Atheist Will Pass Along Christians’ Messages When They Get “Raptured”… Is He Ethical? May 17, 2009

Atheist Will Pass Along Christians’ Messages When They Get “Raptured”… Is He Ethical?

I posted this on Reddit and it’s getting decent discussion there, so I’ll post it here as well.

Joshua Witter is an atheist in Orlando who is offering to deliver messages for Christians who believe they will soon be Raptured. For about $5 a pop, Josh promises to pass along the Christians’ letters to relatives and friends.

Witter started his website — — as a joke, a satiric jab at those who see things like the swine flu, economic collapse and the election of a liberal president as sure signs the end is near.

But then he started receiving orders for his merchandise. Since 2005, Witter said he has sold more than 200 items, most of them T-shirts and coffee mugs, and many of those (he admits) to friends and fellow atheists.

Among the best sellers are the line of I-Told-You-So cards, which sell for $8. Some of those who ordered the cards — Witter suspects they are not true Christians — are willing to pay extra to have them sent early as Christmas cards.

So for most of us, it’s a joke. But for a handful of Christians, it’s serious business.

My questions:

Is Witter being unethical by taking advantage of the delusional (and gullible)?

Is he being opportunistic and making some money via the Left Behind crowd?

Is he just having harmless fun? The cards are under $10, after all. It’s not like he’s getting rich off of this, and it’s not like anybody is losing their life savings.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • P

    If Witter is unethical for making money off the Left Behind crowd, then is everything marketed toward Christians unethical because it is taking advantage of delusional people? Capitalism is all about ripping the other person off…and we are in a capitalist society.

  • openedUp

    Why should Christian marketers be the only ones making money off of Jesus’s peons?

  • not unethical in the slightest.

    just like selling toast with the image of Jesus on it on eBay.

  • It’s a joke, I feel bad for anyone who takes it seriously but that’s no reason to not make a joke.

  • Rob

    The only way that I’d see this as being unethical is if (and this is a big if) the rapture did happen and he didn’t send the cards. Simple as that.

    I actually have a similar idea… but it would take a great deal more money to set up.

  • Stephen P

    I can see the argument that, if he is accepting money for a service that he knows he will never have to deliver, it could be ethically dubious. However I don’t think that applies. Normally in the case of dubious goods & services, the point at issue is that the person offering the service is the only one who really knows exactly what the content of the good/service is, and thus has an advantage over the purchaser. In this case the seller has no information about the rapture beyond that which is available to the purchaser – he just makes more sensible use of the information available.

    An analogy would be taking bets on a sporting event or on the weather (e.g. a white Christmas). The bookmaker and the punter both assess the likelihood of the event, but the bookmaker is, on average, better at it.

    It would only be unethical if belief in the rapture were to be pronounced a mental illness.

  • HJ

    That’s spot on Stephen P – believers are the first to say that they have their eyes open – so without the acceptance that they’re deluding themselves, there is no victim here.

  • Richard Wade

    Is Witter being unethical by taking advantage of the delusional (and gullible)?

    Whether or not he is ethical will depend on his fulfilling his agreement if and when the conditions for the agreement come to pass, that being that his customers are “raptured.” His opinion about whether his customers are deluded is beside the point, since they are hiring him precisely because he thinks they are deluded, being an atheist. That way they feel confident that he will not be also “raputred” and so will be able to deliver their messages.

    Is he being opportunistic and making some money via the Left Behind crowd?

    Probably, but that is not an ethical issue here. He has made a promise to do a service in the future for a fee now and if he takes care of the messages so that he will be able to provide that service within his lifetime, then he will be able to ethically keep his promise.

    Is he just having harmless fun? The cards are under $10, after all. It’s not like he’s getting rich off of this, and it’s not like anybody is losing their life savings.

    The small amount of money makes me more comfortable with it, since it is kind of like selling “rapture insurance.” I would feel uncomfortable with it if it was for an amount of money that puts them into hardship, regardless of the ethical standing. Selling someone insurance that is not going to pay the benefits at all even if the conditions were met would be unethical. Selling someone insurance that you openly say you think is not necessary but they do think is necessary is ethical as long as it does pay the benefit if and when the conditions are met.

    The main thing is that they were already convinced that they would need this service. He did not come to them to hard sell and manipulate them, convincing them that they would need it. He only offered it. He, by his saying he is an atheist, clearly indicated that he doesn’t think it is necessary. They think differently.

    It would be understandable if his customers wanted to receive periodic reports indicating that he has still not been “saved,” and so he can reasonably assure them that he will not be “raptured.”

  • stephanie

    Eh, I’m with Rob and Richard. Witter states up front he’s an atheist. Anyone with enough mental acuity to get online should also be able to extrapolate he does not believe there will be a rapture.
    Should all logic fail and there actually is a rapture, Witter’s on the hook for this mildly profitable joke. Otherwise, I hope he makes good beer money from it.

  • Actually, I think since he’s providing peace of mind to people gullible enough to believe in this crap, I think what he’s doing is not only ethical, but is also in some sense moral. Anyone silly enough to believe in the rapture is probably not going to be convinced of their delusion any time soon, so at least this way their minds can be more at ease.

  • If this guy was really unethical, just in it for the money, he’d be charging a lot more for this. He’d certainly find people gullible enough to pay a lot more. The $5 or $8 cost makes it the whole thing a trivial impulse purchase, and I doubt that everyone who goes for it is a true Rapture believer, either.

