Saturday, December 28, 2013

Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?

I'm always careful not to wish non-Christians a Merry Christmas for fear that they might not be entirely pleased with such a greeting.  I always wish Christians a Happy and Joyous Christmas and non-Christians "Happy Holidays". Are non-Christians really offended by Christmas greetings?  Or if you exclude them completely from any sort of greeting, would they feel slighted?  After all, nobody wishes non-Muslims Eid Mubarak or Eid Fitr.  You would never dream of wishing non-Buddhists a Happy Vesak.  If you did, the non-Muslim or non-Buddhist would think you have an odd sense of humour or even downright rude.  Why then is there a need to greet non-Christians anything at all on Christmas day?

The truth is Christianity has become a victim of its own incredible success as the world's foremost religion.  The entire world follows the calendar fixed by the church and we date everything from the approximate Incarnation of Jesus Christ which is essentially a Christian theological doctrine.  By merely recognising the year 2013, we are effectively saying it's the year of the Lord two thousand and thirteen or in Latin, Anno Domini or AD 2013.  I need not explain which Lord is being referred to.  The whole world except for pockets of deeply Muslim states rests on Sunday or the Lord's Day, the Christian Sabbath.  It is not surprising that some people rebel against this Christian hegemony and insist on replacing AD with CE or "common era" but that's ridiculous.  Who are we trying to kid?  The whole world uses the Gregorian calendar, also known as the Christian calendar and it's dated from the approximate date of Jesus' Incarnation and calling it "common era" doesn't alter that fact one bit.

But the truth is most non-Christians don't mind Christianity and are happy to adopt for themselves Christian heritage quite willingly.  Christian morality and values are generally accepted as consistent with our modern understanding of what is just and right.  Christian morality is hugely applicable and relevant in today's world.  It may come as a surprise to most people but monogamy which has become so universally accepted and "natural" has Christian roots. Even in Singapore where polygamy used to be the order of the day among the three major races, the government decided to adopt the Christian concept of monogamy and enshrined it in the Women's Charter and overnight, Christian monogamous laws were instituted in a country that sees only a tiny percentage of its population embracing the Christian religion.

Apart from Christian morality which is universally accepted even in countries that are not Christian, we see Christian culture similarly embraced.  Anyone who has been to Asia knows that the names of Christian saints are extremely popular.   If you look at the list of Board members of any Buddhist or Taoist temple, you are sure to see a large number of them with the names of Christian saints and biblical characters.  You find Andrews galore but not a single Ananda.  You see Stephens by the dozens on the Temple Board but not a single Subhuti.   Even those who were not given Christian names by their parents somehow adopt them for themselves and would rather be known by their Christian names than their more traditional names.

Let me now turn back to Christmas.  A simple survey of homes in Singapore will show you that almost all households celebrate Christmas.  Almost every home has its Christmas tree and serves a lovely Christmas dinner.  Even in the workplace, every office celebrates Christmas complete with the turkey and Christmas hymns.  And I'm not just talking about "Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer" which by itself already establishes the strong influence of Christian culture.  I'm talking about "hardcore" hymns that everyone sings because they are so popular and universally acceptable such as "Silent Night" the lyrics of which are so deeply religious and theological that singing it is as good as reciting all the Christian creeds.  Just think of any other holiday in Singapore and you will immediately see that it does not have even a fraction of the wide appeal that Christmas has.  Woe betide any holiday that comes within two months before Christmas - it instantly gets eclipsed and sidelined.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not taking sides here and I'm not saying one religion is superior to another. Those who know me well enough will know that I do not subscribe to the view that any one religion is more "correct" than others.  Every religion is based on evidence-less irrational belief and it's wrong for me to say Christianity or any other religion is the "correct" one.  But for the purpose of answering my question whether non-Christians are offended when they are wished "Merry Christmas", I have to examine how appealing the Christian religion is in the first place.  What we see so far is it's extremely appealing to non-Christians.

One is tempted to draw the compelling conclusion that it can't be offensive to greet a non-Christian "Merry Christmas" when you consider that he gives himself and his children names of Christian saints and he celebrates Christmas in his house and sings Christmas hymns.

In politically correct Europe, there are many who prefer to say "Happy Holidays".  Obviously, there is this reluctance among politically correct Europeans to exert the imperialistic influence of Christianity on other cultures.

Happy Holidays in a French village

I don't know about the situation in other countries but in Singapore, I'm particularly careful about greeting two groups of people "Merry Christmas".  The first group consists of those who are steeped in an exclusivist religion such as Islam.  That's fair enough - they have every right not to have the Christian culture forced down their throats.  Unlike many non-Muslim Singaporeans particularly those of Chinese descent, Singaporean Muslims usually don't name themselves after Christian saints and they don't take on all the appurtenances of the Christian lifestyle and so it's natural for me to respect their separate religious identity and I have a high regard for their desire to be true to their own religion.

The second group comprises the New Atheists.  These people are a varied group but a large number of them are not atheists from birth.  Many that I know were once Christians who at one time believed in Christian myths but when they lost their belief in the mythical part of the religion, they threw away the baby with the mythical bath water.  Many of them are influenced by the books of New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and they sincerely believe that all religions are evil and the world would be a better place if there was no religion at all.  John Lennon's "Imagine There's No Religion" is their Doxology.

I will confine myself only to what's been happening in Singapore.  I'm aware that there are outspoken and violent religious groups in other countries.  In Singapore at least, all the different religions have co-existed harmoniously for centuries and they will continue to do so under the watchful eye of the Singapore government.

Recently, I attended the Orchard Road Christmas Light-Up celebrations and I was pleased to see many Muslims and other groups of non-Christians joining in the fun.  There were dance items by talented youths from the Malay-Muslim community.  Nobody took objection to the fact that this was a Christmas celebration and the word "Christmas" appeared on the stage itself.  In Singapore, nobody is really offended by the "Christ" in "Christmas".  Even a three year old child knows that Christmas is a religious festival celebrated by Christians but nobody would insist on posting banners that their religion is superior to Christianity on Christmas day or during celebrations in Advent leading to Christmas.

I just saw a link on Facebook to this report of radical Muslims in Denmark holding a demonstration on Christmas Eve shouting Muslim slogans and "Conquer".  As far as I know, this is just the sort of thing that won't happen in Singapore.  There is mutual respect for one another among the followers of the different religions in Singapore even if they misbehave in other countries.

Just as those of other religions do not post their religious banners on Christmas day next to Christmas decorations, no Christian would post biblical verses next to the Hari Raya or Deepavali decorations in Geylang Serai and Little India during the religious festivals of Muslims and Hindus. What is beautiful in Singapore is we are respectful of all religions.  As I have said, it would be ridiculously arrogant of me to say that Christianity is superior to other religions when I am fully aware that ALL religions are based on evidence-less beliefs and are largely cultural.  How can I denigrate someone else's myths when my own religion is full of its own myths?  Who am I to say that a flying horse is any stranger than a talking snake or a talking donkey?  And even if I recognise my myths as merely myths, I can't be so blind as not to know that there are millions of my fellow believers who look upon myths as reality.  In other words, religion is so steeped in culture and is such a personal thing that the only right approach is to show it the same sort of respect that we accord to other people's culture.  Of course I agree that religion must not impinge on the rights of other people who do not choose to subscribe to it.  I am totally opposed to clergymen in my religion who try so hard to enforce their understanding of Christian morality on the other non-Christian citizens.  As much as I would respect religion, I would all the more want to guard against religious imperialism which I can see so clearly particularly in the Abrahamic religions such as my own.

