‘singapore’s megachurches move to export lucrative religion’

by Laura Philomin

 

“God is here, God is here,” croons Singapore church official Sun Ho as she struts across a neon-lit stage and thousands of people in the congregation pump their hands and sing along.

 

Kong Hee, the church’s founding pastor and Sun Ho’s husband, then takes the stage. In keeping with the electrifying mood, he invites his followers to speak “in tongues” and a pulsing murmur echoes through the auditorium of 8,000 people.

 

During the service, ushers hand out envelopes for donations, which consume at least a tenth of the salaries of most church members, going to fund different ministries, mission trips and special events.

 

Welcome to one of Asia’s most profitable churches: Singapore’s City Harvest.

 

With a “prosperity gospel” that blends the spiritual and the material, City Harvest and other Pentecostal megachurches in the wealthy Asian city-state have perfected a popular and lucrative model.

 

Now they are working to export it to the world and turn Singapore into a hub for evangelical Christianity.

 

“We want to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth,” said Pastor Bobby Chaw, City Harvest’s missions director.

 

Evangelizing missions by City Harvest, including pop concerts by Sun Ho in China, Taiwan and the United States, have helped it gather followers across Asia and set up 49 affiliate churches in Taiwan, Malaysia, IndonesiaJapan and India.

 

City Harvest – whose founder faces trial, along with five others, on charges of criminal breach of trust and falsifying accounts over the use of nearly S$51 million ($40.2 million) in church funds – also has a bible college that trains church leaders from countries such as Norway, Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe.

 

Last year the founding pastor of another Singapore megachurch, New Creation’s Joseph Prince, toured the United States, preaching to a sell-out crowd at Long Beach Arena in Los Angeles and filling the country’s largest church, Lakewood in Texas.

 

Prince’s book “The Power of Right Believing” made it to number two on the New York Times’ bestseller list in the advice and “how to” category.

 

SUCCESS, SCANDAL AND CONTROVERSIES

 

Asia is a growth market for Christianity, with the religion estimated to be growing 10 times faster than in Europe, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts.

 

While the idea of megachurches originated in the United States, some of the largest are in Asia, notably South Korea’s Yoido Full Gospel Church, with about 1 million members.

 

Packaging the traditional biblical message into a more dynamic format of pop-rock music, lively services and social media has lured a new generation of followers and turned the churches into major enterprises.

 

New Creation, which says it has a congregation of 30,000, collected S$75.5 million in tithes in 2012, while City Harvest took in S$38.6 million in 2009, accounts filed with Singapore’s Commissioner of Charities show.

 

“Whatever method that can most effectively convey the message to our generation, we will do it,” said Chaw, who is also the vice chairman of City Harvest’s management board.

 

City Harvest, which says its congregation numbered nearly 20,000 in 2012, with about 62 percent single, ventured into the entertainment industry after seeing how enthusiastically Chinese-speaking youth in Asia responded to Mandarin pop music from Taiwan.

 

The church’s Crossover Project led Sun Ho to collaborate with Asian stars such as Jay Chou and she broke into the U.S. market under the guidance of producer David Foster, producer-songwriter Wyclef Jean and other veterans.

 

With a wealth-affirming model and efforts to engage the young, fast-growing Pentecostal megachurches have helped to dilute Buddhism as Singapore’s traditionally dominant religion.

 

The most recent census showed the proportion of Christians rose 18.3 percent in 2010 from 14.6 percent in 2000, while the number of Buddhists fell to 33.3 percent from 42.5 percent.

 

Rolland Teo, 25, whose family is Buddhist, said his view of religion as “very static” changed when he joined City Harvest.

 

“It was something more dynamic, more relational,” Teo said. “This was something I couldn’t find in my parents’ beliefs.”

 

But allegations of corruption have accompanied success.

 

City Harvest’s Crossover Project is at the centre of charges that Kong and five other officials financed his wife’s singing career by funneling church funds of S$24 million into sham investments and then used S$26.6 million more to cover up the deals.

 

Kong and the others deny the charges. Kong’s wife is not on trial and has resumed her executive duties at the church.

 

In South Korea, David Yong-gi Cho, Kong’s spiritual mentor and founder of Yoido Full Gospel Church, was recently found guilty of embezzling $14 million in church donations to buy stocks owned by his son, at four times their market value.

 

PROSPERITY GOSPEL

 

Megachurches dismiss accusations of being wealth-obsessed, although Chaw has said that “prosperity is a byproduct of obeying God’s commandments”.

 

Critics say wealth is not necessarily a bad thing but they decry selfish enrichment at the expense of helping others.

 

“The prosperity gospel is a very big movement, a very visible movement, that doesn’t represent what I believe to be biblical Christianity,” said Paul Choo, founding pastor at Gospel Light Christian Church.

 

But a growing number of people in Singapore have found an affinity with the megachurch doctrine of faith entwined with wealth and personal well-being.

 

“That’s quite attractive to many socially mobile Singaporeans who, in going up the class strata, do look for some moral bearings,” said Terence Chong, a researcher at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

 

Tithing – the donation of 10 percent of income to the church – is assumed by some to be a way of “buying” God’s love. But New Creation member Jared Asalli and others say it is a way of thanking God.

