There’s an old joke that under capitalism man exploits man, while under communism it’s the other way around. Like all the best jokes there’s a lot of truth in there, and, like a lot of truths about the human condition, I think it applies to religion too.

If you don’t get how man exploits man through religion I don’t think you’ve been paying attention. One of the things that gets pointed out about Las Vegas over and over again is that those magnificent hotels didn’t get built by gambling being an even money proposition. The small house edge, multiplied by millions and millions of bets, eventually adds up to some pretty impressive numbers. Well, putting a few spare dollars into the church plate when it gets passed around helps to pay for a lot of family counseling and soup kitchen meals, but it also helps build things like the rather spectacular Crystal Cathedral out here in California.

I’m not saying there’s anything inherently wrong with this, it’s just something that God and I were talking about. God tells me that the thing to take away from this isn’t that either casinos or churches are good or bad, but that you should approach both with a sense of caution. Most of the people that gamble, that “game” to use the industry’s term, know that they’re destined to lose in the long run. Some of them take the time to find out how to lose as slow as they can. They study basic strategy in blackjack, they look for the slot machines that are “certified loose” and they check the payout schedules on video poker machines. And some of them choose to play on less than optimal machines or tables because they like the atmosphere or the theme of one casino more than another.

And that’s okay.

So when you decide to support a church and to give them some of your hard earned money, take a look at what they do. If they’ve got big fancy buildings and flashy clothes, just remember that all of that came at the expense of a few more meals for the downtrodden. Now sometimes the grandeur they present is because they know that you’d rather do your praying someplace nice and they figure the extra money that that brings in will more than make up for the extra money that the spectacle cost them; but sometimes all that spectacle is their real goal and helping out the poor is just the front they put up. It’s up to you to decide who to support.

Me? I like to give my money to the local food bank. I find they’re pretty clear about what to do with it.

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