Lures of Evil in Everyday Life

...a look at the stuff that arrives in your inbox.

Let's have a look at some of the less welcome pieces of email that wind up in my inbox (and sometimes real mailbox) ...
junkemail/spam ... chain letters ... religious chain letters ... offers of spiritual power.

Plain Junkmail/Spam/Junk Email.

Here's something I've noticed that often makes me crack up when I see it. Do you recall the stereotypical lure of the devil? You know, "I will give you wealth, fame, fortune, power, in return for your soul"?

Well, next time you get email junkmail, have a look at what they're selling!

Let's see.... Increased sales. More profits! More sex! Excitement! How to attract people! Spectacular vacations! Money! Fast Money! Power! Prestige! How to control others and get what you want out of them! Here's something you just can't live without, and boy is it cheap and easy to get! Yes, and pictures of not-so-clothed celebrities/kids/whatever!

Notice how they sell it, too: Screaming in ALL CAPS -- "Look at ME!! ME!! ME!!" And note the lies: supposedly YOU contacted them first (yeah, right; if it says "this was not unsolicited" you know it was!), you entered some contest on their site (sure), or they "saw your web page" (never mind that you might get five identical copies of this email). Hmmm, attention-seeking combined with lies and deception! Some go so far as to not only tell you that you signed up for the spam, but to threaten you if you take action!

Sound familiar yet? Really, overtly, almost frighteningly so?

This is the very same warning most of us have heard about the workings of ... well, "evil"!

You see why internet junkmail just makes me laugh sometimes... it is so amazingly obvious where the inspiration for this stuff comes from.

It would be even funnier if it didn't hurt innocent and naive people, and if it didn't so horribly abuse the amazing communication medium that is the Internet. I mean, what a waste of energy and potential.... And yes, I'm sick of getting a dozen or more of these every day!

(Link to JunkBusters -- fight back!, spam cop and, plus the US Postal Inspection Service. Also, you can report online child exploitation here; and report possible online obscenity crimes here. And When Spam Burns You: Why Unsolicited Bulk E-Mail Is Bad Business (good article).)

...but wait, there's more....

Chain letters

It has been observed (on this page on Ben's site, in fact) that those who promise what you want and threaten what you fear are liars.

And gee, that is exactly what most chain letters do. They promise money or fortune if you spam/inundate your friends with the letter, and they threaten dire misfortune if you don't do as they say. Is that kind of behavior a holy action, or a diabolical one? This one should be really easy for most people to figure out.

No wonder so many "snailmail" chain letters are sent anonymously!

(And this is not even including the "send money" chain letters... many of which are more properly called "pyramid schemes." They're illegal, for many reasons.)

Religious Chain Letters

A short discussion of religious chain letters....

Well, it wasn't until fairly recently that I started to get religious (in particular: Christian) chain letters. Some of them are simply heartwarming (or sickly sweet) stories of often unknown and unprovable origin and truthfulness; some are extremely nasty jokes or philosophical rants condemning non-believers (condemning them to Hell, for example -- I mean, isn't that funny?); others are stories designed to try to convert readers to Christianity -- though alas these last types of stories are too often found to be full of unprovable events and downright lies (e.g., Darwin's supposed death-bed conversion, "scientific" evidence that the Earth stopped rotating the day the sun stood still in the Bible, etc.). And some of these emails, to top it all off, end with anything ranging from the implied spiritual reward of "Send this along to 10 friends to show you care" (i.e., if you don't send it, you don't care, right?) to the outrageous implied spiritual threat of "If you don't send this to 10 friends you're denying Christ" (i.e., send this or God will be angry with you). Hello?! That's called manipulation! (Recently I got this one: "If Jesus had e-mail, he'd do the same [forward this on] for you." Sure, Jesus, who cared for people as individuals and spoke from Inspiration, would mass-forward email of dubious integrity. I'm sorry, in my mind, this is bordering on slander.)

So I ask you: does Christianity use lies, exaggeration, manipulation, and threats? Does God ask us to help others by preaching sugar-sweet (and often fictitious) stories at them, or by going out there and loving without judging? And when did God ever suggest we gloat over others, as some of these stories so clearly do?