 

Either way, the practice helps swell megachurch coffers.

 

City Harvest raised S$22.7 million with its Building Fund Campaign, helping it to buy a stake of 39.2 percent in the venue for its services, Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre, for S$97.8 million in 2012.

 

New Creation’s Miracle Seed event raised S$21 million in one day, contributing to the S$348 million it spent on building the 5,000-seat Star Performing Arts Centre, one of four venues where it holds services.

 

“I don’t think there’s been any era as materialistic as this one,” said Choo of Gospel Light Christian Church. “If it promises wealth, it will have some ready audience.”

(source)

 

It is utterly shameless. What has Christianity become?

 

It is because of local megachurches like City Harvest, New Creation, FCBC and Lighthouse Evangelism that I am ashamed of calling myself a Christian.

 

God forgive me but I really want Kong Hee and his gang of criminals jailed. Followed by the Prince whose dodgy lifestyle smells fishy and pretender Khong who cannot stop bullying the LGBT community and Rony for his anti-Singaporean remarks about other religions. In that order.

 

*******

 

 

 

the prosperity gospel makes a mockery of christianity

by Andrew Brown

 

Matthew-Ashimolowo-1dpLondon pastor Matthew Ashimolowo was ordered to repay £200,000 after it emerged he used church assets to buy a £13,000 Florida timeshare and spent £120,000 on his birthday celebrations, including £80,000 on a car.

 

 

There is a very good programme on the “prosperity gospel” available on the Radio 4 website right now. Two things need saying about it. The first is that it proves, if anything could, the difficulty of defining religions in terms of their doctrine. Prosperity gospellers pretend to be Christian, but their teaching seems to me absolutely antithetical to everything that makes Christianity worth considering.

 

What they teach is that God loves and rewards his faithful servants with earthly goods. In practice, the way to do this is to shun the company of losers and hand over 10% of your earnings to the pastor. The riches he accumulates are then a sign that God has blessed him, which means that he is capable of passing on these mighty blessings to you.

 

 

Kong HeeKong Hee

 

 

The crass horror of these people and their exploitation of the poor and miserable hardly needs stressing. The Charity Commission investigated the church of one of the most successful practitioners in England, Matthew Ashimolowo, after his congregation bought him a timeshare apartment and a Mercedes for one birthday – or at least found that this was what their offerings had been spent on. The American versions are even richer and more repulsive.

 

Oddly enough, I don’t think Jesus would have been too worried by tithing. It was a duty laid on the pharisees of his period and his objection there was that they were hypocrites, and thought that money and scrupulous showy observance could substitute for inner devotion to God, not that they tithed at all. But the idea that you should only mix with successful people, or that success itself is a mark of divine favour, goes completely against his actions as well as his teachings.

 

 

princeJoseph Prince

 

 

Ever since the dawn of monotheism these things have been known to be untrue. Robert Bellah records a fragment, at least 3,000 years old, known as the Babylonian theodicy: “Those who do not seek the God go the way of prosperity, while those who pray to the Goddess become destitute and impoverished.”

 

The whole of the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, can be read as a record of people coming to terms with failure. In part this was done by the invention of a heroic past, in the empire of Solomon’s time, something that may have been one of the truly great mistakes of history. But it is also directly addressed, in numerous psalms, in Ecclesiastes, and above all in the Book of Job.

 

Jesus himself took on the mantle of the suffering servant, and was seen by his followers as the fulfilment of that prophecy.

 

For all those reasons, it is impossible for me to regard the prosperity gospel as Christian. But who is to decide what counts as Christian, or as Muslim for that matter? These are inevitably judgments of value about matters of interpretation. They can’t be settled by reference to the scriptures involved and if you look for easy answers there you will find far too many.

 

Whether or not the prosperity gospel is Christian, the other question to arise is whether it’s harmful. The congregations are almost entirely made up of black people in this country, especially west Africans, and poor people in the US, where there is an extraordinary swamp of such teachings. In any case it’s an easily observed paradox that those most in need of wealth are least likely to be able to afford tithes.

 

But at the same time, you might ask what else they might spend the money on. The services themselves are a tremendous rush of energy and fun, like a drug that leaves no hangover and is not even very addictive. While the music lasts, you can dance and sing and forget all your troubles. And there is this to be said for religion as a sort of opium: it doesn’t destroy your health. It may be a much less damaging escape from the world. In the BBC programme, the pastor made the point that these churches encourage optimism and that need not always be cruel. Of course, this is little consolation if you are in fact old, unemployable, ill, or the kind of disgusting loser that Jesus might have hung out with. But those people aren’t the target market at all.

 

For young, healthy, anxious strivers who need reinforcement in the face of discouragement, the prosperity gospel is a much less harmful way of escaping the world than either drugs or gambling, and will not make them nearly as poor as those do, even if it never makes them rich.

 

But no matter how I argue that these rites may be largely harmless when practised by consenting adults, I still find them disgusting. It matters that they aren’t a form of real Christianity, which shows how hard it is to rid myself of the nagging suspicion that Jesus was telling the truth.

(source)

 

*******

the problem with using the bible for morality and ethics

 

Evangelicals often commit the argumentative fallacy of appealing to authority to justify their ethical or moral preachments. One hears their porcine whine of “this is what the bible says” and “the bible clearly says that…” much too frequently in discussions that one wonders if they are but cheer-leading their ignorance for the world to see.

