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Censorship The Courts

French Branch of Scientology Is Convicted of Fraud 622

Posted by kdawson
from the still-getting-away-with-it dept.
The trial we discussed this spring has come to a verdict, and reader lugannerd was one of several to note a milestone in the fight against the Church of Scientology. "The French branch of the Church of Scientology was convicted of fraud and fined nearly $900,000 on Tuesday by a Paris court. But the judges did not ban the church entirely, as the prosecution had demanded, saying that a change in the law prevented such an action for fraud. The church said it would appeal. The verdict was among the most important in several years to involve the controversial group, which is registered as a religion in the United States but has no similar legal protection in France. It is considered a sect here, and says it has some 45,000 adherents, out of some 12 million worldwide. It was the first time here that the church itself had been tried and convicted, as opposed to individual members."
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French Branch of Scientology Is Convicted of Fraud

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@gmFREEBSDail.com minus bsd> on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @02:48PM (#29887143) Journal

    A spokeswoman for the church, Agnès Bron, called the verdict "an Inquisition for modern times."

    Help me out here, which Inquisition [wikipedia.org] are you trying to draw a parallel to?

    In all of the most popular ones I think it was the several hundreds (possibly thousands) of individuals being persecuted for not believing Roman Catholicism (the popular religion). Crazy Catholic tribunals prosecuting people on arcane doctrine! Usually resulting in the end of their life or excommunication. Now the current situation is the government of France in a single instance finding the Church of Scientology guilty of fraud. Was there anything to do with religious doctrine in this case? Because I thought fraud was fraud whether you're the pope or Richard Dawkins! And the result is a paltry sum of $900,000 that is -- what? -- 1/7th of what it cost Tom Cruise to get to his last level of clairvoyance?

    To reiterate, you're not being persecuted for your beliefs but instead your finances ... which sound more like extortion through coercion to me than anything else.

    Go ahead and use this to try to appeal to people with a persecution complex. If they have one, they won't find more persecution anywhere else than your ranks. I'm glad that sane people -- when hassled by you -- can now be informed that your accounting practices in France have been legally decried as fraud!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @02:50PM (#29887163)

    The Roman Catholic Church is one of the world's largest real estate companies [wordpress.com] and source of crazy statements by The Pope.

    Yours In Petrograd,
    K. Trout

  • Censorship? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by thepooh81 (1606041) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @02:51PM (#29887187)

    I don't know why this is considered censorship. They brought the case before a judge who made a legal decision which can be appealed (and is).

    France did not ban the organization from the country (although it seems as though they wanted to). Had they done that then I could understand the censorship tag, but really... Being tried for a crime in this case does not mean censorship.

  • by Absolut187 (816431) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @03:12PM (#29887513) Homepage

    Obviously Scientology is a laughable pile of dog shit, but how is it any worse than any of the other superstitious cults out there, like Christianity or Islam?

    If you're going to make it a crime to pressure people into giving money to a cult based on a bunch of idiotic stories, you might as well start with the older ones.

    Look at Mormons. They shun their own family if they don't buy into their crap. Threatening to make you effectively dead to your whole (brainwashed) family - that's not extortion? Catholicism has excommunication, same idea.

    Christians used "God" as an excuse to perpetrate some of the worst *atrocities* in history. The Crusades. Manifest Destiny. George Bush. The list goes on.

    In the scheme of things, bilking retarded celebrities out of their "hard"-earned cash just doesn't seem that bad to me. Frankly, I find it amusing. Scientology is the Stephen Colbert of religion. Their own founder made it so ridiculously outlandish that only a total idiot would actually believe in it. I'm sure L. Ron would laugh his ass off if he knew how much money Tom Cruise had forked over to his church.

  • by Tackhead (54550) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @03:17PM (#29887575)

    > > > > > > > Scilon Troll: "Hey, it's no sillier than $mainstreamReligion"
    > > > > > > Fundamentalist Religious Dupe #1: "No it's not, our $mainstreamReligion is holy, space aliens are weird."
    > > > > > Fundamentalist Atheist Dupe #1: "You silly $mainstreamReligionist! Both your belief systems are bogus!"
    > > > > Moderate Atheist Dupe #2: "Yeah, all religions are the same."
    > > Trolly Atheist Dupe #3: "Yeah, we should tax 'em all!"
    > Paranoid Religious Dupe #3: "No way, I'd rather just let the Scilons keep on doing what they're doing... Relijus Freedumb!!!"

    And then the Scilon troll reports back to the mothership: "False equivalence has been established. Everyone's bickering about whose religion is weirder, and all the moderates have agreed that our beliefs are as legitimate a religion as everyone else. Now we can claim religious persecution when speaking to religious audiences, and that we're being attacked by fanatics when we speak to non-religious audiences. Mission Accomplished!"

    This isn't about whether Jesus or Xenu or the Flying Spaghetti Monster is weirder. Or about the relative atrocities of Crusades, the RPF, or not serving meatballs with spaghetti.

    It's about one specific organization, and its track record of using litigation as a tool to silence dissent. Sonny Bono, Scientologist and Senator, not only supported the Mickey Mouse Protection Act [wikipedia.org] which extended copyright terms to 75 years plus the life of the creator, he got the damn bill named after itself. When the DMCA [wikipedia.org] was passed in 1998, guess was among the first first lawsuit [com.com] under its provisions just a few months later? Hint: It's the same organization that attacked Slashdot [slashdot.org] itself in 2001 and Google [chillingeffects.org] in 2002.

    It's not about space aliens, UFOs shaped like DC-8s, or volcanoes. It's about one organization's multi-decade track record of attacks on the Internet [wikipedia.org]. That - and nothing else - is why it's News For Nerds, and Stuff That Matters.

    Of course, by the time I've typed this, we'll have already gone through 100 posts of "No, your religion is weirder!" "No, all religions are silly", and Scilon trolls sitting back and smiling gleefully as they watch yet another message board thread fall for the distraction tactic, and this post all pointless.