As long as we keep our religions to ourselves and we respect the holy days of all religions in Singapore, everything is fine.  We who have our own myths won't laugh at the myths of other people.  In other words, we who live in glass houses would be the last people to throw stones.  But there is a group of people who don't live in glass houses and they have no myths of their own.  They are solidly rational and logical.  They are the equivalent of Star Trek's Mr Spock.

These are the New Atheists who allow themselves to be guided only by logic and scientific evidence.  I've already explained that many of them are of the view that religion is bad and a world without religion is a better world.

My friends who know me are perfectly aware of the fact that I have a lot of respect for atheists.  I have read the books of many famous New Atheists such as Dawkins and Hitchens and I have to admit that even though I am a religious person, I agree with almost everything they say.  They can't be faulted as far as logic goes and we have to admit that religion, like any cultural construct, is fraught with myths and legends.  But we who are religious don't want to tear down our myths and legends.  We want to hold on to them even in the 21st century and beyond.  We want to continue the rituals that we are familiar with because we've been doing them all our lives just like our parents and grandparents before us.  We may be honest enough to admit that atheists are sure to trounce us in a rational debate but that doesn't affect our loyalty to our religion.

Here is where I envisage a likely problem.  New Atheists (as opposed to just atheists) are atheists who are outspoken and strident.  I am fine with them.  I like atheists to be loud in their rational approach to religion.  I enjoy listening to debates between atheists and religious people even though atheists emerge the victor in every debate.  But I draw the line when they attempt to disrupt our rituals and traditions.  I am offended when they step out of the logical debate arena into our religious space and on our holy days too in order to insult and desecrate what is holy and sacred to us.

In Chicago, New Atheists who call themselves the Freedom from Religion Foundation erected a large "scarlet A" next to the nativity scene for Christmas.  The scarlet A is just a by-the-way suggestion once made by Richard Dawkins for a symbol for New Atheism which is essentially a kind of organised "religion" (I'm using the word "religion" loosely).   It's more an organisation that has as its final goal the destruction of all religions and they do what is lawfully permitted to insult religion and desecrate what religious people hold sacred.

In front of the scarlet A, they posted this banner:

Notice the perversion of Christian beliefs in what they posted.  Jesus, the Son of God, is the Reason for the Season and of course that is altered to refer to the Sun.

The Nativity scene is a traditional part of the holy season of Advent that leads to one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar, Christmas, the Birth and Incarnation of God Himself, and is observed all over the world together with other Christmas rituals such as the Christmas pageant and the Blessing of the Crib.

Images of Nativity scenes taken from churches all 
over the world including one from my church.

Atheists have no tradition of their own.  The scarlet A is something suggested by Richard Dawkins a couple of years ago.  It's not a focal point of prayer (unlike the crucifix) because atheists don't pray and they don't perform any ritual.  The only purpose of the scarlet A is to tell religious people that there is no God.  The scarlet A does not appear in any other places except next to holy symbols revered by religious people because its sole function is to desecrate, insult and offend.  Do you think the New Atheists would have bothered to erect the scarlet A if there had been no Nativity scene?  Of course not.  The sole function of the scarlet A is to offend religious people and if there is no religious symbol that it could stand offensively next to, there is no point having it in the first place. It is the battle cry or the bugle call to arms of New Atheism.

In the West where freedom of speech is revered, people are free to desecrate religious symbols and we have seen how some people burn holy books such as the Quran openly in the name of freedom of speech.  We cannot have that sort of thing in Singapore.  It's already a great achievement that all the different religions can exist harmoniously next to one another and the mutual respect we have for one another is crucial.  We cannot allow people who truly desire a world with no religion to destroy the peace that we have.

Those who have read my other posts must know that I can hardly be considered representative of most Christians.  What I take to be mere myths are revered by many of my fellow Christians as absolutely real and true.  Many Christians object to my position and many have even accused me of being a closet atheist.  Yet when I read of the erection of a scarlet A next to a Nativity scene, I get so enraged and furious and my only relief is that it's happening in a country that is half a globe from where I am.  If such an affront to my religion affects me so badly, what about those who truly believe in the myths of my religion?  I wonder how much more offended they would be if they see a scarlet A next to our holy symbols.

Nobody is saying that you can't have a scarlet A.  You can have any symbol you want but all I'm saying is you should not place it next to someone else's religious symbol and on his holy day too. No Christian or anyone of any other religion would place their own religious symbol next to a decoration that is meant for someone else's religion.  I would never dream of placing a crucifix next to Hari Raya decorations in Geylang Serai or the Deepavali lights in Little India.  Neither would a Muslim or a Hindu place his religious symbols next to a Nativity scene on Christmas day.  We have mutual respect for one another.  It would be a sad day if New Atheists spark off a religious riot in Singapore.  It would be a sad irony if those who decry religion as the cause of evil and wars are the ones who trigger off a religious riot by their inherent pugnacity and insensitivity to the religious feelings of the rest of us.

This is one of the most heartwarming sights you will see in Singapore.
A Chinese Taoist temple adjacent to a Christian church which is next to 
a Sai Baba temple.  Perfect religious harmony in Singapore. 
Is New Atheism, the militant version of atheism, tolerant enough for Singapore?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Thinking out loud - Riot in Singapore?

I'm away from Singapore at the moment and the only news I get from home comes from my Facebook newsfeeds that I access from time to time on my mobile phone.  Imagine my surprise when I read about a riot in Little India and I saw for myself the overturned police vehicles and an ambulance which were set on fire.  The reason for the riot?  A bus collided into an Indian foreign worker by accident and killed him.  The people around him went into a frenzy and they started the riot.

I have also read (all from my Facebook newsfeeds) the comments made by many Singaporeans and their typical anti-government diatribe.  They say the foreign workers must have been very upset with the terrible living conditions and the poor wages they get and all it took was one small spark to set off a riot.  At the same time, I've read arguments from some other people online that Singaporeans should not be racist in their comments against the rioters.

What is clear to all of us is this:  we all love Singapore for its peace and stability and nobody, whatever their nationality or ethnic group, has the right to destroy what we have all worked to build up over the decades.  Rioting of any sort is wrong.  If you don't like the wages, go elsewhere.  If you prefer living conditions in another country, go there.  This is a free world.  There is no slavery and every workman has the right to go where he pleases and work where he wills or not work at all. That's entirely up to him.

But there will always be the anti-government lobby that will seize any opportunity to slam the government.  We've seen all that before.  When there is flooding in Singapore (extremely mild flooding and not the calamitous sort we see in many other countries), the government is blamed.  If there is a crack on the road surface, the government is at fault.  And now, if there is a riot, again, the poor government is blamed.  To this group, even bad weather is attributable to the government.

