All national institutions of
churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear
to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify
and enslave mankind, and monopolise power and profit.
Thomas Paine (1737-1809), The Age
of Reason, Pt I
TYPICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF A MAN MADE RELIGION
In this section we look at the factors that might affect the
appeal of religion. For the sake of a concrete example,we will
imagine a new religion designed specifically to become popular.
We will then be in a position to contrast Christianity with
this purely man-made religion, with a view to picking out essential
Expectations of a man-made religion
If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent
Voltaire (1694-1778) Épîtres, 'A l'auteur du livres des
No-one imagines their own religion to be a human invention,
so if we selected an existing religion for this section we would
run the risk of offending believers. We will therefore imagine
a religion designed specifically to become popular – a hypothetical
religion, whose founders are only interested in success To emphasise
the point we can make these founders professional marketeers
and salesmen. Their principal objectives are to promote their
own worldly success, power and wealth. They seek nothing short
of world domination. They have no moral scruple about their
actions. They are free to use any techniques that other religions
have found effective in the past.
What will be the principal concerns of the founders of such
a religion? Let us put ourselves in their place. The following
list might summarise the strategy for marketing our product,
and benefiting from its success:
- Offer incentives for using our product
- Provide disincentives for not using our product
- Produce evidence to bolster the claims of our product
- Maximise market share for our product
- Seek to become a monopoly supplier
- Maximise market size
- Reap the benefits of success
Let us see what this will involve in more detail. Then we shall
be able to compare our hypothetical religion with Christianity.
Incentives must be offered mainly to attract new customers
at minimal cost, so we shall:
Provide worldly benefits to attract converts. We will
have to offer something that people want. Initially the attraction
may be relatively superficial. Free gifts and free entertainments
for example might be offered. Once the attention of potential
converts has been won they will expect something more. Popular
standbys are food, a free education, social standing and access
to supposedly arcane secrets. For our best salesmen and workers
we can provide a share of our increasing wealth and power.
Promise future benefits. It is not within our powers
to offer most of our followers advancement in this life, but
there is no limit to what we can offer in the next. Our promises
therefore can be unbounded. We can offer eternal life, eternal
youth, eternal happiness, wisdom, status, wealth, reunion with
dead friends, revenge ... absolutely anything that people want.
Not needing to believe our own propaganda we are secure in the
knowledge that when the day of reckoning comes our victims will
be in no position to claim their hard-earned rewards.
Advertise a superficially attractive philosophy. Potential
converts will need to be given a superficially convincing story
about why our god-product is so much better than any other.
We must not be too specific about this, because different people
will be attracted by different features. Our story must be sufficiently
simple that those not blessed with deep powers of reflection
will be able to understand it. “Be nice to everyone” might be
a popular theme, but clearly we would need to dress it up a
bit to make it look meaningful. For those with philosophical
inclinations we might add a few mystical truths. We could for
example adopt some superficial paradoxes and invest them with
profundity. This is an established technique. The ancient Chinese
were bemused by assertions such as “Be bent and you will remain
straight, be vacant and you will remain full, be worn and you
will remain new”. Almost any vacuous statement can be made to
look profound when phrased as a paradox. “War is peace, Freedom
is slavery, Ignorance is strength” (George Orwell, Nineteen
Eighty Four). The poor are rich, death is life, the greatest
things are less than the smallest, and so on. To encourage the
fiction that these are genuine matters of deep theological significance
we can publish scholarly tomes dissecting them in minute detail.
We would like to keep our religion internally consistent, but
we must also recognise that different people will be attracted
by different aspects of it at different times and in different
places. We must therefore make our religion as flexible as possible.
Perhaps the solution is to adopt a few indisputable truisms
as our principle tenets and to adopt and discard other propositions
as they come into and go out of fashion. We shall be whatever
our potential market would like us to be.
Disincentives must be provided so that the consequences of
buying our product will contrast favourably with the consequences
of failing to buy our product. We must therefore:
Threaten punishment for failure to use our product. We
must play on people’s fears so that they can feel safe only
within the loving arms of our religion. We will rely heavily
on threats. God will punish those who do not accept our faith
for their wickedness. They will go blind or lame, they will
suffer pain and loss, they will be ground into nothingness,
they will die, and after they are dead their souls will be tortured
in hell for eternity. We will claim to provide the only vehicle
destined for paradise. As Gilbert Murray put it:
He who believes and is initiated shall be saved; he who is
not initiated shall be cast out. That is the normal rule of
all exclusive religions, a rule which tends to seem natural
and right to those inside and obviously preposterous to those
outside  .
We can also play upon guilt. Their lack of belief has shamed
their family, their teachers, their priest, and the whole community.
How could they have been so wicked? How can they fail to repent?
For those who are not sure whether to believe what we tell
them we can play on their uncertainty. If they have the slightest
doubt we shall have a chance. After all they have nothing to
loose and everything to gain by believing us and buying our
product. Since our religion is entirely bogus we will never
be able to convince the rational sceptic. In fact sceptical
rationalist views will be a great threat to us, for we do not
want our potential converts to be encouraged to think too deeply
about the basis of our religion. All we can do is stress the
importance of faith, and the severity of the punishments reserved
in the afterlife for doubters. We will have to eliminate, by
whatever means, those sceptics who oppose our god-product, expose
our marketing strategy, or otherwise prove troublesome to us.
Demonise users of other products. Once we have suppressed
or eliminated our opponents we will have to demonise them. We
will circulate stories that they were responsible for all manner
of horrors. They were wicked and evil, they were unwilling to
accept the plain truth, they were bestial, they cruelly persecuted
us for no reason. They were cannibals, they were sexual degenerates,
they worshipped the devil and sacrificed their own children
to demons. They deserved to die for their willful refusal to
accept our wonderful religion. This will justify us in whatever
actions we have taken to eliminate them.
We will have to invent a great bogey-man: he will be our enemy
and he will take the blame for everything. He will lead people
to hell, and he will be responsible for ideas we do not like.
We will make sure that he is hated and feared, and then accuse
anyone we do not like of being his ally.
We must actively market our god-product, providing ‘proofs’
of its efficacy, while concealing evidence of its failures,
weaknesses, dangers, and other negative aspects:
Offer specious proofs for our doctrines. If we could
prove the existence of our god our job would be that much easier.
There are a number of possibilities here. One is to produce
pseudo-logical proofs. It does not matter too much that these
will necessarily be flawed. If presented properly the most patently
false argument will convince most people who want to believe.
In any case we can always fall back on the old claim that absolute
faith in our doctrines will provide proof of their accuracy.
We do not need to worry about why our god should find faith
to be so much more a desirable quality than any other. He just
Fabricate evidence to support our veracity. Another
popular method of proof is miracles. We can easily lay on a
few bogus miracles. The sight of a man throwing away his crutches,
or his white stick is always particularly impressive –no matter
that he has never needed them anyway. Faith healing is particularly
popular because so many people desperately want to believe in
it. As well as real or imaginary improvements attributable to
faith, there will inevitably be a few spontaneous remissions
that we can parade as proof of our powers and our religion’s
veracity. In addition we can lay on a little stage magic. For
example an exorcism or a disappearing act. Easier still all
we need to do is to claim to have witnessed a miracle ourselves.
