Saturday, December 24, 2011

Remember, remember, the 25th of December

Today, a popular Christian concept has become common among many Christians. It is the idea that Christianity entails having a personal relationship with God. The use of “personal relationship” in this context suggests an intimacy. In an interview with CNN, Professor Stephen Prothero of the Department of Religion in Boston University states that Christianity in America has “gravitated to the evangelical religion of the heart, where it’s really all about feeling and loving Jesus and having a relationship with him, rather than knowing something about the (Christian) tradition.”

The idea of a “personal relationship” with an intimate connotation is nowhere explicit in Bible texts, and must be derived theologically. This lack of an explicit statement within the Bible led me to curiosity. Where did this theology come from? Having read Victorian and modern literature, the term “God-fearing” is commonly used to describe religious people. Having an intimate relationship with God suggests the loss of this “fear of God”. Just google “personal relationship with God” and you will find that this idea is very popular among Christians. What is going on? I did my research and this is what I found. I thought I would put it here to clarify with people, especially Christians, as to where their ideas originate. I could be wrong, but the facts can be verified on the internet. After discussing facts, I’ll give my own take on the situation.

The idea of a personal relationship with God evolved from the theology first developed by Friederich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (1768 – 1834). Schleiermacher expounded that religion itself is a personal experience that must be understood through intuition and feeling. In other words, relativism, and not absolutism, defines belief and religious perception. Schleiermacher and other theologians who came after developed Liberal Christianity. It is not an innate fear of God, but the innate need of religion in humans that leads to religion (note how God-fearing is put aside). In Liberal Christianity, as opposed to conservative Christianity, the statements in the Bible are not considered factual. The Bible simply reflects the understanding of Christianity at the time in which the scriptures were written. Liberal Christianity does not have the presupposition that the Bible is inerrant in its critical analysis of the Bible. Ideas such as repentance and the sinfulness of Man are deemphasized, in favour of personal experience.

This is perhaps Schleiermacher’s most influential theological idea to Christianity; a relativistic and individualistic approach to Christianity. Is Schleiermacher’s concept of “personal relationship with God” similar to the one that is being preached in modern churches? No. But I believe what some modern churches preach is a modified form of Liberal Christianity. Here’s where things get interesting. Because even though some churches preach Liberal Christian theology, they also believe in the conservative views, such as the inerrancy of the Bible. Bible inerrancy can be classified as a concept of Conservative Christianity.

So what we are seeing or (hearing), from some churches, is the preaching of conservative and liberal Christian views. I have spoken to two West Africans, one from Togo, the other from Ghana, on separate occasions. I doubt they are from the same church, but they certainly share similar beliefs. These beliefs might be indicative of Christianity in the West Africa region. Both of them believe in the concept of having a personal relationship with God, as well as the Bible not being a collection of factual accounts. So, they have liberal beliefs, and not conservative ones.

What does this mean for Singapore Christians? The various churches should respect one another, and not criticize each other. Just look at the criticisms City Harvest Church got on the internet. Some people name the church City Harvest Cult. By the way, I am in no way affiliated to City Harvest Church, and I do not approve of their actions if they really did break the law. And I am not going to criticize their “Gospel of prosperity” or defend it. They probably have a liberal approach. So be it. And perhaps for Otto, there really might be some hope in the acceptance of homosexuality by all Christians in the future. After all, the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire has a gay bishop. That is liberal.

Might I be wrong? Definitely. To prove me wrong, find a theologian who came up with the concept of “personal relationship with God” before Schleiermacher.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


"Most fiction, maybe all of it, from the grandest tales to the most commonplace, was about things that were missing. Family, lovers, sustenance, peace, ideals. At the heart of all those stories were emptiness, yearnings, hollows that couldn't be filled - as though bereavement were hardwired into mankind."

- James Sallis

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Show me the money!

Singapore is far too straight-laced. That is what Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak, says about our nation. What does he know? He is some western guy who knows nothing about our system of Asian values. What gives him the right to make such statements?

Singaporeans are a pragmatic bunch in general, as Christopher Ng Wai Chung has written in his book. According to him, this pragmatic approach to life and career impedes our career success. I cannot help but agree with him. I have a friend whom, with his classmates, was offered a chance by Mediacorp to develop films that would be guaranteed broadcast on one of the national channels. He and his classmates turned down the offer when Mediacorp refused to pay them. These are film students I am talking about. For a bunch of local university students who have no credentials, being given a chance to showcase their work on national television is quite an honour. Who knows, a company might see their work, like it and hire the students. They are guaranteed a job after graduation, which is what many graduates dream of. I told my friend about his lose of opportunities in rejecting the offer. He replied that he is a very shallow person and want immediate gratification. For a local university student, he is not as stupid as I thought. To know and admit that oneself is shallow is quite admirable.

In Supergods: Our World in the Age of Superheroes (Random House), Grant Morrison recounted how he took up an offer to do a strip in his local newspaper, even though he was paid little and barely have enough to feed himself. But for him, that experience was worth it, as it allowed him to develop his storytelling ability in comics. Of course, some Singaporeans might like to point out that besides that story, Supergods also includes mad ramblings from Morrison.

I think Singaporeans have to be honest with themselves. If you do not have any credentials, how can you achieve a good pay? To be paid peanuts under such circumstances is in itself an honour. The important thing is not to concentrate on the market, the fame or the money, like what Alan Moore has constantly advised in interviews, but to develop abilities. But for Singaporeans, this is difficult for most. Some take the other road. I have had a chance to talk to Troy Chin last year. He said that he was prepared not to earn much when Resident Tourist went into print.

So there you have it. The Singapore environment is not suited to creative pursuits, unless the chance to earn is clear. Some will argue, “don’t you need money to survive?” I have a day job, and it comes with sufficient pay. Comics is a hobby in which I can afford not to earn money from. I know that not everyone gets this opportunity. Furthermore, I am not materialistic compared to most Singaporeans. I am a workaholic who enjoys thinking up new ideas. Now, what I need are people who share my vision and would like to work with me on a “revolutionary” comics project. I have no credentials, so no pay expected. By the way, I do not get paid for writing this blog.