Monday, November 30, 2009

The purpose of inerrancy and the deduction logic for it

This is a portion of my essay on 'What do we mean when we say the Bible is the Word of God?' , edited for this blog:

The purpose of inerrancy.
“There are good Christian people who would like to believe in the absolute trustworthiness of the Bible, yet who hesitate because they are convinced that there are mistakes in the Bible,” as E. J. Young observed how a perceived errancy of the Bible undermines the authority of it.[26]

As one pastor forcefully put it, “If I knew of one error in this book, I’d throw the whole thing out.”[27] The fundamental concern here is to uphold the authority of the Bible. It is presumed here that even one error exist in the Bible would remove people’s confidence in the scripture. In other words, by defending the inerrancy of the Bible, we are defending the authority of it; by eliminating the gap, we have removed the barrier that prevents God’s authority from establishing in the world. As J. I. Packer puts it, “[S]tatements that are not absolutely true and reliable could not be absolutely authoritative.”[28]

However this is a begging-appeal. This position betrays the desperate tone behind all its seemingly noble claims to defend God’s authority. Instead of dealing with what is in fact the case (whether the Bible indeed is inerrant or not), this position was produced to defend an already presumed conclusion: Unless the Bible is inerrant, God’s authority is threatened. Such deduction is questionable because it has no integrity in inquiring the case.

In other words, those who take this position and argue for inerrancy do not really care about whether or not their position corresponds to reality. They argue for it for the sake of protecting their perceived interest and not concern over the epistemological justification or realness of that interest. This is not dissimilar with a communist who argues for the inerrancy of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital so that he can uphold the authority of a certain political economic system. Whether or not that system best represents reality is not a concern at all. We shall see two further problems impinged on this claim.

The deduction logic for inerrancy.
First is the problematic argument from deduction. The most common syllogism applied to argue for the inerrancy of the scripture is that God is not a god who errs or with errors.[29] And since the Bible is God’s Word, therefore the Bible does not contain errors. As described in the words of the world’s best known inerrantist, Norman Geisler, “Since the Scriptures are breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3.16-17), and since God cannot breathe out falsehood, it follows that the Bible cannot contain any falsehood.”[30]

Logical deduction, as the one used above, though can be coherent and consistent does not necessary corresponds to reality. Consider this: All theological colleges are liberal. Since Trinity Theological College is a theological college, therefore Trinity Theological College is liberal. The argument is coherent internally yet does not at all represents reality.

The problem lies in that each premise in the syllogism depends on other premises to be epistemically justified, making the case in view a possibility at best. Yet such reasoning is not epistemically warranted for lack of reference to external evident (assuming the cognitive faculty of the inquirer is functioning properly).[31] The syllogism used in this argument for inerrancy is certainly logical, consistent and coherent, yet we have to ask does it correspond to the real, as far as afforded by the current discovery in the academic biblical studies and the wider theological context?

If not, then the syllogism is a mere deduction reasoning bearing no relevance to truth or reality.[32] Think of all the people living in the matrix in the movie The Matrix. They thought they are in the real world but in fact they are in a digital cyberspace. In the same way, this syllogism functions as the matrix to those who hold on to it; who think that they are living in reality despite the fact that they are confined in an epistemic prison which impedes them from knowing the real world.


(A scene from The Matrix)



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[26] E. J. Young, Thy Word is Truth (USA: Eerdmans, 1957; Finland The Banner of Truth, reprint 1997), 163.

[27] Stephen J. Nichols and Eric T. Brandt, Ancient Word, Changing Worlds (USA: Crossway, 2009), 64.

[28] J. I. Packer, “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God (USA: Eerdmans, 1958), 95-96.

[29] A more sophisticated form is seen in Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd Edition (USA: Baker Books, 2004), 251. “If God is omniscient, he must know all things. He cannot be ignorant of or in error on any matter. Further, if he is omnipotent, he is able to so affect the biblical author’s writing that nothing erroneous enters into the final product. And being a truthful or veracious being, he will certainly desire to utilize these abilities in such a way that humans will not be misled by the Scriptures. Thus, our view of inspiration logically entails the inerrancy of the Bible.”

[30] Norman Geisler presents the syllogism in this way:
The logic of inerrancy is straightforward:
(1) God cannot err.
(2) The Bible is God’s Word.
(3) Therefore, the Bible cannot err.
See his Systematic Theology, volume 1 (USA: Bethan House 2002), 257. His defence of inerrancy led him to found the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy in 1977, produced the ‘Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy’ with more than 300 signatories, edited an authoritative book on the subject titled ‘Inerrancy’ in 1979, engineered the expel of Robert Gundry, for an alleged breach on affirming inerrancy, from the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in 1983, and resigned from the ETS in 2003 after failing to convince the ETS members to expel Clark Pinnock for the same charges he held against Robert Gundry twenty years earlier.

[31] Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function (USA: Oxford University Press, 1993), 178-182.

[32] Some argue that this is not a pure deduction as there are external references made to Numbers 23.19, Deuteronomy 6.6-7, 8.3, 2 Samuel 7.28, Psalm 1.1-2, 12.6, Proverbs 30.5, Matthew 4.4, 5.18, 24.35, John 10.35, 17.17, 2 Timothy 3.16-17, 2 Peter 3.16 and other passages. Yet none of these passages refer to the ‘Bible’ or ‘scripture’ in the way the Church Fathers or today’s Christians do because all these references are made to specific books which we do not have idea which. For example, if one argues that 2 Timothy 3.16-17 is referring to the Bible as we know it today, then one commits an anachronism because the Old Testament was not being canonized at that time, not to mention that many of the New Testament books have not yet been written! In the end, in arguing so, one betrays his own unhistorical and anti-realism view and so testifies to the charges brought upon him.

This sort of government can go to hell!

UMNO-BN government is indoctrinating RACISM among Malaysians through 'Biro Tata Negara' program!

Undergraduates were forced to attend the program or else they would not be eligible for graduation. Najib's 1Malaysia concept is NONSENSE. Go burn in hell. Here's the report from Malaysianinsider:

The BTN under the Prime Minister’s Department brought in “intellectual” speakers who were supposed to enlighten the students about the meaning of being a Malaysian but instead it felt more like a communist propaganda camp brainwashing those attending about the importance of “Ketuanan Melayu”.

During the lectures, questions were planted among the audience and the students were advised not to ask any other questions.

One speaker began with the history of Malaysia and how much the country had gone through, always emphasising the May 13 riots.

He stressed the point of how much the Malays had sacrificed and how the community should be united especially from outside threat — the Chinese community.

