Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Sceptical about... Qualifications

I am a fully ordained Minister of Religion. I can conduct weddings, funerals, christenings and baptisms. I can bless relationships, business opening and house-warmings. I haven’t actually done of these yet but who knows, maybe one day someone will ask me.

I can also absolve people of their sins which I can tell you comes in very useful, particularly when they’re my own.

You may be wondering what Church I belong to. This is where things become interesting. I don’t belong to any church at all. With the exception of weddings and funerals (not conducted by me unfortunately) I haven’t been to a Church service in about 30 years and I’m 41 years old.

So how am I a Minister of religion? Easy! Go to an Internet café, log onto the Internet at your workplace or dial up from home and visit the Universal Life Church at Five minutes later and for absolutely no money you are an ordained Minister of religion.

You think this is a joke? That it’s somehow not “real”? That it’s not legally recognised? You’d be wrong. I am fully legally entitled to conduct weddings, for instance, in almost all of the United States although I confess I’m not sure if I’m allowed to here in Botswana. Furthermore any weddings I conduct where they are permitted are recognised everywhere else in the world.

To tell the truth I ordained myself more as a joke than anything else. I honestly didn’t think it was legally recognised until after I’d done it and it came as a bit of a surprise.

I’m still not sure what to think about it. Sometimes I just think it’s funny that I, of all people, am a Minister of religion. Other times I think it says a lot about how religion operates in the USA, some of it ludicrous but most of it wholly admirable. The separation of state and religion, like we effectively have here in Botswana, is surely a wonderful thing and it separates us from theocracies like Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UK!

One thing it does prove though is just how easy it is to become “qualified” and how easy it would be to exploit these qualifications for selfish and perhaps corrupt reasons.

There are probably several other so-called Churches out there that will ordain people for the fun of it, I just found one of them. However, the thing that I think is most dangerous is not the ordinations you can get but the academic qualifications that are available.

A very quick search of the internet will find you a huge number of what they call “non-accredited” universities. These are institutions that award degrees that no legitimate academic institutions recognise. For instance if you applied to study for a Masters degree at UB and told them that you already had a BA from the “University of Cape Cod” they’d laugh at you and show you the door. Well, that’s assuming they checked of course.

Before you get too excited, the degrees these places award aren’t free. These are largely money-making schemes that probably appeal to people who want to get a job, a pay-rise or a promotion without actually going through the hard work of really studying for a real qualification. Another visit to the Internet and a quick search enabled me to find over 500 of these dubious places that will award a degree for various amounts of cash and for various trivial amounts of work from you.

Some of them are quite funny though. Calamus International University, which is based in the British West Indies, offers distance learning degrees in such subjects as “Regression and Reincarnation Studies” which allows you to help people remember being abducted by aliens and “Depth Psychology” which is based on a bunch of pseudoscientific nonsense that was thrown out by the rest of Psychology 30 years ago.

So what does it cost to get a degree from Calamus International University? According to their website, a BA will cost you around P16,000 and a Masters or a PhD will be around P30,000.

A good investment? Well, perhaps if you are prepared to lie in every job application or course you apply for. On the other hand if you are prepared to be honest and tell the world you weren’t energetic or clever enough to get a recognised degree then perhaps that’s OK.

If I take off my ordained hat and replace it with my sceptical one, what are my thoughts? As someone who once considered an academic career I’m appalled by how close having a non-accredited degree is to cheating. As a manager if I found that one of my employees had portrayed himself as being really qualified by having one of these meaningless “qualifications” I’d fire him on the spot.

As Mr Sceptic I think it’s slightly pathetic, rather silly and laughable but I also think it poses a serious threat. The lesson is to be sceptical about what you’re told when people say they’re qualified. See their certificates and then check that they’re from somewhere trustworthy!

My blessings to you all!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

My sources and inspirations

Much of the information I use in these postings is gleaned from a variety of excellent sources. Much credit must therefore go the authors of these web sites, including:
However, any errors made on this site are entirely my fault!