The Instigator
Con (against)
18 Points
The Contender
Pro (for)
7 Points

Exploiting people's superstitions for profit should be made a criminal offence

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/8/2009 Category: Society
Updated: 8 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 4,617 times Debate No: 8558
Debate Rounds (2)
Comments (8)
Votes (4)




I once sat on a plane behind a timid old lady who was clearly a very nervous flier. She was sat in row 13 and I was sat in row 14 and she turned round to me and said that she believed 13 was an unlucky number and that she owed it to her grandchildren to arrive safely and that she would be be very much obliged if I would swap seats with her.

I explained to her that if we swapped seats so that the bad luck was transferred from her to me and the gods decided to punish me for sitting in row 13 by making the plane plummet out of the sky in a huge ball of flames and crash nose first into the ground at five hundred miles an hour, creating a massive crater in the earth in the process, and my charred corpse was consequently smashed into a million tiny pieces and each of those tiny pieces was smashed into another million tiny pieces so that no trace of me would ever be found, her seat would follow mine very shortly afterwards. Nevertheless, I didn't want to cause the poor old dear any unnecessary anxiety so I agreed to swap seats with her.

Okay, I hear you say, you very kindly put some old crackpot's mind at rest by swapping seats with her, so what? If a deluded old coffin-dodger wants to believe in ridiculous superstitions, let her, where's the harm in that?

No harm at all, if it ended there, but it doesn't.

All around the world, unscrupulous individuals are all too happy to cash in on weak-minded, gullible or otherwise vulnerable people.

They include fortune-tellers, feng shui practitioners, soothsayers, witchdoctors, astrologists, exorcists, Shaman priests, spiritual healers and holistic medicine sellers. They all prey on people with more money than sense - the type of people that would rather believe the words of convincing con-merchants than those of the scientific community.

These ruthless, heartless swindlers are raking in countless millions every year by exploiting frothing nutjobs' irrational superstitions. They must be outlawed because the people who hand their cash over to them clearly need protecting from themselves.

Thank you.


Banning "fortune-tellers, feng shui practitioners, soothsayers, witchdoctors, astrologists, exorcists, Shaman priests, spiritual healers and holistic medicine sellers..." would be a bad idea.

These people are all full it. I won't argue with that... The mere existence of so many forms pretty much cancels each other out. All religions should be added to the list as well. If the Christians are right, then how could a Native American spirit-worshipper be right? Is one just dead-wrong? This is all nonsense. Some people just aren't committed to rigorous examination of reality and settle for a good story instead.

With that aside, we obviously cannot actually ban these activities.

Contention 1: Banning these practices would be impossible to achieve, and would only make them stronger. That is, ALL one of these people would need is for their practice to be forcibly banned. Some people would understand, but a lot of them would only get a more... supernatural... feeling about the subject, like the government was trying to hide something from them. It would be more of a government endorsement then anything else. While the main stores would go out of business, inevitably, a black market could be created and it would be nearly impossible to regulate. You see, the devil is in the details. What EXACTLY are we regulating? If people got together without an official store-front, what items would we look for to "make a bust"? Are we banning candles, symbols, chants... What would a trial look like for one of these people? What evidence would be brought against them? The fact that they received money could be shown, but they would probably catch on quickly and create a suitable cover - like giving customers a cheap item that they would have essentially bought from them for the money they paid - like a small work of art. A trial for one of these people would make the Salem Witch Trials look like the OJ Simpson Trial - It would be so ridiculous that all we could possibly achieve is embarrassment and strengthen the cause in dispute. You can't regulate stupidity, my friend.

Contention 2: Separation from religion. I am not religious, but I am also aware that I can't force religion to be nonexistent. There is nothing in the thesis that prevents religion from being dismantled. Religion is just organized superstition, after all. Churches are strong across the nation, and many millions of people, probably more than half of our US population, consider themselves Christian in some capacity. A priest at a church collecting "offerings" is in absolutely no logical form different than a sleazy soothsayer making it up as she goes along to get whatever money she can out of her customer. The logical implications to religion would harm one of the most basic civil liberties we have: freedom of religion. Even a stout Atheist cannot say that the religious should not even have the right to consider religion. I agree that religion has many indirect negative effects in our country (just listen to an episode of Sean Hannity), but these cannot be forced out at the end of a gun. They have to be reasoned out.

Contention 3: What if we ban the "right" religion/superstition? What if one of these superstitions is actually the right one? Maybe it was astrology! Christianity, Buddhism, Islam... they were all wrong. But the Astrologers were right after all! This is ridiculous, mind you, but it does present a logical flaw. There is no logical support for superstition, but there is also a lack of proof that superstition is non-existent. If someone wants to take a chance with Tom Cruise and Scientology, then they have that right. But before we go arresting Tom Cruise, we should stop and make sure we aren't being worse than he is by our actions to prevent him.