He said that the Chinese community were “the Jews of Asia” and were just itching to take over when Malays were disunited and broken.

The speaker also revealed a greater Chinese conspiracy where the Chinese Malaysians were working together with Singapore to topple the Malay government.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

What's up at Gereja Presbyterian Malaysia's 20th annual general assembly?

I was invited by my clustermate, who is an elder at Gereja Grace Presbyterian Batu Pahat, to attend Malaysia Presbyterian Church's English Speaking Presbytery's 20th annual general assembly over the weekend. I woke up at 5 am on Friday morning travel across from Singapore to Larkin in Johor in order to catch a long distant coach to Kuala Lumpur. Managed to get one which reached at 1pm. The rest of the day is conference all the way until the next day's afternoon.

I met some of the young Presby church leaders and a seminarian there. The seminarian is Yoshua Chua, a student at Seminari Theoloji Malaysia. What was interesting is that when we met, he asked me for my full name after I introduced myself as 'Joshua Woo'. That was an unusual question coming from someone I just met. Nonetheless I told him. And it appears that he came to my blog before. It was good meeting people in real life who read some of the stuffs I posted here.

During the session on 'Mission', one of the pastors updated us about a recent missionary initiative to Myanmar. The team went to Tahan Theological Seminary there to teach local church leaders. In the midst of the presentation, the speaker made this remark, "Myanmar's people travel from one place to another need to pay the local authority taxes, an exercise sanctioned by the government to control citizens. We need to pray for them and train their missionaries and pastors."

That remark is ambivalent. It can have two meanings. To be skeptical, one would question what's the relevance between a country's political state and the raising up of missionaries and pastors? Will they fight to remove the local government? Isn't it better and relevant to train up politicians for them (assuming the Gereja Presbyterian Church can)?

Or, to give the presenter the benefit of doubt, what he meant by 'missionaries' and 'pastors' are those people who serve the church not only religiously but also socially and politically. Meaning these church leaders will be the ones who will right the socio-polity in the country, if not overturning the junta.

It is your pick on how to interpret that.

During the same session, another presenter introduced the next speaker along this line, "He was from the business world. Now he has quit his business and spearheading the mission work among the orang asli. Previously he was occupied by his business. Now his mind is always on the kingdom of God."

If L.T. Jeyachandran heard that, he would had fallen off from his chair. He is currently the Executive Director of RZIM Ministries Asia-Pacific branch. He always say to everyone, "I don't like to say that I am now in full-time ministry. That would mean that for the past 28 years of being a senior civil engineer in India, before I joined RZIM, I was not serving God, or that the kingdom of God has no concern or relevance in my work." A powerful statement. Even in business, God's kingdom is there. I was quiet surprised that I heard a Presbyterian leader making the implication that the business world does not belong to God while missionary work among orang asli does.

Overall the whole annual assembly parallels political discourse of a party or a country. They report on past activities, present problems, and new initiatives. Add to that, they talked about healthcare and salary scale. These are 'who gets what and says who' issues. The fundamental discourses in political philosophy.

And I was quiet surprise that the Presbytery organized a '1Malaysia' church worship event recently (page 36 of the ESP's 20th AGM report). I don't know why the name but it is very disturbing.

Malaysians know that '1Malaysia' is Najib's fanciful concept to dupe citizens that he and his administration care for unity and equality among Malaysians. But we know that that's a lie. The recent expose of Najib's administration's program in indoctrinating undergraduates with racism, confiscated 15,000 copies of Christian's Bibles, and banning the use of 'Allah' by non-Muslims do not reflect 1Malaysia. And by referencing to that concept in a church event is in a way acknowledging and endorsing the government's lie. Very disturbing.

Another highlight is that I was approached to consider exploring a possible job serving as a 'youth pastor' with a Presbyterian church in KL. I really appreciate their openness but I am not a 'pastoral' person as you all, friends who read this blog, know. Nonetheless I would like to explore more after I found out that that particular church is somewhat not a typical local Presby church. Some of the ministries that they support and recognize show their emphases and theology. For example, they recognize Malaysian theologian Ng Kam Weng's research center.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Crazy week

After traveling to Penang on Friday and came back on Tuesday, I had to rush the 4000 words assignment for Theology I class. I was already writing about half of it during the time in Penang. And at last I managed to finished it just now. So now, I know what does it mean when we say that the Bible is the Word of God. Actually the deadline is tomorrow but I will be travelling to Kuala Lumpur at tomorrow's dawn for Malaysian Presbyterian Church's annual conference. A bit tired for travelling, rushing assignment, and travelling again, though I have gained new experience. And if not because of some monetary offering given by friends, I will not be able to make it for these conferences. Utterly grateful for them and their provision. God and yourself know who you are.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Friedrich Ebert Stifung conference in Penang

Over the weekend I was attending an intensive conference organized by Friedrich Ebert Stifung. It is an organization that promotes social democracy and network for social democratic political parties and Non-Government-Organization to liaise with one another. I get to meet many new friends who are actively involve in the development of their geographic area in one way or another. I also get to meet other young people such as Edward and Kia Meng from Democratic Action Party. I was invited by Steven Sim to take part in the conference.

Social Democracy is simply a political philosophy that emphasize on government's providence of basic needs (education, healthcare, water & electricity) and rights (religious, voting) to the citizens. Due to that, the market is not free and hence needed to coorperate together with the government to ensure the best livinghood and working condition of the employees.

Though with all its focus on the good of the society, yet I find that one of social democracy's lacks is the dialog skills needed to create and sustain effective negotiation with capitalists. Besides that social democracy is still fundamentally a secular-oriented political ideology and hence its moral vision such as equal human rights is derived from an inherited tradition which is often found rooted within the discourse of Christian theology. That's the impression that I get from talking with Olle Thorell during dinner, a social democrat Member of the Parliament in Sweden. Alastair MacIntyre's insight on morality's basis as grounded in inherited tradition is still very much relevant and alive. The problem is of course on how to negotiate such basis.

I had a good discussion with Edward during the dinner too when he asked for opinions on how should Christian politicians engage and deal issues such as abortion and homosexuality. I told him that it really up to what the political party does the Christian politician belongs to. Since each party has their own ethos, so each party has to argue from their own ethos/tradition. For eg. if a party that argues for human rights facing the issue of whether to legalize abortion, then the party have to take into consideration of whether or not the unborn children as human. If the unborns are human, then abortion cannot be legalized in order to maintain the coherence of the party's ethos. And if the party could not come to the know which stage can a fetus be considered human, then precautious over its abortion must be heightened to avoid the party from being irresponsible. So the party's stand on certain issues has to be examined from the party's ethos.

