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Spiritualist anachronisms

The China Post, Taiwan
Feb. 15, 2005 Editorial • Tuesday February 15, 2005

Here we go again. Sung Chi-li, a cult leader who claims to have supernatural powers, alleged not long ago he took his follower Premier Frank Hsieh on a tour of Paris without both of them leaving Taiwan. The guru, to whom Hsieh knelt to ask for a blessing for his election as mayor of Kaohsiung seven years ago, is known for his vaunted levitation and manifestations, which he calls a “split body.” He used to claim he could appear in more than one place at a time. Now he is saying he could take someone along with him when he visited somewhere else without leaving where he was.

Sung told the press he, with Hsieh tagging along, was on a “cosmos-roaming tour” of the French capital, including a stopover at the Eiffel Tower, during a gathering of followers last year. The China Times quoted Sung as saying he asked the mayor of Kaohsiung if the latter saw the tower and the city hall of Paris. Hsieh said he did, according to Sung. Hsieh, however, was wise enough not to comment directly on Sung’s claims. He was not on his knees again and asked for a blessing for his new job as head of government.

Sung is not an isolated case. Supernaturalism is in vogue. Gurus are everywhere in Taiwan. And practically every one of them is taking advantage of the gullible, who range from the uneducated in a country where universal education is available, to top-ranking government officials and probably court judges.

Seven years ago, the Taipei district court convicted Sung of fraud. Some of his estranged followers accused him of cheating them into making donations with fake pictures that he said proved his supernatural powers. The Taiwan high court, however, later overturned the decision, claiming law enforcement agencies should not attempt to prove or disprove self-proclaimed supernatural powers. Perhaps the judge who absolved the guru is a great fan of Harry Potter.

Supernaturalistic movies are for entertainment. They give clear-thinking people a chance to relive their childhood fantasies. They never claim that they show the real world, but the uninformed, particularly in a newly modernized society like Taiwan, are easily swayed to accept anachronisms.

If popular only at the lower level of society, supernaturalism is not very harmful. But it would be most detrimental to the well being of the people, if it were espoused by top policy decision makers. President Chen Shui-bian, convinced his amulet helped him survive the mysterious shooting on the eve of his reelection, distributed charms to the cult faithful in the lead-up to last year’s legislative elections, claiming the potency of their magic power to bring happiness. And he gave the post of head of government to Hsieh, a follower of the once convicted guru who is now on the rise again.

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