    (Yep, the Cult has already compared it to the Spanish Inquisition. For something nobody's supposed to expect, I'm not at all surprised the cult spokesperson has already started to draw comparisons to the Spanish Inquisition, especially in a historically-Catholic country, and right on time, two attempts to distract us by advocating taxation of the Catholic Church shows up here...)

    But it felt good to rant for a bit.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @03:20PM (#29887605)

    Obviously Scientology is a laughable pile of dog shit, but how is it any worse than any of the other superstitious cults out there, like Christianity or Islam?

    Major differences with Scientology:

    1. It does not have a thousands-year history of people believing it

    2. It is a single centralized organization instead of a widespread population with sects and branches

    3. The individuals controlling that single centralized organization today have a long history of criminal activity, as did just about everyone who ever had a position of power in that organization

  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @03:21PM (#29887623) Homepage
    The significant difference is that we know [faqs.org] that the Co$ was started with express intention of fleecing money from its drones. With the others, we just have to use common sense to infer it.
  • by Idiomatick (976696) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @03:24PM (#29887665)
    Look up evangelical leaders. Most of them get busted snorting coke off their gay hooker's ass. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Haggard [wikipedia.org]
  • by Idiomatick (976696) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @03:27PM (#29887703)
    Nice, If it helps I was going to say it if you hadn't beaten me to it. Christianity has been fucking with progress taking money and killing people way longer than Scientology and it certainly affects my daily life more.

    I like the Colbert link.
  • by Absolut187 (816431) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @03:30PM (#29887733) Homepage

    Apparently some Scientologists (or other religious conservatives) have infiltrated Slashdot and want to censor my above post..

    For the 15,000,000th time, "Troll" and "Flamebait" are not synonyms for "disagree and wish to censor."

    To the moderators who marked my post down: Fuck you. Go worship your stupid fucking alien/zombie magic savior. News flash: He's not coming back for you. Fucktards.

    Now THAT is flamebait. Try to remember the difference.

  • by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @03:31PM (#29887755)

    Look at Mormons. They shun their own family if they don't buy into their crap. Threatening to make you effectively dead to your whole (brainwashed) family - that's not extortion? Catholicism has excommunication, same idea.

    Nonsense. Mormons are quite free and able to interact with people who "don't buy into their crap." I say it's actually their defining characteristic when compared to other loony cults. Excommunication is reserved for cardinal sins, not merely associating with people who don't buy your crap. Not to mention that excommunication is not the tool of control that it was during the middle ages.

    Finally, there are a few reasons why Scientology is far more dangerous than today's mainstream Abrahamic religions, Hinduism or any other organized religion. There is the US vs Them mentality that pervades the organization, the complete disregard for laws in their pursuit of their enemies and the practical enslavement of the low-rung members. In other words, the reason that Scientology is dangerous is that it is as loony as the fringe suicide cults that have always existed, and it is as large as many respectable religious organizations. With the former comes extreme (and deadly) actions, with the second comes power to carry out the extreme actions in great numbers and under cover.

    Hubbard might have laughed at all the money Cruise has forked over, but he would be laughing on his yacht while figuring out how to extract more money.

  • Money Supply (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Roger W Moore (538166) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @03:34PM (#29887801) Journal

    I agree about the money portion

    While that may be true outside France, inside France things are a little murkier. Now that they have been convicted of fraud they have to be careful since now a lot of the people who gave them money can probably get it back. Paying the fine might not be a problem but continuing to raise funds might.

  • Wake me up when... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by fyngyrz (762201) * on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @03:37PM (#29887831) Homepage Journal

    ...some country has the consistency to convict the churches of Christianity *and* Islam of fraud. Not to mention those selling crystals as "healing" devices, astrologers, palm "readers", and so on. Or to protect them all equally.

    Scientology is no worse or better than either of them. At least it hasn't (yet) marched a bunch of its adherents into other countries, slaughtering "infidels", or set up any 800-year long inquisitions, or flown any aircraft into buildings, or burned any "witches." Though no doubt, give it time -- fanatics who base their thinking on superstitious bullshit almost always get around to such idiocy.

    Societies should treat all superstitious nonsense the same way. So either prosecute 'em all, or leave em all alone. This "attack Scientology" business is inconsistent and hypocritical. Unless it leads to attacking the rest of them the same way... which trend isn't apparent at the moment.

  • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @03:38PM (#29887853) Journal

    By that logic you should also convict atheists. Many of its adherents have done evil things that make 9/11 look like a minor event.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @03:42PM (#29887909)

    It's a troll because you dragged your anti-religious agenda against a variety of unrelated other religious organizations into the matter. If we had an article about "terrible bug in Cisco routers almost broke the Internet" (like we did a few months back) and someone used it as an excuse to say "Microsoft is crappy, and PHP sucks" then you'd see an analogous phenomenon.

    We know you hate religion. We don't care. Thank you.

  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @03:42PM (#29887919)
    Don't discriminate. Revoke the tax-exempt status of ALL churches. The tax exemption was part of a Faustian bargain between church and state; the church was supposed to take care of social services for the poor, and in return tithes weren't taxed. The churches long ago abrogated that responsibility and turned responsibility for the social "safety net" over to the state -- and yet they still retain their tax-exempt status?!? WTF?!? Here in Beaverton, the Catholic Church owns hundreds of acres of prime real estate, and yet they have the gall to insist that people suing them get nothing because they declared bankruptcy and their church rules state that church property cannot be taken away in a lawsuit -- as if their church laws trump the government laws?!? WTF?!? Make non-profits pay the same real estate taxes as everyone else, so that the free market can actually work to put underused properties to their best use.
  • by LandDolphin (1202876) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @03:46PM (#29887959)
    Look at the first sentance of your original post:

    Obviously Scientology is a laughable pile of dog shit, but how is it any worse than any of the other superstitious cults out there, like Christianity or Islam?

    While you might follow up with good points later on in the post, that first line is flamebait. Try removing all of the "emotional" wording from your post and just supply the information. It's not what you say as much as how you say it. You worded thing in a flamebait manor.

