Snake Oil Salesmen

Cover of "Religulous"
Cover of Religulous

After my post about the evangelical posers and pretenders I was watching some of the uploaded shopping channels on YouTube from television. I suddenly realized that the ‘sales staff’ for the shopping channels could be the first cousins to the evangelical ‘sales staff’ especially in their method of delivery and the attitude of, ‘I know a secret that you don’t.’

Of course when I was growing up in Arkansas, there was a never-ending parade of southern preachers who went on television to let us know their secret. In those long ago days of youth, all the preachers sounded the same:

“Come on up here-uh, Brother-uh and Sister-uh! You too-uh can be saved-uh!” All this was delivered in a sweaty paroxysm of heavy breathing and excited shouting. You just knew that this messenger from God knew something you did not. I can well imagine that it was some secret of crowd control.

Now watching the shopping channel doesn’t have quite the same entertainment value. For a start none of the presenters faces the camera and calls the viewers ‘Brother-uh or Sister-uh’ and they are not sweaty or breathing hard or shouting. The one thing they do have in common is the ability to make us believe that they know something we do not.

In their sales pitch, they make sure that we know that the waterless cookware that they are flogging is best thing since sliced bread. Either they have personally used this new product or someone they know or a member of their family have.  They are letting us into this secret and giving us the chance to purchase this new ‘wonder’ product (which usually will not be available in stores) for a great ‘knocked down’ price.

Bill Maher is an American stand-up comedian, television host, political commentator, author and actor. He also produced and starred in the 2008 documentary Religulous. Religulous looks at Christianity and questions whether it’s telling the truth about what happened all those years ago when Jesus walked the earth. Maher also looks at how a lot of Christians have a sort of smugness about them.

This smugness says that they know something the rest of the world does not. In essence they believe that in the area of spirituality they are superior to non-believers or non-Christians. While Maher’s film got a lot of flack from Christian groups it did sell a few home truths about religion and the attitudes of the more devout.

Now I don’t agree or disagree with Maher’s film’s findings or the possibility that the whole bible is a sort of ‘urban myth’ that has been perpetuated over the centuries. I do believe that once men got involved with translating the bible and its message, that men’s opinions have convoluted the message.

This convolution is over and above the inherent problems built into translating and transcribing any book from the original language that it has been written in. I remember clearly a man who worked for my father finding out through his prayer group that a certain verse in the bible had been translated incorrectly. The original language had been translated into Greek and somehow the meaning had been altered.

It was not a big problem as the meaning had not been so mangled by the mistranslation that generations of Christians were doomed because the bible verse had been incorrectly written. But men’s opinions and personal beliefs have always altered the message of the bible. Why do you think there are so many different churches and cults and branches of churches?

Someone in a congregation decided that the message meant something different from what their church was teaching so they broke away and found ‘like-minded’ folks to join their new church. Something that was going to happen regardless of the original message or intent of the bible.

Step right up!

Sorry, I seem to have wandered off topic, but I am heading back to my point. I titled this post Snake Oil Salesmen. The reason for this is that both the shopping channel spokesperson and the televised evangelical preacher are both selling a product. Just like the snake oil salesman of western days, who travelled from town to town with his miracle cure stashed in his wagon.

Of course the main reason the salesmen of old moved around so often was that their product was fake. It consisted of alcohol, a few herbs and spices and possibly some sort of cheap medicinal product to make it at least look genuine. The snake oil salesman would make claims about the ability of his medicine to cure damn near anything. That he had this secret thing that would improve the lives of all who took it.

Of course the main reason the salesmen of old moved around so often was that their product was fake. It consisted of alcohol, a few herbs and spices and possible some sort of cheap medicinal product to make it at least look genuine. The snake oil salesman would make claims about the ability of his medicine to cure damn near anything. That he had this secret thing that would improve the lives of all who took it.

Keeping one step ahead of the townspeople he had tricked into buying his useless concoction, the salesmen would move onto the next town and hope that word of his product had not preceded him.

These salesmen of old have been replaced by shopping networks with a myriad of channels and products. You can buy a ‘fat-free’ steak grill or waterless cookware or even vibrating sex toys, depending on the channel you tune into or the time of day that the channels airing.