Human nature being what it is, we can be sure that before long
others will claim to have been present and personally to have
witnessed the same miracle. Magnified by retelling and sanctified
by time, our great miracles will be irrefutable within a generation.
All religions have masses of such miracles. Again, many people
regard martyrdom as some sort of proof of the martyr’s beliefs.
Why this should be so is difficult to explain. After all, most
major religions have had martyrs in their early years. Nevertheless,
if potential converts find martyrdom convincing we must have
some. We might attract a few people with mental problems who
can be persuaded to die for our religion. This should not be
difficult, especially if we tell them the customary story –
that they will gain automatic admission to heaven by sacrificing
themselves. During the Iran-Iraq war Ayatollah Khomeini could
call on whole armies of young martyrs to clear enemy mine fields
by walking through them. Boys were given mass produced plastic
keys (made in Taiwan) which they were told would open the gates
of heaven. Good quality martyrs are ten-a-penny.
Promote mystical experiences among our followers. We
probably need not even perpetrate deliberate fraud. Properly
designed spectacles will do our work for us. Splendid ceremonies,
gorgeous vestments, heady incense, commanding oratory, music,
repetitive chanting and singing: these are all well tested methods
of inducing awe. In conjunction with fasting, sleep deprivation,
breathing control, physical exhaustion, mortification and other
privations they can be guaranteed to induce mystical, ecstatic
or otherwise elevated mental states.
Priests of many religions have astounded their adherents by
speaking in an unknown language, sometimes a completely made-up
one. Once in a receptive frame of mind adherents will willingly
believe that they have experienced whatever we tell them they
have experienced. If we can generate the occasional outbreak
of mass hysteria (and this is very easy to do) we can expect
a number of visions and other mystic experiences to provide
divine evidence of our veracity. Even in ancient times the Jewish
prophets were helped along by music (2 Kings 3:15) and fasting
(Daniel 9:3), and contagious trances (Numbers 11:25). Fasting
was used very widely to induce visits of gods, for example at
Didyma and Claros. Gods routinely appeared in dreams after sufficient
fasting and prayer. If necessary we can even use drugs, just
like Pythia did two thousand years ago at the Delphic Oracle.
It is well know that people deprived of REM sleep will start
hallucinating – so a little sleep deprivation should produce
the required ‘visions’ even without drugs.
Re-write history to suit us. We must produce our own
version of history. In our version we shall be the innocent
party. We will have suffered at the hands of vicious persecutors.
We will have triumphed against all the odds. We will have been
the heroes, brave and just, and our enemies will have been evil
and cruel. For those who doubt our veracity we will produce
forged documents to support our bogus version of events. Using
them we can establish whatever stories we choose. We can produced
forged legal documents as well. We might even use them as the
basis for legal claims to divine sanction and temporal power.
To avoid the possibility of a more reasoned assessment in the
future we must destroy all vestiges of the truth. We will rewrite
history just as other totalitarian organisations have done.
We will annihilate all records of earlier god-products, and
condemn any happy memories of them as blasphemous. We will burn
books and records, and either pull down existing places of worship
or take them over for our own purposes.
We must dominate the existing market by whatever means, establishing
the greatest possible market share for our own god-product.
Target the market. Our biggest problem will be to win
over the first few converts, and so establish a market presence.
Perhaps we should initially target a particularly vulnerable
group such as disadvantaged minorities.. Many religions have
succeeded by adopting this strategy. Early Islam for example
gained a vast following by targeting women, slaves, and other-underprivileged
and marginalised groups. We shall do well to target the poor,
the sad, the inadequate, the unreflective, and the mentally
deficient. We shall be the opium of the masses. The great benefit
of this approach is that there is a very large market. The problem
is that it will not immediately achieve our objectives, the
acquisition of status, wealth and power. An alternative approach
is to concentrate on the rich. They pull the strings of power.
They are the fashion setters. Where they lead
others will follow, whether it be by choice or coercion.
In any case, like any good marketing organisation we should
take advantage of people’s weaknesses and insecurities. Among
the various benefits we can offer the most potent is likely
to be social advancement. Perhaps we need some flexibility here.
We can shift our brand image from time to time and from one
market to another, repackaging the product in order to have
maximum impact on the local market.
Tolerance When it Suits
We will undertake missionary work to widen the geographical
range of our market. We shall of course have to face the problem
of overcoming the opposition of the leaders of the god-products
we are seeking to replace. Established priests are hardly likely
to countenance the loss of their livelihood with casual acceptance.
If the priests of the old religion are tolerant and not very
bright, we can proceed slowly, gradually taking over their flocks
in insensible stages, and simultaneously extolling the virtues
of toleration. While we are at it we can also involve ourselves
in the established political system, and make an especial effort
to convert the local potentates. All being well the old priests
will not discern our intentions until too late. Step by step
we will have taken over their flocks, their ceremonies, their
holy places, and their civil functions. Once we are powerful
enough we will dispense with their services altogether. If they
see what is happening before we are sufficiently powerful we
shall have a problem. We can try to bring them onto our side
by recruiting them, or by bribery or blackmail if necessary.
If they stand their ground and oppose us openly we can try to
ridicule their faith and expose the more extravagant aspects
of their religion, and prove the impotence of their gods by
destroying their icons and holy places. Alternatively we might
try to win the help of our new political friends to guarantee
our freedom of worship. If ridicule and political influence
fail we shall be left with only one option: the old priests
will have to meet with distressing accidents. Their untimely
deaths can be attributed to the wondrous but inscrutable workings
of our omnipotent deity. Such inexplicable deaths will serve
to prove the validity of our own god-product.
Adopt, Adapt and Improve. We must be willing to tailor
our teachings to make them acceptable. What we should do is
borrow the most popular elements of other religions and blend
them into ours. This is a very common technique. For example
Christianity and Islam developed from Judaism; Buddhism from
Hinduism, Sikhism from both Hinduism and Islam, and the Ba’hai
faith from all of these. As times change we can discard those
elements which become unpopular, and adopt new fashionable ones.
This may be difficult to justify, but we must do it to maintain
market share. Our theology will support and reinforce whatever
views are currently in vogue. Above all we must never offend
those who wield the greatest political power, at least until
we are in a position to arrogate that power to ourselves.
Capture market share by force when possible. Once we
are in a position to do so, we can employ more forceful techniques.
We can for example imprison, torture or kill anyone who is not
prepared to accept our product. Forcible conversions have always
worked well (except against a few exceptional groups like the
Jews and Cathars). A good technique is to offer people a straight
choice between accepting our new religion and suffering death.
Early Moslems enjoyed huge success with this method in the seventh
century, capturing around 50% of the Christian market worldwide,
in a few decades
The Importance of Monopoly Supply
Once we had dominated a local market we can eliminate all opposition.
Everyone must buy our product, and no-one must be allowed to
buy any other:
Use thought control to bolster adherence. We will take
over the education of children, and indoctrinate them. If we
catch them at an early stage before any powers of critical thought
have been developed then we shall have them for life. We do
not want them exposed to views other than ours, even in later
life, for there is always a danger that the brighter and more
thoughtful of them will see through our sham. Our best course
will be to close their minds. We will tie the religion to politics
and nationalism as many other religions have done. We can foster
the idea that anyone who disagrees with us is disloyal, unreliable,
dangerous and alien. If they disagree with our religion they
must disagree with our politics as well, and are likely to want
to overthrow the natural order. Blasphemy will be tantamount
to Treason. We will also need to exercise censorship over all
information media – books, theatre, television, radio, and so
on. It is well known that children overwhelmingly adopt the
religious affiliation of their parents. So obviously we will
encourage parents to bring up their children in the faith. In
fact we should punish them if they fail to do so.
