How to Con a Christian

Voltaire said those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. The philosopher might have added that they can also empty your wallet.

“For every pound you put in this offering bucket, you will get a hundred back.” This is the doctrine of the hundredfold return.

I hate telling people I used to believe that. The reason I hate telling them is the thought that went through your head when you read that first sentence:

“No you won’t!”

You didn’t even have to think about it. It’s just not true. If you put a pound in an offering bucket, the net result is that you have one less pound in your pocket, and that is all. I will always envy you for that. You didn’t lose twenty years to it, and I did.

For me, it was the indisputable truth and anyone who couldn’t see it was just deceived by the devil. I hate seeing the blank, unimpressed looks on people’s faces when I tell them this. This was the whole of my life for two decades, and you can dismiss it in less time than it takes me to say it.

How is this? As you can (hopefully) see, I am not stupid. How can it be that men with slicked back hair and expensive suits have conned hundreds of thousands – in Britain, not just America – with something so blatantly, transparently false?

Simple.

They used Scripture.

I cannot overstate the importance of this. There are dozens of psychological factors explaining how con men get compliance from intelligent people, but in the case of the Word of Faith, the main one is simply that they quoted the Bible.

Almost everyone who converts to the Word of Faith is already a Bible-believing Christian. It is impossible to exaggerate the authority the Bible has to them. It is the complete, inerrant Word of God. It cannot possibly be wrong. It contains no mistakes, and no contradictions.

To a fundamentalist Christian, a well-used quotation from the Bible ends all debate. It has more authority than any evidence, or any peer-reviewed journal article. If the Bible says it, it is beyond question. Even evidence can’t disprove it.

If you can persuade a fundamentalist that the Bible says it, you can make them believe anything. This is why fundamentalism is so dangerous. Christian fundamentalism doesn’t make headlines because, so far, there have been few high profile cases of Scripture being used to justify terrorism. But there’s no reason why it couldn’t happen.

So anyway, this sowing and reaping thing:

“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.”

Mark 4:3-8

I know your eyes glossed over, but just get the last bit: It produced a crop, multiplying up to a hundred times! Luke 6:38 says that if you give, it will be given unto you until you are running over! Of course, those stuffy theologians might say that these verses aren’t talking about money, but we know that just isn’t true:

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

Galatians 6:7

Whatsoever a man soweth. Is money a “whatsoever”? There you are then. Sowing and reaping is a spiritual principle that applies to all areas of life. And there are some other verses that clearly aren’t just talking about spiritual things:

“And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.”

Mark 10:29-30

He shall receive a hundredfold of lands and houses! Material things! In this life! As God told Abraham: “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.”

So, get this: Wealth is part of the Covenant which God promised to Abraham. Which we are a part of through Jesus, according to Galatians 3:14.

So there you are. Case closed, God wants you to be rich, and to get it, you just have to give money in the offering. Don’t believe it? You’re deceived by the devil.

Insanity

The second you accept there’s a truth which is infallible – that you would not reject no matter what the evidence – you have opened the door to insanity. You can believe lies, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it – or even realise it.

Lots of fundamentalists look at the Word of Faith and say, “Oh, that’s obviously a cult.” But ultimately, there is no bulwark to stop them believing equal craziness (in fact, they do believe things of equal impossibility). Word of Faith preachers have a vast knowledge of Scripture, and can pull on a massive array of supporting verses.

I hope the hilarity of different groups, all claiming to follow Scripture literally, but all disagreeing on (to them) important points, is not lost on you. If the Bible is meant to be taken literally, then God sucks at communication.

The Word of Faith is just as internally consistent as any other claimed “literal” reading of Scripture. Yes, it is selective, but so is every reading of Scripture. Fundamentalist, do you believe in killing children for disobedience? No? Then you’re being selective.

You might not fall for a cult like the Word of Faith. But seeing what accepting that the Bible is infallible can do should be an eye-opener. If you uncritically accept all Scripture as true, you could believe anything.

What makes you think the conclusions you’ve drawn are any better?

About jonnyscaramanga

I grew up as a Christian fundamentalist in the UK. Now I am writing a book and blog about what that's like, and what fundamentalists believe.

Posted on May 21, 2012, in Christianity, Fundamentalism, Word of Faith and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 29 Comments.

