In Worship of ‘doing good’//Pursuing ‘goodness’ without God

What do you want out of your life? Happiness? Meaning/fruitfulness/purpose? Before I continue, let me tell you a bit more about myself: I’m interested and concerned with social-environmental issues. I cut down on plastic and waste and generally don’t consume animal products. This could be seen as my way of ‘doing good’.

Let me problematized the fixation on ‘doing good’ without accounting for my Christian identity: 1) there are good non-Christians and bad Christians, and therefore, 2) what makes my efforts at ‘doing good’, ‘Christian’ (I’ve long thought about what makes a Christian NGO different from a non-religious/Buddhist/etc. organisation)? 3) How can I fit Christianity in my life (i.e. assuming that I believe my identity as a Christian is more important than being good)?

I think it’s (more important) to be Christian than ‘being good’ (haha I’m also kinda cheating because I think that being Christian = striving to be good. All/most faiths teach you to do good things, and how could you call yourself Christian if you do not renounce sin? I use sin rather loosely – even ‘systemic sins’ of our society like you consuming products created by exploitation of people/environment).

Sure, I could be obsessed with making my world a better place, starting organisations and doing activism etc., BUT 1) there are so many contradictions in our efforts, we’re never perfect – problematizing the case of veganism for the environment: you eat more plants (less carbon footprint), but there are so many other aspects of your life which contribute to perhaps even more ‘environmental harm’ than consuming animal products – plastic consumption rather than biodegradable animal materials?)

There are even more problems with ‘doing good’: 2) quoting Ecclesiastes 1, ‘meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless’ – I could devote my entire life to ‘doing good’, but I won’t change too much: our world is broken, and I know I cannot make our world a utopia. We’re ineffective: ‘unless the Lord builds the house, the labourers labour in vain’. We need to de-center humanity as agents of change and recognise that there are many forces out there: perhaps I may build many houses for the poor, but a natural disaster can so simply and quickly destroy structures we build. Our efforts at ‘doing good’ will also always be contentious: people will question our motivations, and it relies on the cooperation of those we work with.

And so for me, I hope not to worship the act of ‘doing good’. A fixation on ‘doing good’ can cause anxiety because of the unpredictability of things around us, and we will constantly question our motivations. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t ‘do good’, but rather, uncover the bigger picture of our work. There are many good things we can worship (our family, being a good friend, etc.) – it’s good to be good, but without God, our work will never be perfect.

 

Additional readings –

1) Can we be good without God? – William Lane Craig https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/popular-writings/existence-nature-of-god/can-we-be-good-without-god/

Can we be good without God? At first the answer to this question may seem so obvious that even to pose it arouses indignation. For while those of us who are Christian …

 

2) Faith and Works – James 2 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+2&version=ESV

The Sin of Partiality – My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine …

 

Post Script –

I think this piece engages with a little bit of (moral) philosophy, about what defines ‘goodness’; is God inherently good, does he define goodness (e.g. if he does something that seems bad to us like killing people, is that still good?) I’m not a philosophy major, but I’m sure that if you are interested, there are many videos/texts out there. IMO when I write about God making our good works perfect rather than merely good, I mean to say that 1) I’ll have (no) anxiety when I question my motives behind doing good, 2) God will do what he will with my work, and I believe that will make it good, 3) my good deeds will (hopefully) come to fruition with God orchestrating the other forces/actors – other people, the environment, etc.

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Confessions

(Stream of consciousness ahead)

I need to get this off my chest. I need to write this down somewhere. I can’t remember, but I’m pretty sure I wrote something about this before; I was recently obsessed with making my life more transparent, thinking that this life of secrecy is one of the root causes of my unhappiness. And tangled in this mess is a whole lot of other issues.

I remember in secondary school I’ll say that I’m transparently opaque, which I suppose I still am now. What I mean by this statement is that I don’t think I’ve any real secrets: if I tell you something, even if you are my best friend, I don’t think I’ll be too unhappy if you repeated whatever I told you to someone else, even if people may consider the piece of information I shared to be ‘private’. Hmm, basically, I suppose I don’t think I’m someone with many secrets per se.

