Buyer Beware: My Skepticism of the Hallelujah Challenge

Photo by Chad Kirchoff on Unsplash

Every time I am presented with a claim, I start from a position of skepticism and place the burden of proof on the claimant. I am particularly skeptical if there is informational asymmetry where I am not provided with the details that led to the results that informed the claim i.e., the data or the methods. Note, I am not saying that the claim is false but if I cannot verify, I cannot trust. Information asymmetry can manifest itself everywhere. For example, in the extreme case of lies. The liar typically (or temporarily) has more information than he lets on in order to protect his own interests.

The Hallelujah Challenge by Nathaniel Bassey presented a very interesting case of this informational asymmetry. Put simply, this challenge encouraged people to congregate between 12am-1am for praise and worship sessions during the 30 days in June. Estimates suggest that over 50,000 people joined live on Instagram and Facebook.

Over the course of the month, testimonies were published on Nathaniel’s Instagram page, and here. A quick look through Nathaniel’s Instagram page, you will read testimonies published under pictures titled “Olowogbogboro” (the outstretched arm of the Lord), “Suddenly”, and “And God Did It Just Like That.” A quick and forensic study of these included testimonies of employment, pregnancy, financial breakthrough, published academic results, and protection from armed robbers.

Let’s get to work!

For one, we know the method to yield the testimonies: Praise and worship from 12am to 1am every night in June.

Now this is where we find informational asymmetry. Some testimonies were published and some were not. What were the testimonies not published? Will the “non-testimonies” of participants be published i.e. “And God Did not do it Just Like That.” If only participants with positive outcomes are visible then reporting of this challenge suffers from a term called survivorship bias (the only participants with positive outcomes are visible). A quick definition (Wikipedia):

Survivorship bias or survival bias is the logical error of concentrating on the people or things that made it past some selection process and overlooking those that did not, typically because of their lack of visibility

Without full knowledge of the outcomes of all the participants (as much as 50k), I am not sure that “God will do it for me, Just like that.” Even with a full picture of the outcomes, one will also need to compare outcomes between people who didn’t participate in the challenge to draw a more accurate causal conclusion. For example, What would have been the typical outcome of a family seeking a child and didn’t participate in the challenge (following the natural methods of conception). I am sure you need not participate in the Hallelujah challenge to conceive a child.

This is not an attack on the challenge, as we do not know the full intentions of the organizers. However, it is disingenuous of the organizers to publish the testimonies knowing fully well how it can misinterpreted. They didn’t even put in a disclaimer to suggest that this may not be the outcome of every participant. I am not against people trying to find meaningful ways to connect to God, if that is how they are able to find meaning in their lives. But I am worried about how particular marketing techniques target particularly credulous and vulnerable people. From what I gather, there could be more challenges in the future.

So Buyer Beware!

P.S: Since this is my first post, I will simply state my position. I am very skeptical to the merits of religion, particularly as it is practised in Nigeria to create true developmental and societal progress.