  • Prowler67

    I believe he is more ethical than the churces that take poor peoples money. He is being upfront that he believes that he will never have to keep his end of the deal.

    With it starting out as a joke, can you really blame him, its not like his intent is to con people, just to humor. Is The Onion unethical if someone believes one of their stories?

  • phlebas

    OMG that’s hilarious.

    Ethics doesn’t enter into the question, unless you think Landover Baptist is unethical for selling its swag too.

  • I wish I’d thought of that.

  • Soulless

    I want to know how I can begin to rake in monthly premiums by selling “Rapture Insurance” to Christians. I know a fool and their money are soon parted so I want to get in on that action.

  • anna

    no worse than the magic detox kinoki foot pads.

  • dfledermaus

    I wonder if Josh puts the “forever stamps” on the letters he’s promised to mail for the Christians who get raptured? The US Post Office guarantees these stamps will cover the first class rate in perpetuity.

  • Henry

    Is Witter being unethical by taking advantage of the delusional (and gullible)?

    No more or less ethical than the televangelists taking money from the delusional and gullible.

  • Alice

    No, Witter is not being unethical by taking advantage of the delusional.

    My husband and I have joked about starting a similar service. The christian market is a big one, and if they are dumb enough to buy my useless crap I’d be happy to take their money. To me it’s similar to PT Barnum putting up a sign saying To The Egress then charging people to get back in to see his show.

  • Aaryk

    The question for me is not one of ethics, but instead one of how helpful this is for the atheist cause. Christians already think we’re just denying God rather than legitimately not believing. If we’re doing things like this, it just reinforces that idea in their heads.

    At the same time, part of me does echo hoverFrog when he says, “I wish I’d thought of that.”

  • Justin jm

    If he’s being honest about his beliefs, then I see no conflict of ethics. Since no discernible harm is being caused, the message delivery service cannot be unethical.

  • medussa

    Oh, I SO wish I had thougth of this. And I can’t say that I would charge so little, either.
    If people want to spend their money on their delusions, and I am not intimidating them, or threatening them, or lying to them, and they still want to give me their money, well, I’ll take it.
    And I think this is one hell of a lot more ethical than televangelists, who scare the bejeesus out of people to get them to send in their money.

  • Luther

    I want to know how I can begin to rake in monthly premiums by selling “Rapture Insurance” to Christians. I know a fool and their money are soon parted so I want to get in on that action.

    This would be either unprofitable or illegal. Since insurance is regulated, you would have to demonstrate some relation between the premiums and the actual risk. Since the risk is 0, you could not charge much.

  • The problem for all of us in thinking about whether this is ethical is two fold:
    1) Few of us have thought through our meta-ethical positions.
    2) All of us want it to be ethical ! (smile)

  • Wendy

    I say it’s fair game. Look at everything the evangelists have stolen from this world over the last couple thousand years, and how many gullible people they’ve duped, and how many billions of dollars they’ve made off of it… I say $8 is a small price to pay.

  • He’s being unethical, which is the reason I could never sell that sort of garbage even though I know I could make a killing on it. But he’s no more unethical than any of the others who sell it. Granted some of them actually believe it, but I think a great many of them are merely preying on the ignorant/delusional.

  • Thilina

    Its about as ethical as running an insurance agency (its the same thing really).

    If i was him I’d charge a lot more for the christian specific services delivered after the rapture, and donate the extra profits to a good cause.

  • DicePlayGod

    I’ve often thought that a good way to raise money for an atheist organization would be to bet (willing) Christians that the rapture would not occur in their lifetimes. If it doesn’t, their will would leave, say, $100 to the organization. If it does, then the organization would … well, there’s really nothing comparable it could do, right? I mean, if the rapture occurs, the game’s up. $100 will be completely useless.

    But promising to give money to the Christian’s friends or family after the rapture, that’s a new tack I hadn’t thought of. Maybe some would be willing to fall for that …

    You can probably tell I have no ethical problem with Witter’s scheme.

  • Chakolate

    It would be unethical if he didn’t send the letters/cards/whatever.

    However, just because it’s ethical doesn’t mean it’s not in poor taste. I don’t mind riffing on people who believe silly things, but separating them from their money puts him at exactly the same level as Benny Hinn and the others. Is that really the company he wants to keep? If it is, his is not the company I want to keep. You know?

  • Richard Wade

    I agree with you that it is in poor taste, and thank you for saying it so clearly. While it’s not technically unethical, I would never do it or recommend that anyone else do it, because it’s in poor taste and I think it is mean-spirited, if you will excuse the expression.

  • Cypress Green

    Most atheists I know say they’d be believers if there was any evidence. This guy seems pretty sincere, and I assume he’d mail the letters if the Rapture ever came. It would be too big to not believe. But it won’t.

  • If sooner rather than later he emails all his “customers” and said “ha ha, the Rapture is fake and you should have been more skeptical than to give me $10”, it’s alright. Otherwise he’s reinforcing woo. Sooner has already come and gone, and now it’s later; how long has this been going on now (two years?) Here’s a discussion about a similar site:

  • anonymouse

    Not unethical. If these people are willing to pay for a service, and there’s no trickery or scamming…who is harmed in this situation?

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