We must not forget one uncomfortable fact in the Kong Hee Affair. 4 other persons are slapped with charges, some of whom received more charges than even Kong Hee himself because they were in charge of the financial books. The charges relate to the allegation that monies were diverted illegally for the purpose of boosting and supporting the singing career of Kong Hee's wife. Nothing is said about the 4 receiving any benefit from their actions. Now, these 4 persons who have not received any benefit from their actions are charged for offences that carry sentences of life imprisonment.
Even if they are found guilty of doing what they are alleged to have done, the question that looms in my head is "Why the heck did they do it when there's no benefit to them at all?"
People are prepared to incur heavy costs to themselves for their families and loved ones. A Singaporean actor was willing to go through a hazardous surgery and give half of his liver to his girlfriend (who became his wife) because of his love for her. I remember reading in the papers about a father who threw himself in the path of a charging rhinoceros in the Terai jungle to divert the attention of the rhino from his young son. The father died but the son was saved. But such self-sacrificial acts are perfectly understandable and laudable in that the party performing the acts do so to protect or benefit their loved ones. These are instances of heroic actions done by someone for his family.
But there are also instances of people who commit crimes for their families and loved ones. I can think of mothers who steal to feed their children. I've read of drug runners who risk getting the death sentence to give their families a good life. But in a normal situation, nobody would do anything illegal and hence expose himself to heavy penalties when that act does not benefit himself and his family but it benefits someone else totally unrelated to him.
But obviously there are people who do sacrificial acts that don't benefit themselves. Suicide bombers are a good example. Many Palestinian suicide bombers in fact harm their own families because Israel takes reprisals for every suicide bomb incident and would send the bulldozer to level the homes of suicide bombers' families.
There is only one reason why anybody would do anything insanely sacrificial and even criminal and that does not benefit himself or his family and the reason is always religious.
I must make it clear at the outset that I'm not against religion. I must also make it clear that I am not commenting in this post about Kong Hee's particular case. He has not yet been tried and nobody knows if he is guilty or innocent at the moment. I am only drawing a lesson from his arrest and I'm focusing on the broader picture and it doesn't matter if he is totally innocent; a lesson can still be learnt from the whole episode.
As a devout Christian myself, I'm naturally aware of how the average believer thinks and acts. When Lee Kuan Yew gave the advice in his book that in his opinion, Muslims should learn to be less religious, I thought it was an excellent piece of advice that he should extend to people of all religions, including mine. Religion is based on faith and I won't go into the details since I have written extensively on this elsewhere in my blog but in a nutshell, religion is not based on fact and reasoning. As Martin Luther rightly points out, "Reason is the greatest enemy of faith". Once a person goes into a system that requires him to lay aside his powers of independent reasoning, he is in fact entering dangerous territory and there is no telling what the outcome may be.
I know too little about other religions so I'll just concentrate on my own. This is the sort of advice that I'll give to myself and people who bother to listen to me but it's of course extremely personal and lots of people will probably disagree with me. Basically my advice is simple - if I have to be religious, I must be as moderate as I can and I must choose a time-tested church, particularly a church that has checks and balances in place. The head of my parish church shouldn't be the overall head. He must be answerable to someone else. If he says he is answerable to only God, that's not a good answer because, as we have seen in reality, that usually leads to all kinds of abuses. It is always possible for someone who is the overall head in a parish church (I use the term to mean a single church building as opposed to a whole church or denomination) to be idolised the way Kong Hee was idolised by his parishioners. For an understanding of the extent of how he was hero-worshipped, see the video of his birthday celebration in my previous blog entry by clicking this.
So, the pastor of my church must be answerable to someone above him and ultimately the bishop who doesn't run any particular parish church. There are other checks and balances that can be put in place. There is something that my church does which I think is really quite good. They rotate the pastors round the different churches in Singapore. I've heard stories of parishioners being really upset by this because they have got used to a particular pastor and they want him to remain but of course the parishioners have no say (as should be the case) and the head or bishop has ultimate say on the matter. But that's precisely how you can prevent a "cult leader" situation - by rotating the pastors every now and then. Don't forget - religion is antithetical to reason. It's very easy for people to hero-worship someone when they aren't using their heads. Incidentally, in the birthday concert the church held for Kong Hee (if you have seen the video link in my blog), they called Kong Hee their "hero". But independent churches can't rotate pastors because they exist on their own, ie each parish church is all the church they have. So there must be other mechanisms they should come up with that can remove this potential for hero-worship.
It's very easy for someone to obey without question a hero-idol even if the obedience may lead to a situation where his own interest is seriously compromised. But alas, the law does not recognise this as undue influence and my fear is the 4 people who are charged with Kong Hee will have to stand on their own. But it is sad particularly when these 4 did not benefit one bit from whatever they were alleged to have done.