The Ease with which Religions can be Established


Click below for more information

Home Page - Index
Authorities Assessed
Old Testament
New Testament
Apostolic Traditions
Church Fathers
General Church Councils
Early Christian History
What Jesus Believed
Who Founded Christianity?
Creation of Doctrine
Origin of Ideas & Practices
The Concept of Orthodoxy
Origin of the Priesthood
Maintaining Deceptions
Suppress Facts
Selecting Sources
Fabricating Records
Retrospective Prophesy
Ambiguous Authorities
Ignore Injunctions
Invent, Amend and Discard
Manipulate Language
Case Studies
Re-branding a Sky-God
Making One God out of Many
How Mary keeps her Virginity
Fabricating the Nativity Story
Managing Inconvenient Texts
Christianity & Science
Traditional Battlegrounds
Modern Battlegrounds
Rational Explanations
Religion in General
Christianity in Particular
Divine Human Beings
Ease of Creating Religions
Arguments for and Against
Popular Arguments
Philosophical Arguments
Moral Arguments
Supernatural Arguments
  • Miracles
  • Revelation
  • Faith
  • Practical Arguments
    Record of Christianity
    Social Issues
  • Slavery
  • Racism
  • Capital Punishment
  • Penal Reform
  • Physical Abuse
  • Treatment of Women
  • Contraception
  • Abortion
  • Divorce
  • Family Values
  • Children
  • Romanies
  • The Physically Ill
  • The Mentally Ill
  • The Poor
  • Animals
  • Ecology
  • Persecution
  • Persecutions of Christians
  • Persecutions by Christians
  • Church & State
  • Symbiosis
  • Meddling in Governance
  • Interference in Politics
  • Abuse of Power
  • Church Law and Justice
  • Exemption from the Law
  • Unofficial Exemption
  • Financial Privileges
  • Control Over Education
  • Human Rights
  • Freedom of Belief
  • Religious Toleration
  • Freedom of Expression
  • Freedom of Enjoyment
  • Attitudes to Sex
  • Celibacy
  • Sex Within Marriage
  • Sex Outside Marriage
  • Incest
  • Rape
  • Homosexuality
  • Transvestism
  • Prostitution
  • Pederasty
  • Bestiality
  • Sadomasochism
  • Necrophilia
  • Consequences
  • Science & Medicine

  • Ancient Times
  • Dark and Middle Ages
  • Sixteenth Century
  • Seventeenth Century
  • Eighteenth Century
  • Nineteenth Century
  • 20th and 21st Centuries
  • Medical Records Compared
  • Violence & Warfare
  • Crusades
  • God's Wars
  • Churches' Wars
  • Christian Atrocities
  • Cultural Vandalism
  • The Classical World
  • Europe
  • The Wider Modern World
  • Possible Explanations
    Summing up
    Marketing Religion
    Marketing Christianity
    Continuing Damage
    Religious Discrimination
    Christian Discrimination
    Moral Dangers
    Abuse of Power
    A Final Summing Up
    Search site
    Bad News Blog
    Religious Quotations
    Christianity & Human Rights
    Christian Prooftexts
    Social Media



    No truly great man, from Jesus Christ down, ever founded a sect.
    Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Journal

    One might suppose that it would be difficult to found a new religion. A little study however shows that this is not so. Throughout history countless thousands of religions have flourished, and new ones spring up all the time, especially in times of change and popular dissatisfaction. Below we mention a few religions and sects, mainly related to Christianity, in which the founders have established themselves as specially appointed as God or, just as often, actually being God.

    Around the time of Jesus there were numerous frauds pretending to be divinely inspired. Amongst them were Simon Magus and his lady friend, Sophia, the Divine Wisdom incarnate, purportedly a reincarnation of Helen of Troy. Another was Simon's successor Menander*. Another was Dositheus. Celsus regarded Christ as one of many such frauds who had been around at that time. There had been many prophets wandering about in Palestine claiming to be God, or a son of God, or a divine spirit*. Such religious frauds were still around in the second century, during the lifetime of Celsus. Lucian of Samosata, the satirist, used them as stock figures of fun. Two notable ones were Peregrinus (also known as Proteus, see page 597) and Alexander of Abonuteichos, both of whom had been regarded as gods*. Alexander was the pupil of Apollonius of Tyana, another divine philosopher. Apollonius had been born in miraculous circumstances, became immortal after his disappearance from this world, and returned to Earth to convince a doubter of the reality of immortality.

