Most folks when they see this title will either think I'm talking about the health-and-wealth type preachers or perhaps the individual who prays with you on one hand and has his other hand on your wallet. And while those examples certainly fit into what I'm talking about, I want to focus on the true meaning of religion: self-deception. And if you think you're not self-deceived, brother, then I have a bridge for you!
In David Maurer's book "The Big Con", he wrote that con men used to attract suckers with newspaper ads like this:
BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY: For an honest, reliable business man with $20,000 to invest for a large return. References exchanged.
Now, most people are literal-minded and would think this would be the worst possible ad you could place for a con, fearing an inundation of honest, reliable people who would have no interest in anything even slightly shady. And while you may get a few of those, most likely you will get a huge number of juicy, fat pigeons all ready to prove to you how honest they are. Maurer continues:
...like most everyone else, the mark thinks of himself as an "honest man". He may be hardly aware, or even totally unaware, of this [self-deceptive] trait which leads to his financial ruin. "My boy," said old John Henry Strosnider sagely, "look carefully at an honest man when he tells the tale himself of his honesty. He makes the best kind of mark..."
Many minds are unable to comprehend this phenomenon, finding it absurd on its face, but mostly it's the idea that anyone can see through their self-deception that rankles them the most. Those who banish unpleasant thoughts from their minds are forever doomed as marks - which is why some marks are conned two or three times in a row until all their cash is gone. It's all about facing facts - facts are your friends! The greatest human need is for love. Once you face that it becomes obvious why there would then be a corollary need to also feel good about oneself - to feel worthy of love, your greatest need.
I always look for a person's rationale of worthiness in life, to find his weak point. I remember reading Lucky Luciano's autobiography, wondering how in the heck he was going to find a rationale for his dastardly deeds and it was a classic: "We're just doing what anybody would do if they had the nerve." That's his self-deception, that's his religion, that's where he leaves the front door open for a con man to come waltzing in. "Yes, sir, I truly want to be just like you!" Some marks make it easy to identifiy their religion by calling themselves an "ist", e.g. capitalist, anarchist, baptist, atheist, humanist, realist - terms of self-congratulations viloate the Rule of Silence: Those who know, don't say; those who say, don't know.
Everyone also likes to present an incontrovertible fact or story - at least to their own mind - of proof their religion is true. Perhaps Lucky would cite some corrupt politician as proof that even the most upstanding of people are really just like he is. Maurer writes in his book that those who answered the "honest businessman" ad always told a tale like this: "Mr. [Con Man], to show you how honest I am, I found a pocketbook with $230 in it on the street the other day. I spent three dollars advertising to try to find the owner." That's when the con man shakes his hand congratulating him on his honesty and says he's just the man they're looking for (and he ain't kidding!).
As Maurer so beautifully puts is: And once a man admits complete and unshakable faith in his own integrity, he is in an excellent frame of mind to be approached by con men. So overwhelming is the need for love, so helpless are we, that once the mind turns dogmatic, it becomes outside the range of human will to alter one's self-view. This is a key fact the mark cannot admit! A true mark believes his human will can overcome anything - especially the truth.
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Now I'm sure you're thinking you'll never be met by a con man but the truth is your surrounded by them! Politicians, desperately horny guys, mortgage brokers - the list is endless of people looking to exploit any weakness in you they can find. The only protection against this is self-honesty. So tell me who the honest man is: the one who tells you there is larceny in his heart or the one who tells you he has none?