Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Of Magic Talismans and Miracle Healing

Every morning, as part of my pre-work ritual, I scan through Todayonline for interesting articles. Mostly, the reportage consists of informative pieces trotting out  Government-endorsed announcements and other mundane news about taxes and/or the economy. Political or social commentaries are available but provide little beyond the expectedly banal and sycophantic drivel (Eugene KB Tan - take note).

One article stuck out like a sore thumb this morning.  The headline read "Trial begins for couple accused of selling talismans worth S$490,000."  The TLDR version is basically that said couple sold talismans to their victims, wherein said talismans purportedly brought good luck or averted bad luck. The usual superstitious bull manure.  In my view, the scammed victims probably deserved it.  Caveat emptor isn't it? Was this not the exact same excuse peddled by banks who sold worthless Lehmann notes to retail investors?

Almost reflexively, my mind turned to an online note I wrote many years ago on Facebook. I had stopped writing notes on Facebook a while back after it became clear that it would make certain social and professional situations awkward (should the writings go viral whether by accident or by design).

A quick stroll down the electronic memory lane revealed that I wrote the note way back in 2009. Ah, such nostalgia, the good old days when people were not offended by everything under the sun and did not threaten any critique of religion with criminal prosecution.

I reproduce that note in part:

"I feel that clear boundaries must be set, in order to avoid obfuscating the thin line between religion and, for lack of a better word, a scam.

Take for instance, a man is peddling colorful stones. He touts the stones' magical healing abilities and sells them to unsuspecting old people. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the society and in fact the law, considers this a criminal offence, subject to punishment under the Penal Code.

Let's compare the above example with the below scenario.

A man sells a seemingly innocuous Book. He praises the Book as the word of God, and states that some passages within said Book, when read with faith, can and will lead to the healing of diseases. Unsuspecting third party buys the Book, maybe joins a church, and finds himself giving (willingly of course) 20% of his salary to the church on a fixed basis.

The similarities between both examples are uncanny. One, both involve a transaction of money in consideration of a service or product (Be it stone or book). Two, both objects are touted to have direct or indirect restorative powers, which cannot be proven by Science. Three, both buyers are willing parties who were not coerced into making the purchase. And yet, quite inexplicably, whilst one contravenes the Penal Code, the other is widely accepted as a valid social norm."

At risk of sounding self-congratulatory, my note, written nearly 7 years ago, could almost be described as prophetic.  What, you think prophesies can only be found in the Old Testament? Pfft.

Honestly, what is the actual difference between the couple just indicted for scamming versus organized religious groups who run ticketed miracle healing events (or if not ticketed would involve handing round a bag for, mind you, voluntary donations).  Are we saying that as long as there are enough suckers believing the same manure, the same stinking pile of excrement suddenly ceases to be a scam and transcends into hallowed grounds. Or are we saying that as long as the persons peddling said manure "honestly believe" in the holy or magical properties of the goods being sold, it is not a scam? If so, would it then be a defence for the couple to state that they hold bona fide belief in their talismans?

The running theme, as always, is that religion has been unjustly and undeservedly placed on an unassailable pedestal.

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