 

There is no such thing as a “common sense” or “face-value” reading of the bible – every reading is an interpretative task which involves the interaction between the interpreter and the text. Even a spiritualised reading of the text does not erase away the fact that the haphazard biblical corpus is a product that is historically and culturally removed from the 21st century by more than four millennia. Any literary person will tell you that in order to understand a work of literature so far removed from our time requires much more than just a neanderthal reading. If you don’t know what the n-word means, it just proves my point.

 

Besides, the biblical corpus were not composed in English. We already have problems fully understanding the works of Shakespeare or Dickens even though they were written in English – how much more problems we should have when engaging the biblical texts!

 

Otherwise there is no need for Homeric or Shakespearean scholars, for example.

 

Perhaps many of the hardcore evangelicals are engineers and accountants who think the biblical texts are manuals that can be read literally. Pardon my distaste for the literary challenged. To accept the bible as scripture and thus “inspired” by God is irrelevant to the interpretative task – hermeneutics is always a literary enterprise which engages the human reason. Unless you are one of those intellectually-challenged megalomaniacs who believe they have a hotline to God.

 

When scholars say the bible is culturally bound, they are not rubbishing that the bible cannot speak out of its culture in ways that may be relevant to modern people; they simply mean that the texts speak out of their own culture, not ours.

 

For example, many of the teachings of Jesus and Paul about not having to care or worry about this-worldly issues have to be understood in the context of early Christianity’s apocalyptic mindset. The early Christians believe their world is going to end very soon (people don’t learn from history, do they?) and thus modern concepts like social justice and a concern for the world are not to be read into the new testament texts. The biblical writers could not care less about human rights, or about financial planning, or about climate change. The world is going to end, for goodness’ sake! This does not mean that one cannot deduce about human rights and the care of the planet by appealing to broad “principles” that can be found in the bible.

 

Another silly mistake is to assume that there is some universalism that underlie biblical statements on sexual matters which make them directly relevant to us in the 21st century. While sex is a primal and perennial concern for homo sapiens, sexual mores and attitudes are not. Many of the sexual prohibitions in the Tanakh as well as the Christian testament have more to do with ancient Hebraic taboos regarding national “purity” (“holiness” is to be set apart, to be different from the pagan world and not necessarily a moral issue). Homogenital acts in the ancient world are nothing like what we know today as homosexuality. There is no concept of same-sex sexuality as a sexual orientation or in the context of a love relationship. It is therefore a mistake to pontificate against gay marriage or gay rights today using the biblical texts. Even the Hebraic sensibility of adultery is different from ours – while we view adultery as a violation against the sexual exclusivity of an avowed marriage, the ancient Hebrews view it as an intrusion on their “property rights”. One has to remember that women – wives and daughters – are property in the eyes of Hebrew men. Besides, ancient Hebraic sex is procreation only – physical pleasure is incidental. With a small fledgling community like theirs, they need as much offspring as they can get considering the low mortality rate of human beings at that time. This is why extra-vaginal seminal ejaculation is a Hebraic no-no. It is ridiculous that the Roman Catholic Church still hold to this very biological and functional view of sexuality when the world has moved on. Such irrelevance spells the imminent doom of this antiquarian institution.

 

It is common for evangelical “scholars” (they are a disgrace to academic scholarship in my view) to harmonise biblical texts which are obviously literary contradictions. They have to since they mistakenly view the bible as a singular book, penned by the very hand of God through human instrumentation. The bible is NOT a book, but an arbitrary collection of discordant writings which have very contradictory ideas and teachings when interpreted in their own contexts. For example, no where can one find in the primordial account of Genesis 1 to 3 the teaching of original sin (as formulated by St. Augustine) – the erroneous idea that there is an inherited sin nature all human beings have from Adam’s disobedience. One can only infer this by reading back into Genesis the Pauline writings. Similarly the idea that the Aesopian talking snake is the Devil himself. There are numerous Christian teachings evangelicals take for granted as being foreshadowed or foretold in the Hebrew scriptures but there is not a sliver of evidence for them! Take the so-called prophecies of Jesus in the Hebrew Scriptures. Evangelicals make it seem that the Jews must be very daft not to accept Jesus as their messiah when their own Scriptures have so “clearly” predicted him. But is that really the case? Do your own reading. Don’t let your pastor do it for you – he is more than likely to fib about his own ignorance. Many of the “prophecies” the New Testament writers allege are nothing but Hebrew scripture rewritten to fit into their faith construct. Just read the “prophecies” in their own Hebraic contexts.

 

One must also note that the Gospel writers do possess the Hebrew scriptures themselves and use them when they compose the Gospels. It does not take a mathematical physicist to know they wrote the gospel narratives to fit their post mortem understanding of the illiterate Nazarene peasant. To claim that the gospels are historically accurate narratives is out-of-date and archaic scholarship. No bible scholar today accepts them as historically factual accounts, let alone the products of eyewitness testimony.

 

While modern biblical scholarship has more than sufficiently exposed this very discrepant corpus, evangelical theologians choose to ignore the facts of literary textual and historical criticism by blaming on red herrings like the humanistic or naturalistic worldviews of the modern biblical scholars. Yawn.

