Friday, October 10, 2008

My Great Ponzi Scheme

I just had a great idea for an unbeatable Ponzi scheme. Offer a reward of infinite riches, everlasting life and an enduring relationship. Tell people that it is a free gift; all they have to do is accept it. Once they join, get people actively involved and emotionally attached. Encourage them to build relationships with other members, and to volunteer their time. Encourage them to give a portion of their income. Use their money and their efforts to grow the scheme. As necessary make use of additional tools like guilt to ensure people are participating. If people lose their sense of urgency or feel too burdened by their participation or are drifting away, give them some perspective: a little temporary pain now is nothing compared to the everlasting torment that is in store for all those who are not in the scheme.

Most Ponzi schemes have fatal flaws that eventually cause them to fail. Either they are exposed as frauds or at some point their growth tapers off and outlays exceed their income and they collapse. This scheme avoids both of these failure modes: it is impossible to disprove its key claim of reward after death, and so it cannot be shown to be a fraud. In addition, this major outlay never actually has to be made to participants (until they are dead), and so it will never run out of resources. At the same time as avoiding typical failure modes, this scheme can do what Ponzi schemes do best: leverage the income and effort of current participants to bring in new participants. I imagine this scheme could last thousands of years.

8 comments:

  1. This post makes me very sad. Yet when I'm in a cynical, exhausted, and/or self-centered phase in life I can imagine myself conjuring up a thought like this.

    No one should come to faith in Christ for the promised reward to come. He would be seeking "things from God" rather than God Himself. That kind of faith will not stand. It will wilt in difficult times. God is not sitting back doing nothing now while we all wait for the uncertain future. He has acted from the beginning, and is relevant in this current life to gradually remove our blindness so we can see reality through His eyes and live in it today. Our hope in the future is not riches, it is an Earth restored to the intention of its Creator - Eden but with more people, and the sum of lasting things that mankind had made on earth with its then-flawed gifts. And most of all, the presence of God Himself, the source of all life.

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  2. It is interesting that Christians want to have their cake and eat it; they want to be selfless, but at the same time they want to enjoy a blissful eternal life. Some give generously while at the same time knowing that they are promised a reward in the future life for every generous act in this life.

    Can one be truly selfless if one knows that one will be rewarded for all one's good actions? I don't think so. Are Christians not treasure seekers? I wonder what Jesus meant by advising his followers to store up everlasting treasure then?

    For that matter, is God selfless or selfish? Is he doing things for our pleasure or his pleasure? Why should the purpose of all things be for the pleasure of God? Because he is bigger and better than us, it is okay that he seek his pleasure?
    It does not seem that his sacrifice is much compared the the reward he is giving himself.

    Daniel

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  3. A ponzi scheme involves PAYING members with new members/victims money, not just recruiting new members... so your comparison doesn't quite fit, but I get the jist of what you are saying. You are wondering if organized religion could be some sort of man made scheme. I think everyone agrees that at least some preachers/reverends/etc do in fact see it as a scheme to use to their own advantages, so there is no point in disputing you outright. As for the entire concept of religion being a scheme; just search the world's religions with a focused heart and you will find whatever evidence you need to personally believe. God does not like to be tested, nor be constantly beckoned for signs/evidence, but there are plenty of other forces who have no problem at all showing you their powers. Once you engage those however, it is hard to disengage, and seems impossible to forget. This I know because I have walked this path, like you, on a search for truth. I often regret the decisions I made to seek proof, even though I got it, and God saved me from the hell.
    ------
    As for your post about if a Christian can be selfless when their selfless actions are to acheive a selfish reward. And your questioning if God is just being selfish. I too have had these same thoughts, recurring by the way. It is completely arrogant and stupid for you and I to think we are capable of acting selflessly, but God, who is infinitely greater than us, is not. How do I know you and I both think we can act selflessly? Because we both have daughters who are their own persons, and we would selflessly sacrifice for them. If you only love them because they are an extension of you, I think you will one day grow out of that and respect them as individuals too, but at least you can see how God who is much greater than you, can love his children that much more.

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  4. Just wanted to refer you to C.S. Lewis - The Weight of Glory for a discussion on Christians and their reward. He is much more imaginative and articulate than I could be on the subject.

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  5. Tanya,

    I have read a lot of CS Lewis, although not that book. Indeed he is articulate and eloquent, but my observation is that he often wins his arguments by telling gripping stories rather than by logic. If his points are good, then they should make a good argument when presented prosaically too.

    Daniel

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  6. Tanya,

    Back to your first comment of this post. I would say there are two kinds of sadness. The first belongs to those who have found an investment with great rewards, and they are sad for those they care about who are missing out on the opportunity and rewards. The second sadness belongs to those who believe the investment is actually a ponzi scheme and they are sad for those they care about who are putting their resources into it. I suppose you have the first and I the second.

    Daniel

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  7. That's a cheeky broadside, I quite like it! But I think anonymous is right that the shoe doesn't really fit. A "scheme" implies the machinations of a devious planner, and except in the cases of certain sects, I don't think the mainstream religious institutions are being run by a Dr. Evil with full knowledge that they are peddling a great big elaborate con.

    The problem of religious institutions is very much the problem of human institutions and collective actions generally. When people coalesce into objective-based groups, whether for religious, government, or corporate ends, the resulting institution becomes a kind of conscious agent itself; it's own survival often superseding the goals that it was brought about to achieve in the first place.

    I think religious institutions have more in common with conventional corporate models and government agencies, in that respect, than they do with rip-off schemes per se.

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  8. A ponzi scheme may not be started with evil intentions. Nor may those who spread it have evil intentions. It does involve some deception, but those that propagate the deception may think it is justified for all the good it brings, or they may be deceived themselves.

    DM

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