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Aug 23 2006

Affinity fraud shows the cost of lacking skepticism

An interesting article at The Secular Outpost titled “Religious fraud increasing” reveals that billions of dollars are still being lost in scams where religious people are targeted by con artists operating within churches or their specific religious community. This is nothing new, but it’s a shame it’s still so epidemic.

The issue is not so much whether it’s Christians swindling Christians, or whether this sort of thing happens any more or less often in secular circles, or even whether or not this is great smoking-gun proof that despite their nonstop claims to the contrary, the religious are not paragons of moral superiority in all things. That Christianity does not make you morally superior to atheists and secularists ought to be patently obvious to those of us who find ourselves slack-jawed in awe of Christians’ mendacity and dishonesty on a daily basis.

The problem here is the abdication of skepticism and critical thinking that comes as a necessary result of adopting faith-based worldviews, in which doubt itself is condemned as sinful and non-virtuous behavior.

Certainly, to an extent, even the most devout believer possesses some skepticism. Usually this is plain common sense, the kind of natural, untrained skepticism all people have that keeps us from leaning too far out of windows and looking twice before crossing the street, even if we don’t hear a car. Tell even the most hardcore Christian that, say, drinking ten bottles of Big Red will make you glow in the dark, and he’s liable to demand your proof just as sure as any skeptical inquirer.

Affinity fraud short circuits this easily, though, because many believers do not develop skilled critical thinking, and the approach to the swindle falls well within the believer’s much wider tolerance range for claims not requiring hard evidence. In the authoritarian world of religion, if it’s okay with your pastor, it’s okay. So the clever affinity fraud conman targets the pastor first. From that point, the congregation lines up for its fleecing, thinking, “Well, if Pastor Bob thinks this guy’s on the up-and-up, I have nothing to worry about.”

Often the affinity fraud his been committed by the pastor himself. Bob Tilton, ol’ Jim Bakker and the PTL, the endless pledge drives of Trinity Broadcasting (they have zillions but are forever telling their viewers they’re in desperate need) — all these are simple swindles designed to take advantage of the pitiful, innate gullibility of believers. Believers who think these swindlers are really lovingly looking out for them. The cruelty is stupefying.

So again, if any further proof were needed that skepticism and rationalism were the only sensible approaches to life — particularly considering how fervently the alternative of “faith-based” everything is promoted as the height of righteousness, goodness, and apple-pie Americanism — here it is. When those smiling men behind their pulpits exhort you to “Believe! Believe! Believe!”, you ought to ask yourself, “Why? What are you selling?”

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