Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Christians and the New Age

This is the sermon I gave on a biblical response to the New Age Movement


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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Conversation with My Granddaughter on Tee Tee

Hi little one,

You must be very excited and eager for your Tee Tee to arrive. For many months you have heard Mummy and Daddy telling you about Tee Tee. You have been watching Tee Tee grow as your Mummy’s tummy become bigger and bigger.

Little one, you are special. Tee Tee is also special. Both of you will be especially special to each other. You see, Tee Tee is your little brother. Grampa also have a little brother who is very special to him. Grampa’s little brother taught him a special Hawaiian word ‘ohana’ which means family. Ohana means to look after, look out for and love one another in a family. Tee Tee is your family. Now you are big sister and Tee Tee is little brother. As the older sister you must look after and take good care of Tee Tee.

Your Mummy, Daddy, grandpas and grandmas will love Tee Tee as much as they love you, little one. Do not worry. There is enough love to go around. Love is not like a piece of cake. The more people who share the cake, the smaller the piece of cake each person will have. No, love is like the ocean. You remember the ocean where Daddy brought you to play with the sand on the beach? The ocean is a big body of water. You will not be able to empty it as you do your milk bottle. The ocean has so much water that nobody can empty it. Love is like that. There is more than enough love to go around that you will have as much love as Tee Tee, and there is still more to share. You are well loved by many people and Tee Tee will be too.

God also has his ohana. God’s ohana is big because it involves many people; both big and small. God’s love is like the ocean. There is enough to go around. So God loves you as much as he loves your  Mummy, Daddy, grandpas, grandmas, Ah Yee, uncles, aunties, and many others. We are all loved equally; fair and square. Love is such a wonderful thing. Slowly you will grow to love your Tee Tee and you will discover that your Tee Tee will be loving you in return.

Little one, you will be surprised when Tee Tee comes that he is very small. Yes, he is a baby. But be patient for Tee Tee will be growing big very fast. Soon he will be following you around, imitating everything that you do, and be looking at you with adoring eyes. This is because you are his only Jia Jia. You have to teach him all the things you have learned in these last three years. You will also to disciple Tee Tee to know how to pray to God and to say grace before food. Sharing your things with Tee Tee is something you are already doing. Grampa has observed you sharing your drink with your Mummy. You offer the drink for Mummy to drink so that Tee Tee can drink. That is very good. Grampa is very proud.

Grampa will still be here to talk and spend time with you even though Tee Tee is here. It will be more fun as our ohana has become bigger. You too have become bigger. Grampa will always be here for you, little one.

Love Grampa,

Dear God,
I commit this little one and Tee Tee into your hands. I ask that you will give them rich full lives and that they will love you deeply in return. We are your ohana.

08 Oct 2014

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Eugene Peterson on Christian Spirituality

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Thursday, September 04, 2014

Conversations with my Granddaughter on Friends

On friends
Conversations with my Granddaughter

Hi little one,
Grampa love seeing you in your imaginary play. You have a lot of imaginary friends with names like Ethan, Suwen and Catherine. You cook food for them, feed them and comfort them until their parents come to pick them. Your play was so realistic that Grampa often look at the friend you are talking to and surprised to see no one there. For a long time, your imaginary friends piqued Grampa’s curiosity. As a child, could it be possible that you can see the supernatural world which we big people cannot see? Are you interacting with some angelic beings and involving them in your play? Grampa must confess that there have been moments of panic when you invite your friends upstairs to play! You would be holding their hands and helping them to climb the stairs when all Grampa see is you alone on the staircase! You did not notice but sometimes Grampa will sweep his hands in the empty space where your friends are supposed to be. Silly Grampa. It was not until you came home with your class photo that we know who these imaginary friends are. There you are grinning, surrounded by many kids that are bigger than you. Some of them are at least a head taller than you. And neatly, below their faces, your teachers have helpfully labelled your friends’ names – Ethan, Suwen, Catherine…

Little one, it is good to have friends. Friends are people you like and who like you in return. You enjoy their company and playing with them. At this moment, your friends will be around your age but slowly you will discover that you can also make friends with people of different ages- boys, girls, and even big people! It like Peppa Pig who have a lot of friends. Out of all these friends, Peppa has Suzy Sheep which is her ‘very best friend’. And you have watched how Peppa and her friends have fun, play games, get wet, jump in the mud puddles, and look after one another. That is what friends are for. Friends are people you play and have fun with. These people are also ones who care for you, love you and look out for you. And you enjoy spending time together. Piglet asked Winnie the Pooh bear “We’ll be friends forever, won’t we, Pooh?” Pooh answered, “Even longer.”

