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

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

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.

What I Learnt Today

I don’t know how to categorise this post, should I warn that this is/may be a rant? Anyway. A friend gave me a new perspective about why I write: (I may have too high aims for my writing) perhaps I write simply so that I can put thought to words and then let go and forget about them.

Ok. This post is about social issues.

I find people boring. This is/was a statement I made back in secondary school. It can be a bit offensive. It also inadvertently made a friend conscientious of the things she said/behaved around me. I got bored because people have ‘pet topics’ and talked about that same thing all the time. Things like family. Being depressed. Academics. I am guilty of this repetitiveness too.

But these are two things which I find especially triggering. Socially UNACCEPTABLE:

  • Being mean and negative

I like to think that people are generally pretty nice. Understanding. Mature. Kind. I have written about the better side of human nature: I think that while people with problems (like depression, mental illness, OCD) may feel ashamed of their struggles, they need not be. I think that generally most people have people they love/know of who struggle with such issues. The general population is kind towards people who are different. Think about many movements for equality, better treatment of people. Kindness movements. Racial equality and how that translates to laws, ‘affirmative action’. Gender issues being brought up more. Being against fat AND skinny shaming. Being different is ok.

I would like to think that if people knew exactly how much what they said hurt, they would not say it.

But that doesn’t always make their words excusable.

I realised this is one thing I absolutely cannot take. I don’t mind swearing as much as this. I hate it when my family complains, talks about negative things like: I don’t like my boss, I’m always getting bullied, the government sucks, women are way too favoured over men (ok, I don’t mind alternative viewpoints, but seriously, do some research and give me statistics before you rant, don’t speak emotionally haha ok am I hypocritical here?)

The ABSOLUTE WORST is saying something bad about someone else. I don’t like gossiping. I don’t think I ever did. This is a huge turn off, especially if I don’t know the person who is talking well. I don’t understand this, actually. I think it occurs pretty frequently. WHY would you say something bad about someone when we’re meeting for the first few times? About how your mother favours guys over girls and hence you feel angry at your mother for ‘mistreating’ you. About a junior you dislike who is coming to your faculty, you narrate a story about how you were civil to him and describe him as being arrogant (without substantiation, mind you).

Please. Just don’t say these things. It makes me rather sad. Anxious. Angry. What if I’m one of those people who have the negative traits that they are describing (or rather, I’m being misunderstood as showing favouritism, being arrogant). I think I’ve been rather lucky to be amongst relatively ‘nice’ people in my schooling years. While there were negative people, I had a ‘nice bubble’ I could go to, who were available all the time, since they were in my class. The concept of class does not exist now, unfortunately. I suppose that I forget how nasty people can be, how they can be unthinking, immature, unapologetic. I don’t get how people can just say these really terrible things casually. What are they thinking? Is it for lack of topics to talk about? (Just shut up). Is it to get to know each other better? So that I know what they cannot stand? Do they think that by saying something negative it makes us like them because they’re, opinionated? Emotionally open – they are being vulnerable to us? To know that they are better than the people they are criticising?

With this disastrous first encounter, I struggle to see them in the same way that I (would like to) see humans. As deserving of the highest form of love. As being kind and generous, traits which can be discovered if I take the effort to get to know them.

  • Banal conversation

(Ok getting quite tired)

I don’t like meeting people in the context of school. I feel like there isn’t much to talk about. We talk about what we are studying, the classes that we’ve been in, what we like or dislike, our future plans, sometimes, the grades that we get. All these things that I’m not actually super interested in/ ‘things of the world’. I hate it especially because it feels like we’re in a rat race chasing for grades; perhaps I’m imposing the feeling upon myself. To be more likeable in class, smile more, speak up more, being anxious about school.

I much prefer meeting someone in other contexts, we have much better conversations that divert into things that matter to people. Families, interests.

But I admit that conversation is a two way interaction. I need to learn the art of making better conversation with school mates. I wonder is the conversation poor because I’m not passionate about what I’m studying/don’t think about my future with it as a subject? Generally, I feel that the ‘school’ environment has become quite a toxic place. I need to change my mindset.

Conclusion/solutions/stuff we already know// Part 3/3

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given: all these expectations, deadlines, are self-imposed. It’s self inflicted, self harm. You decide the speed at which you want to do things. You don’t have to do everything in your 20s; you’re not meant to have ‘all your shit together’ by any certain time, even though it feels that way. Regarding these social issues, remember that you trust your friends want what is best for you, to be happy, that they prefer you come and meet them in your best state, rather than be exhausted. You have a responsibility to yourself, self-care, even if you don’t always know where to draw the line, between pushing yourself to engage in more social activity or acknowledging that you are really stretched and you need a break.