  • by steveb3210 (962811) * on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @03:53PM (#29888063)
    You really don't really adhere to "atheism". You simply don't believe what others have told you because it doesn't make any sense. Like leprechauns and unicorns.
  • Re:Fine? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by someone1234 (830754) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @03:53PM (#29888081)

    Scientology is not religion. It is a tax evasion scheme.
    And i'm pretty sure there are quite many people on Slashdot who follow some real faith.
    You are only partially right about this doesn't mean anything.
    It really has not much effect on Slashdot readers, as they are most likely not fell prey of this scam.
    But i'm pretty content that Europe doesn't let this scam going too far here.
    One cannot say France is intolerant to faith. As far as i know, they got all major faiths represented.
    So, i think the case had some positive effect, even if it doesn't really affect most of the Slashdotters.

  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @03:54PM (#29888107) Homepage

    Obviously Scientology is a laughable pile of dog shit, but how is it any worse than any of the other superstitious cults out there, like Christianity or Islam?

    Fuck you. Go worship your stupid fucking alien/zombie magic savior. News flash: He's not coming back for you. Fucktards.

    There's very little substantive difference between those two lines as far as being flamebait. Do you really think "fuck" is the difference between being flamebait and not? Or do you not understand the difference between a flame and flamebait?

    You were modded appropriately. Sorry if you really didn't understand you were posting flamebait, though it'd be better if you just understood that and accepted the inevitable mods without caring. Either way whining about it is pathetic.

  • by Gotung (571984) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @03:59PM (#29888171)
    Intolerant idealism is mankind's costliest folly (thanks Churchill), no matter if it comes in the form of religion, communism, fascism, or anything else. It leads to the most evil behavior that human beings have ever engaged in.

    In recent decades China has been more open and more tolerant (which is to say, not very tolerant at all), but at one point they were executing everybody with even an inkling of an independent thought.

    Accepting one form of intolerant idealism over another because you like it's marketing strategy better is a fools game. In the end you will find cold hard brutality of the worst kind no matter which you meekly accept.
  • by HeronBlademaster (1079477) <heron@xnapid.com> on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:00PM (#29888189) Homepage

    Modern "Christianity" is not one single entity, so if you were to try to prosecute "Christianity" you'd have to prosecute a lot of groups who have widely disparate views. What is it, exactly, about Christianity that you think is fraudulent? Is it the promise of immortality in exchange for obedience to some set of rules? That doesn't meet any definition of fraud that I'm aware of, unless you can conclusively prove that the promises given by Christian teachings are false (and even then, not all false things are fraudulent).

    Scientology is being attacked because it's a group that's actively engaged in fraud and extortion; their sci-fi "religion" is merely a front for their money-making activities. Christianity does not meet that definition - or more accurately not every group that calls itself "Christian" meets that definition (and if they are engaged in fraud, then they're clearly ignoring what they claim to believe). They are not being prosecuted merely for their beliefs.

    That's one thing you have to realize: Scientology encourages fraudulent behavior, whereas Christianity (as taught by the New Testament) does precisely the opposite. It is the behavior that is being attacked in court, not the beliefs.

  • Church? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Better.Safe.Than.Sor (836676) <matthew02121@nOsPAm.rogers.com> on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:02PM (#29888215) Journal
    Scientology is as much a church as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is democratic.
  • by jjohnson (62583) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:03PM (#29888219) Homepage

    The short version is that Christian salvation is free. I can go to church, I can read the bible, I can get into heaven without ever giving a cent to a Christian denomination. They're not selling salvation. It might be worth tossing a few bucks their way (or to the mosque, or the buddhist temple) to keep the services available, but there's no requirement to pay up.

    With Scientology, salvation is directly tied to how much money you put into it. You buy access to higher levels.

    Doctrinally, I don't think they're much different in crazy factor, but as far as the business practices go in terms of bilking believers, they're an outright fraud.

  • Come on. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fyngyrz (762201) * on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:06PM (#29888271) Homepage Journal

    Anyway, I'd whole heartedly agree with banning Scientology; not because of their ridiculous 'beliefs', but because they're a dangerous cult

    Christianity, with its history of inquisitions, crusades, witch burnings, pogroms, blood libel, financial parasitism, subjugation of women, repression of science, burning of scientists at the stake, abandonment of adherents, and general pillage... isn't a dangerous cult? Really?

    Islam, with its similar history, including jihads, flying aircraft into buildings, suicide bombers... not a dangerous cult? Really?

    Methinks you're not paying attention. And as the wag said, those who do not pay attention to history are doomed to repeat it.

    a long history of fraud, conspiracy, and extortion, as well as abuse, neglect, and mistreatment of members, with no indication of stopping

    Sounds just like Christianity and Islam to me. Ever see the knees of the Christian "penitent" after they crawl on sharp rocks? Tried to collect the chunks of an Islamic suicide bomber? Know what an "indulgence" is? Familiar with the celibate Christian priesthood's historical use of young boys? Know what the wall behind the nunnery often contains? How do you feel about the Christians who tell their kids they can't have medical treatment because god will handle things? You know you are forced by religious law to pay the portion of taxes that the churches have wiggled out of, don't you? Not defending Scientology here, it's as much bunk as the rest of them, but I sure don't think that the "mainstream" religions have earned your support.

    Scientology is not actually a religion; its a criminal organization, and such deserves none of the protection given to religion, nor any of the respect.

    Ok, I'll bite. What's an "actual" religion? Is it belief you're talking about? Would you really claim that there aren't honest believers in Scientology? Is it truth? No religion has demonstrated any grasp upon "truth" at all. Is is bad behavior? Heck, the mainstream religions are *far* more steeped in that. So what draws this clear line for you between Scientology and "actual religion"? I'd really like to know. They all look the same to me, just some are older and have longer, darker, and consequently more evil histories. Scientology, being a young religion, is just barely stretching its legs. So far. Fire away.

  • Re:Fine? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TubeSteak (669689) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:15PM (#29888413) Journal

    The thing I can't figure out is why this is on /. other than /.ers hate Scientology (and all religion).