But there are slightly more ‘shameful’ things about me that only I know about. And no one else knows. I don’t tell anyone these things. But actually if I think deeper about them, I don’t think they’re particularly shameful at all. Still, I can’t help feeling ashamed about them/needing to keep them secret. I suppose that’s one of the reasons why I’m quite paranoid about ‘internet security’ (though I don’t think I’m fantastic at covering my tracks), ok, well, I’m more paranoid/anxious about meeting people-I-know-but-don’t-really-know-anymore on the streets (and I wish that wearing a burka was more mainstream here). I’m thinking about how I don’t openly tell people about this blog. Or my personal Instagram (which is actually pretty common for people nowadays)/personal journal sites for only myself. There is nothing inherently shameful about these things, but I still hide them. And while I know that I need not feel shame about being depressed, it’s still something which. I don’t like to talk about to random people?

I don’t know. I’m feeling rather lost and anxious and paranoid right now because I’m thinking of the multiple personalities/online presences that I am, that I have. I want to be more transparent. But I cannot bring myself to be. I am an impulsive liar? But at the same time, I’m really not. It’s just that I don’t tell people about all of me. Is that a white lie?

My brain is really, really, really fractured. Divided. Split. Thinking of small random things and I oscillate between the random thoughts, decisions that I have to make in everyday life. I feel trapped because I am unable to make a choice, a stand.

Why read // how reading has changed me

I’ve been reflecting on how I’ve changed as a person. I’ve always liked reading, but I think it’s only in university that I’ve read a lot more. Gained lots more information, from books (read lots more fiction, I’ve been reading more than a hundred books these last 2 years? Yes, I skim sometimes and some books are really easy to read/short), readings in school and from videos as well (documentaries, short educational clips. I don’t find those Kdramas/movies attractive anymore. Haha, I think I’ve grown rather old in that sense. Gosh, I’ll rather watch the news than see a movie…). University education has grown me greatly in knowledge, but not ‘holistically’ like in college.

Anyway. I was thinking about how important is to me. I recall listening to audiobooks – the bible, and feeling very touched as I listened to the epistles/letters from the apostles. I think about how they were written to people. And as a letter writer, I felt particularly moved: they were writing to people, to me! Christians displaced from where the apostles were, Christians whom they would never meet, Christians of the future, even! Words are so emotive, and they’re different from news/mere information. I think about the experiences of my friends: despite studying about climate change, how animals have been exploited etc., they are content with going back to their old way of life because it is too troublesome. Perhaps we should not tell people the current situation, but how it would be like in the future.

I remember the intensity of feeling I experienced, reading David Mitchell’s Bone Clocks. The last chapter/last few chapters, I can’t remember. Basically it described the future. It was a horrendous one, anarchy and climate change issues. It was terrible, disastrous, I didn’t cry but I felt like I could have.

I challenged my mother to think – she didn’t have the best childhood; poor, post WWII and stuff. What is something that she cannot ‘go back to’ from her childhood? She said the lack of sanitation; people didn’t have their own toilets. Toilets that did not flush and the pans had to be cleared by someone every other day.

Reading Mitchell’s work, I felt scared to live in a world where there is no ‘progress’, ‘improvement’. I can’t imagine a world which is worse than my current world, as a youth. I can’t imagine living in a world without constant electricity. But that’s a very possible and real problem, isn’t it? (This imagination, this fiction, has indeed influenced the changes in my life. A more, environmentally conscious one, albeit flawed and limited).

Read (fiction, too). There is emotion in the pages, it can change your life. It has changed mine.

Self evaluation of intelligence

I’ve been questioning my identity/my intelligence. My mom called me an intellectual snob before, which I suppose does somewhat accurately describe me. I do respect intelligent people very easily, more than those who are rich (I think. But yes, different ways of being intelligent as well; as what Galileo said: I’ve never met a man so dense whom I’ve got nothing to learn from). I do agree that sometimes I can be impatient with people who are slower, so may (unconsciously) think that their value as a person is less.