Why then did they riot over something like a mere road accident?  A friend of mine on Facebook who is an Indian national explained to me why he thought the riot happened.  He said it was cultural. In India, riots take place every now and then and they are so common that they are not reported in the newspapers.  It's very common for villagers to go on a rampage and attack government vehicles whenever there is a road accident, usually if the accident results in death.  Typically, civilians are not harmed and most of the time, even government officers escape unscathed.  It's only government vehicles and buildings that bear the brunt of their of their anger.

In just the State of Kerala alone, cases of riots rose from 8,057 in 2008 to 10,938 in 2012.  By any standard, such figures are extremely high.  We can't even imagine having 10 cases of rioting a year in Singapore.  These figures are obtained from the police website in the State of Kerala.

It's wrong to go on a witch-hunt and put the blame on the government, employers or fellow Singaporeans.  The rioters are criminals and they have broken our laws.  It does not matter what their race or nationality is.  It is not racist or xenophobic to denounce them for disrupting our peace and threatening our security.  It's not wrong to slam them for humiliating our police force and the authorities.  Some of us who are typically anti-government should stop our anti-government frenzy and call a spade a spade.  When criminals commit a serious crime, they must be punished severely. It's wrong to excuse their wrong by putting the blame on others who are totally innocent and not all connected to the crime, even if we have a personal anti-government agenda.

It may be common in India to riot when there is a fatal accident and it may be a part of their culture. But if they import that culture to Singapore, we have every right to enforce our strictly no-nonsense laws and exact the maximum penalty that the law provides for.  Singapore is obviously attractive to many foreigners which is why they are here.  But we must ensure that they abide by our laws and when they don't, they must bear the full force of it.  Singaporeans should support and uphold our laws and not seize this opportunity to criticize the government.  The rioting has nothing to do with the government.  Let's not allow our imagination to run wild and if we have a bone to pick with the government for whatever personal reasons we may have, let's not take the side of criminals to achieve our goal.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Lawrence Khong's Flawed Understanding

There has recently been a flurry over the real meaning of "atheism" and what makes a person an atheist.  It all began from a Supper Club interview during which Lawrence Khong, a pastor in a local independent church, after making his firm anti-homosexuality stand clear said this:

An atheist is very religious. He has a belief system. He believes there is no God.

Paul Tobin, the founding president of the Humanist Society (Singapore) explained in his letter to the Straits Times that:

Atheism is not a belief system; it merely describes the absence of belief in god(s).

That sparked off a debate on what "atheism" really means.  That is so reminiscent of what I myself have experienced about what it means to be a "Christian".   One writer to the Straits Times who is presumably a theist and most probably a Christian had the cheek to go on his moral high horse and wrote "atheists themselves cannot agree on a single definition of atheism."  But we Christians can't agree on what a "Christian" means.  The schisms we see that fragment the church into a few thousand denominations (I'm being conservative in my estimate) are evidence of our inability to decide for ourselves what "Christianity" means.  To this day, after 2000 years, we are nowhere near coming to a consensus on the simple definition of what makes a person a "Christian".

I say this is reminiscent of what I have experienced because although I'm a devout Christian and I have served the church since my early childhood and will continue to serve the church all my life (which means I'm not just your average pew warmer), I have been accused by fundamentalists of being a non-Christian and many of them don't even serve the church in any capacity.  But let's turn our attention back to atheism.

Most theists who have this need to insist that atheism is a belief system will quote dictionaries that give a definition that suits their purpose.  I will explain later why we theists have this agenda to turn atheism into a belief system.   From what I've seen online most theists will slyly use the Macmillan dictionary which defines an "atheist" as:

the belief or theory that God does not exist.

Any grammarian will tell you that when you need the correct definition of an English word, you don't look up Macmillan Dictionary or any other dictionaries, some of which will of course have outrageous definitions.  You turn to the definitive Oxford English Dictionary which defines an atheist as:

A person who denies or disbelieves the existence of God or gods.

That appears like a good enough definition and it's two-pronged.  First, a person who denies the existence of God or gods is an atheist.  This is a reference of course to those who are certain 100% in their minds that God or gods don't exist.  They are the extreme atheists, if you like.

The second group consists of those who disbelieve the existence of God or gods.  "Disbelieve" is different from "deny" in that to disbelieve something is not to have a belief in something.  The same Oxford English Dictionary defines "disbelieve" as "have no belief or faith in".  Notice that the sentence is to be read disjunctively.  A person who denies the existence of God is an atheist and similarly, a person who disbelieves (ie has no belief in) the existence of God is an atheist.

Paul Tobin is of course correct in his definition.  An atheist can believe or disbelieve a variety of things but the lowest common denominator of what makes a person an atheist as Paul has correctly pointed out is an absence of belief in God.  Of course that does not stop an atheist from insisting that God absolutely cannot exist.  Such a person is as much an atheist as a person who merely has no belief in God or gods even if he will not stake his all that God absolutely doesn't exist.

I hope that much is clear.

But why the hoo-ha over such an inconsequential thing as semantics?  Why should the definition of an English word be so important to a pastor and to so many of my fellow Christians?  We Christians don't care a jot for the dictionary definition of a "Christian" but each denomination comes up with its own definitive articles of faith of what makes a "true" Christian.  If we don't care for dictionary definitions, why are we so insistent that an atheist must believe or disbelieve in what the dictionary says is the definition of an atheist?  There is a sinister reason which I will come to later.

Supposing I'm willing to concede that an atheist is one who believes wholeheartedly and is 100% clear in his mind that there is no God.  So what?  If you go by that definition, Richard Dawkins wouldn't be an atheist.  He has himself said that on a scale of 1 to 10 of non-belief in a supernatural divine being, he would be about 8.  So if we Christians want to have proprietary interest over the word "atheist", another word should be coined to denote those who have no belief in God as opposed to those who are absolutely sure that God does not exist.  Let's call them "brights", a word I believe some atheists (such as Richard Dawkins) wanted to apply to themselves at one time.  So a bright is a person who has no belief in God and an atheist is a person who insists 100% that God does not exist.  So what?  I hope my fellow believers can see what a red herring the definition of "atheist" is. If we insist on a strict definition of "atheist" that excludes even Dawkins, what have we achieved? Nothing but obscurantism and confusion which we Christians are famous for.

All this argument over semantics tells me something is not quite right with my fellow believers. If we are honest with ourselves, we have a hidden agenda that we don't want to reveal to the world. It's the same agenda that that flawed debater William Lane Craig has.  I initially wrote "dishonest debater" but I hesitate to call him that because I think he may very well believe in his own errors which would make him more a fool than a liar.  I have elsewhere written about Craig and if you are interested you may click below:

          Why the Defence of God Infuriates Me  and
          White Lies and Holy Lies

As Paul correctly says in his letter, atheism is not a belief any more than not skiing is a sport.  I've heard a worse analogy - calling atheism a religion is like calling abstention a sex position.  But quite apart from semantics, to declare an absence of belief to be a belief is absolute ludicrous and I'll explain why.

