Rapture Bonds

One of the great virtues of market forces is that they consistently reward investors who can correctly predict future events. Whenever two people disagree about the plausibility of some event, you can create a financial instrument whereby the one who’s right can profit at the expense of the one who’s wrong.

The Christian community in America, particularly that section of it aligned with the religious right, commands vast wealth and influence. Although atheists are beginning to make our mark, we’re still routinely outspent and outlobbied by the legions of Christian conservatives and their wealthy leaders. It would be greatly beneficial if we could use the power of the market to redirect some of that wealth away from them and to us, where we can put it to better use advancing the cause of science and reason, rather than promoting regressive superstition. But what deal can we offer that they will accept?

I think the religious doctrine of the Rapture is the lever we need. Vast numbers of believers are completely convinced that this event will happen in the near future, and unlike natural catastrophes which might happen by coincidence, it is an unambiguously supernatural aspect of their end-times belief. If, as they say, they have no doubt that it will occur, we can give them a chance to put their money where their mouth is – and to take money away from us if we’re the ones who are wrong. What believer could resist that opportunity?

At first glance it might seem impossible to design a financial instrument that centers around the Rapture. After all, if the Christians are right, they won’t be around to collect. But I have a solution: I call it Rapture Bonds.

Here’s my offer to the believer. Choose a time period – a year, five years, ten years – however long you think is needed to be sure that the Rapture will happen sometime in the chosen interval. Choose a dollar amount. I, the investor, will loan you that amount of money. During the agreed-upon time period, you can use that money in any way you see fit to advance the cause of Christian evangelism: print gospel tracts, pay missionaries’ salaries, donate it to televangelists, or whatever else you like.

However, at the end of the chosen period, you must pay me back the entire principal, plus all the interest it’s been accumulating during that time. This would be similar to the balloon mortgages that some homeowners take out, which also have a lump-sum payment at the end.

What happens if the Rapture comes during your time interval? Then, obviously, you can’t be held liable for the debt. In fact, the bond agreement will have a clause which states that the debt is unrecoverable if the debtor is declared legally dead without there being a body. If you die in the normal fashion, however, your estate is liable for the bond repayment.

In my opinion, this is a great way for Christians – and atheists as well – to really put their respective beliefs to the test. If the Christians are right, then we atheists have given you free money you can use to promote God’s kingdom at our expense. If we atheists are right, then the money flows in the opposite direction. The best part is that you can enter into it no matter what you believe. I designed this instrument because I believe it will channel money from Christians to atheists, but a Christian investor could enter into it in the equally confident belief that the opposite will happen. The facts of the world will end up determining who’s right, and the money will follow.

I personally don’t have the funds to offer this plan on any significant scale. But it might be something for a canny, freethinking investor to consider.

SF/F Saturday: Terry Pratchett’s Death
SF/F Saturday: Terry Pratchett’s Death
Atlas Shrugged: The Rapture of the Capitalists
Atlas Shrugged: The Craft of Not Acting
About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • random guy

    I realize this is kind of a goof but I see three problems with the idea.

    First of all what if I take out say $10,000 and name my date Feb 2. 2192. We will both be dead by then so there is no way to recoup loses. Unless you choose to only take loans on say less than 15 year time frame.

    Second whats to stop someone from taking a huge loan and just leaving the country. After two years of no contact it’s possible for someone (namely a relative in on the scam) to declare them legally dead. For someone with not much to loose they could stand to make a considerable sum by just calling your bluff of forfeiting a claim to the loan should they “disappear bodily”.

    Thirdly I find it highly unlikely that someone who would make this kind of absurd bet, to the point of actually taking a loan out on the expectation of a coming apocalypse, would have enough money at the time the bond was due to actually pay up. As you recently pointed out with the Millerites people of this persuasion can and will literally throw away all of their possessions and money expecting the end. Afterwords they get bankruptcy and you get squat.

