Malaysian Atheist

An avowed atheist living in Malaysia.

Friday, March 23, 2007

A Malaysian ghost story

I was having lunch with some friends the other day, when our conversation inadvertently turned to ghosts. My friends started telling me about their personal encounters with the paranormal. The most interesting one was my friend's own experience at Genting Ria Apartments, over at the Genting hilltop. Supposedly, those apartments are famous for being haunted.

Several years ago, he went there with some friends and they stayed at the Ria apartments. That night, he slept alone on the living room couch while his friends took the bedrooms. He then had a strange dream. A Chinese couple was there in the living room with him. They were trying to tell him something but they were speaking frantically in Cantonese. My friend can't speak Cantonese, so he was trying to tell them that he couldn't understand them. That itself is a bit unusual because when you dream, usually everyone in your dream is speaking a language you can understand. The next day, on the way home, his car brakes suddenly stopped working while going downhill. Miraculously, he was able to use the handbrake and steered the car safely to the nearest repair shop. Later when they developed the photos they took, all the photos taken in the apartment turned out funny in that, they had some bright, wavy imprints on them. So, my friend reasoned that the couple in his dream were asking for his help, but since he couldn't help them, they killed his brakes. Spooky...

Now, being an atheist does not mean one automatically does not believe in ghosts and spirits. By definition, atheists do not believe in God or gods but ghosts and spirits hardly qualify as gods. Nevertheless, I'm skeptical by nature, so I didn't quite know what to make of my friends' stories. I also have never experienced anything of this sort personally. Let me first say, though, that I know my friend didn't make up the story. There is absolutely no reason for him to cook up such a tale. Secondly, his is not the only case at the apartments. Many other people have experienced hauntings and disturbances there. From a broader perspective, every culture around the world has its share of ghost stories. Can that many people be wrong?

I suppose if you believe in ghosts, it means that you also believe in the spirit or the soul, and hence, you believe there is life after death. The soul is something that science cannot explain or detect. Life after death too, is a concept foreign to science. If it exists, it would mean that the purpose of life is the actualization of the spirit rather than the Darwinian purpose of propagating genes. If you do not gratify your spirit in life, you remain as a ghost in death. Then you realise there must be a greater being who transcends life and death and then bada bing, bada boom you end up believing in God or gods. So I guess, if one is an atheist, one also ought not to believe in ghosts and spirits.

Well, as for my friend's story, I think it's possible that the three events - the dream, the car and the photos - are totally unrelated. People have dreams all the time, cars break down all the time and photos turn out wrong all the time. Coincidences do happen and when they do, people tend to link the events together. If you ask a bomoh, definitely the bomoh will tell you that it's caused by evil spirits because that is all the bomoh knows. It could well be that those events occured randomly and people're fooled into thinking that they're caused by spirits. Of course, I could be wrong, and they could indeed have been caused by ghosts, but there is just no way of being sure. I can accept that strange things do happen - things that no one can explain. But I know that ghosts and spirits are NOT the only plausible explanation for these strangeness.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

You Can't Win An Argument

I was thumbing through an old book by Dale Carnegie called How to Win Friends & Influence People. It was first published in 1936 with several revisions over the years. This must've been one of the first self-help books ever written. It is simply amazing that after so many years, wars have been fought, technology has advanced, economies have gone boom and bust, yet this book is still as relevant today as it was back in 1936, because human nature hasn't changed one bit.

Anyway, I came across a section that says you can never win an argument. I was instantly reminded of the debates between atheists and theists. Generally, atheists do not constantly engage theists to argue about each other's beliefs, but some, like Sam Harris (I noticed), do participate in a number of such debates. Personally, I think Sam argues very well, always rational, always interesting but how many of his opponents did he manage to convince that there is no god? Even Richard Dawkins - the most famous atheist in the world - only claims to have ever had one convert - his friend, Douglas Adams. Dale Carnegie wrote that, "A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still." You may be right, but as far as changing another's mind is concerned, you will probably be just as futile as if you were wrong.

