Saturday, 25 March 2017

A response to an anthropologist

So I was reading this article that appeared in my Facebook feed. It's titled, "Youths in Singapore shunning religion" and you can click on the link to read the entire thing.

What struck me was one particular sentence. It was this:

Social anthropologist Lai Ah Eng of the National University of Singapore (NUS) said this group might therefore find religions "variously limiting, irrational, oppressive, unreasonable and unscientific".

I thought I might address each adjective here in this post.

1) "Religion is limiting."

I can understand when people say religion is limiting. Christianity, Islam, Buddhists among other faiths have dos and don'ts regarding many things in life. For Christianity at least, fornication (i.e. sex before marriage), lying, and gossip are not encouraged. 

This is in direct contrast to the world today. In movie after movie, song after song, giving in to one's sexual pleasure is not only encouraged, it is perceived as normal. That's how the movie "40 year old virgin" can be marketed as a comedy isn't it? Lying for one's career advancement, to cover up for one's self, is taken for granted. No one questions all these unspoken rules present in society today.

However, I would like to suggest that having rules is freeing. 

Timothy Keller has this to say about the law (it's a little long but very worth reading),

At Redeemer we talk a lot about how we are saved by grace, not by our good works or obedience to the law. Indeed, Paul says we are not ‘under law’ but ‘under grace’ (Romans 6:15.) But what does that mean as far as having an obligation to submit to God’s will as written in his Word? Do we still have to obey the law? Absolutely. To be ‘under the law’ refers not to law obeying but law relying (Galatians 3:10-11). When we think we can win God’s approval through our moral performance and obedience becomes a crushing burden, then we are ‘under law.’ But when we learn that Christ has fulfilled the law for us and that now we who believe in him are secure in God’s love, then we naturally want to delight, resemble, and know the One who has done this. How can we do this? By turning to the law! Paul puts it this way. Though he is not under the law, ‘I am not free from God’s law, but I am under Christ’s law” (1 Corinthians 9:21.) Though he is not ‘under’ the law (as a way to earn salvation) he now is freed to see the beauties of God’s law as fulfilled in Christ, and submits to it as way of loving his Savior. How does this work?
First, we embrace the law of God in order to learn more about who our God really is. Leviticus 19 is a magnificent chapter which both expands on all the Ten Commandments, and also summarizes them into ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ It shows how God’s law was not a matter only of ritual purity, but was to transform every corner of one’s practical life. In Leviticus 19:2, however, God introduces the whole law by saying, ‘be holy, for I am holy.’ In other words, if you want to know who I am, what I love and hate, if you want to know my heart and become like me, obey my law.  Second, we embrace the law of God in order to discover our true selves. Deuteronomy says, “What does the Lord require of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you this day for your good?”  Here we see that the law of God is a gift of  grace that is the foundation of human flourishing. It is not “busywork” assigned just to please the arbitrary whims of a capricious deity. The law of God simply shows us what human beings were built to do—to worship God alone, to love their neighbors as themselves, to tell the truth, keep their promises, forgive everything, act with justice. When we move against these laws we move against our own natures and happiness. Disobedience to God sets up strains in the fabric of reality that can only lead to break down. Third, we understand the law of God as fulfilled in Christ. This means two things. One we already mentioned. Christ completely fulfilled the requirements of the law in our place, so when he took the penalty our sins deserved, we could receive the blessing that his righteousness deserved (2 Corinthians 5:21.) However, we also recognize that many parts of the Old Testament law no longer relate directly to us as believers. Since Jesus is the ultimate priest, temple, and sacrifice, we observe none of the ceremonial, dietary, and other laws connected to ritual purity. Also, Christians of all nations are now members of the people of God, and God’s community no longer exists as a single nation-state under a theocraticgovernment. Therefore, the ‘civil legislation’ of the Old Testament is no longer appropriate. Adultery in the Old Testament was punishable by a death, but in the New Testament it is dealt with through exhortation and church discipline (1 Corinthains 6-7.)  Fourth, we realize that the law’s painful, convicting work is ultimately a gracious thing. When we fully comprehend the kind of life the law requires of us, it can be intimidating. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus expounds the Ten Commandments in this comprehensive way. He shows us the attitude we should have to the world, being salt and light, investing ourselves in the needs of our communities. He shows us that if we even disdain and ignore our neighbors, calling them ‘fools’, we are attacking their creator, in whose image they are made. He calls us to never look on another with lust, living lives of purity and chastity. He insists we should speak with as much honesty in all our daily interactions as if we were testifying in court under oath. We are told to forgive and love our enemies, turning the other cheek rather than seeking revenge. We are to give to the poor without expecting any thanks or acclaim. We are to give our money away in astonishing proportions, and carry on a dynamic, secret, inner prayer life. We are never to be judgmental or condemning of others, and we are to live a life free from worry. One minister said, after reading through Matthew 5-7 carefully, “God save us all from the Sermon on the Mount!”  If you listen at all to the law of God, you will feel naked and exposed, ashamed and helpless, and you will seek out the mercy of God. That is why Paul says that though the law, when listened to, is devastating (Romans 7:9-11) it is nevertheless ‘spiritual, righteous, and good’ (Romans 7:12, 14) and its work is ultimately gracious (Romans 7:7.) It acts as a kind but strict schoolmaster who leads us to Christ (Galatians 3:24.)  Fifth, we turn to the law of God in order to get a true definition of what it means to love others in our relationships and in society as a whole. There was once a school of ethics called ‘situation ethics’ that rejected the Biblical law as too rigid. Instead, we were told, we only need to always do the loving thing, what is best for the person. But this begs the question—‘how do you know what is the best thing for a person?’ Is sleeping together with someone before marriage the best thing or the worst thing for him or her? How do you know? The law is God’s way of saying, ‘If you want to love others, act this way. I created people. I know what the best thing for them is.’ That is why Paul could write:  The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:9-10 The law of God, then, gives Christians guidance not only in personal relationships, but helps us as we seek to make our society a more just and merciful one. What do people need? What does it mean to treat people with dignity? The law informs Christians’ political and social involvement. Finally, we turn to the law of God because sometimes we need to do things just because God says so. In the garden, God told Adam and Eve not to eat the tree, but he never told them why. Some of us simply hate to follow a direction unless we know all the reasons why the direction was given, how it will benefit us, and so on. But God was saying to Adam and Eve, I think, ‘Obey this direction, not because you understand, but because you recognize that I am your God and that you are not.’ They failed in this. But every day we have the opportunity to put this right. Do God’s will, not because it is exciting (though it will eventually be an adventure) not because it will meet your needs (though it will eventually be a joy) not because you understand why this is the path of wisdom (though it will eventually become more clear.) Do it because he is your Lord and Savior and you are not. Do it because it is the law of the Lord. And if you do it—if you obey him even in the little things—you will know God, know yourself, find God’s grace, love your neighbor, and simply honor him as God. Not a bad deal.

