Rules Are for Schmucks: I Hate Being Right

Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo by Entheta via Wikimedia Commons

In February, I wrote about a lawsuit in England against the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, aka the Mormons, alleging violation of a 2006 British statute making it illegal to make false representations for profit. The plaintiff listed numerous representations of official Mormon doctrine that are patently false, e.g., that the earth was created only 6,000 years ago, and pointed out that the Mormons were making billions in profit. It certainly seemed like a slam-dunk violation of a simply-worded law. When the court ordered Thomas Monson, the Mormon equivalent of the pope, to appear in person to explain himself, the prospects for neutral God expert treatment under the laws in at least one country appeared bright.

Nevertheless, I fearlessly predicted that “The likely result here is that the Mormons’ high-priced lawyers will find a way to wiggle out of this, [and] that Mr. Monson will not have to fly over from Utah to explain himself.” I formed this opinion not on the basis of any extensive legal due diligence, but simply on the grounds that it was all too good to be true.

As occasionally happens, I was right. The BBC reported that a higher court had thrown out the lawsuit and absolved Mr. Monson from the need to appear. “I am satisfied that the process of the court is being manipulated to provide a high-profile forum to attack the religious beliefs of others,” said the judge.

“To convict, a jury would need to be sure that the religious teachings of the Mormon Church are untrue or misleading.” he added. “No judge in a secular court in England and Wales would allow that issue to be put to a jury.” This was in accord with a 1949 case where a court ruled that “No temporal court of law can determine the truth of any religious belief … and it ought not to attempt to do so.”

Why not?

Why can’t a court evaluate the geological evidence that the earth is quite a bit more than 6,000 years old, and conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that it is? The overwhelming majority of trained scientists who have studied the evidence have done exactly that. The only reason a court couldn’t do the same thing is because it would step on some politically powerful toes. Scientists don’t care about that; politically appointed judges do. So religious fraud, according to the courts of England, is perfectly OK; only secular fraud is punishable by law.

In lovely irony, only a few days after the court ruled, the world was confronted with yet another religious hoax. They’ve found the Holy Grail! The very cup that Jesus himself supposedly drank from at the Last Supper, holding wine that some Christian denominations believe was magically turned into his blood. (Did you ever consider the possibility that when Jesus supposedly said “This is my blood” he actually meant that he felt like he had wine flowing through his arteries? I’ve felt like that sometimes.) Thousands of Crusaders turned Palestine upside down 900 years ago looking for the Holy Grail, but now we’re told it was actually in Spain all the time. Why the king of Castile to whom this object was entrusted never thought to mention it to anyone is a bit of a mystery.

What isn’t a mystery is that the gullible and the curious are now flocking to the San Isidoro basilica where it is kept to take look, many of them leaving with less cash in their pockets than they started out with. So many, in fact, that the director of the basilica museum has to figure out a different place to display it to accommodate the crowds.

Piling on the irony, the saint for whom this basilica is named (Isidore of Seville) is associated with what may be the greatest fraud of any kind in recorded history. What are now called the “Isidorian Decretals” were a group of fake documents “discovered” in the ninth century that were falsely claimed to have been collected by Isidore, a renowned scholar of the of the sixth century. Among other things, these documents included the “Donation of Constantine,” a forgery used to justify papal control over central Italy for centuries thereafter.

If I get caught trying to make money from a fake Monet painting, or a fake letter signed by George Washington, I will be in big trouble. But if these guys display a fake Holy Grail, that’s perfectly ok, because “No temporal court of law can determine the truth of any religious belief.”

I don’t need to commit fraud to make money though. Now that I’ve proven to myself what a great prognosticator I am, I’m heading to the racetrack.

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