I went to City Harvest Church last Sunday to try to save a friend's soul. I have since found that at least 2 other people I know go there, but I have mixed feelings about attempting to save theirs.
Now, I'd read accounts (example) of the place before, but visiting it and experiencing it firsthand was an enlightening experience, both of the slickness of megachurches and the Gospel of Prosperity they preached.
They're very smart. Besides religious services and Bible Study classes (I can start my own too!), they also offer self-improvement courses, health care for the elderly, English classes for PRCs (conducted by British teachers), a corporate leadership seminar and the like. All this, of course, is aimed at trapping you within a social network surrounded by fellow sheep, and pervaded by their influence, to trap you further and deeper.
My companion was asked at first if I was his sister. After the revelation, besides being asked if my hair was rebonded (wth, it's been 11 months), I was also asked if I played the drums/was in a rock band. Wth, if for no other reason than that rockers don't have nice hair.
The service opened with an extensive rock concert, aka Praise and Worship (about an hour). This was very smart, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, by offering musical entertainment in the form of prayer (or prayer in the form of musical entertainment), it caught and focused the audience's attention, especially the younger crowd, by situating religious worship in the context of popular culture, entertainment and coolness. Free entertainment involving the audience (jumping [god, I hate the jumping, especially since it set up harmonics that discomfited me and threatened to tear the fabric of my being apart], clapping, hand waving) was also good since it involved the audience in the spectacle and stimulated them. Not least, making the audience stand during the rock concert wore them down and made them more receptive to what was to follow.
On that day, they had a guest rock band, and the drummer looked like he was on ecstasy. I swear, the beat was so heavy it could've shocked a stopped heart into beating again (luckily, it didn't manage to drown out the quiet voice of reason in my head, though it probably did for most of the sheep). Even I had my heart rate increased by the incessant beating of the drums. And then when they suddenly stopped, and the soft parts of the songs followed, there was a sudden emptiness which would've made me susceptible to suggestions. And then the drums started up again. The war on the senses and mind was not just conducted through auditory channels - roving spotlights and alternately flashing lights disoriented the audience (as in a rock concert). This continued semi-cyclically for a while, and the crowd was sent into a trance and/or whipped into a frenzy, shouting
The more I looked at the jumping, the more familiar it seemed. Suddenly, I remembered what was so familiar about it:
Just over 3 years ago, I had witnessed a Nam Wah Pai Qigong demonstration, and shaking violently was how they'd charged up their Qi in preparation for stunts. Surely the jumping was done for similar purposes? Also, caught up in the momentum of the moment, many people waved hand signs. I saw at least one hand which looked like it was displaying the sign of the devil. Whatever spirit was present, it certainly wasn't the Holy Spirit.
The rock concert was also accompanied by very slick music videos which also flashed the lyrics on the many plasma screens in the hall.
After the rock concert, announcements were made (I hope I got the order right), to background music (probably to get the audience into the right frame of mind). I didn't hear very much though, since my ears were still ringing.
Then the sermon started. One speaker said that 'he'll be really pleased that we can see miracles happen today'. I didn't see any miracles when I was there (and I doubt any happened in the 20 minutes after I left), so I assume he was referring to the power of mass hysteria. First- or second-timers were then asked to stand up. Besides being welcomed by everyone (including neighbors), we were also passed contact cards to fill up. I was tempted to fill mine up appropriately, but didn't want to take the chance of being spammed, so.
The usual fawning praise was then heaped upon their god. They talked about praise for nations, despite the fact that the world is ridden with grief, conflict and strife. Their raising of funds for a van for Sri Lanka was then highlighted, and their god then praised, despite not only not having contributed to the relief effort, but allowing the problem to happen in the first place through its negligence. Well done!
Bible verses were then quoted willy-nilly. Deuteronomy 8:18 was referenced ("But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day.") 8:20 ("As the nations which the LORD destroyeth before your face, so shall ye perish; because ye would not be obedient unto the voice of the LORD your God.") was, however, totally and conveniently forgotten. Luckily, I had the Skeptic's Annotated Bible in my palm, so I could look it up for myself.
Speaking of Deuteronomy 8:18, it was one of the out-of-context verses quoted to preach City Harvest's Gospel of Prosperity (previous op-ed on this issue). Besides monetary propserity, it was also promised that the Holy Spirit would help you remember facts for your exams [MFTTW: hahahahha yes that was a big draw in rjc]. An example of a church member who sold insurance (?) was brought up. His boss said he was serving his church too much, and that his work would suffer. He then replied that if he didn't serve, his work would suffer: 'You are the source of my prosperity'. Very good - their god gives conditional blessings. This is one of the most repulsive things about City Harvest to me, since from the Jesus of the Gospels is clearly a left-winger who disdains money, the best example of which is Mt 19:24: "And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."*
* - If anyone spouts the nonsense about the gate called the Eye of the Needle again, you can point them to The camel and the eye of the needle, Hebrew NT Application - Biblical Hebrew. If they still persist in their idiocy, you may prick them with a needle, or bury them in camel shit, whichever is more appropriate.