    I propose a different scam (lets face it your trying to swindle money out of irrational investors). Lets call it a “Rapture Retirement Plan” They pay you a certain amount of money and name a date at least ten years away. If that date passes by without incident you pay them back their money plus an agreed upon interest. If the date was 20 years out lets say you double their money. This may sound like a losing deal, but if you properly invest the money and incur a minimum of 10% growth a year you will have undoubtedly made more off of their money than they have. Given inflation they may have made little to no money at all depending on how long the bond was.

    You can go around to these End Times churches, where these people are ready to throw away their savings at the drop of the spiritual hat, and sell thousands of dollars of these rapture bonds. Unlike normal brokers who have to hunt down leads and make a decent sales pitch, your investors congregate weekly and have already been sold on the idea by their trusted pastor. You just have to cash the check.

    Of course considering the complicated nature of such a venture, not to mention the dubious legality, it may just be easier to start a church. From what I’ve seen churches are the most reliable way to get money out of the truly irrational investor.

  • terrence

    Rats. I was going to shout hip hip hooray and offer to help Ebon start up his brokerage firm until we saw random guy’s very troubling objections. It’s a moot point anyway. As a resident of Illinois, I and everybody I know is already fully invested in laughing stock.

  • Dan

    An idea that I’ve been tossing around is to sell believers post-rapture pet care insurance. Since I’m a non-believer, I will be around after the rapture to care for the believers’ beloved pets; we all know that our pet dogs and cats who we love won’t be taken up to heaven since god created them as inferior soul-less beasts. Right?

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    I believe there’s a site called “JesusPets.com” that claims that they will take care of Xians’ pets after the rapture for an upfront fee.

  • http://lfab-uvm.blogspot.com/ C. L. Hanson

    I was going to make about the same objection as randomguy: Sure you’ll win the bet, but the chances you’ll ever see the money you won are pretty slim…

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Apparently, there’s lots of rapture services already…

    Data storage and auto email alerts to loved ones for instance.

  • Ric

    Except that there would be some super serious lawsuits to try not to pay when the rapture doesn’t come.

  • Entomologista

    Ha! I love this idea.

  • http://lostaddress.org ray

    It’s simple, if any bonds are for more than 5 years then their church takes on the debt or benefits. Also, if someone tries to merely disappear, it won’t count – rapturists know that more than one person will be taken – just add a clause to say that 100 of the believers have to go. In fact, we’ll win both ways: not every believer will be deemed worthy so, even if the rapture really does happen, enough bond holders will stay behind to have to pay out.

  • J0e_average

    The thing that makes this idiotic is that you are lending money to someone who doesn’t believe they will be around to pay it back. That makes the risk of this scheme very high.

    You would absolutely want collateral.

  • http://www.atheistrev.com vjack

    I like the idea. There has to be a way to overcome some of the problems mentioned above and pull off something like this. I’ve never been convinced that most Christians really believe what they claim to believe, and this would be an interesting test. If we can’t fix the bugs, there’s always the snake handling thing.

  • penn

    I really like this idea. In response to random guy’s first objection, there would be no century long bonds to buy. I think around 25% of the country expected Jesus to come back in 2008 and in 2007. Over two-thirds of evangelicals shared that belief. There would be a huge potential consumer base for 1 year to 10 year bonds.

    random guy’s other main complaint seemed to be people not meeting their financial obligations, but there are numerous legal ways of dealing with that. You can perform credit checks up front, force them to put up collateral, and sue them. You would clearly not let any person off the street buy a million dollar bond. That would just be stupid. You could also raise interest rates on those with worse credit.There would be limits like any other financial instrument. All loan programs have to deal with defaults somehow, so I don’t think that is a big issue.

  • penn

    Quick additional note.

    I think we shouldn’t think of these as loans to individual Christians, but as bonds sold buy large Christian institutions. Non-believers would buy these bonds, and then churches would pay out after the due date. They should also pay higher interest rates due to the risk involved. Churches could make some short term money, but would lose out in the end if the Rapture didn’t come.

  • Joffan

    I’d prefer a scheme that operates the other way around – get the Millenialists’ money upfront somehow, rather than putting your own money up there.

    I’m thinking some kind of Post-Rapture kit distribution undertaking that Millenialists will pay for upfront on a charitable basis and we promise to distribute. Slap on annual maintenance fees too.

