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.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

M for Maids, M for Murder




WARNING: DO NOT SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS PAGE IF YOU ARE BELOW 18 OR ARE NOT COMFORTABLE WITH IMAGES OF EXTREME VIOLENCE AND NUDITY.


The recent news report of a 16-year-old girl murdered allegedly by her own domestic maid is indeed extremely sad.  There are many cruel comments online by people who immediately jump to the conclusion that this must be a case of maid abuse.  It is wicked, unconscionable and heartless for anyone without any proper evidence to lay the accusing finger on the family of the victim of this heinous crime.   Murder is unpardonable and where an employee murders the child of her employer, it's insane of anyone to try to explain away the murder with the ludicrous suggestion that the employer must have provided a work environment that wasn't pleasant and stress-free for the employee.  Folks, it's murder of a child we are talking about.  Conditions of employment have nothing to do with such a dastardly crime.   You do not sit back and try to justify an act of murder by speculating on how good or bad an employer the family of the victim had been.

Let's make no mistake about this.  The most serious crime has been committed against a child and there can be no excuse for this.  At the same time, it's not right to generalize that all maids are capable of murder.  The title of this post is of course silly and sensational.  While I cannot overemphasize the fact that nobody should try to search for a justification for the act of murder because there can be no justification for such a crime, I should also stress that there are many good maids around.  From all my experiences with domestic maids, I must say that not one of them was the murdering kind but at the same time, it would be wrong to suggest that they aren't the murdering kind because I've treated them well.  Of course the question that a maid must be well treated should not even come up at all.  It is a given that anyone in his right mind will treat his maid well.  I'm not unaware of the horrendous ways maids have been treated from newspaper reports and also from what I myself have witnessed in public and what my maids have told me about the circumstances of other maids they have met but in all these instances, the maids that are too timid to commit murder, aren't they?  I've seen employers ill-treating their maids in restaurants and sometimes, I wish these maids would be less timid and just tell their employers off.  These maids sit timidly by themselves and watch their employers eat while they starve.  But aren't they too timid to commit murder? They aren't the murdering kind, are they?

Most of us normal sane people treat our maids more like family members than outsiders.  Our maids aren't timid and most of us are glad for that; nobody wants a slavish maid in his household.  I always tell my maids that they must be bold and speak their minds.  Many of them get up at the unearthly hour of 5am and I always have to tell them that nobody in my house should get up at such a ridiculous hour.  Kids who are old enough to prepare their breakfast need not have the maid fussing around them as if they are still babies.  But most maids are servile and from my experience, they refuse to continue sleeping when the rest of us are awake or preparing breakfast.  They think it's their responsibility to prepare breakfast and they forget that they have so many other responsibilities and it would be unconscionable for an employer to expect them to do everything. They seem to think it's unlawful for them to continue sleeping even when I have made it clear to them that I have no need of their services at such an early hour.

It usually takes them more than a month before they realize that they are as important as the rest in the family and just because some of us have to get up early does not necessarily mean that they too have to get up early.  Or just because some of us are busy and will eat dinner late does not mean that they should starve themselves and wait for their employers to eat before they do.  What I want to illustrate here is maids are usually timid and even when they are given more rights than they are accustomed to, they remain rather timid.  Those of us who have employed maids know just how true that is.  How many times have we asked our maids what they would like to eat for breakfast because we are going jogging and we'd like to buy breakfast for everyone and how many times have they replied that they would rather eat bread at home?  It's not like they enjoy eating at home!  They are just too timid to tell their employer what they really want to eat for breakfast and it may take about two weeks before you discover what their tastes really are.

I'm not talking about one or two maids who behave in this timid way.  They're all the same.  They're all generally timid and shy.  How does such a timid person commit murder?  What I want to do now is to explore the psychology of the average maid.  If you understand them perfectly, you will know that they are so culturally different that in fact any one of them despite their inherent timidity is capable of committing murder.  But I'm not singling them out.  Any human being for that matter is capable of committing murder.

Of great concern to me is what is stated at the end of the news report I linked at the start of this post.  This is what it says:



It is important to dispel the common but extremely cruel notion that if a maid murders a child, the family must have been cruel to her. A lot of people online have laid blame on the family of the victim and I think this is uncalled-for.

