Tuesday, June 30, 2009

When the Dow heads south

When the Dow heads south
Mon, Jun 29, 2009
The Business Times

By Amanda De Guzman

WHEN the Dow goes down, so does the importance men place on their sexual health, says a recent poll conducted among 42 general practitioners (GPs). Half the respondents say that they had seen a drop in the number of patients complying with or seeking treatment for erectile dysfunction (ED) in the past six months as a result of the recession.

And more than half of those GPs believe that finance matters more to Singapore men than their sexual life.

Unfortunately, the findings can mean much more ominous things for men than just a sexual slump.

'It is important that Singaporean men understand how having a safe and satisfying sex life ultimately contributes to their overall good health,' says Peter Lim, whose Institute for Men's Health is spearheading the 'Restore the man' programme, raising awareness of the testosterone deficiency syndrome (TDS).

'ED is a window into vascular and heart disease, and a potential indicator for diabetes, hypogonadism, hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, depression, and especially the metabolic syndrome.'

To help prevent the complications that ED can cause, the Restore the Man programme has added another weapon to its TDS-fighting arsenal - an online questionnaire. Go to www.menshealth.org.sg and men who score moderate to severe on the Ageing Males Symptom questionnaire will be mailed a free testosterone blood test voucher. They can subsequently approach clinics under the Restore the Man programme. The usual consultation fee applies, but the testosterone test is free.

This article was first published in The Business Times.

Monday, June 29, 2009

What is there to be proud of?

What is there to be proud of?
29 June, 2009

So, does it really matter whether Lady Diana became a Muslim before she died? Would Islam benefit if Prince Charles or the Queen herself became a Muslim? Does this really enhance the image of Islam, as most Muslims believe it would?


Raja Petra Kamarudin

There are many who are pleased with the revelation brought on by the death of Michael Jackson. This is of course the revelation that he may have converted to Islam. These happy people were also pleased that Cassius Clay became a Muslim (and is now called Muhammad Ali) and in most likelihood Princes Diana and astronaut Neil Armstrong did as well -- although I don’t think these personalities concerned actually publicly said so.

Why is it so important to Muslims that these superstars converted to Islam? So they died as Muslims. Or maybe they never became Muslims and died as Jews or Christians or whatever. Does it really matter one way or another what religion they professed before they died? What is it to us anyway? Would it not be their business more than ours?

I suppose to some this would be very meaningful. To know that extremely important people like Michael Jackson, Muhammad Ali, Princes Diana and Neil Armstrong may have all become Muslims gives us that feeling of winning. This proves that we were right all along. And everyone likes to feel that he or she was right and enjoy the satisfaction of being able to say, “I told you so!”

Would it mean anything to Muslims if one million poor and starving Africans converted to Islam? Probably not and we really don’t care if it were 100 million poor and starving Africans who had converted. It is not the numbers that count. We don’t care about quantity. We are concerned about the ‘quality’ of the converts.

One million or even 100 million poor and starving Africans converting to Islam is not something to be proud of. But if Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, was to become a Muslim then that is cause to celebrate with the slaughter of 100 camels and 300 sheep. That proves beyond any shadow of doubt that Islam is the correct religion and it further proves that I was right all along in subscribing to Islam. Hey, even Prince Charles agrees with me and Prince Charles is no ordinary human being.

This ‘we won’ and ‘we were right all along’ is not only a Muslim obsession but also an obsession of all religions. So before you take this as a cue to start your Islam-bashing please note that the word ‘Islam’ can be replaced with the word ‘Christianity’, ‘Hinduism’ or whatever. No religion is exempted from this ‘competitive spirit’ and the obsession to ‘prove itself’ by the converts it attracts -- and the higher the profile of the convert the higher your win and the stronger your message of being ‘right’.

Instead of harping on the number of new converts you are able to attract and the high profile or high quality of these converts, I would rather focus on the high quality of your existing practitioners and ask whether they are doing justice to the religion they are supposed to be professing. What does it matter if Queen Elizabeth herself converted to Islam if the rest of the five million or so Muslims in Britain leave much to be desired as far as their conduct is concerned.

Why are properties in non-white areas in Britain lower than in an all-white area? Well, basically this is because in a non-white area the crime rate is very high. Even your car insurance is higher if you live and park your car in these ‘black’ areas -- especially if you don’t own a garage and park your car on the street.

Granted, not all the non-whites are Muslims. Some are Christians, Hindus, or whatever. Nevertheless, if that particular Briton happens to be a Muslim rather than a Jew, Christian or Hindu, you can safely bet that that person would be non-white rather than white. So, while not all non-whites are Muslims, most Muslims are non-white. And the crime rate is higher in non-white areas (as it is in ‘white’ council areas).

So, does it really matter whether Lady Diana became a Muslim before she died? Would Islam benefit if Prince Charles or the Queen herself became a Muslim? Does this really enhance the image of Islam, as most Muslims believe it would? What would really enhance the image of Islam would be if property in non-white areas are exactly the same price as property in the white areas and your car insurance is not loaded because you live and park your car in a non-white area.

If Michael Jackson really did die a Muslim then well and fine. Good for him. It does not do anything for me anyway. The same as far as Lady Di is concerned and for the rest of the British Royal Family as well. The fact that these high profile people became Muslims does not add value to Islam. What would add value to Islam would be when you buy a car in Britain and you don’t end up paying double the insurance premium because you live in a high-crime rate ‘Muslim’ neighbourhood’ or that your home is cheaper in value because all your neighbours are non-white Muslims.

Now that would make me real proud indeed.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Are you at risk of cancer?

Are you at risk of cancer?
Mon, Jun 15, 2009
The Star/Asia News Network

By: Datuk Dr Adel Zaatar

THIS is the first of a two-part article that outlines the important role of understanding the risk factors involved in developing cancer in general and the role of cancer prevention, public education, early detection and screening programmes for cancer in particular.

Cancer has been a taboo word for many years. To many people, the word cancer often causes concern and fear. A diagnosis of cancer is often thought to be a death sentence. Yet, many people are cured of cancer while many others continue to lead very full, active lives even if they are not completely cured.

Cancer is not a single disease.

It is a word that covers over one hundred different types of malignant diseases, which have different causes and are treated in different ways.

Cancer is a genetic disease. The cause of cancer is complex and involves damage to our genetic make-up. If, for any reason, some of our genes rage out of control, cancer may develop. The first rule for cancer cells is that they follow no rules. Cancer begins when a single cell in the body mutates, is unable to grow in the normal way and starts to overgrow and spread.

Who gets cancer?

The answer is anyone. Cancer knows no social, economic or educational boundaries. It affects the young and the old, the rich and the poor, male and female alike. It is known that the incidence of cancer rises with age. Most cases of cancer affects adults in mid-life or older.

What are the risk factors?

Doctors often cannot explain why one person develops cancer and another person does not. However, certain risk factors increase the chance that a person will develop cancer.

