Scamming the faithful

Nicole Neroulias of the Religion News Service has an interesting column this morning at Christian Century. She wonders if religious believers are more susceptible to cons and scams than are those without a faith tradition. While there’s no hard data on the phenomenon and her piece is based largely on anecdote, she makes some good points while avoiding the easy smear that religious adherents are naturally gullible (and therefore, religious).

Why do religious groups make such easy targets? For one, a swindler who professes the same faith, or belongs to the same congregation, has an easy time of earning trust, however misplaced. Duped investors, meanwhile, also hesitate to suspect or report on one of their own, Schock added….

“The underlying issue, I think, is the question of mutual trust,” agreed Nancy Ammerman, a Boston University professor of religion and sociology. “These schemes rely on and exploit that trust, and people within religious communities tend to have high levels of trust for others within their community.”

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People who share the same religion — and I mean those who really believe it — share the same fundamental worldview. That’s a fast-track to trust and intimacy, as conmen have long known.

Here’s the most interesting section for InsideCatholic readers:

Anson Shupe, an Indiana University sociologist and author of several books on faith-based fraud, said his own research indicates evangelicals, Mormons and black churches are most susceptible, while Catholics are relatively protected by a dense, hierarchical network of clergy supervision.

This may be true comparatively, but I’ve seen plenty of Catholic cons, usually centered around some alleged apparition or locution. I suspect I’m not the only one…

  • Brian Saint-Paul

    Brian Saint-Paul was the editor and publisher of Crisis Magazine. He has a BA in Philosophy and an MA in Religious Studies from the Catholic University of America, in Washington. D.C. In addition to various positions in journalism and publishing, he has served as the associate director of a health research institute, a missionary, and a private school teacher. He lives with his wife in a historic Baltimore neighborhood, where he obsesses over Late Antiquity.

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