You will find, little one, that as you grow older, it is harder and harder to find true friends. That is why many big people do not have many real friends. There will be people who want to be your friend so that you can do something for them. Others will want to be your friend because of who your Daddy and Mummy are. Still others will want to be your friend because of who you have become, so that they will reflect your glory. Shun them all except the true friend who loves you and enjoy being with you. A wise ancient big person named Socrates described a friend as one soul in two bodies. Another big person Rudyard Kipling who wrote the Jungle Book describe a friend in his poem as The Thousandth Man. Grampa will explain more when you grow older.

Now just go and play with your friends – whether in school or at home. Grampa understands how you think; there is no separation between real and imaginary persons in your world at this moment. It does not matter that educators named your thinking as concrete. Who cares? Just enjoy playing with your friends.

Dear God,
Please send many friends to accompany this little one on her journey. Let them be true friends of different gender, race and creed. May she learn to be a true friend to them all.



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Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Conversations with my Granddaughter on Reading

On words and reading

Conversations with my granddaughter

Hello little one,

Grampa is very happy that you are familiar with the 26 little letters called alphabets. These are like your Duplo bricks. You can fit them together to make things called words. Each word has a special meaning. You almost bowled us over in surprise when you came home from school one day and told us that ‘A’ is for alligator. Such a long word. When Grampa was your age, Grampa only know ‘A’ is for apple.

Words come together to make sentences but you already knew that as you have been speaking in sentences for a few months. And your vocabulary is increasing by leaps and bounds. Remember when we were watching a fish in an aquarium. You noticed the fish does not have what you describe as ‘covering’ over the eyes. Grampa then taught you a new word, ‘eyelids’. And you spend the evening looking at everyone’s eyelids.

Little one, Grampa is sure that you know the words you are using correspond to the black letters on the pages of a book. That is why you insist that your Mummy or Daddy or Grandma read to you every night before you fall asleep. You instinctively know that these words and sentences make up stories about black birds, pie, queens, falling bridges and a spider that wants to climb up a water sprout. You grew up with books. From your perspective the bookshelves in Grampa’s study are mountains of books.

Grampa is glad that you respect books. You are so happy to have a bookmark for your bedtime storybook similar to those bookmarks you see Grampa and Grandma using for our books. And you do not make marks in Grampa’s books, limiting your drawing and colouring to your own sticker book. Books are to be respected, little one, for they are doorways to awe and wonders, peace and joy, challenge and fulfilment, and ultimately the conveyer of Truth. Your books may be digital in the future but they are still books.

Learning to read is hard work. It will be challenging but Grampa hope that you will persevere. It is Grampa’s hope that you develop a love for books, similar to the love of books that both your Mummy and Ah Yee has acquired. Grampa hope that your reading will help you in discovering new worlds and new civilizations. And these in turn will lead you to boldly go where no little one has gone before. There is a wonderful magnificent world out where, and to be found within you; to be enjoyed if you know how to read.

However, there is no hurry, little one. Take your time. Play with Grampa’s books in the meantime. Use them to make a river for you to jump over, or construct a boat for you and your friends to sail in. Books are your friends, little one. They are happy for you to use them as construction blocks until you know how to read and discover the treasures within.

Dear God,
Please teach this little one to read and instill in her a love of reading and of books. Help her to discover the worlds of imagination and of ideas through the words in books. Lead her to discover You in Your Word, which is the Book of books and the Word of words.


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Friday, August 29, 2014

One Day at a Time


sermon transcript here .

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Rainbow of Prayer

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Praying the Jesus Way (Matthew 6:5-8)

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The Marriage Vows (1 Cor 7:2-4)

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The River of Life (Ezekiel 47:1-12)

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Sunday, August 17, 2014


a purpose-driven life is a life of love and obsession




what matters are not the closed doors but the ones that are open




true friends are those who know the worst in you, believe the best in you and love you all the same.