    In the second century a Christian called Montanus claimed immediate inspiration of the Holy Ghost and formed a popular sect. It was especially popular with women, to whom God was known to appear dressed as a woman. Montanism was on the way to developing into a new religion when other Christians suppressed it as heretical. Mani (216-277) was a prophet who claimed to be the Holy Ghost incarnate. He founded Manichæism, a Zoroastrian religion that heavily influenced Christianity. He belonged to an offshoot of a Persian royal house. He was credited with a Virgin Birth, regarded as Saviour and Lord, had 12 disciples, and was executed by the state when his Gnostic ideas became popular. Also in the third century, one Melchisedec established a following that acclaimed him as the Messiah.

    In the seventh century Mohammed founded Islam in western Arabia, having failed to be accepted by either Jews or Christians. For the next 1,000 years many other new religions appeared, but were generally extirpated either by Christians or Muslims. Sects who predicted the imminent end of the world flourished in Europe throughout the Middle Ages, mostly without being regarded as heretical. Various dates around AD 1000 were favoured, but they were missed one after another. Another wave swept Europe after 1150. Just a few of the main dates confidently given as the end of the world up to 1400 were 1186, 1229, 1260, 1290, 1300, 1310, 1325, 1335, 1346, 1347, 1348, 1360, 1365, 1375, 1387, 1395, 1396 and 1400 itself. In parallel with this, new groups were popping up all over. Sometimes they were absorbed into the Christian Church, but more often they ended up as its enemies.

    From the eleventh century to the fifteenth the pattern was the same. A group would appear, often inspired by a charismatic leader, who would advocate apostolic views and then — for various reasons — having failed to get recognition, the group would be driven into opposition. It would adopt more and more extreme anti-hierarchical and anti-sacerdotal views and the Church would turn the full weight of its authority and might against the group until it had been harried and battered into submission or extinction or driven out to seek survival as a persecuted heretical sect*.

    We have already seen the fate of many other groups during the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance who left, or were forced out of, the Church. They too were generally founded by highly charismatic leaders. Often, miraculous supernatural powers were attributed to them. The only difference is that as a general rule the earlier ones were successfully exterminated, and the later ones have given rise to modern denominations. Often the modern denomination has changed significantly from its charismatic or even messianic early days. George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, had an assistant called James Naylor who, around 1656, started to be worshipped as Christ by a group of Ranters. He was credited with raising the dead and (as we have already seen — page 341) incurred the wrath of the authorities after he had entered the city of Bristol on a donkey. In 1662, a Flemish woman, Antoinette Bourignon, proclaimed herself to be the woman clothed with the Sun mentioned in chapter 12 of the book of Revelation. Her followers, known as Bourignonians, flourished in Scotland in the early eighteenth century. In England Joanna Southcott, born in 1750, heard voices and attracted a large following who believed her to be the Messiah. Her followers continue into the third millennium. Another Englishwoman, Mother Ann Lee, also claimed to be a female messiah. She went to America in 1774 and took over the Shakers, a millenarian sect that had seceded from the Quakers in 1747. By the 1820s there were many thousands of Shakers living in self-supporting communities from Kentucky to Maine. The Church of the New Jerusalem, or Swedenborgianism, was founded in 1783 by the followers of Emanuel Swedenborg, who had died eleven years earlier. Believers held that their Church represented a new dispensation from God that superseded Christianity, just as Christianity had previously superseded Judaism.

    In the early nineteenth century a large number of Adventists flourished. They were millenarians, many of whom believed William Miller when he predicted the end of the world in 1843, and then again in 1844 — after which his credibility must have been stretched a little too far. Nevertheless there are still Adventist groups around, the best known of which is probably the Seventh Day Adventists. Mormonism, an American form of millenarianism, was founded in 1830 by the visionary Joseph Smith following some unusual communications from God, through the Angel Moroni. Smith claimed to have been ordained by John the Baptist, who had descended from Heaven for the purpose. The Mormon Church, or Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, now boasts ov er 12 million members , even though Smith's claims have been comprehensively discredited*.

    The Christian Scientists were founded by Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), who taught that disease and illness were unreal and existed only in the mind. Medical treatment is prohibited, except dentistry (since Mrs Eddy was once caught by a newspaper reporter having dental treatment). Millions of people, mainly in the USA, still follow Mrs Eddy's teachings.

