Devotion vs. Deceit

I got a Letter from God…
…and it was really creepy.
I’m not usually interested in posting the “religion sucks” kind of threads, but sometimes the outrage gets to be just too much to ignore. A few days ago this arrived in the mail:

envelope-2-sides.jpg

The envelope is covered front and back with gushy prayers and promises for my spiritual, physical and financial blessings, in all-caps with half of the words underlined in red. It is from the Saint Matthew’s Churches, apparently a very large organization centered in Tulsa, Oklahoma with a very large church in Texas and a very large website with over 80 pages.

A Google search for “saint matthew’s church tulsa” results in dozens of sites complaining and warning of rip-offs and scams by this place. Things get confusing because there are also hundreds of Saint Matthew’s Churches around the world that are not connected in any way to this group.

The envelope contained several pages of effusive wishes for my prosperity, prayers, snips of scripture, saccharin pictures and the expected testimonials about how people’s prayers, brokered by Saint Matthew’s, had been answered. Of the five testimonials, one was about someone’s leg pain disappearing and the other four were about getting cash, with heavenly largesse ranging from $5,000 to $46,888.20. (It’s reassuring to know that the Angels of Accounts Payable get it down to the very penny.) So it was clear to which of my various base motives they were trying to appeal.

A sealed page contained a letter to me directly from God, but he didn’t sign it. (Damn. That autograph would have made me a bundle on eBay.) Guess what? God types in all caps. I FIGURE HIS VOICE IS REALLY, REALLY LOUD SINCE HE’S GOD AND ALL, AND SO THAT IS HOW HE HAS TO TYPE.

(ahem) There was a check-off list of several things I could have the good people of St. M’s pray for on my behalf, ranging from saving my soul through many material benefits to a dollar sign with a long blank line where I could fill in whatever amount I want. Almost as an afterthought they added a space where I could donate money to their church. One might think that if they were so good at convincing God to give others so much moola, they wouldn’t need small donations from humans.

Normally I would have simply tossed the whole thing in the trash, but this caught my eye:

prayer-rug.jpg

It’s an eleven by sixteen inch “prayer rug” that I was told to kneel on, pray on and then send back to the church so someone else can use it too. Mine was not wrinkled, so it must not have been a “pre-owned” prayer rug. It said it was “soaked in the power of prayer for you.” Soaked? I sniffed it and held it up to the light. Apparently the power of prayer is odorless and doesn’t stain paper. I was also instructed to stare at the closed eyes of Jesus and after a while I would see his eyes open up and look back at me! Well, I didn’t try the kneeling but I did try the staring.

Here is the truly cynical and diabolical part of this scam. As I stared at the face, slowly I began to see his eyes looking back at me! Extremely faint traces of irises and pupils had been subtly rendered onto the closed lids, taking advantage of a visual phenomenon where our retinas become fatigued after staring at a blank space and we begin to pick up low contrast details not noticed before. The effect doesn’t show up well on these internet jpg’s but I have enhanced the image here so you can see what I saw:

creepy-jesus-eyes.jpg

The effect was amazing and creepy. As an artist I was impressed but as a human I was really pissed off. The cynicism required to produce this very clever, carefully executed trick goes far beyond some preacher who sincerely believes his creed, wants to share it with others and needs some donations. There is a line that winds its convoluted way between promoting one’s beliefs out of devotion and an attempt at conscious, calculated deceit.

I realize there are many of these rackets but this is the one that came to my mailbox so I’m venting my disgust. This is a deliberate, shameless attempt to take advantage of unsophisticated folks who probably don’t have much money to spare. Some people might say there’s a sucker born every minute and for their stupidity they deserve abuse, but I cannot see how any person of conscience, whether theist or atheist could condone such a callous victimization of anyone, no matter how foolish, naïve or backward they might be.

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • David Crespo

    The level of creepiness of those eyes borders on the inexpressible. I actually got one of these letters. Now I wish I had opened it.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I get these sorts of letters from time to time too, and you’re right, it’s absolutely disgusting.

