The City Harvest scandal: Missing the system for the man

APRIL 24 ― Remember the subprime crisis of 2008? It was the fault of individual banks and bankers, right? It was their greed, wasn’t it? Because of them, and mainly them, the system damn near collapsed. Correct?

Maybe not.

More and more folks are saying that it was the system itself: Neo-liberal free markets. It’s Skynet terminating us.

The very nature of capitalist profit-making markets and institutions tend to benefit itself at the expense of the individuals.

A rent-seeking organism seeks to achieve its own “pleasure” of near-implosion and recovery because it “knows” that its subjects will do whatever it takes to save it.

Our financial system is like a spoilt super-brat who enjoys burning his own toys because he knows his parents will rush to put out the flames and even buy him new play things.

Is it possible that the Market derives sadistic “fulfilment” from wreaking havoc on people, mainly the poor but not excluding the rich?

City Harvest... nothing changes

The 2016 conviction (and 2017 sentencing) of Pastor Kong Hee, Senior Pastor of City Harvest Church, together with a few church leaders who misapproproated S$50 million (RM157.5 million) from the church's coffers, remains a controversial topic. Like most Christians, I’m saddened that such a popular congregation was hit by this kind of scandal.

Unlike most Christians, however, I don’t think it’s entirely the fault of Pastor Kong Hee and his group of “creative accountants” ― I actually think the entire financial system is culpable.

Even now, City Harvest continues expanding and the church’s leadership would at best be somewhat more cautious.

Many Asian Christians (let alone City Harvest members) continue embracing the workings of a system in which a pastor can make millions whilst at the same time preach about a God-Man who used archaic phrases like “blessed are the poor.”

For years, City Harvest leaders kept seeking funds whilst holding up this Jewish dude whose words included the proclamation about how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.

I’m like, did Jesus talk about the dangers of money AND desire all Christians to make truck-loads of cash? Is he bi-polar or what?

Likewise, Kong Hee's fiercest critics will keep trying to make the most of the financial game whilst berating the most effective player i.e. Kong Hee himself.

My point is that this episode will cause people to criticise almost everything ― from Kong Hee to City Harvest to the dearth of financial controls to gullible Christians to below-average “China Wine”pop stars to the Prosperity Gospel ― everything except the profit-driven financial system we’re all soaking in.

We’re always blaming people, without questioning the system at all.

‘Powers and principalities’

There is nothing the average person would like more than to point the finger at the church whilst ignoring the perils of the network he/she is part of. Why not?

Because the system works precisely by promising everybody a dream, a fantasy, of treasures galore. Doesn’t matter that satisfaction never comes ― the allure is enough to keep us hand-cuffed to it (simply ask the rich if they’re contented with their present earnings).

No matter how much time Pastor Kong Hee spends in jail, would he realise that the “powers and principalities” which he has probably himself spoken about (from the epistle to the Ephesians) are reflected in the system from which he’s made his millions?

That the almighty capitalist system which Singaporeans (and non-Singaporeans) love is dangerous in itself and that even a righteous man can be taken down simply for “playing around” with huge sums of money?

Given that the City Harvest leadership continues to maintain Kong Hee’s innocence ― and assuming for half a sec that they’re right ― what would this say about the autonomous power of money and finance such that innocent people can be ruined “just like that”?

Not unlike the scheming power of Death in the Final Destination movies; unsuspecting people are “tracked” and hunted down by impersonal forces which have simply decided that their time is up?

The City Harvest scandal shows how individuals are frequently the victims of their very immersion in the game of the market, how it can make sense to say that it's “not their fault” yet they're guilty all the same.

This would not be a legal kind of guilt, but a post-legal kind of culpability i.e. loving the Establishment. Virtual guilt exploding forth in real charges and total ruin. A malevolent excess generated by our (legal and proper) indulgence in profit-making.

But if we continue to blame the personal culpability of Kong Hee, we may never see the non-neutrality of money itself. We may miss the fact that Kong Hee and his team did not abuse the system, he merely used it.

And millions of people continue to play around with it every day, unaware that ultimately, they are the ones being used.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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