The concept of risk appears often in articles about cancer. In general terms, risk is the probability that an event will occur. In terms of cancer, risk refers to the likelihood that a person will develop cancer, experience a recurrence of their cancer after treatment or benefit from treatment of their disease.

A risk factor is anything that affects your chance of getting a disease. Different cancers have different risk factors. For example exposing skin continuously to strong sunlight and ultraviolet radiation is a risk factor for skin cancer. Smoking is a risk factor for cancers of the lung, mouth and throat.

But risk factors do not tell us everything. Having a risk factor or even more than one risk factor does not mean that you will get the disease. For example, most women who have one or more breast cancer risk factors never develop breast cancer while many women with breast cancer have no apparent risk factors - other than being female and growing older. Even when a woman with risk factors develops breast cancer, it is hard to know just how much these factors may have contributed to her cancer. Although risk factors can influence the development of cancer, most do not directly cause cancer.

There are different kinds of risk factors. Some factors, like a person's age or race, cannot be changed. Other risk factors are linked to cancer-causing factors in the environment, while others are related to personal habits such as smoking, drinking alcohol and diet. Some factors influence risk more than others and your risk of developing cancer can change over time due to factors such as ageing or personal lifestyle choices.

Understanding your risk for developing cancer is important. People who have close relatives with cancer or close relatives who have died from cancer, especially at a younger age, may be at higher risk of developing cancer. For example, a woman whose mother or sister had breast cancer is twice as likely to develop breast cancer than an otherwise similar woman who does not have the same family history.

Examples of risk factors

The risk factors for developing cancer are both external and internal and several are personal lifestyle choices. Some examples of risk factors and personal lifestyle choices are:

Growing older

- Tobacco consumption

- Continuous exposure to sunlight

- Ultraviolet radiation

- Certain chemicals

- Some viruses and bacteria

- Family history of cancer

- Heavy alcohol consumption

- Imbalanced diet

- Lack of physical activity

- Being overweight

The risk factors you cannot change include:


Simply being a woman is the main risk factor for developing breast cancer. The main reason is that a woman's breast cells are constantly exposed to the growth-promoting effects of the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone.


It is known that the risk of developing cancer increases as you get older. Most cancers occur in people over the age of 60 years. But people of all ages including children can get cancer.

Family history

Some cancers tend to run in families, so knowing what disease you are at risk of is a big plus. Self-examinations and annual cancer screening examinations are recommended. We know that early detection can pick-up cancer at its earliest most treatable stage.

Studies have shown that cancer is related to our genetic profile, which cannot be changed. Most cancers develop because of mutations in our genes. A normal cell may become cancerous after a series of gene changes occur. Tobacco use, certain viruses or other factors in the environment may cause changes in certain cells in the body to become cancer. In the second part of our article next month, we will look at lifestyle-related cancer risks and the prevention strategies. Stay tuned. -The Star/ANN

Mother Teresa's Crisis of Faith

Thursday, Aug. 23, 2007

Mother Teresa's Crisis of Faith

Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.
— Mother Teresa to the Rev. Michael Van Der Peet, September 1979

On Dec. 11, 1979, Mother Teresa, the "Saint of the Gutters," went to Oslo. Dressed in her signature blue-bordered sari and shod in sandals despite below-zero temperatures, the former Agnes Bojaxhiu received that ultimate worldly accolade, the Nobel Peace Prize. In her acceptance lecture, Teresa, whose Missionaries of Charity had grown from a one-woman folly in Calcutta in 1948 into a global beacon of self-abnegating care, delivered the kind of message the world had come to expect from her. "It is not enough for us to say, 'I love God, but I do not love my neighbor,'" she said, since in dying on the Cross, God had "[made] himself the hungry one — the naked one — the homeless one." Jesus' hunger, she said, is what "you and I must find" and alleviate. She condemned abortion and bemoaned youthful drug addiction in the West. Finally, she suggested that the upcoming Christmas holiday should remind the world "that radiating joy is real" because Christ is everywhere — "Christ in our hearts, Christ in the poor we meet, Christ in the smile we give and in the smile that we receive."

Yet less than three months earlier, in a letter to a spiritual confidant, the Rev. Michael van der Peet, that is only now being made public, she wrote with weary familiarity of a different Christ, an absent one. "Jesus has a very special love for you," she assured Van der Peet. "[But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, — Listen and do not hear — the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak ... I want you to pray for me — that I let Him have [a] free hand."

The two statements, 11 weeks apart, are extravagantly dissonant. The first is typical of the woman the world thought it knew. The second sounds as though it had wandered in from some 1950s existentialist drama. Together they suggest a startling portrait in self-contradiction — that one of the great human icons of the past 100 years, whose remarkable deeds seemed inextricably connected to her closeness to God and who was routinely observed in silent and seemingly peaceful prayer by her associates as well as the television camera, was living out a very different spiritual reality privately, an arid landscape from which the deity had disappeared.

And in fact, that appears to be the case. A new, innocuously titled book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday), consisting primarily of correspondence between Teresa and her confessors and superiors over a period of 66 years, provides the spiritual counterpoint to a life known mostly through its works. The letters, many of them preserved against her wishes (she had requested that they be destroyed but was overruled by her church), reveal that for the last nearly half-century of her life she felt no presence of God whatsoever — or, as the book's compiler and editor, the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, writes, "neither in her heart or in the eucharist."

That absence seems to have started at almost precisely the time she began tending the poor and dying in Calcutta, and — except for a five-week break in 1959 — never abated. Although perpetually cheery in public, the Teresa of the letters lived in a state of deep and abiding spiritual pain. In more than 40 communications, many of which have never before been published, she bemoans the "dryness," "darkness," "loneliness" and "torture" she is undergoing. She compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God. She is acutely aware of the discrepancy between her inner state and her public demeanor. "The smile," she writes, is "a mask" or "a cloak that covers everything." Similarly, she wonders whether she is engaged in verbal deception. "I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God — tender, personal love," she remarks to an adviser. "If you were [there], you would have said, 'What hypocrisy.'" Says the Rev. James Martin, an editor at the Jesuit magazine America and the author of My Life with the Saints, a book that dealt with far briefer reports in 2003 of Teresa's doubts: "I've never read a saint's life where the saint has such an intense spiritual darkness. No one knew she was that tormented." Recalls Kolodiejchuk, Come Be My Light's editor: "I read one letter to the Sisters [of Teresa's Missionaries of Charity], and their mouths just dropped open. It will give a whole new dimension to the way people understand her."

The book is hardly the work of some antireligious investigative reporter who Dumpster-dived for Teresa's correspondence. Kolodiejchuk, a senior Missionaries of Charity member, is her postulator, responsible for petitioning for her sainthood and collecting the supporting materials. (Thus far she has been beatified; the next step is canonization.) The letters in the book were gathered as part of that process.

