A few years ago in Wisconsin I tried to rescue an elderly woman who was infected with one of those silly religious memes that can spread like a virus. This meme, propagated by a lucrative cult, is based on the bizarre idea that ordinary mortals can somehow use “the force” or something to communicate across great distances with nothing but ordinary paper and ink if they carry out certain rituals such as folding the paper, putting it in a cult-approved envelope, affixing a mystical adhesive icon purchased from the cult’s many official outlets, and placing the envelope in a magic box controlled by the cult. True believers think that their message will somehow travel into the hands of the designated recipient even if they are in a state far, far away. It’s a lot like the old notion of personal prayer to a distant listening God.
I’ve heard that the cult running this scam has some kind of bizarre sci-fi name, something like the Universalist Pre-millennial Post-alien Supremacy teleportation service, or USPS for short, but this Post-alien “service” is often just called the Post-al service. You may have seen this “service” operating in your neighborhood without even recognizing that it was a cult.
Every week or so, that poor woman in my neighborhood would write her expressions of love or whatever to her grown-up son, and then fold it carefully and put in an envelope. She would then attach the adhesive USPS icon. These icons often had images of beloved dead people on them, or even alien (post-alien?) figures like Yoda. Maybe they are supposed to appeal to patron saints of some kind to move the message along its magic way. She would put her son’s alleged location on the letter–someplace in California–and place it faithfully in an official USPS “mailbox” in front of her home. The USPS cult apparently has dozens of USPS jeeps and trucks that drive around collecting these envelopes, creating a sense that “something” is going to happen to the letters of their adherents (only if they had spent enough on adhesive icons, of course!).
Part of what make this sick meme so effective is the other end of the USPS business model. The USPS agent that comes around doesn’t just take envelopes away. He or she dumps new envelopes in the box. This fuels a ridiculous thought: “Wow, a miracle–I’ve received something back!” Of course, upon inspection, nearly all these “blessings” are actually requests for money or advertisements for products to buy. What a scam!
I couldn’t stand it any longer and tried to deprogram her from this destructive, wasteful meme.
“Mrs. Jenkins, excuse me for asking, but have you ever received a letter back from your son in California?”
“Well, not exactly.” Her eyes teared up. Maybe I was reaching her!
“How do you think your letter will get to California?”
“Through the air–it goes by airmail”
“So it’s just going to fly magically by itself all the way to California? You really believe that?”
“It doesn’t fly by itself–it goes on an airplane, of course.”
This was my chance to use a little logic. I asked her to think about the price of her magical USPS icon–about 41 cents at the time, a price that keeps expanding far faster than the rate of inflation (like I said, this cult is all about money–what a scam!). Now I asked her to compare that to the price of an airplane ticket. Even if that postal agent got the cheapest ticket possible to California, and even if he or she carried a whole bag filled with other petitions from believers with loved ones in California, there is no way that they could afford to buy plane tickets for every batch and still stay in business.
“Mrs. Jenkins, logic proves that this just can’t work. Your son doesn’t write back. They aren’t flying your letters to California. It makes no sense. You’ve been deceived by a cult that is just a big business taking your money and exploiting your hopes.”
I thought I had her, but she wasn’t yet ready to be honest and admit that I was right. She resisted by offering anecdotal evidence of a friend or two who claimed they had gotten letters back from their children. Scattered, unreliable, second-hand stories. I asked her to come with me to the local library, where I would ask the librarian a question for which I already knew the answer: “Are you aware of any peer-reviewed, scientific studies that show that letters to children sent via the USPS cult actually reach them and cause communication to happen?” She thought it over and then said that wouldn’t be necessary. I could see I was winning as she started to cry again. I gave her an awkward hug and said, “It’s OK, Mrs. Jenkins. Welcome to the 21st century!”
Sadly, the next week I saw her sneak over to her mailbox and deposit another letter. And she even sorted through the pile of junk mail waiting for her to see if something might be there from her son.
So terribly sad. What an awful, powerful meme. How can anyone be so deluded as to believe such silliness and go through all those ridiculous rituals so devoid of logic and so lacking in reliable scientific evidence? What a sinister group that Post-al “service” is.
Pray for Mrs. Jenkins–of course, I only mean that figuratively.
Comment: This brief post was intended to illustrate how seemingly iron-clad arguments came sometimes fail because of flawed assumptions built into the logic. Many times I think the arguments used to “decimate” the Book of Mormon or the existence of God are that way.