Malaysian Atheist

An avowed atheist living in Malaysia.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Famous Atheists: Warren Buffett

This is a bit of a surprise for me. I'm quite familiar with Warren Buffett, having read The Warren Buffett Way and The Warren Buffett Portfolio, and many other books and articles about him. I'm quite familiar with his investing style, having applied it in my own portfolio with some success. That is all finance, but I've never really wondered what Warren's take is on religion, so I decided to google it up and found this. Says there, Warren is also an atheist!

For those who don't know, Warren Buffett is the legendary chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and with a personal net worth of over $40 billion, has been the 2nd richest man in the world for the past decade or so. His company owns Coca Cola, Gillette, Geico, American Express, See's Candy and many other wonderful businesses. Recently, he's made headlines when he announced that he would donate the bulk of his wealth to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, making it the single biggest gift in philantrophic history.

Despite not knowing any religion, Warren has lived a fulfilling life. He's always said that he is extremely lucky to be born at the right place and the right time and to be doing what he loves doing most: investing. According to him, he's 'wired to allocate capital'. Throughout his life, by applying his simple yet profound wisdom in investing, he's famously turned a $100 investment into what it is today. Yet by all accounts, Warren lives a simple life. He lives in a modest home in Omaha, Nebraska, drives his own car, enjoys simple meals and drinks Coke. The only difference, according to him is that he travels in a private jet. Clearly Warren is not slave to his wealth unlike so many rich men who are in fact, poorer than him.

What I admire most about Warren is his wisdom. His advice in business and in life are often so simple and logical yet few are able to follow them. I learned through him that you basically need to know your principles in life, and stick to them no matter what. As long as you have a good reason for doing what you're doing or believing what you believe it, it basically doesn't matter what anyone else says. In terms of what those principles are for me personally, a lot of them also come from him. Warren Buffett is truly someone whom I aspire to be like, not so much in terms of net worth, but as a person. He is a truly unique individual who has touched the lives of millions. Millions more in Africa and India who will benefit from his generosity, will be positively affected but they'll probably not know who he is since he refused to become a trustee of Bill and Melinda Gates' foundation. This shows that he is sincere in his gift to humanity.

Honestly, I'm not that surprised to learn that Warren is an atheist. I cannot imagine him being anything else but an atheist. But I know fundamentalist Christians will say that Warren will not enter heaven because he does not believe in Jesus Christ. I'd say, if I were a Christian and I have a ticket to heaven, I'd willingly give it to him.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Khalwat raid

The latest hoo-hah involves the Kedah Islamic Affairs Department when they conducted a khalwat raid on an elderly American couple in Langkawi. They were woken up at 2 am by enforcement officers accusing them of khalwat or being in close proximity with a member of the opposite sex who isn't one's spouse. They were asked to produce their marriage certificate and their passports. The stupidest thing is that they've been married over 40 years and they are not even Muslims!

This is an inexcusable blunder, but the real issue here is that we still have such moral policing in this country. Granted this is practised differently by each state and where I come from, we've never heard of such raids. But in certain parts of the country, these raids have been carried out actively. The Syariah law allows officers to enter houses without warrant, permission, based on mere suspicion. In other words, one is guilty until proven innocent.

If we look at it from a religious perspective, such policing is good, because it prevents people from committing sin. This practice upholds God's law, God's law which is universal and absolute. But as always the case, things are never that simple. The term khalwat itself is subjective. When interpreting close proximity, how close is close anyway? 1 meter? 2 meters? What if the man is giving the woman a ride home in his car? What if the man is walking the woman to her car to ensure her safety? What if they're just having dinner or watching a movie together? Seems like all of these activities will be considered khalwat. You see, our world is not absolute. Everything is relative and in upholding an absolute law in a relative world, the applicability of the law in effect, becomes each man's interpretation, which in effect, becomes man-made laws! Worse still, each man's interpretation has different degrees of applicability. It just doesn't work!

You see, sinning (going against God's law as interpreted for men, by men) always begins in the mind. But unless we have a machine that can read people's minds, we cannot tell with certainty, who is sinning and who isn't. As they always say, only God knows. Two men may be doing the same act but with different intentions. One may have good intentions while the other may have evil intentions, but just by observing the act, we cannot tell which is which. By outlawing the act altogether, we are also preventing the person acting with good intentions. When a man is prevented by law to do good, that really defeats the purpose of having laws in the first place.

Of course, the other effect of this policing is that no one is permitted to go out on a date! You got to resort to writing letters, using the telephone or chatting online to ensure that you're safe from these khalwat raids. Unless, perhaps, if you are gay.

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Poor Dr. M

Today's online edition of The Star newspaper published an open letter from Tun Dr. Mahathir. The letter is addressed to all citizens of Malaysia explaining why he is criticising the present PM Abdullah Badawi.

It is unfortunate that in this country, criticising the present leadership is always frowned upon. It is not just the Cabinet Ministers and UMNO members who are against this criticism by Mahathir, but ordinary Malaysians too (as least those I've spoken to) say that Dr. M shouldn't be doing this.

