Views from High Places and the “Proofs” of the Existence of God

View from skygarden of Utown Graduate Residence, National University of SingaporeThe view from the skygarden of Utown Graduate Residence was lovely, in the way that views from high places are always said to be.

View from 21st floor of Utown Graduate Residence, National University of SingaporeAnd from the end of the corridor on the 21st floor, we could see all the way to Jurong Island.

Why do we pay good money to go up to the top of the Empire State Building and its successor skyscrapers in different cities? Why can restaurants on top of Marina Bay Sands or Level 33 in Singapore charge extra for their “stunning views”. Do we pay for the feeling of power, looking down at the human ants on the ground? Or is it the celebration of Babel-like human prowess that wows us?

N, who had been kind enough to send me to the Philosiology blog (specifically, “Surviving a Philosopher Attack” as sufficient warning) before our meet-up, mentioned having to teach proofs for the existence of God, the golden C.O.T.arguments – cosmological, ontological, teleological, next semester.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I usually find arguments of this sort rather tiresome because of what to me are illegitimate presuppositions about, inter alia:

  • the definition/concept of God;
  • valid epistemological bases.

And obviously, these issues are irretrievably linked. Theories about how I can know things would include theories about how I can know God, and v.v. So most philosophers rely wholly on rationalistic epistemological assumptions to narrowly define God and so, to their own satisfaction, manage to come up with proofs for such a “God”.

Also, it’s all unbearably circular:

“Why do you presuppose reason as the ultimate epistemological authority?”

“Because I reason that it must be so.”

BBQ stingray dinner at West Coast Hawker CentreOf course, the same accusation may be levelled against the Christian view:

“How do you know that revelation from God is the ultimate authority about all reality?”

“Because God told me so in his word, the Bible.”

Because of the meta-ness of arguments about ultimate authority, circularity is unavoidable. However, what the Christian view has over the other “proofs for God” is that it is inherently consistent. It does not contradict itself by attempting to prove God by non-theistic means. Additionally, the Christian view sits happily with historical evidence.

This is not to say that Christians ignore reason or empirical evidence (as the use of historical veracity shows), but they do not trust reason as the final arbiter of truth. Why would human reasoning be flawed? Because it refuses to acknowledge God, from whom all wisdom comes, because he alone as Creator and, well, God, defines all things:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1)

18 No one has ever seen God; the only God [Jesus], who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1)

(On a only very slightly related note, it was interesting to note that tycoon Stephen Riady of the eponymous building-in-Utown fame is widely reported to be a devout evangelical Christian.)

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Michael Sorkin’s “All Over The Map: writing on buildings and cities”

Photograph Michael Sorkin's "All Over the Map", sourdough baguette, le vache de chalais cheese by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Do we like certain books because they give us fresh ideas or because their ideas cohere with and confirm our existing ones?