Too many atheists became that way because well-meaning "Christians" tried to force their brand of religion down others' throats -- a fact conveniently forgotten (or never realized) by some people who are out to "convert." Would I, by spamming my non-Christian friends with unprovable and clearly manipulative "Christian" email, be helping or hurting the Christian cause?

I guess I can summarize the gist of this by saying that "Christian" chain letters served only to turn me away from Christianity (and the senders of the email) -- and this is AFTER I came to consider myself somewhat of a maverick (if sadly fallen) Christian. If I were the atheist I used to be, it would have become extra ammunition for my dislike and cynicism toward Christianity!

(On the note of friendship: If the primary email communication from a friend of yours is comprised of unprovable sickly-sweet stories of pure people doing pure things and lost people being converted to a single stock answer, wouldn't you start to wonder if your friend would really listen to you if you had a problem? Me, I'd be afraid to talk to the sender for fear of receiving judgment, platitudes, and quick-fix stock answers... whether this fear is justified or not. Moreover, I don't enjoy receiving promises and threats (the ones encouraging me to inflict this on MY friends) that remind me of the opposite of good religion! What a waste of a potential friendship!)

For goodness' sake... we have God-given minds. We perhaps should hold off on the store-bought, unknown-brand, cookie-cutter, trite stories; instead, we might make a habit of reaching into our own unique, God-given hearts and minds and experiences. And maybe we'll find the action of doing so changes us ... and has a far better chance of really helping others.

(A couple links: Truthminers: Christian group that's against this kind of spam, and SNOPES religious urban legend site. Here is Break the Chain.)

"Spiritual" offers of power and rewards

...Next time you see a "spiritual training" course that theoretically leads to the ability to manipulate the world, more and better sex, or wealth and power, then step back and take another close look!

It's true the highest religious teachers have had "special powers" that influenced the world -- but they had it due to their deep love of truth, their sincere, overwhelming compassion for people, and last but not least, the humbleness of their hearts. And I also have no doubt that those who are a blessing to others receive countless blessings that can sometimes translate into friends, influence, or even wealth -- but by golly, that's a side effect!

Suppose an ad were to offer the little lure of, "Get money and power so that you can help others!" I find this one particularly dangerous, as it lets one lie to oneself: I'm being selfish for a good reason!

There's also the variation of "Help others so that you get money and power." Well... could you really serve both causes -- getting power, AND helping others? If you must, try it. Try doing both. See what happens. It may be a step in the right direction for someone in a rut: numerous self-help books teach the idea that vitality comes to those who adopt a caring attitude... a gentle push which helps many people (including myself sometimes) take the first steps out of self-absorption. But keep your eyes open and watch your heart carefully, because it's a slippery and treacherous path -- and I'll bet at some point (or many points) you'll have to choose between getting ... or giving.

Personally, I think it comes down to this quote: "Seek first the Kingdom of God...." Your true motivations are what really count. Even if you can't get yourself 100% perfect and sincere immediately (and which one of us normal people can?) you can always ask: Whom or what do I really want to work for? Your answer to that question may well be the most important one of your life....

True wealth and power flow out of a heart filled with truth and compassion, selflessness and discipline, and, dare I say it, love of God, or at the very least, His divine principles. Wealth and power that come from pursuing wealth and power ... well, that's a different thing entirely, and I personally can't recommend doing business with the salespeople of that philosophy. For some reason, I just can't trust them.

(And one last note on religious teachers: It is possible for a person to feign (pretend to have) humility, compassion, and a love of truth, and to display special abilities. There are ways to see through this, and after all, much of my site is devoted to the question of deception. However, you may wish to read some Good Signs and Bad Signs ... they apply to people both in the flesh and in spirit.)

It's up to you, but you DO have the ability to filter what you read, to try to figure out if the message is a good one, a really bad one, or something in between. Is it something you want to be a part of? Is it a philosophy you want to promote? Is it true? Even the small act of forwarding -- or choosing not to forward -- a piece of email can be a declaration of whom we'd like to work for.