I had the opportunity to meet the gentle Ooi Kee Beng and told him how much I appreciate his involvement with Penang Economic Monthly. I also met Charles Santiago and had a brief chat with him on Malaysia's ethnic issue and education system. He shared a bit about his experience with the Indian Peranakan in Melaka and how that encounter shaped his idea on ethnicity in Malaysia. Previously I didn't know who is he until I was intrigued by a remark he made during one of the conference's session on 'social protection' as 'plastic approach'.

Two questions came to mind: Where is the church's place in such socio-political setting? Does the church even care to get involve? Edward, Steven, Kia Meng, Ivy, myself and a few others are Christians. Where and how do we appropriate such unfamiliar encounter?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Local theological study, church, and the end of first semester

First semester has ended at Trinity Theological College (TTC). The website states:
Trinity Theological College was established in 1948 to equip people for the ministry of the church.

It provides a comprehensive curriculum which seeks to develop the faith through intellectual inquiry, spiritual formation and vocational training.
Now, after having finished the first semester, what do I think about what the website says and my experience with TTC so far?

I think those phrases are loaded and can be easily misunderstood, depending on what background and theology you have. Take "equip people for the ministry of the church" as an example. "Ministry of the church" has to do with our theology of the church, its institutionalization and purpose. If you think that the ministry of the church is only to (1) propagate the gospel through evangelism, (2) having a congregation that attends the service/mass and cell-group once a week, and (3) keep the (1) and (2) running smoothly, then 'yes', TTC is apt at that. It is very good at equipping people to do these 3 things (though none of the leaders - Joseph Prince, Kong Hee, and Lawrence Kong - in local megachurches with congregations over 20,000 had such equipping).

Does TTC "provides a comprehensive curriculum which seeks to develop the faith through intellectual inquiry, spiritual formation and vocational training"? Again, depends on your understanding of these three qualities. Let's talk about each of them one by one.

"Intellectual inquiry". During lessons, I have heard lecturers made remarks like, "Being critical is okay but being over-critical is problematic," and, "the task of theologians is first and foremost to be faithful to what the church has been passing down, and not to be overly creative or novel." Now the question that I have is how does one measure the "overs"? Was Jesus being overly creative when he pronounced the forgiveness of sins, an office which the Israelites believe belongs to God alone? Were the apostles being overly novel to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus as the dawning of the eschaton? Were the church fathers like Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria being over-critical when they engaged Arius and Nestorius? Was the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea being overly creative to introduced terms like 'hypostaseos' and 'ousias' into the creed? Was Augustine of Hippo being over-critical to go against Pelagius on one hand, and being overly creative in formulating his theology of history and political theology in City of God? Was Benedict of Nursia being overly novel to set up a monastic order? Was Anselm being overly novel with his articulation of the atonement theology? Was Thomas Aquinas being overly creative to incorporate Aristotle's philosophy into his theology? Was Martin Luther over-critical with the Roman Catholic Church? Was John Calvin being overly creative to propose a new institution of Christianity? Was Friedrich Schleiermacher being over creative to write about religious nature of humans? Was Karl Barth being overly critical over liberalism? Was Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Desmond Tutu being over-critical against the social condition of their time and overly novel to have done something about it? And finally, is not discouraging 'over-criticality' and 'over-creativity' (assuming they can measure the 'overs') among the students an over-critical and an overly creative suggestion which seems to go against all the listed events above and many more in the rich history of the Christian church?

"Spiritual Formation". In my first week at TTC, I have encountered this awkward term. And I still have not change my mind. At the end of the semester, each students required to fill in a document titled 'Spiritual Formation and Community Life Records'. There were questions ask about our practice of Bible reading, meditation on God's Word, intercessory prayer, holy communion, church worship, spiritual direction, etc. And there are these two weird questions at the end of that questionnaire: (1) What do you regard as the greatest difficulty in your spiritual development?, and (2) What activities do you find most helpful in your spiritual development? I answered something like, "I don't know what do you mean by 'spiritual'..."

"Vocational Training". Similar with what I stated above on "ministry of the church", it depends on what do you understand by 'vocation'. If you take it to mean to (1) propagate the gospel through evangelism, (2) having a congregation that attends the service/mass and cell-group once a week, and (3) keep the (1) and (2) running smoothly, then 'yes' TTC is good at that. But if you think vocation in the sense of how Jesus or the apostles thought about vocation, which encompasses much more than these three offices, then I don't think TTC (or any other local Christian equipping/training institutions) has such curriculum.

These are some of my more slanted observations. There are many good things that TTC has. The obvious one is the faculty members. All the lecturers are very helpful, patient, and deal with students in good-manners. They really care for each of us who are studying here. Each of them are well-trained in their own respective fields.

Though with these comments, I think the problem is not so much that TTC has not been comprehensive. Such similar phenomena is happening at all theological colleges, seminaries, and mission schools in this part of the world. Hence it is the Christian community at large in the local scene that barely grasps the extensive significance of 'intellectual inquiry', 'spiritual formation', and 'vocational training'.

Don't think that I'm just being nasty and skeptical, but a similar lament has been voiced by Kar Yong too: "Is something wrong with the Christ believing community when we are only interested in building physical buildings for the church at the expense of neglecting theological education in the equipping and empowering the people of God to serve and pastor the church?" Though Kar Yong commented in a different context, yet his diagnosis and mine are the same: A large part of the local church is still lost.

Mission and missionary 2

Following a previous post on Mission and Missionary.

Not that the churches in this region do not have community centres or lacking in funding hospitals, orphanages, and schools. These are only certain parts of God’s mission that encompasses more than these infrastructures. It resolves the entire existing landscape where businesses, state-governance, and social developments situated.

God’s rule penetrates and extends into the modal* structures of this world; the ‘ism’ and ‘ies’ that ensure the regulative norms of our world and lives. If the local church is also God’s people, I puzzle over the fact that there is no sufficient, if at all, emphasis given to these modal structures in these places. Theological institutions have all the special ‘tracks’ or academic modules to train up specific pastors, missionaries and even theologians. And the specificities are centred to church liturgies (ridiculously), church administration, pastoral counselling, frontier mission works, and responding to only certain contemporary issues. All these specificities are in one way or another designed to further frontier mission and church administration. But what about other frontiers explored by people like John Calvin, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Dooyeweerd, and others? If Missio Dei (God’s mission) were only about evangelism, building and running churches, and constructing good worship liturgies, then I would unreservedly praise the Christian communities in this part of the world for the all the great and wonderful works we have been doing. Too bad, the articles from chapter 1 until 35 in the mission textbook show otherwise about Missio Dei.

