"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Wednesday, April 02, 2003

On False Gods

Most religions preach that there is only one path to God - their own, and all who don't follow it are screwed. However, there are literally thousands of denominations and religions out there. How are we supposed to know which one to believe in? Do we choose the one which promises the most benefits in the afterlife, or the one which dictates the most self-flagellation, reasoning to ourselves that the more we suffer now, the more we enjoy ourselves later? Can it be that all of them are wrong but one? More likely that more than one are correct, or all are correct, or even, dare I say, that none are correct.

A roommate claimed that if you believed in a false God, you�d know. So why do so many people believe in so many different Gods? Can they all be correct, if most proclaim the rest to be wrong? And how about atheists (I presume if you don�t believe in a real God, you�d know too)? This leads me to the same conclusion as above.

Tim�s father offered another view - you must look at the fruits the religion brings. A true, good God would bring good fruits. So looking at it that way, Buddhism must be the true religion, for it advocates peace and I don�t think anyone has ever killed anyone else in Buddhism�s name. Many atheists lead perfectly virtuous and happy lives, so is not atheism also a true religion (or lack of, rather)? The same could be said of the much-reviled Wiccans, even. Christianity, on the other hand, has resulted in wars, murder, and hate, the Spanish Inquisition and assorted other iniquities.

Christ on the Throne?

Have you heard of the Four Spiritual Laws? Law One says that: "God LOVES you and offers a wonderful PLAN for your life. [Christ speaking] "I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly" [that it might be full and meaningful] (John 10:10)". I find the interpretation for this to be extremely suspect. But let's just assume, for the sake of argument, that he *does* have a plan for our life. We are urged to follow this plan and surrender to the inscrutable divine will. We are to let Christ be on the throne and submit to him in all things.

This idea of servitude rankles me - it sounds like a euphemism for slavery. Is it good to be mindless automatons, zombies controlled by God? If that was our purpose in life, to be puppets with him pulling the strings, then why were we created in the first place? If we should submit to his "plan", then why were we put on this earth? To be expensive, semi-intelligent playthings? The question of free will comes up, and the prepared refrain is that God gave us free will so that we could choose him without compulsion. However, religious representatives tell us to "do this and be happy forevermore or burn in hell for all eternity", so is there really no compulsion or coercion? Furthermore, we are told that our body comes from God, and belongs to God, so whither and wherefore Free Will?

Even putting all our doubts aside, we are told that we were given free will just to have it taken away from us. That sounds like he is putting us here to play with, and test us. Life then sounds like a cruel, inane divine game. A more plausible explanation given to me was that submitting to him, we realise that his plan is the best for our life. Put that way, it doesn't sound like we have a choice. Is submitting to a pre-determined plan and going to a pre-destined fate really what we want?

Also, how do we know just what is in the Plan? Supposedly, if we have accepted him, we will know what to do. But what about the murderers who thought that voices were telling them to kill their fellow Men? What if that was really the voice of God? Who's to say?

I am growing increasingly disillusioned with organised and human-interpreted religion, what with its inconsistencies, hypocrisies, flaws, obvious errors which are glossed over, false promises, contradictions and misleading logic. I wonder if even another Thomas Aquinas would be able to reconcile all the paradoxes, as a reading of some parts of the Summa Theologica didn�t leave me very impressed. Who's to say which interpretation is right, with the number extant? They have proved wrong before, like when the Catholic Church proclaimed the truth of a Gaia-centric universe, justifying it with passages from Scripture, and when it prohibited usury - what if they are wrong again? And if Original Sin has stained Man forever and ever, has not the sins of the Church stained it irredeemably?

Deism

Disillusioned with Organised Religion, Thomas Paine (of "The Age of Reason" fame) followed the philosophy of Deism, which is truly appealing in its precepts.

RELIGION has two principal enemies, Fanatism and Infidelity, or that which is called Atheism. The first requires to be combated by reason and morality, the other by natural philosophy.

The Universe is the bible of a true Theophilanthropist. It is there that he reads of God. It is there that the proofs of his existence are to be sought and to be found. As to written or printed books, by whatever name they are called, they are the works of man's hands, and carry no evidence in themselves that God is the author of any of them. It must be in something that man could not make that we must seek evidence for our belief, and that something is the universe, the true Bible, -- the inimitable work of God.

Contemplating the universe, the whole system of Creation, in this point of light, we shall discover, that all that which is called natural philosophy is properly a divine study. It is the study of God through his works. It is the best study, by which we can arrive at knowledge of his existence, and the only one by which we can gain a glimpse of his perfection.

