Parents are excused from strange beliefs


A couple of days ago, I went with my father to the temple to pray to/for my deceased grandfather, because it was 清明节, a day where you’re supposed to visit the graves of your ancestors to pay your respects and clean up the grave and things like that.

There’s only one cemetery still open for burials in Singapore (and even then, the graves are exhumed after 15 years) so most people are cremated instead. Which means no graves to sweep. What we usually do when we go to the temple on Qingming is: lay out all the food (the deceased’s favourites) nicely on a table (for them to eat); get some joss sticks and light them, then ‘pray’ to the buddha (??) at the altar; stick half of those joss sticks in a huge urn full of joss sticks; go to the marble block/mini tombstone with our grandfather’s photo and particulars and pray to/at/for (???) that. Sometimes people buy lots of ‘spirit money’ or paper cars/houses to burn to give to the deceased. I also see priest doing some chanting for families, reading from books while knocking on the wooden block.

There’s a whole lot of question marks in there because… my parents aren’t particularly religious (or so I like to think). Visits to the temple have always been once-in-a-blue-moon occurrences and the significance of what it done is never explained. As a kid when we saw the grown ups being all solemn, we don’t dare question too much and just imitate what they do, and do what we’re told.

But after my recent bout of questioning religion, unexamined beliefs and irrationality…this time round I found myself wondering. Does my Dad really believe my grandfather will get to enjoy the food and wine he puts on the table? and who are why ‘praying’ to or what are we ‘praying’ for?

And, more importantly, if I don’t believe in any of this, why did I agree to come along? If I can attack people of other faiths for just blindly going along with what always has been done and look down on such practices, am I not being hypocritical if I close my eyes to the irrational practices of my own family? Why not attack these senseless rituals of burning joss sticks and stacks and stacks of ‘spirit money’?

I have this anecdote I like to tell people when I want to illustrate how ‘strange’ my mum is: She gives me free reign to do many things other mums would deem risky or dangerous such as traveling overseas on my own or learning to ride a motorcycle. Yet she vehemently refuses to let me get my ears pierced. And I’m a girl! There are parents in Singapore who will bring their daughters to pierce their ears at a young age, and  parents who will not even allow their sons to ride a motorbike!

It’s really silly, and I obviously don’t buy her reasons why I shouldn’t pierce my ears at all. But still, I’m not going to disobey her and pierce my ears. Because I don’t want pierced ears badly enough to disobey, disrespect and upset my mum.

And I realize that’s a principal I apply to other issues as well: that you give more leeway to your parents. Parents are excused from ridiculous beliefs that you’d normally wouldn’t stand for in other people. You might chide them or try to explain it to them for the billionth time, but you’re not going to pick a fight about it.

Of course, you’d have to draw the line somewhere, like if your parents’ beliefs involved causing harm to others, or if they were being exceedingly unreasonable about something that means a lot to you, but I think most times, respect and love for your parents (and family) should have priority…

So why did I agree to go along and participate in rituals I didn’t believe it? Because I know it’s important to my father, something solemn and saddening for him. So if he asks me if I want to come along, I will, as a simple show of support, because he’s my father.

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Questions to Ask Yourself


If you are, then I'm happy for you.

or merely changed what you're running from?

If you don't trust yourself, you can't expect others to. And the basis of any human interaction and relationship is trust.

Lying to others is bad. But lying to yourself is far worse.

very, very much.

But if you've managed to do it, won't you teach me how?

I didn’t make these with the objective of posting them here, but was rather pleased with the results (yay more relatively successful attempts with watercolours) so I decided to share.

 

Free Will: Articles and Some Thoughts


I came across this special issue by the Chronicle of Higher Education dealing with the question “Is Free Will an Illusion?” It features 6 short essays on the topic. Pretty interesting, give it a read!

I’ve been vaguely fascinated by the topic of free will for some time. I found myself, through my own random musings, being lead more in the direction of determinism, or denying free will, which at first alarmed me because such a position felt so counter-intuitive; surely most people would reject such a position as ridiculous. Imagine my surprise and delight when I found, upon reading up more on the subject, that this was actually a pretty common position amongst those who have explored these issues!