Enforce adherence. We must ensure that as many people
as possible join our religion, whether they want to or not.
We will insist that parents marry within our faith. We will
enroll babies as soon as they are born, and make it an offence
for them to defect in later life. We will take over what anthropologists
call rights of passage (such as birth, naming, puberty, marriage
and death), and we will control access to information and knowledge.
If we are able to get away with it, the easiest option is to
persecute anyone who does not toe the line. We shall deal harshly
with those who try to expose us for what we are, as well as
those who refuse to convert to our religion, and those who try
to defect from it.
Exterminate people who are non-compliant. We can exile,
or better still, execute people who pose a threat to us. Amongst
them will be members of previously existing religions (who we
shall kill on the pretext that they are witches or Satanists),
people who try to muscle in on our commercial position (who
we shall kill as schismatics or heretics), and people who spot
us as frauds (who we shall kill as apostates, atheists or blasphemers).
Once we have dominated local markets, we must exploit new markets
until we achieve world domination.
Promote continuing expansion of our faith at all costs.
We want to increase the size of our market. We have already
maximised our market penetration we must find ways of increasing
the total market size. The obvious way to do this is to look
to new geographical areas. Our religion must be a proselytising
one. All adherents must be responsible for propagating it. We
will promote missionary work, even if we know that it is likely
to damage or destroy other cultures. Another possibility is
the use of military force. We will declare holy wars against
our neighbours. If we win we shall have proved the efficacy
of our god, and we will be able to offer the choice between
conversion and immediate death. A further way to increase the
size of the market in the long term is to encourage our adherents
to breed. Without any other constraints a sub-population which
breeds at a faster rate than the rest of the population will
sooner or later dominate it, and will eventually be in a position
to eliminate it. We know that we shall be able to indoctrinate
children so we shall be assured of an ever increasing population
of followers. It does not matter to us that we might destroy
the earth’s ecology in pursuing this policy. Others can worry
about that. We are only interested in the success of our product.
(Some Moslem leaders are reluctant to advocate contraception,
not because of any theological objection, but because of the
danger of Moslems being outbred by the Christian west). Above
all, we must not make the elementary mistake of earlier groups,
like Marcionites, and Cathars who found flesh so evil that they
decided not to breed, failed to create a large enough power
base, and were wiped out by their enemies.
As soon as we have established a significant market presence,
we must start to take advantage of it to provide ourselves with
wealth and power.
Establish symbiotic relationships with the civil powers.
Having won over the rich and powerful we must form a partnership
with them. This must be sufficiently profitable to both parties.
Each will support the other. The religion will give divine sanction
to the civil power, and in return the civil power will permit
our religion certain privileges. As an established state religion
we shall expect to be able to call upon the full force of the
law. Indeed we will expect to be able to make our own laws.
Any criticism of us or our god-product will be made a criminal
offence. Any literature of which we do not approve will be censored
or destroyed. Any dissent will be a serious crime, and we shall
thereafter be justified in judicially executing anyone who does
not profess total agreement with our views. In time we may establish
a theocracy. Most importantly we must acquire special rights.
Best of all we might be able to raise taxes ourselves, make
our own laws, run our own courts and operate our own prisons,
but failing this we shall expect special treatment and exemptions.
Excuse ourselves from onerous requirements. Just as
Mohammed received special dispensations from God releasing him
from his earlier requirements, we will have to receive dispensations
that will release us from anything that we do not like. We will
find ways to excuse ourselves from legal restrictions, and from
all manner of civil duties, including the paying of taxes.
Make ourselves Rich. This is the easy bit. We will simply
encourage people to give us money (donations and bequests).
We will sell spiritual assets. We will tax people, produce,
property and commerce. We will demand state funding. We will
seize the property of our enemies. If we could mop up the existing
religion market, we could be making tens of billions a year.
Christianity compared to
a man-made religion
I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible
you may be mistaken
Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), Letter of 3rd
August 1650 to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland
Now we have developed a model of a totally venal and cynical
pseudo-religion, we are in a position to assess how different
a true religion like Christianity has proved to be. In the following
paragraphs we shall take a brief look at the major points of
convergence and divergence between the two.
The public buys its opinions as it buys its meat, or
takes in its milk, on the principle that it is cheaper to
do this than to keep a cow. So it is, but the milk is more
likely to be watered.
Samuel Butler (1835-1902), Notebooks
Provide worldly benefits to attract converts. The initial
attractions of our bogus religion are not dissimilar from those
of Christianity. It is a well established and widely acknowledged
practice of missionaries to attract potential converts by offering
free gifts. The phenomenon was so well known that Indians who
converted to Christianity for food were commonly known as “rice
Christians”. Inevitably peoples around the world who have not
previously come into contact with western technology are impressed
and attracted. Free plastic beads, cheap transistor radios,
colourful clothes: all these will guarantee initial interest.
Anthropologist refer to a “cargo cult”, the practice of remote
unsophisticated peoples praying for the next ’planeful of goodies
to arrive. First noted in Papua New Guinea, the cargo cult has
become a widespread phenomenon much exploited by Christian missionaries.
In undeveloped parts of the world modern technology seems little
short of miraculous. Missionaries are well aware of this and
often use it to their advantage. The bringer of technological
miracles is seen as a great magician, able to control the divine.
Who but a great magician could fly an aeroplane, or use a telephone,
or use a photographic camera? No matter that in truth the missionary
knows as little about how modern technology works as his audience.
Similarly the use by missionaries of western medicines will
guarantee that they outshine the local witch doctor. To potential
coverts the missionary is virtually divine, so his God must
be greater still.
In technologically advanced societies worldly rewards are less
tangible and more subtle: the sad and lonely find companionship
in the Church; the middle class believe that it confirms their
social standing; millions of fundamentalist evangelicals believe
that God will reward them with material success, and for sexual
deviants there is the opportunity to mortify the flesh in a
socially acceptable setting. In the modern world Christianity
has once again learned to market itself as effectively as Coca-Cola,
just as it did in ancient Rome
As in our bogus religion, most mainstream denominations also
offer power, wealth and prestige to those who achieve high Church
office. The leaders of many denominations enjoy adulation, money,
palaces, privileges and titles.
Many Churches adopt policies such as “Food for Conversion”,
“Education for Conversion”, “Goods for Conversion” and “Medicine
for Conversion”. These techniques are also used to convert Christians
from other sects. For example Irish Catholics converted to Protestantism
for food during the Irish Potato famine, known to history as
“jumpers”. Medicine for conversion is a long established technique
in Africa, and at the time of writing many radical Protestant
sects are having great success in South America by offering
free English lessons.
Promise future benefits. In Christianity the biggest
rewards are all promised for the next world. The God of the
Old Testament never mentioned an afterlife, and consequently
orthodox Jews did not and do not believe in one. (All the scriptural
threats and curses directed at wrongdoers by the God of the
Old Testament are promised not for an afterlife, but for this
one). The concepts of heaven and hell were derived mainly from
the classical world. Their refinement as methods of reward and
punishment was the greatest marketing coup of Christianity.