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*‘Modality’ used by Herman Dooyeweerd to mean the ‘mode of existing realities. For example, human beings in society exist and function in at least the following ways: numerically, spatially, physically, biotically, psychically, logically, historically, linguistically, socially, aesthetically, juridically, morally, and pistieally.” James W. Skillen, Herman Dooyeweerd's Contribution to the Philosophy of the Social Sciences, http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1979/JASA3-79Skillen.html (accessed 30 October 2009).

Monday, November 16, 2009

"Malay" is not defined by descent or bloodlines

"..historically Malay identity was much more fluid and complex.."
(Abdul Rahman Embong).

"What is important is for the government not to continue perpetuating
the myth that there is one set of special rights for Malay [Malaysians]
and another for the rest of our people."
(Zaid Ibrahim)

Read the rest at Nut Graph. Do consider to support the website financially. They have been doing a good job at informing us about current affairs better than the government does.

Christians often misuse 2 Peter 3.16

[Paul] writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
(2 Peter 3.16)

Discussion on the doctrine of scripture always follow with the reference to 2 Peter 3.16 where Peter referred to Paul's letters as part of scripture. Christians who want to defend those Paul's letters in the New Testament (Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, etc) as scriptures always quote this verse.

But there is one mistake in the argument.

We don't know which letters was Peter referring to when he talked about Paul's letters. Paul wrote more than what we have in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 5.9). May be Paul did wrote a few letters which the other apostles deem as scripture but we don't know which one, even if they are in the New Testament.

Now we have a dilemma.

1) To claim God's authority for all of Paul's letters in the New Testament risks elevating letters that are not authorized (1 Corinthians 7.25) as scripture. A form of idolatry.

2) To claim all of Paul's letters in the New Testament not as scripture risks disregarding those which are scripture. A form of desecration.

So in the end we are left with another ambiguity.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Mission and missionary

We can either use the term 'missionary' loosely, acknowledging everyone who tell stories about Jesus in some way to someone at some place is in a way a missionary and doing mission work; or we can restrict the word for a particular and specific career or activity which involves much more than just telling people about Jesus.

If one chose the latter, more restrictive definition, then one has to see that Christians are called to be missional but not all are called to be missionary.

If by telling stories about Jesus is being missionary, then it defeats the meaning of the term and blurs those individuals whose vocation and appointment is to serve as full-time and lifetime missionaries, being provided to serve in frontier mission, reaching out to the unreached people. But in any case, these ambiguities are not fatal ones.

On a different note, if ‘mission’ is God’s will, desire and action to call his people out and to establish his rule in the world*, then there are two points I want to make. First, that means missionary work necessarily and hence always entails social, economic, and political changes in the communities the missionaries are working in. But what I have observed in the Tanjung Balai’s church as well as other churches (in Myammar, Thailand, and Malaysia), missionary work is started and confined only to the telling of stories about Jesus and nothing more than that. No tangible changes in the community or the wider society. No talk about bringing God’s social, economic, and political rule into the community.

Secondly I wonder why does the study on ‘mission’ and ‘evangelism’ in missionary schools, seminaries, and theological colleges only emphasize on teaching or equipping missionaries to tell stories about Jesus and stuck at that one part of God’s mission while neglecting the big chunk of equipping individuals to establish God’s rule in the world? Or, the Christian communities in this part of the world do not really think that God’s mission encompasses much more than just telling of Jesus’ story? Or, are we too paralyzed by, and still have not recovered from, post-Christendom and post-colonialism effect?


--------------
*See articles number 1 until 35 in the standard mission textbook Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, ed. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, (USA: William Carey Library, 2009), 3-206. This whole section lays out the entire blueprint to ground the origin and the meaning of ‘mission’.

When I wrote this for my report for Mission & Evangelism module, I have in mind Herman Dooyeweerd and Abraham Kuyper.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Michael Sandel on ethic's relation to political philosophy and public life, and the difference between 'self-interest' and 'greed'

From FORA.tv's 'Michael Sandel on Markets and Morals':

When we talk of ethics in any 'ism', aren't we talking about ethics in treating other people?

Well, the ethics of how to treat one another is at the heart of moral philosophy, political philosophy, and, for that matter, debates about justice, how we treat one another. But the most part in public life, how to distribute rights and duties, power and oppurtunities, income and wealth. So I think I agree with the questioner's suggestion that at the heart of moral and political philosophy are two questions: (1) How do we treat one another? (2) How to design social institution so that we can live together, despite our disagreements, still treating one another with decency and respect?

How do you define 'greed'?

Greed is an excessive desire for gain that crowds out other worthwhile goals. But actually I think there is challenge hidden in that question, and so I don't want to answer it too blithely.

On a certain view, and it is the view that implicitly I was criticizing through this lecture, there is no distinction between 'greed' and 'self-interest'. If you accept an economist's view of the world, the next time you encounter a professional economist, you can ask her or him about it.

On an economist's view of the world, strictly speaking, there is no principle distinction between 'self-interest' and 'greed'. It's all a matter of degree.

And Adam Smith said (he did not believe in unfettered market. He was also a moral philosopher), "We don't go to the butcher or to the brewer for our dinner by appealing to their humanity. We appeal to their self-interest." And most economists I know, would not really be able to give you the distinction between that kind of self-interest and pursuing it rather aggressively which might be called 'greed'. To distinguish self-interest from greed actually requires a moral argument, not strictly an economic one.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Relevance of Exodus to a Christian

One of the questions in the Old Testament semester 1 exam is this (paraphrase): How would you tell a regular church member who came to ask you about the relevance of the book of Exodus in Christianity and today's world?

This is my answer:

I shall start by informing the inquirer about Jesus' own Judaic tradition and the stories that he had identified in his own career as the anointed one who is destined to deliver Israel from her faulty ways on one hand, while fulfilling the promises God made to Abraham, to established his "seed" as the one inclusive of all nations into God's covenant, on the other.

Then I will give examples of how Jesus' life has in a way exemplifies the story in Exodus (in typology). One is the the calling of Israelites out from Egypt to go through the Sea of Reed and into the wilderness for forty years. In the life of Jesus, he was baptized with water and then was sent into the wilderness for forty days. Jesus was re-enacting the story of the Exodus through his life. Therefore through the story of Exodus, we can have a better picture of the significance of Christian baptism.