Monday, August 11, 2014

The Digital Doctor

During one clinic session, I look down at my desk and could not see it! It was covered by keyboards, mouse, tablets, smart phones, and all other electronic connection that a doctor needs today. I have my medical notes in my website in a server hosted in USA, my paediatrics notes at UpToDate somewhere else at their company server farm, my half written books and writing projects in Dropbox, my students files in Google Drive, my literature search via Monash virtual library hosted in Australia, my access to Monash online courses in Moodle in Kuala Lumpur, and my patients’ file in a cloud somewhere between Johor Baru and Kuala Lumpur. My Facebook, Linked-in, Google+, Tumbr, Twitter, and Pinterest accounts are in another cloud somewhere around the world. Oh yes, my online gaming Star Trek Online and TitanFall.

Technology has both hindered and helped me. I spent 50% less time talking to my patients and their parents as I used these of their 50% clinic face-to-face time with me to key in their online electronic prescription on the computer on my desk. In the past I was always able to give them my full attention as I sit facing them as I write out my prescription on paper. Now I have to turn away from them 90 degrees to face my computer. It is hard to carry on a conversation when you are facing the screen and trying to type in important information and to double check its accuracy. Believe me, I have tried. I am not that good a multitasker. Patients and their parents are aware of this. After a while there is this awkward silence as I key in their prescriptions.

Another subtle influence I have to consciously resist is that by keying in information and prescription, I am forced to think of my patient as an object. This object is defined by data and numbers. My patients have always been and will be persons to me. I did not sign up to be a doctor so that I can reduce them to data. This aspect of modern medicine is worrisome to me.


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Thursday, August 07, 2014

The Batman in Batcave

I am learning how to use Photoshop Elements 12. I find it difficult to use the program as it is not intuitive. I decided to create a composite picture of  Batman in his batcave, learning about layers and layer masks as I go along.

I started with this photo of Batman Akham Asylum Origins. The photo was taken with Nikon 5300 using available light. It was cropped before using in layer.

The background was removed in a layer. The batcave photo introduced into another layer and blurred.

The multiple layers were flattened into the picture above.


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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Living my Fantasy in the Star Trek Universe

By day I am a paediatrician and a theologian. I captain a spaceship by night. The name of my  spaceship is USS Alexander. It is a Constitution class cruiser. I have since upgraded to USS Alexander H, and it is a Galaxy Dreadnought. I have a beautiful female human first officer called Number One, a Vulcan science officer and an Andorian engineering officer. Every night I undertake missions given to me by Star Fleet Command. Have I gone crazy as John Nash in the movie A Beautiful Mind (2001) or Sam Lowry in Brazil (1985)? Hardly. I am enjoying the simulated Star Trek Online (STO) game. For years I have waited for the Internet in my home to improve both in speed and bandwidth. Finally this year, it has allowed me to join thousands of Trekkies or Trekkers in this total immersion experience. Star Trek Online draws on almost all background materials from the television series; Star Trek: The Original Series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, Enterprise, and the movies up to Star Trek: Nemesis. It does not include J. J. Abrams’ two recent reboot movies. In other words it remain in the original timeline where Vulcan was not destroyed. It continues about 30 years after the events of the movie Nemesis in the 25th Century. Star Trek Online is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) developed by Cryptic Studios which went live in February 2010.

The game is a gradually virtual expanding universe as every few months a ‘season’ was added to it. Each season is made up of a series of missions. The missions are developed by the game designers (who I suspect are all Trekkies) as if each mission is an episode of a Star Trek television series. The screen writing is so good that at times I have a sense of déjà vu. I feel I am actually living through an episode of Star Trek! It is that good. So far nine seasons had been released. These seasons are in order (1) Common ground; (2) Ancient enemies; (3) Genesis; (4) Crossfire; (5) Call to Arms; (6) Under siege; (7) New Romulus; (8) The sphere; and (9) A New Accord. All these are accessible for me to play free. Legacy of Romulus is the only season so far that one has to pay to play. It is sited between seasons seven and eight. Each season is located in one area of space so that I get to enjoy each television series accordingly. One season involves the Cardassians and the Dominion and I get to hang around Deep Space Nine. I can actually walk around the promenade and hang out in Quark’s Bar. One involves the Klingon while the Borg invasion is featured in another. The player acquire skills and is promoted. With promotion comes a new starship. The maximum rank in Federation is Vice-Admiral. I can play as one of the three sects: Federation, Klingon, and Romulan.