But I wonder if I really think I’m smart. I don’t think so? I think I’m quite willing and reasonably quick to say that I’m stupid (not in a low self-esteem way, but an acknowledgement of my limitations). Yes, I can say/think intelligent things, but I don’t mind talking about my failures. I’ve failed many times in my life haha.

But somehow I think I give the impression that I’m smart/intellectual – I think it’s simply because talking about ideas interest me, more than ‘what did you eat for lunch’ and gossip about people/people’s lives (unless it’s the life of the person I’m talking to).

I hate it when people allude to my intelligence, it makes me uncomfortable. And I HATE IT when grades come out and they assume that I did well/ask me what I got/and then pronounce out loud/to everyone ‘HUH HOW COME YOU DID SO BADLY’. Thanks. Or look shocked/disappointed. It’s like I disappointed myself, and even worse, others? I don’t mind talking about my failures, but I don’t like talking about my current failures (hmm that’s normal for everyone right).

This is an incomplete thought, but I’m still pondering about how ‘intelligent’ I really am, and if indeed I’m so prideful, as my mom claims.

Social anxiety, paranoia, the surveillance state

 

Are you afraid of the all-seeing state? Think 1984; Big Brother is watching you, Dave Egger’s The Circle, Foucault’s panopticon. Think about how you can tracked by your tech devices, the internet stores everything that has ever been uploaded, the cameras on your phone, laptop, can be activated without you knowing.

I am not particularly afraid of the aforementioned situations. I’m not really afraid of CCTVs. But I think I do think I have social anxiety (manifestations include being unable to sleep/stress eat before I’m meant to be meeting friends. Cyclical thoughts about random worries before I meet them: will it be awkward, what if it’s boring, what if I am wasting time, where are we going to go, what will they think of me, etc.)

I despise seeing so many people I know around me (in school). I understand the desire many of my friends expressed when they were kids and I couldn’t comprehend: the desire to go somewhere else and start their life entirely afresh, to not know anyone around them. Previously I couldn’t understand what they meant.

But some thoughts/realisations:

  • I think I’m quite an observant person, I watch my surroundings. And so I feel that I know a lot of people around me since I’m always scanning the room and picking out faces; some are familiar strangers. Perhaps people don’t feel the same kind of anxiety as I do because they do not observe their surroundings/people around them as much as I do. So it’s not that I know/recognise more people than usual, it’s just that I watch out more.
  • I feel stifled when I notice familiar people because I impose the way I watch upon these other people. I assume that everyone is as observant as I am and I don’t like the way that I look at people, I won’t like other people watching me in the same way that I am watching others
  • I suppose I’ve quite a good memory of people from the past/familiar strangers. I recognise their faces and names (sometimes? Often enough) easily, and I’ve been part of large ‘organisations’ (schools, clubs etc). Hence it’s only normal that I will recognise so many people.

I’m not doing anything bad but I don’t like to be watched. Perhaps it’s because I have to acknowledge people when I’m in the same space as them. People you know also have a ‘presence’ (their breath, the space they take up, something that triggers some unnameable sense in me) in the room – I am unable to concentrate studying with other people I know. I will think about them. I wonder if they are watching me, what they are thinking. Weird stuff like that.

Contradictory Character

“A paradox to most observers, INTJs are able to live by glaring contradictions that nonetheless make perfect sense – at least from a purely rational perspective. For example, INTJs are simultaneously the most starry-eyed idealists and the bitterest of cynics, a seemingly impossible conflict.”


I feel like I am a bundle of contradictions, I don’t understand myself. I remember struggling to answer the question ‘who I am’ since I was younger; at 15?

