Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Attire for Church service

Last Sunday, I was among 12-years-old Sunday School kids. They were discussing what is considered proper attire for Church Service. 

One girl said along the line that her parents asked her to wear nicely to Church so that she won't be a disgrace.

Hearing that, I wonder disgrace to who? To Jesus, who is known to approach beggars (Luke 18:35) and diseased people (Luke 17:11-19)? Or to the little girl's parents?

After the service, I saw an elder in the Church who always wear tie for the Service. So I asked him why does he do that every week. He said that because he wanted to wear his best for God. 

The little girl and the elder don on their best for Sunday Service, but both do it for different reasons.

Anyway, there is a good write-up by Duane Litfin, President of Wheaton College, on the meaning of attire to the individual as well as to the community. Seven observations are highlighted:
  1. The wearing of clothing is exclusively a human characteristic. We share many attributes with other creatures, but the inclination to clothe ourselves is not one of them. Those who know the account of Adam and Eve will understand why this is so. There is a moral and even spiritual dimension to human clothing.

  2. Our clothes serve a variety of practical, social, and cultural functions. Protection and modesty spring first to mind, but our clothes do far more. We sometimes dress to conceal or deceive. More often our clothes serve to reveal. We use clothing for decoration, for sexual attraction, for self-expression and self-assertion. By our attire we display our gender, our religion, our occupation, our social position, or causes with which we identify (e.g., sports jerseys). Our apparel may express our group membership or our role in society (e.g., company or police uniforms). Many dress to impress, while others choose the reverse: they express their rejection by intentionally flouting accepted clothing norms.

  3. Our clothing is one of our most elemental forms of communication. Long before our voice is heard, our clothes are transmitting multiple messages. From our attire, others immediately read not only such things as our sex, age, national identity, socio-economic status, and social position, but also our mood, our attitudes, our personality, our interests, and our values.

  4. We constantly make judgments about one another on the basis of clothing. Common wisdom has it that you can't judge a book by its cover. But this is only partly true; we regularly read one another's covering. What's more, we're better at it than we think. Research suggests that if you stand someone before an audience of strangers and ask them to draw inferences merely on the basis of what they see, the audience's inferences will tend toward consensus, and those inferences will tend to be more or less accurate. Why should this be? We spend our lives making judgments based on appearance and then testing those judgments in our subsequent relationships. In this way, we become rather adept at the process. Judgments based on appearance are scarcely infallible, of course, and we are wise to hold them tentatively. But it's almost impossible to avoid making them in the first place.

  5. Because our clothing is one of the fundamental ways we communicate with others, what we wear is never a purely personal matter. Our attire exerts a social influence on those around us. One famous study, for example, discovered that unwitting subjects were significantly more willing to jaywalk when following individuals wearing "high status" clothing than when following individuals wearing "low status" clothing. What we wear can shape patterns of communication around us, depending on what messages people are picking up. Consider, for example, the varied cues we send by the way we dress: "I want people to notice me." "I'm very confident." "I want to hide." "I care only about comfort." "I want to look seductive." "I repudiate you and your expectations."

  6. How we dress not only affects others; it also affects us. This dynamic is often circular: how we feel influences the clothes we put on, and the clothes we put on in turn shape how we feel. Changes of clothes can generate a change of mood; the soldier feels different in his uniform than he does in street clothes. In some settings our choice of attire can make or break us. If we like the way we look for a job interview, for instance, it will tend to strengthen our confidence. We feel better about our chances, as reflected in improved posture, more fluent speech, more dynamic gestures. On the other hand, inappropriate dress can sap our confidence. We have all experienced the uncomfortable effects of feeling under-dressed in a particular social setting.

  7. Much of the social meaning of our clothing is contextual. The appropriateness of our dress is often dictated by the situation. Dress that would send a given message in one setting might send a very different message in another. Picture, for example, a young woman dressed in hiking boots, sweatshirt, and shorts. Around a campfire the message might be, merely, "I'm ready for the trail." Choosing that same outfit for her aunt's funeral would say something rather different. Regional variations and issues of local dress loom large. Times change, values change, situations change; what was proper ten years ago may not be proper today, or vice versa.
On the other hand, there is this discussion over the appropriateness of women attire in Church. I have noticed that the most usual form this discussion takes is whether should women wear spaghetti straps, hot pants, or short skirt to Church?

Alan Noble highlighted a recent survey done on this discussion. He gives a balanced view on the expectation required from both male and female. We shall not think that it is solely the responsibility of the women to not stumble the men, as if men are merely passive victim of eccentric influence:
...honest men will admit, the stumbling threshold is relative, arbitrary, potentially very low. But I don’t think we can go to the other extreme and encourage our sisters to not care about how their appearance affects others.
To me personally, I don't have problem with spaghetti straps, hot pants, and short skirt around the Church. (If you think attire is an issue for the Church, check out Christian naturists!) So if I stumble by what others wear, that shows how fallen I am and how much spiritual formation I need to cultivate.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Who is intolerant in Singapore? Any idea how to be tolerant here?

