Saturday, March 25, 2006

The New Wave of Original Singapore Musicals and Worldviews

The Next Wave of Original Singapore Musicals

An old friend started writing plays for the public again after a long hiatus. And he chose to come back with, of all things, a musical in the ware-flogging "The Next Wave of Original Singapore Musicals" series organised by Musical Theatre Society and The Next Stage.

Having known him since he was the class crybaby who'd milk sympathy from teachers by claiming for himself some sort of heart condition (a drama queen even then, nodoubt!), it was good to see and hear that his recent offering wasn't yet another whip on the back of his dead hobbyhorse, the same one he'd been flogging since primary school in different forms and various ways (most of which were very entertaining!).

Even though our shared history meant that our hopes and fears were somewhat similar, so that the characters and ideas in his earlier plays were transparent to us (and he'd always claim to have written them for us), we'd been less prone to dwelling on past Issues than he. One classmate got into underground music and, clichédly, hard drugs. Another now attempts to dispense justice as a member of the judiciary. But the outlet for the class drama queen had always been writing. In his plays and his poetry, I suspect, he'd always tried to exorcise the ghosts of the past, perhaps subconsciously wishing that the quantity of happy endings on stage would somehow override the dark horror of our unerasable history.

[Mate, if you ever read this, we love you. But we have to talk!]

After the requisite round of pleasantries from the audience and potential sponsors, we retreated for a quiet downer and a discussion about the musical while one of the actors tried to get out of character. It appeared that religious as he was in university when we travelled from one English cathedral to another very similar-looking one with the Christian Union (I suppose it must have been some sort of evangelistic ploy but no one actually talked to us about God), his earlier idealism and fervour had morphed into 3 conflicting views of the divine: (1) god does not exist; (2) it does not matter whether god exists as long as I enjoy the thought that god exists; and (3) we make up stories so we have meaning, god is in everything and whatever gives us meaning in life is our god. (And there was also something about how what we'd been looking for and searching for all our lives, could have be right in front of us. A bit new-agey passé whatwhat and obviously not as tight as we'd like.)

It is usually polite (and probably more effective), if we wish to talk to people about God, that we enquire about their worldview. A world view, says James Sire in "The Universe Next Door", is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic make-up of our world.

Everyone has a worldview, nomatter how unarticulated it may be. One's worldview determines how the events and circumstances of life will be understood, accepted and acted upon.

Sire discusses 7 prominent non-Christian worldviews: Deism, Naturalism, Nihilism, Existentialism, Eastern Pantheistic Monism, New Age-ism, and Postmodernism. Philosophy professors may not necessarily agree with description of these worldviews, but then again, they hardly agree on anything among themselves anyway so the terminology's useful as working words for us commoners.

Sire breaks down a worldview by analysing how it answers some crucial questions:
· What is prime reality?
· What is the nature of external reality, the world around us?
· What is a human being?
· What happens at death?
· Why is it possible to know anything?
· How do we know what is right and wrong?
· What is meaning of human history?

Deism believes that God is distant, an intellect to be recognised, not a person to be worshipped. God is an architect; not a lover nor judge. The cosmos is not fallen nor abnormal. It is a closed, linear cause and effect system, a "clockwork universe" which God simply left it to run on its own. God, as the First Cause, never intervenes, therefore, miracles are not possible.

Sire maintains that deism has many inconsistencies. And so, for example, deism ends up destroying morality because it implies that "whatever is, is right". Obviously, this leaves no room for a foundation of morality. It is inconsistencies like these that resulted in deism having a relatively short life as a prominent worldview. It was replaced quickly by Naturalism.

In naturalism, God is removed from the picture. Human history is seen to have been self-activating. Human personality is understood as only an interrelation of chemical properties. Values are manmade. Physical reality is all there is. There is no god and no soul.

Sire points out that naturalism, as a persuasive worldview, is self-refuting because it is inconsistent with the validity of the reasoning that naturalism is a valid worldview. And inevitably, if one lived strictly by naturalism, they would be led straight to nihilism.

If physical reality is all there is and all else is manmade, then nihilism results: nothing has meaning, value, significance, dignity or worth. Human beings, therefore, are conscious machines with no ability to effect their own destiny.

Nihilism, Sire contends, is actually an unlivable worldview. Nobody truly acts as though nothing matters at all. Nobody truly acts as though there is no morality.

Existentialism is how naturalism may escape the untenuable consequences of nihilism: humanity is central and people make themselves who they are. Knowledge is subjective, there are no absolute moral values, history is uncertain and even unimportant and the supernatural is brushed aside.

However, if one holds that the subjective self is all that matters, then the supposed value which atheistic existentialism wishes to construct is the inevitable destiny of every person: death. So why should one engage in a self-constructed charade in his lifetime?

Eastern Pantheistic Monism
This worldview supposes that there is no need for a belief to be consistent, or "true", or "logical". Many (if not all) roads lead to the One. Ideas are not really important, time is unreal and history is cyclical. The human goals is to enter the undifferentiated One. Therefore, in one sense, each person is God.

All that is needed to refute such an inherently inconsistent worldview is to state its beliefs.

New Age-ism
This is actually a mish-mash of different beliefs and ideas rolled into one "worldview". They are internally incoherent.

Postmodernism is the view that there is no "one truth", but rather all worldviews are equally valid. Postmodernism says that any story but my own is oppressive and the social good is whatever society takes it to be at the moment.

Postmodern ethics inevitably slides in the direction of nihilism, holding that since nothing is really true, nothing is necessarily good.

Faced with these messy, murky inconsistent, illogical worldviews, the logical Christian theistic worldview rolled out in thousands of years of human history is an obvious breath of fresh clean air.

However, as Sire notes, to be a Christian theist is not just to have an intellectual worldview; it is to be personally committed to the infinite-personal Lord of the Universe. And it leads to an examined life well worth living.

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