The basic formula. How might you make big bucks in the religion racket? Try using the following formula on people: God is mad at you, pray this prayer, God won’t be mad at you.
It’s that simple. Selling this psychologically arresting formula (and variants on it) can make you the big bucks. Ask televangelist Paul Crouch, a man who owns, not one, but two mansions in Newport Beach, California.
Or, rather, he did. Crouch died recently, so he lost those two mansions. His reward now, if he has one, is in heaven (if heaven exists).
But that’s how Crouch got rich right here on planet Earth. It all came from the “God is mad at you, pray this prayer, God won’t be mad at you” formula.
Why the formula works (and what to do next). If I can convince you that (a) God is mad at you; and (b) I have an abracadabra prayer that will make Him not mad at you, you might very well buy it–and feel a whole lot better after buying it. And you might then show that you’re on the mend in your relationship with God by sending me a “love offering” for my work.
So, after getting the prayer prayed, ask for an offering. That will get an income stream going.
The next step: get family dynamics going. Tell the person who prayed your prayer the following: “You’re now part of a special family–the family of believers–but to stay in the family, you’ve got to maintain your walk with the Lord. If you don’t, and fall away, you’re worse than an unbeliever, and the displeasure of God will come down on you double. One way to keep this from ever happening is to attend to my words and send me more money. Supporting this ministry is part of what it means to maintain your walk with the Lord.”
Now you’ve got the Stockholm Syndrome going.
What’s the Stockholm Syndrome? That’s where a person’s source of love and threat are coming from the same place, as in hostage situations. In a hostage situation, at any moment the hostage-taker can offer you a piece of pizza or hold a gun to your head. The hostage-taker, in other words, can reward or punish you; he has got you both physically and psychologically. And in such a situation, you might start identifying with your hostage taker. (This psychological dynamic was first famously noticed in the context of a bank robbery turned hostage situation in Stockholm in the 1970s–hence the “Stockholm Syndrome.”)
You don’t have your convert physically, but you’ve got her psychologically. She (we’ll call your convert a female) is getting love from her new family (you and your followers) accompanied by the threat that, should she ever leave, she’ll be hated by God.
So that’s a form of the Stockholm Syndrome, and there’s power in it. Get that dynamic going.
Ask the convert to tithe. If you really want to be brazen, ask outright for 10% or more of the new convert’s income each month. Tell the person that God will be pleased by her show of commitment to her new family. You know the guilt routine by now (as does she).
Isolate the convert. If you want to keep your convert seriously bound to you, think of Odysseus tied to the mast in resistance to the call from the sirens singing on the shore. Teach her to ignore outsiders as Odysseus ignored the sirens. Tell her that her new family will be displeased (as will God) if she attends to the songs and satisfactions coming from those outside of her religious family. In other words, make a virtue of tying oneself to the mast of your cult. (Fanatic forms of patriotism and nationalism, by the way, work in a similar fashion–fearing, excluding, and demonizing outsiders; the Other–as “not us; not part of our family.”)
Keep the anxiety-relief cycle going. As you can see, this whole game works on fear accompanied by relief. Psychologically isolate, terrorize, and love. It really works. (Again, the worldly success of the late Paul Crouch demonstrates this.)
Send the convert out to win other converts. Now that you own this person psychologically, you can send her out with your message, bringing in still more converts. Thus will more power and money gather to you. Before long, you might even end up with a couple of mansions in Newport Beach and exercising serious political power, like Paul Crouch did.
Nobody can ever prove you wrong–so say whatever you want. The beauty of this way of making money is that you don’t ever have to provide evidence that what you’re saying is true–and that means you can be insincere or sincere in using this formula. It simply doesn’t matter. It works just the same.
An example. Keith Green is the well known Protestant singer-evangelist who died in 1982 in a plane crash at the age of 29, and the potential for making the big bucks and gathering power to yourself is nicely illustrated by his life. When he was alive, he could seriously manipulate his audiences through his music, riffing in his lyrics on the “God is mad at you, pray this prayer, God won’t be mad at you” formula. He was one of Homer’s sirens (if ever there was one). Below are two of his songs as illustration. In using Green as an example, I’m not saying that Green was in any way insincere in his religious beliefs, only that a great deal of money and power can accumulate around a person who gets the basic fear-love-release formula down in a concise, focused, and convincing way. The first song, “Altar Call,” promotes the abracadabra prayer “solution” perfectly:
The second song, “Asleep in the Light,” makes the convert feel guilty for not making herself into a constant cipher for spreading the abracadabra prayer formula.
