Sunday, July 12, 2009

An Example of the Harm Belief Can Cause

The Alanar Case

Vaughn Reeves, a former pastor in Sullivan County, Indiana, along with his sons, Chip, Chris, and Joshua Reeves have court dates set in a Ponzi scheme that scammed millions of dollars away from unsuspecting Christians. According to the Indiana Secretary of State, Todd Rokita, and the Sullivan County Prosecutor, Robert E. Hunley II, the Reeves were charged with 10 counts of Securities fraud each. For each count of fraud, they face up to 8 years in prison.

The Reeves have been doing this for quite some time. My wife had even heard of Alanar, the umbrella company the Reeves used to cover their illegal endeavors. They sold bonds to churches, promising church construction and expansion projects which never happened. In total, the Reeves were able to sell over $120 million in fake bonds, and stole more than $6 million. In a story covered by my local paper, the Tribune Star, a couple reported they had given the Reeves more than $300,000. They described as everything they had; it was their lives’ savings.

I was talking about the story at work. One of my co-workers remarked that she didn’t understand why anyone would give $300,000 to a complete stranger, no matter how good the sales pitch was. I explained how the Reeves were able to pull this off.

According to the documents available at and, the Reeves made sure a complete stranger was not the person selling the bonds. Vaughn Reeves was a former pastor in Sullivan County. He had friends and connections within the churches nearby. He didn’t go to each church and sell his fake bonds; he went to the pastor and duped him. They would tell the pastor to sell more bonds to his congregation, and to set a good example, he should buy the most bonds. So the pastor would go out to his congregation thinking he had found a new way to fund his church and keep the lights on. The congregation would follow the pastor, often to the tune of several thousands of dollars.

The Reeves didn’t just dupe the pastor; they trained him on how to dupe his congregation. Sales calls would begin with a prayer. Bible quotes would be dropped in the middle of a call. They would tell people, “Never sell the facts. Sell warm stewardship and the Lord.” They integrated religion with the sales pitch.

My co-worker was right; no one would give a complete stranger thousands of dollars. But they might give that kind of money to the pastor they had known and trusted for years. A simple sales pitch could never convince anyone to do this. But religion defies logic and reason so much, that it can spill over to how we view our finances and our futures. You can view a list of deposits made by the Reeves. Almost all of them come from churches. Many are for huge amounts.

I hear believers say atheism is responsible for the greatest atrocities in history. Most atheists reply that none of these atrocities happened because people were being too skeptical or too rational. Believers ask what harm can come from belief. An unscrupulous person can easily take advantage of your belief. While I cannot understand why an all-powerful deity would value faith over all other virtues, it is easy for me to see why power-hungry men would.

The Alanar scam would never have worked on an atheist. Indeed the prosecutor states that the Reeves expertly played upon the religious beliefs of their victims. If you are wondering what harm can come to you by believing in religion, the Alanar scam is a perfect example. Belief in the supernatural predisposes you to being scammed. Especially by clergy.

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