  • Christopher

    I find these type of financial schemes dubious – I’d prefer to just hit them with sucker bets (ex. bet $1,000 they can’t prove “god” exists, it’s an easy win if they accept an the proposition can only be taken upon the basis of belief). I think they will just as liable to fall for that as a “rapture bond.”

  • Thariinye

    How are we going to insure that the Rapture bonds are used only for evangelism/other religious stuff? In other words, how are we going to stop unscrupulous Christians from using the loans we give them to just make more money(which kind of defeats the purpose of the bonds)?

    I’m thinking we can restrict what the loan is used for and monitor how each dollar of the loan is used in some manner. What does everyone else think?

  • nfpendleton

    “I’d prefer a scheme that operates the other way around – get the Millenialists’ money upfront somehow, rather than putting your own money up there.”

    It already exists. It’s call evangelism, tele- and otherwise.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Nah, you can’t trust them to ever pay you back.

  • Leum

    My friend and I once thought that we should get a bunch of mid-tribers (they think the rapture comes halfway through the tribulation) together and convince them to fund a house for Jesus, complete with an arsenal. We would, of course, be more than willing to maintain Jesus’ mansion until His return.

    As nfpendleton points out, though, that scheme’s basically been done. Have you looked at Oral Roberts and co’s shenanigans?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    random guy: I have to admit that your second point is a strong one. This proposal is fairly vulnerable to fraud, it’s true. I can think of a few things that might mitigate the risk:

    1. Have the holder of the bond pay some interest while it’s maturing, with a balloon payment at the end. This would at least cushion any financial losses to the investor if the bondholder decided to flee to somewhere tropical with loose banking regulations.

    2. Issue bonds to many individuals for small amounts, say no more than five or ten thousand dollars each. This would reduce the incentive to get yourself declared legally dead just to get out of paying it back.

    3. Change the bond offer so that the holder’s estate is liable for repayment no matter how they die. One could argue that this shouldn’t be a deterrent to potential bondholders, since they don’t plan on being around in any case.

    Thariinye: I wouldn’t object if the Rapture Bond holders invested the money or did whatever else they wanted to do with it. The idea of using it to advance the cause of evangelism was just a suggestion. Once it’s loaned to them, it’s theirs, and as long as I the investor get repaid for the agreed-upon amount, it doesn’t matter what they do with the money in the interim. Of course, if they start using our loans to turn a profit, we’d have every right to insist on raising the interest rates.

  • Tony

    The real problem with this scheme is not in the technical details, but rather with the ethics of it. As Random Guy pointed out, it is a scheme to swindle people based on their irrational beliefs, i.e. a scam, and as such it is exactly the sort of thing that the atheist/skeptical community normally rails against. As tempting as it may be to profit by something like this, how can any of us seriously promote it without losing all our credibility and integrity?

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    is a scheme to swindle people based on their irrational beliefs, i.e. a scam, and as such it is exactly the sort of thing that the atheist/skeptical community normally rails against.

    It’s only the atheist’s view that it is irrational, the xians have special revelation on their side. It’s a sure bet to win but hardly unethical.

  • velkyn

    this is a great idea. How many Christian will say “but it’s testing God! and we can do that!” (ignoring the fact that God is tested, and even says “test me” in the Bible).

  • penn

    Thariinye: This issue would be handled by the interest rate offered. If they did not offer better interest rates than corporate or government bonds, then no one would buy them.

  • mike

    As Random Guy pointed out, it is a scheme to swindle people based on their irrational beliefs, i.e. a scam.

    Professional wrestling is a scheme designed to swindle people based on their irrational beliefs that professional wrestling is a worthwhile form of entertainment. But I’d hardly call professional wrestling an unethical enterprise.

    Unlike the things that our community generally rails about, selling rapture bonds would not require you to make any claims that you can’t back up, or require you to make promises you don’t intend to keep. The proposal is totally up-front and earnest about the whole thing.

  • exrelayman

    Very imaginative Ebon. Having the respect I do for your integrity, I know this is just a ‘for fun’ idea. Con artists typically justify their schemes by saying if the mark wasn’t greedy the con would not have worked. The believer’s view of Atheists is already low enough without the need to give them any evidence (although such evidence as does exist indicates Christians behave worse than Atheists in regard to percentage of population incarcerated for crimes).