    In 1850 the Anglican priest Henry James Prince attracted many followers who believed him to be God incarnate. In the following century one George Baker convinced hundreds of thousands in the USA that he was God. Calling himself Father Divine, he established "Heavens" in Harlem, New York. He taught that true believers would not die. Baker himself died in 1965, but his followers seemed not to experience any difficulty with this unexpected event, and carried on believing in him just the same.

    In 1870 Charles Taze Russell fixed 1874 as the date for Christ's return to Earth. When Jesus failed to show up Russell became increasingly isolated from existing Churches. In 1881, he founded the Jehovah's Witnesses in Pennsylvania. They were adventist millenarians who rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. Russell foretold Christ's return to Earth in 1914, but once again Christ missed his appointment. With some embarrassment Russell's prediction was re-interpreted. The year 1975 was the next appointment advertised by the church, once again missed. Nevertheless, there are now more than 14 million Jehovah's Witnesses , waiting for the end of the world, all hoping to be chosen as one of God's 144,000 elect when it comes.

    In Southeast Asia a sect called Iglesia ni Cristo was founded in 1914 by Felix Manalo, who claimed to be God's last messenger. In the late 1920s Joseph Weissenberg attracted a sizeable following in a Berlin suburb. He was particularly good at healing young women by passing his hands over their bodies. Later he discovered that he could heal by the liberal application of cream cheese, and many attested to the efficacy of the miracles achieved through its use. Over 100,000 people believed that he was the Messiah and that he could heal the sick. When he died in 1941 his followers tried to preserve his body in cream cheese pending his imminent resurrection, but without success. It is surprisingly common for followers to accommodate the death of their divine immortal leaders without dismay. Members of the Gralsbewegung, founded in the Tyrol by another son of God, Oskar Ernst Bernhardt, continued to believe in him after his death in 1941. So did the followers of another incarnation of God, a Dutch fisherman called Lourens van Voorthuizen. In 1950 he had declared himself to be God and therefore unable to sin, become ill or die. He attracted a large number of believers, many of whom continued to believe in him after his death in 1968. In Provence, George Roux discovered himself to be Christ and attracted thousands of followers. Some are still to be found in Belgium, Germany and Switzerland. When the Rev. William Branham, a faith healer from Jeffersonville, Indiana, died in 1965, his body remained unburied for four months because his followers expected him to rise from the dead at Easter. They were disappointed.

    God's messengers also flourish in Africa. Alice Auma, brought up a Roman Catholic, founded the Holy Spirit Movement in Uganda in the mid-1980s, adopting the surname Lakwena, which means messiah in the Acholi language. She started a war against the Ugandan government in 1986, supported by thousands of unarmed adherents. They believed that they were protected from bullets as long as they covered their bodies with sheanut oil, and that if they threw stones at their enemies they would explode like grenades. These beliefs turned out to be mistaken, yet new converts were attracted as fast as existing ones were killed. Beliefs like these are not uncommon in East and Central Africa. Many wars have been fought by armies whose leaders have told them with divinely inspired certainty that enemy bullets would turn into water by magic. Black Christ figures have long been popular in Africa too. Some of the best known are Enoch Mgijima around 1920 in South Africa; Edward Lekganyane around 1950 in the Transvaal; Shembe the messiah of the Zulus; and Simon Kibangu in the Congo around 1960. The Never Never Die Church was founded in Liberia in 1970 by Richard Sleboe. Sleboe had made a pact with God allowing his followers to engage in free sexual relations and to enjoy eternal life. He died in 1986, but his Church still exists. The Lord's Resistance Army came to prominence in 1996 in Uganda. Its members believe its leader Joseph Coney to be the Messiah and to be in direct communication with God. New members have their noses, ears and lips cut off, in compliance with some unspecified Old Testament passage. Amongst the requirements of the sect are that all white animals should be killed, and that the Sabbath should be properly enforced (for example by crushing the legs of Sunday cyclists). Among the many thousands of African Churches a large number boast leaders whose status varies from the merely charismatic to the fully divine. Amongst them are the African Castor-oil Dead Church, the Catholic Church of South Africa King George Win the War, and the Christ Apostolic Holy Spout Church. They are not untypical either in their names or their doctrines. The World Christian Handbook mentions some 6,000 separate Christian movements in Africa alone, many of them messianic.