  1. “Lots of fundamentalists look at the Word of Faith and say, “Oh, that’s obviously a cult.” But ultimately, there is no bulwark to stop them believing equal craziness (in fact, they do believe things of equal impossibility)”

    It’s an important point you make here, Jonny. And this is a reason why I’m a bit wary of using the word “cult” to describe extreme authoritarian religious movements. It makes it to easy for folk within mainstream christianity to push the problem out of sight. Once the label is attached the mainstream believer is encouraged to think, they’re all crazy but we are different – we’re not like that. In fact, there are cult-like features in informal groupings within most denominations. And those factions can also have serious life-diminishing effects upon their adherents.

    When speaking on similar topics (my own area of expertise is the Jehovah’s Witnesses) I usually make the point that folk have not understood these people if their reaction in simply, That’s crazy, these folk must be mad. To have understood it properly it’s necessary to feel how it can be believed.

    Keep up your blogging. I’m following you with interest.

    • Thanks for replying, Rob. I think you set a record for my fastest reply.

      I’m very interested to hear more about your work. I remember, back in my Word of Faith days, thinking the Jehovah’s Witnesses were an absolute joke and wondering how anyone could fall for such stupidity (all while knowing virtually nothing of what they believe).

      Your thoughts on labelling things cults are very interesting. I’m still exploring whether my experiences are best described as cult-like or not. I recently posted under the rather attention-seeking title “I am a cult survivor”, and my research into cults indicates that my upbringing had remarkably similar features.

      As you say, though, it can be an unhelpful way of looking at it. And I certainly never thought of it as a cult at the time (I was aware of the accusation). My argument was that I agreed with the essential statements of faith in any conservative denomination.

  2. Donald Miller

    God blessed me mightily. I placed a total of $10,000 in them buckets for nearly two years without anything happened. Then praise the lord, my time had come. I hurricane came along and the authorities issued a mandatory evacuation order for the entire area.

    I stayed put, but everyone else fled the area. Then while the preacher was gone, I went to his home and cleared out his safes. $217,000. That’s over a 20% return on my investment. Hallalalaujah

    • Donald Miller

      Your’re not talking to me?

    • That’s a hell of a return Donald. You should write to Believer’s Voice of Victory, see if they’ll print your letter.

      • Donald Miller

        It was a joke. A joke I began writing 15 minutes after I took an Ambien, or what I like to call LSD light. The 20% doesn’t make any sense, but hey, whatcha gonna do on LSD? I mean I’m not Roger Daltry. Admit it, it’s kind of funny.

      • I know it’s a joke. I’m deadpanning with ya. Play along, Donald!

      • Donald Miller

        Okay, bro. I’ve been keeping some really daft hours. I should’ve been in bed five hours ago. I’ll play along when I can thing straight.

        So long for now.

  3. Great topic, jonny. Like you, I’m embarrassed about a lot of things I believed as a fundamentalist. But as I look around I see that, other than those who had no religious beliefs, most people have believed something equally insane. Even outside of religion people believe some pretty far-fetched things. I look at people who believe in Big Foot, Aliens, and the Loch Ness monster and think how ridiculous that is! Oh, I would never…believe…such…foolishness? No, I only believed that an invisible god sent an invisible holy ghost to impregnate an innocent virgin to give birth to a demigod.

  4. Jehovah’s Witnesses *blood transfusion confusion*.

    In 2012 God’s will and scripture got nothing to do with the Jehovah’s Witnesses position on use of blood products.

    It is 100 percent what will play out in a secular court of law as to the parent Watchtower being held liable for deaths.
    Most Jehovah’s Witnesses rushed to the ER with massive blood loss will scream NO BLOOD right up to their last breath,The shocker is they can NOW have most of the blood components that will pull them through,but they are so indoctrinated that blood is forbidden that they can’t comprehend the loopholes.

    The Watchtower has drilled and grilled us that our STAND ON BLOOD IS NON NEGOTIABLE.
    The loopholes that allow blood usage is to save the Watchtower corporation money from blood death liability suits.

    This is a truly evil organization that would sacrifice tens of thousands of men,women,children for the almighty dollar.
    The blood products ban has been in force since 1945 the buzz today about it being a *personal conscience matter* and the hope of new medical advances like artificial blood don’t undo all those who have past perished.

