Friday, July 31, 2009

Kindling for a blog entry

I have never been much for gadgets that aren't necessary. I hear people have this thing called Kindle. Why read a book on a screen? Why read a book on something that needs a battery? Essays I get. I read essays on Internet Monk and articles in web publications. An actual book? No way, wouldn't read a book in just an on-line form. The beauty of a book is you can underline things, you can carry it with you and it doesn't have batteries that run outl it won't get rendered completely useless by getting hit with water (just mostly useless); it's no less difficult to read without proper lighting; a book is still readable after, say, an electromagnetic pulse happens near you; you can accidentally set a big magnet next to a book (or a kid may put magent by the book) and the book is uneffected.

And there's no risk that if you buy a book from, say, that they will incinerate the book once it's delivered to you. I'm not against Kindle I just don't see any use for it, personally. At the same time I'm not going to go off on some "technology isn't neutral" screed like I've seen some folks do about reading the Bible on Kindle. I assume certain complaints about Kindle obliterating traces of the author is just maudlin rhetoric since depending on the book the author could be obliterated or removed by means of a bad translation, poor editing, or just letting the book go out of print. But I digress, as usual.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

nearly fifteen years ago a formidable scam began

If you have never heard of Omega or Omega Trust and Lending, Inc, then you have been spared hearing about the focal point of one of the most amazing bank debenture scams in recent history. As eventual coverage of the conviction of the perpetrators of the fraud revealed this scam was unusual not necessarily for being an out and out fraud but for targeting Christians specifically.

Omega was the sort of scam ideally suited to the Clinton era but perhaps not for the reasons you may suspect I am about to explain. If in the 1990s you were a politically conservative Christian who subscribed to a dispensationalist premillenial eschatology, found institutional churches dangerous or bereft of the spirit unless it was super-charismatic along a Rick Joyner variety, if you also did not have much experience in understanding how banks worked then a bank debenture scam of the sort Omega was could take you in entirely. If you believed the conspiracies afoot that Clinton was just one or two executive orders away from dismantling the Constitution and establishing a military dictatorship under his rule then a scam like Omega appealed because if your head was spinning with that aforementioned volatile brew of dispensational premillenialism (expecting a secret rapture), charismatic triumphalism via a smorgasboard of Kansas City prophets (not, but that's another topic) and other spin-offs of Latter Rain abberrations from the older Pentecostal movement, and if you put them all together through a nexus of say, a house church movement in which all members had grown tired of "organized religion" and "dead institutions" then you made yourself the perfect patsy of one of the most virulent scams that has shown up in the United States.

Now if you're not a Christian I know you're going to say Christianity is a scam. If you voted in last year's election to save free-thinking society ... well, the playing field is more level than you'll probably admit.

People in the throes of paranoia often seek a counter paranoiac placebo and there's no easier place to observe this tendency than in politics and finance. Just as fears can be focused on to a single signal representative even though the fears themselves are disparate, so can the solution bPeople who dread that Republicans will destroy the universe, or at the least all that is right and good and decent in a free society, vote for the nearest Democrat who has a shot at defeating them, so the thinking goes. The principles behind sympathetic magic are still alive in well even amongst atheists and agnostics when election years come up. Vote for CANDIDATE X or you will show that you hate truth and justice!

The same obviously goes in reverse on the other side: people who fear that the current Democratic president actually is a Muslim and a hand-picked Muslim/communist sleeper agent bent on destroying the holy Constitution and dismantling the sacred Republic will believe that anything they may say or do in forwarding spam will reveal the truth. It becomes easier to explain all that seems evil in your life by pinning everything on a vast right-wing or left-wing conspiracy than to consider how your own failures of competence or judgment or simple limits and what might be colloquially called "bad luck" got you where you are.

The truth is more intractable and difficult to understand than any of these people want it to be, whether they promulgated the idea that Bush 2 was going to suspend the Constitution at the last minute, declare a national emergency due to a terrorist threat, cancel elections at the last minute, and then go wage war on Iran on the left side; or whether they were promulgating the idea that Clinton was just a few executive orders away from setting up a military police state with himself in charge for life on the right side. If you're wondering how people can subscribe to such views it perhaps goes without saying that I have a few very paranoid associates both right and left who, I keep waiting for this, may one day finally spring upon me that they have all been reading the Protocols for the Elders of Zion and are going to blame the same international nameless Jewish bankers for everything.

And that sort of panacea/placebo capacity was able to get distilled and worked out in a scam like Omega. The core appeal was simultaneously to one's basest fears about the pending collapse of society which was an extension of one's own fears that one's own life and culture was collapsing while ALSO appealing to one's pride, the belief that one either had or knew people who had secret knowledge about how things "really" worked that could be exploited to one's own advantage. The problem is that in casting about for the simplest solution people bought into Omega because believing it was real was simpler to do than to investigate things thoroughly and discover that it was a fraud. There is a useful place in the biblical wisdom literature for the axiom that health hastily gotten will dwindle but wealth gathered bit by bit is secure. It's an old Jewish and eventually Christian observation that if something sounds too good to be true then it is, particularly if it's about money. Love of money, as Paul put it, is the root of all kinds of evil and all kinds of evil was what was eventually determined to be what Clyde Hood and other people who ran Omega did. It is not for nothing Christ said that the truth will make you free and it is equally true then that lies keep you in bondage and that the father of lies excels at leading people into bondage.

If this all seems a bit abstract, well, perhaps it's just my feeling things are abstract. But for me they were and are concrete because I have known people who bought into this scam and when a scam exploits deeply held religious beliefs, appeals to the fears and even possible paranoia of the faithful, and then promises what is essentially a magic silver bullet to stop the raging werewolf that may be a misunderstanding and misinterpretation of what the problems at hand are into a monolith ... well, the rest is headlines and history that only begins to touch on the lives derailed, ruined, or deluded by something that could have been avoided by keeping in mind the axiom, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

Of course having said all that I fully recognize that when Christ rose from the dead it was also considered too good to be true. Thomas wouldn't believe it until he had seen Jesus face to face and touched his wounds. For a Christian a scam like Omega can be more readily ignored because it offers victory without a cross, discipleship without a cross. I knew people personally who were caught up in this and I had to observe from far off and eventually, though I heard little, I began to wonder if some of the people ostensibly in a house church type movement weren't exploiting the fears and foibles of some of that flock as a way to participate in what they had figured out was a scam. I don't know, I admit I have had my own reservations about things. I do know, however, that it was a scam and I have actually learned that a friend of mine heard about friends of his family who fell for the same scam. So this week I am commemerating at a personal level the ten year anniversary of roughly when I first heard about this scam through people I know. If you have had friends or family who were duped by this or were duped yourself I'm sorry. There is a lot i don't see discussed in blogs and this is one of those things where I can indirectly explain why I'm not a dispensationalist, the kinds of political, financial, and social paranoia that dispensationalists in America have often had has made them prey to con artists.