Do we want to contemplate his power? We see it in the immensity of the Creation. Do we want to contemplate his wisdom? We see it in the unchangeable order by which the incomprehensible WHOLE is governed. Do we want to contemplate his munificence? We see it in the abundance with which he fills the earth. Do we want to contemplate his mercy? We see it in his not withholding that abundance even from the unthankful. In fine, do we want to know what GOD is? Search not written or printed books, but the Scripture called the 'Creation.'


--- Thomas Paine. The Existence of God, A Discourse at the Society of Theophilanthropists, Paris, circa 1810


9) Six Nights In Sabah

Wherefore Scepticism?

Scepticism is necessary in the realms of religion, where the intangible reigns. For without scepticism, are we to follow gullibly the first religion we come to know of? Most intelligent people desire the truth, and they don't want to live lies, or they might as well worship man-made idols. At the same time, we must try to be sceptical without being contemptuous.

Why does God not come to all who ask for him? He has a long and proven track record of appearing to people - Noah, Moses, the Apostles, Doubting Thomas, St Paul (a vision converted him from a hater of Christians to one himself) Muhammad and others. Why is it that modern day credited manifestations of him and his power are all of events that were ambiguous and not witnessed by a large group, including sceptics? Why does he not resolve the doubts of those looking in vain for him, and lose faith and die cynical and broken - or worse, continue seeking and die deluded? In short, what gives?

It seems to me that as the intelligence and developmental level of peoples and societies goes up, the proportion of people with no religion, who are sceptical about religion or who are just not very devout goes up in tandem. Many of the most intelligent and prominent people in the past century or more have been atheistic or agnostic. The naysayers reply that these people have tried to rationalise God and religion, and so have not found either. But to trust in blind faith in something that might be false would be folly, as I've already shown at length. Real religions are supposed to make people feel fulfilled and touched by God - those who are are jubilant and become very devout, but what about those who aren't? They then inevitably become sceptical, cynical and disillusioned and disavow the existence of worship of God, where more gullible people might be tricked into continuing on their futile path.

Personally, I am half-sceptical. Indeed, Bien Kiat said of me � �He�s a very tough customer. If you can convert him, you will go to heaven. Guaranteed.� (But then he also said that I was �Very intelligent, but very blur and stubborn�, so) During the retreat, I found my scepticism rising till the last day, when it subsided somewhat, but since returning from Sabah, I have found it rising to unprecedented levels.

I want to keep an Open Mind (both ways), for fear of missing something through intransigence. I saw some things - healing, tongues, slaying and the like, but they can all be explained, as belief can work wonders and push the human body to do things not thought possible, though some are harder to rationalise than others. I feel a sense of peace once in a while, and feel twinges and vague emotions sometimes, but it could be a product of my own imagination and hope - my skin positively prickles and crawls whenever I hear my School Anthem being played (from the memories and some degree of pride), and even when the National Anthem is played (though whether this is because of the years of attempted indoctrination, the mysterious substances they put in our drinking water or my disgust and intense emotions at my Slavery I know not).

Agnosticism and faith both have their appeals. On the one hand, I just want to surrender, and not to question. Like Milder, I want to believe (though I don't watch the X-files). At the same time I know, on the other hand, that I could never live with myself believing in a sham, living a lie and wasting my time being a fool. In other words, I'm not playing Devil's Advocate just for the heck of it. Both choices are liberating in their own ways. I was accused of not wanting to open up, and trying to rationalise something that cannot be rationalised, but I think I tried as best I could, and really � the sheer ridiculousness of it all stuns me sometimes and turns me off, and if I didn�t enquire, I might as well join the Raelian sect or Heaven�s Gate.

Mysterious Sessions

Most of the retreat consisted of talks and Praise and Worship, but there were some sessions where the Power was turned on. The Power of mass hysteria.

Many times, the retreatants were whipped up and encouraged to �talk and pray to the Lord�, and a ear-shattering cacophony ensued. People cried. People screamed. People shouted different things at different tempos at the same time. People talked nonsense (�tongues�). All in all, it sounded like what Hell is supposed to be. Or maybe everyone was possessed by demons. I think the Chinese Communist Party would be overjoyed if it could tape a session like that - it�d just claim that this was a Falungong session, and vindicate its branding of it as an Evil Cult.

