This is not a religious piece, nor am I promoting Christianity, but to use the example of the inner workings of a church to explain an elaborate scam. There will be some concepts of Christianity that is essential to this piece. This may be a contentious piece, and people in that kind of church may point fingers at me and say, ‘Do not say what you do not know about Christianity.’ So I have to clarify here first – I am a Christian, which gives me the knowledge and capacity to comment on it. I have sat in sermons of prosperity gospel churches, and listened to the sermons seriously. Through this article, I hope the common man do not fall into religious scams. As a Christian, I hope my fellow Christians see through the untruths, although to really get into that, I will have to write a religious piece, which I probably will not do it here.
Basic knowledge on Christianity which I need it for my examples below.
- Jesus died for our sins, so we can be saved.
- It is good for Christians to give 10% of our earnings to God, which is often used for church building and other charity purposes.
- In the Holy Bible, there are examples of people blessed by God in terms of health and wealth.
In Singapore, and in many parts of the world, there is a kind of church preaching the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel preach that God will always want financial wealth and physical health for them. Jesus had died for your sins – nothing you do will make you unjust in the eyes of God. If you pray hard enough, your cancer will be cured. If you donate enough money, God will give you back many times more. God’s blessings are waiting for you. All you need to do is to reach out and to grab hold of it.
In the eyes of the prosperity gospel church, their God has become a genie.
The Psychological Aspect – Effort
Psychologically, humans need to feel that something which they have is earned through their efforts, even if that effort is ridiculous off or insignificant.
In society, successful people always claim they earned their success all by themselves, even though they had backing from their family. In gambling, players always have the need to blow and rub at the cards, slowly revealing the numbers bit by bit, shouting if they have to, even though the cards dealt to them was already cast in stone. As if by all these efforts, they could change the cards. They will tell you it is the thrill and excitement though.
In marketing, such a psychology is also used. Customers are often led to a lucky draw or scratch card system, where they will draw out a sure-win prize, obtaining the chance to get something ‘expensive’ at a cheap price or a discount for their next purchase. Through their efforts they have gotten a good deal, and quite a number will follow up with a purchase.
In religion, the fervent prayer to cure your cancer, or the regular donations to get financial blessings, is an act of effort in order to get a greater reward. I prayed hard enough, so God healed me. I donated enough, so I deserve this incoming financial reward. One common phrase the prosperity gospel always use is ‘reach out and claim your rewards / blessings’.
Now in Christianity, there is nothing wrong with praying for health, or praying to get out of financial troubles. I believe miracles can happen. But there is something fundamentally wrong with praying and donating, expecting a certain reward in return. The basis of faith changes to that of a transaction. Human psychology tend to have a need to have a certain control. By turning this into a transaction, psychologically it tells these church-goers that, by their effort they can achieve something. Now if I am dealing on the basis of a transaction and not faith, I will be calculating in terms of probability and never expect a miracle.
These people are then duped into praying and donating more while listening to the brainwashing. Any success will go to the church and to God, but any failures will be because they lack faith and sincerity.
The Psychological Aspect – Desperation
In times of desperation, when there is no possible method within their limits to make their situation better, people often turn to God. That is one of the reason why the old, the sick and the prisoners always find religion in times of darkness. This is when the prosperity gospel has the maximum appeal.
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
Pray and you will be cured of cancer and live to 120 years old. Donate and you will receive multiples of blessings, so much that you cannot even count. Put in that little effort and be rewarded with a blessing beyond your human means – it satisfies 2 psychological needs at the same time. In case you still have not figured out what it looks like, it looks like an investment scheme where you get 1000% return per month on your capital. As far as I understand, God does not print money like the Fed.
When people are desperate, their hearts are vulnerable. They will cling to anything that gives them hope, just like how the moth dash into the fire, not knowing that the very same fire will burn them alive.
The Psychological Aspect – Greed and Circular Logic
Since failure is attributed to the lack of faith and success is that one’s sincerity has touched God, it follows that any success would mean that one would have already found the path to glory. Since all Christians believe that God is 100% reliable, more donation to the church would mean greater reward. But one would also instinctively know that just praying and doing nothing would not lead to success. So the phrase often used would be ‘God will bless you in your work’. You have to work. You now donate more, work harder, get rewarded for your hard work, and now thank the pastor for his sermons and you donate even more, repeating the circular logic until you reach your maximum capacity or until you fail.
