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Are Churches Like Ponzi Schemes?


Tezia
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Me and a buddy were chatting about this the other day, and we both agreed that the church was like a ponzi scheme. See, you've got the pastor at the top who gets most of the money. Then at the lower levels you might have the accountants and assistant pastors who may get a little cut of the money. Then at the bottom you of course have the church members, who usually don't get anything. Now this of course varies on the size of the church ttoo and happens at different degrees. What do you guys think?

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Me and a buddy were chatting about this the other day, and we both agreed that the church was like a ponzi scheme. See, you've got the pastor at the top who gets most of the money. Then at the lower levels you might have the accountants and assistant pastors who may get a little cut of the money. Then at the bottom you of course have the church members, who usually don't get anything. Now this of course varies on the size of the church ttoo and happens at different degrees. What do you guys think?

A ponzi scheme promises money to everyone. Churches don't, generally, promise everyone a share in the monies.

 

If your definition held, any organization with many members and few employees is a ponzi scheme, and that's pretty much not true. Compare, for instance, the folk-dance organization of my ethnicity - it has a couple hundred members and two employees. By analogy with your reasoning, this is a ponzi scheme too. But since no one is promised a share of the money, and we pay membership fees because we know this contributes to things we like (i.e. courses held for folk-dance instructors, so I can know those who teach me also are sufficiently knowledgeable, one big weekend-festival, so I can meet folk dancers from all over Swedish-speaking Finland, etc), it is not. 

 

Compare wikipedia's description of a ponzi scheme:

Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation where the operator, an individual or organization, pays returns to its investors from new capital paid to the operators by new investors, rather than from profit earned by the operator. Operators of Ponzi schemes usually entice new investors by offering higher returns than other investments, in the form of short-term returns that are either abnormally high or unusually consistent. The perpetuation of the high returns requires an ever-increasing flow of money from new investors to sustain the scheme.

 

Churches generally do not "pay returns to investors", they do not "entice new investors by offering higher returns than other investments" (well, access to heaven is a higher return, obviously, but that's not paying from previous investments), churches don't offer "abnormally high or unusually consistent" short-term returns, nor is there really any need for an ever-increasing flow of money to keep up operations. Obviously this doesn't apply to my parallel example either: folk dance organizations don't "pay returns to investors", nor any of the other things in the list. (I brought in the folk dance organizations mainly to provide an example we can be fairly unanimously in agreement about them not being ponzi schemes; showing that they indeed aren't ponzi schemes is maybe a bit superfluous, but at this point we can agree most churches aren't.) 

 

What would make me suspect churches of being ponzi schemes is if "the church members, who usually don't get anything" weren't true, and they were ranked by seniority or somesuch. Senior members would be given money, and junior ones would be given promises of money.

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Welcome back, Tezia.  I like your analogy.  In a ponzi scheme, everyone who contributes is promised a reward but only those on the very top really enjoy what the scheme provides.  Those at the bottom (doing all the work) may get something out of it, but it's hardly worth the effort and seldom enough to live on.  In the church, the pastor receives the bulk of the benefit while the layman has to struggle to make ends meet.  Only the elusive "promise" keeps the layman interested.

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Thank you both. And that's a good point on the Ponzi scheme. But I think it does kinda fit since the money does come from the congregation. Oddly enough I did a search related to this topic, and it turns out a wall known pastor is involved in one.

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Thank you both. And that's a good point on the Ponzi scheme. But I think it does kinda fit since the money does come from the congregation. Oddly enough I did a search related to this topic, and it turns out a wall known pastor is involved in one.

But every kind of organization *ever* tends to have money coming from the membership (~= congregation), so that's not enough to establish it as a Ponzi scheme - that is the exact point of my showing the parallels between folk dance organizations in Finland and the church. I think you're falling for a pretty bad fallacy here: I suspect the reasoning you're intuitively following is "churches are bad, ponzi schemes are bad, thus churches are ponzi schemes". This is a fallacy though - not all things that have a certain quality in common are the same thing. There are different reasons why churches and why ponzi schemes are bad.

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Legally a church is like a musician.  The pastor is the talent.  He gives a performance that draws a crowd.  Pay is voluntary.  Some of the crowd get entertained by the performance.  The pastor keeps most of the money and pays his staff a little bit for helping him.

 

However in practice a church is like a ponzi scheme because the theology is unfounded lies, it hooks people and makes them believe it, and it promises that for relatively small investments over time people can reap an infinite reward in the afterlife, and everyone who gives the church money got cheated. 

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I agree with miekko, a ponzi scheme is an investment that promises high returns for little to no risk. The person who sells the investment pays out to those who ask using money from new investors. If everyone wants their money, the whole thing collapses. Thus, they try to keep all the balls in the air by showing awesome returns on paper encouraging investors to stay invested to earn even more.

 

churches most definitely commit fraud, imo, when they promise big rewards for tithes, but since it's only up to God to pay back, there's no risk of an investor pullout that collapses the whole shebang.

 

In reality, church fraud is the perfect ploy as it's protected by law and preys on complete dupes who will never ask for their money.

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Legally a church is like a musician.  The pastor is the talent.  He gives a performance that draws a crowd.  Pay is voluntary.  Some of the crowd get entertained by the performance.  The pastor keeps most of the money and pays his staff a little bit for helping him.

 

However in practice a church is like a ponzi scheme because the theology is unfounded lies, it hooks people and makes them believe it, and it promises that for relatively small investments over time people can reap an infinite reward in the afterlife, and everyone who gives the church money got cheated. 

Again with the fallacies. Not every scheme with unfounded lies is a ponzi scheme. Again, the same fallacy as I earlier pointed out rears its head.

