Yes, God has provided a quiet day at the office

A major contribution to the decline of intelligent conversation, letter-writing and spiritual contemplation is the emergence of Googleplexing either as a competitive sport or a solitary pastime.  The player chooses two improbable words and Googles them, with the aim of getting as few results as possible, though more than zero.  Thus if we Google ‘dwarfdom’ and ‘aardvark’ we find a disappointingly high seven web pages manage to contain both phrases.  The ideal score of course is one.

By contrast, ‘big’ and ‘lychee’ produce some 299,000 results.  Search for the whole phrase ‘ “big lychee” ’ by using quotation marks, and you get around 9,860.

Googleplexers frown on the use of whole phrases, as it makes the game unnecessarily complicated and tends to bring in a lot of zero scores.  Try ‘ “Mark14:19-20” “Urban Design Guidelines for Hong Kong” ’, for example, and you will not be amazed to find that no single on-line document features both strings:

But not so fast.  Google ‘ “Matthew14:19-20” “Urban Design Guidelines for Hong Kong” ’ and you actually get a result: a pdf file from the Big Lychee’s Planning Department on the HK2030 study from 2003-04:

The pdf file is missing*, but the cached html version shows that some pious bureaucratic soul decided to start chapter 13 on A Future Roadmap with the story about the loaves and the fishes.  Which brings us incredibly neatly to the fascinating subject of the rise of fundamentalist Christianity among middle and senior levels of Hong Kong’s professional, business and bureaucratic classes – a trend that poses an even greater threat to all that is decent and good than Googleplexing.

Thanks to their networks of schools, the mainstream Catholic and Protestant churches have long recruited among our city’s impressionable and upwardly mobile youth.  Christianity, like other habits of the colonial rulers (drinking cognac, wearing three-piece suits in summer, joining the Jockey Club, etc), also had a social cachet.  The stereotype middle-class, pro-democracy Hongkonger is a Catholic; the classic working-class, pro-Beijing equivalent follows the usual Chinese/Buddhist/Taoist mélange.

I don’t know when the evangelicals started to proselytize here.  I remember them organizing picnics and other activities back in the 1980s for poorer kids who didn’t get out of the housing estates much.  But at some stage in the last 10 or 15 years they seem to have sunk their hooks into the affluent and conservative upper reaches of society.

Property tycoon (and former Enron director) Ronnie Chan is rumoured to prowl the streets after dark looking for wayward youths to rescue for Jesus.  Sun Hung Kai Property’s Kwok brothers built a life-size (though concrete and supposedly educational) Noah’s Ark at their Ma Wan development.  Unlike moderate, mainstream Christianity, Calvinist/Puritan Evangelism stresses blind belief rather than loving one’s fellow man; some of its modern, born-again incarnations suggest that worldly riches are God’s reward for faith, making it the ideal religion for members of property cartels.

Over in government, we have Security Secretary Ambrose Lee pushing the Bible in official press releases; Constitutional Affairs Secretary Stephen Lam and Justice Secretary Wong Yan-lun are believers, as is former Commerce Secretary Fred Ma.  Another scurrilous rumour concerns a small group of the prosperous and well-connected who are starting up their own school, partly as a legal loophole to get around Hong Kong’s ban on home-schooling, to protect their kids from evolution, the Big Bang, plate tectonics and other science that contradicts the Book of Genesis.

Lower down the power structure, they crop up all over the place.  The 24-hour Creation TV (Cable ch15, Now TV ch545) station was endorsed by the then-boss of the government-funded Arts Development Council, one Darwin (but not –ist, presumably) Chen.  Philemon Choi, sitter on a hundred advisory boards, is an inveterate Gospel-pusher, as are hundreds of school principals, social service managers and similar doers of good.  And, of course, countless thousands of ordinary plain folks subscribe to this stuff, as well.  The agenda is anti-indecency, anti-gambling, anti-sex, anti-gay and anti-liberalism generally (though for some reason they don’t share the American evangelist or Catholic outspokenness on abortion).  Liberalism, if you read between the lines, is a code word for aspects of modern Western culture.

At this stage it gets creepy-yet-oh-how-predictable: mainland officials give their Communist, patriotic blessing to this movement.  A fine HK Magazine article sums it up.

One of many ways in which the Holy Spirit moves our officials to do the Lord’s work can be seen through a glance at the list of charities allowed to collect funds on Saturday mornings.  The word ‘evangelical’ crops up quite a lot (though the Evangelical Lutherans are OK – just ordinary decent non-mouth-frothing Protestants with a misleading name).  Breakthough (13.6.09, territory-wide) is Philemon Choi’s youth ministry.  Hope Worldwide (18.7.09, HK Island) fights AIDS with abstinence-and-faithfulness-for-youth projects.  Media Evangelism (19.8.09, Kowloon) is building a Christian media presence – yippee.  Operation Dawn (16.1.10, HK Island) cures drug addicts (Nepalese, who are Hindus, a speciality) through God.  These are mixed in with reputable Third World, elderly, kids’ and other causes, so generous donors who think they are helping the downtrodden and dispossessed might actually be funding the All-China Pentecostal Brightness and Sweetness Suppression of Masturbation and Bikinis Campaign.