The church anticipates spiritually fallow periods. Indeed, the Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross in the 16th century coined the term the "dark night" of the soul to describe a characteristic stage in the growth of some spiritual masters. Teresa's may be the most extensive such case on record. (The "dark night" of the 18th century mystic St. Paul of the Cross lasted 45 years; he ultimately recovered.) Yet Kolodiejchuk sees it in St. John's context, as darkness within faith. Teresa found ways, starting in the early 1960s, to live with it and abandoned neither her belief nor her work. Kolodiejchuk produced the book as proof of the faith-filled perseverance that he sees as her most spiritually heroic act.

Two very different Catholics predict that the book will be a landmark. The Rev. Matthew Lamb, chairman of the theology department at the conservative Ave Maria University in Florida, thinks Come Be My Light will eventually rank with St. Augustine's Confessions and Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain as an autobiography of spiritual ascent. Martin of America, a much more liberal institution, calls the book "a new ministry for Mother Teresa, a written ministry of her interior life," and says, "It may be remembered as just as important as her ministry to the poor. It would be a ministry to people who had experienced some doubt, some absence of God in their lives. And you know who that is? Everybody. Atheists, doubters, seekers, believers, everyone."

Not all atheists and doubters will agree. Both Kolodiejchuk and Martin assume that Teresa's inability to perceive Christ in her life did not mean he wasn't there. In fact, they see his absence as part of the divine gift that enabled her to do great work. But to the U.S.'s increasingly assertive cadre of atheists, that argument will seem absurd. They will see the book's Teresa more like the woman in the archetypal country-and-western song who holds a torch for her husband 30 years after he left to buy a pack of cigarettes and never returned. Says Christopher Hitchens, author of The Missionary Position, a scathing polemic on Teresa, and more recently of the atheist manifesto God Is Not Great: "She was no more exempt from the realization that religion is a human fabrication than any other person, and that her attempted cure was more and more professions of faith could only have deepened the pit that she had dug for herself." Meanwhile, some familiar with the smiling mother's extraordinary drive may diagnose her condition less as a gift of God than as a subconscious attempt at the most radical kind of humility: she punished herself with a crippling failure to counterbalance her great successes.

Come Be My Light is that rare thing, a posthumous autobiography that could cause a wholesale reconsideration of a major public figure — one way or another. It raises questions about God and faith, the engine behind great achievement, and the persistence of love, divine and human. That it does so not in any organized, intentional form but as a hodgepodge of desperate notes not intended for daylight should leave readers only more convinced that it is authentic — and that they are, somewhat shockingly, touching the true inner life of a modern saint.

Prequel: Near Ecstatic Communion

[Jesus:] Wilt thou refuse to do this for me? ... You have become my Spouse for my love — you have come to India for Me. The thirst you had for souls brought you so far — Are you afraid to take one more step for Your Spouse — for me — for souls? Is your generosity grown cold? Am I a second to you?
[Teresa:] Jesus, my own Jesus — I am only Thine — I am so stupid — I do not know what to say but do with me whatever You wish — as You wish — as long as you wish. [But] why can't I be a perfect Loreto Nun — here — why can't I be like everybody else.
[Jesus:] I want Indian Nuns, Missionaries of Charity, who would be my fire of love amongst the poor, the sick, the dying and the little children ... You are I know the most incapable person — weak and sinful but just because you are that — I want to use You for My glory. Wilt thou refuse?

— in a prayer dialogue recounted to Archbishop Ferdinand Perier, January 1947

On Sept. 10, 1946, after 17 years as a teacher in Calcutta with the Loreto Sisters (an uncloistered, education-oriented community based in Ireland), Mother Mary Teresa, 36, took the 400-mile (645-km) train trip to Darjeeling. She had been working herself sick, and her superiors ordered her to relax during her annual retreat in the Himalayan foothills. On the ride out, she reported, Christ spoke to her. He called her to abandon teaching and work instead in "the slums" of the city, dealing directly with "the poorest of the poor" — the sick, the dying, beggars and street children. "Come, Come, carry Me into the holes of the poor," he told her. "Come be My light." The goal was to be both material and evangelistic — as Kolodiejchuk puts it, "to help them live their lives with dignity [and so] encounter God's infinite love, and having come to know Him, to love and serve Him in return."

It was wildly audacious — an unfunded, single-handed crusade (Teresa stipulated that she and her nuns would share their beneficiaries' poverty and started out alone) to provide individualized service to the poorest in a poor city made desperate by riots. The local Archbishop, Ferdinand Périer, was initially skeptical. But her letters to him, preserved, illustrate two linked characteristics — extreme tenacity and a profound personal bond to Christ. When Périer hesitated, Teresa, while calling herself a "little nothing," bombarded him with notes suggesting that he refer the question to an escalating list of authorities — the local apostolic delegation, her Mother General, the Pope. And when she felt all else had failed, she revealed the spiritual topper: a dramatic (melodramatic, really) dialogue with a "Voice" she eventually revealed to be Christ's. It ended with Jesus' emphatic reiteration of his call to her: "You are I know the most incapable person — weak and sinful but just because you are that — I want to use You for My glory. Wilt thou refuse?"

Mother Teresa had visions, including one of herself conversing with Christ on the Cross. Her confessor, Father Celeste Van Exem, was convinced that her mystical experiences were genuine. "[Her] union with Our Lord has been continual and so deep and violent that rapture does not seem very far," he commented. Teresa later wrote simply, "Jesus gave Himself to me."

Then on Jan. 6, 1948, Périer, after consulting the Vatican, finally gave permission for Teresa to embark on her second calling. And Jesus took himself away again.

The Onset

Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The Child of your Love — and now become as the most hated one — the one — You have thrown away as unwanted — unloved. I call, I cling, I want — and there is no One to answer — no One on Whom I can cling — no, No One. — Alone ... Where is my Faith — even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness — My God — how painful is this unknown pain — I have no Faith — I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart — & make me suffer untold agony.

So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them — because of the blasphemy — If there be God — please forgive me — When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven — there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul. — I am told God loves me — and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?
— addressed to Jesus, at the suggestion of a confessor, undated

In the first half of 1948, Teresa took a basic medical course before launching herself alone onto the streets of Calcutta. She wrote, "My soul at present is in perfect peace and joy." Kolodiejchuk includes her moving description of her first day on the job: "The old man lying on the street — not wanted — all alone just sick and dying — I gave him carborsone and water to drink and the old Man — was so strangely grateful ... Then we went to Taltala Bazaar, and there was a very poor woman dying I think of starvation more than TB ... I gave her something which will help her to sleep. — I wonder how long she will last." But two months later, shortly after her major triumph of locating a space for her headquarters, Kolodiejchuk's files find her troubled. "What tortures of loneliness," she wrote. "I wonder how long will my heart suffer this?" This complaint could be understood as an initial response to solitude and hardship were it not for subsequent letters. The more success Teresa had — and half a year later so many young women had joined her society that she needed to move again — the worse she felt. In March 1953, she wrote Périer, "Please pray specially for me that I may not spoil His work and that Our Lord may show Himself — for there is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead. It has been like this more or less from the time I started 'the work.'"

