The press has revealed that Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC Corp chairwoman Cher Wang (王雪紅) has just spent NT$684 million (US$22.6 million) buying a whole floor of one of the buildings in the MeHAS City (美河市) project in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Xindian District (新店) for the express use of the Sin Tiam Presbyterian Church (新店教會). The reports also say that Wang, daughter of Formosa Plastics Group founder Wang Yung-ching (王永慶), donated more than NT$2 billion to the Bread of Life Christian Church in Shilin (士林靈糧堂) in 2008 to finance the church’s scheduled move next year to Taipei’s Dazhi District (大直). The new premises will be able to accommodate a congregation of 5,000, making it unquestionably the most prestigious Christian church in all of Taiwan.
Cher Wang is the head of the top international brand HTC and Taiwan’s richest woman. She is also a devout Christian and during the 2012 presidential election she, in condoning the so-called “1992 consensus” as a “good Christian,” helped a flailing President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), heading for a political pratfall, turn his fortunes around and secure his second term. Her lack of political baggage or risk made her the go-to businessperson.
However, recent years have not been very kind to HTC financially. To stop the rot, Wang decided to bring in the big boys, enlisting Hollywood A-lister and Iron Man star Robert Downey Jr for the company’s marketing campaign, with additional celebrity endorsements by Wang Lee-hom (王力宏) and rock group Mayday (五月天). Is throwing money at the problem really the answer? I am sure God never said so explicitly, but she has put her faith in him, and is praying that he will take it all in hand.
However, is it right for her to build such an ostentatious church here on Earth? It is really not for me to say. The anthropologist Ronald Wright has said that for televangelists to preach in such glorified settings as huge stadiums, making fortunes out of God’s capital, is the preserve of corporate religion. US mythologist Joseph Campbell said that churches are places for silent contemplation and meditation, while many modern churches are built to look more like theaters, showy yet blasphemous for all that. For Campbell, churches are symbols, not places to go and see things performed. They are places in which believers can come into contact with the essential nature of their spiritual lives.
The early second-century Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus, writing about the human tendency to believe in gods, said, “You bear God within you, poor wretch, and know it not.”
In the 18th century, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant advised people to divest themselves of religious doctrines, saying that “the death of dogma is the birth of morality.” How beautifully put.
Wang has seen fit to spend hundreds of millions of New Taiwan dollars on building a new and ostentatious church. Why not take a leaf from Christ’s book and show some compassion for the poverty-stricken, using the money instead to providing some humanitarian aid to the poor and needy in Taiwan? Would that not make more sense than her locking herself up in her shrine, praying for glory and riches in this existence, and everlasting life in the next?
Francis Tsai is a former secretary to the president of the Kaohsiung Medical University, now retired.
Translated by Paul Cooper