May 02, 2004

Religious Aspects to Risk

WE NOTE, with no small bit of amusement, that The Raving Atheist has vowed to join the priesthood should he win the New York State Lottery with numbers from a fortune cookie. His continued failure to win the contest's million-dollar jackpot has led to some rather funny entries, such as this one about neo-pagan ethics vis-a-vis earning money via spell-casting.

In this latter essay, The Raving Atheist has picked up on a message-board discussion in which one neo-pagan asks for aid on that very topic. The petitioner asks whether casting spells to win the lottery would have any negative repercussions. As one might expect from someone who would ask such a thing, we would note the supplicant says of the lottery, "the money is coming from a specific place where no one really loses anything." This would suggest the spell-caster ought quit worrying about the lottery and conjure up an economics text.

But we do not mean to be cruel: we do have some small measure of familiarity with neo-paganism, and we could probably answer the supplicant's question. Namely, of course casting spells to win the lottery would have negative repercussions. For one thing, it would prompt the spell-caster to purchase lottery tickets: not merely a losing proposition, but openly advertised as a losing proposition. In America, they are a way for state Governments to gin up money for education spending; The Raving Atheist makes oblique reference to this fact in his essay. But a second consequence is that it would prompt all sorts of expenditures on incense and candles and herbs and oils and maybe some little hoodoo dolls and what not. This would mean the spell-caster would be even more out of pocket, and he would stink up his place with patchouli and candle smoke.

However, the laws of probability do dictate that somewhere around the eighty- millionth try, the spell would actually appear to work. Were this to actually happen, it would cause all sorts of woes and unpleasantness, as a successful money-casting spell also tends to attract lots of old and new friends who need loans. Some of these friends would also offer up crack-brained investment schemes which the spellcaster -- whom we suspect may not be the most financially-savvy person in the West -- would undoubtedly subscribe. The end result is that the spell-caster would be ruined in a few years, and the good relationships he or she enjoyed before the win would be lost, and he or she would not be speaking with his or her family, etc.

Besides, if we recall correctly, Wiccanism (is that the right phrase?) is one of those pleasant and friendly new-age religions; by which we mean practitioners can't (or don't) actually cast malicious spells, because they supposedly backfire to greater effect on the spell-caster. To us, this makes the whole exercise pointless.

For if we were going to all the trouble to cast spells and invoke spiritual powers from the furthest reaches of the netherworld, and hence put our immortal soul in awful jeopardy according to the tenets of our own religion, we would at least want a rival to develop scalp itch or something.

We realize this admission speaks to some defect in our own soul; and of course, we would never do such a thing in the first place. But we're just saying, if we were going to embark on what our spiritual authorites suggest may be the wide path to damnation, we'd want to go all out.

All that said, though, we would take issue with one point The Raving Atheist makes in his essay: the argument that one cannot ask for something directly in prayer. This is silly. Of course one can ask for whatever one wants. It does not ensure one will get it, but one can ask; and if one's prayers are granted, well, it may be that God has granted that particular request. It could be also be coincidence, of course; but one must weigh the probability inherent in the request. Our atheist did get half the equation right, however; it is generally good form to also ask for strength, to accept what may come regardless.

CLARIFICATION, 5/3/04, 11:45 p.m. As we have noticed some small confusion over the direction of our mockery, we should sharpen our original remarks. Hence, we would point out that we are not -- except in the ultimate paragraph -- criticizing The Raving Atheist for his essay, but rather the neo-pagans whom he excerpts in that work. Those who know of the rather sharp arguments in the past between the both of us may be surprised at this present harmony between his and our positions; this is, after all, the person who superimposed a photo of our head on a pig. But hey. Matters of religion, like politics, can often make strange bedfellows.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at May 2, 2004 12:58 AM | TrackBack

“would prompt all sorts of expenditures on incense and candles and herbs and oils”

Ha, ha, ha, ha!
I wonder who spends more money on holy candles, and holy oils, Pagans or Catholics?
Most Catholic churches have more candles than most places I’ve ever seen. Holy water anyone? How about a scepter that sprays holy water, like some voodoo device?
Prayers and spells are the same thing – bullshit!

Posted by: Nick the Dick at May 4, 2004 10:37 AM