In the Hellenic world,people were accustomed to the idea that
gods could grant gifts to those who followed them. You asked
Apollo for sunshine; you asked Dionysos for help with your vines.
If you were ill you sought the help of Æskelepios, and if you
wanted immortality you turned to the god of the Christians.
And immortality was popular, especially if it could be spent
in paradise. Indeed the idea was so successful that the marketing
technique was soon over-used and consequently debased. According
to the highest church authorities the Christian sacraments were
the ‘medicine of immortality’. Later, it was possible to guarantee
a place in heaven by paying a sufficiently large amount of money
to the Church, by killing the enemies of the Church, or even
by wearing suitable vestments such as a scapular. Ordained priests
could preach that the daily reciting of a prayer could ensure
Advertise a superficially attractive philosophy. Once
again Christianity matches our hypothetical religion. Popular
ideas have been developed and unpopular ones quietly dropped.
Salvation for the elect, an afterlife, punishment for our enemies
are all popular ideas that have been developed. Altruistic ideas
such as “Love thy neighbour as thyself” have been appropriated
and presented as uniquely Christian. For those with philosophical
inclinations mystical truths have indeed been popular. The lowest
shall be raised high and highest laid low, Submission to God
is perfect freedom, etc. To encourage the idea that these are
genuine matters of deep theological significance Church leaders
publish books dissecting them in detail.
Consistency has always been a problem for the Church. It has
reversed its views on dozens of major issues over the centuries.
In fact it is not easy to think of a single social issue on
which it has had a consistent record over the full 2000 years.
It has managed this in two ways. The first is to claim that
truth is progressively revealed by God, so that our understanding
develops over time. This is used with success even when the
Church has performed the most blatant volte face. The second
is simply to wait long enough for memories to fade. Few people
now remember that two generations ago the Church of England
held views similar to those of the Roman Church concerning sex
education and contraception. In another two generations the
bitterness over women’s ordination in the Anglican church may
well have been forgotten too. Similarly the question of homosexual
Having been caught out so many times in the past, the mainstream
Churches are now very wary of committing themselves to anything.
Whatever society’s views are at the end of the twenty-first
century on issues such as homosexuality, racial equality, women’s
rights, or vivisection, they cannot conceivably be held to be
at odds with the Churches’ current nebulous position. Loopholes
are left open for escape, even over the most apparently clear
cut matters. For example, no one is very sure about which matters
Popes have spoken infallibly. There is no comprehensive list.
Has the need for a celibate priesthood been stated infallibly?
No one seems to know. Pope John Paul II has even steered clear
of making an ‘infallible’ declaration about contraception. When
the pressure becomes strong enough, the Roman Church will be
able to reverse its current position without having to admit
having reversed an infallible position.
Beware when you take on the Church of God. Others have
tried and have bitten the dust.
Desmond Tutu (1931- ), Archbishop of Capetown, South Africa;
speech in April 1987
Threaten punishment for failure to use our product.
Christianity is widely recognised as preying upon people’s natural
fears. With a little effort people can easily be induced to
develop a fear of death. The way to do this is to emphasise
the reality, imminence, and horrors of Hell. As Ouida observed
“Christianity has made death a terror which was unknown to the
gay calmness of the Pagan”. Eternal punishment has been a key
theme in Christianity since early times. Anyone who failed to
sign up was destined for Hell. Christians have also suggested
that those who fail to heed their divine message might suffer
in this world. Dark hints may be made about the fate of those
who fail to see the light (1 Kings 18:18-40 is an old favourite).
Blatant threats are not regarded as acceptable in the modern
secular world, so we tend to hear relatively little of stories
such as that of St Paul who blinded a non-believer (Acts 13:8-11),
or St Peter who, with God’s help, killed those who did not give
themselves sufficiently fully to the Christian faith (Acts 5:1-11).
Much better to play on insecurities and emphasise the benefits
of faith. It is not by chance that guilt is such a major feature
of Christianity, nor that advantage is so often taken of people’s
fear of death as they grow older.
Demonise users of other products. Toleration of other
faiths has disappeared as soon as Christianity gained a firm
foothold. Until very recent times no sort of dissent of any
kind was permitted. Any old gods that were still remembered
became aliases of Satan. People who continued to worship them
were condemned as Devil worshipers. Throughout the world Satanism
has been an invention of Christians. There was no worship of
Satan until Christians thought of it. Indeed, no one except
those in the Zoroastrian tradition seem to have even conceived
of a god of evil.
Any sort of non-conformism came to be viewed as heresy. Traditionally,
anyone and everyone who disagreed with the Church was branded
a cannibal and a sodomite. The standardised charge sheet often
included incest, adultery, rape and murder, all equally unfounded.
The worst charge – again applied to all “enemies” – was that
of Devil worship or Satanism. Cathars were Satanists, so were
the Templars, so were Freemasons, so were witches, so were American
Indians, so were the Chinese – everyone in fact who did not
accept the Church’s current orthodoxy. Protestants said that
Roman Catholics did, Roman Catholics said that Protestants did.
According to Catholics Martin Luther had been converted to his
Protestant views by Satan himself.
Any and every enemy was definitively identified as the antichrist:
Roman emperors, leaders of rival sects, Genghis Khan, Saladin,
Martin Luther or the Pope (according to taste), Napoleon, Hitler,
Apartheid, and the European Union have been definitively identified.
There’s a sucker born every minute
P. T. Barnum (1810-1891)
Offer specious proofs for our doctrines. Christianity
has demonstrated its legitimacy in all of the ways suggested
for our bogus religion. Churches still have a selection of supposed
proofs of the existence of God, and continue to maintain them
despite their flaws. As they have been found wanting by more
and more people, there has been an ever increasing emphasis
on revealed religion.
Fabricate evidence to support our veracity. Historically
the ultimate proof of the validity of the Christian Churches
have been the numerous and imposing miracles to which they have
laid claim. As we have seen, miracle working saints’ bones have
turned out to be pigs’ bones, visions and stigmata have been
faked, prayers to non-existent saints have been efficacious.
Set piece supernatural events (such as exorcisms) which used
to be public events are no longer very convincing either. Fabricated
evidence includes a vast library of writings now proved to be
forgeries, which bolstered a range of deliberate Church deceits.
The Church has also traded heavily on its martyrs. The blood
of the martyrs was regarded as the seed of the Church . Stirring tales of martyrs’ suffering
still attract personalities of a certain type, even if most
such stories are either fictitious, or really about people who
were martyred by Christians.
Promote mystical experiences among our followers. In
early times Christians flocked to deserts where they underwent
severe privations – foregoing food, drink, sex, clothing, comfort,
and sleep, and sometimes torturing themselves physically. In
these conditions they frequently experienced visions. For most
others, different techniques were developed to manifest religious
experiences. Mainstream churches have developed spectacular
and impressive ceremonials, and fostered the idea of mystical
experiences. To some extent this has been achieved simply by
retaining old fashioned practises – upper class Roman dress
for priests, Roman architecture for churches, the use of dead
languages such as Old Church Slavonic in the east and Latin
in the west.
The most splendid ceremonies are to be found in the Orthodox
Church, closely followed by those of the Roman Catholic Church.