So, with this little piece of wisdom, it's basically pointless arguing with people about their religion, even if you think they are wrong. I also feel that when talking to theists, there is no need for me to justify my beliefs, unless I'm asked about it. I will just remind theists (if they need reminding) that everyone is free to believe whatever they want. I will also stress that I'm not possessed by demons (I get accused of that sometimes!). As far as this blog is concerned, some of the issues I write about here are not written to ridicule theistic beliefs. That's simply because they're not written for theists. They're written mainly for those in the middle-ground - people who care about the truth, people who're a bit uncertain about the uncertainties of life and who'd like to hear alternative, secular views on things. I do apologize, though, if some might find my writings offensive. Anyway, don't forget to read my mission statement.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Malaysia takes All-England Men's Doubles Title!

Congratulations Koo Kien Kiat and Tan Boon Heong for ending Malaysia's 25-year wait for the All-England Badminton men's doubles title. This young pair showed tremendous promise and confidence in smashing their way to the title without dropping a single set.

You've done Malaysia proud. Well done, lads!

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Friday, March 09, 2007


In the movie Borat - Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, the title character, Kazakhi reporter Borat Sagdiyev, played by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, travels across America with his producer, Azamat in search of Western culture and Pamela Anderson.

One of the most memorable (and disturbing) scenes in the movie, besides the naked wrestling scene at the hotel, is the scene at the United Pentecostal Church. The scene started off with Borat abandoned by Azamat, penniless and heart-broken. He wandered into a church where there was a church service or a camp going on. People were singing, dancing and worshipping.

The preacher was preaching that he didn't come from a monkey (whoever said he did?). He said he didn't come from a tadpole (Dude, everyone knows that only a frog comes from tadpole). At the height of his message, a weird guy dashed across the floor with hands in the air. Later came the prayer session. The preacher invited people to come up and pray to God. Borat went up and told the congregation of his troubles. The preacher and church members attempted to pray for Borat. They surrounded him, they spoke in tongues, the preacher forced his hand on Borat's temple as if channeling the Holy Spirit into Borat and on cue, Borat went into a fit.
The really disturbing part is, in that scene, the only person acting is Borat! The rest are real. This really happens in pentecostal and charismatic churches everywhere. They speak in tongues, and they display 'manifestations' of the Holy Spirit. They call it holy laughter, holy tears, holy-everything. I, myself have seen these live once or twice before, so I wasn't that shocked to see it in the movie.

I am aware that not all churches agree with such practice. There is some controversy surrounding speaking in tongues, although the pentecostal people will point out that it is stated in the Bible, so speaking in tongues must be allowed and encouraged. It never made much sense to me. Why would God want us to speak unintelligible mumbo jumbo when worshipping him? It seems pretty easy to fake.

Imagine if one day in a church, one person started babbling away and claims that he's been given the gift of tongues. Who's to argue with him? Everyone will think that this guy is favoured by God and his stature in the church will rise. So it seems like there's tremendous incentive for one to display these 'holy gifts'. Pretty soon, everyone will realise how easy it is to 'obtain' this gift and how easy it is to get away with faking it. Soon everyone will be babbling away too. They're all faking it but nobody will admit it.

I've been told that there are those who are gifted with interpreting tongues. Again, I find this dubious, because how do you argue with someone who claims to be able to understand the mumbo jumbo from waggling tongues? Is there a tongues dictionary? I've also been told before, that speaking in tongues is like speaking in a foreign and maybe ancient language. If this were true, then it'll be pretty easy to prove. Just do a recording of your speech and send it to a linguist to tell you if it is a language you just spoke or just plain gibberish.

But I think no one is interested in proofs. People are content believing that they are special and that they are favoured by God. But I know one guy who's not too thrilled to be speaking in tongues. His name is Evan.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

It's Not About The Bike - Lance Armstrong

The story of Lance Armstrong is quite well-known - super-athlete, winner of an unprecedented seven Tour de France titles and cancer survivor. His book, "It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life" is a truly inspirational story about his battles against the two tremendous hurdles in his life - testicular cancer and the Tour de France. Lance is an incredibly spirited individual. He is both physically and mentally strong and it is this perseverence that has allowed him to conquer both those hurdles.

