Two news for me collided this morning. Both are about religion. The first one is the strangest. A respected senior consultant, Tham, 43, did the unthinkable. Here is what was reported: “She claimed that he (her father, the senior Dr Tham) owed God $150,000 and told him to give her the money so she could return it. When he refused, she took out an 18cm-long knife and held it to his neck. She told him to give her a cheque for $150,000 or follow her to the bank to withdraw the money…Tham forced her father onto a chair and held his neck in an armlock. He was struggling and trying to free himself when another staff member came and took away her knife. Tham then bit the victim’s left forearm.”

The whole saga began in mid-2013 when Tham’s father “stopped going to church and stopped his monthly contributions.” Tham “felt that her father’s reneging on his pledge was wrong and stepped in to assist. She took a bank loan and paid the church eight months of contributions totaling $27,700. She took on extra duties at work to pay this off.” She even forged her father’s signature on a cheque for $28,030.

She was diagnosed with mental illness after the incident. The IMH psychiatrist said, “Her actions appear to have been driven by psychotic experiences related to her religious or spiritual beliefs, which made her believe that her actions were morally correct.”

Tham was due to be sentenced by the Judge at a later date but the Judge had previously granted her permission to attend an overseas conference as an expert speaker.
The second news is an old and rather predictable one. The prosecution has filed their appeal in the City Harvest saga. They are of the view that the sentences are “manifestly inadequate.” This somehow caused a knee-jerked chain-reaction from Kong Hee (and others) when he remarked, “Whilst I respect the court’s decision, there are points which appear to be erroneous and warrant appeal.”

So, Kong Hee, and others, confirmed that they too will appeal. Kong Hee is appealing against both conviction and sentence. In his Facebook post, he said “the road ahead was long and arduous but asked church members to pray for a favourable outcome.”

Lesson? Only one. A deeply lamentable one.

I think no one on earth and/or in heaven would be more gobsmacked now than God himself. Not that anything surprises Him anymore. He is God after all. While Kong Hee – who is guilty beyond all reasonable doubt – is asking Him for a favourable outcome, Tham is driven in His name to perform the unthinkable.

Needless to say, the first news about a father and his daughter is the most heartbreaking. Without doubt intelligent, these words of the IMH psychiatrist describing Tham is most haunting to me: “Her actions appear to have been driven by psychotic experiences related to her religious or spiritual beliefs, which made her believe that her actions were morally correct.”

I believe this is what the wrong religious indoctrination can do to a person, and no one is spared – no matter how intelligent he or she is. This is also where my personal rant against mega-churches and their mindless drive for growth-at-all-costs becomes a little more biting, if not already painfully ironic.

First off, God has nothing whatsoever to do with it. That has to be said. It has to be let out with a jericho chant. God doesn’t need money; not a cent. Instead, those who claim that they are collecting in His name are the ones who desperately need money; every cent of it.

Secondly, I sincerely believe that some churches have lost their way. Just my view of course. Instead of becoming more Christ-like, they are becoming more Christ-lite (easy on the Cross, hard on getting prosperous). Instead of giving more, they are taking more (some churches, much more). Instead of sacrificing for their sheep, the sheep are sacrificing for them (so that they can be adulated on their enthroned pedestal and live the high life that their members can never attain).

You see, they may promise their members prosperity evermore but it is just a means to their own end. They are turning the Kantian categorical imperative on its head – in that, instead of treating/treasuring every person as an end in itself, they are using them as a convenient “means” for their own self-enriching “end”. And to compound the travesty, they are using religion as a means to that end. I guess there is no greater profanity in religion than the profanity of “hiring god” to do your dirty work.

My heart goes out to the two Thams who are clearly victims of self-styled leaders in the likes of Kong Hee and his unwitting (and unfortunate) accomplices. She should know better of course. But when leaders swear to their besotted members that they are especially chosen by God to lead them and that divine confirmation is repeatedly endorsed by the curse of large numbers, even the most discerning at most times can be the most delusional (or misled).

The reality is this, the members feed on the claims of their leaders and the irony is that the more incredulous the claim, the more believable they become. Alas, the vicious cycle is self-reinforcing and the vortex of delusion is a bottomless pit for many victims of these self-serving leaders.

At this juncture, I apologize if my words are harsh, even judgmental. I stand judged too for my own failings. But I write what I wrote above despite my failings because they shouldn’t disqualify me – or else, no one is ever qualified. It should on the contrary urge me to stand up for what is right and to say it as it is. And in all this, to always remind myself of how I too can fall.

For if the emperor has no clothes, then it is not so much the emperor that is the issue. It is his public nakedness that has to be pointed out. Cheerz.

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