Fandom of Star Trek is huge. Fans come in various shape, sizes, ages and colours, yet they are united in their love of a concept of the adventures of a future spaceship or ‘wagon train to the stars’ created by Gene Rodenberry and subsequent writers and directors. Star Trek is a rich imaginary universe that has a consistency and continuity. With the premature cancellation of the television series Enterprise in 2005, there has not been any new television series. The timeline continues on in the Star Trek novels by Pocket books and the IDW comics. The two movies by J. J. Abrams Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek into Darkness (2013) is basically a reboot of the franchise which develops in a separate timeline. Fans themselves have not been idle. The fans created stories, novels, videos and mechanizing is enormous. Among the fans themselves, there are efforts to reach out to one another. This is especially capitalized by Star Trek convocations which are huge events and yearly highlights around the world. When a trekkie meet another trekkie, there is a special bond that comes from a shared ‘heritage’. That is something that is difficult to find in this postmodern world where the bonds of friendship, family and community are being dissolved in a daily basis.

There are good guys and villains in this universe. However they act in predictable fashion according to Star Trek rules. There are gun (phaser) battles on land (away team) and space battles. Yet there is no gore nor glorification of violence. One feels that one need to fight either for the sect one belongs to (Federation, Klingon, or Romulan), loyalty to friends, and honor. There is no senseless violence as in the world outside the virtual universe. In this sense in this construct of electrons there is still honor, decency and hope.

Hope was something that Star Trek offers in the decades of the 1960s. That period was a period of upheaval with the Vietnam War, the hippies, and drug abuse. Star Trek shows that people from different races can get along with each other; and achieve something together as a team. Each episode was a commentary on the sociopolitical situation but each episode ends with hope. Star Trek reminds us that we are better than we are. By pointing to the stars and boldly going where no man (and woman) has gone before, we can build a future for our children and our children’s children. The message that Star Trek brings is still relevant today. Maybe that is why I enjoy Star Trek Online so much. It reminds me of the ideals of Star Trek. It reassure me that there is always hope. And hope is what I need the most now.

Soli Deo Gloria

6 June 2014

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Ethical Reflections about Emerging Medical Technologies

Medical Utopias: Ethical Reflections about Emerging Medical Technologies

Medical utopias are often about good health, absence of suffering, and even delaying of the aging process. The last two decades have seen a tremendous increase in emerging medical technologies to achieve these utopias. The completion of the sequencing of the human genome sets the stage for the next step of genetic and molecular advances. The increase in computing power, storage capacity, connectivity, and the Internet has opened avenues of new diagnostic and therapeutic modalities. The perfecting of sustaining cell growth in vitro and cell nucleus transfer has opened the way to cloning, stem cell harvesting, and a new field of regenerative medicine. However, these emerging technologies bring with them a large number of bioethical concerns that need to be addressed. These concerns involving tissue engineering, bioelectronics, new genetics, cloning, gene therapy, germ-line genome modifications are only the tip of the iceberg. In this paper I will reflect on three areas of concern. Firstly, the emergence of the digital patient will be considered. This digital patient will be deeply formed and informed by health information technology (IT), the social media, and issues involving privacy, confidentiality and data security. Secondly, the direct to customers (DTC) genetic screening tests will be discussed. The ethical issue of buccal swabs taken at home and be tested for genetic diseases and future prediction of other illnesses which is marketed directly to the consumers will be examined. Finally, the development of new pharmaco-therapeutics will be explored. There have been changes in the way new drugs are tested and these changes do raise some ethical concerns. The examination of these ethical issues will be done in the framework of respect for autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice. 


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Faith and Photography

Seeing God in all things

I have taken up a new hobby, photography. I have been taking photos as long as I can remember. First with cameras that needed film (you know, film, negatives, darkroom) and later with digital cameras. I just need a camera that I can point and shoot. I think I have a natural flare for composition but hopeless with focusing. That is why I always tell my wife and children that I need an idiot proof camera- the idiot being me!

