Hell is real. I just returned home from it. No, it is not the neurological delusions of a NDE – Near Death Experience – or the visions of a schizophrenic.
It is just Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) Singapore Church Camp 2012, Francis Khoo style.
All of my pre-camp fears monstered to life in the otherwise edenic golfing resort of Pulai Springs, Johor; via the wild-eyed antics of the self-styled “reverend” Khoo whose countenance spookily resembles the very dead and gone Kim Jong Il, albeit the bespectacled urbanite edition. Worse, the horsepowered organ in my chest u-turned and skidded to a crushing stop, Ferrari vs. Taxi style, when I thought I saw the black-and-white, fundamentalist dogmatism of David Koresh and Jim Jones in Khoo’s maniacal eyes.
He appears as an angel of light.
No cult member admits he is a member of a cult. No sheep-brained devotee admits to brainwashing. Yet to any intelligent and sane bystander, the signs are all too evident. One could just see the awe and admiration in the eyes of my fellow campers as they lick the last drop of sanctimonious saliva that squirts out of his lips. They may argue to the contrary, but any fire-shouting is easily extinguished by the fallacious notion of “respecting the preacher” and “not judging god’s anointed”. Sigh – this is so like the religious fundamentalism of the Middle East which controls its people with barbarous laws as the blasphemy law. Apparently while one can criticise another’s choice of food, sport or music genre; one cannot criticise religion at all, no matter how irrational, how lowbrow, how dim-witted and how delusional.
I will criticise and I will fight against any religious, especially charismatic christian, crackpot who, because of his ill-perceived “authority” as a preacher, becomes a god to his cheerleading sheep. Let this capricious, vindictive, genocidal, dictatorial and Hitleresque fairy godfather strike me down, if the other christians think He (as though god has a gender) should, and all this unconditional love of god becomes a load of chicken droppings. Okay, elephant droppings.
I almost had an epileptic seizure on the first Tuesday night session with Khoo. His triumphalist, dominionist theology is rife with pollyannaish underpinnings which is nothing but Anthony Robbins’ positive thinking quackery baptised in christian terminology. Khoo pays lip service to suffering, but really, only lip service. While I respect the simple teachings of the classical christian ethos, Khoo is SIMPLISTIC in his presentation of christian victory and power. There is no empathy with genuine and real suffering that even many christians go through. Is it so simple as just to “appropriate” or “claim” the promises of God and thus live a “victorious” christian life? Even his admissions of his problems sound so trivial – oh I see – as a backslidden christian he had gone bankrupt and god somehow delivered him. Why must it always be mammon with these guys?
His unqualified claim that there are 7000-some “promises” in the bible is ludicrious. Not that I have not heard it before (all of his theology I have read and known as a charismaniac in my teens). Any serious and careful scholar of biblical hermeneutics will tell you that while there are indeed some “promises” in the real sense of the word in the bible, many are often time-specific pronouncements to a specific people in a specific time and place. Those “promises” have no relevance to the church. Okay, evangelical christians can be allergic to critical thinking and genuine scholarship. It is no wonder this Khoo smells of pseudo-scholarship all over – his lack of formal theological schooling is evident to anyone who has at least gone through the whole gamut of academic disciplines such as biblical and textual criticism, historical-archaeological research, the haphazard compiling process of the protestant canon (the earliest christians, such as the coptic christians, have biblical canons much larger than even the catholic corpus) as well as many of the other multi-faceted views on the bible.
Anyone who has actually got his intellect and thus christian faith ruffled and tested in the very godless and existentially miserable world of theological education will never preach the way Khoo does – so sure of “what the bible says”. For more than 200 years, biblical scholars are not even sure of the accuracy of the biblical manuscripts, with all of their discrepancies, forgeries and errors, let alone the real authors of the corpus; and here is one buffoon who thinks he is more competent that the scholars who expend their entire lives studying the biblical texts. I am reminded of the unschooled Pastor Rony Tan of Lighthouse Evangelism who used to preach that heaven is a real and specific place in outer space. While I believe Khoo is a lot smarter than that, his theological and philosophical ignorance makes him vulnerable to similar rubbish.
