Ah, October. Harbinger of winter. Characterized by turning leaves, little ghouls and goblins running around hopped up on bite size Snicker bars, the return of my famous chili to the weekly menu, and…the “money bags” email.*
For those of you who have somehow managed to miss “money bags,” here’s a quick overview.
This year (insert month here) has 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays. This happens once every 823 years. This is called money bags. So forward this to 5 friends and money will arrive within 4 days. Based on Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui. Those who read and do not forward will be without money.
This once in a lifetime opportunity – replete, as they so often are, with a heinous curse casually applied to everyone in your address book – first made its appearance in August 2010…then in October 2010…and January 2011…and September 2011…
Honestly, “money bags” is the email equivalent of believing Harold Camping when he tells you that the Rapture is coming on May 21, 1988. Oh wait, I mean September 7, 1994. Uh, make that May 21…er, October 21, 2011…**
Aside from being mathematically impossible, “money bags” says a lot about our meager faith in how the universe works and our willingness to fling good taste and common sense to the four winds when we think Lady Luck is in the room. I’ve gotten the “money bags” email from devout Christians, some of whom are also spectacularly intelligent. My question is: why are people genuinely capable of thinking their way out of a paper bag and, not incidentally, have commended their very souls to the care of the Almighty forwarding this hocus pocus around with such earnest optimism?
I think three things are going on here. First, people have a real interest in the rare and remarkable. This is why we watch TV shows about how shrunken heads are made and why Robert Ripley died a very, very rich man. Ours is a jaded age, but something deep in us still longs to be amazed. 823 years is a helluva long time, which gives “money bags” a serious “WOW!” factor.
Second, we want to spread the hope around. Responsible stewards of God’s blessings would be unforgivably selfish not to practice a little Christian charity by passing along this potentially lucrative opportunity to those they love. And unlike insider trading, no one’s going to prison for forwarding “money bags.”***
Unfortunately, “money bags” entails a curse.**** Which brings me to my next question: what kind of bizarro superstitious mixed message is this? You love me enough to want to pass along the opportunity, but you didn’t bother to DELETE THE CURSE before you sent the email??? Or, is this “selective belief” that people of faith are so famous for. For example, (most) Christians have given up believing that animal sacrifices and stoning adulterers are the path to God’s favor. The same thinking goes into believing the financially redemptive message of “money bags” and cheerfully ignoring the curse.
But I think the main reason we latch on to things like “money bags” is that our lives often feel entirely out of control – because we’re busy, because we’re overwhelmed, and because, despite all protestations to the contrary, we ARE subject to the random winds of fate. “Money bags” represents a tiny measure of control, a poker chip in the ultimate game of chance – life. God’s promises to watch over us just seem so…abstract…when compared with a sure thing like “money bags.” What rational person wouldn’t take the time to hedge her bets?
I like to think of Sarai as the mother of this kind of strategic thinking. She seems to have considered Hagar a bit of a “money bags” (see Genesis, chapter 16). Rachel and Leah had the same idea about Zilpah and Bilhah (see Genesis, chapter 30). And God made good use of their initiative. Mistreated Hagar became the mother of a mighty nation in her own right and, without Zilpah and Bilhah, there would only have been eight tribes of Israel. And that would have goofed up everything.
So, this October as I curl up with my famous chili***** in the glow of the jack-o-lanterns and purple twinkle lights, I will enjoy taking things as they come and not betting on email superstitions that promise to make me rich. At least until December. It’s got 31 days, too. Just when you thought it was safe to open your inbox…
* Please, I’m begging you, make note of this website and use it often: www.snopes.com. Your karma will improve and everyone in your address book will love you if you check Snopes before forwarding anything, including your mom’s invitation to Easter brunch.
** Funny. I bet that Mr. Camping gets bulging money bags from the faithful in anticipation of each Rapture. I wonder if he builds in a money back guarantee?
*** Although I’m beginning to think they should be.
**** Don’t they all? I’m particularly scared by the ones that say I’m going to be unpopular for all of middle school. I could never figure out why the other kids didn’t like me and now I suspect a retroactive jinx from a future email.
***** Alright, fine. It’s not that famous. It’s not famous at all. Nobody ever votes for it at the company chili cook offs and my husband buries it under three cups of crushed crackers before he’ll eat it.
© Marian the Seminarian, 2011