I have been writing and making word pictures. I practice and teach others, lectio divina which is spiritual reading. Lectio divina is letting the text speaks to us instead of us analyzing the text. Then it occurs to me; why not let what I see speaks to me. No, I am not in Gaia theory like what the movie Avatar by James Cameron espouse. I believe that God created this world; and this creation is His other book. I think theologians call this General Revelation. The Bible is His special revelation. If this is general revelation, this means I can see the hand of the Creator in his creation. Hence I need to see. Normally I look but do not see. I want to see God in all things. Hence photography. Photography, as I have discovered, is a specific way of seeing. It may be used as a special way of spiritual viewing. I call this lectio visi or spiritual viewing. This specific way of seeing via photography is a spiritual discipline. A spiritual discipline is a habit that draws us closer to God. I always resonate with the Psalmist when he sings “Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together with joy;” (Ps. 98:7-8).

I bought a dSLR camera a month ago. It is hard work as I forsake my autofocus and take on the work of creating photographs that reflect my Lord. As a well written article or book is a joy, so is a well taken photograph that captures the essence of a person or a landscape. I have also created a website, Faith and Photography <www.alextang.org> which I collaborate with my son-in-law who is a much better photographer than I will ever be. So if you see me coming with my camera, smile and let me capture the joy of the Lord in you.

Soli Deo Gloria


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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Batman: Requiem for Robin

This is one of the best Batman collection I have read since the new 52 was launched a couple of years ago. Damian Wayne, Batman/Bruce Wayne's son and the last Robin was killed. These issues explore the loss Batman/Bruce Wayne is feeling and how in his typical way, he reacts to the loss. A powerful series about coping and dealing with loss, especially the loss of one's child.

As a paediatrican, I have stand beside many parents who had lost their child. The intensity and depth of their pain was heart-breaking, even to bystanders. The loss of a child is not only the loss of what was and is,but also of what might have been. Every parent will love to see their child grow up. Death has cruelly cut off that possibility. No parent should have to outlive their children and have to bury them.


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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Insight from Batman's Father


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Spiritual Formation Seminar Daya Gospel Centre

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Random Glimpses of my Desktop: Batman DC Comics Icon

Batman DC Comics Icon
1:6 scale
cold cast porcelain
sculpted by Gentle Giant Studios
DC Collectibles
limited: 5200

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Spiritual Formation Institute Retreat 2014


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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Random Glimpses of My Desktop

ED-209 Future of Law Enforcement

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Spiritual Formation Institute Seminar on John


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Hey, this just not my phone, this is also my library!

We are very aware that mobile hand phones especially smart phones have become as essential part of life in the last two decades. Nowadays we cannot imagine life before these small portable mobile devices. Pay phone booths, expensive operator assisted calls and land line are slowly becoming a thing of the past. The world has become even more interconnected as never before. With the ever expanding cellular infrastructure development, cellular mobile phones are becoming common in some underdeveloped countries even before the land based telephones. According to the United Nations more than 6 billion of the 7 billion people on earth today has access to a mobile phone!

This is an exciting time for the Church. Most mobile phones not only receive voice phone calls but also books and videos. This means that The Church has a unique opportunity today to make the bible available to almost 85% of the people on earth by means of free downloads of e-bible or audio bible! This is a fantastic opportunity. Not only e-bibles but also books on Christianity, Christian living and theology.

The revolution that resulted from the Guttenberg Press caused not only a revolution in learning and knowledge, but indirectly the Protestant Reformation. The bible became more easily available and was translated into a more readable form in the local languages from Latin or Greek. The limitations to that revolution was printing costs, distribution and point of sales/bookshops. The present e-book revolution bypass the limitations of the printing press (surprisingly this has not really translated to cheaper books). The electronic version is easily distributed and downloaded at the cost of a website and mobile apps.

The e-book revolution has placed the power of publishing and distribution into the hands of the authors and readers. Publishers are gatekeepers of printed books and while it is acknowledged that as corporate companies, they need to make a profit, they however also limit books published to that of a few superstar authors. Authors should make their works free or at a minimal charge on the Internet. This is especially true of sermon transcript, books on Christianity and Christian living. In fact, superstar authors and pastors should be the first to do so. Many do not need these incomes from their books. The call is also to Christian theological publishers. For reasons best known to themselves, most of our theological writings in books and journals are locked up behind walls that demand we pay a high monetary price to have access to these books and articles. Open the doors and allow the knowledge and wisdom to be available to all. Commentaries, theological thesis and writings are valuable resources that should be available to all. Everyone, including the poorest Christian living in the slums should have access to a well-stocked Christian library through his or her phone.