Périer may have missed the note of desperation. "God guides you, dear Mother," he answered avuncularly. "You are not so much in the dark as you think ... You have exterior facts enough to see that God blesses your work ... Feelings are not required and often may be misleading." And yet feelings — or rather, their lack — became her life's secret torment. How can you assume the lover's ardor when he no longer grants you his voice, his touch, his very presence? The problem was exacerbated by an inhibition to even describe it. Teresa reported on several occasions inviting a confessor to visit and then being unable to speak. Eventually, one thought to ask her to write the problem down, and she complied. "The more I want him — the less I am wanted," she wrote Périer in 1955. A year later she sounded desolate: "Such deep longing for God — and ... repulsed — empty — no faith — no love — no zeal. — [The saving of] Souls holds no attraction — Heaven means nothing — pray for me please that I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything."

At the suggestion of a confessor, she wrote the agonized plea that begins this section, in which she explored the theological worst-possible-case implications of her dilemma. That letter and another one from 1959 ("What do I labour for? If there be no God — there can be no soul — if there is no Soul then Jesus — You also are not true") are the only two that sound any note of doubt of God's existence. But she frequently bemoaned an inability to pray: "I utter words of Community prayers — and try my utmost to get out of every word the sweetness it has to give — But my prayer of union is not there any longer — I no longer pray."

As the Missionaries of Charity flourished and gradually gained the attention of her church and the world at large, Teresa progressed from confessor to confessor the way some patients move through their psychoanalysts. Van Exem gave way to Périer, who gave way in 1959 to the Rev. (later Cardinal) Lawrence Picachy, who was succeeded by the Rev. Joseph Neuner in 1961. By the 1980s the chain included figures such as Bishop William Curlin of Charlotte, N.C. For these confessors, she developed a kind of shorthand of pain, referring almost casually to "my darkness" and to Jesus as "the Absent One." There was one respite. In October 1958, Pope Pius XII died, and requiem Masses were celebrated around the Catholic world. Teresa prayed to the deceased Pope for a "proof that God is pleased with the Society." And "then and there," she rejoiced, "disappeared the long darkness ... that strange suffering of 10 years." Unfortunately, five weeks later she reported being "in the tunnel" once more. And although, as we shall see, she found a way to accept the absence, it never lifted again. Five years after her Nobel, a Jesuit priest in the Calcutta province noted that "Mother came ... to speak about the excruciating night in her soul. It was not a passing phase but had gone on for years." A 1995 letter discussed her "spiritual dryness." She died in 1997.


Tell me, Father, why is there so much pain and darkness in my soul?
— to the Rev. Lawrence Picachy, August 1959

Why did Teresa's communication with Jesus, so vivid and nourishing in the months before the founding of the Missionaries, evaporate so suddenly? Interestingly, secular and religious explanations travel for a while on parallel tracks. Both understand (although only one celebrates) that identification with Christ's extended suffering on the Cross, undertaken to redeem humanity, is a key aspect of Catholic spirituality. Teresa told her nuns that physical poverty ensured empathy in "giving themselves" to the suffering poor and established a stronger bond with Christ's redemptive agony. She wrote in 1951 that the Passion was the only aspect of Jesus' life that she was interested in sharing: "I want to ... drink ONLY [her emphasis] from His chalice of pain." And so she did, although by all indications not in a way she had expected.

Kolodiejchuk finds divine purpose in the fact that Teresa's spiritual spigot went dry just as she prevailed over her church's perceived hesitations and saw a successful way to realize Jesus' call for her. "She was a very strong personality," he suggests. "And a strong personality needs stronger purification" as an antidote to pride. As proof that it worked, he cites her written comment after receiving an important prize in the Philippines in the 1960s: "This means nothing to me, because I don't have Him."

And yet "the question is, Who determined the abandonment she experienced?" says Dr. Richard Gottlieb, a teacher at the New York Psychoanalytic Society & Institute who has written about the church and who was provided a copy of the book by TIME. "Could she have imposed it on herself?" Psychologists have long recognized that people of a certain personality type are conflicted about their high achievement and find ways to punish themselves. Gottlieb notes that Teresa's ambitions for her ministry were tremendous. Both he and Kolodiejchuk are fascinated by her statement, "I want to love Jesus as he has never been loved before." Remarks the priest: "That's a kind of daring thing to say." Yet her letters are full of inner conflict about her accomplishments. Rather than simply giving all credit to God, Gottlieb observes, she agonizes incessantly that "any taking credit for her accomplishments — if only internally — is sinful" and hence, perhaps, requires a price to be paid. A mild secular analog, he says, might be an executive who commits a horrific social gaffe at the instant of a crucial promotion. For Teresa, "an occasion for a modicum of joy initiated a significant quantity of misery," and her subsequent successes led her to perpetuate it.

Gottlieb also suggests that starting her ministry "may have marked a turning point in her relationship with Jesus," whose urgent claims she was finally in a position to fulfill. Being the active party, he speculates, might have scared her, and in the end, the only way to accomplish great things might have been in the permanent and less risky role of the spurned yet faithful lover.

The atheist position is simpler. In 1948, Hitchens ventures, Teresa finally woke up, although she could not admit it. He likens her to die-hard Western communists late in the cold war: "There was a huge amount of cognitive dissonance," he says. "They thought, 'Jesus, the Soviet Union is a failure, [but] I'm not supposed to think that. It means my life is meaningless.' They carried on somehow, but the mainspring was gone. And I think once the mainspring is gone, it cannot be repaired." That, he says, was Teresa.

Most religious readers will reject that explanation, along with any that makes her the author of her own misery — or even defines it as true misery. Martin, responding to the torch-song image of Teresa, counterproposes her as the heroically constant spouse. "Let's say you're married and you fall in love and you believe with all your heart that marriage is a sacrament. And your wife, God forbid, gets a stroke and she's comatose. And you will never experience her love again. It's like loving and caring for a person for 50 years and once in a while you complain to your spiritual director, but you know on the deepest level that she loves you even though she's silent and that what you're doing makes sense. Mother Teresa knew that what she was doing made sense."


I can't express in words — the gratitude I owe you for your kindness to me — for the first time in ... years — I have come to love the darkness — for I believe now that it is part of a very, very small part of Jesus' darkness & pain on earth. You have taught me to accept it [as] a 'spiritual side of your work' as you wrote — Today really I felt a deep joy — that Jesus can't go anymore through the agony — but that He wants to go through it in me.
— to Neuner, Circa 1961

There are two responses to trauma: to hold onto it in all its vividness and remain its captive, or without necessarily "conquering" it, to gradually integrate it into the day-by-day. After more than a decade of open-wound agony, Teresa seems to have begun regaining her spiritual equilibrium with the help of a particularly perceptive adviser. The Rev. Joseph Neuner, whom she met in the late 1950s and confided in somewhat later, was already a well-known theologian, and when she turned to him with her "darkness," he seems to have told her the three things she needed to hear: that there was no human remedy for it (that is, she should not feel responsible for affecting it); that feeling Jesus is not the only proof of his being there, and her very craving for God was a "sure sign" of his "hidden presence" in her life; and that the absence was in fact part of the "spiritual side" of her work for Jesus.