Cycling is not a popular sport in this country. I didn't know much about the Tour de France, only that it is the most prestigious and gruelling bike race in the world. So it was interesting to learn about the sport through Lance's book. For example, I didn't know there was so much technology in the sport, from the computer, to the radio and to the bike. I also didn't know that the tour was more like a team sport eventhough the eventual winner is an individual. Each team has its domestiques, climbers and sprinters, each with a different role to play for a specific part of the race.

Cancer, on the other hand, I am more familiar with. Almost everyone (if they're not already cancer sufferers) have lost someone or know of someone who has cancer. It is a major killer in developed and developing countries around the world. Thankfully, modern medicine has progressed so much over the years that more and more people survive the disease. Still, it is no easy feat, as Lance described (think of the trauma, the surgery, the chemo, the uncertainty of relapsing, etc) in the book.

Lance says in the book that he is agnostic and doesn't believe in organized religion. He didn't say he's an atheist outright but he's shown that one can go through the toughest and worst moments in life and come out victorious without believing in God. You need to have good doctors, you need to have your loved ones - family and friends, but most important of all, you need to believe in yourself. You need to be determined as hell to beat it. It doesn't guarantee that you will win, but at least if you go down, you go down fighting.

What impressed me the most, I think, is that Lance says if asked to choose between the Tour de France and cancer, he'd choose cancer survivor because he became a better man as a result of his battle with cancer. Hard to believe but having cancer turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

William Crawley Meets Richard Dawkins

This is William Crawley from BBC Northern Ireland interviewing Professor Richard Dawkins. It's 29 minutes long, you can say it's a 29-minute summary of the God Delusion. Do watch it if you have broadband Internet access.

In it, Richard Dawkins gets asked many questions about religion, God, etc., many which we've heard him being asked before and we've heard his answers to them as well. So, you can say it's the same thing over and over again.

One interesting question though, is when Richard gets asked if he's a fundamentalist. As always, Richard's answer is just wonderful. Richard explained that his critics confuse passion with fundamentalism. Fundamentalists are people who believe in a holy book. They are never going to change their minds despite countless contradictory evidence. They simply discard the evidence because it contradicts their holy book.

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Happy Chinese New Year!

Hello folks. Sorry for the hiatus. I miss blogging, I really do. I hope to write as much as possible here. Let me first say Happy Chinese New Year! Gong Xi Fa Cai! It's a bit late, but today is Chap Goh Mei, the 15th and last day of the Chinese New Year (CNY) celebration.

Let's see, what happened recently? Well, just last week, the KL Composite Index (KLCI) fell 5 days in a row and lost over a hundred points, wiping out over RM 100 billion in market cap. This was caused by the drop in China's stock market, triggering a worldwide contagion effect. People are saying the market crashed, it's the 10 year jinx - the 1987 crash, the 1997 crash and now the 2007 crash. Well, I don't know. I don't like to speculate but I don't think this is a crash, it's merely a correction. The stock market has been inching up since December last year and an 8% drop like this one is just a correction that is bound to happen. Plus, this time around, the bull run is backed by generally healthy corporate earnings.

The funniest thing for me though, is that just before the drop, our Prime Minister, Mr. Badawi told the Malaysian public to invest in the stock market and help push it past it's all time high. I do sympathize with those who listened to Mr. Badawi's call, but my question is this: What business does a Prime Minister have in asking the people to buy stocks? As far as I know, no other leader from any other country tells its people to buy into the local stock exchange. To the uninformed public, it is like asking them to gamble away their savings. Imagine your country's leader asking you all to hit the casino so that you can make an extra few bucks!

Mr. Badawi should know the power of free markets. If the country is run properly, the currency and the economy well-managed, then we will see healthy economic growth. When there is healthy growth, people will have confidence in the economy. When people are more confident, they will invest in the economy. There is absolutely no need for the PM to tell people what to do with their money. He should just concentrate on doing his job.

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