    See the guy in the background of this picture? http://images.smh.com.au/2009/10/27/818030/420spokeswoman-420x0.jpg [smh.com.au]
    from this article [smh.com.au]

    That mask represents a pushback against Scientology's censorship and abuse of the legal process.
    Feel free to read more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Chanology [wikipedia.org]
    You don't have to agree with all of it to accept that freedom of speech is good and censorship is bad

  • by Absolut187 (816431) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:18PM (#29888453) Homepage

    Rescinding somebody's privileges of membership is the same as fraud?

    When those privileges include the right to speak to your (still-brainwashed) family.
    No, you're right - it's not the same as monetary fraud.. its much worse.

  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:20PM (#29888467) Homepage Journal

    the crazy fundamentalists of Christianity, Islam, and other off-shoot cults (Lord Our Righteousness Church anyone?) are equally scary. These people are on a dead-end path to nowhere. If they take control of the global mindset then technological progress will halt and we'll plunge back into another dark age.

    Modern science was started by the Catholic church. The Muslim world was far ahead of Europe when it came to science and tech at the time.

    In short, you're not only a bigot, you're full of shit as well. But that's OK, most bigotry is the result of ignorance, and you can cure your own ignorance, so long as its cause isn't fear.

  • by RazorSharp (1418697) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:33PM (#29888689)

    The difference is in theology. The Catholic Church doesn't have a copyright on the Bible and they don't force their members to pay out the ass to gain access to their theology. What makes Scientology a cult rather than a religion is that you have to pay just to know what their core beliefs are. I don't have to become a Christian or a Buddhist to find out what those religions are about. I can find out what they're about and then make an informed decision. I can read the Koran for free on the internet, I can walk into a church and read one of their many Bibles, and if I ask a Buddhist monk what he believes in he won't charge me for that information. In this regard there is a major difference between Scientology and traditional religions. Even Mormonism, which I've always found to be particularly silly, has an open theology.

    Another major difference is that I don't have to be a member of a church to be a Christian, Jew, or whatever. Religion is a personal thing and church is a community of religious people (i.e. you can be Christian and belong to no sect). In Scientology, with their closed theology, this is not possible because if you're not a member you don't know what they believe in.

  • Re:Fine? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by plague3106 (71849) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:35PM (#29888741)

    You say that as if all religions are not tax evasion schemes.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @04:40PM (#29888817)

    No the court didn't rule such a thing and even if it would have wanted to didn't have to power to do so. There is no such thing as a legal church in France. Religious and non-religious activities conducted by a group of people is defined legally as an association (loi 1901).

    What happened is that several months ago, a law passed that was supposed to clean up French criminal laws regarding companies, associations and such. In this law, a company or association could not be dissolved anymore as a result of a trial.

    So the Scientology could not be dissolved during this trial. The courts could however have forbid the Scientology from having any activity in France (while still not being dissolved as an organization).

    But, note that in the meantime, the dissolution penalty was reinstated. So if/when the Scientology is convicted again, this time, the courts will have the right to dissolve it.

    This conviction is as much a warning than a trap.

  • I think the reasoning the OP said only retards join scientology is because it's difficult to imagine a smart, well-informed person believing it. I mean... came to earth on a jet, aliens inside our bodies, blown up around a volcano... what part of that should make me think "Yeah, that sounds pretty reasonable, and fits in with the history of the planet"?

    In all honesty, I would LOVE to have a good, thorough talk with a fully-believing, intelligent scientologist. No flaming, no yelling, hell, I won't even insult him or his beliefs. I would just like to see if I can understand WHY he follows that religion as opposed to others.

  • by fyngyrz (762201) * on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @05:04PM (#29889159) Homepage Journal

    Once upon a time I had lots of close friends who are now Scientologists. They actively, passionately, and publicly hate me and consider me to be a deeply immoral person.

    Don't worry. The Christians all think you're immoral. So do the Islamists. As for who hates whom, aren't you glad you weren't in the twin towers on 9/11? Aren't you glad you weren't around during these Christian acts of violence [wikipedia.org]? Aren't you glad you were elsewhere when the Hindus got up and into the faces of the Christians, here [nytimes.com]? Or when they did the same for Islamists, here [time.com]? Aren't you glad you can still draw a cartoon of Mohammad here in the US? I'm speaking legally, of course... that doesn't mean some moron Islamist won't come and clobber you for it anyway. Or, try wearing one of my atheist themed tee-shirts (right column) [fyngyrz.com] on the street, and see what happens. Better yet, try it in the American south. Oh yeah, you'll feel the love, all right. :)

    The gulf between your 'typical' Scientologist and how they view the world and other mainstream faiths is in my own very direct experience, is an extra-ordinary gulf.

    No. Your experience is in the day to day "get along" strategies of the various religions. It has nothing to do with their world view, and doesn't exempt you from hidden disrespect and hate, or eventual violence. Eventually, an issue divisive enough will rear its head, and you'll see the strength of the relationships you have across these religious boundaries is to some degree imaginary. As an atheist, you are the lowest of the low to all religionists. For your own safety and the security of your family, you should keep that firmly in mind.

  • by TiggertheMad (556308) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @05:17PM (#29889331) Homepage Journal
    2. Lenin. "The more religious we kill the better."

    Hmmm, to be fair, I think that was less about religious beliefs and more about simple power and control. The Bolsheviks weren't objecting so much to the church's beliefs as much as its power to influence large amounts of people. I would be more inclined to put stock in your suggestion if they had restricted their killing exclusively to religious people, as opposed to anyone they though could get in their way.

    I think that if you look at a lot of the religious persecutions and killings done by non-religious groups, they aren't so much being done because the victims are religious but for other reasons. Even the holocaust was more about ethnic cleansing as opposed to the Nazis objecting to Jewish dogma.

    Atheists may not have 'clean hands' as a whole, but the movement or concept of Athesim seems to be pretty much removed from mass genocides and such.
  • by fyngyrz (762201) * on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @05:19PM (#29889365) Homepage Journal

    The main reason for the Crusades, for example, was to stop the expansion of the Seljuk Empire into Europe. There is always an underlying social or economic reason beyond religion. This is some damn shallow logic.