This counsel clearly granted Teresa a tremendous sense of release. For all that she had expected and even craved to share in Christ's Passion, she had not anticipated that she might recapitulate the particular moment on the Cross when he asks, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" The idea that rather than a nihilistic vacuum, his felt absence might be the ordeal she had prayed for, that her perseverance in its face might echo his faith unto death on the Cross, that it might indeed be a grace, enhancing the efficacy of her calling, made sense of her pain. Neuner would later write, "It was the redeeming experience of her life when she realized that the night of her heart was the special share she had in Jesus' passion." And she thanked Neuner profusely: "I can't express in words — the gratitude I owe you for your kindness to me — for the first time in ... years — I have come to love the darkness. "

Not that it didn't continue to torment her. Years later, describing the joy in Jesus experienced by some of her nuns, she observed dryly to Neuner, "I just have the joy of having nothing — not even the reality of the Presence of God [in the Eucharist]." She described her soul as like an "ice block." Yet she recognized Neuner's key distinction, writing, "I accept not in my feelings — but with my will, the Will of God — I accept His will." Although she still occasionally worried that she might "turn a Judas to Jesus in this painful darkness," with the passage of years the absence morphed from a potential wrecking ball into a kind of ragged cornerstone. Says Gottlieb, the psychoanalyst: "What is remarkable is that she integrated it in a way that enabled her to make it the organizing center of her personality, the beacon for her ongoing spiritual life." Certainly, she understood it as essential enough to project it into her afterlife. "If I ever become a Saint — I will surely be one of 'darkness.' I will continually be absent from Heaven — to [light] the light of those in darkness on earth," she wrote in 1962. Theologically, this is a bit odd since most orthodox Christianity defines heaven as God's eternal presence and doesn't really provide for regular no-shows at the heavenly feast. But it is, Kolodiejchuk suggests, her most moving statement, since the sacrifice involved is infinite. "When she wrote, 'I am willing to suffer ... for all eternity, if this [is] possible,'" he says, "I said, Wow."

He contends that the letters reveal her as holier than anyone knew. However formidable her efforts on Christ's behalf, it is even more astounding to realize that she achieved them when he was not available to her — a bit like a person who believes she can't walk winning the Olympic 100 meters. Kolodiejchuk goes even further. Catholic theologians recognize two types of "dark night": the first is purgative, cleansing the contemplative for a "final union" with Christ; the second is "reparative," and continues after such a union, so that he or she may participate in a state of purity even closer to that of Jesus and Mary, who suffered for human salvation despite being without sin. By the end, writes Kolodiejchuk, "by all indications this was the case with Mother Teresa." That puts her in rarefied company.

A New Ministry

If this brings You glory — if souls are brought to you — with joy I accept all to the end of my life.
— to Jesus, undated

But for most people, Teresa's ranking among Catholic saints may be less important than a more general implication of Come Be My Light: that if she could carry on for a half-century without God in her head or heart, then perhaps people not quite as saintly can cope with less extreme versions of the same problem. One powerful instance of this may have occurred very early on. In 1968, British writer-turned-filmmaker Malcolm Muggeridge visited Teresa. Muggeridge had been an outspoken agnostic, but by the time he arrived with a film crew in Calcutta he was in full spiritual-search mode. Beyond impressing him with her work and her holiness, she wrote a letter to him in 1970 that addressed his doubts full-bore. "Your longing for God is so deep and yet He keeps Himself away from you," she wrote. "He must be forcing Himself to do so — because he loves you so much — the personal love Christ has for you is infinite — The Small difficulty you have re His Church is finite — Overcome the finite with the infinite." Muggeridge apparently did. He became an outspoken Christian apologist and converted to Catholicism in 1982. His 1969 film, Something Beautiful for God, supported by a 1971 book of the same title, made Teresa an international sensation.

At the time, Muggeridge was something of a unique case. A child of privilege who became a minor celebrity, he was hardly Teresa's target audience. Now, with the publication of Come Be My Light, we can all play Muggeridge. Kolodiejchuk thinks the book may act as an antidote to a cultural problem. "The tendency in our spiritual life but also in our more general attitude toward love is that our feelings are all that is going on," he says. "And so to us the totality of love is what we feel. But to really love someone requires commitment, fidelity and vulnerability. Mother Teresa wasn't 'feeling' Christ's love, and she could have shut down. But she was up at 4:30 every morning for Jesus, and still writing to him, 'Your happiness is all I want.' That's a powerful example even if you are not talking in exclusively religious terms."

America's Martin wants to talk precisely in religious terms. "Everything she's experiencing," he says, "is what average believers experience in their spiritual lives writ large. I have known scores of people who have felt abandoned by God and had doubts about God's existence. And this book expresses that in such a stunning way but shows her full of complete trust at the same time." He takes a breath. "Who would have thought that the person who was considered the most faithful woman in the world struggled like that with her faith?" he asks. "And who would have thought that the one thought to be the most ardent of believers could be a saint to the skeptics?" Martin has long used Teresa as an example to parishioners of self-emptying love. Now, he says, he will use her extraordinary faith in the face of overwhelming silence to illustrate how doubt is a natural part of everyone's life, be it an average believer's or a world-famous saint's.

Into the Light of Day

Please destroy any letters or anything I have written.
— to Picachy, April 1959

Consistent with her ongoing fight against pride, Teresa's rationale for suppressing her personal correspondence was "I want the work to remain only His." If the letters became public, she explained to Picachy, "people will think more of me — less of Jesus."

The particularly holy are no less prone than the rest of us to misjudge the workings of history — or, if you will, of God's providence. Teresa considered the perceived absence of God in her life as her most shameful secret but eventually learned that it could be seen as a gift abetting her calling. If her worries about publicizing it also turn out to be misplaced — if a book of hasty, troubled notes turns out to ease the spiritual road of thousands of fellow believers, there would be no shame in having been wrong — but happily, even wonderfully wrong — twice.

Letters reveal Mother Teresa tormented by questions of faith

August 24, 2007

Letters reveal Mother Teresa tormented by questions of faith

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Mother Teresa wrote that her familiar smile masked her doubts about her faith and made her feel a hypocrite

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who has been put on the “fast track” to sainthood, was so tormented by doubts about her faith that she felt “a hypocrite”, it has emerged from a book of her letters to friends and confessors.

Shortly after beginning her work in the slums of Calcutta, she wrote “Where is my faith? Even deep down there is nothing but emptiness and darkness. If there be a God — please forgive me.”

