When we worship the God of Fortune, no one actually makes a big hue and cry about it. But the outrage over City Harvest Church is quite different. But lets face it – by and large, everyone wants to be rich, fabulously rich if possible. If tomorrow, all – each and every member – of City Harvest Church becomes multi-millionaires, we would all be gladly flocking to their church!
But I digress. I won’t talk about City Harvest Church per se – but whether god or a belief in god, really brings you fortune (earthly fortune).
Well, there are rich Christians, and there are rich non-Christians – very very rich non-Christians such as these. Evidently, you can become rich even if you do not believe in the Christian god. But that doesn’t mean that a belief in the Christian god does not make you rich either. Indeed, some Christians claim it is because of their faith in their god that has made them rich.
I do not know if a belief in god can make you rich and I don’t really care if it does or doesn’t. I am more interested in this question: is it wrong to worship a god under the belief that he or she can make you rich, and should religious leaders be subject to living frugal lives?
That’s the tricky part because “men of the cloth” are indeed expected to live frugal, even ascetic, lives. Nothing flashy. Which is why when the Pope was reported to have worn a pair of Prada shoes, it caused controversy. Same with his commissioning of his own custom-made cologne.
Closer back home, Ren Ci Monk Ming Yi also caused a stir when certain of his lifestyle habits or choices came to light.
No one would begrudge religious people living comfortable lives – as long as the rest of his flock live as comfortable a life as he does. And I feel that is the rub here. When there are poor people and people struggling to survive at the baseline of society, and their religious leaders live differently, perception of hypocrisy surfaces. Why is this so? Being religious necessarily entails also being moral. Religious leaders are also expected to lead with moral authority. And extravagant and ostentatious display of material luxury go against these expectations. It’s a historical or tradition thing – money and god do not go together.
But what if the religion preached by these leaders are fundamentally based on material prosperity, and they clearly say so? Is it wrong for people to follow them? I think it depends on what is being taught and how the religion is practised. But generally, I think people should have the choice to follow whatever religion they want (even those which some of us feel are ridiculous). Religious freedom means just that – one is and should be free to worship whatever one wants – subject, of course, to the limitations of the law of the land. If your religion says it is right to go out and kill children for sacrifice to your god, then obviously that is a no-no.
So, are City Harvest Church followers wrong to follow the “prosperity gospel”, as some have alleged their religion to be about? Honestly, I don’t see anything wrong. If people can worship the God of Fortune, what is wrong with Christians expecting earthly wealth? Of course, one would say the Bible does not teach such things. But remember that the Bible has been interpreted differently in hundreds (even thousands ) of ways.
It means different things to each follower, each different Christian denomination.
I am not saying what City Harvest Church leaders have done is ok. I do not know the truth of it – until the court case begins and more facts are presented. It is important to note this: the leaders have been charged but this does not mean they are guilty.
It is important to adhere to this rule: one is innocent, no matter how grave one’s alleged crime is, until one is proved guilty.
As for the prosperity gospel, personally I feel it is nonsense (for even atheists can become fabulously rich). If a god or a priest or pastor or monk or Imam or any religious leader say, “Only I can give you earthly wealth”, I would think he is nuts. You don’t need a god or a belief in a god to be rich. Look around you. Many rich people do not believe in any gods. What makes one rich are still the basic values – education, hard work, honesty, practice, etc. And the best part is that you do not need a god or a belief in a god to practise these.
God, in my opinion, if he exists, is not beyond giving you riches (even on this earth), of course. I mean, he is god, you know? He could very well rain dollar bills from the sky if he wanted to. However, if he is god, he would also know that there are more important things than giving you a few million dollars in your bank account.
Because, at the end of the day, money is not the root of happiness. Many more other things are – such as wisdom to realise that you are already rich by the gifts each of us has. And it is in using these gifts that will make one happy. And wisdom to realise that happiness is already within us and nothing outside of us can give us that lasting happiness as that which is within.
But most of all, a deep understanding of what life is about is, in my very humble opinion, is the one thing which will bring happiness, peace, contentment and yes, even success.
So, anyone or anything – be it a person or religion – which promises you earthly wealth or material goods in return for your worship is actually quite an ignorant person or religion. For he would know that these are temporary and do not last. And this being so, I would not follow them. Why follow those who are ignorant, right?
Better to look at oneself and go within. That’s where the real treasure lies.
PS: I just also wanna say, as a matter of fairness, that I know of members of City Harvest Church who are selfless, compassionate people who give of their time to charitable and volunteer causes outside of their church too. So, I am not going to knock all of them together with what the leaders of their church are alleged to have done. I empathise with what they must be going through at the moment, and I hope they will not be discouraged from their good work.