    The New York city based Watchtower sect is concerned foremost with liability lawsuits for wrongful death.They know that if they repeal the ban on *whole* blood transfusion,that it will open the door for legal examination of all the thousands who have died since 1945.

    Danny Haszard FMI dannyhaszard(dot)com *tell the truth don’t be afraid*

  5. I wonder Jonny what percentage of christians think the way you describe here?

    In Australia, I think it would be very few. (I don’t think in 50 years as a christians I’ve ever met any who believes the hundredfold thing you mention here, but perhaps I met some but they didn’t say anything about it.) I think Aussies tend to be fairly pragmatic and don’t usually accept authority unthinkingly, so even those who profess some sort of teaching like this don’t seem to take it to such extremes.

    Of course there are some of us who think to say that the universe appeared out of nothing, and so finely tuned for life, is slightly more ridiculous than the hundredfold teaching. : )

    • Thanks for the comment UnkleE. The Charismatic movement makes up around 7.5% of regular churchgoing Christians in the UK. 18% of UK evangelicals think you can’t be a Christian and believe in evolution. These stats are on my blog, under “What is the Word of Faith” and “How many Fundamentalist Christians are there in the UK”. I’d say those people exhibit the kind of blind acceptance of the Bible I’m talking about here. Sure, it’s a minority, but that doesn’t make it unimportant.

      As I’ve explained elsewhere, the purpose of this blog is not to suggest that all Christians think like this. I’d hope to have Christians like you on side in the fight to help them see the benefits of thinking differently.

      • “I’d say those people exhibit the kind of blind acceptance of the Bible I’m talking about here. Sure, it’s a minority, but that doesn’t make it unimportant.”

        I think you are conflating and confusing several groups. Let me put it in set theory terms. There is the set of those who think the Bible is inerrant and who hold “fundamentalist” views. The set of “charismatics” would intersect with that set, but wouldn’t be all the same. The set of those who don’t believe in evolution would intersect with those sets, but also wouldn’t be all the same. The Word of Faith and the ACE school sets would be very small subsets of the set of fundamentalists.

        So when you write here about the “hundredfold blessing”, I think you are probably talking about a very small percentage of “fundamentalist” christians, and an even smaller percentage of all christians. It seems to me you are extrapolating greatly, and making this “problem” seem much worse than it is. I am sure you are not doing this deliberately, but it is a tactic sometimes used by atheists (and christians to) to demonise those they don’t agree with. And in this case it is likely to get other atheists self righteously, but unjustifiably, upset at all fundamentalists.

        “I’d hope to have Christians like you on side in the fight to help them see the benefits of thinking differently.”

        Yes, I’m on board with that, up to a point. I think fundamentalists are often wrong, but I don’t think they are often dangerous, for the reasons given above. And as believers, they are still my brothers and sisters, and I would want to treat them fairly and lovingly.

        You are quite moderate and thoughtful in your comments, but I still think a little mistaken, and I would want to support what you say that I think is true, but contest what I think is unfair. Thanks for that opportunity.

      • Yes, I lumped several groups together here, which I don’t do elsewhere on the site. They all make different mistakes, but, as I said, they all exhibit a blind and uncritical approach which is dangerous. Yes, I do think it’s dangerous because if you accept anything uncritically, it can lead to bad places. There is precedent for this. The Ku Klux Klan use Bible verses to justify their beliefs, and so have Christian extremists who have murdered doctors for committing abortion.

    • actually I use to goto to a word-of-faith, before I started going to a calvary chapel, and I can tell you – Word of Faith is alive and well in America.

      In fact the majority of big name preachers, are word of faith preachers

      • Like I said before, I think we have to define what we’re talking about. I looked up Word of Faith on Wikipedia, and checked out several WoF church websites. It seems to be a loose movement rather than a strict organisation. So the question is, do all churches who call themselves “Word of Faith”, or who Jonny calls by that name, share the same doctrine? I don’t know, that’s why I asked the question. But there are so many different issues and types of churches that I don’t think we can just assume that any church that teaches the broad “word of faith” doctrine teaches the “hundredfold blessing” that Jonny is discussing. But perhaps that’s not right, I don’t know. I just think the whole thing is more complex than you are suggesting.