Anyone thinks that the local non-Christians, who always criticize Christians for being intolerant and insensitive to non-Christian beliefs and practices, are missing the fact that Christians are not the ones who complain to the authorities when non-Christians display disagreement to Christian belief and practices?

When was the last time an individual Christian or a Christian organization complain to the Home Ministry when they come across disagreeable opinion given by non-Christians on Christian belief and practices?

Take an example: Any Christian complain to the Internal Security Department (ISD) when local non-Christians ridicule some of the Christian beliefs and practices, such as glossolalia (speaking in unfamiliar languages when a person is overwhelmed by the power of God the Spirit), calling it "rubbish"?

Ridiculing glossolalia is insulting most of the Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians, which includes some among the mainline denominations under the National Council of Churches of Singapore. But not a single Christian who practices glossolalia complain to ISD about this. Nor did any Christian make a big fuzz over it. 

That is probably because Christians in Singapore respect and tolerate different views in the real manner. They don't criticize non-Christians who express disagreeable opinion as intolerant. Neither do they lodge report to the authorities against non-Christians when the latter publicly express their opinion on Christian belief and practice.

On the other hand, local non-Christians always criticize Christians as intolerant because Christians hold and express their own view of non-Christian belief and practice. As if that is not enough, the non-Christian would lodge report to the authorities against the Christians. (Aren't the recent ISD's investigations on religious affairs came about when non-Christians complained against the Christians for publicly expressing their disagreeable view?)

To me, this situation in Singapore can be simplified in the following way.

Y makes a disagreeable opinion about X's religion. X does not react by making a big fuss about Y as intolerant. Neither does X lodge report to the authorities against Y.

X makes a disagreeable opinion on Y's religion. Y reacts by making a big fuss about X as intolerant. Y goes on to lodge report to the authorities against X. On top of that, Y accuses X for attempting to inaugurate religious war into the country, and hence disturb the harmony in the society.

It seems to me that many locals like to think that (1) Y is correct to make a big fuss about X as intolerant, (2) Y is correct to lodge report to the authorities against X for being intolerant, and (3) Y is correct to accuse X for attempting to inaugurate religious war into the country, and hence disturb the harmony in the society.

And it also seems to me that the fact that the local authorities take up the cause of Y implies their agreement with and approval of (1), (2), and (3). 

If this is the case, does that mean for me to be "tolerant" in the local context, I would have to make a big fuss about those who publicly express disagreement with my religious belief and practice, lodge a report to the authorities against them, and accuse them as intolerant war-mongers who disturb the harmony in the society?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Richard Dawkins by his own standard is not actually an evolutionist

Recently the famed militant atheist Richard Dawkins released some statistics which claim that those who identified themselves as "Christian" are not actually Christian because they "couldn’t identify the first book in the New Testament."

So Rev. Giles Fraser interviewed him on radio. It turns out that by Dawkins' own standard he can't be an "evolutionist" since he couldn't identify the whole title of Darwin's On the Origin of Species.

Here's the transcript:
Fraser: Richard, if I said to you what is the full title of The Origin Of Species, I’m sure you could tell me that.

Dawkins: Yes I could.

Fraser: Go on then.

Dawkins: On the Origin of Species…Uh…With, oh, God, On the Origin of Species. There is a sub-title with respect to the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.
Fraser: You are the high hope of Darwinism... if you ask people who believe in evolution what that question and you came back and said 2 per cent got it right, it would terribly easy for me to go they don't really believe in it after all. It is just not fair to ask people this question. They self-identify as Christian and I think you should respect that.
Listen to the one-minute-twenty-one-seconds interview (H/T: Uncommon Descent):


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Be careful with 1 Timothy 2:12: It may not be as complementarian as some want it to be

"I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man" (1 Tim 2:12)

I just read through a syntactical study widely regarded (even by its critics) as the most convincing work that argues for 1 Tim 2:12 to be understood as how a complementarian sees it ("I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man") and not as how an egalitarian sees it ("I do not permit a woman to falsely teach in domineering manner over a man").

It is written by Andreas Köstenberger, a complementarian. This position simply means the affirmation "that men and women are equal in the image of God, but maintain complementary differences in role and function. In the home, men lovingly are to lead their wives and family as women intelligently are to submit to the leadership of their husbands. In the church, while men and women share equally in the blessings of salvation, some governing and teaching roles are restricted to men." 

The whole article is here. A summary is here.

I must say it is really a good and detailed study!

