Who is your faith for?

(Yourself? Others – and if ‘others’, who are these others? God?)

This is a long standing topic/thought that has been exposed to me since I was young: ‘does Christianity exclude certain people’? I remember being in youth group and they would ask us to think of people that we think the gospel cannot reach: most commonly people would think of the elderly, uneducated, those who have done ‘too many bad things’/hopeless, un-saveable people (unrepentant people)? I remember my church founder as well, he asked where the taxi drivers, the hawkers, the cleaners were? Why were they not coming into our church? How can mothers be carrying the bible and the helpers carrying their babies; it should be the other way around?

Does Christianity have a class divide in Singapore? Last Sunday, the speaker was sharing his experience; in the 70s, he came to know Christ and shared the gospel with 2 of his friends. He was English educated, spoke English, Mandarin and Hokkien; his first friend was Mandarin educated and spoke Mandarin and Hokkien, while the other was not educated and spoke only Hokkien. His 2 friends joined a Chinese church and eventually the uneducated Hokkien friend gave up his faith – he had to work to support his family and could not understand what was going on in the church.

Generally, I think churches are fairly homogenous. Which is not necessarily a bad thing – alternate Sunday services at the Novena chapel at conducted in Tagalog (mostly Filipino congregation), my church is made up of mostly highly educated, ‘successful’ people, but we do have many other ethnic congregations (we don’t mix/much). There are as many churches as there are ‘different congregations’: there are Hokkien churches (there’s an elderly woman in ION who always shouts ‘thank Jesus’ in Hokkien as she tries to sell people tissue), Nepalese, Korean, Indian ones, for the old, young, in-betweens, migrant populations, etc. They meet specific needs of the different groups.

But yes, I wonder about Christianity as a whole. Which people are most likely to become Christian (rich, educated people? In my university paper, I suggested that Buddhism/Taoism is a majority religion in Singapore and some people questioned this, fairly obvious (?), fact – too many people practising Christianity/atheism in university which confounds their perception?). I think knowing this is important so that we know if Christianity is becoming/is exclusive. If it is, doesn’t it contradict what it should be and therefore we should change it?

I guess this thought has become stronger because of ‘where I am currently’ (the mental space I am currently occupying):

  • Since I was in primary school, I always thought it cool to get to know the ‘other side’ of Singapore (i.e. the side I am not currently on; all my opposites). But I never had the chance? Yes, I did have friends who took drugs, weren’t really intelligent, partied a lot (both in ‘upper’ and ‘lower class’ clubs), (my neighbourhood!!! Haha it’s so obvious to see ‘the other side’ in my neighbourhood – drinking, homelessness, cannot afford to pay rent/need to borrow money, etc.), but I suppose because I don’t enjoy these activities/don’t engage in them, I never really got to see how life was like in those circles.
  • I was pondering about who God is (to us humans). Our attitude/perception of God shows in our prayer: do we treat God like a genie, asking Him for stuff? Like an ‘aunt agony’; complaining about life, etc. What is the point of prayer too; how did we come to pray in these certain ways that we do? (I was wondering how meaningful/is it right, to pray for our friends, ourselves. I think I generally take life as it is and accept my circumstance pretty well; I don’t blame God or whatever forces out there, and that affects the way I pray too).
  • I’ve had a disinterest in studying lately. Which is something I’m afraid of. But I was thinking about this in relation to ‘who is Christianity for’: Singapore’s Christianity focuses quite a bit on studying; ‘bible STUDY’, group DISCUSSIONS. But, that’s not what Christianity should be about? Application is more important? Focusing on studying excludes those who do not like/not good at studying?
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Thoughts from today’s sermon

More stuff about money:

I’ve been thinking about the best way to live life for a long time; things like what it means to have a meaningful life, a holistic one, the search for a routine. Books and people have helped me question things like that: e.g. what’s the purpose of doctors sometimes; their life is quite depressing to see so much suffering. How about doctors in war? That’s a disgusting job to do. If only we didn’t have certain things like smoking/war, these doctors need not repair, they could do something more interesting/better, like create.

Today’s sermon was about looking out for the marginalised. I shall just write a few points and elaborate. The thoughts are really messy, but I hope that you can see the links between them. Perhaps one day I may phrase them better.