 

This diversity of views and morality thus calls into question the evangelical use of the bible which claims to know “what the bible says”. The bible doesn’t really say anything coherent about christian dogma, let alone ethical issues. There is a smorgasbord of ancient Hebraic, Greek platonic and Hellenistic as well as pagan concepts all thrown into the mix which we now label as orthodox christian theology. It is also important to realise there are numerous virgin-born resurrecting gods in ancient mythology predating Jesus’ time. Hmm.

 

I still read the bible everyday. It is a darn good read as an ancient literary work of fiction and a foundation document for much of western civilisation. I am sympathetic to the Judeo-Christian ethos in the same way I enjoy the richness of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Lewis’ Narnia, Rowling’s Hogwarts and Homer’s Iliad.

 

*******

i love you with my brain

 

It is every other time when someone surrogates human self-consciousness with the rhythmically contracting hunk of hollowed muscle situated in the front of the vertebral column that I cringe. Unlike the euphemistic soul or spirit which translates what is luminous and transcendent in the human experience, heart appears to be as misleading a provenance as it is bestial.

 

So alien are words like I love you with my heart but ghastlier will be remarks by certain evangelicals to the tune of having this hunk of muscle perform things other than pumping blood. One recalls the sincerity of these well-meaning folks as they advise to believe with the heart instead of the mind. One crumples the eyebrows, as I did, to listen to counsel to spurn any critical and intellectual faculty in favour of some woo woo about seeing with the heart and believing or thinking with the heart.

 

So perilous can be such advice that no decent human being should EVER consider it. It is odd that a fringed subculture like evangelicalism can be so willing to ostracise intellectual sobriety when it bemoans the ill effects of consuming alcohol which in large quantities do the same thing.

 

How does one think with the heart? Or believe with the heart? The heart contains neither consciousness nor volition. Has education in Singapore been so rubbished that no one seem to realise that human self-consciousness is caused by the brain? Is science so ill-respected that no one accepts the FACT that emotions like love and hate are chemical processes in the brain and NOT the heart?

 

I know of otherwise very bright individuals who offer platitudes like stop thinking, just believe, which irritates me so much that my heart, literally, burns all night, causing me problems.

 

One more thing. That soppy four-letter word. Unlike Mammon, this alphabetical quartet seems more politically and socially appropriate. Our elite-loving politicians hallelujah its virtues over the tangible and empirically exacting Mammon only to soothe the proletarian mob. But when no one is looking over their genitalia, we know how maniacally important Mammon is to them.

 

Hi love.

 

L-o-v-e, if some do not already know, is also a function of the brain. There is no such thing as a heart which pumps romance and marital commitment. There is no such thing as a Happy Meal limited edition Jesus toy living in a person’s bloody heart who helps him or her to love better.

 

I want to know where Love is

 

And like every thing else in the natural world, l-o-v-e will soon be another demystified and demythologized casualty.

 

*******

 

 

the doubting thomas

Anyone who is even slightly acquainted with English literature would have come across the proverbial description, doubting Thomas, an idiomatic notion attributed to the biblical tale of one particular disciple of Jesus, namely a bloke named Thomas, who apparently doubted the veracity of Jesus’ claims to resurrection and proceeded to examine the alleged scars on Jesus’ hands.

 

By the force of this one text, the bloke had become the patron saint of doubters and sceptics the world over, the epitome of all things whom a christian should NOT be. One shouldn’t doubt, as the saying goes, but “have faith”, sometimes even in the face of contradictory evidence. This alleged virtue has often been loud-hailed by the masses via the rejection of modern science in favour of divine healing.

 

Against this tide of anti-intellectualism, I tend to view St Thomas as the epitome of the THINKING person, the ancient critical thinker par excellence. One of Christianity’s greatest theologians and philosophers seemed to concur. Or should I say his parents concurred. They named him Thomas. Thomas Aquinas.

 

Anyhow, I wish to extend this Doubting Thomas motif a little further, to illustrate a somewhat sacramental form of spirituality which allows aesthetics and the experience of our natural world as a medium, a sacrament so to speak, to convey the sacred. Perhaps I am one of those who are weak in faith, unable and incapable of believing in entities which I cannot see or feel. This void is exacerbated by the contemporary evangelical church in which I belong, which spurns the very notion of sacramentalism and iconographic spirituality. Modern church buildings have become too minimalistic that they are nothing but protestant shopping malls with auditoriums inhabited by rowdy christians.

 

The notion of sacred spaces has become non-existent. Contemplation of christian art becomes idolatry. Silent meditation in great halls with high ceilings and haunting domes become heretically buddhist. Burning incense and candles become too catholic or taoist. Come on – doesn’t the very notion of a God-man as Jesus allude to an incarnational view of spirituality, that matter can somehow communicate the holy and the sacred?

 

Songs sung in modern churches sound more like trivial pop songs baptised with christian lyrics than spiritual songs that allow the entire body and soul to participate. Worship in modern churches feel more like concerts and personality cults than sacred experience and holy times with the divine.

 

No wonder thousands are leaving the modern megachurch phenomenon. No wonder thousands are turning to eastern spirituality and buddhist meditation. No wonder thousands are leaving the church and would rather be atheists and free thinkers than members of a hypocritical and celebrity-obsessed institution.

