Saturday, 29 March 2014

Is god really dead?

Who says god is dead? Nietzsche has got it so wrong. If anything, the gods are more alive now than they have ever been. The world is infested with gods. In the past, the Greek gods ruled the ancient world. You have gods of and for everything. God for the earth, sky, weather, music, fertility, wine, love, sex, wisdom, and hades. Even the dead have gods looking over them.

I can’t imagine a world without gods. It would be a world without us. We are special. We are different. I do not see a hippopotamus going on its knees to ask for divine guidance or a cat meowing out a song of lamentation. Neither a group of monkeys coming together to sacrifice their newborn as an act of appeasement nor a raging bull rushing to the altar for absolution. 

No animals on land, fishes in the sea or fowls in the sky have ever formed a community held together by a common faith to worship their object of worship. They do not thank god for their creation. Neither do they fear god for their savageness. They live only in the present. This everydayness of existence excuses them from the haunting of the past and the dread of the future.

For them, there is no mystery of the past or the fear of the future. You don’t see animals debating about their origin or their creator. They don’t go looking for their source. They don't have our equivalent of the Adam and Eve narrative. Neither do they huddle together to discuss about the end of the world, the beginning of a new heaven and earth, and the eternal damnation of fire and screams.

They are not tormented by sins or the reality of hell. Neither are they pining any hope of a place of forever bliss where there is no more tears or sorrow. No man can imagine a pig or dog or snake being placed before the mercy throne of the divine to be condemned for their deeds on earth. You can’t scare them with hell and expect them to rush into confessional boxes for immediate moral purging. You cannot entice cows or goats to work out their salvation so that they will be rewarded with a heavenly mansion somewhere in the blue yonder.

They would remain no more than animals in heaven. You do not want to waste heaven on them like casting pearls to swine. They would only soil the gold-paved floor of the many rooms in the celestial mansion. They would only destroy the well-carpeted lawn with their, well, foul animalistic habits. And my god, the noises they collectively make in heaven would make heaven into a hellish cacophony of eternal unrest.

So, an animal will remain an animal. They will not change. They are no more god-fearing than a chair will worship the carpenter or a nail will plead for mercy with the hammer head. You can say that the animal kingdom is strictly "atheistic". It is completely godless.

Only man. Only us. We are different from them. We are chosen. We are the elect. We are exclusive. We can’t teach a child disbelief. Neither can we undo his or her belief. To tell a child that there is no god is as ludicrous as telling a fish it can’t swim in the sea or a pig it can’t roll in filth. 

But of course, with such privilege comes great responsibility. We are not blind to the past or to the future. We do not live like animals restricted only to the mundaneness of the present. We are liberated from the prison of everydayness. While our physical bodies remain here in the present, our restless mind travels to a past where it all begun in earnest and to the future where it will all end in a furnace.

Our minds are not time-bound. Neither is it place-bound. And for this reason, a great responsibility is bestowed on us. We will never find rest until our mind is satisfied that the mystery of our past is resolved and the eternity of the future is secured. This has always been our mission in life. It is not a mission to seek out extraterrestrial life in space. Neither is it a mission to find a way to live together in peace. Those are just existential hobbies. On the contrary, like nemo looking for his dad, we are looking for our creator.

I can imagine an orphan going from house to house, door to door, knocking and hoping for the right parent to open it. And in this search for our divine parentage, we have turned many stones, looked into many crevices, and ran after many false leads. In the past, this search has caused us to worship the sky in fear of rain, sacrifice our very own to the sun in fear of darkness, and dance like drunken lemurs to placate the wrath of the earth.

We have created and killed many gods over the centuries. When we discover that one god doesn’t serve our purpose we kill it by depriving it of attention. One after another the gods disappeared from our mind. But somehow, with one duly slayed comes another to replace it. Sometimes, a god brings a partner as a security-blanket. India alone has 330 millions of them.

The world doesn’t lack gods. We may lack resources, land or space. We may lack talent, skills and innovation. We may lack love, tolerance and understanding. But we never lacked gods. They are everywhere.

Alfred North Whitehead defines religion as, “What a man does with his solitariness.” And as long as we are alone and lonely, our mind will scour for gods with a vengeance. This search will never cease because the mystery will never be lifted. The atheist may call it delusional but they are somewhat guilty of it too. They are forgetting that they are also in this search together with us. Although they are searching for god-alternatives to explain this mystery, under the pristine name of science, their search is no less faith-driven than ours.

