The holy hotline
There's an old saying that a fool and his money are soon parted. Now, I'm not claiming that those who avail themselves of a new telephone service are fools, but they'll definitely be parting with some of their money. A group of businessmen has created what it calls the Bless Me Network, which it describes in a press release as a "service that allows people of the Christian faith to call a toll-free number and speak with members of the clergy. Just one catch. Once you call the toll-free number, if you want to actually talk with a priest or a preacher, you'll have to ante up $1.99 for the first minute and 99 cents for each additional minute. John Adams, the chief operating officer of the outfit, says the Bless Me Network provides "affordable faith-based counseling with a level of convenience and confidentiality that has never existed before.” The network says it will give more than 50 percent of its earnings to clergy, church, charity and humanitarian aid over the next five years. Anyone want to bet that it'll be 50.1 percent? And do they pocket all of the money after five years? I don't know. But here's the interesting part: the network expects those charitable donations to exceed $200 million dollars over the five-year period. So that suggests to me that their take will also be pretty close to $200 million. Not a bad little business venture. I suppose that if you're having some crisis of faith or other spiritual emergency at 4 a.m., this might be helpful. But if your problem is such that you need to call a man or woman of the cloth in the wee hours, it's probably pretty darned serious, and it might take quite a while to work it out. If we're talking a half hour, that's $30.70 on your next phone bill. Maybe it's just me, but it seems like there's a risk that some really troubled people who aren't the sharpest tools in the shed might get taken advantage of. And there are plenty of people who can talk with folks about these kinds of spiritual and personal problems. They're the ministers and priests who live right here in our own communities. I'm not a religious person, but I know several pastors in our area who would be very helpful to talk with if I needed their input, and they wouldn't send me a bill. And I'm sure there are many more very caring, effective members of the clergy with whom I am not personally acquainted. I do want to thank the Bless Me Network for indirectly leading me to a business idea. While doing a little research before posting this item, I ran across a Wikipedia entry on religion in the United States. It cited a study that found the number of people in this country claiming no religious identification (atheists, agnostics, humanists, deists, etc.) rose from an estimated 14.3 million in 1990 to 34.2 million in 2008, which translates to a jump from 8 percent of the population in 1990 to 15 percent in 2008. So, coming soon to a phone near you: "Talk to a Heathen." I'm telling you, it's catching on.