I am definitely an introvert, but at the same time I am a ‘circumstantial’ extrovert – I can make myself talk if I have to, people may not call me shy; I’ve been put in leadership positions and it’s hard to be a leader and an introvert (I know, these little inconsistencies in character don’t make ‘me’. Just because I lie once doesn’t make me a ‘bad person’, to be labelled a liar; it is not my dominant identity. But still, I despise inconsistencies in people, and I hate that I have them too). I dislike math, science and technology, but at the same time I think I could do it if I really had to. It confounds me, but at the same time it’s so interesting/useful (I can’t understand trigonometry, logarithms? What is the relationship between the trigonometry graphs and the triangles?). Sometimes I’m nice and patient to those around me, and suddenly I am absolutely terrible and mean and impatient and say the most cutting things; I can be hot and suddenly cold and people have commented about this. I would like to think that I’m a consistent person, and that the times I lash out is due to all the pent up annoyance within me that I decide to release at that particular point in time, but I know that’s not really true. Why am I irked some times more than others? I like reading, writing, being alone etc, but I am unsure if I really enjoy these things. I find it very tough to say I like something. Usually what I like is what I hate the least/a mild preference, favouring, rather than an enthusiasm and joy. I don’t mind, but I don’t like.

(Contradiction is what I think makes human anger imperfect, as compared to ‘godly’ anger haha. Or at least one aspect of it. The standards/threshold of when we get angry differs, unlike the absolute standard of ‘godly’ anger. So He is angry when we sin, but we get angry at each other at varying levels of wrong done to us. Ok this is badly phrased but I hope you get my point.)

Sometimes I feel of about using plastic and trash, but other times I get very triggered by what I am doing – so much waste, so much for creation care. Sometimes I am in an absolute depressed state, other times hopeful (never lasting for long) and most of the time absolutely bored with existence. It sometimes seem like I fluctuate between depression and (mild?) mania.

These inconsistencies make me stumped when asked to describe myself to others. It’s difficult to condense people’s complex characters into words. I don’t think I’m experiencing an identity crisis now (because I simply don’t think about who I am as a person). The main problem is trying to 1) explain myself to people, and more importantly 2) trying to figure out my place in the world (actually, more like finding out what I want to do with my life. There are endless possibilities of what I can do, who I can become, but I don’t know what I should, what I would like to do. And time seems like it’s running out sometimes. Life is short.)

Everything is political

The realm of politics is a difficult one. I question why people can’t be honest and say things as they are instead of thinking of how to phrase it. Yet I know that shooting your mouth off can lead to disastrous consequences – communication is not just about what you intend to say but how other people take it. Language is fraught with manipulation – all kinds of language: spoken, body, even mathematics/statistics. I think about how politics work, after coming back from my trip: the politics of resource (what I’m meant to be learning), the politics of people (social politics, naturally learnt after spending such an extended time with others).

I question its study. I mean, it’s good to know about how politics work since it has a great influence on our lives. Yet, it’s kinda. Useless? Politics doesn’t change anything, it’s all about power plays, getting people to see your point of view (soft power), persuasion, how much people can or cannot see that they’re getting swayed. How much free will do people actually have?

I’m more interested in making REAL differences: new ideas, new policies, leaving the politics for other people to fight over. It’s good enough to simply know about its existence.

But maybe it’s just part of my personality. While I seem rather assertive, I think I’m pretty easy going with most decisions, even though I ‘may be at a loss’ (e.g. project groupings and how people made a fuss about it. But I think I’m generally ok with teaming up with ‘weaker’ people/being at a disadvantage or other situations like this). There will always be conflicts of interests and people will always try to sell their popular ideas/agendas to each other. But I think it natural and alright. As long as the decision is done in the ‘spirit of excellence’, and something is being done in the first place.

[I guess it’s like how I cannot fully understanding the aims of things like ISIS/wars and stuff about people being oppressed. Perhaps because I’ve never felt that FULL EXTENT of pain, I don’t know. To me, we all search for happiness and there are just too many factors that influence that. Just because you attain ‘freedom’/whatever your goals are doesn’t mean that you’ll be happy. The pain it takes to get there may be too much. Then again sure there are causes worth fighting for – for the benefit of the future. Fighting for women’s rights that kind of politics. Anyway.]