"You will be punished and condemned by heaven"

"A woman who fed human feces to a helpless elderly woman in her care will be "punished and condemned by heaven," a magistrate said yesterday.

Elderly home worker Chan Sau- kuen, 49, who shoved an old woman's feces into her mouth as a punishment for soiling herself, was remanded in custody for sentencing on December 29, pending background reports."

This local news item was reported in different media yesterday, most probably because of the sensationalism associated with the "disgusting" act the elderly home worker was accused for - feeding the old woman her own feces. This is especially the case since there is in Cantonese a very vulgar equivalent to the English curse words "drop dead".

But what caught my attention was what the magistrate said. I was wondering whether a court judge should be doing more than passing worldly sentences. What business did he have telling a convict that she will be "punished and condemned by heaven"?

And what is "heaven" anyway? This is the obscure status that the diety in Chinese worship is endowed with. Since strictly speaking, we do not have a religion, we have the inclination of turning to "heaven" for worship or wishes. For example, the emperor was the "son of heaven". And, as reflected in the magistrate's comment, heaven watches over us, judges our behaviour and gives reward or punishment.

But unlike other dieties, this heaven is without an identity or a creed. It is just a vague concept, but one that has been governing many people's value or belief system. How facile!

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