Our lives, as described in the New Testament, are re-oriented in the baptism. We died and made anew through it. As Exodus tells us, the separation of the Sea of Reed was a divine mighty work. It was a divine enabling that granted the Israelites to cross over to the other side. Otherwise they will be killed by the pharaoh and his pursuing armies. Due to this divine act, the oppressive past of the Israelites, as embodied by pharaoh, was cut off from their lives signifying the dawn of a new phase for their community. When we are baptized, our oppressive and torturous past is cut off. We came out from the 'Sea of Reed' as a new person entering into a new phase in life that God has prepared for us, just as he has prepared for the Israelites. All these are possible only through the divine enabling.

The subsequent episodes of the Exodus portray to us the often fluctuating livelihood after our baptism. As Jesus was sent into the wilderness like the ancient Israelites, we have to face our own wilderness as well. In the story of Exodus, we find many and unexpected businesses encountered the people of God. Their journey was not smooth as rulers of other nations did not allow them to travel through, deprivation of food and water, heightened dissatisfaction with their condition, reception of negative reports on their endeavors, and the death of someone they followed and trusted. How remarkable these experiences reflect or will reflect our own at each point of our lives. Like the Israelites, we face unfavorable circumstances and often we also end up like them, filled with complaints and grudges. However, when we read the Exodus, we cannot help but again and again notice the, often time invisible, reality of the providence and protection of God to the Israelites. Even when they were disobedient and troubled, we see the grace and divine compromises afforded to them by God.

As Paul Ricoeur emphasizes, any literature that narrates does not merely show us the actual but also the possible. When we lay the story of Exodus, the story of Jesus and the story of our lives in front of us, and read them side by side, we enter into a Hegelian dialectic. The Israelites in the Exodus as the thesis, Jesus in the gospels as the anti-thesis, and our daily unfolding lives as the synthesis among the former two. In Exodus, we see the fluctuating responses of the Israelites serving as not only a precedence but also a possibility for us. We can turn into the likes of the Israelites. In Jesus' experience in the wilderness, we see an overflowing obedience towards God that also not only a precedence but also a possibility for us. Our lives that is still unfolding day by day resemble a synthesis of both. On one hand, we see ourselves in the story of the Exodus, and on the other hand, we see Jesus in the wilderness as the anti-thetical force that invites us to observe the differences between the two and to choose (synthetically) wisely.

I get 4/10 with that answer (one point for each latter paragraph, I guess). The lecturer commented that I didn't write about the name of God, the free-will of man, the tabernacle worship, the law and the chosen people, and the God of creation. She also encouraged me to think more comprehensively instead of only some themes that I'm interested in.

But the question is not a question that asks me to list out all the theological themes in the book of Exodus. I read the question as a theological question, asking for constructive ways to theologize over the relevance of the Exodus, and not by proof-texting some issues which we derived from the inherited doctrinal interpretive lenses with all its intricate problems and dilemmas (for eg. the question on free-will vs God's sovereignty). In fact I would argue that those religious themes in the Exodus which my lecturer listed are not theological themes but religious languages used for their socio-political pursuit.

I appreciate the lecturer's insights, demands, and her own scholarship. I really do. Of course the 'comprehensiveness' is her comprehensiveness and not mine. I am also grateful that I get a C+ for this subject. I thought I would fail.

By the way, have you read or hear about Kim Fabricius' the parable of thinking out of the box? If not, here it is:

One day Scot Ernest (Lord) Rutherford, the father of nuclear physics, received a phone call. It was from a colleague who was about to fail a student in an exam but for the fact that the student himself claimed a perfect paper. The colleague and the student agreed to ask if Rutherford would be the deciding examiner.

The exam question was: “Show how it is possible to determine the height of a tall building with the aid of a barometer.” The student had answered: “Attach a long rope to it, lower it to the street, and then pull it up, measuring the length of the rope. The length of the rope is the height of the building.” And the answer works. However it wasn’t the expected answer, the conventional answer: namely, that you use the barometer to measure the atmospheric pressure at the bottom and the top of the building; the pressure is less at the top, and factoring in the weight of the air, you calculate the height of the building.

So the student was offered another try. He was given six minutes to provide an answer that demonstrated some knowledge of physics. After five minutes, the student’s paper was still blank. Asked if he wished to give up, he said, “No, I’ve got several answers, I’m just thinking of the best one.”

In the next minute he dashed off the answer: “Take the barometer to the top of the building and lean over the edge. Drop the barometer, timing its fall with a stopwatch. Then, using the formula for the rate of the fall of a body, calculate the height of the building.” The student was given almost full credit.

As he was leaving the room, the examiners called him back. They were curious: what were the other answers he had to the problem? “Well,” the student said, “there are many ways to determine the height of a tall building with the aid of a barometer. For example, you could take the barometer out on a sunny day and measure the length of the building’s shadow, and the height of the barometer itself and the length of its shadow, and then by using simple proportion, you calculate the height of the building.

“Or,” he said, “there is a more direct method. Take the barometer and walk up the stairs of the building. As you climb the stairs, mark off the length of the barometer along the wall. You then count the number of marks, and this will give you the height of the building in barometer-units.

“Or,” he said, “you could take the barometer to the top of the building, attach a long rope to it, lower it to just above the street, then swing it like a pendulum. You then calculate the height of the building by the period of the swing.

“There are still other ways of solving the problem,” the student continued. “But probably the best way is to take the barometer to the basement of the building and knock on the superintendent’s door. When he answers, say, ‘My dear Mr. Superintendent, I have here an excellent barometer. If you tell me the height of your building, I will give you the barometer as a gift.’”

Well, the examiners were gobsmacked. When they recovered their composure, they asked the student if he knew the standard answer to the question. “Of course,” he replied. “But I am fed up with high school and university teachers trying to tell me how to think.”

What is the theological community doing?

Currently I'm in the planning team for GCF's next year's major conference. During the meeting, I found out that the structure for each topical session will be facilitated by two persons; one theologian and one marketplace person (a.k.a. Christian who is working in non-Church related environment). The given reason is to balance the theological perspective with practicality and relevance in the marketplace.

About an hour ago, I was attending Stephen Green's lecture. The respondent to the lecture was Hsieh Fu Hua, CEO of Singapore Exchange Limited. Both are confessed Christians and also leaders in the marketplace. (Stephen Green is an ordained Anglican priest besides being the chairman of HSBC Bank). Such combination would be perfect. Or not.

With these two scenarios, do you see a fundamental problem shared by both?

It seems like the underlying principle in both scenarios is the assumption that the value of a person's expertise
lies on the caricature of the person's profession rather than the content that validates the person's expertise.

