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To be a purist in the most essential questions of your faith…

3 Feb

A main function and attraction of religion is how it serves to develop community. It binds people together and makes them feel safe as they are able to trust and work with each other within a common, well-delineated culture.

I have found the arguments for and against purism in religion very murky water indeed to tread. If I were to believe in something, I believe that most of us do have an inner guide that can be developed to foster positive relationships with ourselves and with others. Many people have noted the existence of this inner guide. The monotheists tend to believe that it is the voice of God talking to them, whilst the animalists/spiritualists tend to structure such around a notion of give-and-take/ecosystem perspective of our role on earth.

There is a statement I once heard, which has yet to be proven, but may serve as something worth considering: “Those who are drawn to the study of psychiatry often feel that they have something wrong with themselves that they wish to understand.”

I would say that a similar situation holds true for religion. There are some very kind, thoughtful religious leaders who truly do their best to foster health, peace and love within their communities. And then, there are those who are drawn to it because they feel themselves lacking a moral compass, and perhaps by studying religion this thing called ‘a conscience’ should become clear to them.

The problem is that most of us, at one point or another, feel unsure or inadequate in understanding the scripture. We require leaders to set the pace, inspire our continued sense of shared purpose and feed this vein. This has made authority necessary in religion.

And this has made groups of people vulnerable to leaders who are perhaps not as well formed as they profess to be.

The problem with religion is that, because it is inherently a group activity, majority rules. This applies to various scenarios where group-think (or lack of judgement) prevails: You are in a meeting and someone says something erroneous. You look around, no one is voicing dissent. You leave the meeting and whisper to a friend : “By the way, when X said Y, I think there was something wrong with that statement?” and your friend says “Oh! I thought so too! But I thought everyone agreed…” but the decision has been made.

Often-times, this conversation never happens, because questioning is written into the unspoken creed as possibly blasphemous. And for the average believer, unless authority is gleaned through a life-long study of the holy writ, one does not have the right of  consulting one’s own conscience.

And when it behooves the faithful to be true to the scripture, even the objects within the text that go against our basic, innate conscience MUST be incorporated – often at the cost of our humanity.

I feel (at great offense to some friends), that in communities where the sectarian social mores are less secure, a higher percentage of people look to religion as the moral guide. In places where you feel no recourse to being leered at, from being touched without permission, from being spoken to disrespectfully and having the right to call out people on it… I am also talking about places where authority is abused regularly and is not called abuse – by policemen, by insurance companies, by teachers, by parents. This acceptance of authority poisons our ability to truly respect individuals, nor can we treat each other kindly. For if we cannot hold that everyone can be flawed, then how can we treat each other with charity? It is by suspending belief in the frailty, and strength, that each of us is capable of, are we able to elevate certain individuals over others.

 And if we attribute our own failings constantly to an outside source: “the devil made me do it.”, then we are never responsible for necessary acts of restitution.

You know what makes me happy? Remembering, each day, that I have only one life. You know what pushes me to treat others carefully? Knowing that they, too, only have one life. There are transgressions beyond which I cannot pass, because I would be destroying the opportunities for others to experience their living with as much of the privilege I myself feel in the facts of being human and alive. So mine is not a state of insecurity, staring into the abyss. My understanding of life makes me treasure the very fact of it. My situation in life allows me to be generous and wish happiness for others. This for me is adequate. I do not like to complicate it by attributing acts and intentions to a separate entity, and feel so insecure of my understanding of His/Her intentions that I must seek a middle-man to elucidate what should be spoken directly to my heart. Nor spend my days spreading the message that is spoken to me which I ought rightfully to attribute to my own inner voice, and not mislead people by giving it the authority of a higher power.

And as much as we may all be hypocrites and fail to recycle. We may be able to strive within our limits to keep the sanctity of living intact.


Public discourse/discussion: What is not profitable

25 Jun

Madame Josse: Paloma, tu es une petite fille très intelligente, mais on peut être très intelligent et très démuni. Très lucid et très malheureux.