The shopping channels first cousins, the evangelical channels all seem to work on independent channels or some of the lower frequency channels that make up a lot of local public or community channels. There seems to be little to no regulation of these smaller stations. But like the spokesmen on the shopping channel the evangelist follows the same route of ‘knowing something that we don’t’ and that their secret is better than anything else you can buy off the television.

You too can have not only eternal peace when you die, but if you pay in some money (the more the better) your life can improve on earth while you’re waiting for your spot in heaven to open up. These snake oil salesmen have a pretty good thing going. They cannot be sued for false advertising. How many folks do you know who have come from death stating that their way into heaven was denied because they’d followed the wrong evangelist?

Don’t get me wrong, I think there is room in the world for shopping channels and for televised evangelical preachers. If nothing else they can provide a certain amount of entertainment. Just don’t be surprised if you should literally buy into any of the products they are selling and find out that they are not what they were advertised to be.

Personally I think that anyone who asks me for money, in the name of religion, to secure a place for me and my loved ones in heaven or to improve my family’s life here on earth is the worst sort of con-artist. I’ve read the bible off and on for quite a few years now and I don’t remember reading anywhere that I had to pay for a prayer to be heard or that payment was required to purchase a one-way ticket to heaven.

Be careful of these modern snake oil salesmen, we may not be able to run them out-of-town on a rail in these more sophisticated times, but we can definitely keep them from taking our money under false pretenses.

I am sure that both products can be found a little closer to home and probably for a lot cheaper. Sure I may not be able to buy a pocket fisherman at my local Wal-Mart, but I think I can live without it. And the last time I checked, mankind’s faith and believes are free.

Hidden Crucifix in Buddhist shrine in Japan

The Big Bang Changes Everything

I’ve gotten a few rather puzzling comments on this post, querying as to whether I was writing about the formation of the moon.  I decided I’d better read my post again and see what I had done.

I realized very quickly that in my excitement and rush to explain how the “God” particle was ‘created’ I forgot to mention that the example of planets/comets/asteroids was my “bigging up” the particles that had been zipping about at light speed and that it was a collision of particles which made the boson which then allowed the universe to grow and expand.

So in essence when you read the bit about Genesis and God colliding planets/comets/asteroids think particles and it will make a bit more sense.

My bad as Buffy would say.

So please carry on reading the original post. Thank you.

Yesterday while the USA celebrated the 4th of July,  physicists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research announced that they have almost certainly detected a boson. A boson  is one of two elementary particles that quantum theory says make up the universe. I am not going to go into a long winded explanation here, if you want that check out google.

What I am going to do is wonder how this validation of “The Big Bang Theory” is going to affect the organised religions of the world. More specifically, how it is going to affect Christianity.

Not to be too blunt about it, but the validation of “The Big Bang” kind of negates the story that the bible tells, doesn’t it. I grew up in a Christian household and attended church, not regularly, but more often than not. So I am familiar with the bible and it’s “teachings.”

Now before I start my little tirade, I’ll just set the stage a bit. The “Idiot’s Guide to the Big Bang Theory” goes something like this. Billions of years ago, two planets/comets/asteroids collided at roughly the speed of light. The resulting explosion created this boson particle which combined with  other particles or fermions, also known as matter, such as protons and electrons. This whole process is what created our planet and started the whole evolutionary process that resulted in mankind

Are you with me so far? I hope so, because this is as good as I can explain it.

Now, the last time I read the bible, which I will admit was quite a few years ago, the book of Genesis doesn’t start with, “And God made two planets/comets/asteroids collide and thus made earth on the first day.” I pretty sure that it does not start that way.

So what I wonder is, how is religion or Christianity going to respond to this new information? I think I can pretty much guess how.

The first step will be denial. It always is. For the truly zealous or devout that is always the  first response.

The next step will be to refute the findings using the bible to prove or negate the findings of the physicists.

The next possible step will be to try to imply or prove that the “Big Bang” was caused by God.

And the last possible step will be to let the organised religion re-invent itself or to die.

To be honest the first step has been proven historically. Look in your history books for this one and just see if I am right. Talk to your grandparents or great-grandparents, and ask. I’m pretty sure that you’ll hear that everything that does not fit into the bible’s “teachings” is always denied. “If God had meant man to fly, He’d have given us wings!”