  1. The Center Cannot Hold – “Here in Tribeca, we are at the end of a familiar cycle in which a neighbourhood moves from a mix of warehouses, manufacturing, offices, and housing, to an “artistic” neighbourhood, and now to the climax form of gentrification, an extreme high-end residential quartier. The corollary is that the jobs and people formerly employed here have either been eliminated or moved elsewhere…We have scrupulously preserved the architectural character of Tribeca, but at the expense of its human one.” (p23)
  2. Security – “…the culture is suffused with incitements to anxiety as the media fixates on the imminence of terror…We measure the environment against our perception of its perils…Our problem nowadays is that we are creating an urbanism predicated primarily on risk avoidance – one likely, in its more extreme versions, to have a terrible effect on fundamental ideas of a good city. To the degree that we acquiesce, we become complicit in a cycle of exacerbated paranoia, creating a bunker mentality…Given the genuine risks we do face…the question becomes whether there is any meeting ground between the need for precautions and the ongoing project of urban amelioration – the construction of cities that are humane, democratic, and sustainable.” (p42)
  3. The Avant-Garde in Time of War – “All architecture is political. By marshalling and distributing resources, organising social space, and orchestrating encounters, architecture is the medium through which human relations are given dimension. Since 9/11, images of assaults on buildings and cities have become ubiquitous symbols of political action, surrogates – in a war without corpses – for our own corporeality.”(p82)
  4. Caveat Competitor – “Why have architectural competitions? For practitioners, they offer the chance of a job without the grief of negotiation or self-promotion, and they can sometimes jump a small practice to the next level. For clients, competitions provide the opportunity to choose from many alternatives, show sympathy with architecture, and – in most cases – to do it on the cheap. For the public, competitions carry the seal of meritocracy, seemingly outside familiar cronyism. But the process is easily corrupted. For starters, there is something exploitative about the huge amounts of uncompensated work required to keep the system going. And there are plenty of opportunities for log-rolling, deal-making, back-scratching, insider-trading and the rest. Juries can be dramatically affected by plane schedules, blood-sugar fluctuations, personality conflicts and low-common-denominator compromises: differences in taste cannot be adjudicated except by someone giving in.” (p100)
  5. Entering the Building. [you’ve just got to read the entire piece in full glory] (p110)
  6. Urban Warfare: a Tour of the Battlefield – “It is possible that the only answer to persistent “terror” is a police state. The two form a perfect symbiosis, and it is easy to understand the utility of regular attacks to the authors of the US government’s “Patriot” Act, the breeders of sniffer dogs, and the private security firms that have become such a growth industry. To produce both legibility and intimidation, the whole panoptic repertoire of spatial and social control is deployed with little objection.” (p117)
  7. Crippled in the City – “We cripples see the city a little differently…I now find the city reorganised as an obstacle course…unevenness of surfaces is a major issue for urban mobility. This can be encountered riding in the street; walking down the sidewalk and negotiating curbs; or within buildings where loose stair treads, missing tiles, unsecured carpet, and a thousand other perils present themselves. The range of barriers is great. Heavy doors are tough. Revolving doors are too fast and too small. Narrow spaces are challenging.” (p135)
  8. Advice to Critics – “1. Always Visit the Building 2. Style is Seldom the Issue 3. Credit Effects, Not Intentions 4. Think Globally, Think Locally 5. Safety First 6. Who Profits? 7. Consult the User 8. History is Not Bunk 9. It’s the City, Stupid 10. Defend the Public Realm 11. Keep Your Teeth Sharpened 12. Play Your Favourites” (p147-150)
  9. Seven Chairs – “Modernism revolted against the sentimental distortions of representation. Every representation pares and distorts, proposing a way of seeing as well as a vision of its object. Modernism bridled against this, understanding representation as constraint, and produced the idea of abstraction, conscientiously diversifying this methodology by steady degrees…But even abstraction always represents something, if only the idea of representing nothing.” “Duschamp’s “discovery” of the ready-made insisted that the act of seeing differently was a sufficient definition of artistic practice, with the power to “turn” objections from one thing to another. Whether this meant a urinal brazenly hung on a gallery wall or a deft bike-part bull, this mode of art-making used the mass-produced consumer object as its medium. However, its critical relation to this means depended on devaluing its useful status to convert it to mere contemplation, bringing it in line with traditional styles of artistic valorisation. Art’s crisis was one of both meaning and use.” (p170)
  10. Sincerely, Jane Jacobs – “Although preservation has emerged as the planning equivalent of motherhood…, its spawn – gentrification – has become the soft form of urban renewal, still removing the poor but lovingly restoring their former homes.” (p231)
  11. How I Invented Asia – “While the memory of tradition may inhere in particular forms, its life does not necessarily. Tradition is a set of practices that are weighted…by constraint, and it is clear that traditional societies live in symbiosis with both the fact and idea of their boundaries. This is an extremely fluid concept. Following Edward Said, Janet Abu-Lughod has pointed to a kind of postcolonial diffusion effect in which the idea of tradition is re-circulated as an instrument of domination by the colonizer, setting the boundaries from without rather than within…These arguments are obviously crucial as a critique of the dumb bivalence of received wisdom: tradition is at once potentially the product of a kind of enduring empiricism – tested by time – and radically uncritical. As a signifier, though, tradition is particularly buoyant, especially now. The folding of tradition into the various insistent discourses of identity that characterise contemporary politics means that every “tradition” on earth, once marked, is inescapably contaminated by somebody’s gaze, if only by that of those operating “within” the tradition who consciously seek to protect it fro the baleful influence of those without. We live in a world in which everybody is constructed as somebody’s other, and the force of tradition, increasingly is taken up in an idea of the political, is more and more directed outwards. (p248-249)
  12. Go Down Moses – “At the level of planning, I am disquieted by the growth of so-called “public-private partnerships” which often represent not simply the abdication of the duty of the public sphere to assure that the common good will contain a full measure of equity in results, but also an end-run around democracy itself, bypassing the hard work of guaranteeing that the voices of all citizens will be heard and acted on with equal weight.” (p276)
  13. The Jungle Urban: Welcome to Petropolis – “In 1993 a modified plan was put into place in which the Huaorani were nominally incorporated into the administration of the combine entity. For them, this meant jobs as security guards (in their own formerly peaceable homeland), oil workers, and new – and desperately inappropriate – houses for some, generally clustered in what can only be described as concentration camps. This for a people that has, for millennia, lived nomadically. It also meant the ravages of imported diseases and a rapid education in modernity.” (p279)
  14. Asian Alterity: What’s the Difference? – “The spirited defense of difference that has formed so much of the core of our politics during the past quarter-century is the product of a mingling of liberation and anxiety. Perhaps the most nuanced propositions have flowed from feminism and its efforts to negotiate not simply the crucial idea of sexual difference but its historic and contemporary reduction to essentialist positions: singular and immutable readings that pinion the idea of woman, refusing both cultural and individual fluidities and the complex dialectics of relationship, as well as the liberties of choice that must underlie any democratic account of how we become who we are.In the cultural territory, similar essentialisms dominate both in the vulgar reaches of the left, with its too expansive, quasi-biologistic formulations, and on the right, with its fundamentalisms of civilizational clash and flat-earth maps of the distribution of virtue. Such distortions notwithstanding, difference is indispensable, both the animator of our subjectivity and a bulwark against the fascist honogeneity and tight control of the neoliberal corporatist politics that have succeeded modernist universalism, extracting useful sameness from any memory of the project of justice.

