Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Interview with world-famous atheist-turned-Christian

Benjamin Wiker did an exclusive interview with Antony Flew, one of the world's most famous atheist who converted to Christianity, author of There is a God.
For the last half century, the world's most famous atheist was Antony Flew. Long before Richard Dawkins began taking swipes at religion, Flew was the preeminent spokesman for unbelief. But now Antony Flew is the world's most famous convert to belief in God. What turned his world right-side-up? "I must say ... that the journey to my discovery of the Divine has thus far been a pilgrimage of reason. I have followed the argument where it has led me."
(read more)

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Saturday, 27 October 2007

ST's Janadas Devan exposes Li-Ann's Thiology


ST's Janadas Devan exposes Li-Ann's Thiology
by Cherian George
27 Oct 2007

As someone who straddles the worlds of Singaporean journalism and academia but has never felt totally at ease in either, I have to say that, today, I am prouder to call myself a journalist than an academic. Singapore is not known for its investigative journalism; one international ranking places our press in the same league as Third World dictatorships. On the other hand, our universities do Singapore proud: while some of the international rankings are suspect, there are certainly pockets of excellence on Singapore’s campuses.

This week, both vocations were tested. Singapore society needed the best from them, to guide it through the extraordinarily difficult and contentious 377A debate. Although the bean counters in both journalism and academia tend increasingly to apply irrelevant key performance indicators, pressmen and professors in the end share the same social purpose: to contribute to the world of ideas and help society to deal with its problems wisely and rationally.

For this reason – and despite having signed the repeal petition that reached Parliament – I was mainly interested in this week’s debate as a test case for Singapore’s level of public debate. That 377A would stay in the books was a foregone conclusion. The real issue to me was whether such deeply held convictions could be deliberated openly in a civilized manner, and how journalists and academics would perform.

Therefore, more distressing than the final result of the debate was the retrogressive speech by the high-flying legal scholar Thio Li-Ann. Her convoluted, caricatured rendering of political philosophy and comparative politics needed to be corrected by good political science, but she got away with it in Parliament. Her theories about what constitutes a minority could have been debunked by any graduate student of sociology or anthropology, but this did not stop her.

Then there was Thio’s tasteless digs at homosexual sex, which some of her comrades considered witty, but really deserved no place in the highest forum in the land. Thio has been celebrated for supposedly speaking up for the silent majority. This is an insult to the majority, most of whom have the basic decency to know the difference between what should be uttered in public and what should be confined to close friends or private blogs.

Thio also did a disservice to the majority of God-fearing Singaporeans – we who would like to believe that our faiths are ultimately about compassion, not the hateful, hurtful cheap shots that Thio felt compelled to deliver on our behalf. How I wished a theology professor or other religious scholar would have stepped into the debate at that point, to show how it might be possible to express a faith-based objection to homosexuality – minus the hate speech.

But, no, for a whole week, Thio has remained – by default – the standard bearer of what Singapore intellectuals and our world-class universities have to offer to public discourse.*

Thank goodness for Straits Times journalist Janadas Devan. His column in Saturday’s Insight pages is worth the paper’s 80 cents cover price (which is good, since it’s not available free online). Its contribution to the 377A debate: priceless. Singapore doesn’t have a tradition of investigative journalism, but Janadas’ dogged, disciplined dissection of Thio’s speech has exposed it for the diatribe that it really was. There is hope yet for rationality and reason.

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377A debate and the rewriting of pluralism - Straits Times (27 Oct 2007)


377A debate and the rewriting of pluralism
27 Oct 2007, Straits Times
By Janadas Devan

I CONFESS: I found the parliamentary debate on Section 377A of the Penal Code exceedingly depressing. It is no fun at all finding oneself holding a view - I believe the provision is odious and should be scrapped - with so little support.

Of the 82 PAP MPs, only 3-1/2 expressed views that resembled mine - Mr Charles Chong, Mr Hri Kumar and Mr Baey Yam Keng. The half was Ms Indranee Rajah, who suggested 377A might be scrapped at some point, only not in this century. Her citation of how long it took to end slavery suggested we might have to wait roughly 2,500 years.

Of the nine NMPs, only one, Mr Siew Kum Hong, who presented the citizens' petition calling for the repeal of 377A, stood up for homosexuals. And among the three opposition MPs, none did.