Look it up, folks did say that.

The second step is a logical progression. It is used when Christians want to refute anything that does not fit into their way of thinking. More often than not, most things can be explained away by blaming the translation.

The third step is going to involve a lot of “singing and dancing” by the “experts” to pull this one off. I’m sure that they will try very hard to do this.

The last step is just where I see it heading. How can you continue to follow a religion that is built on the faith that the words in the bible are true. You either have to re-invent or recognise that what you have been blindly following for centuries is untrue.

I said over a year ago in a facebook discussion that in the new millenium we as a people would learn something that would shake our beliefs and our understanding of how the world works completely apart. When asked what I thought that might be, I had to admit to feeling very vague about exactly what this knowledge would be.

I sort of thought maybe the existence of alien life, finding out where ufo’s really came from, I don’t know. I do know that the discovery of the boson particle was not on my list of earth shattering events.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not ready to start dancing on the grave of Christianity just yet. And surely if Christianity is doomed what about Islam or  Buddhism, et al.

Physicists have proven the existence of the boson particle. Now it’s the Christians turn. They need to (like a magician) pull a rabbit out of their religious hat. The ball is in their court so to speak.

I will say, that although I am not ready to dance just yet, I am also not going to hold my breath waiting for their response. I think that I will instead think about how the discovery of this boson can change how we do things.

And yes, top of the list for me, is just how long will it take them to invent the first ‘Star Trek-like transporter.’


So Christmas has finished, in my mind at least, I’ve never celebrated the “12 days of Christmas” thing. We started taking down the decorations today. The tree is the last decoration standing at the moment. With my work schedule, it will be late in the week before we take the tree down and put the bits and bobs back up into the attic.

The funny thing is, we started talking about taking everything down two days ago! I suppose it has something to do with the total lack of Christmas spirit this year in our reduced household. Moving just before the festive season really left no room for presents or for much in the way of celebration. This I suppose was due, in part, to lack of immediate funds. But mainly, I think, it was down to triggers.

“Triggers” are things that set us off, or set us up, if you know what I mean. I was introduced to the phrase via the Mental Health Team where I work. I had always thought it was an overworked and over-relied on term that was used to explain a multitude of sins. I’ve had a change of heart.

My daughter and I were discussing these triggers the other day.

It was after an argument interestingly enough, about the laptop and my “umbilical” attachment to it. She had asked me, quite reasonably, to put the lid down for a minute while she finished telling me something. I was, as usual when I’m on the computer,  just half-listening. I was cruising the net – that’s spelt facebook and twitter – and I reacted in a remarkably bad manner. I was furious that she would dare to ask such a thing of me.

I don’t mean that I worked up to this emotion. It happened instantaneously. After apologising for my stupid behaviour things went back to normal.  Then a short while later, I said something about the state of her room. Nothing serious going on in there, just a surplus of clothing that hadn’t been put away. She blew up and pretty much tore a strip off me. Again,  apologies all around and things back to normal.

We discussed both situations later over tea. I explained that I knew where my reaction had come from. Her mother used to complain every time I got the laptop out. My daughter then realised that her reaction had stemmed from her mother’s complaining constantly about the state of her room. I then mentioned triggers and the reaction that they have on us. We both concluded that we needed to be aware of the trigger things and try to avoid reacting to them when they popped up.

I have now come to the conclusion that our “lack” of  Christmas this year – although I must add that we did do a Christmas video this year and had a lot of fun doing it – was as a result of the trigger of last years festive season. Last year was the first time we had not spent the holidays as a family unit. It was strange, uncomfortable and awkward. I honestly believe it set us up for the overall downer that was Christmas this year.

We are now looking forward to the new year and have high hopes that it will be better than the last two years. I think we have a pretty good chance of succeeding as well. We just have to look out for triggers. Everyone has things that “trigger” a response from them. These responses or reactions can be good or bad, we just have to learn to recognise why we have them and how to avoid them if they are of the bad variety.

So that is my wish for everyone in 1012. Learn what your triggers are and change how you react to them. It will help make you a calmer person in the end. It will probably be the one time in your life that it’s okay to be “trigger happy.”

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