  • penn

    I don’t understand the people saying this is just a scam. These aren’t children. These are adults who would be fully informed and fully consent to enter this arrangement. I mean if it was immoral to make money off of people’s irrationality then all lotteries are scams.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Con artists typically justify their schemes by saying if the mark wasn’t greedy the con would not have worked.

    In what sense do you consider this a con, exrelayman? To my mind, a con must necessarily involve an element of fraud: it presents the terms of the deal deceptively, makes them seem other than they really are. There is no fraud in this proposal.

    As Random Guy pointed out, it is a scheme to swindle people based on their irrational beliefs…

    No. A scheme to swindle irrational people would be, for example, selling a vial of “holy water” and claiming it has miraculous healing powers which I know full well it does not have. Again, I’m not making any false or fraudulent proposal here. The terms are all on the table and disclosed up front.

  • valhar2000

    It is a scam. When faith healers operate on these terms, we call them scammers, so we should call this scheme by the same name. It’s okay to fantasize about things, I guess, but if put to effect this would undoubtedly be a scam.

  • valhar2000

    Random Guy, why would rapture beleivers buy into your scheme? It only benefits them if the Rapture does not happen, so, from their point of view, your scheme simply consists of giving you money in exchange for nothing.

  • Tony

    Just to clarify what I meant, while I certainly would not describe this scheme as immoral, I’m not 100% certain about whether it is ethical or not. I see it as somewhat questionable, but I’m not sure I can explain why. I’ll give it a go.
    Granted, it is all open and up-front, so calling it a scam may be a bit strong. Yes, all participants would be consenting adults, responsible for their own decisions. But could we really consider the xian participants to be “informed”, and at the same time describe as ignorant the beliefs that inform their decision to participate? Lets face it, most of us do to some extent think of the religious as ignorant and irrational. If we enter into a contract with such people, believing them to be practically incapable of making rational decisions about that aspect of reality, would it not be a bit disingenuous to hold up our hands and say “Oh, but they were fully informed of the risks and consequences”?
    From a legal point of view, we could probably get away with exactly that. It would be technically true, after all. But it just seems to me that we should really try to be better than that.

  • exrelayman

    Hi Ebonmuse,

    Most likely your notion of what constitutes a con is more accurate than mine. I used that term merely in context of taking unfair advantage, since reason and evidence so clearly show their ideas to have no factual basis. There is no fraud in the casino taking the sucker’s money, but to me this, while also quite open and legal, is still taking an unfair advantage, and thus is a bit of a con.

    So it does seem to me more ethical to refrain from taking unfair advantage, while I can very much sympathize with the desire to have a real ‘put your money where your mouth is’ way of interacting, since we repeatedly experience that mere logical argumentation never phases faith.

  • exrelayman

    In my preceding comment please substitute ‘fazes’ for ‘phases’. I know better.

  • MS Quixote


    The OP a clever challenge, and I’m pleased that you’re calling the dispensationalist’s bluff. Being amillenial, however, it doesn’t appeal that much to me.

    Nevertheless, I have been trying to think of a suitable wager we could engage in, based on the “facts of the world” and the future. This is the best I have been able to come up with, if such a scheme is possible:

    You and I could both invest a very reasonable amount in some sort of secure, interest bearing trust fund that remains locked for, say, five centuries. After such a long time, the fund should be considerable. I’m no economist or financial wizard, but perhaps a financial professional and a lawyer could set it up properly.

    Anyway, we could create the trust fund with specific instructions that at the end of the 5 centuries, this considerable sum would be payable to either an atheist group or a Christian group pursuant to a set of real-world criteria. For instance, if Christianity has maintained its current prominence after the time limit, the money would go to the Christian church. If, as you seem to predict, freethought has won the day and the Christian church has receded into the dustbin of history, the money would go to an atheist concern. Obviously, the terms would need to be tightened, but you get the idea.