    Every society has a right to defend itself. The *manner* in which it defends itself is the issue. And if you look at the manner in which the crusades were prosecuted, you will then understand why they are considered atrocity, not legitimate. To say that state-sponsored rape, directed infanticide, torture, and pillage are ok based upon the fact that the initial motivation is defensive is disingenuous. The crusades were not ok. They will never be ok. End of story, and your feeble attempt at justification is reduced to ashes.

    Next time you try to defend the evil acts in history, study them first. It'll shorten the distance you have to pull your foot out of your mouth.

  • by IdahoEv (195056) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @05:36PM (#29889655) Homepage

    I'm no fan of mainstream or historical religions either, and agree with nearly all of what you said. But:

    So what draws this clear line for you between Scientology and "actual religion"? I'd really like to know.

    Scientology refuses to even tell you what they believe without you spending large amounts of money. If you "convert", you do so without any knowledge or even opportunity to examine their beliefs. The beliefs, such as they are, are not revealed until after you've emptied your bank account for them.

    Pretty much all "actual religions" are happy -- overeager, even -- to tell you what they believe. Their holy books are publicly available. Only this one charges you many thousands of dollars to learn what your own religion's beliefs are if you convert.

  • by fyngyrz (762201) * on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @05:39PM (#29889707) Homepage Journal

    Here's the distinction, and it's quite the heavy issue:

    Religion orders, demands, ordains and directs atrocities. Witch burnings were _specifically_ religious. The inquisitions (papal and Spanish) were _specifically_ religious. The arrest of Galileo and the burning of Filippo (Giordano) Bruno at the stake were _specifically_ religious. The atrocities of the crusades were _specifically_ religious. The list goes on, and it is monotonously consistent.

    Now these people were motivated / told / ordered by religion to do what they did. That's the nature of the acts -- they were religious acts. They may also have all liked bread, and sex, but those were not their motivations. So we don't blame the "sexers" or the "breadeaters" for the witch burnings, etc. When you blame a system for acts, you need to positively associate the system's dictates with the acts, otherwise you're just spouting bullshit. Correlation is not causation.

    Stalin did not kill people because atheism told him to, hinted that he should, or even led him in that direction. Atheism is the lack of a belief in a god or gods. That's all it is. There is no dogma; no instruction; no direction. It is *entirely* disingenuous to try to blame motivation - Stalin's or anyone else's - on atheism. Likewise, the blowtards of Columbine were not taking direction from Atheism; their pathology was something else entirely (and we would probably find it had something to do with religion, if we actually thought it through... after all, it is religion that dictates behavior, not atheism, and those broken individuals were clearly reacting against something, not for something.)

    Theism is a set of active belief systems with rules, directions, leaders, and so forth. Atheism is not.

  • by Valdrax (32670) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @05:40PM (#29889723)

    Christianity, with its history of inquisitions, crusades, witch burnings, pogroms, blood libel, financial parasitism, subjugation of women, repression of science, burning of scientists at the stake, abandonment of adherents, and general pillage... isn't a dangerous cult? Really?

    Yeah! And white people, with their history of colonialism, slavery, pillage, and rape of minorities need to be locked away as well. Because the sins of ones ancestors are exactly the same as acts committed today!

    Christianity is no different from any other major religion in the horrors it has created, and it's no different from modern, secular, state-scale cultural/political forces like state communism or nationalism. It turns out that when we humans band together in large groups around a shared system of beliefs and cultural identity, we have an overwhelming tendency to act like murderous, condescending assholes to everyone else. Religion is just the form we're most familiar with due to the short time-period that widespread secularism has been in existence.

    Personally, while I think Scientology is a pretty dangerous organization today, I'm not too worried about their future. Scientology today is just kind of like LDS church was 100 years ago -- feeling persecuted and justified in lashing out at its critics. They don't face the same kind of (often violent) persecution the LDS church did, and their ways are really out of touch with modern society's opinions on "asshatery in the name of faith," but give it a century, and they may well turn into model citizens. Doesn't really mean that they're not a group to watch out for in the meantime, though.

  • by Valdrax (32670) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @05:50PM (#29889889)

    Lawyers are the new priesthood and it is assumed that the lay person can't understand the arcane doctrine of the law without one.

    As a law student, I'll say that it's simply true that a lay person can't understand the arcane doctrine of the law as it currently stands. Not with about as much formal or self-education as it would take for a lay person to learn circuit design or nursing.

    On the one hand, it's a real shame because it means that much of the law which governs people is inaccessible, seems overly obsessed with procedure, and sometimes seems to defy "common" sense without a background in the history of how the courts got to where they are today. On the other hand, modern law is capable of handling issues that simply could not be tackled by the doctrines of the 19th century. The evolution of environmental law beyond common law doctrines of trespass and nuisance is a huge advance in legal protection for citizens that makes possible truly preventative approaches rather than too late remedial approaches, but it's a nightmare to navigate for businessmen without an experienced hand to know what to look for.

    Justice is a hard thing, and it deserves expert treatment no less than engineering or medicine do. I think it's a shame that making laws doesn't require the same level of professionalism that enforcing or adjudicating them does.

  • by quarterbuck (1268694) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @06:00PM (#29890035)
    Bullshit. Modern science was nearly killed off by the church lasting until persecution of Copernicus and Galileo. Arabs kept the science alive through the period. It was actually the weakening of the grip of church on science that allowed science to flourish. Read up on renaissance when you get the time -- they clearly looked to Greece and Rome for inspiration, not Christianity.
    I do agree that after the renaissance the church co-opted science and funded many universities etc. But that does not mean that Church invented "Science".
    If it were not for the Europeans and their guns conquering the world, China or India would have discovered "science" on their own anyway.
  • by Alpha830RulZ (939527) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @06:13PM (#29890211)

    If you are religious, you have already disavowed the relevance of logic, so feel free to resolve your disbelief any way that you like.

  • Re:Come on. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dgatwood (11270) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @06:20PM (#29890317) Journal

    Christianity, with its history of inquisitions, crusades, witch burnings, pogroms, blood libel, financial parasitism, subjugation of women, repression of science, burning of scientists at the stake, abandonment of adherents, and general pillage... isn't a dangerous cult? Really?