In letters eight years later she was still expressing “such deep longing for God”, adding that she felt “repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal”.

Her smile to the world from her familiar weather-beaten face was a “mask” or a “cloak”, she said. “What do I labour for? If there be no God, there can be no soul. If there be no soul then, Jesus, You also are not true.”

Mother Teresa, who died in 1997 and was beatified in record time only six years later, felt abandoned by God from the very start of the work that made her a global figure, in her sandals and blue and white sari. The doubts persisted until her death.

The nun’s crisis of faith was revealed four years ago by the Rev Brian Kolodiejchuk, the postutalor or advocate of her cause for sainthood, at the time of her beatification in October 2003. Now he has compiled a new edition of her letters, entitled Mother Teresa: Come be My Light, which reveals the full extent of her long “dark night of the soul”.

“I am told God lives in me — and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul,” she wrote at one point. “I want God with all the power of my soul — and yet between us there is terrible separation.” On another occasion she wrote: “I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing.”

Rev Kolodiejchuk maintains that Mother Teresa did not suffer “a real doubt of faith”, but that, on the contrary, her agonising demonstrates her faith in God’s reality. “We cannot long for something that is not intimately close to us . . . Now we have this new understanding, this new window into her interior life, and for me this seems to be the most heroic,” he said.

The priest said that the Church authorities had decided to keep her letters even though one of her dying wishes was that they should be destroyed. In one, written to a spiritual adviser, Michael van der Peet, shortly before she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, she wrote that: “Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear. The tongue moves but does not speak.”

The late Pope, John Paul II, a great admirer of Mother Teresa, began the process of beatification immediately after her death. This required proof of a miracle cure performed through her intercession, and in 2002 the Vatican recognised as a miracle the healing of a stomach tumour in an Indian woman, Monica Besra, who laid a locket containing Mother Teresa’s picture on her abdomen. A second miracle is required for the nun to proceed to canonisation.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Fried eyes

Fried eyes

Mon, Jun 15, 2009
The Star/Asia News Network

By Lee Tse Ling

MANY of us know excessive exposure to ultra-violet (UV) light is hazardous, but only associate harmful effects with skin disorders, most commonly with sunburn, premature aging, and cancer, and perhaps less commonly with sun allergies, systemic erythematosus lupus, and pre-cancerous growths/lesions.

Falling somewhere in between the two is the awareness that UV light can cause long-term damage to sight.

What is UV light?

Natural UV light is a component of sunlight - a combination of UVA, UVB, and UVC rays that's invisible to the human eye.

UVC rays are blocked by the ozone layer. UVA rays make up 90% of UV light that reaches earth. They give you a suntan, but also penetrate deeply into the eye, hitting the retina (the light-detecting layer of the eye). UVB rays make up 10% and are nastier. They cause sunburn and cancer, and are absorbed by the cornea (the clear layer in front of the eyeball) and lens (the bit that focuses light on the retina).

Interestingly, UV light is visible to some birds and all bees. Raptors like eagles and falcons can track prey whose urine absorbs UV light, leaving a visible trail to follow. Bees are directed to nectar by plants displaying UV markings on their flowers.

So UV light has an important role to play in the natural world. For us, too much can cause the eye- and sight-related disorders below, cautions consultant ophthalmologist Dr Linda Teoh.

Cataracts: A cataract is a clouding of the lens inside the eye, which can scatter light entering the eye irregularly, or block it altogether, resulting in blurry vision, shortsightedness, photosensitivity, or blindness.

They are a major cause of visual impairment worldwide, but are preventable, treatable (surgical removal), and the blindness they cause is usually reversible.

"It's not a disease, it's an ageing process that occurs in the eye," Dr Teoh reassures. Consult your physician early, even if your cataract is not disabling, as it may conceal other eye problems. To prevent them, Dr Teoh recommends UV-blocking eyewear, vitamin supplements, quitting smoking, and controlling blood sugar levels (uncontrolled blood sugar levels, eg in diabetics, can accelerate cataract development).

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD): AMD occurs when the cells of your macula (the part of your retina that registers the sharpest images) die. This destroys sharp central vision, as if someone has smudged out the middle of your field of vision. A person with AMD can see hazy peripheral outlines, but not fine details necessary for, say, reading and driving safely.

There are two forms: dry AMD progresses slowly with age, wet AMD progresses quickly due to blood vessels growing abnormally under the macula, which displace it. Both are painless, and easy to ignore or accept with a resigned sigh as part of "growing old". Don't. It's one of the leading causes of chronic blindness worldwide.

While controllable risk factors include smoking, being obese, and exposure to UV light, age is the greatest risk factor. So from 60 onwards especially, see an ophthalmologist if you develop blurry vision (eg have difficulty recognising faces or words on a page) that may improve in brighter light; a small, growing blind spot in the middle of your field of vision; or if straight lines appear crooked to you.

Pterygium: A non-cancerous growth on the white of the eye that extends onto the cornea that can block or distort vision, and cause irritation (eg itching, burning, or a "gritty" feeling). More often it is painless, but may be considered unsightly, and so be surgically removed (note: it tends to recur).

It's seen most often in adults who work outdoors, exposed to sun and wind. Untreated, it can cause vision loss.

Photokeratitis: A.k.a. corneal sunburn, caused by excessive UVB exposure eg from too much time spent on a sunny beach without eye protection. Symptoms may not appear until six or more hours after exposure, last one to two days, and include very sore, bloodshot, and teary eyes; blurry vision or temporary vision loss; and photosensitivity. Treatment consists of symptomatic relief.

Preventing UV damage

When it comes to your eyes, an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure:

  • Ensure all eyewear provides 100% UVA and UVB blockage. Check that it comes with a World Council of Optometry seal of acceptance for UV blockers/absorbers.
  • Consider wraparound sunglasses, larger frames and/or side panels for added protection.
  • Wear a hat/cap (minimum brim width: 8cm) outdoors.
  • Seek shade, especially from 10am to 3pm.
  • Take extra care when UV exposure is enhanced ie when light is reflected off pavements, water, sand, and snow.
  • Be aware of UV risk wherever you go. Get a seven-day solar UV Index (UVI) forecast of locations around the world at asia.transitions.com/healthysight/uv/local.htm (the World Health Organisation- established UVI runs from 0: Low to >11:Extreme).
  • Protect children's eyes as early as possible. Kids spend more time outdoors, may not remember to protect themselves, and are more vulnerable (the immature lenses of children under 10 block just 25% compared to 90% in adults aged 30). Studies have also shown higher UV exposure in teenagers and young adults is linked to a higher risk of developing cataracts and AMD later on.

The Star/Asia News Network

Thursday, June 4, 2009

PM denies knowing Altantuya

PM denies knowing murdered model
4 June, 2009

BEIJING (AP): Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Wednesday laughed off opposition attempts to link him to the murdered Mongolian mistress of one of his aides.