  • I’ve read The Art of Thinking Clearly sometime back; this is chapter 65, which talks about ‘volunteer folly’. Basically the argument is: based on cost benefit analysis, if you’re a successful business man, do not volunteer your time to do things like building birdhouses. Instead, spend the time which you would have volunteered at your job and give the money you earn during that time working to carpenters who could do the job better. It’s in argument for specialisation and efficiency.
  • I’ve thought about how that links to faith: the common notion of ‘one body, many parts’; everyone is working towards the same goal but everyone is doing different but complimentary things. Yet at the same time, I don’t think this is entirely true? I struggled with meeting the demands in the bible – there are WAY too many commandments, even for the contemporary believer (so excluding all the ‘old fashion’ Torah laws). Think about plentiful and demanding commands: ‘make every effort’, ‘conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel’, overarching commandments for all Christians: ‘great commission’, etc. There is just so much.
  • So, indeed the bible does not call us to lead efficient, specialised lives. But holistic ones.
  • Linking back to Dobelli’s argument. I don’t think that’s (pure efficiency) a right way to live. Because, again, money does not solve everything. His argument works in a very case specific way.
  • Sometime back, I was pondering about the sadness of work, life. The contradictions of human life: the climate change conferences that governments come together – wow, so much waste, to fly so many people around the world (all the carbon emissions). City planners who rush to their offices to plan to make better cities – perhaps it would just be less congested if they didn’t have to rush to get there on time; why do we need such huge cities? We throw money at things and expect things to be fixed (I’m thinking about Polyani’s great transformation/ Fraser’s third movement: i.e. – Double movement (Polyani) = the dialectical process of marketization and push for social protection against that marketization. Think about how we want to help the poor, third world countries. We do that by integrating them into the global economy, trade more, but fail to realise that it was the trade which created the unevenness in wealth and poverty in the first place. Fraser’s third movement = emancipation; which confronts this contradiction, aiming to ‘overcome forms of domination rooted both in economy and society’)
  • So, we could be a very efficient society, but that doesn’t mean that problems go away. We’re just creating things that we don’t need. Capitalism which spurs endless growth and consumption, which is an impossibility. We need a holistic kind of life.

Finally, the question of what does it meant to bless those who are the least (Matthew 24). Ah, I struggle with this (hahah I’m starting to think that I use the term ‘struggle’ too much in my blogs). I had this internal (?) debate before, when it’s brought up that we should help the ‘foreign worker’, the ‘cleaners in our school’. I felt that it was a sensationalisation of these groups and their plight; they have less power and we need to help them from above. I thought about how I do not even interact with, help my professors and peers; why should I reach out to people below me if I have not even done so to people near to me? I thought it an addition to help those who are the least, rather than a command that I must fulfil. So, yes, just something to think about for me, and also to ask who are the least? – Those people who I do not even think about, nor take up any of my time/effort/brain space.

A case against Social Mobility

There’s been quite a lot of things on my mind as of late. Trying to understand my place in the world, people’s/ my intelligence, my parents’ lives, stuff like that. Work, the future, etc. But I shall attempt to write a focused piece.

I want to argue that social mobility in its purest sense is overrated. We aspire after it, assuming it to be a good thing, but perhaps a more careful examination of what it exactly entails is needed.

  1. Social mobility means that people can move up, and down. Do we want people to move down? I think I’ve written about this before – we, who are privileged, who talk about creating a more equal world; are we willing to give up some of benefits for a more equal world? (I readily admit that I’m not sure if I can accept irregular electricity/unwilling to cut down on using it.) I’m not sure people are so noble. And moving down, would it be regression (in an absolute or relative sense)? Is it possible that we can all move up together?
  2. I’m not sure that we actually want social mobility. Yes, I’m taking a class on deviance this semester and I’m reintroduced to Durkheim’s anomie theory, explaining suicide. And other sociologists like Merton. One of their arguments: unregulated desires, all possibilities are open = people feeling more lost than ever about what they want to/can do with their lives, what is needed in society/meaningful. They’re not happier with more choices. They feel pressured – they could be anything, and what if despite that, their lives end up being nothing? They’ve wasted their potential? They could become depressed. [I was talking to J about this sometime back, I think – thinking about all the dystopian novels I’ve read about individuals created to do a specific job in their world. Does that create a better system? Yes, a more efficient world, but perhaps one which progress may be hindered? Or what if there were roles for ‘creators’/dreamers – would progress still be stifled?]
  3. People don’t seek possibility. They seek certainty. Comfort. I was walking home today and I saw many old people sitting around, drinking, as they usually do. I’ve never done such a thing, and am likely to never do so. People usually look down on these groups? They’re old, unattractive (men), lonely, participating in a vice. Yet, I felt a strange sense of envy. They had a place in their society, their worlds. They had friends, they had a routine and knew where they fit in. While, sure, I’m of a ‘higher class’, I’ve got more potential and a better future, but. I don’t actually know where I’ll be, who I’ll be. Perhaps I’ll be less happy than they are. People don’t seek after riches, people seek simpler things. Comfort. Perhaps we don’t even desire happiness, or success, we’ll settle for contentment and satisfaction.