    History being the key word. Ancient history, even. In a time period when the world was relatively barbaric compared with the modern world, you'd be hard pressed to find any significant group of people, whether a religion, a nation, or even a corporation that did not commit some sort of atrocities. We should judge any group of people based on their ancient history, just as we do not wish to be judged on the sins of our forefathers, etc. We can only reasonably judge an organization based on the way it behaves in modern times.

  • by BBTaeKwonDo (1540945) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @06:23PM (#29890353)

    The tax exemption was part of a Faustian bargain between church and state; the church was supposed to take care of social services for the poor, and in return tithes weren't taxed.

    What school of revisionist history did you attend? When the First Amendment was written, there was no income tax, so the taxability of tithes was a non-issue.

  • by fyngyrz (762201) * on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @06:28PM (#29890439) Homepage Journal

    Scientology refuses to even tell you what they believe without you spending large amounts of money. If you "convert", you do so without any knowledge or even opportunity to examine their beliefs. The beliefs, such as they are, are not revealed until after you've emptied your bank account for them.

    Ok. And Christianity tells you up front, as does Islam. Though both say you won't "get it" until you drop your logic and sense of reality and "just believe", which can, and often does, take quite some time. And time, as the wise man tells us, is money. I guess the order of the revelation of the superstitious dogma seems like a pretty minor point to me. There are differences in the order of teaching, and who you get to talk to, in every religion. Your average Catholic doesn't get to converse with, or receive the pope's specific advice; your average Islamist doesn't get to speak to, or receive guidance from, the Ayatollah, either. But in both cases, apply enough money, and bingo, you have an audience. And the Vatican basement is renowned for the squirreling away of large amounts of art and writings. Just try and get to those. Money (first) will definitely be involved. Scientology's flaw here, if I understand you, is that they seem to have formalized the process. I don't see that as disqualifying them from being essentially the same as the others: Marketers of superstition to the weak-minded, the gullible and the non-critical thinkers (in various combinations.) Another thing is that Scientology certainly does give you starter dogma, just like the others do. The ratio of starter to "you'll get that later" is different, that's all. You'll be paying, in money and time and lost opportunities to be a sensible human being, no matter which one you go with.

    Pretty much all "actual religions" are happy -- overeager, even -- to tell you what they believe. Their holy books are publicly available. Only this one charges you many thousands of dollars to learn what your own religion's beliefs are if you convert.

    Agreed, that's the general case. But how does it make one vendor of superstition different from another? Money up front, or money later? They both will happily take your money insofar as you let them and spend that money as they see fit (if you ever visit the Vatican, this point will be made resoundingly clear. Or the basement of your local Mormon church. Or the headquarters of Scientology. Etc.) They both will sell you nonsense as if it were truth. They both will take advantage of the political system to make you pay the taxes they should be paying.

    And again, "mainstream" religions have a long, consistent history of imprisoning, torturing and/or killing those who don't believe or even just don't quite believe the same. Scientology is just barely a beginner here. So far. So I really have a difficult time with any argument that they are worse than the others.

    Personally, I see one vendor of superstitious nonsense as in the same industry and carrying the essential same goal set as any of the others. They peddle imaginary hucksterism, they want your money so they can do more of that, and they also want your money so they can spread the system far and wide by whatever means are affordable. Some of them do good in process; some do evil; some do both. "Feed a child and warp their mind" is a pretty good summary of most religious outreach. You find very few anonymous religious outreach programs. In other words, soup kitchens where no one says anything but "good morning, have some soup" and in answer to "who are you people", answer "just people concerned about your well being." It's largely a shell game with goals that are generations wide; convert and prosper, fail to convert and fail entirely.

    The Scientologists, being new at this, have a more "now" approach to income and conversion, but I think it will boil down to the same thing in the long run.

  • by dangitman (862676) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @06:44PM (#29890643)

    No. Non-Christians pretending to be Christians ("wolves in sheep's clothing") used Christianity to perpetrate some of the worst atrocities in history for their own personal, evil ends, usually money and power. That includes George Bush; nothing he did marks him as a Christian, no matter that he does in fact profess to be one.

    Such a bullshit argument. Ever heard of the "No true Scotsman" fallacy? Unfortunately, you don't get to disown members of your group/clan/religion because they did something bad. The truth is that many actual Christians were involved in committing terrible atrocities.

    All Christianity is, is belief in (a certain interpretation) of God. That's all it takes. You can be criminally insane, a brutal dictator, whatever - you can still be a Christian if you believe. And many perpetrators of crimes against humanity did believe.

  • Re:Come on. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Fished (574624) <(amphigory) (at) (gmail.com)> on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @06:44PM (#29890649)

    Christianity, with its history of inquisitions, crusades, witch burnings, pogroms, blood libel, financial parasitism, subjugation of women, repression of science, burning of scientists at the stake, abandonment of adherents, and general pillage... isn't a dangerous cult? Really?

    You might profit from actually studying the inquisition(s), as I have. With a few much bandied exceptions, they weren't what you portray them as. Crusades? In the first place, I would question whether a crusading Christianity is a true Christianity--or any Christianity that has sold out to secular authority. The crusades were motivated in large measure by the problem of landless second sons and good old-fashioned greed. Religion was a post-hoc rationalization--an attempt to turn that greed towards what was regarded as a good purpose, not a driving force. Not that I agree with that rationalization, but your characterization is flawed. Again, learn some history rather than a parody of history. Witch burnings? Witch burnings mostly came along thanks to a Renaissance fascination with magic and the occult, and were quite rare if not unheard of prior to that time. In fact, the Council of Paderborn condemned the belief in Witches (i.e. that they existed, had power, or could hurt you) as heretical, and that was orthodoxy for the vast bulk of the churches history. And the handbook of witchburners--the Malleus Maleficarum was regarded as a heretical document by most responsible Christians from the time it was published. Pogroms? Hmm... so far as I know, pogroms are hardly a uniquely religious phenomenon. It's been proven to death that Hitler was no Christian, but if that doesn't do it for you you might take a look at how Stalin (an avowed atheist) treated the Jews. Not to mention Claudius' rather vicious suppression of the Jews of Rome in the first century, or the general hatred of Diaspora Jewry throughout the ancient world among the gentiles. Anti-semitism was not a Christian invention. Subjugation of women? Tell me... who the hell DIDN'T subjugate women prior to the invention of industrialized society and The Pill? News flash: economics matter, and when women were tied down by childbirth, breast-feeding, and lack of physical strength, women's lib didn't get very far. Not defending subjugation of women, by any means, but on a whole the Christian church has been a progressive force for women when you compare it to the times, not a repressive one. Again, learn some history, instead of parody of same. Repression of science? Sure, there were examples. But there were also many, many Christian sponsors of science and the arts. You're ignoring half the equation. Galileo got in trouble as much for being a jerk about it as for what he taught. Burning of scientists at the stake? Uhmmm... I'm trying to think of an example. Do you have one? I really can't think of one. Abandonment of adherents? What on EARTH are you talking about? General pillage? Oh, come on. Give me a break. Now you're just name-calling.