      • word of faith is a somehwhat loose doctrine,

        in fact people in that denomination don’t call themselves word of faith. Word of faith, is at sometimes really not even a doctrine, cause they don’t have statements of faith like other churchs. You might be best off watching some youtube videos on word of faith. That might give you a better idea. I’ll try to comment more on this a little later.

      • Good to see you again biblereader. I agree, the Word of Faith is big news in America. It’s drawn stories in Time magazine and the New York Times, so it’s obviously making some noise. And Senator Grassley tried to investigate the preachers for financial corruption. People are noticing.

  6. Thank you for your honesty. I know how you feel. I look back at some of my old beliefs and think – who was that person that believed those things? Sometimes I feel like I’ve woken up from a dream.

    But it wasn’t someone else that believed those things. It was me. And I’m left with the question:

    What the hell was I thinking?

    • Thanks for coming by Heretic Husband. I’ll check out your blog. I was a kid when I first accepted all that stuff, which I suspect is true for most people who accept unlikely beliefs. I’m even more fascinated by people who come to these beliefs in adulthood. I’ll be looking at that next.

  7. Further to the discussion above, I have tried to hunt up some statistics on christianity in the US.

    1. According to this 2007 survey, christians are 78% of the US population, including catholic 24%, evangelical 26%, mainline 18% & black 7%.

    2. According to this 2010 survey, about a quarter of christians identify and Pentecostal or charismatic, and this includes charismatics in mainline and Catholic denominations.

    3. This 2006 survey says the christian population is 5% Pentecostals and 18% charismatics, and the percentage of the protestant population is 10% Pentecostal and 18% charismatic.

    4. These figures don’t all perfectly add up, of course (I have rounded them off, plus they are different surveys). But we can say that approximately 4% of the US population and 5% of the christian population is Pentecostal, and about 14% of the US population and 18% of the christians are charismatic.

    5. If we assume (I think justifiably) that the charismatics are not Word of Faith, and that WoF would only come from the evangelical or Black groups, then the WoF churches are a subset of the Pentecostals. Even if we assumed they were half of them (I think that is an over-estimate, but I don’t know the US), then the Word of Faith christians are just 2-3% of christians and 2% of the US population.

    6. Not everyone who identifies as a WoF christian will hold all the extreme doctrines, so I can’t help feeling perhaps only about 1% of christians believe in the “hundredfold blessing”. So it looks to me like a very small but vocal minority. That doesn’t mean Jonny shouldn’t write about it, because that is his experience, but perhaps these numbers might help keep things in perspective.

    Best wishes.

    • Give me some credit here, I know what I’m talking about, both from a huge amount of statistical research as well as 20 years of being a fundamentalist.

      The vast majority of charismatics would say the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. 54% of British Evangelicals strongly agree that it is, and inerrancy is a more common belief among charismatics than in general evangelicalism.

      As I’ve said in What is the Word of Faith, the Word of Faith isn’t accepted by all charismatics, but it’s also accepted by a lot of Pentecostals. I don’t know how you would even go about quantifying it further, since it isn’t a denomination. Lots of people who are into the Word of Faith (or Faith Movement) would not even think of it as a separate thing from their general non-denominational faith, and might not even be familiar with the term (I don’t think I’ve ever heard any of the televangelists say “I am a Word of Faith preacher”).

      But I’ve never heard a charismatic preacher preach against the hundredfold return. One of the American Pentecostal denominations (AoG, I think) issued a statement of caution on the hundredfold return, but even that said it was something potentially good taken too far. My thinking is that charismatics and pentecostals are mostly sympathetic to Word-Faith teachings, to varying extents.

      So I don’t accept that the charismatics are not Word of Faith. In fact, they are the most likely contenders to be Word of Faith sympathisers.

      Let’s take your estimate of 2% of the US population for the Word of Faith. The thing to remember is that 2% of the US adult population is five million people. And they’re a very visible and powerful five million, because they build mega-churches (many of the biggest churches in America, like Joel Osteen’s and Creflo Dollar’s, are prosperity pulpits), and because the doctrine of sowing and reaping means the congregations give a lot of money.

      Also, the Word of Faith is only extreme doctrines. You can’t subdivide among that. The Word of Faith is entirely about sowing and reaping; that’s more or less it.