Christians don't believe in the existence of a divine Krishna.  If a non-belief in Krishna is a belief, a Christian would have two beliefs: his Christian belief and the belief that there is no Krishna.  If you think of all the religions that we have today and in the past, each deity of which the Christian has no belief in, that would make him a believer in a few thousand beliefs.  On top of that he has no belief (or so I hope) in fairies, pixies, leprechauns, the pink unicorn, the purple unicorn, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Celestial Teacup, Santa Claus, the flying reindeer, etc.  If each non-belief is a belief, that would make any one of us a believer in an infinite number of beliefs.

For there to be a meaningful dialogue or debate, we must not clutter the issues with nonsense.  To claim that non-belief is a belief is one such nonsense designed to confuse everyone.

Most atheists I have met and spoken to including Richard Dawkins (whom I've met at a writers' conference in Wales) do not say that they have a belief that God does not exist just as they don't say that they have a belief that fairies don't exist.  Most atheists will agree with this formula about God's existence: the likelihood for God to exist is no greater than the likelihood for fairies and pixies to exist.  That is all.

Why then do some people, principally my fellow believers try so hard to turn atheism into a belief system? I did not know the answer to this question until I saw on youtube a debate in which William Lane Craig participated and everything became clear to me.

Any theist who has engaged in a debate with atheists will know that we theists are stumped from the very commencement of the debate.  We believe in God but we are unable to adduce the smallest shred of evidence for God's existence.  The Loch Ness monster or the abominable snowman has more claim to existence than Almighty God if we look purely at the evidence.  This glaring absence of evidence is something a theist cannot just ignore unless he wants to be laughed and jeered out of the debate forum.

What Craig has striven to do in many of the debates I have seen is to shift the burden of proof onto the atheist.  In other words, fine, I can't adduce any evidence for God's existence but can you adduce evidence to show that God does not exist?  If you can't, my inability to show evidence for God's existence should not be held against me because similarly, you can't show evidence that God does not exist.

But philosophers and thinkers have long known that this is a stupid argument.  You can't prove a negative.  Bertrand Russell came up with his Celestial teapot to establish the philosophic burden of proof.  If someone tells you that there is a teapot that orbits the sun, surely the burden of proof must be on him to show that that is a fact.  To expect someone to show proof that there is no teapot orbiting the sun is unfair, ridiculous and downright wrong.

Basic intelligence tells us this must be so.  If I say I speak to an invisible rabbit, it's for me to show the invisible rabbit exists.  To expect my opponents to prove that my invisible rabbit does not exist is just dumb.

Because we are faced with an impossible obstacle even at the start of any debate with an atheist in that we can't show any evidence for God, we do what I have always decried as dishonest and unjust but which many theists have no qualms resorting to - deception.  We begin by forcing atheists to admit that they BELIEVE God does not exist.  So, atheism is a belief system and a religion.  So if they believe in the non-existence of God, they should prove it.

But we theists must know that what the atheist asks of us is precisely what we ourselves would exact from a madman who tells us that fairies exist.  We will surely reply that fairies don't exist in reality. We will then ask the madman to show evidence for the fairy's existence.  If the madman asks us in response to show evidence that fairies don't exist, we will dismiss his request as unfair and crackpot.  It's the same here between the atheist and us.  Are we theists so obtuse that we can't even see this?

Naturally, people of other religions won't bring this up because they too haven't any evidence for their gods.  Atheists are the only ones who will point this out to us.

The next time you hear someone insisting that atheism is a religion or a belief system, you must remember the theist's deceptive agenda.  There is a reason why we want atheism to be looked upon as a religion.  It's to hide the obvious shortcomings of theism - the very central subject of theism God himself is not backed by the flimsiest evidence.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

IMH and Acupuncture.

I read with dismay and shock that the Institute of Mental Health is now introducing acupuncture in its hospital. This is what reports:  "The Institute of Mental Health (IMH) has become the first health-care provider here to start using acupuncture to help addicts break their drug, drink or gambling habits."  For more, please read this.

This is a first that no reputable hospital should be proud of.  Medical doctors, if they are to be true to their honourable calling, must always practise only evidence-based medicine.  Anything more than that would not be in line with the clear mandate doctors have to heal their patients.  When I see a doctor, I would be shortchanged if he performs faith-healing on me.  Even if he does not force it down my throat but politely offers faith healing as one of the "methods" of treatment to me when I go to his clinic or hospital, that would be, in my opinion, an outrageous abuse of his position as a legally recognised medical practitioner.

It is not too much for a patient to expect a registered medical practitioner to offer only evidence-based treatment recognised by his peers and validated in proper peer-reviewed journals.  Before IMH embarks on any treatment programme, it is duty bound to satisfy itself and the public that whatever programme it offers is backed by evidence and properly controlled studies and is duly referenced in peer-reviewed journals.

Let us see what evidence IMH has in starting this new acupuncture programme.  How effective is acupuncture?  I have personally gone through a huge amount of data on this question and from what I can gather, there has been not a single study that shows that acupuncture is efficacious.  No, not one.  Any study that seems to suggest even remotely that it has some efficacy is alway immediately shot down by experts in the area who point out that the study is flawed or there is no real control provided.  Almost all studies show there is absolutely zero effect in the use of acupuncture.  Of the rare studies that suggest its mild efficacy, reviews of these studies always indicate some severe flaws in the studies and any perceived efficacy is due wholly and indisputably to placebo effect. In many of the studies that proponents of acupuncture will draw your attention to excitedly, the sample size is too small for any significant conclusion in favour of acupuncture to be made.  It is also significant that the "success" of acupuncture is always in ailments that cannot be properly confirmed such as pain and the placebo effect is usually shown to be at play here.  That it is merely placebo effect is frequently confirmed when a control group is subjected to a needle prick too but they are pricked at the "wrong" point of the body and yet this control group claims to have benefitted from the procedure.

As far as science goes, it is correct to say that acupuncture has no advantage whatsoever apart from being a placebo.  That is a scientific statement of fact and I defy IMH to dispute it with evidence.

Given that acupuncture has zero advantage to the patient, can IMH argue that as long as there is no harm, it's all right to administer the procedure?  Of course not.  A hospital is not a church.  You can show statistics as I have shown in the past (click here) that prayers don't work but churches will continue to pray.  But a hospital is different.  It's obliged to do only that which can be of medical benefit to the patients.  But it's not only that.  Prayers are harmless even if they don't work but the same can't be said of acupuncture.  There are serious risk factors.

The latest study of adverse events related to acupuncture concludes that "although serious AEs associated with acupuncture are rare, acupuncture practice is not risk-free." (See Xu, Shifen, et al. (2013). "Adverse Events of Acupuncture: A Systematic Review of Case Reports"Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2013 Infection was the most common adverse event.  You may click here to read the entire paper.  Bear in mind that the paper is not addressing the question of whether acupuncture works.  The fact that acupuncture does not work is well documented in countless other papers and studies.  This paper only deals with the adverse effect of acupuncture, not its non-existent benefits.

