theology, but this is just too narrow a definition, and unjustifiably insensitive towards other Christian traditions.)

One main reason why I was very selective to look for a definitive work because I want to avoid any domestication of the Reformed's view on noetic effect. An example of such "domestication" is when a person wants to believe X, which contains inconsistency in its parts, changes (domesticates) the bit in X that is inconsistent in order that he/she can continue to believe X, a domesticated product according to his/her own image.

In order to avoid this unending and hopeless domestication, I want something that defines itself as distinctly Reformed. And I find none of the references mentioned so far represent that magisterial authority.

Nonetheless, providentially, that search led me to a book which quintessentially titled "After Darkness, Light: Distinctives of Reformed Theology". In the "Introduction" chapter, R.C Sproul Jr. stated that the book is "a heartfelt celebration of the doctrines that define the Reformed faith" (p.11, emphasis mine). This is exactly what I need: an authoritative work that represents the Reformed tradition (or claims to be).

This book claims to be distinctively and definitely "Reformed". This reference is different from other reference in that it claims itself to be the representative of the Reformed position. In fact, this book was edited by R.C Sproul Jr., with contributions from Jay E. Adams, Sinclair B. Ferguson, Michael S. Horton, John F. MacArthur and others who are explicitly claimed to be Reformed and thus well known for their Reformed theological orientation and career. All of them are from institutions famous for their strong Reformed stand such as Westminster Theological Seminary, Ligonier Ministries, Knox Theological Seminary, and etc. And therefore, this is exactly where I need to search into for the definitive construal of Reformed's noetic effects. And here is how the book defines 'noetic effect':
'The reasoning processes of human beings set them apart from all other creatures. The Fall did not destroy the intellect or the reasoning processes, but it did cause the intellect to function irrationally. Total depravity does not mean that mans' mental faculties were destroyed by sin. It does mean that they were disabled, defiled, and injured by sin. Before the Fall, Adam could not make a mathematical mistake or engage in any faulty reasoning. After the Fall, he and all of his progeny became faulty in their intellect and reasoning processes…The noetic effect of sin leaves the mind in a state of confusion.' (Distinctives of Reformed Theology: After Darkness, Light, p.18-19, emphasis mine)
The context of the above passage is taken from the chapter on "Total Depravity", sub-chapter "A Corrupt Mind". In this context, the author describes the intellectual faculty of human and its connection with human's will. He ends this sub-chapter by drawing our attention to the various problematic conditions of societies as evident for such corruption. The author presupposes that human's rationality is not separated from human's will. In other words, he is saying that if we cannot rationalize rightly, we cannot will rightly. And this is how our rationality and will are totally depraved.

Although the interconnectedness between rationality and will is not the author's major contention in the article, his idea on the interconnectedness is certainly correct. Just as another author rightly describes this connection: "..the intellect cannot be surgically separated from the will. Since we know that human beings have willfully turned from God, their rebellion has not only moral and spiritual but epistemological consequences." (Stephen K. Moroney, How Sin Affects Scholarship, Christian Scholar's Review XXXVIII, 1999, n.55). Oliver O'Donovan shares the same perception between the human's rationality and the human's will: "All description of reality has moral implication to some kind. And every resolution of the will presupposes some description of reality."

But I am not contending against the idea that our will and intellect are unrelated. Neither am I contending that they are unmarred by sin. I agree that rationality and will is interconnected. And I agree that we are corrupted by sin. But I disagree with the author and the wider Reformed community to which he claims to represent, that such corruption makes our reasoning ability or rationality unreliable. I am contending that the 'Reformed notion that our reasoning faculty IS unreliable' is incoherent and need to be abandoned.

I find that my understanding of the Reformed noetic effect is precisely the same as the description of the authoritative book: "…all human understanding is unreliable as an effect of the Fall." (24 Oct). I never claimed that Reformed noetic effect is the destruction of human reasoning. All I am objecting is the proposition 'human rationality or reasoning ability is unreliable'.

Was I wrong in my understanding of Reformed Noetic effect? I am willing to admit it if there is evident to the contrary. At the same time, this discovery reveals to me that my critics are actually the ones that are defending strawman, their own domesticated belief all this while.