Paloma: Je ne vois que la psychanalyse pour concurrencer les religions dans l’amour des souffrances qui durent.
Père Josse: Qu’est-ce qui te fait dire ça?
Paloma: Que ma mère nous annonce comme si c’était un motif pour faire couler le champagne à flot que ça fait dix ans pile qu’elle est en analyse.
Père Josse: Ben oui. Oui. C’est très bien, non?
Paloma: Non. Ce qu’elle ne dit pas, c’est que ça fait aussi dix ans pile qu’elle prend des antidépresseurs. Mais visiblement elle fait pas le lien. Elle fait le lien entre ses dix années d’analyse, ses trois heures par jour à pulvériser des plantes vertes et son impressionnante consommation de substances remboursées par la sécurité sociale.
                                                                             from  L’Élégance du hérisson , FILM
Madame Josse: Paloma, you’re a very intelligent girl, but you can be intelligent and helpless. Very lucid and very unhappy.
Paloma: Only psychoanalysis rivals religion for love of suffering.
Father Josse: Why do you say that?
Paloma: My mother wants to break out the champagne to celebrate ten years in therapy.
Father: But yes. Yes, that’s good isn’t it?
Paloma: No, she’s been on antidepressants for ten years too. But she doesn’t see the link. Between ten years in therapy, her love of her plants, and her mass consumption of prescription drugs.
Psychoanalysis is not profitable for solving problems of the public sphere.
(perhaps try Adler).
Paloma, from the Elegance of the Hedgehog

Paloma, from the Elegance of the Hedgehog

Edit: Recently came across a book by Julian Barnes that may illustrate a similar issue as above, called Talking It Over.

I have a dream

17 Jan

Ihaven’t written on this blog for a while, and that is because I’ve been engrossed in the Montessori method. It’s an educational theory based on scientific observation of children. The goal is to help foster peaceful, independent learners and thinkers. So far in this journey in life, I have never met with something, however much I support it, that I agree with 100%. I am surprised to say that I think : Montessori could be it.

Today I was pushing a double stroller with our 2 year old and 5 month old in it, along the fine fair winter Doha weather. The roads are under construction, and there are a lot of too narrow sidewalks and makeshift bridges. Time after time, strangers would come up and help me carry the stroller over the bad spots. I thought of my husband at work, how he was doing, how nice it would be to concentrate on adult work and contributing to a community, and how nice it is being with our kids. And I was struck with an image of what the world could look like – what do you think it could look like, if children were more a part of our world.

If they could work alongside us.

If we designed all our public areas and homes to be also accessible to children.

If all parents could take their children to nursery where they worked.

If what we consider part time hours are regular hours, and the pay adequate for both parents to work, and have plenty of time to be with their children as well.

This is a video of Montessori classroom moments. It illustrates the beauty of a proper environment, in which you can almost hear the child humming with happiness from their purposeful activities.

I don’t think I can quite put in words precisely what it feels like. But I would like to be a part of making that a reality.

If enough of us hold a vision in our heads, we can change the course of humanity.

The image that comes to mind when I think of not thinking

21 Nov

I’m standing inside a small courtyard, surrounded by 4~5 story buildings with a bit of age on them. The courtyard is sparse and whitewashed, with a narrow tall dark metal door leading to the Outside World. The buildings painted white and blue with paint chipped some wheres. A few potted plants in plain torquise or earthen bowls dot the courtyard, gathered in little clusters to the side. You can imagine skinny brown half-dressed children running through here; this space retains an echo of excited squeals. But for now it is noon, close to the monsoon, and the air is ripe with the beads of anticipating moisture. And my body has lived here all my life so it feels cool to me, my skin dry against the thin muslim that covers me. The air is silent and streamed with sunlight full of dancing golden dust. I feel quiet inside, present and loose, as though a strong gale could topple me but I could not mind. I am slightly curious but un-opinionated, like a faun stepping gingerly through the thickets I sense my environs with relaxed caution.

And there is no one leaning over the balustrades shouting greetings, dispensing admonitions. All the neighbors are sleeping or away at a party. And my situation is poor, but not desperate, with neither prospect nor desire. And I smile mildly at the knowing that there will always be chai, in red clay cups the size of your palm, with which, perhaps later, another palm will join.

Library gets new books, and other things…

11 Dec

I was browsing through the university library, when I discovered, to my surprise and delight, that there were exactly three books put together on the shelf that I myself owned and liked. “The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World” by Avi Shlaim (very very good look at Israeli diplomacy from declaration of statehood up to 1998), “Propaganda” (recommended to me but not yet read) and a book on the Mossad that I’d snatched up in Singapore under the nose of a Saudi friend who was interested in the issue as well.