For example, we have (13.2.10, HK Island) the Society of Truth and Light – Hong Kong’s very own Christian Taliban, whose achievements include hijacking the jury-type panels that rule on obscenity in the media, inducing the cops to raid a chain of clothes stores over a T-shirt and wetting themselves over media discussion of homosexuality.  These guys are on their case.  We have six weeks to the second Saturday in February to decide what to say or do to these people when they ask for a donation on the streets of Hong Kong Island.  Remember: orange collection bag with a white lighthouse…

Can’t wait.

Time for one last Googleplex:

Fred Ma’s wife on encountering the Lord in Singapore (web page can be slow, possibly smitten with righteous wrath).

*Actually available here, but not worth a look

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11 Responses to Yes, God has provided a quiet day at the office

  1. This little picture sums it up well

  2. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    There are a cultural concepts which a culture does not develop itself but, after having them introduced from another culture, seize upon with great relish and make their own. The Hong Kong middle classes and evangelical Christianity are a good example of this. The entire world and hamburgers/pizza are another.

    Strangely, another example that comes to mind is the mainland Chinese and the exclamation mark. It seems to be used for exhortation in Chinese documents. My mainland counterparts also use it liberally in English communications and consequently sound like over-excited loons.

  3. jeffrey says:

    “some of its modern, born-again incarnations suggest that worldly riches are God’s reward for faith, making it the ideal religion for members of property cartels.”

    A careful reading of Scripture would reveal that much of Scripture condemns the love of riches – rather riches are to be viewed in the light of helping your fellow man.

    “Calvinist/Puritan Evangelism stresses blind belief rather than loving one’s fellow man”

    I really do love this blog as it always has some quality writing, but sorry, this is just careless journalism. Have you read anything by Calvin? Or Edwards?

    I hope I’m not trolling. Let me know if there’s anything more you’d like to discuss.

  4. Mike says:

    @ Jeffery,

    You are correct in your interpretation of scripture, but not of modern day evangelicals.

    While the bible strongly decries the accumulation of wealth, the modern evangelical tradition (as started by televangelists, and subscribed to by the HK elite) is rooted in the belief that as long as you 100% believe in the creation story as the truth, hate homosexuals for no rational purpose, and stand ready to mock the rest of the planet when the rapture arrives – you will go to heaven. It does not matter what you do, merely what you believe.

    As long as you believe in god and jesus you can rape and pillage to your hearts content – perfect for the US neocons and local tycoons.

    Modern evangelicalism rots the brain – i think the old school drug PSA’s would serve as a good analogy, you remember the ones with the egg and the frying pan?

    “This is your brain; this is your brain on Christ”.

  5. Sir Crispin says:

    Jeffrey, yes I have read Calvin, or more appropriately books on Calvin. Fortuitously, the evangelical meat heads in this town were just last summer pushing for creationist nonsense to be taught in HK classrooms.

    How did Calvin, the father of Methodist/Presbyterian-esque Calvinist denominations who in the US have gone off the evangelical deep end describe the creation story I ask you? He called it divine baby talk, a children’s bedtime story to help humans of limited intellectual abilities comprehend the wonders of the universe. It was not to be interpreted literally, as these closed-minded morons do. Apparently Calvin was right, humans are obviously of limited intelligence to insist this myth be taught in schools as science.

  6. boo says:

    “Try ‘ “Mark14:19-20” “Urban Design Guidelines for Hong Kong” ’, for example, and you will not be amazed to find that no single on-line document features both strings”

    …until now:
    Congratulations on making a small piece of internet history.

  7. Historian says:

    I wonder if Sir Bow Tie prays for the souls of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao?

  8. gweipo says:

    I was thinking about this exact matter the other day while visiting a monastery in Cambodia and hearing about how monks were recruited there – the guide gave a pretty cynical breakdown about them joining for the education, to get away from unemployment, with broken hearts etc. etc and then posited that the best thing was you could dip in and dip out of being a monk which is why the whole movement was so strong and self-sustaining. In contrast however, despite it’s entanglement with the upper echelons of society in HK and even the UK where people also convert for – guess what – education of the their kids, it’s a dying matter – ever notice how old the clergy and nuns are?
    And to be truly cynical – do you have any idea just how much property the Catholic church is sitting on in HK? Think about like just about the whole of Caine road. How devote are the followers really?

  9. jack says:

    not so sure re the characterisation of pro-democracy as middle class.

    I spent an hour watching the Tiananmen protest march walk past Admiralty, and was quite struck by the numbers of determined yet ordinary looking working folk in the march.

    The middle class, apart from the young, seemed largely absent.

  10. mom2twoboys says:

    As an American Christian, this sounds eerily like the “Religious Right” in the US, who are so concerned with being “right” but not much concerned about how to treat their neighbor (let alone their enemy). I wonder how many have honestly tried to emulate Jesus’ teachings. As one who humbly tries my best (though failing daily), I am more often than not appalled by behaviors and statements of Christians. As you accurately point out, it is too often much more of a club than a real, heart-felt belief. I have a dislike, if not fear, of a link between religion and government (no matter the religion or the government), and I hope that’s not the direction HK is going . . . .

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