As Moses knelt down before the Burning Bush to receive the Ten Commandments, the people were kneeling down before the golden calf to receive their cut. Money and religion have always been a paradox, a test, and a trial to those who struggle to live a spiritual life in this material world. To bring this spiritual life into existence, how much material is necessary? If one says, “one only needs the word” then as the message is spread, the word needs to be accessible to everyone. As a result, books are printed for the people and
Buildings erected to house the people as they read the books. From these small beginnings, huge corporation-like entities, with tax breaks, loopholes, tremendous budgets, with salaries to match burst forth into a red-tape snake pit to rival any government. Religion in the late 20th century has become a bigger business than ever. It is not only fleecing the choir but the unsuspecting unbeliever as well.
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The famous Biblical account of Jesus over-turning the tables of the money-changers in the temple shows that money and religion have been strange, but necessary bedfellows for millennia. What started out, in Abraham’s day, as an animal sacrifice to please God –by the Middle Ages had turned into buying away into heaven. The clergy of the Church were sanctioned to sell indulgences– which were payments to the Church to ensure a short wait in
Purgatory. In the 20th century, pleasing God takes many forms and most of those forms are currency. Religion is a very big business, and saving souls cost a lot of money.
There are many ways that the religious money machine gets funds. There is the tithe–a percentage of a person’s given to the church or religious organization for its up-keep. This is usually 10 percent. Then there is the sale of items from the innocent bake sale to raise money for the Church to the huge play/ park hotel complex of the Jim and Tammy Bakker of the late eighties. Waving the poor in the face of the rich has always been a good method to get money for corporate religion–but it is usually the poor who open up their wallet and give.
Another popular method is the doctrine of “prosperity” taught by many of the more fundamentalist groups. There are stories in many religious traditions that say, “the more you give–the more you will receive.” Many believers take this doctrine to heart and upon the urging of the television preacher, will send in their last 10 dollars and report later that by some miracle money came from somewhere to handle their problems. This method of fundraising is shown daily on The 700 Club, which goes to great expense to film these “I gave and I received more” vignettes.
“The preachers and the new candidates had started by ridiculing all allegedly rational knowledge, all currents of thought that had dared to place mankind in the center of their focus, thereby forgetting that Adam’s son is but a malleable figure, a simple wisp of straw in the hands of the Almighty!”(Djaout). This quote is an example of how some Religious leaders view people as “malleable” and less important than the ideals of the religion. This is where corruption steps in.
People become objects to sell to and manipulate, rather than a community of mutual spirituality. “One soon comes to the first difficulty: everyone else has exactly the same wishes as I have and will treat me with no more consideration than I treat him. And so in reality, only one person could be made unrestrictedly happy by such a removal of the restrictions of civilization, and he would be a tyrant, a dictator, who has seized all the means to power”(Freud). This Freudian quote shows the internal conflict one might go through in a religious setting. The people are left helpless, while the leaders take all the money and power.
In Jesus’ day, he did his healing of the sick of spirit and of the body for free. Today, however, it will cost you. One of the most popular yet questionable television ministries is that of Benny Hinn. Currently, Benny Hinn is building a World Media Center and production studio, the building of which cost the faithful $2.5 Million dollars. Hinn is also asking his patrons to fund the building’s renovation, which will cost another $2 million. And people are sending money because of the “miracles of healing” that they see on his show “This Is Your Day.”
There is the third party healing that he does when he asks viewers to touch their television to pick up his healing vibe. He will then name some common ailment that he sees as “being healed” and invariably some viewers will call in to say their stiff neck was healed when Benny mentioned it and then take out their chequebook.
“There are, however, other types of utterance which are neither true nor false because they fulfill a different function from that of endeavouring to describe facts”(Hick) John H. Hick wrote this about the ambiguity of Religious language. Like the media, Religion dances around definite facts and focuses more on capturing the audience with vague yet interesting stories. “Christianity is basically a historical religion”(Smith), unfortunately, no one can be completely accurate when talking about the past, and this gives room for stories and half-truths. In this way, Religion has become more like a business than a spiritual community.
Religion growing into huge corporations is not limited to Christianity, of course, and neither are the questionable practices. The Nation of Islam prepares for new headquarters: The new facility will have rooms for classes and speakers and has the lofty goal of getting the message out “that becoming more industrious is one of the ways out of this quagmire that many of us find ourselves in… “You can’t get past prayer and hard work.” The Nation of Islam believes. The Mosque is the center of the Muslim’s life. Everything that the Muslim engages in — community life, national roles, governmental life – flows from the mosque. Some of what The Nation of Islam engages inflows from the federal government.
The organized religious body received a grant from the government for its Aids Clinic. The question being raised, should they be turned down for another grant because of The Nation’s very racist attitudes? The first grant was $211,000 for Abundant Life Clinic to treat AIDS victims. The second grant is applying for AIDS education directed at the black community. Both programs would be under the direction of Dr. Abdul Alim Muhammad, who repeatedly asserts, “AIDS is a white conspiracy designed to decimate the black population” (Cohen).
The ethical issues of separation of Church and State as well as racism and free speech make this situation all the more complicated and hotly debated. One columnist for the St Louis Dispatch observed, “The government has no business endorsing any group that is emblematic of racial or religious hatred. To do so carries the unmistakable implication that racism is both a historic entitlement and no threat to anyone” (Cohen).
While, for the most part, the fundraising practices of the Christian Church and the Nation of Islam are before all eyes–including the IRS, there are other groups who seek and find loopholes and use cloaks to hide the fact that they are a religious organization. One such group is The Church of Scientology, Mary Jo Farrell learned about her husband’s involvement with Sterling Management whose secret agenda is to steer “clients” into its parent organization, the large and well-known Church of Scientology.
Sterling’s modus operandi is to offer consulting services to professional people with little business education–say, dentists, podiatrists, chiropractors, and veterinarians. Before he left the training, Farrell had spent $20,000 and promised to spend another $34,000 on courses (D’Antonio).
Another religious organization, which has gone from cult to corporation, is The Unification Church of Reverend Moon. The cult formerly known for its mind control tactics has turned 180 degrees and sought legitimacy through association and business ventures, which is all a part of a billion-dollar industry. “The movement controls interests that manufacture cars in southern China, own fishing fleets around the world, operate casinos in South America, and is making inroads in the former Soviet Union, including sponsoring Russian students to study in America”.
In the U. S. Moon gets movers and shakers to speak at their family conferences like former presidents, Bush and Ford, drug czar William Bennet and Geraldine Ferraro, each who have spoken for an estimated 100,000 dollars. Moon also funds the publication of the Washington Times, which gives them an edge in the corporate media world.
Religion in a way has become a business venture. The leaders of U. S. Moon and The Church of Scientology have used Religion to become wealthy entrepreneurs. When you have control of someone’s actions and thoughts you have control of their pocket. The ideas about ways of living have helped many people live their lives with purpose, but when these ideas are abused people are misled. Religion is a powerful tool, so powerful that people are blowing their life savings on corrupt organizations.
Freud, Sigmund, “The Future of an Illusion”, 1961, pp
Hick, John, “Philosophy of Religion”, 1990, pp 89
Smith, Huston, “The World’s Religions”, 1991, pp 317
Cohen, Richard, “DON’T FUND RACIST AIDS HEALTH CLINICS”., St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 08-01-1993
D’Antonio, Michael, “The new “hidden” cults want you. (includes related
information on identifying a cult)”., Vol. 184, Redbook, 04-01-1995, pp
Hetter, Katia, “Jesus saves, you invest”, Vol. 124, U.S. News & World Report, 04-27-1998, pp 70.
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