And then there were several relating topics in which I was interested in… the integration of knowledge into our socio-political system, for example “States of Knowledge”, the funny thing being, topics are hardly as delineated as we might think when we look at new books. The span of novels, for example, explore history, human interaction, gender and romance. A bibliography of a scientist can delve just as much into his area of expertise as it might delve also into the politics of the time – and what he has not said of his life can fill books. There is a trepidation when I scan books, as though any second now I could fall into this abyss, this soup of absolute wonder and new territories. And I forget, once in a while, that a great deal of my soul’s sustenance comes from this. So that when I wander, bone-weary of all my pursuits and non-pursuits, into a library, I always find some temporary respite that surprises me.

Of course the world of now is important. Of late it seems that I am more substantial than I used to be — that I exist more. And yet I am still never completely sure of some of my opinions. I am still not willing to condemn or condone and make that a material part of me. I still do not feel like a force to be reckoned with, as the great men of books appear to be. It is simply that I am learning, gradually, the ‘reasons’ for the rights and wrongs that we have always assumed. Because I cannot believe blindly. And I am also learning to stop staring at myself, to let go, though I’ve always considered this existence a mystery. But a creature unbuilt can be wearisome to look at. And I want to look at others more. For it’s so short, the time we have together.

update 12/11: On second thoughts, I think I recommended the books to our school lib. oh lala, that’s why they came in together! I believe I recommended them at the start of the semester, since our KMUN club was planning to delve into middle east issues this semester and I’d discovered to my dismay that the school had very few resources on this subject. Love that the school buys nigh every book we recommend! Even got a copy of ‘Science as a Contact Sport’ by Stephen H. Schneider which is un-purchase-able (last I checked) in Taiwan.<3 ❤ ❤

Not only them

13 Nov


Let him wish his life

For the sorrows of a stone

Never knowing the first thread

Of these

Never knowing the pain of ice

As its crystals slowly grow

Needles pressing in on the heart

To live forever

And never feel a thing

To wait a million lifetimes

Only to erode and become sand

Wish not for the stone

But for the fire

Last only moments

But change everything

Oh to be lightning

To exist for less than a moment

Yet in that moment

To expose the world to every open eye

Oh to be thunder

To clap and ring

To rumble into memories

Minds and spines

To chill the soul and shake the very ground

Pounding even the sand

Into smaller pieces

Or the mountain

Brooding, extinct

Yet gathering for one fatal moment

The power to blow the top clean off the world

Oh to last the blink of an eye and leave nothing

But nothing unmoved behind you

Vincent Guilliano

January 9. 1991


Reading The Freedom Writers Diary gives me a greater appreciation for good moral education. In fact, I believe that such education should not only be a stipend for kids at risk, but also for those who are considered the elite of the country. Students who earn good grades, who come from good families, who are ambitious – for these students, moral education cannot be unimportant. Though they may not have so many negative experiences for them to feel the want of peace, tolerance and love, it is an issue that they must deal with in every decision they shall make as an adult.



  Today as my friend and I were talking she mentioned a girl in her high school who wanted fervently to go into med school. This classmate of hers was (academically) at the top of her class. When they did practice interviews, the girl spoke warmly as if she were cared very much for others and frequently helped her classmates. However, my friend was disgusted, since this girl had never shown any interest in the welfare of her fellow students of any sort. The girl later got accepted into Dentistry.



  There are many cases in our society when those with the most advantage and are most expected to lead us in the future lack a moral education. This should be disturbing to everyone. When our schools cram us with information and fill us with notions of glory concerning what our education could do for us, does it not miss the most vital point of education? Education is for the betterment of humanity as a whole, not merely for the profit of individuals. When the government and educators focus educational resources merely on advancing the student as an individual, it is not making a very wise investment for the future of that society.



  As we know, educational institutions all around create skills to fill a current or future need in the job market. Since there is currently no way to assess people’s morality, we can’t expect that there will be a need in the future to induce the educational system to put moral education into the curriculum. This problem may be somewhat alleviated in Chinese society due to the fact that our classical Chinese texts are mostly treatises on morality. However, we in Chinese society are crippled by a lack of encouragement in independent thought, which is a basis for resisting societal pressure or edicts that spread hatred and fear.



  So the way for us to have more concerned citizens is if there is more moral education in mandatory education. Not that we should have one class devoted to this subject, but that such should be instilled into almost every subject. This would help students better utilize fair judgment into every spectrum of decision making and is a crucial step towards the dream of world peace.