    You’re also right about this:

    The cynicism required to produce this very clever, carefully executed trick goes far beyond some preacher who sincerely believes his creed, wants to share it with others and needs some donations. There is a line that winds its convoluted way between promoting one’s beliefs out of devotion and an attempt at conscious, calculated deceit.

    In fact, that line is so thick IMHO, that I have a hard time believing that someone who does this sort of thing even actually believes what they’re selling at all. I suppose some do, and justify it all to themselves somehow, but my guess is that most charlatans and hucksters know exactly what they’re up to and feel no remorse about it.

  • http://steingrueblwe.blogspot.com Heather

    I got this same letter last week, and have been too busy/annoyed to rant about it myself. Thank you for writing about this!

    We used to get similar letters all of the time when we lived in a lower-income, primarily African-American neighborhood. Never saw so much as a scrap from them once we moved into a more affluent area. The cynic in me says these creeps have done their market research and know where to go for the best return on their investment in postage.

    Having moved again, I’m interested in how this “old church” is picking its targets for this most recent mailing. Are they fishing, or have they got a target demographic? If so, how did I get to be part of it?

    Regardless, it seems like the “materials” are carefully worded so as to avoid prosecution for mail fraud. Of course, that may bear further investigation…

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ hoverFrog

    I suggest returning it with an attached housebrick and a note that the recipient will pay all postage. Do you have a postal service authority to make a complaint to?

    It is simply spam and should be treated with the same level of disdain.

  • http://ichthyologistbright.blogspot.com Laurie Soule

    I could clearly see the eyes on the purple scan. That is truly evil. They’re preying on the gullible, not praying for them, but I’m sure they don’t see it that way.

  • http://freelanceguru.co.uk Freelance Guru

    Oh man! I’d love a praymer mat like that. Just imagine the party tricks I could pull of it.

  • Richard Wade

    Heather,

    Having moved again, I’m interested in how this “old church” is picking its targets for this most recent mailing. Are they fishing, or have they got a target demographic? If so, how did I get to be part of it?

    I live in an upper middle class suburb of Los Angeles that has a high percentage of well educated people. It is mainly white with a generous sprinkling of other ethnic groups. They are mostly professionals, teachers, firemen and police officers.

    It was addressed to “Resident” and many others were mailed to local addresses in my neighborhood. Either they don’t know where they are mailing or they think that more affluent, worldly people are going to fall for this.

  • SarahH

    I’ve gotten this exact letter. Even the credit card companies don’t sink this low when they’re trying to fish for money.

    Since when is a piece of paper a prayer mat? I do yoga on something about 1000x nicer and there are millions of Muslims out there who use real prayer mats – not junk mail.

  • Brian

    I’m a Christian and I received the exact same package. I can assure you that they don’t represent Christianity and it is nothing more than a scam. I actually wrote my own blog condemning it and the annoyance you feel is all the greater for myself as it is being done in the name of Christ…it makes me sick to my stomach and deeply sadened. I only ask that everyone remember that just because someone claims to be Christian doesn’t mean they represent Christianity in anyway.

  • Mriana

    You know, I got these in the mail before and I read the thing and I thought, “OK what’s the trick?” I sat there staring at/studying them for I don’t know how long, as I sat trying to figure out what the optical illusion was, but nothing happened. The picture stayed the same as it was when I first looked at it. I had no optical illusions. :? Maybe I was trying to hard to figure out how the optical illusion they described worked that I could not have the illusion. In all honesty, I didn’t want the illusion (not sour grapes, but the truth), but rather the answer to why people have the illusion- like the young woman/witch or candlestick/faces pictures, which I see both at the same time when I look at each pic.

    I couldn’t figure out the answer to the question as to how the illusion worked, but I think you just provided the logical answer to that question, Richard. :) Makes sense to me anyway.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com hoverFrog

    Mriana, I could never see anything in those old magic eye pictures except the pattern itself. Or Jesus in toast burns.

    Maybe the pirate eye patch should come off?

  • Phil

    This ‘church’ has been identified as an outright scam by most evangelical leaders and really doesnt have much to do with sincere Christians who take following Jesus seriously. The st. matthews ‘church’(es) is just a money making cult. see interesting article below. cheers!

    http://www.trinityfi.org/press/tulsaworld01.html

  • http://heathendad.blogspot.com/ HappyNat

    Ha! I got the same letter on Saturday. I was enjoying the silliness of it all but I squealed when I saw the ugly prayer mat. It is now hung in my office, should be good to start conversations.

