Please don’t read this if you’re going to take offense with what I’m going to say. I understand that religion is a sensitive topic.
Religion is a sensitive topic. I knew that ever since I was told by a friend that I had given him a figurative slap in the face after we had a fierce debate over religion. After that episode, I also learnt that you can never win a Christian when debating about religion because they will fiercely stand by what they believe and refuse to consider anything else. Therefore, whenever I talk about religion to friends, the minute I sense them getting a little defensive, I will just tell them that it’s going to stop before we go into heated argument. That was how I felt recently while having a mini debate over Twitter with a friend. What surprised me was that he was willing to stand on neutral ground and allow me to share my views. Hence, this entry.
All because I did not agree with what City Harvest Church (CHC) was doing. I did not agree that members were made to give 10% of their salary each month to the church, what they call tithe. Like many Singaporeans, I cannot believe that they are actually expanding and buying up part of Suntec City for their church activities. I also bet they are pretty happy about it and the pastors must be talking (or preaching) about it in church. How do I know? Because I was part of that church before.
I was a young and ignorant kid once. I went through the phase of wanting to be different and popular. It seemed to be fashionable to belong to a Christian church in Secondary school. Or so I thought. I briefly attended a church by invitation of two friends. If I said it wasn’t a good thing that happened to me, I would be lying. That church had a good youth service which paired newcomers to older mentors. I admired my mentors. In my naive mind then I was awed by the fact they could quote verses from the bible. Apart from having vague memories of those children bible stories, I could not remember anything else. My first shock came while we were supposed to go out on one of those “evangelising” (can’t remember what they called them) sessions. We were to go out to talk to people about God and the church. Although my mentor wasn’t the super pushy type, I could see she was trying to tell convince this girl who was born into a religion to convert to being a Christian.
Disillusion washed over me. I had been brought up in a family where although we believed in God, I was taught that there is no one superior religion and that it’s ok to be any religion because ultimately they taught one to be a good and upright person. Meaning, my parents were ok with me choosing whatever religion I ultimately wanted to follow. What my mentor was doing was contradicting to whatever I had been taught. Plus, I felt it was wrong to tell someone to convert religions. Since when was it ok for one to choose what others should believe in?
After a while, I left that church. I don’t really remember how or why, but I stopped going. Much later, my sister who had started going to CHC, brought me to church. It was a church carnival that day and I had only thought of attending it once to see what it was like. I also did the stupid thing of giving my number when members asked for it. Of course, that meant they could call and ask if you were ever coming to church again.
Alright, I didn’t think much of it then and besides, I thought of giving myself a second chance at actually having a faith and religion. I was already all too familiar with those diagrams of how normal people were living and how Christians were living…the circle with God outside of it and the circle with God in it sitting on the chair. The style of CHC was more fun with members singing at the top of their voices in praise of the Lord. The only thing different was that they spoke in tongues. Funny thing was I could not do it for I only knew one way of praying and that was to silently compose thoughts and talk to God that way.
There was this immense pressure to be able to do it. Seniors in my cell group would ask why I wasn’t speaking in tongue and all I could do was shrug and say I couldn’t do it. There was also this immense pressure to make sure you attended church. If ever you missed church, you had better have a good reason why. Oh, and they made sure they tracked you down by calling you. See, that’s why I say it’s stupid to give your number or address or whatever. You could never ever be alone or away from church. That immense pressure finally got to me. I was reluctant to go to church and would drag my feet to go to church. This was all wrong. I should be happy to go to church. I should be happy to go to church because I wanted to and not out of obligation. I couldn’t understand how I could stand in church feeling forced to be there. I had enjoyed singing songs in mass during Primary and Secondary school. (I’ve been in Catholic schools all my life since I was 5 to 16.) What was happening to me?
I was confused and needed time to sort my thoughts out alone, but they were not letting me do that. I talked to my parents once again. It was then that my mum pointed out that she never believed in going out to “evangelise” people. She said that if she wanted to become a Catholic or Christian, she would approach those people, not the other way round. No, please don’t think she was trying to force me to think the same way or she was trying to brainwash me. I myself felt she had a point.
At the same time, my sister who had a temporary job and was earning a very small pay was asked to give part of it to the church – tithe as it was called. I don’t know what happened, but my parents knew about it and decided to talk to her about it. All I can remember was my dad saying that he could find no sense in it. Yes, tithing is mentioned in the bible and it is a good thing to give to your church, but you cannot just think about that and only that. You have to consider other things. If your pay is already so little and it can barely feed you, do you think it is wise to give up part of it to the church? What he said made sense. We cannot just blindly follow a rule just because it said so. We have to consider other things. I thought about it and later on I thought that it’s kind of like a donation, so shouldn’t we be able to say how much we want to give? Like in a Catholic church, they do collect donations during service, but you’re not pressured to give a set amount or even to give any at all.
Through these experiences, I can only say one thing. All Christians are the same. They believe in “evangelising” people. Some go to the point where they become fanatical. They will actually tell you that you cannot go to heaven because you’re not a Christian. Who are YOU to tell me whether I can go to heaven or not? God knows what I have done and just as the bible says, he alone will judge me. I don’t need people to question my faith when I don’t turn up for church. I mean, I haven’t come across a Catholic who does the whole questioning thing so why should Christians do that? If you really want me to come to church, pray for it to happen. Pray that suddenly I see the light. Look, I’ve seen miracles happen in my own family ok. My mum became a Catholic after so many years. My maternal grandpa who is bedridden, one day out of the blue told his nurse that he wanted to become a Catholic.
Let me say that I have nothing against Christians or what they believe in. You are free to believe what you want, but please respect my views and beliefs. Don’t force them upon me. It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth about Christians. I have friends who are believers in the Christian faith and we get along fine. Please just don’t mention about going to church. If you really really want to invite me that’s fine, but just accept it if I say I don’t want to go. I have my reservations and reasons. Just don’t keep asking. Like I said, pray that one day I’ll approach you instead and ask if I can come to church.
Having said that, it’s also not true to say that I don’t believe in God. I grew up in an environment where there is great Catholic influence. Of course, I believe in God and how he teaches us to do good things. With that, let me end off with this clip. I discovered it through a friend’s Facebook account and love it a lot. Shall also do some promoting for her? She’s one of the girls in the clip…the one who holds up the board at the traffic junction. 🙂 I’m not sure if the whole clip is filmed in Champaign, but there are scenes of downtown Champaign and the street near my school. The piece is rather catchy and thought-provoking.
Just wanted you to know that I’ve been through similar experiences before with a different charismatic church (not CHC), and their idea of “evangelism”, I felt, was what eventually made me leave the church… But about 10 years later, I started seeing Christians who weren’t the same: there are Christians who don’t use hard-selling or try to pressure you into going to church… I pray that one day, you’ll come across other Christians who’ll let you see them in a different light. =)
– Zhen Wah
FYI: Catholics are ALSO Christians. The non-Catholic Christians are called Protestants. 😛
That said, I always wondered if u sound so peeved with Protestants, how come you don’t follow your mum to be a Catholic then?
boss says: I know that Catholics are also Christians, but you know what kind of Christians I’m talking about. Does CHC count as Protestants then? No right?
It’s not a matter of since I don’t like those people, then why don’t I just become a Catholic. It takes more than just saying you’re a Catholic or Christian or whatever religion. I don’t think I have that level of faith right now and I’m quite happy at what/where I am right now.