Wednesday, March 6, 2019

7.2 Fast Money Schemes and Pentecostal Christianity in Papua New Guinea

The authors of this week's article note from the outset that: "[Their] research into Melanesian 'fast money shcemes' (Ponzi of pyramid scams) explores questions of social and economic change in relation to Christianity." Discuss the findings and examples of this research as pertains to changes in forms in Christianity in Papua New Guinea.


  1. Evangelical Christians generally regard gambling as "wasteful entertainment" and and "irresponsible vice." However, they view financial investment to be mutually beneficial to both the individual and society. The Christians of Papua New Guinea make distinctions between investment and gambling as
    "a form of circulation therefore, [gambling] is the direct antithesis of investment. With the emphasis on continual movement it systematically denies the possibility of the long term accumulation of capital which is understood to be the foundation of bisnis." Fast money (Ponzi and pyramid) schemes are where the two overlap in the minds of the PNG Christians. The known Ponzi scheme U-Vistract gained trust through governments and churches, prompting many pious investors to trust owner Noah Musingku and his scheme. Churches and church leaders saw U-Vistract as a divine blessing, and investors often started meetings with a prayer or worship service before investing. Adding to its credibility, ordinary investors were required to present a letter of recommendation from a church to testify their character. Once they began facing legal troubles, they emphasized their stipulations that only Born-Again Christians would receive their money and "sinful" behaviors that investors must refrain from in order to receive payouts. They lead their followers to believe that their continued investments contributed to the greater good of society, turning their attention away from the risks they were taking with their money.
    The Christians of PNG also live by the "Prosperity Gospel" which basically dictates that how rich or poor you are depending on your actions compared to the will of God. This means that pious, devout Christians living a holy life would be blessed with riches and material wealth. If you're poor, you're doing something wrong and it's your own fault for not following God's plan for you to be rich. As far as investing in schemes such as U-Vistract, it was God's will that decided whether you made or lost money.
    On the other hand, there are other Christians who point out the hypocrisy of fast money schemes, likening them to gambling, with both involving a substantial risk being taken for a higher reward and being associated with greed, laziness, and immorality. In the article, many Christians that didn't invest in U-Vistract look down on their peers for their hypocrisy, even going as far as to say their losses were their own fault and that they "deserved their punishments" for their irresponsible use of their money.

  2. This article is interesting because the events that occur with the Christians in New Guinea are extremely similar to the actions and behaviors that we've seen occur with other Ponzi Schemes. I think reading this article really shows how much importance there is with social relations and the influence they have especially on the rise of ponzi schemes. When looking at the U-Vistract scheme, the scheme gained it's credibility esentially through social relations and pressure. U-Vistract gained trust by governments and the church, large foundations that many people look towards guidance for and seeing that these institutions gave their trust towards this scheme, so did more people. Additionally, there was social pressure to become involved in the investing. Since so many people were investing and putting their trust into this operation, believing that they were investing for the good of the community, those who didn't invest were often looked down upon. Examining social constructs behind these schemes are important for understanding why and how these schemes come about, especially when Christians in New Guinea look down on gambling, yet became involved in a scheme where they risked their money since they believed they were doing good by doing so.

  3. A large part of the Ponzi schemes and Christianity in Papua New Guinea was the introduction of "the Prosperity Gospel", where wealth is granted to the people with good faith. This stemmed from the Pentecostal The people within the scheme used Christianity and wove it into the scheme itself, such as holding prayer meetings as forms were filled out. PNG lived by the idea that instead of being demonized for being wealthy or trying to be wealthy, that it was a form of God's blessings and they should pursue it. Ponzi schemes in PNG played on this idea and convinced people that they were simply cashing in on God's grace and goods. However, on the other side of this Christianity tends to frown upon gambling, which some people believe participating in the schemes and investments is. "Christians shouldn’t invest in get rich quick schemes. The fact is that a lot of these schemes are built on deception of some sort. Someone of Christian values should be able to sense that and see something’s not right and be cautious." (298) Some people believed that the investing was a part of God's plan and the greater good, while others believed that this was a product of laziness and people who were true not Christians.

  4. The idiosyncrasies of Christians in Papua New Guinea make for an interesting look at mysticism in the church structure. The Prosperity Gospel is common across the globe, with followers in the US. It is incredibly appealing, because it combines faith and the idea of a "savior" with a physical, monetary reward outside of salvation. It promotes the idea that financial gain comes from being a good believer, and that their wealth and assets, or financial opportunities, are gifts from God. Using this already founded system, it was easy to combine the Ponzi scheme into the established rituals, such as prayer meetings with paperwork and statements. By infiltrating a tight knit community like a congregation, the scheme could pull in more pressure from social ties; as it were, the people who didn't invest in the scheme were looked down on because they were not accepting the gifts they'd earned from God's grace. For the scheme itself, U - Vistract could keep going with their scheme by placing their blame on a higher power. When the investors didn't get their returns, the company said it was because God was in control, and they would just need to wait for his will. By forcing the issue of faith, the scheme could keep running without question.

  5. The emergence of Christianity within Papua New Guinea seem to project their on encultured beliefs on to that of traditional beliefs and practices of the Church. Part of this homogeneous blending of Papua New Guinea’s culture with that of Christian religion, is the main reason the Ponzi schemes were as effective as they were. In the way that the schemes used the idea of a social collective and that of the social capital that can be gained from the Christian faith; to assert influence over people into investing wealth.
    One example is how the schemes used the idea of God blessings for those who found great wealth in their lives, as a way of encouraging people to participate in risky financial practices such as, gambling. Gambling from the Church’s perspective was frowned upon however, within Papua New Guinua it was seen as a common practice of wealth distribution, keeping the money in circulation; in turn supporting the collective society.
    The scheme of U-Vistract used the “Prosperity Gospel” in unison with governmental support to push this idea of financial speculation in order to keep people feeling obligated to participate. This deception by the Ponzi schemes mirror that of others we have reviewed in class. Given the right environmental conditions, any culture or people could conceivably be deceived in similar situations. The “fast money schemes” in Papua New Guinea don’t seem to differ so much from other Ponzi schemes elsewhere.
    Using the Christian faith as a tool to deceive for financial gain doesn’t seem that rare, given the history of the Church and their many deceptive practices throughout the historical record. Faith has always been a vessel that can be easily hijacked for nefarious purposes. Corruption and greed seem to always rise to the surface in the face of those who follow any belief system blindly and without question.


  6. Prosperity Gospel, a form of Christianity that promises material wealth and good health to believers
    Fast money schemes like U-Vistract cultivated a personal scale where 'possessive individuals' were assessed on the basis of their 'proprietorship of the self' Fast money schemes have their intimacy and can be seen as driven by moral concerns about social inequality. They provide unique vantage points from which to observe local networks of relationships, "but they also promise connections to larger scales of networks and ideas" (pg. 290 cox) Ideals of financial investment and global markets and the 'Prosperity Gospel,' which is a form of Christianity that promises good health and material wealth to investors to believers. Meetings of the U-vistract scheme often began with prayer or interdenominational worship services. U-vistract reemphasized its Christian credentials; it tried to pay investors into a question of their moral standing, by turning the obvious consumption "of some high-profile early investors into a lesson about the moral hazards of money" (pg. 292) U-Vistract used moral admonitions as the standard for cultivating Christian consumption. This prepared investors by imagining theirselves 'spending their forthcoming money on tithes to church life' for reminders of the scheme’s moral purpose in providing a lot of money, not for selfish consumption, but for the nations development.


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