  • JohnB

    I actually got one of these about a month or so ago. If anything can elicit amusement and disgust at the same time, the paper “prayer rug” with that creepy staring Jesus is it.

  • Norm

    Looking at the previous comments, I guess I am not alone in getting this exact same letter recently, but I shredded it along with all the credit card offers that day. On a totally unrelated note, you should watch the latest Onion News Network video (sports segment about donkey basketball) and read the last item that appears on the crawl.

  • Alycia

    Isn’t this the one that sends the letter that repeatedly reminds you that this is a “FIFTY YEAR OLD CHURCH!”?

    As if I’m supposed to read that, think, “Fifty year old church? Well, shit- it must be legit, then, since a forty-seven year old church would most certainly be trying to scam me…”

  • Jen

    I am so jealous! I want to be on this mailing list.

    In other news, the “prayer mat” (made of paper?) is shameless. Crazy art trick- and I bet it fools people all the time. There is something I really like about the Islamic idea that you shouldn’t try to draw religious figures- most religious art these days is weird looking to me. I don’t know if that is because all the good artists only used to do religious art because that is where the money was, and now it isn’t there, but most Jesus art irritates me.

  • http://merelyadequate.net MonolithTMA

    Am i the only one who was reminded of the following dialog from Mall Rats? ;-)

    Wow, it’s a schooner!
    You dumb bastard!
    It’s not a schooner,
    it’s a sailboat.
    A schooner is a sailboat,
    stupidhead.

    What a bunch of manipulative assholes. That’s just sick The funny thing is that I haven’t gotten one of those since I deconverted, but got several when I was still a Christian.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com hoverFrog

    Brian said:

    I can assure you that they don’t represent Christianity

    If it’s scammers masquerading as a church then get the law involved and stamp it out. If it is a church or even if it is Christians then it represents Christianity. It may be a brand of Christianity that you hate but anyone who claims to be a Christian does represents Christianity and builds up the stereotype.

  • http://darwinsdagger.blogspot.com Darwin’s Dagger

    I got the same letter last week. Must be a national mailing. Tossed the whole thing in the trash where it belongs.

  • Krista

    I got this in the mail and opened it last night. I sent them something back in the no postage envelope. I drawing of a vagina and a letter to Jesus asking that I get laid this week. Am I bad?

  • http://heathendad.blogspot.com/ HappyNat

    Isn’t this the one that sends the letter that repeatedly reminds you that this is a “FIFTY YEAR OLD CHURCH!”?

    I believe it is a “FIFTY-SEVEN YEAR OLD CHURCH” as stated over and over in the letter. Does the extra 7 years make you believe? :)

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com Bad

    Crap crap crap: having received this very letter, I was just about to pen an article on it as soon as I could get my scanner working. You’ve quite beaten me to it!

    What got me was the part about how, if you were physically unable to kneel, you could touch the rug to your knees. The image of some poor old widower in a wheelchair in a nursing home being basically bullied into performing this ritual at the command of some print shop church outfit was just too much.

    Believers should definitely find this even more vile than non-believers, I think. This is an attempt to exploit people’s beliefs in order to get them to jump through hoops on command: even though most people will see it as a scam, how many will quietly feel guilty for not participating, just in case there is something to it? How many will feel tempted to open the “prophecy” and then follow the instructions? It’s insulting.

    Whoever did this either expects to make a ridiculous amount of money, or has a lot already. National mailings with multi-color oversized printings, and complete with pre-paid return postage, are not cheap.

  • http://steingrueblwe.blogspot.com Heather

    @Brian-Right on. Good people have to start somewhere, and telling your readers about these con-artists is a good start. Agreeing with Hover, I’d say the Christian who doesn’t want to be associated with predators would be wise to take action.

    @Hover-I used to attach such things to big rocks and send them back, but now I need to check to see if they can simply refuse delivery and stick the postal service with the cost of transport. For those of you who wish to try this at home, include anything but metal-it messes up the sorting equipment.