Their attraction is supplemented by splendid buildings and gorgeous
decorations and vestments, heady incense, darkness, bells, commanding
oratory, music and repetitive chanting. The Orthodox Church
also stressed the importance of posture and breathing control
during prayer. Many converts from Western to Eastern Churches
will specifically mention the importance of ritual as a key
reason for their conversion. Indeed the whole of Russia adopted
Orthodox Christianity rather than Roman Catholic Christianity
or Islam, specifically because of its mode of worship  .
In East and West Christian clergy deliberately created an atmosphere
of awe and mystery. Over hundreds of years they gradually increased
religious ceremonial and fostered the impression that they were
in direct contact with God. By the fourth century it was common
practice to curtain-off the alter so that the congregation could
not see it – a practice which eventually gave rise to the Western
chancel screen and the Eastern iconostasis. By the eighth century
priests in the Western Church were commonly muttering the words
of the mass in a low voice so that the people could not hear
them  .
By the thirteenth century the Host was being elevated after
consecration at the Eucharist, and later the chalice was as
well. In each case the intention was to enhance the atmosphere
of mystery and awe. The Western Church insisted on conducting
its services in Latin, as the Roman church continued to do until
the twentieth century. (Protestants, trying to demystify proceedings
removed chancel screens and alters, stopped elevating the sacraments
and used the vernacular  ).
Like many world religions Christianity has used set piece ceremonials
to encourage believers to experience mystical or ecstatic states:
splendid ceremonies, gorgeous vestments, heady incense, commanding
oratory, music, repetitive chanting and singing. In conjunction
with fasting, sleep deprivation, breathing control, physical
exhaustion, prolonged mortification of the flesh and other privations,
visions are produced, almost to order. You can see these techniques
in use today at pilgrimage sites like Knock, Lourdes and Medjugorje.
It is not difficult to account for the trance like states claimed
by ascetics throughout the centuries. Similar states may be
seen today in many parts of the world, from shamans in northern
America to the fakirs in India. Perceptions are undoubtedly
affected by expectations. Interestingly, psychologists have
shown that the visual judgement of Roman Catholics can even
be influenced by the presence of religious authority surrogates  . A number of studies have consistently found Christians to
be more suggestible than normal, for example religious people
have been found to respond better to medical placebos given
for pain relief. Another consistent finding in America is that
religious people tend to be more submissive, accepting of authority,
dependent on group approval, and have a higher than average
incidence of hysterical personalities  . They are in fact perfect fodder for deception,
especially when emotionally fatigued  .
Rewrite history to suit us. The Church has had great
success in representing itself as a force for good, despite
its record. In the popular mind Christianity has aided learning,
supported liberty, opposed oppression, advanced philosophy,
encouraged science, promoted public health, pioneered medicine,
recorded impartial history, helped the poor, and patronised
It is true that it has funded some of the arts, but only for
propaganda purposes. The other claims are all exactly the opposite
of the truth. Similarly the Church’s rôle has been one of oppressor,
rather than oppressed. The Churches have done a most spectacular
job in representing itself in a favourable light. It has done
this by forging documents, controlling the educational system,
writing its own histories, monopolising scholarship, and enforcing
strict censorship. How successful it has been is demonstrated
by the fact that many people still think that the Church has
always been in the vanguard of social reform. Some even imagine
that society was once seriously menaced by witches, and that
the crusades were worthy, selfless, gallant and holy. We still
use the word witch as a term of abuse, and the word crusade
to describe a brave and worthy undertaking.
Love the poor pagans. Be kind to them. Heal their wounds.
They will give you their affection first; then their confidence;
and then their souls.
Charles Lavigerie, Cardinal Archbishop of Algiers
Target the market. As in the case of our hypothetical
Religion, Christianity has traditionally targeted two groups:
the very highest and the very lowest strata of society. The
middle classes followed automatically through social pressure.
Early Christians were criticised for praying upon the poor and
ignorant, while fleeing headlong from the cultured who were
less likely to be deceived  . The religion gained influence from the bottom
up. Only towards the end of the second century were rich and
influential people targeted. – or more usually the wives and
daughters of the rich and powerful. So it was, in the early
years of the church that heiresses were particularly targeted.
When it became apparent in the next two centuries that Christianity
was going to become dominant, the upper class pagan priesthood
transferred their allegiance and became Christian priests and
bishops. Time and time again in the early Church clergymen are
criticised for frequenting the houses of rich widows and other
women, for fawning over them and attempting to have themselves
or their church named as a beneficiary under their wills. In
July 370, the emperor Valentinian was obliged to tell the bishop
of Rome that he should stop male clerics and ascetics hanging
around women’s houses and worming their way into their affections.
The abuse continued, families continued to see their inheritances
disappear into the hands of the Church, and the next Emperor
withdrew Valentinian’s ruling.
Converted princesses were especially valuable as they were
often sent as brides to barbarian kings in order to bring them
into the Christian fold. It is for much the same reason that
US evangelists are currently concentrating their poaching efforts
on the wives of rich and powerful men in South America. At the
other extreme the lowest stratum of society is large, uneducated,
prone to illness and more than usually credulous. These are
the “poor in spirit” referred to in the Sermon on the Mount.
The idea of a god who will bless them and who will compensate
them in the next world for the privations and miseries of this
is bound to appeal to them greatly. Celsus had noted in the
second century that Christianity was a religion for old women,
yokels and little children. In the twentieth H L Menken provided
God is the immemorial refuge of the incompetent, the helpless,
the miserable. They find not only sanctuary in His arms, but
also a kind of superiority, soothing to their macerated egos;
He will set them above them above their betters.  .
Sociological studies confirm Mencken’s intuition, though in
less direct terms  . On the other hand there is little in Christianity for the
self confident. It is not accidental that Christianity regards
pride as a major sin. In Universities it is a commonplace that
sad and lonely new students are the most likely victims of the
‘God squad’. They are particularly vulnerable at examination
time. Psychological inadequates are even more vulnerable. Confirmation
comes from a number of studies, mainly in the USA, which suggest
that religious conviction is related to factors such as feelings
 , neuroticism and other mental disorders  , alcoholism  , criminality  , lack of education and lack of political awareness  , lack of family  , lack of self esteem and feelings of personal inadequacy  . Social pressure is
a major factor in determining religious attachments. This is
as true for new converts as for others. Over 40% of converts,
when asked some years ago, admitted that they had been converted
as a result of social pressure or intimidation 
(judging by evangelists’ modern techniques the figure is probably
now much higher). A study carried out on some of Billy Graham’s
teenage converts found that the most important factor in the
retention of their new religious convictions was the acquisition
of new friends  .
The second most important factor was parental reaction. Class
and social status are also important considerations in Church
membership. Different denominations precisely mirror different
Tolerance When it Suits
Wherever and whenever the Church has been weak it has pleaded
for tolerance. It made this plea before the conversion of the
Roman Empire. It made it in Hindu countries, Buddhist countries,
Moslem countries, and indeed all non-Christian countries. And
it still does. Various Christian sects made the same plea to
each other during and after the Reformation. As a good working
rule Christian majorities have always enforced their beliefs
on others, but Christian minorities have always pleaded the
case for tolerance. A little inconsistent perhaps, but an optimal
strategy for expansion.