Najib told The Associated Press he "had nothing to do with" Altantuya Shaariibuu, a 28-year-old Mongolian model and translator who was having an affair with his close friend and aide Abdul Razak Baginda when she was shot on Oct. 19, 2006. Her body was then blown up in a forest outside Kuala Lumpur, and only fragments were found.

Opposition leaders have repeatedly tried to link Najib to Shaariibuu's death. They claim his close association with Abdul Razak makes him suspect.

"There's no evidence," Najib said. "They've not offered any evidence at all... I have sworn in the name of God, of Allah, that I had nothing to do with her and I can't go beyond that."

Najib added what he described as a "tongue in cheek comment," saying the fact that Shaariibuu was staying at "a two-star run down hotel" at the time of her death was further indication that he had not been involved with her.

"If she was my girlfriend, she will be totally insulted if I put her (there)," he said with a laugh.

The aide, Abdul Razak Baginda, has acknowledged the affair but was acquitted last October of abetting the slaying. Two policemen were sentenced to death in April for her murder, though the trial never established what their motive was. They have appealed.

Well, IGP, what say you now? 4

Well, IGP, what say you now?
4 June, 2009

Two years ago, Malaysia Today wrote a series of 12 articles about the Johor Chinese underworld that controls the drugs, loan shark, prostitution and illegal gambling syndicate. Malaysia Today revealed that the syndicate has sprouted its wings to the other states, transforming itself into a nationwide enterprise in partnership with the top guns in the police force, the IGP in particular. It took two years for this story to finally make the mainstream newspapers.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Police out to catch Ah Long 'fathers'
New Straits Times, 3 June 2009

State police chief Datuk Mokhtar Shariff said police were completing their investigations into the ringleaders of illegal moneylending syndicates and expected to bring them to book soon.

He said these "fathers" provided the syndicates with strong financial backing through their close links with crime syndicates involved in prostitution, drug trafficking and four-digit gambling.

"We believe their wealth is linked to money-laundering.

"My warning to them is that we will get you and take you off the streets," he said after a joint operation by police and the Johor Baru City Council to remove Ah Long stickers and bunting in the city here yesterday.

The operation, which was also carried out in other districts, was aimed at giving the local authorities a morale booster in the war against Ah Long syndicates.

Mokhtar said police would not tolerate Ah Long activities and he criticised those who borrowed from Ah Long because of their gambling addiction.

City mayor and council president Datuk Naim Nasir, who was present, said it was illegal to put up stickers and bunting to advertise moneylending services, a common practice among Ah Long.

"It does not matter whether it is licensed or otherwise. The fact is that such a form of advertisement is illegal.

"It ruins public property and brings no benefit to society, besides being an eyesore."

On snatch thefts, Mokhtar said police had arrested 104 suspects, most of whom were drug addicts.


My son the AH LONG? — Mum shocked over 'secret' splashed in newspapers
She thought 'secretive' son was a property agent

The Malay Mail, 3 June 2009

ALL along, the family of Chan Ching Fatt thought that he was a property agent... until they saw his face plastered in the newspapers a few days ago.

The 22-year-old is wanted for questioning by police allegedly for his connections with the Krystal-9 loan shark syndicate which had held three debtors in chains and tortured them in a shoplot at Seri Kembangan. Chan was allegedly in charge of the syndicate's operations in Klang.

His mother discovered her son's "secret identity" after buying the evening edition of a Chinese newspaper. And his father is too distraught to speak.

"I usually buy the evening Chinese newspapers... then I saw my son's face. It is a big shock to me," said the woman, in her 40s.

Shock soon turned to anxiety as the phone in their Puchong home began to ring incessantly. Relatives and family friends flooded the family with inquiries about Chan.

"I truly didn't know what to tell them. I am still shocked," she said.

The mother of four said her son, who lives elsewhere, had told the family that he was working as a property agent.

"That's what he told us. Previously, he was working as a tour guide."

She said the last time the family met Chan, the second of four siblings, was about a year ago.

"He has always been the secretive type. We don't even have his phone number, we don't know where he lives," she said.

However, just like any mother, she is worried for his safety.

"What kind of mother am I... how can I not get worried . I am always thinking how, where he is. How is he managing... ."

And naturally, she believes her son isn't a bad person.

"He's not like that... he was probably influenced by the people, friends. He maybe mixed with the wrong crowd," she said.

The couple has yet to be interviewed by police. Chan is one of four men on the police list. One, Lee Chin Onn, was nabbed by police on Monday. (See accompanying story)

Police are also looking for the alleged ringleader, Ong Leng Kok, better known as Franco, 32, and the ring's alleged Ampang operations leader Yong Hock Fai, known as Alex, and two others.

The syndicate used a shoplot in Seri Kembangan to imprison debtors. Three debtors, rescued by police on May 27, were found chained, all by the neck, in a cell that looked more like a toilet, measuring 4x7ft.

For food, they had tap water and a loaf of bread each to last for two weeks. The "prisoners" sat beside a smelly toilet bowl.They said they were also beaten with sticks and belts by enforcers wearing gas masks.

Meanwhile Chan's father, a mechanic in his 50s, was too distraught to talk. "There's nothing to say."

Police looking into underworld links

SELANGOR police chief DCP Datuk Khalid Abu Bakar urged defaulters who had been confined by the syndicate to contact police to facilitate investigations.

The syndicate, believed to have originated from Tangkak, Johor is said to have branches throughout Peninsular Malaysia. Their two biggest branches were said to have been in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.

On whether the syndicate's operation has any links to underworld organisations, Khalid said it was possible.

"The ‘taiko' (big brother) could be connected to a triad group but it's too early to make any assumptions."

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Our guts

Our guts
Mon, Jun 01, 2009
The Star/Asia News Network

Can you briefly tell us some of the most common digestive problems in Malaysia?

These include reflux oesophagitis, peptic ulcer disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and colon cancer.

As you may already know, digestive system disease is prevalent worldwide. Taking that into account, it is also one of the leading causes of death as reported in hospitals of the Malaysian Ministry of Health. It was reported in 2006 that diseases of the digestive system ranked sixth among the leading causes of death in MOH hospitals and seventh among leading causes of hospitalisation.

What are the factors contributing to these disorders?

The main factors contributing to the increase of these diseases would be lifestyle and dietary choices. With regards to colon cancer, the main and definitive cause is family history. The second contributing factor is the consumption of a Western diet, for example, too much red meat and not enough roughage. Other factors include not getting into the healthy habit of exercising.

What are your recommendations to improve one's digestive health?

First of all, we need to watch what we eat. It is important that you maintain a healthy diet. Fill up on fibre-rich food like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and wholegrains. You may want to choose meats that have lower fat contents such as chicken, turkey, or lean cuts of beef. You are also advised to reduce your intake of fried, fatty, and greasy foods.