This principle simply means that you do not evaluate a person's expertise on the basis of the person's contribution to the subject matter, but based on the circulating caricatures of the person's profession in your community. So when you invite a theologian to speak on medical ethics, you already assumed that the theologian lacks working knowledge on the subject simply because of his profession. Hence you arrange a medical doctor into the conference to 'balance' the topic. In the same way, when you invite a businessman to speak on theological relevance of the financial world, you assumed he is good with the subject, and then arranged for a respondent who is also a businessman as respondent simply because he is a businessman who so happen to be a Christian, or vice versa.

This is an awry principle especially when it comes to inter-disciplinary subjects such as the relation between business and theology, science and religion, politic and faith, medical ethics with religion, etc.

Inter-disciplinary study is a subject on its own, with its own regulation and working assumptions. Simply assuming someone who is a Christian and also a successful businessman to have great insights in the relation between business and Christianity is a mistake.
The right evaluation is that which measures the quality of the person's insight based on his insights, and not based on the profession or condition which he happened to be in and good at it.

No doubt both Stephen Green and Hsieh Fu Hua are businessmen par excellence. No doubt they are committed Christians. No doubt they have good insights in their own respective fields. And no doubt they may have good insights in the inter-disciplinary subject relating their profession and their faith.
May.

Stephen Green briefly shared the few main points made in his book. Then followed by Hsieh Fu Hua's response. Then the Q&A session.

The summary of Green's lecture was that Christians should differentiate 'values' from 'prices' based on the Bible. A good exhortation, no less.

I am reading his book and I understand what was he lecturing on. It has no real constructive impact or influence on the financial world per se. He wrote that himself in his book, which the lecture was based, "
[T]his is not a book about economics or policy. It is not a recipe for the reform of the global economics or policy. It is not a recipe for the reform of the global economic or financial system. It is about the other kinds of issue which arise from a global crisis of historic proportions: questions about who we are, about how we have changed, about our beginnings and ends." (p.xii) In other words, it's Green's reflection on the human condition triggered by his witness of current economic crunch.

Perhaps the CEO's point is that the economics condition is actually directly influenced by the individual human's condition.

After Green's speech, Hsieh reponded. He spent about 10-15 minutes highlighting some points in Green's book. His response was opened with him jokingly admitting that he did not know what the role of a 'respondent' is. In his response, there was no critiques, just 'Amens' all the way. May be he was not joking in his opening statement after all.

During Q&A, I wanted to ask a question but did not managed to because the session ended by the time I wanted to raise my hand. This is the question I had in mind:

Mr. Green, I have a question on Christian's decision in making investment choices. In 2007, HSBC was reported to have earned USD$657.3 millions from its investment in a multi-industrial company Textron despite the fact that this company manufactures the notorious and controversial cluster bombs. Now, with respect and without judgment, I would like to know what was HSBC's rationale in making that decision? Purely based on profit-loss calculation or ignorance of such production by the company or both or other reasons? Perhaps this could be a relevant case-study or precedence for us to follow.

No particular ground-breaking insight was shared by the speaker and the respondent (unless you consider quoting the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 is a theological insight in a theological academic setting). The moderator ended the session with this question, "
How would you want the next generation think of this generation?"

Allah is not a personal name!

Malaysian theologian Ng Kam Weng has published his response to nuisance remark made to claim exclusive use of the word 'Allah'. Dave Chong has briefly and helpfully highlighted the phenomena:

Utusan Malaysia newspaper is UMNO-BN's dog

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib said that, “Utusan is known for its trademark and its trademark is to voice the desire of the people, especially the Malay community.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bernama desperate to make UMNO relevant?

Malaysia's National News Agency, Bernama, reported this statement concerning Malaysia's status at the current Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Singapore:

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) grouping is still relevant and important to Malaysia as it is a source of large trade and investments, said the Minister of International Trade and Industry Datuk Mustapa Mohamed.

As such, Malaysia as a small but major trading nation in the world, considers it important to forge good relations with members of the grouping and especially between Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and the other leaders of Apec.
(Emphasis added)

Small but major? A meaningless statement. The word 'major' is equivalent to 'big', just as 'minor' is 'small'. Such reporting betrays an obvious make-up attempt to makes current ruling party of the nation looks good and relevant.

It has been 20 years since APEC started. What is UMNO-BN doing in this past 20 years?

"Profit only-ness" is dangerously simplistic

"[Milton Friedman] was the apostle of the pure profit motive: 'There is one and only one social responsibility of business - to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud'...


Today we live in a world where business has complex loyalties and responsibilities, and is subject to continuous pressure not only from shareholders but from government, media, special-interest groups, regulators and litigators. Friedman's view would now be considered dangerously simplistic. These days business must consider value from the perspective not just of investors, but of customers, employees, suppliers, communities and - increasingly - the environment too.
(Stephen Green, Good Value, p.10)


You hear businessmen & women, or those aspiring to be, keep saying that business is for monetary profit. That's what Friedman once said. But now, the landscape is shifting. People appear to care about morality of businesses. That does not necessarily means lower profits but what kind of profits. 'Profit' is no longer measured by monetary value alone.

Stephen Green, the chairman of HSBC, will be speaking at TTC tomorrow afternoon.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Let's assume that we don't have free will...

Here're some of the discussions that I had on Facebook with my friends. I pieced my fragmented replies together and thought it is good to have them posted here:

"You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:

'Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth take their stand
and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.'

Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen."
(Acts 4.25-28. Emphasis added.)

Given that we have no free-will, then that's just saying God created a mechanical world: We don't have free-will; bad people are around because God has created them so. And why we think they are bad because we have been programmed to think so.

There is no evil and there is no free-will. Punishment and all senses of revenge, guilt, anger, or joy are destined or determined. We are just acting according to what we have been predestined to do, like a software in the computer.

The whole thing is a computer program. Nothing is left, only codes and codes. No evil, no horror, no good, no moral, and no value.

In the end, this absence of free-will points to the non-realism of god. The predestination or determinism mechanisms of the material world such as the natural process of biology and the law of physics are sufficient to explain this mechanistic existence. There is no need to postulate a creator god.

Even if god exists, he exists only within the bound of this huge cosmic software and has no real existence outside of this cosmic software. That means god exists only within the determinism of the natural world, and is simply a natural postulation emerged from the mechanism in the world.

So in the end, those who argue for determinism or predestination, in arguing for the sovereignty of god, has in effect chopped off the very head it wants to protect. And so, what is left are just codes and motion moving to and fro the computer screen. An oxymoronic theological nihilism.

By way of clarification, I have to say that I have no answer to this problem between determinism (predestination) and free-will. Yet I am interested to see how different arguments are presented opposing each other.

I am not a libertarian. I am more inclined towards its counterpart 'communitarian'. That means my idea of free-will is understood within the latter framework. Yet I don't see that free-will has no place within communitarian thoughts, as some might argue. Though restricted, yet still free.