      As for Accelerated Christian Education being a small movement. Yes, it is – somewhere between 5000 and 7000 schools worldwide, most of them small. But they tell lies to children as fact, so I don’t care if it’s only one school, it’s worth going after.

  8. Jonny, I hope I haven’t upset you – I wasn’t trying to give you grief or take away your credit. You have your aims, and I’m fine with them, but I have my aims too. So if, in you pursuing your aim of combatting wrong thinking, I think you are giving the impression that the problem is more endemic than it really is, then I will try to point that out. Surely there is room for that?

    “They all make different mistakes, but, as I said, they all exhibit a blind and uncritical approach which is dangerous. Yes, I do think it’s dangerous because if you accept anything uncritically, it can lead to bad places.”
    That’s a very blanket statement. Many people accept true things all the time without thinking (you probably do it yourself). Surely we have to add that the beliefs have to be dangerous and the people act on them, etc?

    “The Ku Klux Klan use Bible verses to justify their beliefs, and so have Christian extremists who have murdered doctors for committing abortion.”
    Was it uncritical thinking here, or wrong thinking? I suggest the latter more than the former.

    “The vast majority of charismatics would say the Bible is the inerrant Word of God.”
    That has little to do with the question under discussion. (1) The vast majority of “charismatics” wouldn’t be “Word of faith” believers – WoF believers are much more likely to self identify as Pentecostals I would think. (2) The “problem” isn’t so much Bible inerrancy, but Bible interpretation.

    “The thing to remember is that 2% of the US adult population is five million people.”
    Yep. And if you are thinking about the issue, as you are, then that is a lot of people. But if I am thinking about the impression of christianity you are giving, that is a small percentage. Different goals, different emphases.

    We are not opposed to each other here Jonny, I just think your strong feelings about this movement have led you to make statements that may give a misleading impression about christianity overall. So I’m just trying to balance the ledger. But there is no real argument between us I don’t think. : )

    • Thanks for your comments UnkleE. I’ve got no quarrel with you, although I was a little frustrated by some things you said.

      I think a full response to some points you’ve raised here may be material for future blog posts. However:

      There is a difference between thinking uncritically (which I think is bad enough), and what some fundamentalists do, which is to teach that thinking in this uncritical way is desirable.

      Wrong thinking motivates racists and murderers, for sure. But I’ve read testimony from former Klansmen of the way the Bible helped to perusade them in their views. I don’t know how common this is, only that it should be opposed where it does occur.

      I don’t think the numbers of Christians who claim the Bible is inerrant is irrelevant. It’s this belief in inerrancy which exposes people to believing in fantasy, potentially.

      I am not looking to discredit Christianity as a whole. I am an atheist, and my views change frequently on mainstream Christianity. But I recognise that most Christian’s faith is a positive thing for them personally.

  9. Cool Jonny. Of course I think wrong thinking like KKK etc is dangerous. CS Lewis once wrote that christianity makes a person either better or worse – depending on whether they use it to improve themselves or to hurt others. I think that’s true.

    One more thing. A lot of what we think depends on our experience. I find that most people I know, whether christian or not, may seem to hold certain views which don’t seem to flow out into actions – people are just not that consistent. So in my experience, a few Biblical inerrantists behave as you say and most don’t – in fact mostly I wouldn’t know whether a fellow christian was an inerrantist or not. I think the key points lie elsewhere.

    Your experience is obviously different. But I wonder which is more representative? I have been a member of a variety of different types of churches over 50 years, from strict doctrinally to loose, charismatic/Pente and anti-charismati, social justice oriented and not, etc, and I base my understanding on that. But they are all in Australia, so who knows how representative that is?

    Best wishes.

  10. just to throw in some final comments that I have are common among word of faith…

    1. That one should speak life and not death
    2. we can speak healing into our lives
    3. Some are that we are little gods
    4. prosperity gospel
    5. That sickness is because of a secret sin in ur life.
    6. gifts of the spirit

    These are just some common traits I’ve seen in word of faith

  11. Just catching up on the blog…..wanted to add my two cents that even if 2% of the US population is Word of Faith. That equals 6 million plus adherents. That’s not a small number of people who are being led astray with false hopes and false promises of a wealth.

  12. It is tragic that the Divine should attract monetary value. Shame on those who play on people’s guilts and doubts to wring out the pennies, I hope it leaves them with a constant bitter taste in their mouths.

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