    @Richard-Looks like a fishing expedition, then. The postal service makes it easy and cheap to send things out to entire zip codes, so why not, right? There has got to be some way to shut these guys down as mail fraudsters…

    @Krista-I think it’s a good start. ;)

  • monique

    I’d just fix the spelling and the grammar and then mail it back to the church that sent it.

    Neat trick with the rug though. Very clever.

  • http://tometheus.com Tometheus

    What’s odd is that I received this same letter in January, but I never opened it, leaving it in a stack of mail that I just finally got around to going through yesterday. (I had saved it because.. well… I thought it was funny that they had so screwed up the target demographic.)

  • Ubi Dubium

    I got one of those things a few years ago. I stuffed their return envelope full of other junk mail and sent it back to them. I haven’t gotten another since.

    I also got some specially blessed cheap cross necklace a couple of years ago. Did the same thing, and then gave the necklace to my Fundie brother-in-law. He wanted to know why I didn’t give it to my own daughters. I told him it “woudn’t be appropriate” and then declined any further argument.

    I keep hoping they will send more, so I can be more creative, but they never have. I’d love to send them their rug back with some added doodles of my own. Maybe Groucho glasses.

    HoverFrog – keep the eyepatch, how else can you preach about his Noodlyness? Yarrrr and RAmen!

  • http://cranialhyperossification.com GDad

    I cut the bar code and my address off of the pre-paid envelope. Then I wrote some comments regarding their claims on the contents of the packet and sent it all back to them this morning.

  • Julie

    I’ve gotten this thing twice. I was pretty excited the second time, because my boyfriend drew all over the prayer mat, putting a mustache on Jesus. I had wanted to save the whole thing, because I thought it was so weird and awful. So then we got another one, mustache free!

    I had already scanned most of the stuff into my computer, though, because I had a whole idea to write a one woman show about this thing. When I got it, my life was in the shitter, and I just thought it was so terrible, the idea that this “church” would probably get a few responses from poor schmucks in desperate moments. I never did send it back, but things improved in my life. Imagine that! But that show project is on the back burner at the moment.

  • Karen Brown

    Well, it seems there is one more way to deal with it.

    Fill it all in correctly, send it back, but with no money.

    Oddly enough, I never got another one either. *grin* Just not interested if you don’t send cash.

  • http://talesofordinarygirl.blogspot.com Ordinary Girl

    Man that Jesus dude gets around. He makes a lot of promises too. He almost sounds like those guys my dad always warned me about when I was growing up.

  • cereal man

    I got the same letter last week! Must have been a real mass mailing.
    from Southern Indiana….

  • http://tobycentral.blogspot.com Toby

    I got the same thing. I especially got a kick out of the box to check to pray for a new car…. I’ve been praying pretty hard and still have no car. Why do you mock me so, God. Why?!

    Seriously, I like the idea of defacing Jesus and sending it back… I might have to do that!

  • Brian E

    @Brian – Exactly what tenets of Christianity are they violating? Yes, they’re using an optical illusion to ‘fool’ people, but Christianity has been using lies, deceit, fear, guilt and even torture on its members for centuries. As far as I’m concerned, this church is par for the course as far as Christianity goes.

  • Richard Wade

    You could cut the eyes out, tape string to the edges and turn it into a Halloween mask.

    (ding dong) “Trick or treat!”

    “Ahgh!! It’s the Creepy Jesus Prayer Rug! Scary!”

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    It may be a brand of Christianity that you hate

    It’s not even a “brand” though. It’s just a bunch of scammers. It’s not like they’re part of some widespread movement or some separate denomination that openly advocates this kind of thing. It’s just one “church” that is trying to sucker people.

  • Marcus

    That picture of Jesus who “magically” opens his eyes upon a prolonged stare is rather old.

    My (naive, gullible) (Catholic) grandmother has had it framed in her room for decades.

    Anyone know when it originated?

  • Richard Wade

    Anyone know when it originated?

    It may be the mysterious image from the Washcloth of Turin, not to be confused with the Shroud of Turin which is a big fat fraud.