It is vital that you drink at least two litres of water daily and decrease intake of caffeinated, alcoholic, and sugar-rich beverages. Besides making changes to the diet, adopting a healthy lifestyle such as getting regular exercise, managing stress, and quitting smoking are important measures to improve your digestive health.

The above is an excerpt from an article which was first published in The Star.

How would you talk to your kids about sex?

How would you talk to your kids about sex?
Wed, Jun 03, 2009
The New Paper

By Shree Ann Mathavan

SHALL we talk about sex, baby?

That's something parents in Singapore have had to ponder seriously since sex education in schools have come under intense scrutiny of late.

These programmes are now being reviewed by the Ministry of Education (MOE).

But what about the role of parents?

Related links:
» Teach the science, leave the morals to me
» Sex Ed: What parents want schools to teach

After all, when it comes to sex education, the ministry has reiterated its stance that parents have to be responsible and discuss sex with their kids - uncomfortable though it may make them feel.

The New Paper sat three parents down with 10burning questions - all rather prickly - that their kids, all aged 12 and below, might someday raise.

Amid embarrassed smiles and the occasional uncomfortable pause, we talk about sex from a child's perspective.

1: How are babies made?

Ms Chelsia Leung: 'I would tell my older child (6 years old), that mummy and daddy love each other and that's why you're here.

'I would tell her about how the baby grows from an embryo. At her age she may not yet understand how the fertilisation happens, so that's something I would probably explain later, when she starts asking more questions.'

Mr Sebastian Anthony: 'That's something my son (12years old) has asked me before. I told him it's because of love that we (me and my wife) married each other and it's because of an act of love that you came about.

Madam Haslinda Putri Harun: 'If they ask, I will turn to books and television to help explain. Parents don't know everything, so it's good if we can tap on other resources especially if we're not knowledgeable about biological stuff.'

2. What is oral sex? Can I get pregnant from it?

Madam Haslinda: 'If my daughters asked me, it's something that I would explain, although I would say this is something unacceptable until marriage.'

Ms Leung: 'I would explain it. It's better coming from us than from other sources. But I don't think they need to know much about it until they reach adolescence.'

Mr Anthony: 'I would be upfront and tell my eldest boy what oral sex is. There is no intercourse, but it is still sexual in every other way.

'I would talk to him about the physiological aspect first and follow that with the religious and values standpoint.'

3. Is masturbation okay? Will I become blind or can I get pregnant from it?

Mr Anthony: 'I won't tell him that you'll go to hell for that, because that only generates fear and guilt, which doesn't help.

'I would talk to him openly - is it right, what is the Church's stand on it from a cognitive standpoint.'

Madam Haslinda: 'My girls have never used the word. But I would tell them if they do it, it may make them feel good.

'But ideally, it's better for them to wait till they find someone they love and want to marry.'

Ms Leung: 'That's not something I've really thought about till now.'

4. I think I may be gay.

(Pause as all parents fidget and look visibly uncomfortable.)

Ms Leung: 'I would go deeper and question further. I would ask what makes you think that you are a homosexual?

'I may take my daughter to church to get people who are more equipped to address such issues to talk to her.

'But if she is really a man trapped in a girl's body, and if everything else fails, then I think I would accept it.'

Madam Haslinda: 'This is something that doesn't happen overnight, it's down to parental responsibility.

'Part of the problem is Singaporean parents are so busy. Being parents we can sense when something is up. It's up to us if we want to say something or not.

'I would have to repeat that it's unacceptable. I would still love her as my child, but that doesn't mean that I approve of her orientation.'

Mr Anthony: 'I agree that these things don't happen overnight. I'm not of the view that someone is born that way - it has a lot to do with environmental factors.

5. Can I be friends with someone who is gay or lesbian? Will people make fun of me?

Mr Anthony: 'I will tell them that I have homosexual and lesbian friends myself, and while I don't condone what they do, I still love them.

Madam Haslinda: 'I have homosexual friends who are living abroad.

'When we go visit, my kids ask me why this uncle can marry that uncle, I tell them gently that it may be something acceptable in this person's religion but not in ours.'

6. Can I have a boyfriend or girlfriend?

Ms Leung: 'It depends at what age they have a relationship.

'Having a relationship should come after the O levels because their maturity levels are different when they're younger.'

'Sometimes it's peer pressure to have a boyfriend. I would tell them they don't need to follow what others are doing.'

Mr Anthony: 'I would tell my son to go out in groups first, otherwise it might be easy to fall into temptation.

'But having a relationship isn't something I would encourage while they're still young - maybe only when they are in college or university.'

Madam Haslinda: 'I would tell my girls to wait until college or university.'

7. My boyfriend says if I love him, I should have sex with him. Should I?

Madam Haslinda: 'I would tell my kids to save themselves for their marriages, for the person they love.'

Ms Leung: 'My stand is the same, saving it for the man you love. I would tell her that if that boy really loves you, he would wait.'

Mr Anthony: 'For me I would tell them that while it seems nice in the beginning, pre-marital sex sucks you in. There can be a lot of pain and consequences and every action has consequences. Ultimately, is the price worthwhile?

'I would speak from my past experience that I've been down that road, I made a mistake and this is the priceI paid.'

Madam Haslinda (nodding): 'I think when you share personal experiences, kids take it in better.

'It's not just telling them not to do certain things, which is very puritanical.'

8. How do I use a condom?

Madam Haslinda: 'You have to talk about condoms, that's something that comes with the sex talk.

Ms Leung: 'When you bring it up you reinforce it with issues like Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and the consequences.'

Mr Anthony: 'Using condoms is something I will not teach them. It takes what, two seconds to learn how to use it? I don't want to teach it, because I'm not advocating it's okay.'

9. During sex, when my boyfriend puts on the condom half-way, am I still protected? Could I get an STI or become pregnant?

Mr Anthony: 'I will tell them yes, you can get pregnant with pre-ejaculate.

Ms Leung: 'It's definitely something you have to share with your child, what are the risks involved? Show them pictures of STIs.'

10. Is it okay if I look at porn? After all it's just pictures.

Ms Leung: 'If it's something that they haven't seen before, people tend to have a dying thirst to see it.

'So if my daughter asks, I may show her something (porn), but I would tell her to take it with a pinch of salt, that this isn't what it's like. It's very exaggerated.'

Mr Anthony: 'I would question them. I would ask them, what does porn do? It demeans, it reduces the act of love. Relationships are more than just an act of sex, that is just one component.'

MR SEBASTIAN ANTHONY, 45, a corporate trainer, is married to a reading therapist, 46. The couple have a son, 12, and two daughters, 8 and 10. He is Catholic.

MADAM HASLINDA PUTRI HARUN, 38, a housewife, has two daughters, aged 6 and 9, with her husband, 40, a dentist. She is Muslim.

MS CHELSIA LEUNG, 32, a financial consultant and her husband, 33, a photographer, have a daughter, 6, and a son, 3. She is a Methodist Christian.

This article was first published in The New Paper.