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Legally a church is like a musician.  The pastor is the talent.  He gives a performance that draws a crowd.  Pay is voluntary.  Some of the crowd get entertained by the performance.  The pastor keeps most of the money and pays his staff a little bit for helping him.

 

However in practice a church is like a ponzi scheme because the theology is unfounded lies, it hooks people and makes them believe it, and it promises that for relatively small investments over time people can reap an infinite reward in the afterlife, and everyone who gives the church money got cheated. 

 

I also make a comparison to theatre, except the voluntary pay aspect.  Community theatre could be even more accurate.  Pastor is the actor/talent like you said, and there is a "backstage" crew and also pit musicians for live musical accompaniment that may or may not be paid.  There is also community "actors" who volunteer for things like alter boys, reading passages, and helping with special holidays that puts them on stage and in front of the community.

 

In fact, because there are many opportunities in my field for church gigs, I refer to them as "shows" like I would any other musical, play, or limited engagement that I may do.  I've been corrected before, and my response was "Oh come on, what's the difference"?  :grin:

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In fact, because there are many opportunities in my field for church gigs, I refer to them as "shows" like I would any other musical, play, or limited engagement that I may do.  I've been corrected before, and my response was "Oh come on, what's the difference"?  FrogsToadBigGrin.gif

 

 

That is exactly my response when I get corrected for referring to churchiness as someone's "hobby"!  I bet your response is appreciated about as much as mine!  GONZ9729CustomImage1539775.gif

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You know, I never thought of my former church as scheming.  I came out of the SDA branch of christianity (some won't call them christians, but meh, what's the difference).

 

The SDA practices a socialist system in tithing.  It's all monitored and it's an uproar whenever it's violated.  Here's how it works.

  • People give tithe money to the church, 10% of whatever is their income
  • Treasurer pools the money and then hands it off to the conference
  • Conference gets the money from all the local churches
  • Then redistributes an equal salary to all pastors in their district

Yeah, redistribution of wealth.  The very definition of it.  Their rationale is that this will make their pastors not care about offending people, but just preach the 'word of god.'

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Legally a church is like a musician.  The pastor is the talent.  He gives a performance that draws a crowd.  Pay is voluntary.  Some of the crowd get entertained by the performance.  The pastor keeps most of the money and pays his staff a little bit for helping him.

 

However in practice a church is like a ponzi scheme because the theology is unfounded lies, it hooks people and makes them believe it, and it promises that for relatively small investments over time people can reap an infinite reward in the afterlife, and everyone who gives the church money got cheated. 

Again with the fallacies. Not every scheme with unfounded lies is a ponzi scheme. Again, the same fallacy as I earlier pointed out rears its head.

 

 

 

Comparing isn't a fallacy.  Apples and oranges are not the same thing but you can compare how they are like each other.  

 

Note how the phrase " . . . a church is like a ponzi scheme . . . " has a different meaning than "church is a ponzi scheme".  If church is a ponzi scheme then I would not have contrasted the obvious legal difference where church is like a musician or entertainer.

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Churches are more of a direct scam than any kind of ponzi or pyramid scheme. A ponzi scheme works by promising money returns to everyone using only money people have paid, which of course just means only the highest in the pecking order will get more money than what they paid into the system.

 

In the case of religion what is being promised is not money, but salvation after death by the magical sky unicorn. No one is going to receive this, and so in a way everyone who is a member is being scammed.

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I liken Churches more to seedy strip clubs. People go there and give up their money for a cheap buzz and most of that money goes to the head of the establishment, not those keeping the place going. Catholic confession booths are a lot like private viewing booths where desperate men go into alone and relieve themselves of tension. Both Churches and strip clubs are bad places to take children.

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Pretty much every church is a scam.  Unless they are specifically saying that it's fairytale time, then they are scamming naive people, regardless of whether the pastor know it's a scam or whether or not there is money involved.  Because christianity is a lie.  

 

IMO, the only churches that would fall under the definition of ponzi scheme are the ones that say things like, "give the minister of god your $10 seed and you will receive $1000 in return."  This happens, but not every church is like that, only a few nasty ones and, unfortunately, most televised ones.  

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Thanks all for the responses and sorry for the late reply. Technically I did use a similie and not a hyberbole, which is a direct statement, and then I would see how this is fallacious. I also love the analogy of church being like a musician. What a very clever comparison. Churches do start small then grow as they continue in popularity. I forgot to mention that the promise of blessings and good things for going to church and tithing would in a sense be the return investment here. Course, everyone knows there are good return investments based on mythological tales.

 

Now getting a bit serious, there have been few churches that have committed literal Ponzi schemes (i.e. Eddie Long's 2013 ponzi scheme). I also agree with church being a bit like a scam. You can't imagine how cheated that I felt when I attended church and was expected to tithe as a poor, jobless college student. Then I would be told by my fellow church members that if I continued doing this that I would reap benefits. Needless to say, after about a year of doing this and personal life getting worse, I felt cheated, then used common sense to see this and left. I suppose for a person in this position, church would certainly be LIKE a Ponzi scheme, because it's the pastor who tells all the things you will get as he collects your money and you not getting anything in return, aside from wasted time.

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And lol on the church being seedy strip clubs. That's pretty funny.

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Church is like armed robbery. Just replace the gun with threats of eternal punishment.

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Kinda yeah. Look at those mega churches, all those "donations to god" being put to use. Not feeding the homeless or other charity work.

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Churches aren't really Ponzi schemes, IMO.

 

In my former place of worship, there were plenty of real pyramid and Ponzi schemes to participate in though. A lot of people sold natural healing and herbalist products, along with with vitamins, weight loss supplements, green juice, 31 brand bags, and all sorts of weird shit.

 

They all make promises and in return for your money, time or faith, you too can be a part of God's family or whatever the heck they call their cult.

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