Promote tolerance when it suits us. In many cases
where Christianity is newly introduced to an area it is not
possible to enforce its adoption. In such cases the only possibility
is to sell the religion. In these circumstances the Church is
typically kind, tolerant and understanding. It coexists with
traditional native religions, causing as little trouble as possible.
Christians are content to share holy places. Historically they
have done so even if it has it has meant having alters to local
gods in their churches. In some cases blood sacrifices in churches
have been allowed. Typically the tolerance has lasted only as
long as Christianity has needed friends. Once it has powerful
friends it has used its influence to remove all opposition.
(In most of the west the Church has lost most of its influence
as its friends have lost power over the last few centuries,
consequently it has once again needed to become tolerant).
Keep up with changing market needs. In every sphere
of thought, Churches have been revising their ideas as their
market has changed. Dogmas, doctrines, practices, policies and
opinions have all changed in order to remain acceptable. We
have already seen many examples of this.
Nineteenth century popes consistently said that freedom of
worship was atheistic, insane, and an insult to God. It is conceivable
that the present pope could say the same, but his doing so becomes
less likely every year. Churches opposed freedom of choice,
freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and democracy until
recent times. Now they regard these things as almost integral
to their faith. In much of the USA belief in democracy actually
is part of many people’s faith – exactly the opposite of the
traditional position. One might have thought that the timeless
values God’s Holy Church would enable it to formulate consistent
social policies, and to stand firm against fickle social fashions.
In fact, the mainstream Churches are ever adapting to the modern
world. Now that ecological concerns and animal rights have become
fashionable we have suddenly started to hear about how deeply
Christians have always felt about such matters. In 1990 the
Pope announced that, contrary to almost two thousand years of
Church teaching, animals may after all have souls  .
In 1999 he announced, in contradiction of traditional teaching,
that it was wrong for states to inflict the death penalty. All
of the Churches follow public opinion, never leading it; always
waiting until there is an established majority view. Thus, the
mainstream churches rarely express opinions on such matters
as whaling, seal clubbing, animal experiments, and vivisection.
However, should such matters attract a consensus view in the
next few years it is a fair bet that the churches will discover
that, whatever it is, that has always been the orthodox Christian
view as well.
Churches have adopted the full range of possible opinions about
the propriety of gambling over the centuries. When Premium Bonds
were introduced in Britain in April 1956, Geoffrey Fisher, Archbishop
of Canterbury, objected to them on the grounds that they were
a form of gambling. They would, he said, “debase the nation’s
spiritual currency”. Churchmen soon stopped fulminating about
this particular evil, when they became widely popular. In recent
years Churches, notably the Methodist Church and the Salvation
Army, have changed their grounds for opposing petty gambling.
In the past activities such as playing card games for matchsticks
was condemned as inherently evil and contrary to the will of
God. This is no longer seen as a credible position, so now petty
gambling is opposed on the grounds that it is addictive and
liable to lead to more serious gambling and thus financial ruin.
A few stout Christian voices were raised against proposals for
a National Lottery in Britain in the 1990’s. But national Lotteries
are enormously popular. Moralists risk becoming unpopular by
opposing them, so criticism is ever more muted. Churches that
objected to the national lottery now apply for, and receive,
On some issues the Church has changed its mind more than once.
For example its views on men wearing long hair have changed
as often as European fashion. Each time the fashion has changed
from wearing it short to wearing it long, the Church has stepped
in to affirm that the new fashion was unchristian, contrary
to the bible, and undoubtedly sinful. In the eleventh century
the Church decreed that men with long hair should be excommunicated.
Men with long hair were immoral, unchristian, criminal and bestial.
Such attitudes were revived each time the cycle of fashion came
round. In the seventeenth century, Puritans were convinced that
every form of vice and iniquity lurked in the long tresses of
the Cavaliers. Any man who grew long hair in the nineteen sixties
will recall the same accusations being made then by churchmen
and by other devout Christians.
The big problem is how Churches could have been so wrong so
often. Even one mistake would be enough to counter the claim
that they have privileged access to God’s immutable truth. In
fact most mainstream churches have backtracked, dissembled,
and reversed their positions on hundreds of occasions. Their
values have been continually changing, especially since the
rise of secular society. The fact is that it is rather difficult
to find a position on any single social issue that has been
consistently held by any Church since the earliest days of Christianity.
Adopt, Adapt and Improve. Throughout its history Christianity
has adapted itself to the market in order to remain believable.
It has borrowed from virtually every religion it came into contact
with in its first few centuries, adopting doctrines and practices
with an opportunism that was frequently commented on at the
time. Judaism, Hellenistic religions, Sun cults, fertility cults,
Zoroastrianism, animism, and resurrection cults – all provided
ideas for the nascent Christian religion. All mainstream Churches
have changed ground on a vast range of issues affecting all
areas of life, always making its position acceptable, if sometimes
a little belatedly. The Roman Church’s use of saints, illustrates
the more general principle of how facts can be juggled to keep
the faithful happy. Many saints were appointed for political
purposes, to appease a particular faction. When the Gauls wanted
a saint around the beginning of the fifth century, having read
about eastern saints, a fictitious biography was produced for
Martin of Tours. Written by a friend of his, it soon elevated
Martin to sainthood, satisfying the proto-French desire for
a heavenly representative of their own.
In more recent times saints have been created to appease countries
like Mexico and Vietnam. Typically there is no very good reason
to make a saint, except that the nation feels slighted by not
having one, and the Vatican desires friendly relations. As political
priorities change so do claims to sainthood. The classic example
of this was Joan of Arc. As a sop to the English she was condemned
by the Catholic Church and burned as a transvestite (sic); several
hundred years later it became expedient to offer a sop to the
French, to whom she had become a national heroine, so in 1920
her case was reconsidered and she was discovered not to have
been guilty of transvestism, or heresy, or anything else, but
to have been a saint. This particular method of courting popularity
is currently being exploited more than it has been in the past.
Pope John Paul II has created more saints than all previous
popes put together.
Capture market share by force when possible. When the
opportunity arose Christians forced people to adopt their religion.
Christians have destroyed existing religions, taken over their
holy sites and their wealth, and killed anyone who declined
their offer permitting them to convert: Pagans, Jews, Moslems
– anyone in fact. In the past whole countries have been converted
at a stroke. Charlemagne converted the reluctant Saxons by offering
the choice of adopting Christianity or instant death. Late in
the tenth century Russia was converted when Prince Vladimir
(reigned 980-1015), adopted Christianity. His subjects were
given the simple choice of Christian baptism in the river Dneiper
or drowning in it. He is now a saint Again, in the eleventh
century Norway was converted under King Olav largely at the
point of the sword. He too is now a saint. The Christianisation
of Iceland was much less bloody than usual, though it shows
the technique. A Saxon missionary, Friedrich arrived in the
tenth century but was forced to leave when his assistant Thorvaldur
killed too many locals. In AD 1000 King Ólafur Tryggvason of
Norway was seized with evangelical Christian zeal. As Jón Hjálmarsson,
an Icelandic historian, relates
King Ólafur’s first missionary to Iceland was Stefnir Thorgilsson,
a native of Iceland, who started by attacking and breaking
down heathen temples, and was promptly exiled. Next, the King
sent a Flemish priest named Thangbrandur, who had reached
Norway via England. He managed to baptise several of the noble
Icelandic chieftains, but as he could not tolerate any opposition
and killed several men who spoke against him, he too had to
leave the country.