There are many articles that you can find from respectable journals that attest to the fact that acupuncture does not work.  In fact there are at least a few hundred times more articles about the inefficacy of acupuncture than there are of the inefficacy of prayer and so technically, if IMH were to introduce prayer into its list of treatments, it would not be so outrageously wrong as if it were to introduce acupuncture.  If you are interested in reading a sample of the many articles against acupuncture as a treatment for anything at all, please click on this link.  I think I have made my point clear. Acupuncture is inefficacious and not beneficial to the patient except as a placebo. But that's not all. It also exposes the patient to unnecessary risks of adverse effects.

This is what the news report says:  "The Straits Times understands that no major scientific studies have been published on using acupuncture for behavioural addictions but the ancient method has developed in recent years outside of China as part of a combined approach to curb such disorders."  The reader is left wondering why then does IMH introduce acupuncture when no study has been done to show its efficacy on behavioural addictions and there are known adverse events?

If you read on further in the newspaper, we are told this which I quote from

Acupuncture can enhance the standard mode of treatment, said Associate Professor Wong Kim Eng, clinical director of IMH's National Addictions Management Service, which runs the new acupuncture clinic.
It can help to relieve withdrawal symptoms, pain and cravings, as well as anxiety, he added, noting: "So far, there is no single medication that can cure addiction, or a perfect treatment programme. As an Asian society, we sought to borrow some age-old wisdom to improve treatment for our patients."
Is it right for the clinical director of IMH's National Addictions Management Service to say that acupuncture "can help to relieve withdrawal symptoms, pain and cravings, as well as anxiety"?  What I would like to know is on what basis is he making such a claim?  If a patient were to undergo such a treatment and subsequently takes legal action against IMH for subjecting him to a treatment that is not backed by evidence and proper medical opinion, what defence can IMH rely upon to show that it has acted in the best possible manner as a registered medical hospital that delivers health care services using evidence-based treatments?

The clinical director of IMH's National Addictions Management Service continues to say in that newspaper article that we are an Asian society and so they "sought to borrow some age-old wisdom".  Should we engage tangkees to perform religious rites on the patients? After all, we are an Asian society and if we are at liberty to dish out treatment even when there is no study or evidence for it, what is so wrong with having something that is perfectly consistent with our culture as an Asian society?

What I'm concerned about is the newspaper further reports that this initiative "is backed by the Ministry of Health".  Is it right for the Ministry of Health to back a treatment that is totally unsupported by evidence or any form of study?  Let's not forget that acupuncture has been shown not to have any desirable effect (except as a placebo) on a whole host of ailments that it is traditionally reputed to treat. If acupuncture has been shown not to work in ailments that it is traditionally supposed to treat, what makes IMH think that it will work in something totally new and untested, such as behavioural addiction?

Singapore is a well-known medical hub for responsible and efficient health care services. People in the surrounding countries would fly to Singapore to seek treatment and they do that because they know they can trust the doctors in Singapore to practise responsible evidence-based medicine and they know we have great expertise in the various fields of medicine.  But reputation can be lost very easily and going into treatments that are not backed by evidence is the surest way to ruin our good name.  Acupuncture may be a part of our culture but so are the offering of prayers to the Goddess of Mercy and the rituals of tangkees or temple mediums.  They may be a part of our rich cultural heritage but I sure would not want to see them practised in our hospitals.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Anonymous and its Ignominious Defeat

Anonymous threatened to attack Singapore Government websites on 5 November 2013 but the date came and went and nothing happened.  Since their days of notoriety when they first attacked the Church of Scientology that resulted in the arrest and imprisonment of some of their members, Anonymous have had other victories notably, their involvement in Tunisia and Egypt and one could say without exaggeration that they did play a part in the overthrow of the Egyptian government.

It became clear to me by the evening of 4 November that nothing would happen the next day.  Apart from a few government website failures in the days before 5 November which the government insisted were closed for extended maintenance, virtually nothing happened on the 5th which Anonymous promised would be cataclysmic.

What exactly is Anonymous?   They consist of a group of young people who have strong views about justice and fair play and who use their computer and hacking skills against institutions which have acted unconscionably or, as is usually the case, in a supercilious manner.  Yes, these young people are particularly allergic to arrogance and when Tom Cruise, a one-time advocate for the Church of Scientology declared with a smirk on his face that when he witnessed a road accident, he would have to do something because he knew he was the only one there who could do anything, that really riled up a lot of people in the internet community.  The Church of Scientology believes only they can cure and heal people by using what they call "Dianetics", a superstitious mumbo-jumbo which saner folks know is nothing more than a religious claptrap.

Anonymous is not an organised group.  Their members communicate online and they have been likened to a large flock of birds which has no leader but occasionally when one bird goes in a different direction, more will follow and eventually the whole flock switches its direction to follow that bird.

On 4 November, I looked up all of Anonymous' announcements and Singapore was not mentioned at all.  Philippines and Syria were featured a great deal but not a word about Singapore.  I had concerned friends who asked me if their kids should take the public transport because a computer failure might cause trains to crash, especially trains that are not operated by a human driver.  I told them nothing would happen and all this fear was unnecessary and silly and they would be laughing at themselves on 6 November.  It is fear that will bring a country down even if nothing is going to take place.  In any event, from what I know of the Anonymous, they are a responsible group that cares a lot about what is right and just and going round harming people is something they seek to prevent and not something they themselves do.

What actually happened behind the scenes?

This is my guess and I must stress it's pure speculation that comes about from my personal observation of what has taken place in Singapore.

There is a disgruntled resident in Singapore, most likely a Singaporean who goes by the moniker MESSIAH.  He probably has some personal grudge against Kong Hee, the self-appointed pastor who lives in the lap of luxury and whose wife was at one time a neighbour of the rich and famous in Hollywood and who is now himself charged with criminal breach of trust.

One of the first things MESSIAH did was to hack into the private website of Kong Hee's wife, Sun Ho.  Thereafter, the local newspaper website was attacked.  I don't know the details of that attack but it was likely a DDoS attack.  Then came a video purportedly from Anonymous warning the Singapore government of a plan to cripple the nation's internet system which put the government on full alert.

Singaporeans were urged by Anonymous to show solidarity by blacking out their Facebook profile and to wear red and black on 5 November.  Here is where the fault line in the hackers' plan can be seen.  They need cooperation from the people and they ain't getting any from Singaporeans.

In the months leading to the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt was a very different place from Singapore.  If the standard of living or a nation and the contentment of its citizens can be placed on a scale, Egypt and Singapore would be occupying close to different ends of the spectrum.  Yes, Singaporeans love to complain and slam the government but I sense they sometimes do it in a rather affectionate way, a little like a wife scolding her beloved husband among friends.  I've seen that ever since my early childhood.

