Monthly Archives: August 2007

pentecostalism on the rise even in singapore — can web 2.0 be an antidote?

Two unexpected sights have hit me since being here for a conference this week: a Gideon’s bible in the hotel room and a huge yellow banner on a gate advertizing a pentecostal church. The Gideons was sitting with another volume on the teachings of Buddha and the pentecostal church looks oddly out of place where I had quite liked the way one historic christian church compound has been converted into a centre for shops, restaurants, bars and clubs.

A few enquiries have led me to understand that it many of the youth from the Chinese population here that are the ones who are converting to this form of christianity. I wonder if that has to do with a price of cosmopolitanism. The Chinese are, I understand, more likely to be Buddhist or Taoist if anything, and it can be argued that these are more philosophical systems than religions. And living in a city that prides itself on its cosmopolitan ambience may not be particularly conducive to a strong sense of close community. Especially in a city-state that is only about 40 years old, with much of the now dominant Chinese population migrating there from as recently as the 60’s.

I have already addressed here the way I see certain forms of  christian religion filling in a family-need gap in people’s lives.

I don’t know of course, but it seems reasonable to think that international flavours are best coupled with strong cultural traditions that are capable of serving one’s need to feel a meaningful part of a community. Much of Europe seems to have both.

On the other hand, many parents in computer-literate countries like ours (and Singapore) probably worry overmuch about the time their youngsters spend now on their computers talking with friends they have never met face to face. But these communications are enabling children (and not just children) to establish meaningful and confidence-building relationships. Sure it is not the environment that any other generation has ever known before. And it is easy to fear or assume the worst too quickly about the unknown, but researchers who have studied this new phenomenon of the “virtual world of friendships”– NOT “the world of virtual friends” – have noticed the confidence and meaningfulness it can bring to many people’s lives. (Links and refs will have to wait till I get back home.)

Wouldn’t it be nice to think that this Web 2.0 world of MySpace and FaceBook etc can fill a need of belonging that arises out of real relationships (mediated in the virtual world — as opposed to being virtual relationships) — can eventually offer something more real in people’s lives than ancient and medieval belief systems.

But back to the hotel room — I am no Buddhist, but I did read the first chapter of the  Buddhist book left beside the  bible in my room. It was so refreshingly light and positive in its inducements for readers to follow the way of eliminating suffering. It began with Buddha (or the one to become Buddha) feeling the pain of seeing a worm being taken by a bird. The appeals from then on are to the better nature in us all. So unlike the Sermon on the Mount that commands people to love one another and never get angy for fear they will be thrown in hell if they don’t.

Such a pity that Pentecostalism is drawing people away from such a gentle philosophy. Wouldn’t it be nice if Web 2.0 can offer more than just a technological change in the future.

Why no Islamic bombers in Singapore?

I’ve heard US, UK and Australian political leaders say ad nauseum that Islamic extremists target our countries because they hate our values and way of life. We were told that’s why they bombed the nightclub in Bali killing many westerners, including over 80 Australians. But why don’t they bomb the nightclubs in Singapore where many westerners also turn up? Couldn’t help asking myself that question last night when I was exploring parts of Singapore and came across one street, surely a mile long or more, where there were Moslem mosque after mosque, the entrance of each one marked by scores or hundreds of sandals left by those who went in to pray — and many in trad dress walking to and from those mosques — yet in the same street or not far were nightclubs and bars and scores and more of prostitutes walking the same streets — all in the midst of people working late at night in their shops or repair shops, hundreds or thousands of others just enjoying each others company in the night air. And westerners too — though not all english speaking.

Not that all of Singapore is like that — this was just one part — but it drove home what has been obvious to anyone stopping to think for half a minute about those vacuous claims by US-UK-Aus leaders who pretend and lie to their populations about the reasons their citizens and embassies have been targeted. If they target a nightclub frequented predominantly by Australians it is not because it is a nightclub that the Aussies are enjoying — it is because they are Australians and what it represents to them to be an Australian — as defined before the world by our heads of state. Sure they hate nightclubs, but the don’t seem interested in attacking the nightclubs of Singapore or any of the other what could best be described as non-Islamic values.

Persuading people

One of the mistakes of the Enlightenment view of humanity is that we are essentially rational — I don’t like that being a mistake since I like to think I’m very rational and persuaded only by facts and reason. But I have to admit the facts tell me it ain’t so. Trying to recall those brain experiments where they demonstrated that people gave rational explanations for their choices that the experimenter could see were nothing more than confabulations. Will try to track down and post some of the details here.

But meanwhile, a journalist I like, Mark Colvin, has prepared a nifty article about more facts coming out of recent research: it’s about Professor of Psychology, Drew Westen‘s new book, The Political Brain. Check out the article here.

Looks like it is something, in part at least, of a more researched basis for Lakoff‘s Don’t Think of an Elephant.

Following Churchill’s Folly in Iraq

An interesting set of historical echoes in a MidWeek article. (Not sure about all of Don Chapman’s analysis, especially on Iraqi attitudes to democracy and their nation — thought some recent evidence would have suggested otherwise — but an interesting recap of some facts nonetheless.)