The mobile phones also make easily accessible videos and audio messages. Through Youtube, Godtube and other such services, everyone will be able to access Christian documentaries, attend lectures, participate in conferences, and even attend Church services. The technology for streaming video is always improving as is the technology for uploading and downloading.

The dawn of a new era is here. It is now possible to share the bible and Christian teachings to at least 85% of the whole population, even those who are living at the ends of the earth. This is a tremendous opportunity. It is hoped that the Church will awaken to this opportunity.


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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Why Batman does not kill...especially the Joker

Over the decades from their initial encounter in Gotham City, the Joker has transformed from the Clown Prince of Crime to a mass murderer. He killed the second Robin, Jason Todd, paralysed Barbara Gordon (Batgirl), and shot and killed Lt. Sarah Essen, Commissioner Gordon's second wife. As many times, the Batman captured the Joker, as many times the Joker escaped. Being insane, Batman knew the Joker will never be persecuted. Knowing as he did that the Joker will continue to escape and hurt and kill people, why did the Batman not kill the Joker?

Batman has said many times that he refused to kill because in killing, he is no better than the criminals that he is sworn to fight. But, the Joker? Come on, man.

I have been trying to understand Batman's reluctance to kill and I come across this system of ethics named utilitarianism. This system will say, Batman kill the Joker because this will prevent all the murders he will commit in the future. While it is bad to kill, yet killing one life will be the saviour of many other lives.

Philosopher Philippa Foot and Judith Jarvis Thomson put forth the issue in form of a moral dilemma:
Imagine that a trolley is going down a track. Further down the track are five people who do not hear the trolley and will not be able to get out of the way. Unfortunately, there aren't enough time to stop the trolley before it hits and kills them. The only way to avoid killing these five people is to switch the trolley to another track. But, unfortunately, there is one person standing on that track, also too close for the trolley to stop before killing him. Now imagine an innocent bystander standing by the track switch who must make a choice; do nothing, which leads to the death of five people on the current track, or act to divert the trolley to the other track, which leads to the death of the single person.
The Batman is in the place of the bystander. He is holding the Joker's hands at the top of an unfinished office in the movie The Dark Knight. All he has to do is to let go and let the Joker fall to his death. Imagine the trolley scenario except the current track is onto the one person and switching the track will kill the five.
Do you think the Batman should kill the Joker?

Philosopher Thomson now suggest another scenario

There is a surgeon with five patients. Each of his patients is dying from failure of a different organ and could be saved by a transplant. Since there are no organs available by normal channels, the surgeon considers drugging one of his (healthy) colleague and removing his organs to use for transplants. 
By killing one, many will be saved. This is utilitarianism. This is similar to the trolley story. The death of one will save the five. Or is it? Do you agree? Is the choice of allowing the trolley kill one person the same as killing another person for his organs?

Do you think Batman should kill the Joker?

It would have been so easy for the Batman to kill the Joker. Batman is an expert exponent of many types of martial arts.

The philosophical system of utilitarianism will have not problem with Batman killing the Joker to prevent Joker from committing further crimes. As we have seen from our earlier posts about the trolley and the surgeon, it is not as straight forward as it seems.

In the Hush storyline, Hush asked the Batman, "How many lives do you think you've cost, how many families have you ruined, by allowing the Joker to live?...And why? Because of your duty? Your sense of justice?"
In utilitarianism, the end justifies the means. A popular proponent of utilitarianism is Peter Singer, professor of Philosophy in Princeton University and in the University of Melbourne.

However, there is another system of philosophy named deontology (nothing to do with dentists) in which the act is more important. When you decide "do not kill", it means do not kill under any circumstances, irrespective of whatever good that killing may produce. Deontology is based on a sense of duty and the most well known proponent is Immanuel Kant. Of course, Immanuel Kant have never met the Joker.