 

No wonder in some parts of the world – evangelical christianity is all but dead.

 

*******

 

misinformation from the pulpit

 

My wife woke up rather early this morning, at about 6.45am, at which she proceeded to wake the rest of the kids up and made their way to the nearby market to purchase food for breakfast.

 

I was still in bed.

 

With so much energy, no wonder we reached the church 30 minutes early. I realised it was also an “evangelism” Sunday, which means, in my book, the homily would be somewhat sentimental and mushy.

 

Indeed, the preacher this morning was a pastor Don Wong from New Charis Mission. Looking rather dapper in his black jacket with a full head of neatly combed hair, he reminded me of a sales executive all psyched up to sell me some white elephant. He preached at our church a couple of times in the past, and he came across as an earnest and fairly charismatic bloke.

 

I can’t speak for the others who were present this morning but the moment he read the text, I thought he had preached a very similar homily at our congregation already. It was about the beatitudes. Perhaps it was a favourite passage of his. Perhaps he might be giving a new twist to some old verse.

 

Anyhow, I couldn’t remember that alleged previous homily so it wouldn’t matter either way. And truly enough, it was a new twist. Or rather, a yank at the arm.

 

His first few statements left me at the edge of my seat. I was hooked immediately.

 

My dear pastor Don quipped that in some English translations of the bible, the word “blessed” in the beautitudes are translated as “happy”, which he opined was definitely incorrect. Happy? Isn’t this word so…so trivial? And if one goes through the beautitudes, there would be one verse about persecution. How can believers who go through persecution be “happy”? Or so Don opined.

 

And he proceeded to give the word his own Don Wong-inspired meaning – “approved of God”. Yes, the word “blessed” should infer the approval of God.

 

I don’t know where he learnt his Koine Greek 101, but it seems that the bible school he graduated from did a very poor job.

 

The word “blessed” in the beatitudes, comes from the greek word “makarios” and it originates from the shorter “makar”, which means “HAPPY”.

 

Yes…HAPPY. Synonyms would include “blessed” or “fortunate”. Incidentally, the term “beatitudes”, which did not derive from the bible itself, is derived from the latin “beatus”, which means “HAPPY”! So the translators who allegedly translated the word into “happy” were not that incorrect after all. Besides, individuals who are on translation committees are not your average Christian Joe on the street. They are not even your average pastor – they are men and women who have spent years and decades studying the original languages as well as the textual evidence in order to do the work they did. And thus they would have reasons for choosing certain words over others.

 

Besides, take note the syntactical structure of the texts…they do not say, “The poor in spirit will feel happy” or “those who show mercy will be happy” or “if you are persecuted, you will surely feel happiness.” No – they all start with “Happy are the poor in spirit”, “Happy are the pure in heart…”, etc. Thus the happiness as prescribed in the beatitudes are not the trivial form of happiness that is relative to external circumstance. It is a much deeper form of happiness, and as such, the word “blessed” would be a word that evokes a clearer meaning, especially to modern readers. But that does not warrant dear Don to make naive assertions that the word “happy” is definitely incorrect. In fact, it does mean “happy” – but in a different sort of way to our ideas of what happiness means.

 

And that is precisely the intention of Jesus’ message – that the values he brings counters the prevailing norms and values of ordinary society, that the happiness he espouses is a happiness not of this world.

 

Sigh. I don’t blame Don. He was just doing his job, sharing sentimental sob stories that titillate the emotions but leave the mind screaming “rubbish”.

 

No wonder in the evangelical world, the phrase “thinking christian”, is an oxymoron.

 

*******

 

if you’re struggling financially…

 

all you’ve got to do is pay your tithes to God (through your local church, that is)!

 

This was what evangelical Pat Robertson said in response to a question posed to him by a Christian viewer of his programme.

 

Robertson: Those Struggling Financially must keep Tithing

 

First of all, the concept of tithing (the mandatory giving of 10 per cent of one’s income to the church every month) is not unanimous even in evangelical christendom, mainline Protestantism notwithstanding. The majority of churches which insist that tithing is mandatory for christians are typically pentecostal, charismatic and independent congregations which often interpret the alleged hebrew texts which claim that non-tithers are robbing God, literally and non-contextually. And it is also very revealing that most megachurches insist on tithing – it is where their wealth comes from.

 

Secondly, it is inhumane and cruel to use religion to “force” someone to let go a portion of his/her income when that person is already struggling to keep ends meet. A rational person knows that the tithed portion could be put to better use.

 

Thirdly, it is utter RUBBISH to propose giving one’s hard-earned money to the church as a solution to become more financially stable or sound. This has often been the contorted logic of evangelical christianity that somehow the more one gives (and it is always in monetary terms), the more one will receive in return (and erroneously it has been preached that the returns would also be monetary). The existential “blessings” that one attains by giving to others cannot be quantified and made tangible by the use of monies. In fact, the recurring theme throughout the bible is of sacrifice and acceptance of one’s lot in life, more than the preoccupation with money. Why not the giving of one’s time and effort? Or one’s skills?