Non-evangelical examples. Now, in the above, I’ve used two evangelicals as examples for how to make money (Paul Crouch and Keith Green), so it might seem like I’m picking on the evangelicals. I’m not. The formula, recall, is effective in all sorts of iterations. Evangelicals have no monopoly on the formula. Other religions use it, as do political parties, national leaders, and just about any salesman. Here are some obvious variations that also work:
- “Life is unsatisfying, buy this product (Mercedes Benz, a Snickers bar), life won’t be unsatisfying.”
- “Life is unsatisfying, do this (meditate in Tibet, join the army), life won’t be unsatisfying.”
The key is to hook people; to bring them into your family (the family of Mercedes Benz owners; the family of Buddhist practitioners; the family of vegetarians; the family of Tea Partiers; whatever), and then to get habits going by which rewards and punishments shadow the convert from that point forward.
Avoid claims that can be verified or falsified. Ideally, the fulfillment you promise should be incapable of being either verified or falsified empirically. This is why religious variations on the formula are so effective. Belief that you can please God; belief that you can be mystically united with Nature; belief that you can save the planet by doing “environmentally friendly” things; belief that you can become one with the Atman (in Hinduism) or that you can please aliens who might visit Earth from distant stars (as claimed by the typical UFO cult leader)–these are all incapable of scientific verification. As such, there’s no way of knowing whether or not what you’re doing with your family of fellow believers is ever really working. And if it doesn’t seem to be working, maybe it’s because there’s something wrong with the convert. The key is to always deflect blame away from yourself as the cult leader and toward the convert. Of course, there will be people who say from the outside, “You’re an emperor who has no clothes,” but what do you care? They are, after all, outsiders. You should relish in the circular reasoning and epistemic closure of your group–it demonstrates the loyalty of those who can sustain such a situation, and it keeps people trained in critical thinking and skepticism out. You don’t want them. They can really goof up your money making schemes if they’re on the inside.
No need to be sincere. Sincerity can get in the way of efficient money making because you might start doubting your ridiculous beliefs and dial back on your money-making formula. The key is to go forward, no matter what. Therefore, in your day-in-day-out activities, it’s best not to really believe what you’re saying, but to act on your program anyway (even when you are in private existential doubt about it). The best religious leaders are those who, in their private lives, don’t really believe what they say. Movements impervious to evidence are thus ready prey for confidence men, hucksters, hoaxers, and cons, and that’s what you should aspire to become (if you want to make the super big bucks in the religion racket). If you’re taking my advice seriously, you’re certainly among these. A good manipulator of people’s religious emotions relishes the lack of evidence that accompanies faith. In an epistemically closed and empirically unverifiable faith movement, it’s very tricky to tell which people are sincere in their witnessing, which ones are taking you for a ride, and which ones are simply deluded. This is exactly what you want. You can fake your religious or UFO experience, evangelize it, and so ease money from the pockets and purses of the gullible. Again, this is what makes the whole system so beautiful.
The unsatisfactory nature of existence. Why does this formula for success work so well? Because life is unsatisfying, and that makes us all vulnerable to the sirens calling from the shores around us. Few of us are tied to the mast of critical thinking, and thus capable of sustained resistance to them. (And there are so many of them.)
Your enemy: critical thinking. Most of us have no clear idea as to what critical thinking is, exactly; we’ve never explicitly learned the tools for practicing it; and we want to believe implausible things if they’ll give us comfort. Critical thinking is a downer. And hard work. It requires patience, and how many of us are patient? That means you’ve got people exactly where you want them because critical thinking is so rarely operative in us as human beings. Now go and make some money.
Postscript. In the above post, I used Ulysses tied to the mast in two distinct ways: as a metaphor for binding people to a group (not attending to outsiders) and as a metaphor for being a critical thinker (binding yourself to the mast of critical thinking in resistance to the call of charlatan sirens). Below is a Roman mosaic (3rd century BCE) of Ulysses tied to the mast, the sirens calling to him from the shore. Notice their bird legs and feet. The critical thinker watches those ugly feet and doesn’t just focus on the sirens’ pleasing and seductive voices and torsos. If you’re out to make money as one of the sirens, your role is to get your prey focused in on your methods of mystification, not on her doubts. If you’re a critical thinker, your role is to notice the whole package of what is being sold to you because the truth is always, and of necessity, the coherent whole. (Image source: Wikipedia Commons).