Friday, December 14, 2007


At last and alas, I will now have to travel to Upper Payar Lebar to work. Our office moved there last Friday. It was a long and thus I rented 3 DVDs to loosen the shoulders. Watched 2 movies till 2.45am before leaping to bed.

The next day, during doing laundry, the idea of writing something about contextualization came to me. This time it is about contextualizing the Bible into sub-urban vernaculars. And I spent some time looking through Mark’s gospel to see any specific passages where I can derive for contextualization. I came upon Mark 3, and wrote something about it. Here is the product.

Then I did some reading before watching Ocean Thirteen and took a nap till late evening.

Jung Hung and Dawn were in town, so we hang out for dinner and then went searching the city for a cinema that shows Heartbreak Kid. Unfortunately none of the cinema’s timing compliments us, so we end our night sipping latte at Starbucks. My appetite consumed a slice of New York cheesecake and a tall vanilla latte. I forgot when was the last time I had these. It’s been a long while.

After parted with JH and Dawn, I headed to Page One at Vivo City. They are having 20% storewide sales, but I didn’t get anything. Actually there are 2 books on ancient Israel and 1 book on evolution that I want to get. The purpose to possess them is that I realize I need more reference texts for my personal pursuit, but then again, I also realized that there is no end to such references. This is a piece of experience which I can sympathize with book-maniacs: the thought that “this is the last one that I need” is an illusion. There is no such thing as “the last book”!

I window-shopped until Angie, Yen, and Michelle arrived next door, I joined them and met a new friend, Jess. Meeting them for this:

St. James Powerhouse. Since I got to know about this club about a year ago, I always wonder why it is named ‘St. James’. Why did not name it as St. Paul or St. John or St. Peter and others who are more recognized by fellow believers? Could the owner be an Anglican who had the Book of James as a favourite sutra? Anyway, it is interesting for a club to christened St. James. This makes me fantasize that if I have a chain of clubs, restaurants, and entertainment avenues, I’ll designate them with names like Athanasius, Aquinas, Anselm, or nicks like J.Calvin and M.Luther. But to think about it, since the operator of Powerhouse uses ‘St. James’ for the club, does he/she needs to pay copyright commission to those organizations that print Bibles?

Anyway, the night was great. We danced almost non-stop from 1 till 4 with little rest in between. Actually the girls were more energetic than me. They were on the stage strutting their move. Our toxics were champagne, beer, tequila, and gin. Everything was almost perfect if not for 2 incidents. First, I asked for a glass of warm water for my recovering throat from the waiter, but he refused to oblige. Second, we met some hooligans.

We shook hand but one of the hooligans squeezed my hand. And he is not the first guy who did that. That’s a ‘show-off’ to me. If you are strong, you don’t have to squeeze the hand of someone you just met to prove it! At first, I didn’t resist, and pretend to be weak to boast his ludicrous ego. And when he did it for the second time, I showed him that he is not as strong as he thinks he is and I am not as weak as he thought I am. Yes, he has more meat than me, but brainless and tremendously lack of style. We spoke a few words in English before he asked me whether do I understand Mandarin, and I said yes. And he started to telling me that a drunken guy is embarrassing and other nonsense in Mandarin. Look, I don’t have anything against people who speak Mandarin, but this guy is just too pathetic with his machismos and nonsensical character. Does he not know that Christ and his followers have overturned such unfair gender-tension for complementary equality? Or is he just ignorant of all the voices of the feminists in our time? He reminds me of Borat. Then he started to dance with me. One descriptive word: DISGUSTING. Fortunately (!) Yen and Jess pulled me away from him. When he approached Michelle, we pulled her over to us. After that Jess asked me whether is he gay, I expressed my ignorant and conjectured that he probably is a bi-sexual. A pathetic one, that is.

Michelle chatted up the hooligan’s friend and found out that he just came out from prison. Poor fella, I thought; but to think about it further, one wonders why was he convicted in the first place?