Apologists always complain that skeptics take biblical verses out of context, and then embark on tortured routes to show the concordance of scripture. If only they would apply the same standards to Christian speakers (or indeed themselves) in bombarding audiences with cherry-picked quotes from all over to try to make a point.
Conveniently, just after this secondhand testimony of prosperity, the person at the mic asked for money. "Give it all for him this morning... If you're writing a cheque make it payable to 'City Harvest Church'... You can pay by Mastercard... For those of you on the Internet you can click and follow the instructions". Meanwhile, the words "prosper", "prosperous" and "God loves a cheerful giver" were repeated liberally. "Give to God" is really short for "Give to us"; if I were still a sheep, I'd find donating to the poor a much better way of 'giving to god' than dumping money in one of those red buckets to pay for plasma screens, video recording and renting an Expo hall. Adding to the cash harvest, the guest band's CDs were also promoted, at a ridiculously cheap price of $22 (Usual Price $23.60). Given that the cost price of making a DVD and a CD is maybe a tenth of that, you can imagine where the revenue goes. This was even worse than the moneychangers in the temple (John 2:13-16) - at least they didn't claim transacting with them was akin to giving to their god.
Another testimony was given, this time by a couple of how some of the church members reached out to professional dancers. The strategy, instead of hard conversion, was to befriend non-believers, show interest in their life, read the same comics as them and introduce customers to them. Perhaps most important was to keep inviting them to church or church events (my brother-in-law got suckered once by one church, but he got good ice cream and didn't cede his soul in the end, so I guess it's alright). Over eight months, the couple applied these techniques to one guy to break down his defences, and he finally gave in (another soul lost to darkness!) He was then baptised in the River Jordan, which was a bad idea since it showed he was impure (in the Trial by Water, if you sink it means the water accepts you and you're pure. Since he came out alive it's obvious that he was rejected, and thus impure). 17 dancers were brought to church, and 9 souls were
Another sermon followed: "Today, you're gonna hear something you've never heard before. When you hear it it'll badly impact you". With such promises I couldn't help but be hyped up. Perhaps he was going to talk about the genocide of the Midanites (Numbers 31)? How women were not allowed to wear Jeans (Deuteronomy 22:5)? Or maybe introduce us to hardcore pornography (Song of Solomon).
Unfortunately it was none of these, but rather a self-improvement seminar. The 'soul', mind and emotions were conflated, and we were told that if the needs of the soul were not met (political self-actualization?), one would feel empty. After some words on culture and world view, an attempt was made to impose their world view on us:
1. There's a creator
This was interpreted by them to mean disavowing Evolution and the Big Bang, since that'd mean there was no meaning and purpose to life.
2. We are fallen.
I couldn't help but scoff; "We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes" - Gene Roddenberry
3. Plan of Redemption
We were urged to restore the earth to an illusory, original state of vague perfection.
Even after 4 points, there was still nothing new. They should screen The God Who Wasn't There next week, since no one will have the patience to read Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth.
The conversion rhetoric was then pumped up, like at a MLM (Multi-Level Marketing) seminar. Incredibly, the flock's situation was compared to that of the Jews in Babylon, since they were supposedly surrounded by idolatry, violence and immorality, and living in a culture against their beliefs and mocked and persecuted for them. Of course, this is very far from the truth, as are the claims of persecution by the Christian Right-Wing in America. Christians are a large minority (at least) in Singapore, and the emphasis on materialism is perfectly in harmony with Singaporean culture. Furthermore, the inculcation in the sheep of a false sense of persecution, as well as the conjuring of a past and future both portrayed as states of mythical perfection also dovetail perfectly with the siege mentality engendered in and the social engineering performed on the populace of this island. Perhaps they were referring to how other churches criticised their Gospel of Prosperity, in which case Scientology might be a better comparison than the Jews in Babylon.
More verses were quoted willy-nilly, one of which was Jeremiah 29:4-7 ("Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon; *Be fruitful and multiply*"). "Be fruitful and multiply" was equated to developing culture and building civilization. This is debatable, but why did they need to seek scriptural justification for this secularly-worthy end? Also, conveniently enough, the following bit was missed out: Jeremiah 29:8-9 ("For thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Let not your prophets and your diviners, that be in the midst of you, deceive you, neither hearken to your dreams which ye cause to be dreamed. For they prophesy falsely unto you in my name: I have not sent them, saith the LORD.") Irony, thou art dead!
We were then offered a false dichotomy - everything we did would either make the world a worse place or help transform it for their god. To guide us, we were offered a checklist of 3 items:
1. Know the word (logos)
I found this interesting, since the last of the Top Ten Signs You're a Fundamentalist Christian is: "1 - You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history - but still call yourself a Christian.".
We were told that we had to obey natural laws, and that if you didn't believe in the Law of Gravity we could try walking off a cliff. Yeah, if we didn't believe in Evolution we could also abuse antibiotics and create superbugs.