I think this value is uniquely Malaysian. We revere our leaders to the point that we often think they can do no wrong. It doesn't help that all the local newspapers and TV stations ever report is that our present government is doing wonderful things for the country, and everything is rosy, we're on our way to becoming a developed nation by 2020. This must be some sinister plot by those in power to brain-wash the average Malaysian into voting for the government in the next general elections.

Now, eventhough I do not agree with all of Dr. M's ideas for the future of this country, I believe he should be allowed to freely criticize the present leadership. In fact, all Malaysians should be allowed to criticise their leaders. As more and more of us get better educated, we become more opinionated on issues that affect our country. No longer should we agree with everything the government says and no longer should we accept half-assed replies from the government on various issues raised. Everyone should be allowed to think freely, and speak openly. We cannot become a developed country if our people's minds are not completely free. Therefore I think we should not question Dr. M's right to criticize, but instead, consider the points he's trying to convey. In other words, look at the message, not the messenger.

Personally I think it's a shame, the way the present leaders treat our beloved Dr. M. The moment he stepped down from power, he's lost support from his fellow ministers. Mr. Badawi's present political patronage buys unabated loyalty from these goons. One by one, they're queuing up to protect Badawi from Dr. M's criticims. It doesn't get more obvious than that.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

What the... ?

I find it funny how naive our PM, Mr. Badawi is. According to Tun Dr. M, in his meeting with Mr. Badawi over the weekend, the PM is totally oblivious of any wrongdoings by his son and son-in-law with regards to national interests. Mr. Badawi told Dr. M that he will ask his son and son-in-law to report to him about any wrongdoings by them.

Is it just me or is that last statement totally off? Here's what will probably happen:

Badawi: Kamal, Khairy...

Kamal & Khairy: Yes, Dad?

Badawi: I've got something to ask you guys. Did you guys commit any wrongdoings as claimed by Dr. M?

Kamal & Khairy: Er... Um...

Badawi: Cos I'm hearing from him that you guys are involved in this and that.

Kamal & Khairy: Er... Um...

Badawi: And I've promised Dr. M to question you guys about it. So?

Kamal: No, Dad, I've not commited any wrongdoings whatsoever.

Khairy: Neither have I, Dad. Clean as a whistle!

Badawi: Ok. Good boys! I shall let Dr. M know that you guys have not committed any wrongdoings. Case closed!

I can't believe such a naive man is in-charge of running the country. I mean, what's the use of having judges, lawyers and the courtroom if you can get a man to admit his wrongdoings just by asking him? I think this guy is worse than George W. If we were in the US, Mr. Badawi will really get it from the likes of Jay Leno, John Steward & Conan O'Brien.

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The Lure of Religion

As a non-Muslim Malaysian growing up and educated in Malaysia, it is almost impossible to isolate oneself totally from religious groups. Somehow or another, they will find a way to get to you. Most vulnerable I think, are the college and university students. Evangelical churches which is the most aggressive religious group, have set up Christian fellowships in almost all colleges and universities in Malaysia. Some institutions even have more than one fellowship because they're set up by different churches. These fellowships often operate underground, because religious societies are banned from all institutions of higher learning. Through these fellowships, they'd organize meetings, activities and etc. and if you're acquainted to any of them, you'd surely get invited to their meetings/events where they will share the 'good news' with you. Then they'd continue to follow up on your interest and then if all goes according to plan, they'll pop the question: "Are you ready to receive Jesus into your life?"

For many, uni life means leaving home for the first time. At this age, young people are highly impressionable. They begin to ask existential questions ("what is my purpose in life?"), and they no longer can depend on their parents for answers. They are lonely, they want to meet new people, make new friends. And so, these fellowships appear to meet all the needs of these young people.

The evangelical movement came largely from the US. They are different from traditional churches (Catholic or Protestant) in the sense that they are more lively in their praise and worship and often display 'manifestations' of the Holy Spirit. They are usually characterised by explosive growth partly because they do a lot of evangelising and comprise of an unusually large youth group. Since our society is so heavily influenced by Western pop culture, these churches are very appealing to young people. It would certainly appear 'cool' to these young people to embrace this American culture. I'd say the peer pressure to 'join' is unbearable. Furthermore, if a youth comes from a traditionally Buddhist or Taoist or Hindu family, embracing Christianity would signify their independence because they're taking a step different from the one their parents took. That explains why many have joined and many have accepted Christ at this stage in their lives.

Now, I'm not trying to condemn the evangelical movement. I'm not judging them, nor do I question their motives. However, I feel there is a lack of a balancing 'force' to counter this movement. The problem really is because our education system does such a lousy job at educating our youths that this balancing 'force' is pretty weak at this level. Instead of getting students to learn new ideas and learn to think critically, our universities are spoon-feeding them with tutorial solutions and exam tips. Students study their subjects but do not learn anything! If the faculties are of any standard at all, the students' minds would be open to new ideas. Why should they accept the simplistic ideas preached to them by their religious peers when there is so much more knowledge in this world for their curious minds to discover? If they'd understood the theories of evolution, mutation, genetics, probabilities, the scientific method, and various other world views, would they still stick to religion? They might, but at least they'd start to ask questions and start to THINK!