In 2009, there was a maid called Kumaeroh who worked for an employer who was decent to her. The family celebrated her birthday to make her feel more at home and she even wrote in her diary that she was treated well by her employer. One day, she went berserk and she took a chopper and slashed the hand of her employer's seven-year-old daughter. Because she was attacking the girl, she did not pick up the elder daughter from school and the older girl called her father who rang home and heard his daughter screaming. He rushed home to see his daughter lying in a pool of blood. Although the girl survived the experience, she was very badly traumatised by the incident.  You may read the news report of this incident by clicking here.

First, we must understand the circumstances these maids are in.  All of them are incredibly poor. We can't even understand how poor they really are because it's the kind of poverty that we cannot possibly envisage.  Maids who work in Singapore are paid much less than those who work in Taiwan and Hong Kong because the Singapore government imposes a maid's levy which is borne by the employer.  The maid's salary is worked out so that what should be paid to the maid in Hong Kong and Taiwan is split in two and paid to the maid and the government.  In other words, the Singapore government levy effectively takes away a large part of the maid's salary.  It's not that Hong Kongers pay more for their maids.  It's just that the Hong Kong government does not impose a high levy on the maids and so what the employer pays goes entirely to the maid.  I think it's more equitable if the maid's salary in Singapore is increased to equal that paid in Hong Kong.  However, most Singaporeans would be very unhappy if they had to do that because then it would mean they have to pay much more a month for the maid than their Hong Kong counterparts because of the Singapore government levy.

Because of this, every maid aspires to go to Hong Kong because every penny paid by the employer goes directly to her and there is no high levy imposed by the government there. The maid agencies have to decide who goes to Hong Kong and who goes to Singapore.  If it's a matter of choice, all of them would want to go to Hong Kong.  The better ones get to go to Hong Kong.  Just speak to your maids and they will tell you how this works - they have no say in this at all.  The Hong Kong rejects work in Singapore and these, without exception, are all the maids we have here.

The average maid is very strong.  You may be surprised if I say this but your Indonesian maid who looks as small as the average primary school child in Singapore is probably much stronger than you can possibly be.  I once caught my maid lifting a heavy load and I chided her for doing that.  I told her she would break her back if she did that.  I told her that if there was anything heavy that she had to move, she should call for me.  She laughingly told me that she was stronger than I.  This maid, although initially timid, had been conditioned by me to speak her mind; most maids would never say this to their employer, so timorous in nature they universally are.  To my horror, she went to the large container of rice and lifted it with one hand and held it above her head and she didn't even sprain a muscle.  She then told me she carried 30kg of rice from the paddy field to the shed near her house every morning, after which she would transport the same rice out of her village to a factory a few miles away.  She did all that by hand and on foot every morning.

In the many conversations I've had with maids, there is a dark side that they usually do not reveal to their employers.  The first is their superstition.  All maids believe in the underworld and all of them claim to have seen ghosts or heard them or even smelt them.  Yes, you may find this amusing but all the maids I've spoken to have smelt ghosts.  What is the body odour of ghosts like, I would ask? It's not the body odour but just a very foul smell like that of rotting flesh.  Sometimes, the ghost can smell of sweet perfume and sometimes, it's the smell of the kind of flowers used in a Muslim cemetery.  In other words, any smell can be the smell of a ghost.

They also believe in dreams.  If they dream of something happening, usually at home, they really believe it has taken place.  This can be more insidious than it sounds.  Coupled with this is something which I find inexplicable but it's very common among maids.  It's a kind of mental instability called "latah" in Indonesian and it's something experienced by old Malays in Malaysia and Singapore too but it seems to afflict Indonesians of all ages.  Whenever a person prone to "latah" is startled (it's usually a woman who is affected by this), she will "melatah" ie she will say something or do something unconsciously even though she is fully awake.  This loss of consciousness may last for a minute or more.  What triggers off this "latah" differs from person to person and the severity of it varies widely.  It may be the uttering of a long meaningless sentence to running and grabbing hold of something or someone.

There is something else about superstition that I should talk about even though it's quite disgusting. There is a universal belief among Indonesians (and I'm told the same belief is prevalent among kampong Malays in Malaysia) that you can endear yourself to your employer (or anyone else) by boiling your used sanitary pad in his drink.  This belief is common in Malaysia - if a nasi lemak stall is frequented by long queues of customers, rumours that used sanitary pad is boiled together with the rice may circulate.  I've heard this from a Johor Bahru friend of mine about a famous nasi lemak stall.  From my conversations with Indonesian maids, all of them are aware of this belief but they usually claim that they either don't believe in it or they don't practise it.

