Ok, let me preface this by saying that my belief system is my business, and yours is your own, and I really don't care what you believe as long as you don't try to force me to believe it as well or otherwise intrude your beliefs on my life.
The folks I'm about to talk about have (just barely, to be fair) crossed over that line.
In the mail came an envelope pretty well covered in print, clearly from a religious organization, clearly soliciting new believers. I'm not going to name the church involved, if you recognize it from mailings you've gotten I'd appreciate your keeping it to yourself because what I'm talking about here is mistreatment of a position of respect (church, Church, clergy, etc) and exploitation of beliefs in general. I'm reasonably certain that somewhere in this organization are people who honestly believe in the things that they're doing, who are good people and truly want to help others. Since I expect people to respect the fact that I have my own belief system, I cannot, under my own morals, impugn theirs. Specific acts? Sure. Disagree with their system? Absolutely. But out of respect for those who aren't using the system for their own ends, I'm not going to paint a big sign saying "THIS CHURCH IS ENTIRELY FRAUDULENT."
Got it? Good.
Moving on. In this mailing, it's pretty well a packet, there were several things. One of them is a printed "prayer rug." On the back it tells you how if you kneel on this rug (or have it touching both of your knees) and pray upon your needs, while looking into the closed eyes of the image of Jesus printed upon the paper, you will know that Jesus has heard your prayers, because his eyes will open.
Time out, take a step back, examine this paper "prayer rug" (I'm sorry if it is made out of paper it is not a rug, that's why the quotes) and see what they're talking about.
Well, it's pretty vague around the eyes. they certainly look sort of closed but not definitively closed, and there's quite a bit of shading on the eyelids in the image... and if you unfocus your eyes just a bit, sort of like when you're looking for the 3-d squirrel riding a lawnmower to jump off the page... yep, there it is. Subtle, but there, just an impression of iris on the eyelids that, given time, would make the brain see open eyes. Optical illusion.
From this point on, I gotta tell you, I was looking for the "Send money!" To be fair, there isn't any request for donation or anything like that in this letter. They just want you to pray on the rug, tuck it into a Bible at a specific passage, or if you don't have a Bible, under your side of the bed, if you can, if you can't it's ok, overnight then send the rug and the sheet on which you mark your prayer needs back.
There's some indication that once they receive your prayer sheet and rug (which they'll send out to another family because they need it! This bugs me because it strikes me as an attempt to convince people that you're giving them access to a genuine holy article rather than a mass produced image on paper. If you've prayed over it and your beliefs make it holy, fine, but I'm far from convinced that getting more is any more than a matter of placing an order at the printer and possibly having a priest or a group of laymen say a prayer over a pallet) they'll send you a blessed-by-prayer cross which will bring you good fortune.
So far, slightly distasteful to me but nothing really crossing the line. To me what crosses the line between probably honest religion slinging and scamming on the part of those in charge is the "Prophesy" that is also in the envelope. That you're only supposed to unseal (it's got a sticky-dot on it holding it closed) after you send the prayer rug and the needs-sheet back in.
In other words after you've concentrated on your own personal problems so that they're at the forefront of your mind.
This "Prophesy" goes on for a full page in appropriately vague terms about how God will guide you to proper decisions for the benefit of your future through prayer. "Even now, you are facing a decision that must be made." Well that certainly covers everyone in the world.
At the front is a little blurb about how the prophesy is given through inspiration from the Holy Spirit, but the whole is written in the first person. Not "God says" but "I say." A bit about how the power to speak blessings into your own life is in you, and how you must learn to use this power.
Well, that could go a couple of ways. Either the wish-fulfillment version of prayer, or it could be interpreted as a push to stop looking outside yourself for solutions and do everything you can for your own self to improve your life.
My problem here is that this all seems to be aimed towards planting a seed in the mind, that can be fertilized later (when they send out the cross?) to cause a person to interpret any good thing that happens to them in the interim as stemming from the prayer rug, or the actions surrounding it. Like I said, no request for money in this batch, but my cynical mind sees it on the horizon.
To me, this is all very reminiscent of fortune tellers that perform in front of a group. They grope blindly with vague allusions until someone, wanting to believe, sees something of themselves in what is being said. Then they proceed to work on that person, to the ultimate goal of making them believe that the fortune teller is really what they say they are, and then getting money.
Like I said, for all I know there are people in this process that truly believe they are helping others by sending out these letters. But I would bet my own money that somewhere in the process, someone is living quite nicely off of this process who doesn't believe a word of it.
That's what I mean about misuse. Someone in charge there is using their position to make themselves richer, or more powerful. They're deliberately preying on people who, in these days, may not see a recourse other than prayer to help them out of a bad situation. I'm reasonably certain that if I were to send the prayer rug and the needs page back, and go through the process, I would get to the "give us money" portion of the process, but I'm not going to do that.
Because by my lights, exploiting the process for my own entertainment, if there's even a chance that there are people who honestly believe, is wrong.
If someone believes in Bubbah, god of beer and plenty, the fact that I don't doesn't make me any more right than they are. It doesn't mean that I get to tell them what they should believe. And if someone doesn't have any religious beliefs, but does have a belief in say, string theory, the same goes. The belief itself is not any less valid because another person shares it, or doesn't. Neither can be proven at this point, so to me, they stand on equal footing.
I just detest people who manipulate for their own gain, along with people who intrude upon my life without my consent (I've had a few very nice religious discussions that I was quite willing to participate in) to attempt to change my beliefs.
Those people, I really want to beat.