Libertarian view 'free-will' very individualistic, each person is independent of influences from others (be it community, nature, or culture). That means the highest point of reference in making a moral choice is in the individual alone. "Freedom" then is making a choice without external influences, and so without restriction except only the 'harm principle' (individual can do whatever on himself or others or whatever as long as no harm is inflicted on any) and "utility principle" (your action causes more harm than happiness). So basically moral choice is based on a person's desire and personal value.

Communitarian opposes this. Each person is not independent from the influences of community, nature, and culture. Individual identity (in Charles Taylor's term "the source of the self") only exists within a community. Add to that, individual's rationality and hence moral reasoning also exist only within a tradition (Alastair McIntyre). Because of this dependent, therefore individual is responsible to larger reality other than the individual. "Freedom" still exists in the individuals in a community but restricted by the community, the greater or "universalizable" good (Kant's categorical imperative). So basically moral choice is based on the community's rule and value.

The communitarian view does not came out from trying to answer the question on 'determinism vs free-will'. It's more on individual's moral and rational ability and limit. Yet that does give us a glimpse on how constraint are we, humans, in our rationale and moral reasoning by a larger reality. Hence, in that sense, our rationality and moral values are determined. This also goes against existentialism's "existent precedes essence".

At this stage, predestination theologians employ 'compatibilism' to explains that there is no real tension between our conscious freedom to choose and the already determined or predestined reality.

Libertarian's notion of free-will has no place in compatibilism. Compatibilists affirm there is will, but one under bondage. Hence we need 'regeneration' to free the will to do what it is suppose to do. Hence in this way, the 'freedom' of the will is teleological; the will is free only to do what it was meant to do. But any form of 'freedom' in compatibilism is necessarily contradicting god's all-sovereignty, as the latter leaves no place for compromise, if not, it is only 'sovereignty' and not 'ALL-sovereignty'.

(No doubt Kant's argument for such free-will as 'autonomy' is rather convincing. Yet he was not solving our problem "determinism vs free-will". He was responding to utilitarianism, and hence didn't touch on our problem. So his autonomous free-will, though goes along with compatibilism's notion of free-will, yet it has no material relevance or whatever with compatibilism.)

The Reformers' way of arguing over this problem is still helpful to us, yet not primary or has the most relevant. So the language they used are still useful, yet less compatible with what we now know about the intricacy of God's creation. There is a more fertile ground for exploration concerning the problem of "determinism vs free-will" in brain sciences. These fields parallel the older debate of the Reformers.

The Reformers had their deserved glory.

Finally, I have to say that I have no clue how the question 'determinism vs free-will' works out. Look forward to learn the possible answer.

So does that mean Acts 4.25-28 is wrong about determinism? It is wrong if only the passage is solely meant to answer our "determinism vs free-will" question. But that passage is not to answer our abstract question. Acts 4 was meant to answer other abstract question that has to do with messianic prophecy within the Jewish community of its day. Though we cannot deny the fact that it does have direct implication to our understanding of the ontological status of the happenstance in the world.

Friday, November 06, 2009

A note I prepared on theology of mission in John's gospel

1) The fourth gospel itself is a mission-oriented medium; a missionary artefact (John 20.31). That means it is produced wholly for the sake of extending the initiated yet unfinished work of Jesus Christ (John 4.34).

2) Jesus Christ is portrayed as the co-eternal divine agent who was on a mission in the world to initiate a global adoption of alienated humans to be the children of God (John 1.12, 11.52).

3) The end of the mission is the belief in Jesus as God’s agent who is the co-eternal son of God, who brings life to humans by adopting them as God’s children (John 20.31). Hence John’s proclamation of the ‘good news’ in the fourth gospel is simply this divine activity.

4) The by-products of this divine adoption are:

a. Reconciliation among different ethnic groups (John 4.22-24: God is initiating global adoption. This point is based on Tony Siew's lecture note). True children of God will worship God in spirit and truth without hindrance based on ethnicity, as symbolized in Jesus’ references to “in Jerusalem” and “on this mountain”.

b. Reconciliation among different social groups. God’s global adoption through Jesus includes social pariahs (Samaritans in John 4), socially respectable people (John 4, 12.42), and disabled and unfortunate people (John 9.1-7). All are adopted as God’s children as long as they believe in the good news.

c. Pacifist confrontation with social and political powers is a given in mission work (John 18.11, 36). Pacifist is not being immobile or do nothing. Pacifist approach as portrayed by Jesus is a confrontation without initiating physical harm on the dissenting parties. That does not mean no pain at all, but what kind of pain. For eg. Pushing an approaching violent people away is not harmful, but pushing him over the bridge is.

d. Rational and dialogical confrontation with social and political powers is a given in mission work (John 18.20, 23).

5) Mission though began by God (John 4.34), yet it is a continual effort commissioned to his followers (John 21.15-17).

6) Finally, the author of the fourth gospel saw his own endeavour in writing the book as a missionary effort. Given that the literacy at that time was low and writing apparatus were expensive, the author nonetheless still uses this exquisite and powerful medium in his mission work. Do we explore and use those exquisite media of our time for our mission work? Since literacy is relatively high and literary apparatus are easily available, writing blogs, books, banners, and journals for missionary effort are much easier.

Besides, there are more expensive media in urban setting like art exhibition, moviemaking and screening, advertisement avenues, and others that worth our consideration to expand mission work. Yet we have to also bear in mind that neither Jesus nor the early Christians mint their own coins to propagate the gospel. (Coins were used not merely as economic tools but also used by emperors and revolutionary military leaders - eg. Bar Kochba - as the media to mark their reign). So we have to careful not to set up Christian political party in our political endeavor.


Thursday, November 05, 2009

Theological perspective on Malaysia's 2010 Budget

It's up at Micah Mandate website:

The government’s national budget is always a sort of self-revelation: the unveiling of the government’s vision for the people and a diagnosis of the current socio-economic state of the country. It is not merely an economic blueprint or worse, a political showcase. On a more succinct level, the national budget deals with the livelihood of the people, the men and women on the street. Therefore, it cannot be a neutral or amoral document.

How the federal funds are spent (on whom, in what, and with whom) hinges only on one aspect of the budget while the rest has to do with the acquirement of these funds (from who and from where). These purviews are necessarily grounded on the underlying moral decision already assumed in the budget. Therefore the Malaysia 2010 Budget has much more to tell us about the moral vision the current government has for the society than just their proposed spending and earning in the next few years.