Similarly, if we didn't obey moral laws, our relationships would suffer: husbands had to love thier wives, and wives obey their husbands. Indeed, if only the Unionists has obeyed the moral law that slavery was permissible, we wouldn't have had the tragedy that was the American Civil War.
2. Apply the word (logos)
'After a while your mind starts to renew. You're transformed'. Maybe it was just me, but this sounded a lot like brainwashing to me.
3. Live the word (logos)
Also, we were urged to transform ourselves and impact our community. This was beginning to sound like a motivational seminar about the power to transform our lives. Deepak Chopra is God!
We were told that living the word would make people ask us: 'How come you're so joyful?... How come you're so full of faith?' If I wanted to see joyful people full of faith, I could just visit the asylum.
We were then treated to platitudes about the "Ugly Singaporean", with his having a long list of bad attributes, respectively starting with the letters S, I, N, G, A, P, O, R, E, A, N. As readers who've attended self-improvement workshops or some such before might've noticed, this spells "Singaporean", and if they guessed that contrasting qualities of a "New Singaporean" would be enumerated, respectively starting with the same letters (eg The Ugly Singaporean is 'Gullible' but the New Singaporean is 'Globalized'), they would be right. Personally such cheap tricks have always pissed me off. Unfortunately, one thing they didn't add was that the Ugly Singaporean goes to church because he wants to get rich (or good grades). More's the pity.
We were also told that if we gave to the poor, we would get back more than what we gave. Who is the truly generous one? One who gives because he expects/knows a return on his investment, or one who gives knowing full well he may not get his money back?
The trite bit about 'All things are possible to one who believes' was rolled out. Unfortunately, since there was no question and answer question, I was not able to ask why God hated amputees.
The usual rubbish about the coexistence of faith and reason was then presented, in relation to 'becoming a lifelong learner'. A straw man argument was made about not leaving your mind outside when you came to church, but having established that reason had a role to play, he then did a bait and switch and talked about lifelong learning. Of course, what he was supposed to do was talk about bringing your mind into church and using it to examine both faith and his sermons, but of course that was not touched on.
Throughout the sermon, we were asked to periodically parrot phrases to each other as well as to say certain keywords out loud. If you repeat something often enough, you will eventually believe it. Good reinforcement technique, that.
We were then told that the traditional interpretation of scripture was to make the word of god dead. The implication was presumably that their radical, warped Gospel of Prosperity was thus justified. Hoho, the free license given would've been a great load of fun if anyone cared to come up with alternative interpretations.
All this segued into a song, during which I noticed the looks of ecstasy on the sheep's faces. Women may be gullible and irrational, but another reason why they may fall so easily to religion is that, like chocolate, it fills a void in their lives. Anyhow, the right strategy for religious growth is to target women - where there're women, there will be men, since women like women, men like women but nobody likes men (it's the same rationale behind Lady's Night-s at clubs).
After the song, we were told that Jesus could change fishermen into fishers of men. How MLM testimonies, death cults and pilates could do the same, or how some versions of Christianity could turn rednecks into abortion clinic bombers was not revealed.
I wonder if anyone has done a grammatical analysis of so-called tongues. I heard the phrase 'baba' a lot, so I guess they were speaking in Scythian.
Unfortunately my brother-in-law was waiting for me and he was hungry so I had to leave 20 minutes before the festivities ended, and in the middle of the closing rock concert. Nonetheless, I don't think I missed much that had not already been observed.
Someone: glissalolia? some wierd word like that
i think it's more of an emotional thing. i mean, going clubbing (i've been told) is much the same thing
well, it's not so much that it was rubbish, is that it scared the hell out of me
i was all of 10-11 years old. and this was a sunday school teacher i liked. i really liked her, she was nice, and sweet
bought me my first bible
then during church camps, they had one of those "come forward and we will pray for you"
and i was kind of pressured to go forward
and i id
and then auntie *** starte d praying for me
and it was nice
and then she broke out in tongue
and then i thought
i was damn scared la
i looked around
wondering if anyone else wasn't seeing what i was seeing. a completly brainwashed dog
slavering in front fo me
it really distrbed me la
Also see: The Battle For Your Mind: How Revivalist Preachers Work
Addendum: I'm told that City Harvest cell groups have an offering session (donation drive) when they meet - they cull cash from you not just once but twice a week. Enming was really inspired when he called it Cash Harvest Cult.
Extracts from Palahniuk: "When people shout this way or sing "Amazing Grace" at the top of their lungs, they breathe too much. People's blood should be acid. When they hyperventilate the carbon dioxide level of their blood drops, and their blood becomes alkaline.
Peopld get light-headed. People fall down with their ears ringing, their fingers and toes go numb, they get chest pains, they sweat. This is supposed to be rapture. People thrash on the floor with thie hands cramped into stiff claws.
This is what passes for ecstasy...
Part of my training was how to press my hands over smebody's eyes so hard and fast so the pressure registered on their optic nerve as a flash of white light.
Part of my training was how to press my hands over somebody's ears so hard they heard a buzzing noise I could tell them was the eternal Om."