    We may or may not ever know the outcome, but it would be interesting for our spiritual and freethought descendants, and we would be great benefactors for someone, regardless.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    As Random Guy pointed out, it is a scheme to swindle people based on their irrational beliefs…

    So make the scheme available only to the evangelical churches rather than their individual members. Admittedly those institutions make their money by conning the congregation in the first place, but perhaps when they see their 10% going to pay off the bond interest they’ll get wise.

  • Dark Jaguar

    I think you put too much power in this market scenario. Realize that these people are SO convinced of the rapture they’re likely to take up this bet whether their “estate” can pay back the debt or not.

    I don’t consider “market forces” to really be capable of doing much besides saying what people want to buy. They clearly aren’t powerful enough to weed out all the quack medicine around, and instead feed into it. I realize this was more of a joke than anything, but I’m pretty sure at the end of these rapture bond periods, you’d end up with a massive loss and debtors unable to pay you back.

    This on top of the fact that with most Christians, they take up a “none shall know the day nor the hour of my coming” position. Sure many sects in the past didn’t, but it’s memetic survival of the fittest. Ideas that predict events in the unspecified “future” survive and proliferate far longer than ideas which predict events at specific dates, excepting those ideas that are actually correct in their predictions, such as relativity predicting the courses of the planets around the sun for centuries from now.

    At any rate, I don’t think it’s wise to muck around in “sure thing” bets like these. Too much can go wrong.

    This also goes for if you loaned to mega churches. Who’s to say which ones will actually still be around in 10, 20, 50 year’s time? That’s a huge chunk of time for people to get arrested for corruption charges or for someone to say something that causes the followers to jump to another mega church. These aren’t invincible institutions, they’re castles built on sand.

    It really seems like an invitation to disaster, and it’s certainly very plausible considering how the housing market is doing lately.

  • TommyP

    I’d lend some money to this, haha what a wonderful idea for atheist dollars. Where do I sign up? I think small amounts is the way to go.

  • http://www.morelightmorelight.com Matt Katz

    I think the posters who are using the word scam aren’t thinking of how our capital markets work.
    In the stock market, people make trades all day based on perceived imbalances of information. Here, the atheists think they have a better understanding of the proposition, and rapturists believe they have better information. The bond is a way of monetizing those beliefs. These are not scams.

    Every day, investors purchase bonds in the secondary market because they believe the cash is worth less than the bond. These bonds are sold to them by people who believe the bond is worth less than the cash. Every single trade is done by people who believe they are making a better choice than the other guy.

    A different proposition might be to propose a loan that doesn’t begin to pay interest until after the expected rapture date and is invalid in the case of rapture.
    Less complex, easier to understand, a steady income stream, and you can collect the collateral in case of default.

  • andrew

    THe problem I see with this idea is that Rapture believers will quickly point out that they dont know WHEN the rapture will happen, even those who are convinced that it will happen in their lifetime will, if pressed, grudgingly admit that they dont REALLY know it will.

    This coming from a Christian who thinks there wont a be a ‘rapture’ and most of hte so-called ‘end of times’ stuff has already happened.

  • http://www.skepticaloccultism.com pendens proditor

    I too wish I could find an ethical way to take the money people are planning to give to scammers anyway and put it toward a charitable (and rational) cause. I’d prefer that they keep their money, but if they’re just dying to throw it away, why not find a better use for it?

    It’s amazing how quickly a person’s tune can change when you ask him to back his beliefs with money. I used to know a guy who followed some guru who made yearly predictions about international affairs and natural disasters and such using some sort of Nostradamus-inspired system of prophecy. This guy claimed that the guru was right “100% of the time” and that I should be taking these prophecies very seriously. So I started recommending ways that he could profit from this information. For example, if the guru predicted that the ice caps would melt and northern Canada would become habitable again, I’d suggest the obvious: buy a big tract of land up there. And suddenly his cast-iron certainty about the future would disappear.

    When asked to really consider how a person could take advantage of these incredibly vague and open-ended prophecies (is there any other kind?) beforehand — rather than looking back at them through the lens of hindsight — he found that he didn’t know what to do about the future any more than I did, especially financially. He didn’t bring this guru up as often after that.