Contention 4: The strong will continue to prey on the weak no matter what laws are passed. There are no "perfect laws", as far as I have ever seen. The only way to perfection is a society without laws, and that only works if everyone is playing fairly. No matter what laws you pass, these people will find a way to take advantage of them.
Debate Round No. 1


Many thanks to Rob 1 Billion (any relation to Bernie Madoff?) for accepting this debate and please accept my apologies for pressing Con instead of Pro. It would appear that we both broadly share the same view of peddlers of paranormal products but differ on the best way to tackle the problem.

My opponent has made a number of contentions which I would like to address as follows:

Contentions 1 & 4

My opponent rightly points out how supernatural con-merchants would seek to circumvent any regulations and continue to rip-off willfully misguided customers. Indeed, I have no doubt that many of these swindling tricksters would adopt his suggested ploys or even seek to rebrand themselves as follows:

Before / After

Fortune teller / fortune guesser
Feng shui practitioner / furniture rearranger
holistic medicine seller / placebo merchant
Witchdoctor / ethnic dancer
Shaman priest / voodoo stick-waver
Astrologist / storyteller

Never mind this though, what they will be doing will still be illegal, no matter how they dress up their nefarious activities. There is a precedent here. A drug dealer may sell a customer a wrap of cocaine for $100 and both the pusher and the punter will be happy with the arrangement, even though the customer knows that the drugs will do him harm. That's why the law steps in to protect him from himself.

Of course, drug dealing continues to be widespread despite being illegal but that is no reason to decriminalise it so that we can go down the street and pop into a Megabucks Colombian Crack House for half an ounce of Charlie and a cappuccino, or walk into a branch of Smacko Bell's for a line of coke and, er...a glass of Coke.

Contention 2

Once again, I agree that there is a fine line between superstitious beliefs and religious beliefs - a very fine line indeed. And, true, who is to say that a belief in Christianity is any more legitimate than a belief in astrology or voodoo magic? The reality is that certain religions are recognised by the state so that, in the United States for example, a Christian preacher doesn't pay income tax on sales of bibles whereas a Shaman priest flogging voodoo dolls or a gypsy peddling lucky heather does. I know it's not right, but certain religions occupy constitutionally privileged positions in many countries and there's not much that can be done about that.

Contention 3

We, as a society, must make a collective judgement on which, if any, religion or superstitious belief is rational and beneficial. The most qualified people to do this are scientists as they concentrate on evidence, facts and the balance of probability to arrive at a conclusion. Religious people cannot be trusted to make an impartial decision - a devout Jew, for example, is unlikely, after considering all the evidence, to reach the conclusion that Pastafarianism is the one true faith and that we should all pay homage to the Flying Spaghetti Monster! Of course, scientists will never be able to prove absolutely that the pattern of tea leaves left in the bottom of a cup cannot be used as a reliable predictor of future events but the burden of proof should be that superstitions are, beyond reasonable doubt, irrational and without merit, and making a profit from them should be outlawed.

In conclusion, it is a government's prime responsibility to protect its citizens, from enemies from abroad and also enemies within, whether they be drug dealers or grasping spirit world mediums who prey on berevead relatives hoping to make a profit out of their grief.

Thank you.


Rob1Billion forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2
8 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 8 records.
Posted by Rob1Billion 8 years ago
Posted by Common_Sense_Please 8 years ago
Ok fair enough, scientology goes over the line. When it starts to get dangerous that is where some laws are needed.
Posted by JustCallMeTarzan 8 years ago
Scientology = criminal offense.
Posted by Common_Sense_Please 8 years ago
If people buy into that stuff it's a shame but you cannot tell people what they can and cannot believe in. They get comfort from it and if they decide to spend their money on it then that's their choice. I believe that it is morally wrong what those sort of people do, but if people are silly enough to buy into it then it's their problem.
Posted by s0m31john 8 years ago
First we stop people from "wasting" their money on snake oil salesmen because the bureaucracy thinks it's a waste of money, then they come for the buyers of loli doujins because the bureaucracy thinks they're a waste. No sir, I can't have that. Obviously the people buying the superstitious stuff get some value out of it, or else they would not buy it. You may not get any value from buying the same loli doujins as I do, but that doesn't mean I don't.
Posted by Kleptin 8 years ago
Placebo effect. 'nuff said.
Posted by Rob1Billion 8 years ago
haha that is an interesting point, I didn't even notice that. I guess we will just have to continue as if we were switched... He must have picked the wrong side on accident. I'm sure voting is going to be affected negatively, but oh well.
Posted by Alex 8 years ago
why are you con if you think it should be outlawed?
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