Further Christian missionaries so destabilised the country
that Thorgeir, the lawspeaker, was asked to decide what should
be done. A liberal and tolerant pagan himself, he decided that
Christianity should be adopted as the national religion, but
that the people should be allowed keep many of their traditional
practices, including the right to worship in private whatever
gods they chose. It seemed to be more than fair. Hjálmarsson
says of the conversion:
The introduction of Christianity in Iceland was a peaceful
and almost unique historical event. It was quite different
from the prolonged conflicts, warfare and bloodshed which
customarily accompanied Christianization in most other countries.
This peaceful settlement arose probably more for political
than religious reasons.
Within sixteen years the exemptions for traditional practices,
including the liberty to worship other gods, was abrogated.
As elsewhere, Christians now denied the liberty of worship that
they had so earnestly advocated for themselves. Within a century
compulsory tithes were introduced. Soon the Benedictine and
Augustinians had introduced the abuses and corruption common
in mainland Europe. By the thirteenth century a feudal system
had been introduced, and freeholders were reduced to feudal
tenants of the Roman Church. Another country had been successfully
In the centuries to come many other countries would experience
the process. Colonisation by European countries from the seventeenth
to the twentieth century has generally been accompanied by the
introduction of the Christianity which was at best coercive
and at worst forcible, leaving a residue of resentment and hatred
to this day, particularly in Africa  .
The Importance of Monopoly Supply
The Oldest and greatest monopolist of all, Holy Church
herself, the monopolist in God…
John Strachey, The Coming Struggle for Power,
Use thought control to bolster adherence. The key to
thought-control is education. Historically the church has controlled
education, as well as scholarly disciplines such as history,
philosophy, medicine and science. As soon as they are in a position
to do so Christians have taken over the function of educating
the young. In this way missionaries have been able to convert
communities within a single generation. In many parts of the
underdeveloped world, education is permitted only to those who
embrace the Christian faith. People thus have a great incentive
to adopt Christianity. If they do not then they and their children
are denied education altogether, and thus also the corresponding
privilege and influence. The effect of a selective and carefully
designed Christian education has been to ensure continued and
unquestioning acceptance of the faith. This continues to work
well in countries such as those in South America, Africa, and
southern Europe. But the need for intellectual submission is
universal. As Roman Catholic Law puts it, in Canon 752:
…a religious submission of intellect and will is to be given
to any doctrine which either the Supreme Pontiff or the College
of Bishops, exercising their authentic magisterium, declare
upon a matter of faith or morals, even though they do not
intend to proclaim that doctrine by definitive act.
Under traditional Christian methods, children are not so much
educated as indoctrinated. The Jesuits have traditionally boasted:
“Give me a child up the age of seven, and I will give you the
man” (it was taken for granted that a child to be educated would
be male). Other denominations have also recognised the power
of early conditioning, hence the development of Sunday Schools.
The purpose of schools for the Church was never to bring education
to the masses, it was to ensure continued doctrinal purity among
those with influence. Sunday schools became necessary only when
political power started to shift towards the proletariat in
the nineteenth century. The danger was that people could teach
themselves to read and write, and then give public readings
of books such as The Age of Reason. Sunday schools
were regarded explicitly as a bulwark against these trends.
It was thought that a properly indoctrinated mind would be immune.
Until then schools were generally for the privileged. Many were
founded specifically for the sons of clergymen. Where the population
was already 100% Christian it was not necessary to offer education
as an inducement, as it is for missionaries.
Minds conditioned to one body of dogma seem more than usually
willing to accept another. Throughout his life Stalin’s language
abounded with reminiscences of the seminary where he was trained.
History might have been very different if he had fulfilled his
mothers’ hopes of him becoming an Orthodox priest. So too if
Hitler and Mussolini had fulfilled their mothers’ hopes and
qualified for the Catholic priesthood. Karl Marx and Claus Barbie,
the Nazi mass-murderer, both attended a Catholic school at which
inquisitors had been trained at in earlier centuries. In most
Roman Catholic countries the Church still exercises strong control.
Once indoctrinated, children tend to stay in the Church for
life, and Catholicism is safe for another generation. The same
is true of other denominations in other parts of the world:
Greek Orthodoxy in Greece, Presbyterianism in much of Scotland,
Mormonism in Utah, Methodism in Fiji, and so on.
In the USA the churches also maintain a grip on education,
despite the supposed separation of Church and State. Somehow
religions have maintained an astonishingly high market penetration
there, approaching 100% up to recent years. The explanation
seems to be that religion has become associated in the popular
mind with being a good American. Atheism is perceived as being
tantamount to communism, and thus offensively un-American. Certainly
atheists and agnostics are subject to criticism and hostility  . In Greece Christian uniformity is even greater.
Anyone who does not belong to the Greek Orthodox Church is widely
regarded as not truly Greek. Until the nineteenth century the
whole of Europe had similar ideas. To be European was almost
the same as being Christian. Failure to believe made people
outsiders, undesirables, dangerous and alien. Churches have
always insisted that children be brought up in the faith – hence
the prevalence of child baptism. Indeed most denomination take
particular care to ensure that people marry only within the
denomination, or at the very least that any children will be
brought up within it.
Enforce adherence. After Christianity had established
itself under Constantine the practice of other religions was
suppressed, a pattern which was to be repeated many times over
the coming centuries. As soon as possible, access to alternative
theologies and philosophies have been prohibited, as have criticisms
of the dominant line of approved thought. As in our hypothetical
religion, Christianity has traditionally insisted that people
marry within the faith. Babies are generally Christened soon
after they are born. They are often indoctrinated at special
religious establishments. In the past it was an offence for
them to defect once they had grown up. Baptism was compulsory
and irrevocable, and any attempt at dissent was punished by
death. Attempts were always made to suppress or extirpate schism
and heresy whenever it was possible. All aspects of life were
encompassed by the Church. Christianity took over rights of
passage, e.g. birth (Churching of Women), naming (Baptism),
puberty (Confirmation), marriage (Holy matrimony) and death
(final unction and burial services), and sought to control access
to all information and knowledge.
local church was the living heart of the village, affecting
all aspects of life. Unless there was a nearby castle it was
the village fortress, in which the population could take refuge
in times of trouble. It was once stocked with weapons. Many
churches are still castellated, and some retain other reminders
of military connections: some church armouries survive, and
Regimental Colours hang in many Churches around the country.
Generally the church had the only clock in the locality, and
its bells “tolled” the time. In the church porch villagers conducted
business and concluded contracts of all kinds from marriage
to business deals – the notice board in the porch is a vestige
of this function (when Martin Luther pinned his 95 theses to
a church door he was merely pinning them on his university notice
board). The incumbent kept all local records, including births,
marriages and deaths, and had a hand in all important rights
of passage. A great wooden chest stored valuables, including
written contracts and villagers’ wills. The nave acted as a
confessional, village hall, and sometimes a shopping centre.
As well as armaments, all manner of common property was stored
there: the great fire-hook for pulling down burning buildings,
the cucking-stool for punishing scolds, a whip and tongs for
dealing with unwanted dogs, even the communal hearse and coffin.
Trials by ordeal were carried out in the nave. Later, Manor
Courts and even County Courts were also often held in the nave.