While trying my best to participate fully in these sessions, hoping in vain that my years of semi-belief would be gloriously vindicated, I couldn�t but help make some observations. The pastor conducting the retreat was skilled indeed. He wore at our resistance throughout the day, yelling diatribes and abuse, planting suggestions and admonishing us, tiring us with long hours, hinting at things, and scheduling Praise and Worship before and after most sessions to soften us up so our resistance would be lower, making us castigate ourselves and each other to implant a sense of shame, and the Spartan environment didn�t help the Rational-o-meters. During the sessions themselves, he manipulated the volume of the microphones, whispered for emphasis so we had to listen more carefully, co-ordinated his actions and words with the band, and the band sometimes played discordantly to stun us or sung the same lines again and again to hypnotise us with their soporific effect.

Somehow, I was put in mind of that case a few years back, when children throughout Japan suddenly went into fits because of a sudden series of bright flashes during an episode of Pokemon. No one blamed Satan then, as I recall.

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Not to be outdone by Saddam, the Priest had some Weapons of Mass Destruction of his own up his sleeve, each more powerful than the last, not least in making people cry.

The first was when he got his helpers to lug a giant cross into the prayer hall, and asked all of us to write a letter to Jesus confessing our sins, even dictating how it should go, and then to go to the cross on our knees, prostrate in front of it, tear the letter up and reflect. I could not, in good faith, write the letter he dictated, so the one I wrote was slightly... different, asking for faith, and all through the ceremony I felt nothing.

The second WMD was a forgiveness ceremony, where people had to bathe each other�s feet and pretend that they were bathing the feet of people whom they had a long-standing grudge against. On reflection, I decided that I did not have any outstanding grudges and did not hate anybody, though some degree of dislike is inevitable, so I declined to participate, but it was quite touching to see some of the people taking part in the ceremony, especially when one Brother bathed one Priest�s foot and when one nun from Hong Kong was asked to act as a surrogate for 2 Hong Kong-ers, but bathed their feet back in return and kissed them to boot. 2 of the Priests, however, were not asked to act as surrogates for the ceremony. I guess they weren�t charismatic enough.

On the last full day, the third WMD came out. Well, it wasn�t exactly a WMD, but it was something other than the usual talks, mass, prayer and Praise and Worship � morning meditation. Except that most were sleeping during it.

Crucifixion

The next-to-last WMD that he unleashed came on the last full day. For 40 minutes, we had kneel while holding our arms out horizontally, like we were on the Cross, all the while in front of the Blessed Sacrament and hearing someone from the Music Ministry reading out the 12 Stations of the Crucifixion, with music sung in between each station. The pain was horrible. Now I know a tiny, little bit of what crucifixion is like!

People cried. I sort of cried too, a half-cry with no tears � not because I was overwhelmed by emotion, but because my arms were hurting too much, and a few times the boundary between half-crying and laughter blurred and I laughed, kind of like the times I fall down and, though my tush hurts, I start laughing. I was very tempted to slay myself and end my misery, but during the many times I looked around the room, no one had collapsed, given up or been slain, so I didn�t want to feel pai seh (embarrassed). To distract myself, I started jerking around and swaying wildly � jerking to and fro, back and forward and humping the air, among other things - in some part to redistribute the weight on my knees, which wasn�t that bad really, but more to distract myself from the terrible aching in my arms, especially around the shoulder, and to uncramp the area. I did cheat a little, though, by wiping my sweat 2-3 times, looking around the room to see if anyone had given up, drooping my arms very low on occasion and letting my arms down to massage them once. This went on for at least 15mins, and apparently all this while the priest was looking at me as if to ask, �What is this fella trying to do?�. Others who saw me said after they saw me they felt like laughing, even if they had been about to cry, and some asserted that if not for my antics, they wouldn�t have been able to keep in that tortuous position.

After the whole thing was over, people told me that I was in a trance, and that I looked like a �tan kee� (medium) in a Taoist temple or I had what the priest had referred to as a �Muhammad Ali� spirit in me. Since I was in full control of my actions, was conscious of them, felt nothing inside of me and did not smell, taste, see, hear or touch anything special during that time, I naturally didn�t believe them. How does one tell if one is in a trance anyway? However, they were so insistent in their claims that I suppose there was some modicum of possibility. However, if I truly was in a trance, the fact that it was a Taoist trance doesn�t bode very well, does it? :) Later I asked a priest how someone could tell he was in a trance, and he said that that person had to be pure of heart and had confessed all his sins. That didn�t describe me, so I suppose it wasn�t a trance! Perhaps it was an, err, experience.
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