Rants against the economy

(We all know capitalism is flawed)

So, I’m studying quite a bit of ‘money’ this semester – taking a module on the global economy and another one about finance. And today I had two encounters – I was asked to take a ‘survey’ with an insurance company, and I also gave 20 bucks to 2 tissue sellers.

Where do I begin with this. Sigh. Ok, free flowing thoughts below which is going to be quite messy?

For a long time, I struggled with the concept of giving (have I wrote about this before?). Giving to church – I don’t know where the money goes, what if I don’t agree to what they spend it on; and after I got over this (a few weeks back a pastor gave a sermon about giving and it was quite impactful – he was very open about his accounts and showed us how much he has given in the past decade and a half. It was astounding, the amount. I discussed this with my mom and I suppose I had more questions from it too. He gave more or less everything that he earns, but yes, that I don’t know his bonuses, how he survives/assets/donations etc. One basic, admirable trait to learn from him is simply, the lack of greed).

Tied to this struggle of giving to church = how can I give to the church but not to the poor? (And therefore I decided to give today. I’ve never given to people on the street. My parents didn’t really do it when I was younger, but they do give? My mom does. Yet another discussion with my mom, did I give too much? I shall not overthink it. I didn’t want to give 2 bucks: I remember a teacher once asking ‘you donate 2 dollars, but honestly, you can’t even get a meal out of it’ And I didn’t have fives). I think this struggle also comes out from my utilitarianist mindset – is this really the best way to spend money? I struggle with efficiency, in particular time and money. To a fairly extreme state; I don’t think I’m too bad now, but it was pretty bad last year (the ridiculous things I did to get money/the mental torment as I incessantly calculated yet I knew that it was harmful yet I still couldn’t help myself – lol someone asked me for 20 cents yesterday on the bus and didn’t thank me for it, I couldn’t help but overthink that act HAHAHA. Shows that I’m not ‘completely normal’ yet).

Anyway. So I’ve questioned what exactly am I giving money to/why am I doing so? Buying a good conscience? Charity? I have a neighbour who regularly borrows money from my mom and she complains about him. I don’t quite know how to feel about this whole situation – my mom said that she first lent him because she knew what it feels like to live from hand to mouth, but at the same time… His wife doesn’t work, and she’s fully capable (she worked when she needed to, when he was in jail). Should we give money to these people who are ‘plain lazy’? – Quite justified to say so in my neighbour’s case. But there’s also the issue about unevenness, inequality of our financial systems?


Linking to the issue about my encounter with the insurance people, I guess. And also what I’ve learnt in school. I really, really hate this ‘financialisation of the global economy’. It’s complete bullshit. How do you make money out of nothing? (Ah, I guess I refer to N’s post about ‘a generation dreams of renting’ – btw I don’t think I quite agree with people wanting to ‘do nothing’ and sit around generating rent. Or maybe I’m misunderstanding you. You talk about how we should ‘create value’, but sometimes we’re creating value out of nothing either. Think about the millions of jobs in Wall Street/finance sectors, or even MOBILE PROVIDERS who talk to you for half an hour regarding a 5 dollar overcharge – hello, that’s really not worth yours nor the company’s money/call centres. They sit around and call and trade, all these social interactions which somehow ‘generate income’.) Ok, there’s actually so much more I can rant about this; I’d an ‘existential crisis’ about this sometime back HAHA I didn’t want to do a job which didn’t create something (tangible/impactful).

But yes, what’s up with all these stupid dead end jobs? Is what they do really meaningful? How can they wake up every day and continue doing these jobs? Is it at least, engaging/fun to them? Do Wall Street brokers see it like gambling/like a puzzle to solve, games to play? Those trying to lure people in for ‘surveys’ for insurance companies, do they think that they’re making people’s lives better by selling insurance? How do they see themselves, how can they live?

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.

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.

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.