I got a Facebook message from The Daily Mail the other day.
I cropped out the bottom half of my reply because my mother sometimes reads these blog posts and it gets a little sweary. (If you’re wondering why I would be so rude to The Daily Mail and would like a little background; The Daily Mail is a terrible paper run by awful people that ruin lives.)
So what is he talking about?
Over the past few years, “fake Buddhist monks” have been popping up around Australia giving away small tokens and books and then asking for donations. People hand over the cash because of the reciprocity principle. If I do something for you, you are more likely to do something for me. For example, I give away pithy blog posts and insightful podcasts. This makes you more likely to book me to speak at your school or business.
But why dress as monks?
Multiple studies have shown that religious people are seen as more trustworthy than non-religious people. Atheists often find themselves at the bottom of lists of most trustworthy people (right behind Daily Mail reporters). It is rare to find a politician willing to admit they are a non-believer.
This doesn’t mean religious people are more trustworthy, just that they seem more trustworthy. In fact, there is no evidence to suggest that followers of any faith are more moral or trustworthy than anyone else. But the fact remains, chuck on a brown robe and shave your head and people will assume that you can be trusted.
What we are talking about is risk vs reward. I give money to charity to feel good. The surer I am the money is going to a good cause, the happier I feel. When a monk gets my cash, I feel good because I am more certain the money is going to make the world a better place.
A homeless person on the other hand, who may need the money more, is seen as a greater risk thanks to countless scare campaigns in The Daily Mail painting them as drug addicts, thieves and frauds.
So why don’t the police arrest these bogus monks?
Because they are not breaking the law.
A spokeswoman for NSW Police told Fairfax Media it was “not a police matter”. This is because begging is not illegal. In fact, neither is impersonating a monk. After all, who decides who is and is not a monk?
What is the legal definition?
If I impersonate a doctor or lawyer there are clear legal definitions and governing bodies to shut me down.
But when it comes to religion, it becomes a little greyer. Anyone can set up a church or a religion if they want. Those damn untrustworthy atheists created their religion worshipping the flying spaghetti monster to prove that very point.
As L Ron Hubbard, the father of made up religion Scientology said: “If a man really wanted to make a million dollars, the best way to do it would be starting his own religion.”
Actually, he probably didn’t say that, but I reckon The Daily Mail would have quoted him anyway.
Nicholas J. Johnson