City Harvest Church: How to “brainwash” 16,000 people?


The appeals  related to the scandal of City Harvest Church (CHC) are finally done and dusted. Wow, I didn’t know this was still ongoing till last month, it’s been like 6 years now? Yet, I still don’t know what’s going to happen to the founders, if someone knows, please comment below.
My interest in the case is this: There are still 16,000 people in CHC’s congregation, how do you get caught red-handed in a frankly, morally suspect act and still hold the loyalty of enough people to fill the Jalan Besar stadium twice?
Let’s go through some of the influence techniques they have used on their church members. How you spend, use and invest money is heavily influenced by psychology. And everyday, influence techniques are being used against us. Understanding influence principles is a key step to a richer life.

I found this thread on reddit that gave a rather chilling account of how CHC influences its members. The poster started there as a young teenager and continued on to CHC as a young adult. The original thread can be found here.

“Members were seemingly expected to have their social lives completely revolve around church. My weekends were totally taken up by church activities – Saturdays for cell group meetings, Sundays for service and fellowship. There were many other things like bible study and prayer meetings that really took up a lot of time. Adding to that was this discomfort I felt with how we were obliged to give money for three things – tithes, offerings, and the “arise and build fund”. I felt bad about giving money that was given to me by my mom specially for those purposes, because I knew the gesture was supposed to come from the heart.

It’s funny that during cell group meetings on Saturdays, I would be asked to make “offerings” after a casual sermon or testimonial by a fellow cell group member on how they’ve been greatly rewarded and why it’s important to give etc. An envelope would be passed around in the circle and members would each stuff in their offerings in a consciously discreet fashion. If you didn’t make an effort to conceal the fact that you were not giving any money (like I did once because I thought there was nothing wrong skipping it once), a very concerned cell group leader would have a word with you after the meeting to ask you if something happened and why you weren’t able to give.

At one point in time during my membership the arise and build fund was launched and we had to make separate donations for that. It was a fund that was all about “making a much bigger house of God for us to fulfill the cultural mandate in the marketplace” (until now I still don’t know wth a cultural mandate is). Buckets would be passed around and we had to stuff our money into sealed envelopes and drop them into the buckets with our names written on them.

I felt like I had stayed that long only because I was afraid of all the trouble that came with leaving. Looking at all the news now, I’m definitely glad I left, but it’s sad to see my friends, who till now are still in church from the time I went in, reject mainstream news about the trial outright and subscribe to and share only City News articles. [rolls eyes]”

“Brainwashing” is a lot more common than you think

Everyone finds it  weird that people are still attending City Harvest Church (CHC) now.  But look around and you’ll see the world is full of people who’ve been either gotten brainwashed into doing weird (like Tom Cruise talking about Scientology, the “religion”  that believes the evil ruler Xenu froze billions of victims and stashed them in Earth’s volcanoes 75 million years ago) or something murderous (like, you know joining ISIS).

And you ask “Why are these people so STUPID?” Yet, I’ve seen people go to intelligent people fall victim to time-share scams even when they know full well what they were going for. Everyone is susceptible, you just need to understand how our brains process information

Favoring what works

 I’ve said many times before that your brain physically doesn’t have enough power to process everything all the information we get. So the brain uses a lot of shortcuts to save processing power if you will.

 You feel all superior to a Christian creationist who doesn’t believe in evolution. Because the scientific community is on your side duh. But somewhere there’s that one guy that feels superior to you because he can draw a diagram on why the Samsung Note 7 explodes.

The cold hard truth is most information out there won’t affect your day-to-day life. Do you need to know why exactly the Note 7 explodes? No, you just need to know to chuck it out a window and get the hell away from it. It’s the same thing with Creationism. Even if the Earth is 6,000 years old and T-rexes were running around scaring the shit out of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, it doesn’t make it harder to into the office in the morning. Indeed, believing that hard-work, self-sacrifice and generosity are virtues that will be rewarded in the Kingdom of God makes it easier.

Did you pick up the part on how a cell group members talk about how “they’ve been greatly rewarded and why it’s important to give”. Once you get someone to believe that good things are happening to them because of their giving, people are going to start giving more. The very act of thinking that something good will happen makes you look out for the good things that are happening to you. Because your brain is primed to look out for it. If I tell you there are a lot of red cars in Singapore, tomorrow you’ll start noticing more red cars. Realistically, there can’t possibly more red cars since I just made that up.  It’s called the “priming effect”. Your brain functions mostly at low power mode, letting you bypass most information it comes across. It’s the only way it can function, if it had to process every single bit of information it comes across, it’ll literally explode.

Plus, CHC does do good deeds. The church sent teams to Kumamoto city in Japan after twin earthquakes hit the Kyushu region. It’s not like they spent all their time selling sham bonds to bankroll stagnant singing careers And here’s the key: When someone says something works for them, this is the part they’re talking about. We simply favor what works.

There’s something else that CHC does to reinforce this behaviour…

Your tribe matters more than anything

Say you’re on your way to work, and you say some guy pounding on your best friend, are you going to walk over and ask, “Sir, what is happening here? How has this person wronged you?”. No, you’re grabbing the nearest thing and whaling on him. In that moment, loyalty to your friend trumps everything.

That’s why we support sport teams (Arsenal ftw!).  It’s the same reason that youngsters join gangs, and old people congregate at coffee shops. We are all part of a tribe and we defend the tribe’s members fiercely. This sense of belonging can make us blind to what the tribe actually stands for.

This tribe mentality is how CHC has become so successful in creating members who are loyal to their church. What they’ve done is utterly indefensible, yet over 16,000 church members still believe in them. Look at the poster’s experience: a lot of members join from a young age. Church activities from the on takes up most of a person’s free time so you form strong social bonds with everyone there. Notice how the poster isn’t even sure of whether he wanted to be Christian. First and foremost, it was about standing with his tribe, in this case his family and friends.

The belief itself wasn’t even important.

You find it weird that there are still CHC members defending their church. But when someone comes along and criticizes their church, the members don’t hear it as a criticism of the church as an institution, they hear it as criticism of their friends. Most of us just follow our tribes, we’re social animals, that’s how we were built.

When a new controversy comes along, people don’t dissect it carefully, try to digest both sides of the argument and then support the side they think is right. They may think they did, but most of the time, they just go with whatever makes more sense to the people around them. Once you realize this, the world starts to make way more sense.

Fitting in is very important to us. It comes from the evolutionary instinct where the lone prehistoric man is surrounded by saber tooth tigers and other predators that could make hamburger out of him in seconds. The tribe offers protection for you and the young. The tribe is life so prehistoric man had to make sure not to do anything to get him cast out of the tribe. And that mentality has persisted till today.

Nobody is a moronic hypocrite. Our brains are build so that our first priority is to fit in. It’s evolution’s fault.

Be aware of how your brain processes information! When you find yourself making large investment choices based on what “because so-and-so also bought these shares”, stop and ask yourself if you’re making an informed decision.

PS: If you want to learn more how your brain understands money

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