And now comes the part which is gruesome and my advice to those who are squeamish is to stop reading now.

All of us must have come across online chilling and violent videos of lynchings in Indonesia, the Philippines and Africa.  Most of the time, we don't think of the people who are involved in the lynching.  We do not really address our minds to the question of whether our maids might at least have witnessed the torture and murder of another human being even if they have not joined in the murder or contributed to it.

Because I communicate very well with my maids, they tell me a lot of things they don't normally tell their employers.  For example, all my maids have seen lynchings of all kinds.  None of them has (so they tell me) participated in them.  The most recent lynching told to me by a maid happened last year when an old woman was burnt to death by the whole village because of "witchcraft".   Neighbours accused her of witchcraft because children in the village were falling ill and since she was a very old widow, they suspected she must be guilty of "black magic".

I find it very hard to watch a lynching video and I usually delete those that are sent to me by friends without watching them.  For the purpose of writing this article, I sat through an entire video taken by a handheld phone and I now post the screen captures from the video.  It may not be very clear because it's from a video and I have censored those parts that may be offensive to my readers and I choose the least violent parts.

This is a video of a lynching that was carried out this year in Indonesia.  I believe it's in the island of Java but it really doesn't matter.  It could be anywhere in Indonesia, the Philippines or Africa.  It may be happening right now as I type this post or as you are reading it.  A man is accused of some crime and is caught by villagers.  He may be perfectly innocent but wrongly accused.  This usually happens.  He is stripped naked and his hands are tied behind his back.  Two men drag him by his tied hands and make him walk a considerable distance through the village and onto a trunk road that leads to a forest where they will tie him to a tree and burn him alive.  Along the way, villagers are encouraged to photograph and film the event and many are invited to beat him up while he is held up by his captors.  On many occasions, he falls on the road but he is immediately picked up to continue with the walk or to allow his abusers to continue the beating.  On one occasion, when he is pulled back to his feet, a pool of blood can be seen on the spot where his mouth was.  The viewer can see a long procession of villagers on motorcycles and bicycles following the doomed man.   Laughter can be heard and it's obvious that this is great entertainment to the villagers.  Sometimes a villager goes to the front of the procession to take a photograph of the badly beaten naked captive. The two men will prop him up for the photo shot and one man will hold the captive by his hair to turn his face to the camera.  I must confess the smiles on the people's faces and the jokes they make as they wait for the cameraman to snap a photograph send chills down my spine.

Because of the violent content of the photos, I will leave them to the bottom of the page.  I strongly advise those who are below 18 and who are not comfortable with images of extreme violence not to scroll down.

I will conclude what I want to say here.  I am not criticising the culture and homeland of our maids. I am merely saying that they have a very different culture and experience from the rest of us.  I can safely say that they have at least seen the torture and murder of a human being with their own eyes. In the images below, I have included screen shots of the people who followed the doomed man in a merry procession and they include young children, young women and old women.

All I'm saying is many of us in Singapore do not know what our maids have been through and we take them into our homes without any investigation into their backgrounds.  I'm not saying it's necessarily a bad thing.  It's unreasonable for anyone to conduct background checks on the maid and let's face it - millions of people all over the world engage the services of domestic maids and only a few of them turn out violent against their employers and their families.  At the same time, let's not forget that even one murder of a child is one murder too many.





WARNING
THE IMAGES BELOW CAN BE DISTURBING AND OFFENSIVE AND IF YOU ARE BELOW 18 OR ARE EASILY UPSET BY GRAPHIC PICTURES OF GORE, VIOLENCE AND NUDITY, PLEASE LEAVE THIS PAGE.







A passerby punches the captive repeatedly before
he kicks him in the groin.




The captive is trussed up for a photographer on the
right of the pic.  Notice the smile on the face of the
man on the left.  He has no fear that this is evidence of
his involvement in the torture and murder of a man.




This happens in broad daylight and on a major trunk road too.




Look at the youngsters on bikes busily taking photos 
and filming the tortured man.



These are the onlookers who accompany the captive and
his torturers to the forest where they are about to burn him.



Even a young girl is here to watch the violence.



A mother exposing her young child to torture and murder.



This woman may very well be the maid who 
sleeps in your house and looks after your children

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 asiaone.com 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 asiaone.com:

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.