My thoughts on free will started from thinking about religion and belief. To me, free will was religion’s ‘trump card’, the reason why suffering exists, why God cannot simply pluck us out of disasters, and essentially why I’m going to hell: because I choose to reject God.

I argued that no one chooses that. No one would ever say, “Yes, I know God is my Creator, I know he is Truth and I know the consequence of rejecting Him. But in accordance to my right to free will, I can choose to reject Him, and I do.” No body chooses to reject the truth.

I’ve heard some arguments from the religious about why God doesn’t just reveal himself to all that run as such: If God were to do that then people would be forced to believe in Him, but God wants us to come to Him of our own free will.

So… knowledge eliminates free will but ignorance allows it??

When you say, “I don’t believe in God.”, it hardly feels like a choice. Given my background, the way I approach problems, all that I know and I that I’ve read up till today… couldchoose to say instead, “I believe in God.’? No. The reason why I don’t believe in God is that the concept doesn’t make sense to me. I can’t believe in God, at least not right now knowing and having experienced all that I have. Just take the case of those who deconvert– they certainly didn’t choose to lose their faith, and often times they really, really, really want to keep believing, but found that they couldn’t do it anymore.

I also wondered about when a decision counts as a choice.

If you’re ignorant and have no knowledge–say you’re given three blank doors with no clues as to which contains the prize– is it an exercise of free will when you pick one?

Or when you’re in possession of a lot of information about two different options– say you have to pick between two types of medical procedures– is it an exercise of free will when you weigh all the pros and cons and pick which one you think is best? But given the information that you had, and coming to the conclusion of which looked like the better option, could you have not picked that option?

Maybe free will and true choice only exist when there are no right or wrong implications to the choice, that is, when it is a subjective choice. For example, choosing between vanilla or chocolate ice-cream. Seems I could easily choose one or the other freely. But then again… that’s determined by some sort of internal bias– chocolate tastes better to me, or I’ve subconsciously come to prefer chocolate because there’s a subconscious, cultural implication that vanilla is for girls and sissies. If you hate durian or classical music, can you really choose to love them?

All just preliminary thoughts on a very complex issue. Hope to continue reading more and thinking more about it. :) :)

Although I’m not sure I fully support his dating analogy, the basic message is the same: it’s not a choice and no one chooses to reject God.

For the Bible Tells Me So


“For the Bible Tells Me So is a 2007 American documentary film directed by Daniel G. Karslake about homosexuality and its perceived conflict with religion, as well as various interpretations of what the Bible says about same-sex sexuality.

It includes lengthy interview segments with several sets of religious parents (including former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt and his wife, Jane, and the parents of Bishop V. Gene Robinson) regarding their personal experiences raising homosexual children, and also interviews with those (adult) children.” (From Wikipedia)

Here’s the Trailer:

and you can watch the full movie on Veoh here.

It was good, but not as impactful as I was expecting, given the awards and great reviews it had. But still good. I suppose it depends on the audience– it’s strongest message is the usual about not rejecting, abusing or discriminating against gays, which is of course a great message.

But for me it doesn’t stress enough on the how (ie what is considered ‘not rejecting, exactly?) and the why. What I mean is, if its mainly the extreme negative views and reactions that are being shown, it’s easy for someone with moderate views to dissociate themselves from it, while still holding on to their essentially anti-gay position. It would be easy for them to counter what’s shown with something like, ‘Well of course I wouldn’t throw bricks/scrawl hate messages/send hate letters etc. that’s wrong. but so is homosexuality. I wouldn’t reject the person, but I reject the lifestyle.’ So for me, it doesn’t focus enough on why that sort of attitude is not enough. It doesn’t go deep enough, detailed enough into the journeys of the individuals, of how they came to reconcile their sexuality with christianity, why they didn’t stick with some moderate middle ground.

Frankly, I think that ‘middle ground’ is incoherent. I think that that annoying phrase of ‘Hate the sin, love the sinner.’ is not possible to truly put into practice in the case of homosexuality because homosexuality is usually experienced as a pretty integral part of one’s identity.