And as far as humanity is concerned, theists, atheists or agnostics alike, we are bonded together by this common pursuit. It is very much our raison d’etre. In this life, we search desperately for many things; happiness, success, fame, power, love and utopia. But the search for god or god-alternatives will be our main preoccupation; and for many, their undying devotion. And because we are never at peace with just the present, the mysteries of both our past and future will haunt our minds all the way to our graves. Ironically, and without prejudice to our search for the Truth, it was Voltaire who once said that if there were no God, it would have been necessary to invent him.

So, Nietzsche has got it so wrong that god is dead and we have killed him. If anything, it would be more accurate to say, with apology, that he is dead and the gods are very much alive. Cheerz.   

Thursday, 27 March 2014

18 signs of an Overbearing CEO-like pastor

This was my church pastor’s FB post yesterday:

This may cost me some friendships & speaking engagements. But no matter!
The church is not a commercial business for the Lead Pastor to be CEO; it's not a fashion boutique where being hip is the mission. It's not a social club for hobbyists. It's not a political party for lobbyists. It's not a disco; nor is it a playground.
The church is the people of God! Called out of darkness into the marvelous light of Christ. The church is the Bride of Christ. The church is made up of sinners who have been redeemed by the Savior!” (Pastor Pacer Tan)

I personally salute him for his honest leadership and the same  inspired me with the following write-up:-

When does a once humble pastoral servant of God in a Church become an overbearing CEO-like leader?
Here are 18 non-exhaustive signs to lookout for.

1) When nothing happens without his approval.

2) When the pastoral staff under his leadership are more eager to get on his good side than to be scripturally sound.

3) When the same pastoral staff
 rarely openly raise any objection to his ideas or opinions even when they have reservations about its long term feasibility and acceptance by the thinking section of the Church.

4) When he wants exclusive and complete control over all ministries and departmental heads and when his mind is made up, he expects full compliance and unquestioned execution.

5) When he expects full deference 
to him in respect of all short and long term projects related to the church, be it discipleship, evangelism, mission both local and abroad, marketing, church maintenance and planting, partnership with other churches, and even monthly administrative expenses.

6) When he shows explicit, if not implicit, bias in favor of programs
 that fit his own agenda, whether his agenda is still practical, effective or sound, and seeks to dismiss programs that do not fit in; and for this reason, he is not prepared to let the benefits of those subjectively-despised program be canvassed for further discussion or to see the light of day.

7) When he carries with him a certain immutable set of ideas from the time he laid the first brick towards the building of the church and these ideas have ossified into cemented masonry 
stones and he is not prepared to review them even when the time for internal church renewal urgently calls for them to be reviewed.

8) When he is opposed to any modern scientific discovery that threatens, whether openly or by implication, his pre-set thinking about biblical narratives/explanations in the same way that the Catholic Church was once opposed to the heliocentric theory during the pre-Reformation times.

9) When he views world events and developments through the narrow lens of morbid biblical eschatology and his interpretations of the apocalyptic events in the book of Revelation are purely and uncompromisingly literal rather than purposively metaphorical or adaptively allegorical.

10) When he is of the covertly held view that he is indispensable to the Church and the Church therefore cannot grow in quantity and quality without
 his leadership or guidance.

11) When he is suspicious of the rising meteoric stars of individual pastor and the growing fame of lay leaders in the Church and he views their popularity with arresting prejudice and sore vigilance.

12) When he is eagerly looking for signs and wonders in the Church to draw the crowd in and he will not hesitate to associate their apparent occurrences to his ministry or personal influence.

13) When he controls the church funds and the pastoral and administrative remuneration, including his own salary, via a contrived system of trustee-like oversight that is ultimately under his sway, and he channels the funds to finance his own pet projects and missions.

14) When his messages are largely recycled, rehashed and recursive and they revolve around the same theme and he 
hoards the pulpit ministry as a means to direct corporate attention and compliance to himself to the exclusion of other equally-worthy preachers/teachers, whether locally or abroad.

15) When he exhibits a certain obstinacy of posture towards new ideas that seek to redefine certain ministries in order to make them more relevant to the times without compromising spiritual integrity.

16) When he seethes with indignation against the rising 
popularity and growth of other Churches and goes militaristic when his own members leave his Church to join the other Churches (instead of wishing them well under an understanding ecumenical mindset).

17) When he engages in the various forms of spiritual disciplines and rituals as ordinarily expected of him only by virtue of his public office of leadership and not because he truly desires to humble himself before God, in complete submission, and he refuses/neglects to consecrate quality time to examine himself, his
 heart and his motive, for the purpose of seeking out and dealing with his personal pride, narcissistic leanings, and self-elevating ambitions.

18) When he works behind the scene to ensure longevity of his leadership in name and legacy by engineering a succession plan that favors people of his own election, preference and trust without much regards for independent merit, objective devotion and earnest commitment. Cheerz

* Image from "".