Just so you know, God never promised financial prosperity nor physical health.
The Psychological Aspect – The Desire To Hear What They Want To Hear
Humans are especially selective creatures. Bosses like subordinates who are aligned with them. Women especially, often fall for jerks who sweet talk them. That is why we have words like plus-size and gender neutral, masking the obvious truth which nobody likes to hear. On top of the health and wealth above which I shall not repeat, one thing believers of all religions want one thing – salvation and eternal life in heaven. Although in Christianity going to heaven is not by one’s own good deeds, but the blatant disrespect for a decent and moral life will definitely not land you in glory in the afterlife.
Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
Yet in the prosperity gospel, since Jesus had died for your sins, no matter what you do, you are pure and free of sin in the eyes of God. That is the lure of it. I can sleep with people’s spouses with a peace of mind knowing my salvation cannot be taken away. I can continue to betray my friends knowing that heaven is waiting for me. I can do anything, knowing that I have been made pure. The weekly affirmation that what I am doing is of no consequence to my path towards eternal life allows me to have the best of both world – the benefits of this worldly place and the rewards of the divine.
Not all goes to the church for God. Many go there to network. To find potential customers, to find potential girlfriends or boyfriends and to expand their social or business circle are just some of the many reasons why people attend a church. I even had a friend who was recruited into unlawful gangs through the church. Unfortunately, some churches make use of this to market themselves, luring in such people to come. This kind of prosperity church will sometimes call out a successful business person on stage to use him or her as an example during a sharing session, to tell the masses how much God has blessed them with success. Everybody would like to get near a rich and successful person. Of course it has the added impact of letting people know that if you donate enough, one day riches will be yours too.
For Singaporeans only: A certain woman founder of a now defunct, but then famous water treatment company was used as an example in a mega church in Singapore of how much God blessed her with riches and success. It subsequently got into excessive debt and is now no more.
I do not have proof, so this is based on deduction. In every church there is such a thing called a cell group. Think of the main sermon as a mass lecture in the university, and a cell group as the tutorial class where a few individuals gather together to discuss the Word of God. There are always successful and high net worth church goers in the church. Who will be in the same cell group as them, and what will it take to get inside the group?
The Opportunity To Live Out Your Dreams
Such prosperity gospel churches are often mega churches, simply because of the sheer size of followers they attract. They keep on expanding in size and in branches. The worship (singing songs) itself is one of the adrenaline-filled attractions. What is that outdated Amazing Grace and Silent Night? Songs are now arranged like pop or even rock music. Singers and dancers perform at the stage with a fervour you do not see in their daily lives. In the name of praising God, they live out their dreams of being at the centre of the stage, performing to hundreds or even thousands of people. In the name of worship, church-goers attend a free concert every week. For the audience it means a weekly dose of adrenaline rush followed by a renewed religious commitment that they will live the good life, and for the performers it is perhaps their only and closest shot at being a celebrity.
The church now acts like a record label, talent agency, music production company, event management and concert production company, and music publishing house. You know which organisation fits this description? SM Entertainment.
Scams are everywhere. Some are blatant. Some are elaborate. Every scammer will tell you he is the guy to be trusted. No other stamp of approval is greater than the endorsement of God. Religion is sensitive, and often borders on the mysterious. But God gives everyone a brain. Use it.
If someone tells you he is a high level investment banker, and that if you invest $10,000 with him you will get a 50% return in 3 months, you know immediately this guy is suspicious and highly likely a scammer. So why do you believe when a self-proclaimed messenger of God tells you that if you put 10% of your salary and more with him, you will get 5000% return and more? Does it even sound legitimate to you?
Videos For Entertainment
Something which a few of my friends listen to for their weekly entertainment. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental.
Honestly, if I am a non-Christian, I will just tell my friends I would rather listen to Bon Jovi – It’s My Life.