When you say you ‘hate the lies but love the liar’, the liar is not going to feel aggrieved or offended if he is a normal, average person who thinks lying is wrong. He’s likely to ‘hate’ lying as well. He probably doesn’t see it as either an intergral or instrinsic  part of himself. When he admits that he is a liar, he is admitting that he had lied; he is admitting to the action of lying. And if he hates lying, he’ll hate it when he lies.

When you try to do the same thing for homosexuality, it doesn’t work because homosexuals experience it as being part of their identity. Saying “I hate homosexuality but I love you” would be like saying to a man, “I hate men, but I love you.” or “I hate Chinese, but I still love you.” Which would be incoherent. (Unless you tweak the meaning to ‘Usually I hate men, but I find that I love you.’, which significantly deviates from the original mantra in meaning.) Furthermore, I am homosexual no matter what I do or don’t do, so from the individuals point of view, I really can’t afford to hate it. There’s no escape from it, unlike lying; I’d have to hate myself constantly if I hate homosexuality.

The phrase (and tone/body language of the people who utter it) seem to imply that denouncing homosexuality is merely idealogy– in practice, they are still going to treat you with all the rights and respect and love due to any other human being; they’re not condeming you as a person, just the concept of homosexuality.

That, to me is incoherent and untrue as well. As long as you hold the belief that homosexuality is morally wrong, you will inevitably be hurting me with your belief. It will hurt when I know you do not support or approve of my relationships. It will hurt when I know you would prefer it very much if I were straight. It will hurt me when you support causes that will deny me my rights to living a normal happy life in the eyes of society and the law and when you refuse to support causes that are helping to fight for those rights. And if you are a friend or family member, all this will hurt a million times more.

So honestly? No matter how awesome a person you are, how non-judgemnetal and accepting and warm… I am still finding hard to not be offended when you tell me you think homosexuality is an abomination. I do think it’s as deep a personal insult as it can get.

Passive No More; Ex-Agnostic Says Thank You


My personality is as middle of the road, non-confrontational compromiser and peacmaker as you can find.

Religion wasn’t something I thought about seriously or often, but related ideas inevitably would float about in my mind sometimes. I considered myself an agnostic in every sense of the word, and even took mild offence at atheist who derided the position as invalid or a cop-out.

Wikipedia says, “In the popular sense, an agnostic is someone who neither believes nor disbelieves there is a God, whereas an atheist disbelieves there is a God. In the strict sense, however, agnosticism is the view that human reason is incapable of providing sufficient rational grouns to justify knowledge whether God exists or does not.” and I embodied both definitions:

I didn’t really believe in any god, but it also seemed to be a possibility I couldn’t rule out for certain. The idea of a god had intrinsic appeal, although even when the possibility occasionally did flit across my mind, it was more often a deistic god than a theistic one.

More precisely though, I also believed that given what we are (humans) with our limited (human) abilities, we can’t know or be sure about a higher power that exists beyond our world. And if we cannot know about it, then it can’t matter what we think about it.

To elaborate: We seem to gain knowledge in two main ways, namely through the senses observing the physical world, and through pure abstract thought, reasoning things out. No one today would say God, heaven or hell is physical in a way that we could find them and prove them through science. Neither can we arrive at the conclusion of God by reasoning or thought experiments the way we can reason about logic or maths. God seems to inhabit some separate spiritual realm which doesn’t intersect with our world. If we can’t access it, how can we know it? if we can’t know it, what can it matter what we think of it?

Frankly, I was terrified of the topic of religion, because it is such a sensitive topic and there are always strong opinions on all sides and I am a person who instinctively tries to avoid conflict at all cost. I also hated getting into discussions or even listening to ‘the other side’ of the issue because I felt I didn’t know enough; If my knowledge on a topic is patchy, of course I shouldn’t say too much. If i enter the discussion and can’t think of an answer, it would seem like I ‘lost’, when it could in fact just be due to my lacking knowledge. If I listen to an argument from an expert on the other side, I’m sure to be swayed by his arguments, he’s an expert! I’m defenceless against him!

Well, now I DO think that’s a cop-out. It’s okay to be unsure; in fact, given the myriad of opinions out there and how much people love complicating life, it seems only reasonable to be unsure. But what is not okay is being unsure because you refuse to even look. If you’re unsure, examine why you’re unsure. Is there anyway you can perhaps make yourself a little less unsure? It’s okay to be unsure; it’s not okay to be unsure AND sitting happily on your bum, content to use ignorance as a excuse forever.