 

Fourthly, anecdotes of financial blessings do not and should not count. Such anecdotes and “testimonies” are always subjective, and the human psyche is prone to exaggeration, redaction, extrapolation and misinterpretation. Most of the time, experiences of increased financial help or blessings are usually due to other factors like the harness of one’s own increased professional competence, coincidence and genuine human compassion.

 

Personally, tithing is but religious abuse.

 

*******

 

end times rubbish all over again

 

The problem with evangelical end times commentary is the intellectual dishonesty that is often at work when interpreting current events.

 

For “prophecies” to be true in the empirical sense, they have to be proclaimed in public, way before the alleged events ever have the inkling of taking place, and to actually take place at the appointed proclaimed time.

 

Thus for people like Harold Camping – at least he was deluded enough to predict the exact date of doomsday way before it was supposed to occur – and telling everybody about it. But alas, the “prophecy” did not come to pass.

 

For many others, they take the more dishonest route. They wait for events to occur, and claim that such events were already “predicted” in the bible. This has been the case for the alleged formation of national Israel in 1947. If such a formation has already been predicted in the bible, why no one made such a prognostication in the 1800s? Or for that matter, why hasn’t some medieval theologian or Reformer in the past predicted it?

 

It is a disgrace and a sham that evangelical theologians have to make up “prophecies” so as to make the bible seem divine.

 

Libya in End Times Prophecy

 

And now…this Christian Post contributor claimed that Libya is predicted in the bible! And so conveniently…after Libya made the headlines these few weeks and months.

 

If Libya had been indeed been predicted in the bible, it should have been mentioned for decades already in so-called “end times” scholarship.

 

Once again I am not impressed.

 

*******

 

john stott dies at 90

 

 

Evangelical preacher and pastor John Stott, whose ministry within the Church of England had been characterised by conservative evangelical views on biblical inerrancy, biblical authority and expository preaching; died yesterday in London at the age of 90.

 

World Famous Evangelical Leader Dies at 90

 

He was one of the very few evangelical clergymen who had lived a celibate life, albeit with absolute integrity and unimpeachable reputation, rivalled only perhaps by his American counterpart, Billy Graham.

 

His theology notwithstanding, what attracts him to me is his understated elegance and sober speech on the pulpit. In a subculture where pulpits are often filled with empty noise, rambling rhetoric and drunk-like zeal, John Stott’s ministry was a breath of fresh air.

 

He also brought with him an intellectual respectability to evangelicalism, of which the words “thinking” and “intelligent” were oxymorons.

 

Evangelical christians had lost their most credible apologist.

 

*******

 

man-ipulated

 

 

The discordant mess of strings and percussion reverberate in my head, stinging my ears all too soon the moment I tried to open my heart to the sacred.

 

It is always so difficult for me to worship God in the contemporary Church. I cannot fathom as to what is disturbing me but the music often jars me to disgust and irritation. Not that the music isn’t entertaining.

 

I love rock music. I used to enjoy Metallica in my youth.

 

But I also realise that music is manipulative. It can deceive the mind and seduce the heart. I don’t want to be thrilled or entertained when I come into God’s house. The purveyors of contemporary “praise and worship” music like to believe that music can be an effective medium and tool to “bring people into the presence of God”…as though the presence of God can only be manufactured by man-made artifices.

 

God is.

 

He just is. His presence cannot be manufuctured nor manipulated. He is the beyond in our midst. And as such, he can never be adequatedly named or presented by human words. Although I use the traditional “he” to call God, it is purely designatory and for the sake of convenience. God is neither male nor female. As pure Spirit, He has no gender. As pure Spirit, no human language can utter his glory fully.

 

The bible is but one (among many) sacrament through which we attempt to perceive God, albeit in very human and thus faulty ways. It cannot and should not be interpreted propositionally, otherwise we pervert the divine.

 

Many evangelical Christians today assume the bible can be read propositionally. They are often ignorant of the very human process of writing the biblical texts and thus believe mistakenly that the bible is THE Word of God, wholesale.

 

If it is, the “God” that is portrayed in such an interpretation of the Bible is a cruel, vindictive, jealous and very barbarous deity.

 

I don’t believe in such a God. And so are many atheists and agnostics today.

 

But the mistake that atheists make is that they have thrown out the baby along with the bathwater. They have denied themselves to know the REAL God of the ancients, the sacred Beyond in their very midst.

 

Thus when one attempts to connect with the Ineffable and the Inscrutable, one enters with stillness and awe.

 

The trivial and ridiculous lyrics of current praise and worship music will not do.

 

They manipulate the worshipper into imaging God in so finite and concrete ways that they belie the very nature of the sacred.

 

Who is the More and the Beyond.

 

But because the More is also all around us, we are able to tune in to Him.

 

Yet only in sacred silence. And in sacred space.

 

And in the mess of this world.

 

As we open our eyes and hearts to perceive the sacred in unlikely places.

 

*******

 

 

some thoughts on judaism

 

Popular Christian thought , for decades now, have often been disfigured and marred by a theological prejudice against Judaism and its followers. Churches in Singapore have often taught that although the Jewish people should be loved as a people, they would perish in an eternity without God if they do not embrace Jesus as their messiah.

 

Although much of evangelical Christianity, especially the dispensational premillennial camp, have prided themselves in supporting the nation of Israel, there is often that theological discrimination against Judaism as a credible religious theology, capable of standing on its own ground.