Okay you might have gotten lost in that whole chunk of text there. What Keller is basically saying is that religion might be limiting to some because of the restrictions on certain behaviour, but that's what's best for us, according to the Bible.

It's kinda like us being a child in a parent-child relationship. At 2 years old, we are told not to touch the hot stove, not to stand near an open window, and hold our parent's hand while crossing the road. Limiting for a 20 year old for sure, but essential for the 2 year old. To me, God is infinitely wiser than I am, and I am content to live by His rules even though I might not fully understand why.

To me, I feel that religion is freeing because I know the boundaries I am supposed to operate under, and can to anything I want as long as it is not forbidden. It is paradoxical, and I don't expect everyone to get it because I think I didn't argue it coherently enough here due to a space restrictions, but try reading Keller's passage above a couple of times and maybe you'll get an insight into my psyche.

Moving along.

2) "Religion is irrational."

Yes, religion can be irrational if the millennial looks at their grandparents burning paper (hell money) during various times of the year so that their dead can receive it in the underworld. It doesn't make sense, is not scientific, cannot be proven, and seems superstitious to say the least.

Also, practices such as not attending funerals when one is pregnant, not attending consecutive weddings of close relatives, staying home during the Hungry Ghost month, are but some of the dozens of practices many Chinese engage in.

Although I do not subscribe to these practices, I feel that they are not irrational. They are born of the rational human instinct to honour one's ancestors (burning hell money), to protect the unborn (not attending funerals when one is with child), to protect oneself and one's family (staying home during the 7th month).