  • http://purduenontheists.com Jennifurret

    I got one today too! Thankfully I wasn’t as confused because I actually read this post before I got my mail. I actually felt sort of special.

    I threw away everything but the Jesus poster. I figured I’d do something creative with it.

  • Bruce

    I got this last week too. First thing I did was try to find a phone # so I could call them and raise some hell. Alas, no phone # anywhere. One of the sites I found suggested filling the envelope and sending it back. I didn’t want to go to the post office so I didn’t put a whole lot of stuff in. I sent their crap back to them and then printed off some stuff I had about Sufism. Maybe they might want to convert. If they do send me anything else I am going to fill a box with rocks and take it to the post office. The envelope says they will pay the postage so I should be able to do it.

  • Jen

    I got mine today!

    I know it is tempting to mail rocks back to them, but remember- if they get government money (ala Focus on the Family) based on the amount of mail they get from people.

  • Mike

    Seems to me this may just be another ploy to make people scared into religion. It is distasteful and inappropriate.

    Maybe you should send them something back along the lines of one of your friendly atheist bracelets. Maybe inform them they gave you a good topic for your blog.

  • http://blog.crispen.org/ Rev. Bob “Bob” Crispen

    I got one last week, but mine said the prayer mat had been “anlointed.”

    Once I’d read that, I held it by the edges

  • Brian

    @Brian E – First, one of the 10 commandments says to not give false testimony. Thus if they are making a claim that this prayer rug (which itself has no scriptural logic behind it) can do something supernatural when it obviously does not, that person is giving false testimony. Thus my claim, that this is nothing but a scam and outside of Christianity, is quite obvious.

    However, I would like to also point out the often confused situation that Christianity is hypocritical since it says you shouldn’t lie, but everyone (Christians included) do lie (or fill in any other sin). I guess the first thing to say is, yes all Christians are hypocrites…we all fail to do what Christianity says we are to do, but that isn’t the point of Christianity. Christianity is the acknowledging that we are sinful and thus asking and receiving forgiveness through Christ Jesus. I know writing that on an atheistic blog is probably just going to produce more ridicule, but that is the core belief of Christianity. For that reason those that claim to be Christian are actually stating that they are not perfect, sinful, and in need of forgiveness. Christianity offers two ways to heaven; (1) be perfect or (2) ask for forgiveness through Jesus. FYI – I don’t know anyone that is trying route (1) currently.

    Now that you have challenged my statement let me challenge you’re logic. If I were to go on a killing spree in the name of atheism (one could picture me saying that since we are merely products of evolution it is vital to weed out the weak and strengthen our specie), would my actions then define atheistic principles? I certainly won’t hold you responsible for every action that someone holding to your beliefs does, so why do you do the same to me. Shouldn’t Christianity, atheism, and any other religion (atheism is a religion in the sense that it is a set of beliefs) only be held accountable for what the tenets of that faith claim and not the actions of those that claim to hold those beliefs?

  • Ben

    Heather said: @Hover-I used to attach such things to big rocks and send them back, but now I need to check to see if they can simply refuse delivery and stick the postal service with the cost of transport. For those of you who wish to try this at home, include anything but metal-it messes up the sorting equipment.

    It’s been several years since I’ve worked for the USPS, but if I remember correctly, if a business refuses delivery in one of their postage-paid envelopes, they risk losing their Business Reply Mail permit.

    I just got this letter today too – perhaps I should photocopy the envelope and mail them several things…

  • http://www.atheismquotes.com Kerri

    Thanks for sharing… I saw the eyes right off on the color photo and was instantly mesmerized… I found myself grabbing my checkbook. Wow.

    Now I wish I’d opened mine when I got it, too! I’m doing a belief scrapbook (similar to the scrapbooking world’s “faith albums”) and i would have LOVED to include that on a page.

  • David D.G.

    Krista: If nothing else, I’ll bet that your response probably answered someone else’s prayers!

    ;^D

    ~David D.G.

  • http://www.theacomplia.com Acomplia

    Lovely post. Please add my email address to your list and email me the updates if possible. I always like to read your blog and comment on it.


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