To conclude, I believe there should be balance to the dissemination of religious ideas at the tertiary level. The most effective way to counter it is to have a dynamic education system where students learn to THINK. On the issue of independence, I also believe atheism is progress resulting from improved education. For (many?) atheists, this is also a different step from the religious one our parents took.

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Public Perception

In this country (and I suspect in many parts of the world as well), when you tell a complete stranger you're an atheist, you will likely evoke a certain response from the other person. He/she will be thinking, "This guy is an unrepentent sinner." He/she might think, "This guy is spiritually lost. He has no directions in life, he has no morals. I should set a good example and try to talk to him about my religion." So, without you having to utter another word, the other person's impression of you is already formed because of the word 'atheist'.

Unfortunately for us atheists, the very word 'atheist' carries a negative connotation. You can't really blame anyone, because people understand that atheists are people who do not believe in God. People who believe in God, believe that they are on the side of all that is good. And so, those who oppose their belief in God must also stand for all that is evil! After all, all those crooks, murderers and rapists in prison are also faithless people who have commited terrible crimes. People who call themselves atheists are therefore also morally corrupted individuals.

Although this is how many people think subconsciously, it is most unfair and incorrect. Perhaps instead of the term 'atheist', we should come up with a more politically correct term because there is a distinction between us atheists and the godless criminals in prison. The difference is that we have arrived at our disbelief after thorough consideration of various religious ideas and careful application of rational thought on the evidence for and against religion. It is not because we are ignorant of what religion preaches. In fact, I'd say that we know more about religious doctrines than most religious people. It is just that we've rejected blind faith, in favour of rational and independent thinking. Also, we have carefully analysed the implications of accepting religious ideas and vehemently rejected them in favour of the alternate philosophy of substantiated ideas namely science. Maybe we should call ourselves 'science-tists', although that might severely limit our identification to only those who are well-versed in scientific thinking.

So, while it's true that many religious and non-religious people out there are ignorant about their beliefs, true atheists are not. Most people know vaguely what they believe in, but not atheists. True atheists know precisely what they subscribe to and what they absolutely do not.

On the issue of morality, I believe human morality does not depend solely on one's religious belief. After all, you will find good and bad people regardless of their religious beliefs. In fact, I think it is much more than that. I think it is more like a non-cooperative game (think A Beautiful Mind) where there is more incentive for us to be good than to be evil. In the book Freakonomics, Steven Levitt wrote about the bagel experiment where roughly 90% of office workers choose to be honest and pay for their bagels eventhough they might get away without paying. It would be ridiculous to suggest that people who paid are all religous people while those who did not pay are atheists. So I think a person's moral conviction is present regardless of his/her religious beliefs or disbeliefs.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

The First Step

According to Wikipedia, 60.4% of Malaysians are officially Muslims, 19.2% Buddhists, 9.1% Christians and 6.3% Hindus, 2.6% Confucianism, Taoism. That leaves 2.4% of Malaysians for other faiths such as animism, Sikhism and Baha'i. What about atheists?

Atheism is not a religion, but if you are an atheist, you clearly do not belong in any of the groups stated above. Let's assume that of the 2.4% of Malaysians who belong to other faiths, 10% of them are avowed atheists. So with a population of 26 million people, we should have about 62,400 atheists in Malaysia. That figure may be higher because some people who profess to belong to a religious group, are fundamentally atheists, as in, they do not really believe what they ought to believe yet chose to be identified with the group for various reasons. But let's just take this figure of 62,400 atheists. Who are they? Which parts of they country do they live in? What are their jobs? What is their educational background? Are they happy with their lives? Are there any prominent Malaysians who are avowed atheists? What's their story?

Clearly, not very much is known about atheists in Malaysia. The obvious reason is that atheism is simply disbelief in God or gods and religion. It is not a faith, atheists do not congregate every week, atheists do not plan to take over the world, atheists do not challenge other peoples' beliefs and lastly atheists do not know other atheists. As far as I know, there isn't a single society or group in Malaysia whose common interest is the disbelief in God and religion.

For that reason, this blog hopes to serve as a meeting point for all atheists and atheistic thoughts in Malaysia. We hope this will bring together all the interesting, like-minded people who share a common disbelief. This blog is non-political and non-discriminatory. There are no political motives, we're not trying to incite religious or racial hatred among Malaysians. We're not trying to convert anyone to atheism (as I said earlier, atheism is NOT a religion) because I believe you can only become a disbeliever on your own, after careful deliberation. Maybe there are some books you need to read, some videos you need to watch, some tapes you need to listen to, some people you need to talk to or some religious camps you need to attend before you arrive at your conclusion. Point is, your (dis)belief system is a personal journey and that journey is on-going for as long as you live.

This blog will also examine and comment on various issues of interest from a non-religious point of view. We hope to employ logical, reasonable and non-biased analysis on the issues and certainly welcome input from everyone, especially non-atheists. We are always open to intellectual discussions and we hope our views will be heard by everyone (i.e. uncensored). Hopefully this is the beginning of an enjoyable ride!

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