What caught my attention is his careful qualification in the study's conclusion. He made it very clear that the reason behind the instruction "do not permit a woman teach or to exercise authority over a man" is due to the church's specific circumstances. He was so careful to qualify this that he repeated it a few times in his conclusion as follow (pp.281-282, emphasis added):
 3. A distinction should be made between the fact that two activities or concepts are viewed positively in and of themselves and that they may be prohibited due to circumstances. [...]

4. 1 Tim 2:12 can legitimately be seen as an example of the first pattern, i.e. the denial of two activities which are viewed positively in and of themselves, under contextually adduced circumstances. [...]

5. [...] Thus 1 Tim 2:12 is an instance of the first pattern where the exercise of two activities is prohibited or the existence of two concepts is denied by the writer due to certain circumstances. [...]
It is clear that Köstenberger thinks that the instruction to disallow women to teach and exercise authority over men in 1 Tim 2:12 is due to the circumstances facing the congregation at Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3) at that time.

As we know, Ephesus was where the powerful Artemis/Diana cult located at that time. This cult revolved around high priestesses and hence promoted a form of women superiority over men.

If this is the case, then Paul's instruction in 1 Tim 2:12 is specifically dealing with the religious-cultural circumstances of the Ephesian church at that time. Probably the women in the Ephesian congregation have adopted some of the pattern of the Artemis cult.

If so, whether can the circumstantial instruction in 1 Tim 2:12 be applied universally for all contexts (e.g. 21st century Singapore's churches) needs much more further investigation so that we don't misapply (or worse, abuse) the Scripture. 

If this is followed, then the suggestion that Paul's instruction in 1 Tim 2:12 should be universally applicable must not be too readily accepted as plain truth.

Nonetheless, one may say that precisely because the Ephesian women have overturned the order in the Church---as influenced by the Artemis cult---that Paul needed to remind them of the complementary position, which is the correct order.

Even so, one still need to demonstrate whether did Paul meant his instruction to be universally applicable or should it be only applicable to the Ephesian congregation at that time, within that context.

If one chooses to think that 1 Tim 2:12 is universal, then one has to deal with 1 Tim 2:15, "But women will be saved through childbearing". Should this also be universal?

I'll discuss this in another post.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

John Hick & R. T. France: One after the other

John Hick passed away on 9th February 2012, while R. T. France the next day. Two famed scholars in different fields. What would they say to each other in the other world? Will they puzzle over the fact that the blogosphere is announcing their death?

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

If you think United Nations & politicians control the world...

Transnational Institute released some interesting reports on 'The State of Corporate Power 2012' (H/T: Kia Meng):

Just 10.9 million people, or 0.15%, control $42.7 trillion dollars or two thirds of world GDP. An even tinier group of people, 0.001%, control a third of that amount. Where are they based? What could this money pay for?

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Say you are teaching a class, and only two students sign up...

This semester, there are a few modules with only a handful of students. There was one class that I wanted to attend but was told that that class was for a postgraduate program. And last I heard, there was only one postgraduate student registered for the class.

Whether one is a teacher, pastor, lecturer or any educator, it is always disheartening to see poor turnout at one's class. Imagine you organize a course on an important theologian of your denomination, and only two persons sign up. 

What would you do? Cancel the class?

Here's what John Stackhouse wrote:
In an autobiographical sketch (in the fine collection of Kelly Clark’s Philosophers Who Believe), Yale University philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff recalls his student days at Calvin College in Michigan. Once, he writes, he signed up for a course on Immanuel Kant’s difficult Critique of Pure Reason. Taught by a senior professor, Harry Jellema, the course enrolled just two students. Nicholas Wolterstorff was one.
Guess who was the other student?

He was Alvin Plantinga, one of the greatest living Christian philosophers of our time. Stackhouse continued:
Wolterstorff delightedly notes that every student in that class has since been invited to give the prestigious Gifford Lectures in Scotland, defending the Christian faith. [...]
Harry Jellema, though, could not have foreseen any of that when he faithfully entered his classroom each time to teach just these two students. He simply wanted to teach anyone who wanted to learn.

At the University of Chicago they still enjoy telling the story of astrophysics professor Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. In the 1950s, Chandrasekhar was living in Wisconsin, conducting research at the university’s observatory. The university scheduled him to teach one advanced seminar that winter, however, so Chandrasekhar drove eighty miles each way to teach the course on the main campus to—you guessed it—just two students. He could have cancelled it, but he did not.

In the subsequent decades, both of those students, and Professor Chandrasekhar himself, won the Nobel Prize. Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, however, could not have foreseen any of that when he faithfully entered that classroom every time to teach just two students. He simply wanted to teach anyone who wanted to learn.  
This perspective on formal education goes against the prevalent attitude to see the importance of certain subjects based on how much money one can make from it through student registration.

Of course this does not mean education should be operated regardless of monetary profitability. Sustainability is non-negligible. And in the present system, monetary profitability guarantees sustainability. 

What this means is for educators to not lose heart if your classes are not popular. On sustainability, there is always a market for the niche.