Think of the Rev. Timothy Khoo of Prison Fellowship. Or even the charismatic moderate Tony Tan of Revival Centre Church. Or even dear Uncle Neville, AOG Pastor Jack Theva or Pastor Song (now in Abundant Grace Presbyterian). They do not sound or feel like Khoo. It is not just homiletics (preaching method) – there is this gungho certainty of an immature and naive bumpkin which Khoo exudes.
And while trying to play to the highbrow minority in the congregation by using a “medical evidence” to buttress the virgin birth, he is one-sided at best. While it is true that the blood within the placenta does not mingle with the blood of the mother’s, it is irrelevant if one is trying to defend the supposed divinity of Jesus. What makes the whole person includes contribution of the DNA of both father and mother – and this includes the very human nature of Mary herself. I am surprised how an apparently intelligent bloke as Khoo can miss out the historical FACT that the ancient near eastern peoples, such as the hebrews, have a very primitive view of human conception. Ancient peoples believe that only the father, through his sperm, has ALL the biological data to procreate a child. The mother contributes nothing – she is only the carrier, the receptacle (there is no knowledge of the human ovum at that time). Hence it would be reasonable and even logical to “create” a virgin birth story – since Mary is only a carrier, the divine Jesus can be birthed without the stain of human sin.
Perhaps he is ignorant. Otherwise he is evidence of the fallacy of confirmation bias – human beings tend to accept data which inform their preconceived beliefs and reject, always idiotically, data that seems to contradict. This is especially so of evangelical christians, whose field of so-called apologetics are rife with out-of-date scholarship and fraudulent claims.
I became epileptic and maniacally so because of how gullible the congregation is – saying “amens” to almost every hallelujah nonsense he spews. While christians love to tout the “believing is seeing” fallacy, it does not take an astrophysicist to know that it is a no-brainer that a highly involved individual would “see” the truths of his beliefs, no matter how irrational the beliefs are. Homo sapiens are pattern-seeking animals. And the “truths” of the subjective seeker is always false – it takes an objective (or at least more objective than the devotee) bystander to really see what is going on. So just because a christian “sees” and “experiences” more spooky stuff than me does not make his metaphysics true. Besides, there is no way to empirically verify the spooky nonsense some of these christians talk about.
Khoo’s assumption of first-century Judaism and Pharisaicism is also problematic. While he appears to be knowledgeable by shooting off Jewish custom after Jewish custom and Jewish allusion after Jewish allusion, he is only appearing credible to the ignorant listener. While I do not claim to be an expert in the history of first century Palestine, I have read many scholars who do – and their conclusions on the matter is that Jewish practice is NEVER monolithic, then and now. His presentation of Jewish lore and custom is very one sided - what the ideal orthodox Judaism should be. I suspect when he glibly used the words Talmud and Mishnah, he doesn’t really know what he is talking about – regurgitating what he reads from second level secondary sources. Does he consult bona fide scholars in the rabbinic traditions and their works? I doubt so.
Even Pharisaicism is not what the Gospels portray it to be – there is much grace, love and emotional warmth in the teachings and practice of first-century pharisaicism than many realise. The legalistic, cold-hearted big heads as the New Testament portrays the Pharisees is nothing but an exaggeration and a caricature. While the gospels are essentially biographical, they are NOT biographies in the modern sense of the word – they exaggerate, conflate and fabricate stories to push their theological agenda. If I have to be brutally blatant, they are more like propaganda, with slivers of historicity and fact.
Although he tried to push his charismatic agenda during the second or third sessions, via a preamble on the “Baptism of the Spirit” (I once taught a course on this charismatic woo woo in my previous church at youth level), I wish it was my aggressive resistance to his conniving that led to him not going down the path of gibberish goobledygook. Really – while he mentions that the filling of the spirit does not always evidenced in tongues, he revealed his intentions when the first thing he wanted to do was to pray for people to speak in tongues.
By then, I was already mentally and emotionally exhausted to the point of insanity. The chemical pathways in my brain are exploding and my manic complex is on overload. If I am impotent to silence this crackpot, the only way out is to banish myself out of Pulai Springs. Unfortunately for the good people of Church of God, I had to endure the final night session.