My depression was infinitely deepened when I read NMP Thio Li-Ann's parliamentary phillipic - entitled Two Tribes Go To (Culture) War - as well as her Insight article yesterday. She was brilliant, incisive, learned, witty and civil. The 'moral conservative majority' has found a formidable warrior - notice that 'War'; and my side - the immoral liberal minority? - was left looking stupid, speechless, confused, sour-faced and uncivil.

Consider how she tore to shreds so many of our cherished beliefs. The idiots that we are, we had believed 'pluralism' meant, among other things, 'autonomy and retention of identity for individual bodies', a 'society in which the members of minority groups maintain their independent cultural traditions', 'a system that recognises more thanone ultimate principle or kind of being', as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it.

But we were wrong. 'Democratic pluralism,' Prof Thio wrote incisively yesterday, 'welcomes every view in public discussion, but does not commit the intellectual fallacy of saying every view is right. The goal is to ascertain the right view for the circumstances.' That means that under certain circumstances - to be determined by whatever passes forthe majority at any moment, I suppose - pluralism can insist on a singular 'ultimate principle or kind of being'.

We silly fellows had also misunderstood the nature of secularism. We had thought it meant separation of religion from the state, politics and public policy. We were wrong. As Prof Thio explained trenchantly in her 'culture war' speech: 'Religious views are part of our common morality. We separate 'religion' from 'politics' but not 'religion'from 'public policy' (emphasis mine).

I never knew that! I had always assumed that it was necessary to separate religion from politics as well as public policy, for it was impossible to separate public policy from politics, and both from the state. But it turns out my assumption was baseless.

Jawaharlal Nehru, a Brahmin who insisted on untouchability being banned in the Indian Constitution despite the opposition of many caste Hindus, simply did not understand a thing about secularism. Bishop Desmond Tutu, a Methodist who insisted that discrimination against homosexuals be prohibited in the South African Constitution, was similarly clueless. And all those Enlightenment chaps in powdered wigs who insisted on the separation of church and state in the United States - in part, because there was no 'common morality' among religions - well, silly fellows, they knew nothing.

Yes, I must admit, Prof Thio demolished my side with astonishing ease. First, her big guns - pluralism is not plural; secularism can be religiously informed - left us limbless. Then, equally impressively, the cultural warrior sliced and diced us with her rapier wit and uncommon civility. We were finally left with our torsos tossed into ideological ditches and our heads stuck on cultural pikes.

'To say a law is archaic is merely chronological snobbery,' she thundered, referring to 377A. That sent me reeling. So original! So conclusive! So brilliant!

'Chronological snobbery' was first coined by Owen Barfield and C.S. Lewis, two eminent British popular theologians. It first appeared in print, I think, in Lewis' moving spiritual autobiography, Surprised By Joy. Lewis and Barfield coined it to stigmatise modern 'intellectual fashions' that they thought consigned unfairly religious faith to a seemingly unregenerate past.

Prof Thio, a most learned person, must have known of the origin of this phrase in theological controversy, and she brilliantly extended it to the law. And if one linked this extension to the profound truths she uncovered about public policy in a secular state, one would see how her stigmatisation of 'chronological snobbery' can be extended furtherstill. All those in favour of teaching 'intelligent design' alongside Darwin's theory of evolution in schools, raise your hands. Done! Education Ministry, please take note.

Then there was her wit, deployed so civilly. Anal sex is like 'shoving a straw up your nose to drink', she said. A colleague of mine googled that and discovered it was an often cited image in American anti-gay pamphlets. To top that, she said 377A must be kept on the books so we can say 'Majullah Singapura', not 'Mundur Singapura'. If you did not get the joke, here is a clue: Mundur means 'backward' in Malay, and 'backward' here alludes to that 'straw' and another orifice. See? Now, isn't that funny?

Oh, I cried when I read that. Imagine that: The moral conservative majority makes better vulgar jokes than the immoral liberal minority - and in Parliament too. If the immoral minority cannot beat the moral majority even in this department, we are really and truly kaput.

What sent me into shock was the discovery that Singapore is actually the US. I am referring to Prof Thio's sources of inspiration. Google 'culture war' and you will discover them.

The term was made famous by Mr Patrick Buchanan, a right-wing conservative (many would say zealot) who challenged former president George H.W. Bush, a moderate, for the Republican presidential nomination in 1992. At the Republican convention that year, Mr Buchanan alarmed many Americans by declaring: 'There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself.'

