[This is a work of fiction, and is part of my God-Talk club series. For more information follow the link. Also, I promised in my last God-Talk Club story that the club would discuss prophecy some more. This isn’t that post. I’ll get to it–soon, I hope. In another departure, this post was inspired by this one by John Meunier, rather than merely from my overactive imagination. This is also known as being “inspired by” a true story, in the Hollywood sense.]
“I have a question for you god-people,” said Bob. He had been tense ever since they started gathering, as though he had something important to say or ask.
“OK, spill it,” said Mandy.
“I just really don’t understand how you religious types live with it,” Bob continued.
“Live with what?” asked Mandy.
“Well,” said Bob, “Last night I was watching TV and this televangelist came on. I don’t know why, but I started watching this guy for awhile. He made a call for people who wanted prayer, and then he launched into his fundraising. He told his audience that if they gave God money, God would reward them 10-fold or even 100-fold. He even did the math for them. If they gave $1,000 to his ministry–I don’t recall when, but he switched from ‘give to God’ to ‘give to me’ somewhere in there–they’d get $10,000 or even $100,000 back. He even had a story of a retired lady on a fixed income–that’s how he said it–who sent her last $1,000 to him, and then received back $10,000 from an insurance settlement she hadn’t expected.”
“Wow!” said Mandy.
“What a charlatan!” Jerry added.
“Just can’t trust those preachers,” said Mac, winking in turn at Mark, Justine, and Jerry.
“What I’m wondering,” Bob continued, ignoring all the byplay, “is what happens if some old lady–elderly, that is–sends him her last $1,000, and then nothing happens. You all know that’s much more likely than that she’ll get a $10,000 insurance settlement.”
“What I’d like to know is why it’s an old lady. Why not an old gentleman? You’re not a male chauvinist pig, are you Bob?” Justine was just a bit annoyed!
“What does that matter? It’s the fraud I’m talking about!”
“What if the preacher means it?” asked Mandy. “I mean, what if he honestly believes that everyone who sends him money will get back multiples?”
“Then he’s insane!” said Jerry, raising his voice almost to a shout.
“I’m not defending him, Jerry. But don’t you or I have beliefs that someone else might regard as insane?”
“Well, for example, I think we both believe that some guy was crucified back in Roman times, and his body came back to life, right?”
“And you’re comparing that to claim God will multiply money someone sends to a charlatan preacher?”
“Well–” Justine paused a moment. “Well, other than the charlatan part, isn’t multiplying the money less of a miracle than resurrection? It’s not impossible, is it, by miracle standards, that is?”
“No,” said Jerry slowly. “It’s not impossible. But that’s not the point. God never actually promised to multiply our money.”
“Yes he did,” said Justine, but both Jerry and Mandy ignored her. [Though it’s not discussed in this story, Justine is thinking of Matthew 19:29.]
“That’s really not the issue,” Mandy continued, “Is it? The question is whether the guy who claims it will happen has to be insane.”
“The problem there,” cut in Mark, who was sitting on the edge of his seat, “Is that this guy surely has to know that people are getting screwed all the time, that they aren’t all getting 10 or 100 times their money back.”
“But I think that’s not quite the point either. We all ignore many, many things that we ought to know. If we were guilty of fraud because of what we ought to know but don’t, we’d all be in serious difficulties!”
“On the other hand,” said Jerry, “This man is a preacher, claiming to be a minister of the gospel. He should know. If I were a financial advisor and advised my clients to send me money because it would be multiplied, even if I stupid enough to really think that my investment would produce that much, I’d be charged with fraud, because as financial advisor, I should know.”
“That’s a good point,” said Mandy. “I’d really like to be able to get a guy like that for fraud. He makes me sick. But you also have freedom of religion. I believe that God wants me to put my tithe in the offering plate at church. I believe that God will save my soul and take me to heaven. I’m not really supposed to see it as a quid pro quo, but am I not basing giving thousands of dollars a year to my church on something that is totally unproven?”
Mark jumped in again. “But you don’t have proof that it doesn’t work, do you? This preacher has evidence available to him that you won’t get the multiples of your money.”
