Home > Uncategorized > Pray, What’s the Difference

Pray, What’s the Difference

Maybe you haven’t heard of Pastor John Carlson. Through his organization, the Christian Prayer Center (CPC) he took requests for prayers for a nominal fee and then left it up to god to decide whether or not to answer them. The fees he collected were attributed at 7m dollars. I’ll forgive you for not knowing who he was, because he wasn’t a real person. Pastor John Carlson was a fictional person. The money was real, and that’s what prompted the Washinton State Attorney General to shut down the website allegedly run by a Seattle business man named Benjamin Rogovy.

The website Christian Prayer center.com was shut down for defrauding customers. According to the attorney general the CPC took in money from approximately 125,000 people. “Pastor Carlson” was a fraud, but what if instead Rogovy just used his real name? What if he signed up to be a pastor through one of the many sites that allow you to pay a fee to become one. Some of those previous links don’t even charge that fee, but then will link you to the respective state which may charge some kind of registration or legal fee in order to perform weddings, funerals, and such. However, if you merely want to call yourself a pastor, there’s really no one stopping you.

That was a little tangent, so let’s return to the original question: what if Rogovy just called himself Pastor would he still be guilty of fraud? As near as I can tell, the only difference between his online church and literally every other religious institution that promises the answering of prayers is that his had fake people in it. Otherwise, what’s the difference? What can legally be proven that constitutes fraud here?

Person A sends him 20 bucks to pray for negative HIV test. Person B tosses 20 bucks in the collection so that Saint Damien (patron saint of HIV/AIDS sufferers) makes his test negative as well. What’s the difference? Seriously, I’m asking how Rogovy’s church is any different. In action the result is the same. Someone pays 20 bucks in order to guarantee that they don’t have HIV.We’re assuming of course, that Person A has no idea that the CPC’s senior pastor is nothing more than a sock puppet. How is it that person A is at fault because they had no knowledge of the fraud? Caveat emptor and all that sure, but I’m sure Person A has a sincerely held belief that the prayer is going to reach the deity, and we have no reason to think that this is not the case with the Omnipotent in one in charge of it all.

In consequence the same thing applies: if they never had HIV then the prayer was meaningless, if they did have it, then it was just as meaningless since it will now be an unanswered prayer. If they did have it, and the HIV test comes back negative the most likely result is that the test was botched in some manner. However, if we grant that miracles do happen, then is it more likely that person B is going to get the miracle because when they threw their 20 bucks on the plate the guy who collected the money was actually who he said he was? Is the deity so petty as to hold the health of the penitent hostage until the background check on the intercessor comes through? If you believe that, then we’re back at the situation in the previous paragraph.

The only true fraud here is that the CPC misrepresented itself as having a Pastor Carlson. It’s not even that the CPC didn’t exist, it’s an online church and it has a website, so it clearly did exist. Legally we can’t even prove that “Pastor Carlson” is a not merely a nom de plume, and if Rogovy’s defense can make that claim he has to be in the clear because there is no standard for doing what he did.

This site is no different than any of the other “Prosperity Gospel” sites that promise to cure your illnesses, wipe out your credit, or any of the other miracles they promise in lieu of you sending them money. These groups promise to “grow” your money with a “donation” to their funds, after all it works for them. It’s a promise they can’t deliver on, unless they start emptying their coffers directly to the petitioner. It’s really not that different from any other religious service that promises to answer any kind of prayer, except that most of them don’t ask for a fee up front. Instead they just suggest that god wants his ten percent (net not gross).

John Oliver showed us last year that setting up a legally recognized church doesn’t take much effort and there’s little to no oversight at all. Right now I have an open window on my screen wherein all I have to do is toggle “yes” to the question, “are you able to work as a minister?” and then tap “submit” which will make me an ordained minister.

The most obvious objection is going to be “but you won’t be a real minister.” First, check your religious intolerance right there. How would I not be a real minister? Seriously, what’s the difference? If Joel Olsteen can call himself a minister why can’t I?

We can assume that Rogovy didn’t really make the prayers but it’s an unprovable assumption. He can always claim he thought a thing, or hoped a thing. It’s all mental anyway, even if he did read through all of the prayer requests and sincerely prayed over each one of them there’s no standard by which we can ask him to prove that he did it. When I was Catholic there was no way I could get the priest to prove that he really did listen to all my sins and not just run through baseball statistics while I was talking. He could have just sat there and waited for his turn to talk then leave, visit another priest to confess that he no longer pays attention while that priest did the same exact thing. It can’t be proven one way or the other.

Rogovy’s business model is only faulty in that he didn’t toss in a search phrase to find out how easy it was to become a minister in order to generate money with no work. Perhaps that is his real crime: being too lazy to click “submit.”

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