Once one understands the milieu from which this statement issues, one would understand the origins of Prof Thio's profound understanding of pluralism and secularism. It does not derive from the Enlightenment or from contemporary Europe or Asia. It derives from the American religious right. It is they who insist pluralism cannot ultimately be plural; it is they who demand public policy be informed by religious beliefs.

And all but a few thumped their seats when Prof Thio finished her speech? They must have missed the radical - yes, radical and extreme - nature of her claims. One person who did not, I think, was Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. My colleague Chua Mui Hoong reported he did not thump his seat.

That lifted my depression somewhat. I did not like one bit the upshot of the Prime Minister's speech - that 377A will stay because the majority, especially Christians and Muslims, are opposed to its scrubbing. But I was proud of what he had to say, and how he said it.

There are 'limits', he said, for homosexuals in Singapore. But there would be limits too, in how religious beliefs are applied in the policing of homosexuals. Section 377A will not be applied 'proactively', he said - meaning, it will be inoperative.

Mr Stuart Koe, chief executive of gay Asian portal Fridae.com, was wrong to liken 377A to a gun being put to the heads of homosexuals and not pulling the trigger. There is a gun, it remains symbolically loaded, but it has been laid down.For that - a small victory - we have to thank old-fashioned pluralism, not Prof Thio's radical rewriting of it. Some of us - our children, our friends, our siblings - have different sexual orientations, so let's give them space.

For the rest - well, we will have to wait, but hopefully, not for 2,500 years.

Should Christians impose their views on homosexuality on others? (25 Jul 07)http://www.blogpastor.net/2007/07/25/should-christians-impose-their-views-of-homosexuality-on-others/

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Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Exorcism suit against Novena Church starts on Wed

Madam Valli, 51, part-time tutor, a former national athlete, is seeking compensation for an alleged exorcism she claims was forced on her at Novena Church on Aug 10, 2004.

She is suing the Redemptorist Order which runs the church, two priests and six church-goers who allegedly helped in the ritual.

Court dismisses Novena Church exorcism case (S Ramesh, CNA, 13 Feb 2009)

Churchgoer admits threatening Amutha in exorcism trial (Lynda Hong, CNA, 10 Jul 2008)

Novena priest says no exorcism has been performed in S'pore (Lynda Hong, CNA, 02 Jul 2008)

Forced exorcism case adjourned till next year (Selina Lum and Jermyn Chow, ST, 23 Nov 2007)

Woman possessed by spirit of dead soldier from Nee Soon camp (ST, 25 Oct 2007)

Priests' account of the "prayer" session (Selena Lum & Carolyn Quek, 24 Oct 2007)

Woman in exorcism suit hid long psychiatric history: defence lawyers (Straits Times, 24 Oct 2007)

Woman in exorcism suit was 'slithering like snake, screaming like Satan' (Jermyn Chow, Straits Times, 24 Oct 2007)

Exorcism suit against Novena Church starts on Wed (K. C. Vijayan, Straits Times, 23 Oct 2007)

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Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Governance of 7 religious groups to come under scrutiny

by Theresa Tan (ST, 23 Oct 2007)

They have been picked for the Commissioner of Charities' first "governance review".

FIVE christian groups and two temples, all with annual incomes of over $10 million, have been ordered to open their doors and their books to auditors from the Commissioner of Charities (COC).

The seven are: City Harvest Church, Campus Crusade Asia, Faith Community Baptist Church, New Creation Church, Trinity Christian Centre, Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery and Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple.

The seven religious groups have been picked for the COC's first "governance review" as they earn the most among the charities under the commissioner's direct purview.

The review is part of an on-going effort to regularly assess and improve the way charities are run, said the COC's office on Tuesday.

While similar reviews on secular charities are not uncommon, this is the first time the COC is focussing attention on religious groups.

Auditors from Ernst & Young Associates and Deloitte and Touche Financial Advisory Services have been hired by the COC to look into three areas:
- financial and internal control policies and procedures
- corporate governance practices and standards
- how the charities comply with laws such as the Charities Act

Five of these groups interviewed by The Straits Times on Tuesday welcomed the review. The other two did not return calls.