“No, not true,” said Justine. “There is good evidence that most people won’t get the money, but unless he’s lying about his one elderly donor, then somebody did get the multiple. Of course, all things considered, he might be lying about that.”
“But there is no proof, or even evidence, that there is a connection between the two events!” Bob was emphatic.
“But that’s again different from the evidence against everyone getting something. We know that not everyone gets the money. We don’t know that anyone will, but we don’t know for sure they won’t or even that they didn’t already.”
“So you’re willing to give this guy more credit than the others do.” Bob Norman looked straight at Justine. “I thought you might. I’ve looked into your church, and you’re much more ‘miracle’ based than these other folks.”
“On the contrary, I think the man is a huckster, and it would be fine with me if he was hauled off to jail.”
“But you believe God can multiply.”
“Can, Bob, can. Can, not will. There’s a big difference. I never teach anyone to believe that God will function like a slot machine. There’s a blessing, but it’s often not in this life. If you don’t like giving money that will probably not come back, then don’t give–at my church, or I suspect at Mandy’s or Jerry’s.”
“Precisely,” said Jerry. Mandy nodded.
“Doesn’t this embarrass you?” Bob looked straight at Jerry, the respectable businessman of the group.
“Yes it does. It makes me wish I could disappear into a hole in the ground. But at the same time, I know that man’s faith is not my faith. He’s a fraud, but that doesn’t make me a fraud.” He paused a moment. “Or even Justine, though I think she plays awfully close to the fire!”
Mac mimed holding a revolver and blowing smoke from the barrel. “Close one, Justine, no?”
“Jerry’s a true believer,” said Justine. “He tries to avoid it, but deep down he really believes.”
Jerry had his mouth open, but Bob got in ahead of him. “I still really don’t see it. Wouldn’t the safest thing be not to accept things that are not properly supported by objective evidence? It seems a bit like gambling to me, only with much less likelihood of reward.”
“Well, it might seem like gambling to you, but to me, it’s just part of my relationship with God.” Justine spoke in pretty definite tones.
“If I was into my religion for the money, I’d get out,” said Mandy.
“Amen!” said Jerry. “I’m here for the spiritual benefit.”
“I don’t get this ‘spiritual’ stuff. How is it measured? How do you know it’s true?”
“It’s not measurable,” said Mandy. “It’s faith.”
“And that’s where it’s bogus,” said Mac. “Bob’s being nice to you guys, but I want to ask you, Mandy first: Do you think I’m a worse person than you are?”
“No, absolutely not,” said Mandy.
“So what’s the benefit of all this ‘spirituality’?”
“I think a better question would be whether I’d be a worse person without it. I think I would. Be worse, that is.”
“Do you think I’d be better if I was spiritual like you?”
“I think you could do with cutting off some rough edges, since we’re being direct, but I don’t prescribe spirituality for others. It’s a personal thing.”
“I bet Jerry doesn’t agree with you.”
“Indeed I don’t!” said Jerry. “Sometimes I wonder about you, Mandy! How can you believe in Jesus as your savior and not be sure he’s right for someone else?”
“To be more accurate, Jerry, I believe it’s not my business to prescribe what is right for someone else. If my husband were wearing that tie, I’d tell him to change it. In your case, it’s not really my business–well, except for illustration!”
“More of this subjective stuff,” Bob cut in again. “You always retreat into the subjective. So how do you deal with a fraud in Christianity? If I want to know whether a preacher I see on TV really represents ‘true’ Christianity, how can I tell?”
“Well, to start with, he’s on TV,” said Jerry.
“That’s silly, and you know it!” replied Bob. “I can tell you the guy is a fraud because he’s proposing a magical process to multiply your money. You can only respond with other subjective stuff. There’s really no way for a non-Christian to know! Yet you don’t want me to blame you for the frauds on TV!”
“It takes discernment,” said Justine.
“Or perhaps just wisdom and good judgment,” said Mandy.
“On the other hand, we could all just go with the evidence! How about that?” said Mac. Then she looked at her watch. “Oops! Got to go.”
[Watch for more discussion when the God-Talk Club gets together again.]