There is a lot which I’m leaving unsaid. I find it difficult to articulate things.

I’m sorry that I can’t see you before I go off. But I need to remember that there is still time, that just because I don’t see you now doesn’t mean that I don’t value you, that I can’t sacrifice a few hours of being alone to be with you. I think about you a lot. 3,7, individuals from university, college, friends I don’t talk to often. I used to struggle with it: I think about you, but I do not make the effort to connect with you (going back to how I’m an ‘all or nothing person’ – making a connection with an individual would require me to hold a long conversation with them, to have something deep shared with them).

Basically. I’m alive. Above all, tell me if you feel neglected and are in Desperate need to hear from/see me. And of course, thank you for your concern, I assume that’s why you’re here reading this.

Expectations of being socially ‘good’// part 2/3

I guess I will write a little more about my personal take on social issues: (stream of consciousness/rant)

It’s no longer possible to simply see one person a day; with the (self-dictated) time I have (left, before I go for my trip), in order to meet everyone (and some people want to meet more than once), I’ve got to find more pockets of time – breakfast, brunch, lunch, tea, dinner, supper, odd hours. Work, friends, family, personal time. I think right now I’m struggling to have enough time to ensure that everything that I do is meaningful, every meet, every conversation. I guess I don’t have enough time to absorb what I’m doing and that can make me unhappy. Sometimes, I just don’t get it. Meeting people makes me unhappy – saturation of information, having not enough time for myself etc. but not meeting people can be just as bad – feeling like I’m neglecting friends, having to make excuses, continuously cancelling on people. I think simply put I have no capacity, I admire people who have that capacity and I question why I am unable to do the same. To pack my days, have long drawn out hours, from dust to dawn, doing productive things, meeting people, connecting with friends etc. but I know it would drive me crazy.

I think everyone has the same issues. People often tell me that they resonate with what I’ve written. But I’m starting to feel that my feelings are different from others: quantitatively and qualitatively – it’s much deeper, much more intense. It doesn’t affect their lives in the same way that it does to me, just like there is a difference in being sad and being depressed. I’m a little uncertain about writing what I feel here (this is getting personal) but yolo just do it. Social anxiety can = being unable to sleep till 3am because I’m worried about meeting a friend the next morning at 8am and having a long day ahead. It’s a friend! Why should I be scared of meeting friends? Thoughts race in my head: I’m afraid of being bored (people bore me, something that I’ve felt/talked about since I was 15?), having nothing to talk about (rather, meaningless conversation). I’m afraid of wasting my time (I could be doing much better things – studying, reading, working etc.), of not having enough energy. I fear expectations of the meeting. Social anxiety can = cancelling on people at the last minute, refusing to see people, making excuses as to why I’m unavailable (? There is some truth in this, the question is: how hard should I exert myself? I suppose I don’t know myself well enough/I overestimate my capacity, I always feel like I’m under performing, I can and should be giving more of myself to the people I profess to love?) etc. I could go on and on about this stuff.


introduction/ironies of being social// part 1/3

Recently I feel like I’ve been a bit of a hermit, not answering text messages, not meeting people (that’s actually so not true), or keep telling people that I’m unavailable to meet. Perhaps it’s the feeling of being overwhelmed by social expectations. All the past negativity of social issues are coming back as well. I thought I should dig up these old pieces that I’ve written about before but not posted.

  1. Answering messages

‘No one is ever too busy to answer a text message’.

It literally takes seconds to reply a message. Yet why do we fail to always reply? How do we get flooded with messages? I’ve been feeling saturated with words, information, connections from people, having to arrange my schedules, reply to letters and text messages.

While it’s true that responding to A message can be very quick, the pace at which messageS come is horrifying. I went out with my mom to buy a box of cereal, came home and took a shower. Within that 40 minutes, I had 6 chats popping up. It’s a reality for everyone. The amount of information we receive is disgusting.

And also, a reply is never just A reply. It’s a conversation. And I’m someone who cannot hold too many conversations at once. I demand deep connections, interactions, not stupid stuff like ‘what am I doing right now’/fragmented bits of information and questions to continue conversation. I can’t keep up with the multiple mindless conversations, little bits of detail. I admit that I cannot reply to text messages at any time of the day, on the bus/when I’m walking/in the toilet lol or wherever, just to make some casual small reply. To me, I might as well not say anything if our conversation is going to be so fragmented. I have given wrong replies to people before.

  1. Many people want time alone/self-preservation, yet we meet up in groups despite our busy schedules

I don’t quite understand this phenomena: this was in uni, I think. Everyone is so tired and everyone wants time alone. Yet even though we profess that we want time alone, we still insist on meeting people and groups. I guess people are just social beings and meeting up = love?