Would you like to become very rich? There are plenty of possible ways. You could develop and sell a successful social network on the internet. High school dropout, David Karp, recently sold his social networking site, Tumblr, to Yahoo! for more than $1 billion. You could play the market and, with reasonable luck make, or possibly lose, a fortune. You could become a banker. But surely the easiest way is to start your own religion.
But would it be successful? You could beat the odds by carefully following the formula which makes for religious success.
The starting point needs to be a revelation. After all if you haven’t got your own privileged piece of Good News you have nothing to sell. Imagine Christianity or Islam or even the Mormons without a revelation. And with the right story you really don’t need very much hard evidence. We take Scripture, and the story of Jesus, largely on faith just as the Muslims must take the Koran. The Mormon religion started with the revelation of the Angel Moroni to Joseph Smith. It was written on the golden plates which unfortunately were not available for later examination.
Of course you would need witnesses – and Joseph Smith had his – but then so does Christianity: St Paul was able to cite 500 brethren who witnessed the risen Christ. Are all these true witnesses? For your new religion it really doesn’t matter because your, sufficiently devoted, adherents will soon find that they are remembering things which somehow support their new belief. If you want to make that doubly certain, get a member of the Magic Circle on your pay roll: even the simplest of manifestations will impress those who want to believe.
What should your revelation contain? It may be best to think of it as connected with Christianity – but going well beyond any existing denomination. Probably it will offer reform of the manifest failings of contemporary Christianity. It must present a plausible and high ideal to follow. And it has to have its own radical and unique elements because your followers must be aware of how special they are in belonging to the group. It will also need pretty strong rules and disciplines because likely converts will have fearful personalities – and they need the security of demanding regime.
You might consider an “exclusivity” element so that your followers will only mix with other followers – that keeps people on a tight rein with a real sense of their own identity, and no chance of outsiders dissuading them.
Ritual will matter very much – and particularly shared rituals such chanting or dancing. In many ways the odder the better. Think of the bonding effect of the goose step: who would do something so absurd if it didn’t bring you together? Don’t forget the mind-numbing element of repetitive prayer – you might supply a device of beads on a string to help people keep track.
Naturally among those strong rules high financial contributions will figure. The higher they are within reason (“scoring” is a good idea – that’s twice tithing) the more willingly will they be given. And, once given, the closer the bonds. If you’ve invested that much, it must have been worthwhile.
Of course you will be the great I AM. You must be a mysterious figure, occasionally seen gliding around in your Rolls Royce. Your quietly publicised wealth will not be a sign of fraud but it will be evidence of the favour the Almighty shows you. You will have soaked yourself thoroughly in the King James Bible so that its vocabulary and rhythms come naturally to you when you address your followers. Even Martin Luther King did that. The word infallibility is not mentioned in case it should remind some of another religion, but it is absolutely clear that you are the mouthpiece of the Almighty. That way you can be humble and omnipotent at the same time. It’s a good trick. You will of course have your “elders” to help you run the operation. Being the elect they will be excused the most trying disciplines, and they will have considerable authority, but it will always be in their interests to support you rather than stage a coup. You and your elders will have ceremonial costumes to impress on special occasions. However yours will be a little grander than the others: it’s only fitting.
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You might think this to be a very wicked idea. You will have founded a religion out of your own imagination, and you will have fooled a large number of people to enter a phoney and demanding lifestyle for which you require them to pay large sums of money. That’s terrible!
But is it? The people who join will be those who are looking for a community which will accept them – and a community which will make them safe by taking any decision-making out of their hands. They answered your call because their inadequate personalities badly needed an ideal to follow, and an absolute authority to which they can subscribe. You have given them what they need and they will undoubtedly be happier. If 918 followers of Jim Jones – who invented “Apostolic Socialism – could be persuaded to take cyanide on his say so, your benign regime by comparison is a merciful way of helping people’s deep needs. All the evidence shows that active member of a religion benefit – in health, longevity, conscious content, and in a wide range of other ways.
And it really does not matter which religion. The programme I have laid out requires revelation, high ideals, close group bonding, strict rules, powerful shared ritual, major self-sacrifice, unquestionable authority, and a sense that one is very special compared to the rest of the human race. In fact if you look at Catholic Christianity you will find all the necessary elements well-bedded in there. Is that why it has been so successful over the ages? And is it possible that it is the weakening of many of these characteristics in recent times which is the real reason for the haemorrhaging of its current membership in developed countries? Think on it.