How Religion Made Them Rich


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By Vincent Tan

Just like Baloo the bear, religions often remind us to “look for … the simple bare necessities” and “forget about your worries and your strife”, which is well and good. Yet all too often, this ideal Disney bubble is burst by a religious leader breaking (into very small pieces) the very rules he preaches.

Buddhist Monks with Money

For instance, monks may meditate, receive alms, and dress in orange robes, but they assuredly should not be driving their own vintage Mercedes Benz like leading monk Somdej Chuang of Thailand. Add to that $250,000 cup of materialism the bitter herbs of deception and tax evasion (Somdej imported the car parts separately to avoid import taxes) and you have a drink that even Buddha will have trouble choking down.

It seems religious hypocrisy knows no national boundaries. Remember the case a few years back regarding Buddhist monk, Venerable Ming Yi who was convicted of fraud, falsifying documents, misappropriating funds and giving false information to the Commissioner of Charities before he was jailed?

Millionaire Evangelists

The Hall of Hypocrisy welcomes candidates of all religions. We’ve all heard about all those American televangelists who rake in millions with their fancy televised sermons. But this form of worship has also infiltrated Singapore’s mainly Buddhist society. A recent entry into Singapore lore is City Harvest pastor Kong Hee’s fall from grace for masterminding the diversion of millions in church funds to his wife’s music career and afterward spending millions more to hide the crime. To be fair, this wasn’t the first time they were investigated for fraud (remember the 2004 case?). Someone needs a good thwack from a wooden cross. 

What is it about hypocrisy that hits us deep down like a slugger’s punch, where it hurts most (we don’t mean your wallet)? Followers feel betrayed by a leader, while neutral parties mock a holier-than-thou facade. We feel utterly ashamed and contemptuous of the practice, the way the Mafia’s pious prayers simply throw into harsher light their forced sale of concrete footwear.

Everyone has feet of clay, but not everyone latches their enemies’ tootsies to sinking stones and asks for forgiveness afterward. A taller high horse can mean a more inspiring moral example like Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, but only if they walk the talk (and indeed, survive the assassination attempts).