Religion as a Ponzi Scheme

Boris Reitman
Sep 28, 2018 · 3 min read

Religion is a Ponzi scheme, whose currency is faith. And, I am not talking about money. Although money is a key factor driving religion, I want to focus on faith alone. There are two levels to my claim.

The first level is individual. The longer a person stays within the confines of faith, the harder it is for him to admit that it’s wrong. But, his own rationality, which he still has and uses in daily affairs, continues to challenge him. Consequently, he must buy-in even more into faith. This is a never-ending cycle which bursts when he is in a position of high status from which there is no way down. But, something has to give, and he becomes a basket case for a psychologist. (Paedophilia is one instance.)

The second level describes how religion grows. Note that a Ponzi scheme requires new subscribers to stay alive. But, to attract a new adherent, a religious man must adopt faith in higher degree (or at least to pretend to) than his protege. He can’t afford to appear as a skeptic to the protege.

Accordingly, the Pope is supposed to have the most faith–more than a secondary bishop. And, a bishop more than a priest at the local parish. And that priest more than a listener to his sermon. And that man more than a teenage Catholic girl who defies her parents and guiltily sneaks out with a lover. And this girl should be more religious than a secular girl who’s sexuality is liberated, yet would get married only by Catholic traditions.

The reader may object: doesn’t teaching science also requires that a high-school teacher be of a higher knowledge than a student, and a university professor of a higher knowledge than the teacher? The difference is that scientific knowledge has a purpose: cognitive ability and survival value. Thanks to knowledge we are the strongest specie on the planet.

Let’s compare a monetary Ponzi scheme to a regular investment scheme. An investor into a Ponzi scheme expects to make interest on his investment. But, this interest can only come from new investors’ money. How is this different from a conventional investment into, say, a hedge fund? A hedge fund invests money into a production, which increases wealth, and the interest is payed from wealth increase, not from new investments.

As an aside, note that financial markets are not a zero-sum game. Interest doesn’t come from other investors, but from production powered by investors. For instance, before cars were invented and mass produced, people rode horses and had a limited travel ability. In this respect, they had less wealth. A car means more wealth because it can take a person to distant places and frees up his time to do other things.

Religion is a Ponzi scheme, because it requires an unending, repeated investment of faith into an idea that has no evidence, but full of logical holes. (Remember Tertulian’s proclamation “I believe it, because it is absurd!”)

Unlike rational knowledge, faith has no goal outside of itself. And, faith has no cognitive value. For instance, orthodox Jews wear black winter coats in scorching summer heat of Jerusalem. They also leave a gas stove fire burning on Friday night, because they are forbidden to turn it on on Saturday morning. There are many more examples, but that’s for another article.

How invested into this Ponzi scheme are you, dear reader?

Boris Reitman

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Speaking about ideas that matter, on an Objectivist foundation.

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