 

The moment we Christians open our bibles, our discrimination is there for all to see. Our Christian bible, whether Protestant or Catholic, labels the first three quarters of the text as the “Old Testament”, followed by the “New Testament”. It is common knowledge among Christians in the pew that the New supercedes the Old, that the New Covenant in God through Jesus is much more superior than the Old Covenant in God through Moses.

 

It is to their credit that the Reformers still at least hold to the view that the Old Testament is still valid for the New Testament christian, via the universal moral law of the Ten Commandments. Modern dispensationalists, however, tend to view the ten commandments in very derogatory terms. They view the law as not binding on believers today as Christians follow the “law of Christ”.

 

To come back to the bible, we Christians also have this misguided tendency to interpret the Hebrew scriptures (I prefer this term to the Old Testament) with the lenses of the New Testament. We read many of the texts in the Hebrew bible as though they are texts originally intended for the Christian.

 

This is so incorrect. They are never meant for us at all! They are for the Jews. They are to be interpreted with Jewish lenses! I could still remember when I was a young Christian when I often wondered why the Jews are so stupid in rejecting Jesus as their messiah. I thought that because there were so many “prophecies” in the hebrew scriptures of which Jesus the man fulfilled, how could the Jews miss it?

 

Were they spiritually blind? Were they corrupt in their sin?

 

It was only when I was a bit older and a bit wiser that I realised the truth.

 

Christian scholarship (with the exception of the pig-headed fundamentalists) had never understood those alleged prophetic verses as prophetic in the first place. If you sit down and read the Hebrew Scriptures as they are meant to be read (throw away your Christian bias), you will discover that many of the so-called prophecies have either been fulfilled in Old Testament times (such as the famous “virgin” verse of Isaiah 7), or are interpreted as refering to the nation of Israel itself and not Jesus (such as the Suffering servant in Isaiah 53).

 

Besides, as the Hebrew scriptures were written and compiled first, before the Christian scriptures, there is no way to “prove” that those alleged verses were prophetic and hence testify to the divine origins of the Scriptures – as often espoused by fundamentalist apologists like Josh MacDowell and Norman Geisler.

 

It should be common sense that the writers of the New Testament, especially the four gospels, used the Hebrew Scriptures as their foundational texts and from there, penned the gospels as theological and metaphorical narratives, with bits of historical fact laced here and there.

 

Thus the gospel writers “interpreted” the person of Jesus as fulfilling the Hebrew “prophecies”. It isn’t a case of prophecy fulfilled, but prophecy remembered. There is no evidence, in the first place, that the gospels were accurate biographies and historical accounts, in the modern sense of the word.

 

Furthermore, there is also this impression that the Jews were the ones responsible for the death of Jesus. This is due to the gospel of Matthew and its portrayal of the Jews. But that is not the case at all. It was simply the case of the Roman authorities deciding to get rid of Jesus because they saw in him a potential act of high treason and betrayal.

 

The moment we learn to reread the Hebrew bible not as our own but the treasured heritage of both our theological communities, then we are able to view the Jew as a cherished brother in the faith of our one God.

 

They were our theological precursors and ancestors. And as such, our founding fathers, so to speak.

 

Our co-heirs of the Holy other.

 

Amen.

 

*******

 

 

some thoughts on god

 

God is the beyond in our midst.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

For much of popular evangelical Christianity, even in Roman Catholicism, the root concept of God is what Marcus Borg termed as Supernatural Theism.

 

Supernatural Theism is a view of God as a personal Being who is wholly “out there” and outside our sphere of existence. God is perceived as an individual deity who somehow views us from heaven and occasionally intervenes and breaks through our world in miracles, healing and visions.

 

And that is what most Christians envision God to be, even though it is a concept that is really foreign to Christian scripture.

 

Historic orthodox Christian tradition has always affirmed both the Transcendence of God as well as the Immanence of God, namely the Otherness as well as the Everywhere-ness of God. God is basically a Spirit who is both wholly out there and beyond while at the same everywhere present in the here and now, within us.

 

Because God is Spirit, He cannot be defined completely by a finite human system of language. Thus images of God as a King, monarch, Warlord, Father, etc are true but incomplete pictures of His reality. They simply help us to envision His ineffability in more concrete ways.

 

If one asks any average Christian on the street whether God is male, he/she would quickly affirm a “yes”. It is one of the most common pictures of the divine, as a Father.

 

The problem with this image is that it is a cultural product, envisioned as part of a cultural context of the ancient semitic peoples. For much of ancient societies that rely on pastoral herding and grazing for economic stability, the idea of the divine has always been male. Otherwise, ancient cultures which rely on agriculture for economic stability, such as India, has always viewed the divine as the sacred Mother.

 

Besides, if God is Spirit, then Spirit is neither male nor female. Such gender depictions are merely human ways of understanding the nature of the sacred.

 

Now, whenever atheists rile against the existence of God, it is supernatural theism that they rile against. It is the God that apparently sits on His throne in heaven and judging and controlling the world.

 

If that is the God of the universe, I am also an atheist.