"Is Batty a secret deontologist?" muses the Joker.
"I want my lawyer! Oh, that's right, I killed him too" (from The Dark Knight)

In our consideration of why Batman did not kill the Joker when he have had so many opportunities to do so, it is obvious that he is not a follower of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism takes into consideration that the death of the Joker will save many people in DC comic universe.

While it may appear that Batman is a deontologist; that the act of killing is against his sense of duty to be not like the criminals he fights, however, his other actions do not support the conjecture. Batman as a masked vigilante is dangerously skirting the edge of the law and have been known to break the law when it suits his purpose. His Kantian ethics will not allow him to do this if he is a deontologist.

There is another system of ethics which come down to us from Aristotle, the great philosopher himself. Named virtue ethics, Aristotle postulated that the ethical behaviour of a person is not from his choice (utilitarianism), or his actions/duty (deontologism). It arises from who this person is. He calls these virtues or what we nowadays call character; compassion, justice, courage, and tolerance. One of the great virtue philosophers alive today is Alistair MacIntyre. There has been much talk of character/virtues in leadership especially political and religious leadership. Unfortunately these talks are of character/virtue flaws than of good strong character with integrity.

Does Batman has such good virtues that he is incapable of killing the Joker, no matter how much he wants to?

Our investigation into the existential question should Batman kill the Joker? has evolved to why the Batman did not kill the Joker.

We have established that Batman does not subscribe to utilitarianism and Kantianism (odeontologism). That left us to consider virtue moral theory. While unilitaianism focus on the consequences of the action, odeontologism on the duty of actor, virtue theory is about who the actor is, i.e. the character or virtues of the actor.

Batman/Bruce Wayne has very strong influential persons in his life. His father, Dr Thomas Wayne is a compassionate surgeon, industrialist and philantrophist. He believed in the goodness of people. Note that he organises the rich elite to help the poor during the depression in Gotham City and built the monorail system for the people. His death was partially due to the fact that he brought his family to the opera by monorail instead of by private car (see Batman Begins).

The butler Alfred was another influence and served as a surrogate father figure after the death of Thomas Wayne. Alfred exhibits strong elements of loyalty and integrity, looking after the family estates when Bruce was wandering around in search of himself. Though he disapprove of Bruce's nocturnal activities, he restrict himself to sarcastic remarks while availing himself to rescue the Batman and offer medical treatment when necessary. It takes a strong character not to impose his will on others and to remind in the shadow of another.

Dr. Thompson is another who helped Bruce after the death of his parents. She provide the nurturing mother figure to balance Alfred's Yang with her Yin. A competent doctor, she chooses to devote her life to helping the poor and the helpless in slum alley.

Thomas Wayne, Alfred and Thompson did not act out of a sense of duty but because of who they are. It is their characters that dictate their actions, not the other way around. Bruce Wayne must have pick up this moral theory from them. In the storyline, Bruce Wayne:Fugitive, Bruce Wayne has an identity crisis. Is he the Batman and Bruce the man behind the mask or Bruce Wayne and the Batman is the person behind the persona? As expected, the crisis was resolved when Bruce realise that the Batman was a means to an end (limiting the activities of the criminal elements by putting a fear in the criminal mind). This question resurfaced numerous times, for example in the story arch of No Man's Land and Knightfall (and Knightend).

Batman does not kill the Joker because it is not in his nature or character to kill. Like Gandhi who resort to non-violence to resist an unjustice government, the Batman resort to non-lethal violence to resist a corrupt justice system and the criminal minds. It is in their strength of character that we must respect him.

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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Movie Review X-Men: Days of Future Past

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) is the seventh installation of the movie series on the X-Men. The theme of this movie is loosely based on the 1981 Uncanny X-Men storyline "Days of Future Past" by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. Personally I prefer the comic storyline as it is more nuanced but this movie is worth watching on its own. Unlike the X-Men movie trilogy which ended with X-Men: The Last Stand, there is more character development and story telling in this movie. Though the action sequences are excellent, it is not as confusing as the Last Stand. This movie is a direct sequel to X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: First Class as it made references to both movies. I will suggest that you watch these two movies before watching this. This will make it more enjoyable.