I was an agnostic, leaning maybe towards deism, haven’t really ruled out theism for sure, but also sympathizing sometimes with atheism, which appealed to my cynical and science/logic side. But a religion, if true, shouldn’t be in conflict with science, for science is merely the observation of the physical world, so that shouldn’t be a true barrier. And so, a true agnostic at heart, I went in with as open a mind and heart as I could manage: I honestly know that there’s so much I don’t know such that I can’t conclude anything for sure. I admit I don’t have the answers, and you say you do, so I’m all the more willing to listen, willing to understand, willing to try. Above all, I crave understanding. Understanding of how this can work, of how it can make sense.

Now? I think atheism is the most coherent position. I think I’ve been forced to explore and examine why I think what, and it has only cleared and focussed my world view into something more sharp and concrete. So for that, I thank you.

Is it ironic that you said the one thing you wanted was for me to know Christ, and you did the one thing you thought was necessary (a sign from god himself) to achieve that, and all that has brought me from my very neutral position to a more extreme and antagonistic one? To the point that I now find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with positions like that of Richard Dawkins, when previously I found him too confrontational, too extreme?

Ironic maybe, unexpected maybe not. That’s an overwhelmingly common theme in de-conversions: it all started with wanting to get closer to god or serving god more, and then the harder they searched, the harder they prayed, the more they cried out to god and the more furiously they believed… the more they found their faith crumbling around them.

I said it before: there was no gaping holes in my world view then, no searing cosmic questions that I needed answering. There’s even less uncertainty now. This doesn’t mean I’ve closed the doors or refuse to listen to or hear what people who believe have to say. On the contrary, I’d really really like to hear from them, because if there’s one thing for which I still crave for understanding, it’s how their world view makes sense to them.

But I’m not going to do so at the expense of my own beliefs anymore.

Your world view is an interconnected web of ideas and beliefs. They need to fit together like a jigsaw. It’s a framework in which you place your experiences of the world, the lens through which everything is viewed. If EVERYTHING I encounter can be understood from within this framework, it makes no sense to add a component that clashes with existing components and that raises more questions than it answers.

Charles and Eric


I’ve always thought that I don’t choose my friends. I am friends with anyone who wants to be my friend. If you’re talking to me, I will talk to you. And once I consider you a friend, you’re a friend for life. And this seemed the right way to do things.

Maybe I was wrong.

I’ve always thought the details of friendship didn’t matter, friendship should resemble a mother’s unconditional love. How often you meet up, what activities you do or don’t do together, your likes ,dislikes and beliefs, they shouldn’t really matter. I’m not going to renounce a friendship just because a friend likes music I hate or adopts a life philosophy that’s different from mine. Friends means friends, right?

Maybe that’s wrong.

Recently, a Christian friend of mine was discussing the idea that Christians should surround themselves with other Christians… that they should spend more time with fellow Christians, that their closest friends should be Christian. Her point of view was that it was only natural and common sense: you would hang out with people who shared common goals and ideas with yourself. If you wanted to be better at basketball, you’d hang out with other people who similarly wanted to train their basketball skills. If you were concerned with having a life centred on Christ, only other Christians could help you with that. She also linked me to this article, Should Christians be Friends with Non-Christians.

I found the article horrendously offensive, and I was really hurt and offended by what she was saying. That view is ridiculously discriminatory, selfish and elitist, I argued. And if you were to apply that kind of logic to any other situation, any other group of people, you would think so too.

But… maybe I was wrong.

Maybe she was right.

Maybe some differences are too fundamental that you have to draw a line to avoid compromising on your own values. Maybe you should consciously surround yourself with positive people, with people who have the right ideas.

Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr were good friends. But their differing beliefs put them at direct odds with each other. They turned from friends to enemies, not because they couldn’t get along or because they didn’t care for each other, but solely because they had opposing view points.

If you find yourself and a friend on the opposite sides of an issue — an issue that you feel strongly about and will not compromise on– can you still be friends?

What do you think?