I believe in the presence of evil and that the demonic world is well and alive. There are things one cannot explain in terms of demonic possession as a Washington Post article elaborates on. In that piece, a reputable, board-certified psychiatrist relates his experiences to the influential newspaper. He writes about how he has seen plenty of people convinced they were possessed when they weren't, and diagnosed them as such. But he had also seen people suddenly spouting "perfect Latin" a dead language, and among others, these are things the DSM and science has no explanation for.

Religion might be irrational to the modern day skeptic because you cannot quantify the spiritual world, but that does not necessarily mean that it is untrue.

3) "Religion is oppressive."

As a gay Christian, I hesitate to elaborate on this point. In this blog, I have ranted on many a post where I felt oppressed by the church. And yes, this is a real thing. Gay Christians is just an oxymoron to many in the faith and an unexplainable quirk to the LGBT community.

However, I would venture to say that it is not just religion that is oppressive, but institutions that are.

Government is oppressive. Dictatorships are oppressive. Schools can sometimes be oppressive. Families too.

But all of us have to find a way to cope with it. I could take offence at the senior pastor posting pictures to demonise gay people, or I could sit him down and have a conversation with him. (Speaking of which, I think I ought to do that soon, God please open the doors.)

Society in general is just oppressive to the marginalised. To trans people. To the darker skinned. To the poor. To the disabled. I could go on and on and on but you get the idea.

Some people wonder why I still go to church even though it is "oppressive". I'd answer that God is much bigger than the people comprising the church. God is awesome and mighty, the creator of the world. He is the one I worship, not man, not the church, and he is a God who made me strong and free. 

I have my freedom because of Christ. Because He has set me free. I am rambling again, sorry. Anyways, I think this is good material for another blog post, so I'll just stop here cos this is getting too long.

4) "Religion is unreasonable."

Religion can be unreasonable to ask Christians not to marry the same sex. But is God unreasonable in asking us to deny ourselves? To forsake riches and help the poor like Mother Teresa did? To get whipped, dying bleeding, nailed on a cross? Is that fair? Is that reasonable?

Not at all.

Christianity is not a reasonable faith.

To die is to live.

To give all, is to gain eternity.

But isn't this the best way to live? Instead of living for oneself, we live for God, for others. Not for riches, which are transient and cannot be brought with us into the afterlife, but to live to spread the word of God so that others might life for eternity, to help the marginalised so that they can have a decent shot at life.

I think I'd like to live like Christ did.

It is difficult, and I don't do it perfectly, but I'll endeavour to try to, all the days of my life.

I think unless one absorbs the essence of Christianity, this will make absolutely no sense at all. But you are welcome to join me on my faith journey at ARPC. I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have.

5) "Religion is unscientific."

Finally, the last claim. My friend said she was disturbed when people laughed at Sarah Palin when she denounced the theory of evolution.

And this has been huge, the creation vs evolution debate in America.

But why does there have to be a dichotomy?

I have been reading books of late, and come around to something called Evolutionary Creation. The super long essay, which you can read here, gives a brief overview of it.

For those who are short of time, it just says that evolution and creation can co-exist.

There are whole volumes of the topic (a good one I'm gonna buy soon is "Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution" by Denis O. Lamoureux, who is the Associate Professor of Science and Religion at St. Joseph's College and holds three degrees in dentistry, theology, and biology) so I won't go into detail here.

Prominent scientist such as Francis Crick (the guy who discovered the structure of the DNA molecule) among others, have proclaimed that science is in fact compatible with faith. More about scientists who have reconciled their faith with Christianity elaborated in this IVP book, "How I changed my mind about evolution" edited by Kathryn Applegate and J. B. Stump.

But I think science cannot explain why as humans, we cling on so tightly to morality.

Can science explain why there is evil in the world?

Can science explain why we have a soul and where that comes from? For all the AI (Artificial Intelligence) in the world today, sawing off the arm of a robot is different from sawing off the arm of a human being even if both can reason. Why is that?

Can science explain how we have compassion on the poor?

Also, going on a different tangent, atheists have to answer these questions.

If there is no God, where does morality come from? Doesn't it make sense to just kill anyone who offends us?

If there is no God, is killing a baby for fun evil? It shouldn't be should it? Cos there is no right and wrong either way.


In conclusion, I disagree with the quote in The Straits Times article and will continue to cling on to my faith in Christ.

What are your thoughts? I'd love to hear them in the comments down below!

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