    But the celebration of “authentic” difference runs its own risks, and we are obliged to question the sources and meanings of the differences that confront us. We must fear not simply the tyranny of essentialism – unnuanced ideas of “woman” or “Asian” or “Western” – but also the false distinctions of a culture that thrives on the production of illusory segmentations based on the need to create a blizzard of meaningless choices that will dupe us into the hysteria of consumption that makes the system go: the Terriyaki Burger in Tokyo, the Kimchee Burger in Seoul, the Curry Burger (strictly veg) in Bangalore.

    Even more threatening than this is the risk that an under-examined insistence on the abstract value of difference will threaten the vital idea of equality. Ideas of alterity can be used as instruments for manipulating the kinds of inequalities on which political and economic power thrive. And they can be used to dilute notions of justice by exaggerating the claim that human values and rights simply and “naturally” differ from society to society in such fundamental ways that we can evade the real distinctions between democracy and authoritarianism, whether in the guise of cultural choice or some form of political inevitabilism. We stone you for disagreeing with us because that’s how we are: how dare you take our patronising orientalist attitude to this!” (p285-286)

The Porosity of Borders, Myth of the Country, and International Student Ministry

London -> Harwich -> Hoek of Holland -> Amsterdam (Holland) -> Copenhagen (Denmark) -> Stockholm (Sweden) -> Riga (Latvia)

Photograph Kronvalda Park, Riga, Latvia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Countries. States. Nations. The myth of borders. The conflation of cartography with reality. The assumption of fixed geography separating distinct genetics, cultures, practices, languages, thought-patterns, worldviews.

These folk ballads of uniqueness are what undergird much nationalism, nativism, anti-immigration policies. But how firm are these foundations?

  • first, as political entities, nations are particularly fragile. Any flip through the history books tells us that much;
  • whether co-cumbent with politics or not, the lines that delineate the state too are morphous and its edges, even in times of political stability, fairly vague.
  • thirdly, with international or cross-border trade inevitably comes the exchange of ideas and thoughts, and even cultures. And in this day and age of the internet,
  • And what of the practice of endogamy, enforced by political powers in various places in history? What if no person was truly local?

I was telling a Latvian the names of two guys I knew – Martins and Miroslavs. “Miroslavs” is not Latvian, he’d sniffed, that is a Russian name with an “s” stuck at the end to make it seem Latvian. But poor Miroslavs had been born and brought up in Latvia and called it his home, knowing no other. Would he be welcomed as a local if he’d merely changed his name?

What can Americans mean by being against migrants when most of them (other than American Indians) only arrived on that continent a few generations ago? The same question can be asked of Australians (other than the Aboriginal people), and of the citizens of many countries clamouring for nativism. In fact, if we backed up far enough in anyone’s family, we’d find that they weren’t always living in the same geographical area, and even if by some small chance they were, that little patch of land would not always have been within political boundaries of the same homogeneity.