    Now, let me make another observation here... every single example you bring up is what happens when the church sells out and seeks political power. As an Anabaptist, I believe this is the one thing the church must never do. So, even if your laundry list had merit (it really doesn't... it reads more like a tired list of he-said-she-said from someone who got everything he knows about religion and history from infidels.org) it doesn't apply to me, nor to the millions of Christians who regard Constantinian Christianity as no Christianity at all.

    So kindly exercise some discretion and actually learn something before you start flapping your gums and slandering things you know nothing about.

  • Fail (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fyngyrz (762201) * on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @07:10PM (#29890949) Homepage Journal

    Yeah! And white people, with their history of colonialism, slavery, pillage, and rape of minorities need to be locked away as well. Because the sins of ones ancestors are exactly the same as acts committed today!

    No. But any attempt at colonialism, slavery, pillage, torture, misogyny, class-ism, caste, and rape needs to be stepped upon. More directly, any organization that espouses these ideals needs to be stepped upon. The flaw in your idea there is that people, white or otherwise, are not the same as religion. Religion equates to things like the KKK; long-extant organizations that have formalized goals which have not changed in any significant manner, and a history of doing profound evil to pursue those goals (and sometimes, as with the KKK, goals that are themselves evil.)

    You'll note that the KKK is not a reason to pillory current white people, and likewise, the tenets of religion are not a reason to pillory current people, even if religious - they are reason to pillory *religion*. The organization is responsible for the evil done at its behest and encouragement. You don't take that responsibility away by saying "well, they did that *yesterday*, so it doesn't matter any longer." It bloody well does. Because the organization isn't its own descendant: It's the *same entity*.

    For instance, the US government is still responsible for jailing US citizens of Japanese ethnicity during WWII. Because it's the same organization. The responsibility doesn't go away when the legislators change seats. Sure, those original legislators are guilty too, and sure, modern legislators didn't cause the problem, but they are *still* responsible for the consequences, because they represent the organization, and the responsibility accrues to the organization. If they don't want to deal with the acts of the government, they shouldn't be in government. Any religion is exactly the same. So the atrocities of the crusades matter. The witch burnings matter. Galileo's imprisonment matters. Also, these things tell us what the religion will do if it has the freedom to do so. In the US, at least, we've managed to trim back access to such powers by separating church from state. Somewhat. Although lately, they've been making some very unfortunate gains back.

    In any case, it isn't the sins of the ancestors that are the concern here: It is the fact that the religion instructed them to commit those sins, and that the religions have not changed a great deal from those days. Society has changed around them -- religion no longer officially serves as high level political authority right in the middle of the power structure -- but that doesn't mean that they aren't responsible when aircraft are flown into buildings, clinics are blown up, suicide bombers walk into crowds, or laws are made restricting the actions of the general public to those the religions think are "ok." Your assertion that religions of today are innocent of the kinds of motivations and acts we have seen in the past is simply unsustainable, no matter if made directly, or with a failed analogy, as above.

    Your analogy breaks down immediately because an ancestor is a unique individual acting on their own; a religion is a still-extant entity that was, and is, acting on its own, using the same precepts it always has, and so is still culpable. They know it, too... just look at the apology for Galileo's imprisonment. Centuries later. Why? Because it's still the same Catholic church. The pope wasn't apologizing for the sins of an ancestor; he was apologizing for the sins of his organization. He's saying "we screwed up based on our beliefs", and I'm saying, "keep watching those idiots, they still believe the same stupid things and are the same stupid organization."

    Christianity is no different from any other major religion in the horrors it has created

    Oh, I agree completely. Except for Scientology. Thus far. They're young, I'm pretty sure they'll find a way. Look how quickly the Heaven's Gate saucer religion managed to get people killed. Scientology's just a little retarded, that's all. They'll probably find a reason. Xenu and all.

  • by Per Wigren (5315) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @07:12PM (#29890985) Homepage
    While you're at it, do it correctly and name them Belgian Fries or just "Pommes Frites" instead. :)
  • by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @07:35PM (#29891227)

    Scientology started out as _neither_ religion or cult. It started out as a psychobabble pyramid scheme, and only started wearing priest-like collars and claiming religious status after the FDA found their claims of medical and psychological treatment to be fraudulent and blocked them from publishing such claims. It helps to be old enough to remember them before they claimed religious status, and the switch was very sudden.

    But it also helps to remember that the Catholic Church used to sell "indulgences", forgiveness for a sin purchased before committing the sin. That helped create the Lutheran Church when Martin Luther got upset about it: so let's not pretend that this merely happens for cults, or is a new problem.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @07:53PM (#29891429)

    I'm an atheist.

    I did what you said. Nothing happened.

    Your god is a fantasy.

  • Re:Come on. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @08:09PM (#29891581) Homepage Journal

    So what draws this clear line for you between Scientology and "actual religion"?

    It's seems we have to go through this every time, so:

    Pick a church. Any church. Catholic, Hindu, Baptist, Muslim, Jehovah's Witness, Buddhist, whatever. Go in some day when people are around and ask them what they believe. Someone will sit down with you and answer questions until you can't think of any more, and will almost certainly offer you a free copy of the appropriate religious texts.