We left at about 4.15 with me reaching home, with a bath, and slept at 5. And the next day, went to do congregation with fellow faithfuls. Then, off to library to check up something before going home for a nap. After the nap, went to watch the disgusting Heartbreak Kid with Angie before we went to…


After Dragonfly, went to fetch nalika. Slept at 7am the next morning, woke up at 8.30am before heading off to work. That’s weekend. One good lesson learned: Never club if you don’t have enough hours to rejuvenate. With such exhaustion, it is not 'happening' ;)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

ABALV of Mark 3.31-35

Ah Beng-Ah Lian Version (Southeast Asian Sub-Urban Contextualization of certain passages of the Bible):

Mark 3.31-35 (NRSV)
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Mark 3.31-35 (ABALV: Ah Beng-Ah Lian Version)
Then his lao bu and blaaders came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your lao bu and your blaaders and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my lao bu and my blaaders?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Lim peh ka li kong, here are my lao bu and my blaaders! Whoever does the will of Ti Pek is my blaaders and sister and lao bu.”

Southeast Asian Sub-Urban Jargons:
Lao bu: Hokkien vernacular for 'Mother.'
Blaader: Hokkien vernacular for 'Brother.'
Lim peh ka li kong: Hokkien slang for 'I speak as an authority to you' (Literally it connotes 'I am your father, you should listen to me').
Ti Pek: Hokkien vernacular for 'God' (Literally means 'Heavenly Father').
Tao Keh: Hokkien vernacular for 'business owner' or someone who is superior.
Selling salty-duck-eggs: Means deceased.
Tai Loh: Cantonese vernacular for 'big boss' (Literally means 'elder brother').
Ah Gong: Equivalent to the term 'Godfather' among Mafia.

This passage reflects Jesus’ reconstruction of traditional perception on kindred-ship. Jesus identifies his family members as those who carry out the businesses and legacy of God, as oppose to the usual conception that family members are only confined to those who are blood-related.

The idea of sharing the same blood is the major factor of one’s close family ties with the other. This is most typical for Asian businesses. When a ‘tao keh’ ventures into the business of ‘selling salty-duck-eggs’, his leftover business will usually inherited by a blood-related member, without much regards to the member’s ability, and not by any excellent loyal employees who are just non-blood related. Perhaps, a sort of blood-cronyism, one might say.

The same principle can be observed when a blood-related member succeeds the throne of authority in a gang rather than other non-blood related ‘tai loh’ when the ‘Ah Gong’ died.

These are examples of how commoners usually think of kindred. Many do not ridicule such practice even though sometimes it might be seen as injustice by, perhaps, the excellent loyal employees or the outstanding tai loh. But generally, inheriting businesses or legacy by blood-related members is seen as appropriate in the eyes of most SEA Asian. Blood governs kindred-ship, and thus also, the businesses and the legacy.

Jesus revolts against such constricted appropriation. He proclaimed that the inheritance of businesses and legacy should be the defining governance for kindred-ship, not the other way around. That means, it is the “kindred spirit” that should identify one as a family members, as oppose to the “kindred blood”. To Jesus, to call someone as ‘blaader’ is not limited to blood relation but also to identify him as someone who carry out God's business; a business that Jesus takes very seriously. It is through this similar vision and mission that binds non-blood-related people together as a family. And it is this that binds us, the believers, to Jesus as blaader, mother, and sister. Such identification carries the implicated responsibilities and sentiments to those to whom we identify as family members.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Christopher Hitchens & Debates

I spent last Saturday listening to 3 debates involving Christopher Hitchens. He is the author of a recent militant anti-religion book titled 'God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything'. However, Hitchens is not the reason I listen to these debates, but his debaters. The first debate involves Alister McGrath, the second Dinesh D' Souza, and the third Mark D. Roberts.

Alister McGrath, a historical-systematic theologian, and an ex-practising scientist, is ever a mannered and civil person. His debate rhetoric always filled with courteous and non-confrontational remarks. Due to his background as an academian, he talks precisely like one. He is very elaborative and articulate in his words. But due to this, sometimes, one finds he does not managed to engage all of Hitchens’ points. In this debates, it makes McGrath seems docile and vulnerable to Hitchens’ mountains of rhetorics. I think it is a disappointment that McGrath did not expound his scientific theology to handle Hitchens’ argument for the incompatibility between science and religion. Having knew about McGrath’s work in science and theology, I think he can do much better than that. And it will definitely crush Hitchens' false dichotomy between science/reason and faith, as exemplifies in his book Science of God.