 

But the Hebrew vision of God is not like that at all. The Jewish understanding of the divine is of a permeating glory that envelops the whole world even as the glory is part of the world, active in space and time. The God of the bible is not and has never been the god of greek philosophy, of which the contemporary notion of God is derived. For thousands of years, Christian theology has been influenced by the philosopher’s deity, the first cause, the unmoved Mover. And such a deity is outside of space and time, unchanging and unmoving.

 

Theologians interpret much of the Hebrew Scriptures as part of the Greek concept of deity. But when one reads the bible again afresh, one realises that the God of the bible is an ever-present Presence working in time and space, moving among nature, in and of the world while at the same beyond the world.

 

And such a God is an element of experience, a fabric of our own existence and being, and not simply a tenet of faith that we have to believe in. We do not believe in God. We are.

 

I do not believe in God. I know.

 

Okay okay. I know that sounds a bit wishy washy and spooky all over. Evangelicals would normally be appalled by such talk, equating it with new age goobledygook.

 

The problem is, the God of the evangelicals and the calvinists is a very small god indeed. It is a god that can so easily be contained in finite containers of human language. It is a god that can be controlled and manipulated by the insecurities of humankind.

 

My God is too big for that. He is simply too MUCH for the human me to say it all in so few words. No words in fact, can adequately present and explain the sacred. It is poetry plus, not propositions and precepts. God is thus the “more”, the “Other”, the “beyond in our midst”.

 

 

*******

 

 

some redlights to watch out for

 

The Bible, is one of the greatest works of ancient literature the world has ever witnessed, being the foundation stone of Western intellectual civilisation.

 

It is also, to the detriment of many of our atheist and free thinking friends, one of the best-selling books in the publishing history of our world. Of course, the statistics might have been exaggerated a bit – but no one can disagree with the rudimentary fact that it is a book that has been distributed all over the world through the missionary enterprise.

 

One need not be a Christian in order to enjoy the literary riches of this work, and the immense erudition that has come out of the diligent study of the ancient sources behind the English translation. It is not an issue to many intelligent people that one can believe in God and practise the life of spirituality while at the same time acknowledging the role of the bible in one’s life.

 

It is also not an issue for many educated people that they can accept the discovered truths of science as well as the metanarrative truths of Holy Scripture. There is no contradiction between the knowledge discovered via empiricism and rationalism and the knowledge one “receives” by faith through the sacrament of the Scriptures.

 

The problem arise only when people starts to understand the Bible in a wooden and literalistic manner – overlooking even the numerous portions that are LITERALLY METAPHORICAL and LITERALLY FIGURATIVE. If one makes the mistake of interpreting metaphors as concrete facts, then an apparent contradiction surfaces; such as the Genesis account of origins.

 

But who actually takes the bible literally?

 

Try not to mock. Try not to laugh. There are many in the world who read the bible with that sort of presupposition. And often times, they too commit the indecent sin of bibliolatry.

 

The worship of the bible.

 

Yes. By placing the Bible on the pedestal of the sacred life. By placing an authority on it that isn’t there in the first place. No sensible modern scholar will deny the almost irrefutable fact of history that the various books of the bible were compiled in progression over centuries past; and that what is infallible and divine cannot be determined with any conclusive authority, but by conjecture and consensus.

 

While there are books that were included in the list, there were also numerous others that were not. Many of them were also debated by ancient scribes.

 

If one presupposes the divine inspiration of the Scriptures so as to claim it is infallible and inerrant; then which in the list are indeed divine and inerrant? Why the 66 books and not the apocrypha? Or vice versa?

 

My evangelical brethren will argue that if God is indeed the author of the Scriptures, and God Himself is perfect and infallible, then His words have to be inerrant and infallible as well.

 

I agree. If indeed the Bible is truly verbally and plenarily inspired.

 

But scholarship has already proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a tremendous amount of discrepancies between the biblical texts and historical evidence. Many of them do not synchronise. As such, there is no way that the evangelical can defend inerrancy. Only by glossing over the archaeological discrepancies and ignoring their implications.

 

As human beings, we love to control and order our lives in neat little categories. It makes life much easier to tolerate and endure. And by claiming that one’s interpretation of the Scriptures is the correct one, control over the spiritual life becomes certain. And also, if one claims that God can ONLY speak through the bible (which is the cessationist position within the Reformed tradition), then one indirectly controls God as one can controls what he believes or does not believe in the Bible.

 

The Scriptures are not infallible in the evangelical sense. They are not inerrant in the evangelical sense. They are human documents, created by two different ancient communities, that witness to their individual experience of God within their communities. This results in the modern interpreter having to read the bible in a contextualised way that bridges the gap between the ancient world and ours.

 

Problems of discrepancy does not invalidate the existence of God at all. This might be the fear of many an evangelical or fundamentalist. Since God mediates through the agency of the human enterprise, God will allow His presence and His life to move through the errant texts to the human heart.

 

There is an existentialist presence of the biblical text that transcends human error and fallibility. There is that transcendent power that God uses to pushes through the boundaries of finite human language to evoke a response in the human heart.

 

Thus literalism is not the solution to biblical authority. It is the problem. It is an aberrant way to understand a collection of writings that are as ancient as they are transcendent – they are meant to be read and understood beyond the multiple layers of texts and subtexts to get to the contextualised meaning for the modern community.

 

 *******