    The Reverend Jim Jones was another incarnation of Jesus. He proved it by performing numerous miracle cures and attracted 20,000 followers. In 1978, he and over 900 of his followers killed themselves in Jonestown, Guyana, planning to meet again in Heaven. Almost 300 of the 900 were children, poisoned by cyanide in fruit drinks given to them by their devout parents. In 1993 another messiah, the 33-year-old illegitimate son of a carpenter, David Koresh, died along with his Branch Dravidian followers. These Dravidians had ceded from a Seventh Day Adventist sect, and settled at Waco, Texas. Koresh who regarded himself as a "sinful Christ" had taken over leadership in 1986 and fortified the sect's headquarters. A total of 81 followers died with him in a fire there following a 50-day siege by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The following year, 53 members of the Order of the Solar Temple died in a mass suicide in Switzerland.

    There seems to be no limit to human credulity around the world. In the USA a man called Jimmy Swaggart claimed a worldwide following of 200 million. He ministered to the Assemblies of God, the largest Pentecostalist organisation in the US, until a sex scandal set back his ministry. Jim Bakker, another television evangelist, experienced similar problems. In 1987 Oral Roberts, a Pentecostal and Methodist minister, claimed that God had told him that he would "call himhome" unless he raised $8 million. We shall never know if God would have fulfilled his promise, for enough people believed Mr Roberts to contribute the required money.

    Canada has had its share of divinely inspired prophets too. The visionary Guy Ballard moved his The Great I Am sect from Chicago to Alberta in 1937, where God continued to reveal truths about vegetarianism and reincarnation. A prophetic political party, the Social Credit Party, founded by William Aberhart, claimed to be a panacea for the economic ills of the 1930s. Both Aberhart and his protégé, E. C. Manning, later became premiers of Alberta. Everywhere sects are created to serve local needs for messiahs. By the end of the nineteenth century there were over 20 messianic movements among the indigenous peoples of North America. Such cults are not peculiar to North America and Europe. In 1992 some 20,000 South Koreans were disappointed to find that the world did not end on 28 th October 1992, as promised by Lee Jang Lim. Many had given up their jobs, abandoned their families, and given their possessions to Lee's Dami Church in Seoul. Lee himself was arrested for fraud and found to have invested large amounts in bonds that were not due to mature for another three years. Sun Myung Moon, the founder of the Unification Church, was more successful. Despite his conviction for tax fraud in 1982, many of his 2,500,000 Moonie followers believe him to be Christ returned to Earth. Cults have also appeared in eastern Europe since the collapse of communism. For example in the Ukraine Maria Devi Khristos (born Maria Tsvigun) has attracted thousands of followers who believe her to be God, although she was mistaken about the end of the world, having predicted it for 24 th November 1993.

    Our brief review has demonstrated three significant points. First, there seems to be no limit to human credulity. Large numbers of people are prepared to believe what most others would regard as arrant nonsense. This is best illustrated by the number of sects that have continued after the death of their "immortal" leader or after the scheduled end of the world. It almost seems that the more improbable a proposition is, the more likely people are to believe it. Hitler, who unquestionably knew a thing or two about manipulating the masses, observed that: "The broad mass of a nation ... will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one"*. The appalling truth is that he seems to have been right.

    Second, throughout history people have fallen over themselves to attribute immortality and godhead to ordinary mortals, and this has made it easy for well-meaning eccentrics, as well as unscrupulous, megalomaniac and deranged people to establish new religions.

    Third, the facts provide an answer to those who have found it surprising that the Christian religion ever took root. Some have found it inexplicable that the religion should have taken root without divine assistance. But messiah figures were popular before the time of Jesus, some of them with large followings. The small sample of new religions that we have reviewed in this section shows that starting up a new religion has never been difficult. The significance is that surprise about the success of Christianity, or any other religion, becomes difficult to sustain. Surprise evaporates in the light of messiah figures successfully founding their own religions year after year, century after century, for well over 2,000 years.


    Buy the Book from



    Buy the Book from
    Beyond Belief: Two Thousand (2000) Years of Bad Faith in the Christian Church
    More Books






    §. Eusebius, The History of the Church, 3:26.

    §. Origen, Contra Celsum, 8:9.

    §. For details of the exploits of Peregrinus (or Proteus) and Alexander of Abonuteichos see (ed. John Hick) The Myth of God Incarnate, pp 88-93.

    §. Richards, Sex, Dissidence and Damnation: Minority Groups in the Middle Ages, p 44.

    §. For a comprehensive discrediting of Joseph Smith see Basil et al (eds.), On the Barricades, pp 137-156.

    §. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Chapter 10.


    •     ©    •     Further Resources     •    Link to Us    •         •    Contact     •