Legislating to make us nicer

Marion Maddox concludes her God under Howard: how the religious right has hijacked Australian politics with an interesting reminder of the power government legislation to effect social change for the better. “[T]here is good evidence that governments can bring out people’s better side” (p. 317). The example is worth keeping in mind in order to counter the cop-out less progressive governments like to use that politicians cannot make people nicer. read more »

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Chapter 18g

Completion of this series of section by section review and comment: read more »

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Chapter 18f

Dehumanizing the Holocaust

Bauckham attempts to set the Holocaust in an historical niche designed to make it appear as some sort of historical syzygy of New Testament miracle stories. The conclusion readers are meant to draw is that to believe in the testimony of one leaves no excuse for disbelieving in “the testimony” of the other. This is buttressed by the claim that the uniqueness of the holocaust makes it incomprehensible — just as the miracles are incomprehensible.

Before continuing with my chapter by chapter comments of his book (how many books I have read since B’s!), I thought it worthwhile to ply a bit of historical perspective and rationality to B’s premise (which is really a wholesale deployment of Elie Wiesel‘s propaganda) by outlining some points as discussed by Norman G. Finkelstein in The Holocaust Industry. The whole notion of the “uniqueness” of the Holocaust has broader ramifications than B’s argument. read more »

Research sheds light on out-of-body experiences

Gee, maybe we are not immortal souls wrapped in mortal coils after all. Check this Reuters article for the details.

And another (maybe slightly better) link here at BBC news.

Atheist and religious Moral Minds / Dawkins on Hauser

Richard Dawkins has a section in his God Delusion (pp. 222-226) that discusses Marc Hauser‘s Moral Minds: How Nature Designed our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong.

Hauser conducted a study with Peter Singer to test whether atheists differ in their moral intuitions from religious believers. The expectation was that if people need religion to give them their moral values then there should be a significant difference between the moral values of atheists and the religious.

Three hypothetical dilemmas were the focus of the comparison: read more »

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Chapter 18e

Holocaust Testimonies (pp. 493-499)

Bauckham proceeds to wax lyrical over a paragraph of recorded oral testimony from Auschwitz survivor, Edith P. He concludes:

“The most accomplished Holocaust novel could not equal the effectiveness of that story in conveying the horrifying otherness . . . . [Her testimony] discloses to us her world, the Nazi’s kingdom of the night, in a way that no novelist could surpass and no regular historian even approach. This is truth that only testimony can give us.”

Bauckham elaborates in reverential tones speaking of how “deep” and “authentic” is the “unique” experience. Some instances:

“the deep memory reaches us and we are stunned by its otherness”

“in its visual and emotional clarity we hear an authentic moment . . . ”

“This too is ‘deep memory’ that he relives by remembering it . . .”

So how ironic to read the same reverential tones with the same “deep” and “authentic” in the following words written by a former inmate of Auschwitz (Israel Gutman): read more »

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Chapter 18d

By now it ought to be obvious I can only handle Bauckham in very small doses. Maybe it’s age. I used to love downing a whole bottle of whisky straight in very short shrift but have learned to cut it back to occasional nips if I want my brain and body to survive a bit longer. Maybe that’s a metaphor for my misspent youth in the coffin of religion, leaving me nowadays only ever able to spend occasional minutes at best engaging in silly (ir)rationalizations that pass as scholarly arguments for belief in miracles and semi-human miracle performers. Anyway, if sticking at something one has promised oneself to do is a virtue then my ongoing sticking with this review bit by bit proves I am at least not totally bereft of virtue whatever my other faults. And addressing these final parts of B’s argument calls for every ounce of virtue I can muster. Must reward myself with another whisky when finished.

Testimony and its reception contd. (pp 492-493) read more »

Beyond Christian ethics: a list spun off from Onfray’s Atheist Manifesto

Have just completed Michel Onfray’s Atheist Manifesto and can’t go past the review of the book you can find at that link — so won’t bother with my own. (The original French title could more literally be translated “Tract on Atheology” which would do more justice to the contents of the book, it being less a rationale for atheism per se than a polemical essay against the respected status and functions theology has long held among inheritors of the Judea-Christian and Moslem worlds.)

It is refreshing to see in print ideas that one has arrived at on ones own and only hitherto shared with trusted audiences. I imagine many who have rationally worked their way from faith to atheism have similarly found themselves afterwards thrilled to find such luminaries as Nietzsche having long before paved a way in the direction are now treading. Although as Onfray rightly reminds us, to learn from Nietzsche is to pave one’s own path, not to walk in his same steps.

Anyway, Onfray’s book reminded me of a list of ethical values that to my mind would be one huge advance on the current values that dominate our species. Most are not even hinted at in his essay, so this is really my own list of some of the changes — rooted in science and humanism as opposed to archaic mythical views of what makes us human — that I would think would make for a far more humane society: read more »

Beyond Christian ethics – crime and punishment

The foundational institutions, attitudes and values of our modern societies are still based on a legacy of Christian and pre-Christian assumptions of human nature that take no cognizance of the modern advances in biology, neurology, genetics, psychology. The power of the black book still binds our ethical senses. read more »

Paul’s torment and notes from Hitchen’s “God is Not Great”

“The essential principle of totalitarianism is to make laws that are impossible to obey. The resulting tyranny is even more impressive if it can be enforced by a privileged caste or party which is highly zealous in the detection of error. Most of humanity, throughout its history, has dwelt under a form of this stupefying dictatorship, and a large portion of it still does. Allow me to give a few examples of the rules that must, yet cannot, be followed.” (God is Not Great, p.212)

Hitchens then cites the biblical command forbidding people to even think about coveting goods. I’m not sure there is a command not to even think about it, but the principle is certainly there. The New Testament certainly echoes this with its injunction which says that to even look on a woman in the wrong way is to actually already have committed adultery.

There can only be two possible responses to such commands: read more »