    Now repeat the experiment at a Scientology office. See how far you get without whipping out a checkbook or Visa.

    That is the difference. "True" religions are interested in your spiritual health and will help you develop it according to their beliefs, even if it costs them. The CoS is interested in your wallet.

  • by Valdrax (32670) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @08:12PM (#29891607)

    No. But any attempt at colonialism, slavery, pillage, torture, misogyny, class-ism, caste, and rape needs to be stepped upon. More directly, any organization that espouses these ideals needs to be stepped upon.

    Of course. No one sane would disagree -- unless it was their own group doing it. (See post-Abu Ghraib acceptance of torture in the US and support for firebombing Cambodia during Vietnam before and after we started doing it.) Humans are frighteningly good at rationalizing away the evil of their own groups.

    The flaw in your idea there is that people, white or otherwise, are not the same as religion.

    Well, yes and no. Race is but one arbitrary line to draw between people, but it's an extremely important one because tied to the core evolutionary trait that drives most human conflict -- social hierarchies and the instinctual drives needed to facilitate competition between them (i.e. war and genocide).

    Modern, evangelical religions are actually a fascinating technological development for humanity because it allowed people of *different* ethnic backgrounds to unite underneath *one* unified set of moral codes with shared dietary, dress, and cultural shibboleths to separate the "good people" from the "dangerous savages." Before evangelical faiths, one had to be *born* into a group to be considered worthy of the protection of the gods and law. Religion gave people a way of judging whether people they had never met before were "safe" members of the same group or people who were different and thus "evil."

    However, the rise of modern secularism and religious freedom has not worn away the basic human need to identify with like-minded people and to heap misery on those who are different. Right now, there's little material difference between the views that Western Democracy has of Middle Eastern Theocracy compared to what 19th Century White Christendom thought of African Savagery. "Our way of life is superior and more civilized. These people are wrong-headed for not seeing the superiority of our ways, and their way of life leads to terrible, immortal behavior." It's also no different from what atheist State Communists think of Capitalist Bourgeoisie or for that matter what Muslims think of the West in return. It's fundamentally human.

    In any case, it isn't the sins of the ancestors that are the concern here: It is the fact that the religion instructed them to commit those sins, and that the religions have not changed a great deal from those days.

    Well, you're ignoring the fact that the vast majority of religions preach very strongly against many of the worst atrocities committed in their name. Christianity is an extremely pacifistic religion with a huge emphasis on generosity, kindness to the downtrodden, and forgiveness. Yet, it's the same force behind the Inquisition, the Crusades, money-hungry televangelists, and a large push in American politics to resist government handouts to the poor.

    Why is this? It's because it's not the actual values of a social group that matters -- its the fact that they differentiate "good people" from "bad people." It's that they enable our instincts that allow us to look at some people as less valuable than people like us. The worst genocides in history were committed by Soviet atheists who believed strongly in principles of social equity. Does that mean that atheism or egalitarianism are failed belief systems and are responsible for creating all that death? Of course not! What matters is that people in a position of power were able to scapegoat people who were different from mainstream society and to channel that destructive energy towards ill ends.

    Christians murdered heretics, Communists slaughtered the religious, and America spent much of this decade torturing and bombing people in the name of Freedom and Justice for All. No belief system can protect against this wicked men exploiting mob fear and xenophobia so long as people are ignora

  • by lawpoop (604919) on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @10:03PM (#29892407) Homepage Journal

    Such a bullshit argument. Ever heard of the "No true Scotsman" fallacy? Unfortunately, you don't get to disown members of your group/clan/religion because they did something bad. The truth is that many actual Christians were involved in committing terrible atrocities.

    Okay, I see your point, but are you willing to concede that atheists were responsible for the deaths and persecutions of around a million people in the Soviet Union?

    What's that you say?* Those Party Members weren't really atheists, or directly guided to do this by their atheism, but just used that position to further a money/power agenda? Well, that's the same argument our Christian friend wants to use. In other words, "No true Scotsman..."

    * I don't know if you actually say this or not, but it's fun to argue this way! :)

  • by tomhudson (43916) <barbara...hudson@@@barbara-hudson...com> on Tuesday October 27, 2009 @10:18PM (#29892503) Journal

    But it also helps to remember that the Catholic Church used to sell "indulgences", forgiveness for a sin purchased before committing the sin.

    What is this "used to" that you talk about?

  • by Maxmin (921568) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @01:14AM (#29893401)

    Stalin absolutely killed people because Atheism told him it was OK.

    To blame the mass killings of USSR on the imposed removal of religion and religous practice there is ridiculous. It was the work of madmen.

    To say that "Atheism told him it was OK," or informs anybody of anything beyond "There are no gods," is equally absurd.

    What can you tell us about the precepts and princples of this -ism which you seem to know so much about? The notions of good and evil did not, and do not, require a religion because they are obvious.

  • by gtall (79522) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @06:13AM (#29894665)

    Abreu is arguing from the point of view that a religion is akin to a philosophy. As such it, isn't a pyramid scheme. Binarylarry is arguing from the point of view that a religion is the corporeal establishment which "enforces" the religion. As such, many religions act like a pyramid scheme.

    The point is that you two are talking about two almost, but not quite, entirely disconnected notions.

  • by Absolut187 (816431) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @10:21AM (#29896943) Homepage

    Your argument WOULD make sense, if there was any such thing as the "church of atheism".

    Your argument fails on factual grounds, because there isnt one.

  • by gfreeman (456642) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 @12:38PM (#29898915)

    As I understand it, a pyramid scheme involves money going from many (at the bottom) to the few (at the top) with everyone along the way getting their cut. I am not aware of any other religion having such a characteristic. There are many religions organizations that seek donations (whether it at a Shinto shrine or a church). However, (faults aside) the priests and monks who would be "at the top" are not exactly enjoying riches like Madoff was.

    Exactly, if Catholicism were a pyramid scheme, the guy at the top would be living in a palace, in his own country perhaps.

He keeps differentiating, flying off on a tangent.

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