See related articles:
4 areas of improvement (ST, 11 Sep 08)
5 religious groups got $130m last year (ST, 29 Oct 07)

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Saturday, 20 October 2007

Divine football

Electric New Paper (20 Oct 07)

The Italian Sports Centre (CSI) - a Christian organisation that promotes education through sport - decided enough was enough so.

Earlier this month, they bought a controlling stake in Serie C1 - the equivalent of Italy's third division - leaders Ancona.

Although the Vatican denied they were not involved with the project at all, they quietly endorsed the move.

Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone praised the project, saying it will 'bring out the human and spiritual values in sport'.

Pope Benedict XVI also blessed the team after receiving a shirt with the No. 16 from club skipper Giovanni Langella at a general audience in St Peter's Square.

Ancona played in Italy's top division only four years ago, but were relegated after winning just 13 points.

The club also reached the final of the Italian Cup in 2004, but lost to Sampdoria.

But it was deeply involved in the match-fixing bribes scandal of two seasons ago.

Its former president, Ermanno Pieroni, was sentenced to 53 days in jail.

Edoardo Menichelli, the Archbishop of Ancona, told The Guardian newspaper the move would help bring more morality into football.

'We want to bring some ethics back into the game, which has been undergoing a grave crisis in terms of sportsmanship,' he said.

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Thursday, 11 October 2007

377A debate

On 3 October 2007, an online appeal was launched via the website Repeal377a.com to gather signatories to an open letter to the Prime Minister advocating the repeal of section 377A. In response, a counter-petition on the website Keep377a.com was set up to give citizens a channel to voice support for the Government's retention of the law. By 1:30 pm on 20 October, Keep377a had overtaken Repeal377a by 7,068 to 7,058 signatories in just two days of its launch.

On 22 October 2007, Nominated Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong tabled a Parliamentary petition to the Parliament of the Republic of Singapore in support of the repeal of section 377A. The petition is required to pass through the scrutiny of the Public Petitions Committee in order for the issue to be fully debated in Parliament. In response, fellow NMP Thio Li-ann gave a speech in Parliament arguing to keep section 377A.

NMP to present petition to repeal anti-gay law to Parliament - Straits Times, 11 Oct 2007

NMP Siew Kum Hong's full speech

NMP Thio Li-Ann's full speech

PM Lee: Why Singapore must leave Section 377A alone - Straits Times, 23 Oct 2007
Keep377A.com vs Repeal377A.com - TODAY, 19 Oct 2007 http://www.todayonline.com/articles/217510.asp

Sections 377 and 377A of the Penal Code (Singapore) - Wikipedia

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Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Oral Roberts president faces corruption lawsuit

Embattled Oral Roberts University president Richard Roberts has been accused of misusing ORU and Oral Roberts Ministries funds and resources, including illegal involvement in a local political campaign and lavish spending at donors’ expense.

Accusations were detailed in a wrongful termination lawsuit filed Oct. 2 by three former ORU professors against the school and four administrators alleging wrongful termination and wrongful causing of one professor's resignation. The professors said they lost their jobs because they turned over to administrators a report that alleged the Richard Roberts family extensively spent university money for personal uses.

The lawsuit includes allegations of a $39,000 shopping tab at one store for Richard Roberts' wife, Lindsay, a $29,411 Bahamas senior trip on the university jet for one of Roberts' daughters, a stable of horses for the Roberts children and numerous home remodeling projects.

In a recent interview with the AP, Richard and Lindsay Roberts denied wrongdoing. Richard Roberts has said the lawsuit amounted to "intimidation, blackmail and extortion."

ORU board of regents' chairman, George Pearsons, has said ORU's board began investigating the allegations shortly before the lawsuit was filed. The board also hired an outside law firm and outside accountants to review the allegations and ORU's finances. Richard Roberts has taken a paid leave of absence as ORU's president until the matters are resolved. The board will decide what to do once it receives findings of the investigations. One decision will be whether Roberts will return to the presidency.

Tulsa World - ORU lawsuit

ORU President mired in scandal - MSNBC (5 Oct 2007)

US varsity chief asks for leave after alleged 'improprieties' (Straits Times, 18 Oct 2007)http://www.straitstimes.com/Latest+News/World/STIStory_168154.html

Roberts receives 'No Confidence' vote - mail.com (14 Nov 2007)

ORU President asks for second chance - mail.com (15 Nov 2007)

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