In EVERY “prophetic” and “healing” session which I gone to as a tongue-speaker in the past, the ministers vomit the same old puke about “new seasons”, “new life”, “new beginnings”, “changes”, “crossroads”, etc. While Khoo tries to rot about prophetic words not akin to fortune-telling, it works the same way! He is claiming that God is speaking to people through him. What is a “word of wisdom” but a word birthed in the spirit about the future? According to charismatic terminology, that is.
But nothing these ”men of god” say are specific to the point of being verifiable! Experts call it the barnum effect – the way words are used so generally that it applies to everybody. This is also how the horoscope appears to be accurate to some people.
After sharing an obviously misdiagnosed (you can only suppose the supernatural when all of the natural is ruled out) case of calcified arteries and how god healed him without ever undergoing the knife, it is reasonable to suggest that the congregation is now somewhat primed psychologically to receive suggestion - a hypnotic method – that they too can be healed of any heart condition.
So a few men came forward. Including my dear pastors. And then Khoo said something which sounds so campy as it is stupid – he appears to have an impression from the spirit that pastor Jack, other than a heart condition, has high blood pressure as well. COME ON – who are you trying to fool? The probability of an overweight Indian man having high blood pressure is very high to the point of being predictable. It is more honest of Khoo to simply ask Jack if he has HBP then acting as though he just received a cosmic impression. To prophesy that Uncle Neville has a “new ministry” of spiritual fatherhood, yadda yadda, is also dishonest – any discerning person can tell how congenial, warm and grandfatherly Uncle Neville is, and how common sense can tell he is either retired or contemplating a baton-pass of leadership.
Being a rather intelligent person himself, Khoo has a keen awareness to details about his environment. There is nothing supernatural or divine about his pronouncements and he should never pretend to be. Pastor Song Cheng Hock was one such pastor who could conjure the same effects but refuse to do so on christian principle. He once cheekily “prophesied” very accurately over a taxi driver who later thought he was some pious guru of some sort. Song later admitted to the driver his methods of induction – a Sherlockian ability to seize up the environment and make relevant deductions.
Really, most of the time it is simply our unconscious human ability to seize up the situation and make the relevant deductions of a person’s personality, temperament, social status, current moods, etc. But being the boiling zealot that christians sometimes are, we tend to unconsciously mask these deductions as prayer and divine foretelling.
Oh how I missed Pastor Song and his intellectual honesty. How I missed his realistic view of life and his mature expositions on human suffering and the angst of the existential condition. How I missed him for his honest answers to my philosophical and sceptical probings and his acceptance of ambiguity and the notion of failure and suffering in the christian (or nonchristian) life.
If there ever was a man of God, it is Pastor Song. It is Pastor Neville. Men who try to live a courageous life following the enigmatic man from Nazareth, with all of their doubts, failings, struggles, warts and all. They do not pretend to be supermen, as the quack Francis Khoo does, but real and fully human men.
As Jesus was.
Alas, I feel alone in a community of zombies, people who do not enrich their lives intellectually as well as emotionally. Besides, emotions are part of the brain, a neurobiological function – and it becomes non-sense to talk about emotions as though they are apart from the brain, specifically, the human heart. Conversations with christians are always dull-witted, and my existential angst are often seared by even more simplistic answers. Where are the pastor Songs, the Steven Gohs, and the Jael Tangs? Where are the John Solomons and the Weng Khiongs? It pisses me off even more when the church labels people like us as the “weaker” christians, the lukewarm and weaker-in-faith ones. I know. The so-called discipleship team of our church are as impotent as they are cookie-cutter christians with nothing to offer.
I beg to differ. What is more robust a faith when it has been burnt, crushed and sifted by the behemoth of empiricism, rationalism, historicism, existentialism and all the academic disciplines the so-called godless world offers? What is more mature a faith than a faith who clings on despite the ravages of nihilism and the dark night of the soul? What is more glorious than an impoverished individual who still clings to that last shred of belief while being stripped of everything he has?
It is one big joke.