No Singaporean I know want to see a disruption in our internet services.  Everyone is proud of Singapore's legendary efficiency and nobody wants to throw a spanner in the works.  The fact that nothing happened on 5 November despite Anonymous' boastful claims is a triumph for the people of Singapore.  None of us wants to destroy our homes just because of one disgruntled Singaporean who is working in cahoots with a bunch of foreign youngsters.  We are all very happy here.  Anonymous can go to Sudan and Egypt where there is a lot of work to be done but there's nothing for them here.  MESSIAH was furious when the local papers reported that Anonymous wanted to attack Singapore.  He insisted that Anonymous was going after the Singapore government and not the people of Singapore.  No, Singapore is not Hosni Mubarak's Egypt where the government are different from the people.  If you attack Singapore or its government, you attack the people of Singapore and you must be out of your mind if you think any one of us will cooperate with you.

What we saw on 5 November when we looked up in the sky was this large flock of birds heading in one direction.  Suddenly, one tiny bird (that's the MESSIAH) changed its direction and strayed away from the flock in the hope that others would follow it.  The rest went on their merry way, ignoring the lone bird which quickly turned round to join the flock. The title of this article is misleading.  It's not Anonymous that was defeated but Messiah with his own little petty agenda, not shared by the rest who see more pressing needs in other countries.

The Government now has one job to do.  Find out who the MESSIAH is and deal with him severely as a traitor against the nation and people of Singapore because that's precisely what he is.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Why our New Testament Professor is wrong

When I saw in the church bulletin one Sunday that Dr Tan Kim Huat, Professor of New Testament and Academic Dean of Trinity Theological College was giving a talk on the Second Coming of Christ, I was interested but I was not able to attend the talk.  Recently, I was very pleased to see in the church's bimonthly magazine a writeup of what Dr Tan said at the talk.  I am assuming that the writeup by someone who attended the talk in my church magazine is a fair and accurate account of what was presented by Dr Tan at the talk.

A large part of the talk dealt with the Olivet Discourse, a discussion Jesus had with the disciples on the Mount of Olives that was recorded in Mark 13, Mt 24 and Lk 21.

Dr Tan seems to base the Olivet Discourse on Mark 13 and so it is to that Gospel that I shall primarily turn my attention to.  If you would like to read for yourself what Mark 13 says, click on this link.

What Dr Tan attempts to do is to split up what Jesus says into two parts: 

1.  the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem which recorded history tells us occurred in AD 70; and

2.  the Second Coming of our Lord which obviously hasn't taken place in the last 2,000 years.  

My argument is that in the minds of Jesus, his listeners, the Gospel writers and his disciples, the two events are so closely linked in time that one is believed to closely follow the other, ie, our Lord's Second Coming follows immediately the destruction of the Temple in AD 70.  I will show that a reading of all three texts in the Synoptic Gospels on this passage will lead any reasonable reader to conclude that that is the position.

I will now examine Dr Tan's arguments and explain why they are totally flawed.

Before I begin, I should mention that the Olivet Discourse is not surprisingly left out in the Gospel of John.  There is no mention of it there at all.  John's Gospel, most scholars agree, was written no earlier than the late AD 90s.  It is the last of our canonical Gospels and many of the verses that appear in the Synoptic Gospels that tell us that the Second Coming of our Lord is imminent are absent in that Gospel.  Some scholars believe that the Gospel was written after the death of all the Apostles including John, the last surviving Apostle.  The originals of these Gospels were anonymous and we ascribe the names of these Evangelists to the Gospels by church tradition. Naturally,  after seeing that our Lord had still not returned after the passing of all his Apostles, the writer of John would be careful not to include texts which spoke of the imminence of Christ's Second Coming.  If you are interested in reading more of this, you may want to read what I wrote some time ago when I discussed a moving passage in the Bible in The Passage that Makes Me Cry.

Instead of sticking to Mark's Gospel, Dr Tan curiously began by referring to the corresponding verse in Matthew's Gospel, ie Mt 24:3-4 which reads 

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 

Why does Dr Tan suddenly jump to Matthew's Gospel?  The answer is obvious.  He wants to divide the Olivet Discourse into two main portions: one pertains only to the destruction of the Temple and the other to Jesus' Second Coming.  That verse in Matthew is the only one that will afford him such an opportunity.  The corresponding verses in Mark and Luke are different and they tell us that the writers do not view the destruction of the Temple and Christ's Second Coming as two events separated by a huge time scale of, as we know it, more than 2000 years.  Let's read the corresponding verses in Mark and in Luke:

Mark tells it this way in Mk 13:3-4 -

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” 
Luke is no different.  He says this in Lk 21:7 -

“Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”
Notice that Dr Tan avoided using those verses in both Mark and Luke, because he can't argue that the disciples were asking two very different questions.  If we are to use Scripture to interpret Scripture as any evangelical pastor will tell you to do, I would have to say that bearing in mind what has been said in Mark and in Luke, that passage in Matthew is best explained this way - the disciples obviously take the Second Coming and the destruction of the Temple to occur around the same time.  They are asking for a sign that will herald these events ie the Temple destruction and the Second Coming.  Any notion that these two events will be separated by a time scale that exceeds 2000 years is preposterous.

Now let's see how our Lord replies and let's see what Jesus thinks of the time scale between the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 and his own Second Coming.

Having divided the Olivet Discourse into two events which are separated by a period that exceeds 2000 years, Dr Tan then proceeds to divide Mark 13:5-37 into four parts.  Why four parts?  This is how Dr Tan divides the passage. Verses 5 to 23 relate to the destruction of the Temple which took place in AD 70.  Verses 24 to 27 relate to Christ's Second Coming which still hasn't taken place this year ie in 2013.  Verses 28 to 31 go back to the destruction of the Temple and verses 32 to 37 jump to the Second Coming of Christ. Is this not a rather messy way of telling a simple story and is our Lord incapable of telling something truthfully and clearly without flitting from one time frame to another?  I submit that this is the typical apologist's ludicrous answer to the obvious fact that Jesus and everyone else in the 1st century AD took the view that the destruction of the Temple and the Second Coming of Christ were events that took place one after the other.  And I don't mean after a space of more than 2000 years.  Rather, one followed the other IMMEDIATELY.  I didn't pluck that word from the air.  I borrowed that same word "immediately" from one of the Gospels which I will come to in a while.

But first, let's use the same Gospel that the good professor used in his talk.  The Gospel of Mark. Yes, I know.  He used the Gospel of Matthew when he wanted to zoom in on the question the disciples asked but that was for a purpose that I have already shown above. Thereafter, he used the Gospel of Mark so I shall keep to the same Gospel before moving on to the other Gospels later.

According to Dr Tan, verse 24 suddenly breaks away from the story about the destruction of the Temple and launches into Christ's Second Coming and that story continues until verse 27 before Christ suddenly goes back to the Temple destruction in verse 28.  So let's see what verses 24 to 27 say:
“But in those days, following that distress,“‘the sun will be darkened,    and the moon will not give its light;the stars will fall from the sky,    and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’“At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

Let's look at verse 24 again more closely:  "But in those days, following that distress". "Those days" must refer to what was referred to by Jesus before verse 24.  Also, "that distress" must refer to something referred to earlier.  You can't just pluck a portion of a passage out of its context and decide by fiat that it refers to a period more than 2000 years after the period the passage is referring to. 