Photograph mittens "lovingly hand-knit by latvian grandmothers" by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph mittens "lovingly hand-knit by latvian grandmothers" by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

These mittens say they have been “lovingly hand-knit by Latvanian grandmothers”, scoring high on fuzzy authenticity. But what if I told you though the experienced hands that manufactured these were local, the mitten patterns were designed by a Japanese lady living in England, based on Latvian and Scandinavian patterns? Would that make them less authentically Latvian? If you wanted to “buy Latvian”, would these make the cut?

Photograph poster for the performance of Reinis Zariņš, Riga, Latvia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

You say “čaikovskis”, I say “Tchaikovsky”. And what about “classical music”? One cannot say it is authentically Latvian, though neither can one identify it as the music of Austria or Germany or Italy.

And what of imported authenticity? That is, authenticity that isn’t locally traditional (if that can ever be defined) but is part of an internationally recognised conceptual package?

Photograph Miit Tiim Cafe, Riga, Latvia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Miit Tiim Cafe, Riga, Latvia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px Photograph Miit Tiim Cafe, Riga, Latvia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Miit Tiim Cafe, Riga, Latvia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Miit Tiim Cafe, Riga, Latvia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

The third wave, specialist coffee movement is a good example. in most countries, it can be in no way authentic in relation to its products: coffee beans being commercially grown in only a few countries. Yet all across the world, these places sell authenticity – back-to-basics, grassroots, homemade, vintage, unprocessed comfort.

Whne came upon Miit Coffee (facebook, Lāčplēša iela 10), it seemed terribly familiar. The coffee counter (with its uncommon Opera coffee machine), the bicycles hung precariously on grey walls, the plaid shirt and beard and thick-rimmed glasses combo, the denim aprons with their assymetrical leather straps, the vegetarian/vegan food menu, the brewing options (espresso, in milk, Chemex, V60, Aeropress), the coffee beans identified by their varietal and place of origin. (The beans were bought from Andrito Coffee Roasting which was founded by former Latvian Barista Champion Andris Petkēvičs. The fact that there was even a barista championship of course indicated the pervasity of this non-Latvian culture.)

Photograph Miit Coffee, Riga, Latvia by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

L the Latvian was amused. E the Singaporean was delighted at the prospect of “normality”. I, not having eaten anything since that bowl of soup a few posts ago, was just plain ravenous. That plate of vegan food was mighty fine as was the coffee, but hey I could be biased.

Now how about international student ministry or international ministry within a church?

To the Galatians, Paul wrote:

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:28-29)

  • There is an equality amongst Christians that is more than political-correctness. It is an equality because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and all have been saved by the death of his Son.
  • Why is there a tendency then, especially in U.K. churches, to separate the foreigners from the locals if they can all speak the same language? And how would you define someone as foreign or local – by citizenship? By skin colour? If so, would you direct a black American to “the international group”?
  • If it is because of different practices that they are split, then doesn’t God’s word advise that these are all opportunities to show love to each other?
  • How would this church tendency entrench prevailing attitudes of people seeing another with a different accent or skin colour as the Other, the altern?
  • And, in any case, how would this cohere with what has been discussed above?

(About a month ago. a curate from London was a visiting speaker in Singapore. While we were having tea, he pointed to the thick toast we were sharing and asked,”Where did you get bread from? Is it from the Brits?” This was as if I’d gone to London and asked if they’d gotten their tea from the Chinese or Indians. It was probably mere small chat, but it hurt because the mere assumption of alien-ness reinforced the gulf between us, when we should have been brother and sister. I probably didn’t help much, being sarcastic in my reply and mentioning “colonial masters”.)

Photograph breakfast at the Latvian grandparents' house, Riga by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph dinner at the Latvian grandparents' house, Riga by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px That night, we were hosted by L’s grandparents. Her grandmother prepared a feast for us, then she and her husband retreated to the kitchen. No, no, they wouldn’t want to eat with us – they didn’t understand English, so they would eat, standing up, by the cooker. Much as I appreciated her embarrassment, this was also one of the few times in my life that I’d been starkly reminded that I am first and foremost an Outsider, a Stranger, a Foreigner, an Alien.

Photograph Latvian grandmother's flower arrangement by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px