The church acted not only as a courtroom, but as military recruiting
station, registry, and information centre. Sermons were used
to disseminate news, and for official announcements. The only
way to learn of important events was in church – any news from
a foreign invasion, a royal declaration, a new law, approaching
plague. It also acted as a collection point for information
for the state, and as a social centre. Church ales, wedding
ales, and many other ales were celebrated at the church, and
each Sunday it provided an occasion for people to meet, to show
off, to gossip and to make dates. Anyone who failed to co-operate
or caused trouble was excluded from the church and thus also
from village life.
Medieval churches often doubled as fortresses
Prieuré et Église fortifiée de St-Michel
Ussel, Corrèze, Aquitaine-Limousin-Poitou-Charentes,
Exterminate people who are non-compliant. The Church
has an impressive record of killing those who disagree with
it. It has been responsible for the deaths of many millions
of atheists, Moslems, Jews, followers of Wicca and other non-Christians
who wished to remain faithful to the religion of their ancestors,
apostates, schismatics, heretics, and blasphemers: anyone in
fact who could be regarded as non-compliant. All have been done
away with, under the cloak of war or the judicial process.
…Be fruitful, and multiply…
Promote continuing expansion of our faith at all costs.
The Christian Church has indeed sought to expand, and has
used all possible techniques to do so. It has always been a
proselytising religion, sending out missions and using propaganda
(the church originated the word propaganda). It encouraged pogroms
and holy wars to eliminate or convert the competition. It followed
in the wake of conquest and colonisation. Money has also been
used to promote the interests of the Church. From the earliest
times bribes were paid to get Christians out of state prisons.
Ransoms were paid to have Christian convicts ransomed from the
Sardinian mines, and Judges were paid to deliver favourable
judgements. Soon, the Church would have total power over the
courts within the empire, but similar practices have been used
wherever the religion has spread.
Is this advertisement extolling progressive
Christianity or criticising it?
It seems to be an ad by traditionaist Christians poking
fun at denominations that
adjust themselves to modern circumstances in a bid for
The Christian Church has also taken care to appeal to as wide
a market as possible. For example it avoided the mistake of
Mithraism, which was to limit membership to men. It also allowed
in slaves and others rejected by other religions. Apart from
a few ancient sects it also rapidly dropped unpopular requirements
such as the need for circumcision, and the need for alien dietary
restrictions. Apart from a few sects like the Muggletonians
and the Shakers, most Christian sects have encouraged procreation
following the divine injunction “go forth and multiply”. As
one might expect sects whose members have multiplied have grown
large, while those that have not have died out  . Generally, an effective
method of ensuring propagation of the faith is to prohibit contraception
among adherents. This is particularly effective in overpopulated
countries where contraception is practised by other members
of the community. The simple truth is that if one group in a
population maintains a higher than average rate of reproduction
then it will eventually become dominant. This, of course, is
a strategy adopted by the Roman Catholic Church. As long as
overpopulation does not destroy the world altogether, the Roman
Catholic Church is assured of growing influence. Overpopulation
will lead to poverty and ignorance, and thus a perfect future
market for religion.
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me a steep and thorny way to heaven;
Whilst, like a puff’d and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,
And reckes not his own rede
William Shakespeare (1564-1616), Hamlet I, iii
Establish symbiotic relationships with the civil powers.
As we have already seen the Christian Church soon established
a comfortable relationship with the Roman Empire. The Emperor
was the “bishop of bishops” and in return Church dignitaries
enjoyed significant political power. Christianity gave a degree
of stability to a rotting empire, and provided assurances that
the Emperor had been appointed by God. In return Christianity
enjoyed the monopoly it had desired, suppressing other religions
by force, destroying their temples, and seizing their holy sites.
Soon the Church was creaming off more than 10% of the income
of everyone within its jurisdiction. For centuries Church and
State would validate each other, and support each other’s rights,
the Church latching on to whoever was in power at the time.
As Thomas Paine put it:
As an engine of power, it serves the purpose of despotism;
and as a means of wealth, the avarice of priests; but so far
as respects the good of man in general, it leads to nothing
here or hereafter. 
Even now the western world continues many remnants of this
relationship. Most notably churches are exempt from certain
taxes in most countries, and in some even retain the right to
levy taxes themselves. In return the Church endorses cultural
values, from the Orthodox national Churches to the All-American
sects of the USA. In the past Church Officials even acted as
civil rulers, from the Greek Ethnarchs to the many Prince Bishops
of Europe (one of whom is still the joint head of state of Andorra).
Excuse ourselves from onerous requirements. Over the
centuries the Church has exempted itself from all manner of
civil duties and restraints. It has not paid taxes, has established
its own courts of law dispensing its own justice, and evaded
all manner of civil responsibilities.
Make ourselves Rich. The Church was quick to capitalise
on its position. Already in Roman times wealthy men and widows
were expected to leave a third of their property to the Church.
Others were taught to remember the Church in their wills, and
to treat “Christ’s Bride” as they would an additional child.
Within a century the Church was enormously rich, yet it has
continued to benefit from wills, as well as other monetary contributions
ever since. The sale of magical charms and holy relics brought
in huge amounts of money. Bodies were dug up and dismembered
to feed the market for new saints. Bishops and kings mounted
raids against established shrines to capture the bones of the
more important (and therefore profitable) saints. Relics were
rented out to work their routine miracles: everything from curing
murrain in cattle by using St Wilfrid’s signet to ensuring a
safe childbirth by wearing a holy girdle. Churches siphoned
off many billions of pounds for the personal use of their leaders.
The money came from compulsory taxes and tithes; selling forgiveness
for crimes and sins; selling Church offices; selling future
promises (indulgences); seizing other people’s property (having
killed or dispossessed them for real or imaginary crimes); taking
over other cultures’ religious sites and goods, Government funding,
pimping, investment income, rent, donations, and fees. The Church
even raised money through professional begging, though the beggars
were dignified by titles such as mendicants and quaestores.
Compulsory fees were charged for masses and other clerical services.
Voluntary fees were charged for a range of privileges from admission
shrines of saints, to the right to be buried inside a church.
Admission to monasteries was restricted to the rich, and in
order to enter they were expected to bring a dowry with them.
Unnecessary prohibitions were enforced, then licences and dispensations
were sold to allow people to avoid them: permission to marry
a distant relative, permission to marry ‘out of season’, permission
for a man of illegitimate birth to enter Holy Orders, permission
for a priest to keep a concubine. There were hundreds of such
exemptions to be purchased from the Church. Taken together the
Christian Churches must be, and for a long time must
have been, the wealthiest body in the world. And the money is
still rolling in. When the pope visits a country, good seats
in any Church he visits can be sold for £11,000 or more. It
is a rare church leader who is not immensely wealthy. From the
Pope, who is probably the richest man on earth, to the smallest
American evangelist millionaire.
All in all, the Christian Church, or rather the principal Christian
Churches, have behaved remarkably like
our hypothetical marking religion up until recent times. It
has engaged in heavy marketing to gain market share and then
enforced monopoly wherever possible. Indeed it has matched our
hypothetical man-made religion in every respect. No one imagines
that Christianity has been merely a deliberate, ruthless, sustained,
cynical marketing invention? So how is one to explain this remarkable
similarity? The answer would seem to be yet another deep mystery.
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