"That distress" in verse 24 must refer to something.  A plain reading of Mark 13 will show any reader what it refers to.  It refers to verse 19 which, according to Dr Tan, talks about the destruction of the Temple.  Let's look at verse 19 from verse 18 onwards:

Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequalled from the beginning...
Nowhere else do we see any mention of "distress".  Hence, the event in verse 24 which is about the Second Coming (according to Dr Tan) will take place "following that distress" and this is the distress mentioned in verse 19 which is the destruction of the Temple.  In other words, the darkening of the sun and moon and the falling of stars which are a sign of the Second Coming will take place following the destruction of the Temple.  Now comes the question - how long following?  In other words, how long after the destruction of the Temple should the Second Coming be?

Now, here is where I think Dr Tan's argument falls flat.  After our Lord talks in great detail about the darkening of the sun and moon and the falling of stars and his Second Coming, he continues to say in verse 29 onwards:

Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
When our Lord says in verse 29 "When you see these things happening", "these things" must of course be the things he has just said ie the darkening of the sun and the moon and the falling of stars which herald his Second Coming.  To now say that these verses from verse 29 onwards refer to the destruction of the Temple is artificial and it does violence to the integrity of the passage.

But do you know why some scholars including Dr Tan insist that these verses don't refer to the Second Coming of our Lord?  The obvious reason is Jesus says in verse 30,"Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened." These scholars are putting the cart before the horse.  They know that if you read the passage as it is printed without incorporating the changes they want to add to the biblical text, you will reach the inescapable conclusion that Jesus is promising that his Second Coming will take place shortly after the destruction of the Temple in AD 70.  That would be opening the Preteristic can of worms because we know Jesus didn't return in the first century AD and we affirm in the Creed and the Liturgy that he will come again.

Of course some scholars have other tricks up their sleeves.  Some of them will argue that "generation" does not mean "generation" but it means an age which can be, yes, 2000 years long.  But Dr Tan didn't make that argument so I won't counter it here.

Dr Tan based most of his talk on Mark 13 I believe because the other two Gospels make it more difficult to artificially divide the corresponding passages into his "neat" 4 parts in Mark 13.  If you would like to read for yourself here are Matthew 24 and Luke 21.  Read for yourselves and you will see that the Second Coming is to follow the destruction of the Temple immediately.

In Matthew 24:21, mention is made of the "great distress" which was also referred to in Mark 13 and which Dr Tan pigeonholed as a reference to the destruction of the Temple. And in Matthew 24:29, we read this:
“Immediately after the distress of those days“‘the sun will be darkened,    and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky,    and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’“Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. 
There we have it.  The word of God in St Matthew's Gospel tells us in no uncertain terms that IMMEDIATELY after the distress caused by the destruction of the Temple, the Second Coming of our Lord will take place.

Putting the whole thing in its historical context, Matthew's Gospel tells us that IMMEDIATELY after the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, Jesus' Second Coming will take place.

This is in line with what I wrote a long time ago concerning our Lord's Second Coming.  If you would like to read that, please click here.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Singapore School Anthems Part 2

We have awarded the MOST ROTTEN SCHOOL ANTHEM AWARD (click here)  and have scoured many school websites in search of the RUNNER UP to the MOST ROTTEN SCHOOL ANTHEM.  Many school anthems are rather nondescript; they aren't very good and neither are they so terribly rotten that they are worthy of a mention here.  These school anthems aren't featured in my blog.  I've got to have a limit on the number of school songs to write about in this blog and only the top two and bottom two school anthems will be presented in great detail.

But this does not mean that I have not looked at many other school anthems. Just to show you that I have been doing my homework, I'll give an example of a school anthem that is typical of many school anthems which are rather middling and they are not very good or very bad.  The example I'll pick is that of Marymount Convent School, a girls' school.

The song consists of a few short simple lines that one would expect because of their simplicity to be at least flawless in grammar and usage but alas, that is not the case.  Desiring always to be just in my judgment and mindful of the possibility that the school could have misprinted the lyrics, I googled the school song and was led to an excellent performance of it by a lady with a beautiful voice called Geraldine Png.  Here is the screen capture of the youtube performance of the anthem of Marymount Convent and the same erroneous sentence can be seen here:

Nobody who has an elementary knowledge of the English language can possibly defend that sentence as grammatical and I'll be insulting your intelligence if I take up space on this blog to explain why it's wrong.

[EDITOR: Very shortly after I posted this article, I received three separate calls from my friends who told me that they could not see anything wrong with this sentence and one of them hastened to inform me that he was not in any way unintelligent.  Of course not.  I didn't mean it that way. 
Here I will explain to all my intelligent readers why the line is wrong.

Ever to thee we will abide 
The word "abide" used here has the archaic meaning of "live" or "dwell".  When used in this sense, the correct preposition is "in" and not "to".  
The anthem writer, if I may add a little facetiously, bearing in mind always that she might very well be a nun, should have taken more care in her Bible reading since this word with its archaic meaning is liberally sprinkled all over the first 10 verses of St John's Gospel in the 15th chapter.  In fact, in those ten verses, we see "abide" repeated some ten times or so.  "Abide in me and I in you", "He that abideth in me and I in him...", "If ye abide in me and my words abide in you...", "ye shall abide in my love" and many others. 
To use the preposition "to" instead of "in" with the word "abide" is very unusual. If I may go into the psychology behind the error, my guess is the anthem writer was thinking more of TURNING to the school.  She very likely had in her mind "Ever to thee we will turn" which would have been correct.]

This is typical of many school anthems which consist of short unassuming lines and they would have been reasonably passable if not for some glaring grammatical mistakes.  Why these schools did not bother to run through the lyrics of the song with a competent English language teacher is something I can't understand.

But these songs aren't outrageously rotten and they don't come anywhere near winning the RUNNER UP award for the MOST ROTTEN SCHOOL ANTHEM.

What then am I looking for in a school anthem that is worthy of the second most rotten award ?  The anthem has got to stand out for being really bad.  If you have read Singapore School Anthems Part 1, you will recall that the recipient of the MOST ROTTEN SCHOOL ANTHEM was guilty not just of plagiarism but it even failed to make the minor necessary changes to the lyrics in order to adapt the words to the school.  It's the ultimate in rottenness and I can't even conceive of anything worse than that in a school anthem.

That is the most rotten school anthem.  Here we're looking for the runner up. It can't be as bad as the ACS anthem but it's got to be outstandingly bad.

I've already mentioned in Part 1 that I have in my mind some categories in which points are given to the school.  Grammar, language, elegance and musicality are essential components.  For a long while, I could not find a school anthem that is bad enough for this runner up category and I was about to give up and focus my attention on the good school anthems when I stumbled upon a school song that fits the bill perfectly as the second most rotten anthem.   This school song is so badly written that it took me quite a while to get into the shoes of the composer in order to understand what it was that he (or more likely, she) meant to say in the first place, so incomprehensible and garbled are her sentences.  Here we have it -



Before I begin, let me stress once again that the school anthem is not a reflection of the quality of the school.  I embarked on this exercise with a view to moving away from all this talk about "good schools".  Instead of adding to all the stressful talk that is currently going on about which schools are better or give superior education to students, I decided, purely with the intention of taking the heat out of schools, to zoom in on something which isn't all that crucial and for which no current teacher or headmaster needs to bother about because these anthems were written by their predecessors who have long left the world of the living.  This is a fun exercise which I hope will bring the smile to your lips.  In any event, everyone knows that RGS is indisputably one of our finest girls' schools in Singapore and this award does not in any way detract from its excellent academic credentials.  All the same, it does have a terrible school song.