Monday, 24 March 2014

My Church prayed for rain and it rained!

Last week, my church prayed for rain during the Sunday service and about ten minutes later, it rained. It really did. The downpour came after almost three months of dry spell. My church apparently broke the spell! The Facebook posts went wild with congregants praising God for the rain. Then, the next Sunday, that is, yesterday, my church went on record and made the announcement about the breakthrough prayer that tugged the heartstring of God to release
 the shower of blessings. That announcement triggered another downpour. It was a rain of applause.

I quietly rejoiced at the news and felt a little special for being a member of the church. However, I felt something amiss and this sets me thinking. My first question was this, "Is my church claiming sole and full credit for the rain?" I got this impression because the announcement was rather area-specific, that is, it mentioned that it rained in the North and the East. Now, we have two worship centers here and
 they happened to be in the North and the East. So, as a church member you can't help but have this feeling of being blessedly singled out by God.

But then, if we are claiming sole and full credit, are we forgetting about other churches as well? As far as I know, I heard that other churches were praying for rain too that Sunday. For example, one church in the East was praying for rain and it rained in less than an hour later. And another church also in the East
 was doing the same and it actually rained before their mass prayer ended.

How about  the other churches all over Singapore? I am sure they had prayed as well and had thanked God for answering their prayer in the same way that my church thanked Him for answering ours. So which church's petition got the divine endorsement? Can anyone tell? Is it about approximation then? That is, the church that prays closest to the time of the downpour gets the credit. Now, let's see how this work.

My church got their prayer answered within 10 
minutes. That's close no doubt. But then, as I have mentioned earlier, there was another church that got their answer in the course of their prayer. This means that even before they finished their prayer, God sent the rain! So, in ordinary pizza lingo, if my church experienced the normal delivery, the other church would have experienced the express delivery?

Think about it. If you were God, whose prayer would you have favored? My church? The other churches? Or it may just be your usual practice as the divine creator to wait for a day later before answering any request. If that is the case, my church's request would be off target because I heard that there were other churches who had prayed for rain a day before that Sunday.  

What is even more of a wet blanket for me is the real possibility that other religions may have prayed for rain too in their own way. Of course, I am speculating here but what if they too had been praying for rain? Wouldn't that
 complicate the issue of divine attribution further? You see, if God had seemingly answered the prayer of his people at the same time that a group of Taoist priests were performing their rites for rain or a network of atheists were pleading for the same, wouldn't the confusion be even more chaotic?

So, gathering all my thoughts on this, I trust that my church is not claiming sole (and exclusive) credit for the rain, notwithstanding the impression given. I think it is more heartening to see it as God
 answering all the prayers put together regardless of approximation. I think God saw the hearts of his people, regardless of their denominations or affiliations, and he answered it as a collective (note that I am deliberately avoiding the hydrologic cycle of precipitation, percolation, evaporation, and condensation to explain this so called "natural phenomena").

In the end, I guess this prayer business is a tricky one in proving direct causation. Whose prayer got the
 divine creator's attention is as difficult a causation exercise as trying to decide who plays a larger role in reproduction: the mother or the father? 

As a Christian, living in this modern age of climate science, we have come a long way from the time when our ancestors once thought that a lunar eclipse was a supernatural way of passing the cosmic message that god was displeased with his devotees’  human sacrifices. So, at best, it is a plausible correlation. At worst, it is pure coincidence.

You see,
 none would be the wiser if each church starts to insist that God had answered their prayer to the exclusion of the other churches.
 (And the irony is this: I am sure that churches would have prayed for rain a month or two earlier but the petition was probably marked "Returned to Sender." Those times were not known to us because nobody with half the mind would make a public announcement about unanswered prayers).

My point here is that there are just too many variables for all the 
dots to connect themselves in favor of one church or a collection of them or at all. I recall a saying that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." (Arthur C Clarke) The problem here is that the natural cycle of rain and drought is a long accepted mainstream science that our children have been taught about in the classroom. It is therefore no longer that magical in the eyes of these children that rain happens as and when they do.

Alas, we adults see it differently. For some
 of us, we believe that when we ask God for rain after a long dry spell, it will come as per our request. And the rain comes for no other reasons except that we had asked for it. And because rain came, it has to be that God specifically had our prayer in mind when he blew the dark clouds our way in the exact volume and speed that we had asked for it. This unfortunately reminds me of those primitive tribes who carried out their own dance rituals to call down rain. On some occasions, the rain actually came either 
immediately after or in the middle of their dance. Mm...I wonder who answered their request? Cheerz.