Read the rest here. If you need the footnotes, let me know. We didn't plagiarize :)

I bet you been through this also

There was this incident when I was involved with a company (not ORTV) to organize an event in the past. During the meeting, we were discussing the list of speakers to be invited. After consolidating, we figured that we still lack of one speaker for a particular area.

So I suggested Z. I told the committee about Z and why I think he is suitable. After listening, the committee decided not to invite him as he is rather dubious to them. Fine. So we moved on.

During one of our subsequent meetings, I found out that the committee had invited Z. But their decision was not due to my earlier suggestion but rather due to someone named P.

P is like a behind-the-curtain-consultant to some of the committee members. P has a Ph.D and she is much older than me, and so carries the impression of being more reliable and trustworthy. So when I say Z and when P say Z, although both refer to the same Z and with the same reason for the suggestion, P's suggestion has more weight.

Probably it is not because P has a Ph.D and decades more older. Just that I am not a good convincer, failed to convince the committee to invite Z. Yet, it worths asking, do we need to have a Ph.D and be older to be more reliable?

If so, then the fact that you are young and without a Ph.D or even a Bachelor Degree (like me) should stop giving suggestion on anything or to anyone. Whenever people ask for suggestion, refer them to those who has Ph.D(s) or at least a Bachelor Degree because they are more reliable.

But then again, given that you don't have academic qualification, your reference is not reliable. Well, so just live your life according to your qualification. No degree and not old enough, don't say anything. Just say, "I don't know." That's what you can say and everyone will be happy because that will reassert and reassure them that everything in the society is in proper order: No degrees = not reliable, Master Degree = more reliable, Ph.D = Most reliable.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Here and there

I spent the last whole week co-authoring with Steven Sim a theological response towards Malaysia's 2010 Budget. It was an enriching experience as I had the opportunity to theologically think through social and financial matters.

I found out that it is easier to just engage the national budget through secular critique as it is more spontaneous. Attempting to connect Christian theology with these issues requires more brain work. I have been in theological college for the past 5 months and never for once I took a walk at the garden to get some fresh air and to re-think over theological matters. And yesterday, I get to do that. I was trying to connect a certain strand of theology to monetary value. How to ground our perception of the reality of the value of money and the moral facet of its characteristic. It was good to have Steven to dialog with on these matters as we don't want the theological response to seem forced and hence read like a superficial appendix.

We manged to finalize our draft (about 4500 words) this afternoon and emailed to a few places to see if anyone interested to publish or upload it.

On a different note, during last night's dinner, it was rather encouraging to discover that someone has expressed interest to get me on board his organization after I graduated (which is about 2 and a half year from now).

Monday, November 02, 2009

Why raise hands during praising session in the church?

Andreas shared an interesting note on Facebook and on his blog:

Some people will lift up their hands up when they sing. Interestingly, they only do this when they sing contemporary songs. More interestingly, usually they only lift up their hands during the refrain. Most people, if not all, will never lift up their hands when they sing "old songs," known as "hymns"...

I have been pondering on this question as I also sometimes do lift up my hands when I sing, and I do sometimes lift up my hands when I sing "hymns" privately in my own room. I wonder if I am actually satisfying my own desire, rather than satisfying God's when I do that. Why so? Because usually I lift up my hands when I "feel" like lifting up my hands. When I don't "feel" like doing so, I won't do it. So, at the end it seems that my singing is all about me, myself, and I; and not about God. I wonder...

This is my reply:

It's a ritual. Human beings are creatures that love rituals. Even atheists love rituals. They blow candles on top of a cake during birthday celebration.

I held up my hand and shook them a bit during the worship session at class' trip to New Creation Church. A classmate's wife saw it and thought that I was trying to blend in well into the environment. Her husband on the other hand is rather skeptical.

As for me, why I raised my hand and shook is simple because I was too bored.

Other friends said that they lift their hands because they feel 'encouraged' to do so by the atmosphere or it is a 'personal preference' style of praising. Then I further commented:

All are correct, and I want to emphasize that all our 'expression' in worship is primarily our OWN human expression and is not special or exclusive than other religious people's expression to their own religion.

However the 'specialty' is not entirely absence. I think human's 'specialty' in religious expression which are accompanied by musics (like most sunday services) found in an important point Ian has raised: "God created music and human emotion for a reason and the two are so interconnected with one another."

That was a point which I have tried exploring theologically and amateurishly in one of my social activity, namely 'clubbing'.

The 'specialty' is an "invocation to convergence": Be it Bach or Armin Van Buuren, when we received enough auditory stimuli, we react in a controlled and expected way. It is as if there exists a synchronizing relationship in the fabric of our body in connection with music.

It seems that there is correspondence between our bodily movement and rhythm. As though the noumena world of music is apprehensible by our phenomenal mind, and resulting our expression in the form of bodily movement which converges with the noumena."

Anyway here's a YouTube clip (HT: Robert Cargill) to help you to obtain better worship experience:

Sunday, November 01, 2009

When church and non-Christian misunderstand each other

Last week, a non-Christian friend commented this on her Facebook (verbatim):

For all you City Fucking Harvesters out there... I got nothing against the rest of you guys. I have to admit, it's a nice tune but I'd still burn down your sodding church if I had a chance. Oh yah, and get someone to gang rape Ho Yeow Sun... Goddamn MOFOs... *flips middle finger*

I asked her why. And she replied (verbatim):

I went to one of their mass a while back and they put up a skit and made fun of a monk! How wrong is that! God does not teach you to make fun of other religions... oh yah and they 'force' ppl to give donations so that Ho Yeow Sun can prance about clad in Gucci!

Everything is about money there. 20% of income goes to the church as pledge and ties, some Powerhouse thingy (not the club) where they pass the bucket, cell group meeting where they pass the envelope and not forgetting Sunday mass where they pass the bucket again... where do you think they got all that money to build that 2 million dollar frou frou place in Jurong they call a place of worship?

They have this thingy at the end of every mass where they ask people who wanna recieve God. My friend was nudged out and before he knew it, someone put an arm on his shoulder and he was led to the front. How can force people liddat???

I think there are a lot of mutual misunderstanding here. On one hand, my friend might not understand what CHC people were doing. And on the other hand, the church might not have clarify what they were doing to those who do not belong to the church. There are learning opportunity from and for both sides.

Thank you all for your concern

I am sincerely grateful to have concerned Singaporean friends who ask me to tone down my political comments. Yet my context demands it. Malaysia is a country with cases like Altantuyaa, Teoh Beng Hock, Kugan, Moorthy, Revathi, and RM28billion annual overpayment (read corruption). If theology doesn't speak against these, what's the use of it?