Dinesh D' Souza, a political commentator, on the other hand, is direct and confrontational. That alone makes the debate stimulating and provocative. He is very sharp and engage Hitchens’ and the questioners’ point directly. At many turns, he manages to pin Hitchens to the mat and triumph over his contention. Perhaps this give reasons to why one should read his new book, which is confrontationally titled ‘What Is So Great About God?’ as against Hitchens’ ‘God Is Not Great’.

Mark D Roberts, a NT scholar, engages best with Hitchens’ repudiation of the reliability of the NT account of Jesus. It appears that the authority Hitchens relies on in this field is Bart Erhman. From there he get his idea of textual corruption of the Bible. But textual criticism is nothing new to many informed believers. In fact the late Bruce Metgzer, the recognised authority of NT textual criticism, who is also the teacher of Ehrman, is a well-mannered lifetime believer. So I think Hitchens’ reliance on textual criticism to doubt the reliability of the NT is just too shallow. One only need to read Burridge, Hengel, and recently, Bauckham and Roberts to appreciate the reliability of the NT material.

Through three debates, I noticed Hitchens stresses a lot that we cannot pick and choose which part of religion to acknowledge and which to reject. That means if you acknowledge religion is good because a believer brought back your lost wallet to you, you must also acknowledge the religion of which its believers who explode themselves as good.

I think this is one of Hitchens’ conceptions of coherence. That means the believer must acknowledge the religion of the good believer as one acknowledges those who explode themselves, if one wants to stay coherent that the idea of religion is good or true. But I think this is a false notion of coherence. This is just mere rhetoric to impose one false idea on to others in order to falsify them. In practice, individual believer get to chose to acknowledge what is deem best and rational to one’s own predisposition towards one’s religious canon. Even scientists get to pick and chose their preferred scientific theories. If you are a scientist, that does not mean you have to acknowledge ‘irreducibly complexity’ and evolution, and young-earth science, and whatever one finds out there which comes in the name of science. I am sure Hitchens does not acknowledge young-earth science as science according to his conscience and rationality. If he can chose and pick his own preferred ideas to acknowledge, I do not see any reason he has to forbid believer to do the same according to the believer’s own conscience and rationality. Unless his objection is what I charge it to be: mere rhetoric to falsify others! This is not the only falsification rhetoric he tries to impose on believer. There is another one on morality.

One argument for the existence of God is the ground for morality. That means without God, humans has no ground for morality and ethics. Hitchens challenges theist to name one moral action taken or uttered by a believer that is not taken or uttered by a non-believer. Or name one wicked act that non-believer will take or utter it otherwise.

Roberts came nearest to answering that. At first, he did not name any of these moral action but he engage Hitchens on the premise that the reason why his argument from common morality is appealing is precisely because everyone has been endowed with a pre-fixed idea of morality. Humans are being made in God’s image explains why Hitchens’ argument is so appealing. Then later, Roberts responded that praying for his son is a good moral action, which a non-believer cannot think likewise. Hitchens says that is irrelevant. Of course it is irrelevant to him! That is precisely the point! He is a non-believer! And Roberts just gave a moral action which a believer deem right yet the non-believer think otherwise.

I think there is a more explicit moral action than the one named by Roberts. Roberts’ response is good but lack the obligatory force to be a moral action on the believer. That means a believer who does not take prayers seriously does not has much obligation to consider praying as a moral action. I think there is in fact an utterance to which is a moral act of affirmation of a statement of truth on the part of the believer. Since it is an act concerning true statement, it is also a moral obligation for the believers to affirm such statement as true. If a believer denies this statement as true, then he or she will be immoral and thus cannot be a believer. And that moral utterance is ‘God exists’. This statement is right and true to the believers, and not to the non-believers.