[spoilers alert]
In the future, the war with the sentinels (these are giant robots, not the multiple eyed octopus thingy in the Matrix trilogy) has destroyed much of the cities. Mutants and human mutant sympathizers are being held in detention camps. A small group of mutants make their last stand against the sentinels in the apocalyptic scenario similar to the Terminator series. Why must artificial intelligence and humanoid robots be anti-humans, I wonder? Have no one heard of Asimov’s three laws of robotics anymore? The last remnant of mutants which include Professor X (Charles Xavier), Magneto (Erik Lehnsherr), Shadowcat (Kitty Pryde), Storm (Ororo Munroe) and Wolverine (James Logan) devised a plan to send the Wolverine into the past, specifically to 1973. They decided the pivotal moment in time when the war against normal or non-mutant humans began was when Mystique murdered Dr. Bolivar Trask (the designer of the sentinels) and was herself captured in 1973. The research on her DNA from her blood was used to upgrade the new class of sentinels.

Most superhero movies and comics has allegorical implications. These superheroes are our new mythology. X-Men: Days of Future Past, like the Avengers movie series and the Spiderman series have lessons for us today.

First, our actions have consequences that echo through time. Like the butterfly effect in chaos theory, one simple action may cause a ripple that may cause the destruction of a civilization. Driven by hate because of the murder of her fellow mutant, Mystique hunted down to murder Trask because Trask was the one who killed her friends in his scientific experiments. Trask on the other hand, fears for the survival of the human race. Fearing mutants will kill off non-mutants, as humans themselves had killed off the Neanderthals, Trask seeks to find a weapon which will destroy the mutants. His chosen weapon was the sentinels with mutant adaptive powers. Our everyday actions has consequences. A mechanic who was sloppy in installing a brake pad may cause a bus crash that may kill someone who may one day invent the source of limitless non-polluting energy power. A doctor who was sloppy in his work, taking short cuts and doing the minimal work may cause the death of a patient. Time travel may have a way of messing with or creating new consequences. An unforgettable scene in the movie has Hank (Beast) in 1973 watching Captain Kirk (Star Trek) explaining time travel on television. The scene is from the Star Trek: The Original Series episode ‘The Naked Now’.

Second, there is redemption when we are involved in a cause that is greater than ourselves. Both Charles Xavier and Erik (Magneto) believe in saving mutants. Charles believe that it is possible for human and mutants to coexist. Magneto, on the other hand, believe that only way mutants to survive is when humans are destroyed or subjugated. Charles, an idealist, believes in moral ethical rules to achieve their ends. Magneto believes that the end justifies the means. Logan finds a wimpy drug addicted Charles when he arrived in 1973. Charles was pining for his lady love (Mystique) which he lost to Magneto. He became addicted to a drug which allow him to walk (and sleep) but suppressed his mental powers. In other words, Professor Xavier was hitting rock bottom. In a stereotypical storytelling in the movie, his redemption came when he met his future self who revealed to him what his life purpose is. In a heroic messiah like moment, he discarded his drug habit and regained his mental powers to save the day. We often need a cause that is greater than ourselves if we are to live meaningful lives. People who live only for themselves often end up narcissistic and self-centered.

Finally, power is might but may not always be right. To demonstrate his power over magnetism, Magneto lifted and dropped a stadium over the White House and commandeered the sentinels. Magneto wanted to show humans how powerful he is and by doing that cow them into submission. While it is a powerful demonstration, Erik (Magneto) should have remembered his history lessons. History has shown that might as power may not always produce the desired effect. Instead of being cowed, the less powerful always find a way to strike back. The wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan should remind us that the most powerful armies do not always win. In many ways, our world is being divided into ‘us’ and ‘them’. The division may be along the line of skin color, economic status or religions. Instead of trying to annihilate one another, there may be place for peaceful coexistence as envisioned by Charles Xavier.

There is much to recommend for this movie. However there is an incredible amount of violence so parents are forewarned. The sentinels torn Colossus into two in a fight sequence. As he was in his metal state, there was no gore. The Wolverine was kebabed with many metal rods and thrown into the Potomac River by Magneto. The Wolverine starred in so many X-Men movies that we have no doubt that he will survive, as I have the sense that this movie was made as a pre-sequel to many more movies to come. Wait in your seat until the movie credits end and you will see what I mean.


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