Now, that I've settled that point, let's examine the school anthem.

I must admit I was totally flabbergasted when I first chanced upon the lyrics of this school song.  I couldn't believe my eyes that this was the RGS anthem.  I had to check the school's website just to be sure it wasn't a joke posted by some student of a rival school.  Everything is wrong about this anthem.  The music is awful but I have already decided from the start to pay the least attention to the musicality of the anthem because this can be highly subjective.

Let's look at the grammar.  The writing style tells me immediately that it was probably composed by a Chinese language teacher in the school.  The writer hasn't got a proper grasp of the rudiments of the English language and she lacks the linguistic sensitivity in weighing which of two words is more apt in a sentence.  This is a handicap very commonly seen in Chinese language teachers and I'm really not criticising these fine teachers whose strengths lie in the highly complex Chinese language which the Guinness Book of World Records tells us is the most difficult language in the world to master.  It may just be pure speculation on my part but I'm fairly certain the song was composed by a Chinese language teacher and why RGS picked a Chinese language teacher for this task is a mystery.

The very first sentence is elliptically jarring.

From high Olympus flows to us the glory

The glory of what?  That's probably on everyone's lips when he reads the first line of the anthem of Raffles Girls' School.  We saw in Part 1 the strange tendency of the ACS anthem in leaving out an article in a sentence but here, the addition of the article leaves the reader hanging in midair.  What the writer probably means is "Glory flows to us from high Olympus".  That would be grammatically more acceptable but it doesn't cure the sentence of the pervading sense of childish hubris that informs the entire anthem.  It reminds me of a loud bungling supercilious little girl who doesn't know how to be tasteful in her boastful speech.  This reference to Olympus is pretentious and falls flat particularly when there is no reason to speak of it in the first place. I'll deal later with this tiresome need of the anthem writer to force a bit of Greek mythology into the song and I'll suggest what I believe is the reason for this need.  I love to get to the psychology behind the problem.  But more of that later when I discuss the anthem's allusions to Greek mythology.

While still on the first stanza, we next see one of the most jarring lines (it's hard to decide which is most hideous since every line seems to be jostling for that honour) -

Rise, sisters, rise, the world is all before ye 

In standard usage, "ye" is the archaic form of the 2nd person plural pronoun in the subjective case.  In standard archaic English, "ye" has from its first usage been nominative.  There are of course later instances in the past where its use in the objective case is recorded but in these instances, such use is almost without exception colloquial or dialectical.

The Authorised Version of the Bible gives the best illustration of how one should use "ye" but this is hardly useful to most of us who are quite content with using the good old "you" (or perhaps I should say the newer "you").   But we always have in our midst those who think they can spice up their lacklustre writing with a few archaic expressions and these are the people who should take heed of the following highly instructive sentence from the Bible which illustrates quite comprehensively how one may properly use "ye":

If ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?

If Madam RGS-Composer (that's the honorific Chinese language teachers love to use) had read her Bible diligently, she would have written "the world is all before you" and the hope and rousing beauty that this line evokes in its Miltonian simplicity would have been spectacular. 

I always like to do a bit of investigative work and get into the mind of the writer just to see why she wrote what she wrote or as Jeeves would put it simply, to get to the psychology behind the problem.  Why did she write "ye" when "you" would have been so much more elegant?

My guess is she had probably been reading the Scottish poem called "The Bonnie, Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond".

Oh, ye'll tak' the high road, and I'll tak' the low road,
And I'll get to Scotland afore ye;
But me and my true love will never meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond.

Notice the use of "ye" in the objective case?  "And I'll get to Scotland afore ye". I've already explained that "ye" used in this way can be found in dialectical writings and it is easy to see many examples in Scottish poems.  But I really doubt very much if any respectable girls' school will want to fashion their school anthem after "The Bonnie, Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond" especially when for the rest of the anthem, we see failed attempts at Greek mythological allusions. The two just don't make good bedfellows.

There are many other glaring errors in the anthem and they are too numerous for me to list them all here.  The error we see in the first line is repeated in some of the other verses.  For example, "The fire by which the will attains". What does this even mean?  It sounds like a word-for-word translation from another language, presumably, Mandarin Chinese which was what Madam RGS-Composer taught in the school.

There are many instances where the writer of the RGS anthem leaves the reader befuddled as to the intended meaning.  For example, in "So heart to heart we'll scale the heights of learning," what is meant by "heart to heart"?  I'm tempted to think Madam RGS-Composer meant "side by side" which would appropriately highlight the solidarity and camaraderie of the girls.  In the Mandarin Chinese language, the word for heart is liberally used in just about anything you can think of.  The anthem writer availed herself of the same liberty when she wrote this anthem.

Apart from linguistic problems, the writer is obviously unsure of her Greek mythology.  Writers of school anthems must be careful when they want to introduce elements from Greek mythology into a song.  If they do it clumsily, they can appear pretentious and silly.  They must not do it on the misguided understanding that it will imbue the song with a respectability it otherwise lacks. You can't make a rotten song great by throwing in the names of Greek mythological figures especially when you know nothing about Greek mythology. My sympathy is actually with RGS.  I understand why this was done.  RGS is closely related to Raffles Institution (RI) which is Singapore's top school.  The RI anthem makes a direct reference to Prometheus but it is done in a subtle and tasteful way.  The reference to Greek mythology in the RI anthem lends further depth to the meaning of the song and it enhances the beauty of the song.  RGS, ever envious of RI's superiority, probably felt that it should not be left far behind and so it threw in Greek mythological references without a firm grounding in mythology. That may have moved the RGS anthem writer to write "On us the sacred fire descends" but then she should have read up more about this fire before she comes up with this gaffe:

The magic fire that moves the gods to love us.

When Prometheus stole fire and brought it to men, the gods were far from being moved by feelings of love.  If the punishment they meted out to the thieving Titan is anything to go by, love is the last emotion they felt.

Quite apart from all this, every line in the anthem is shockingly inelegant.  The chorus, "Sisters in learning and sisters at heart / Life lies before us, here's luck to the start" is simply hideous and coarse and is really inconsistent with the kind of school RGS really is.

The RGS anthem suffers from what I would term the "Ye Olde Tea Shoppe" syndrome.  Some coffee shop owners think they can increase their business by giving their shop a name that smacks of antiquity.  The writer of the RGS anthem craves respectability for the school anthem which is decent enough and one can't fault her for that.  But the way she goes about doing it only serves to win for RGS the Runner Up prize for the Most Rotten School Anthem.