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About the author: Sophie, a writer from the British credit cards comparison service money.co.uk, forwarded on this overview of religions as businesses. While trying to be as impartial as possible, something like this will always cause a bit of contention but the figures certainly speak volumes on their own.
The Business of Religion
The link between money and religion is a grey area, fraught with conspiracy and scandal. Some of the wealthiest organisations on the planet are religions or religious movements – some ancient, some modern – yet the followers of religion and the countries in which they are practised are often the poorest. The money.co.uk team has examined some of the richest religions and their relationships with wealth.
Established in 1952 as a successor to dianetics, the Church of Scientology has always been a controversial entity. It’s been criticised for taking money from gullible people, some of whom have committed suicide or found themselves homeless as a result of the extortionate fees incurred as a Thetan. Reports of harassment, covert surveillance and blacked-out SUVs are not uncommon among members of The Church of Scientology.
Number of followers: The Church of Scientology claims to have over 8 million followers worldwide and 3.5 million in the United States alone, but a 2008 survey showed that just 20,000 American individuals identified themselves as Scientologists.
Notorious for: Selling beliefs to vulnerable people, being expensive, being quite uniquely absurd.
Fortune comes from: The subscription based religion charges to allow members to progress up the religious hierarchy. It costs $277,010 to reach Operating Thetan VIII, the highest rank in the Church of Scientology. Newcomers to Scientology are thoroughly scrutinised financially, then encouraged to take out loans to cover their payments.
Total worth: Not known, but definitely in the hundreds of millions and probably in the billions of dollars.
Spends on: They have a cruise ship to practise their Scientology training on, although most members’ cash appears to disappear before their very eyes.
The Catholic Church isn’t without its critics. The traditional bells-and-smells Catholic services extol the virtues of a life without possessions, and an existence free of money. However, the Catholic Church harbours some of the world’s greatest and most exquisite works of art, and huge chunks of gold deposits stored around the world.
Number of followers: 1.181 billion worldwide and rising.
Notorious for: Telling AIDS-ridden African nations that you go to hell if you use contraception, along with some known cases of child abuse.
Fortune comes from: Mostly priceless works of art, but the Catholic Church were implicated in the disappearance of plundered Nazi gold, discovered in the mid 1980s. Tourism to the Vatican accounts for some of their income.
Total worth: Hundreds of billions of dollars worldwide.
Spends on: Upkeep of an extensive international network of churches, compensation payouts for abuse victims (totalling over half a billion dollars in the USA).
Shrouded in secrecy and an air of mystery, Freemasonry is not a religion in its own right. It requires its members to believe in a “supreme being” of some sort, but is not specific as to which one. In some countries, like Sweden, the members accepted are only Christians. Hundreds of conspiracies exist, accusing Freemasons of being part of a New World Order which strives to dominate the planet through control of finances. A Masonic symbol, the Eye of Providence, can be found on the $1 bill, the Great Seal of the United States, and the logo of DARPA’s Information Awareness Office.
Number of followers: Six million worldwide.
Notorious for: Secret handshakes, allegations of corruption and an impenetrable old-boys network.
Fortune from: Wealthy individuals form the bulk of the Masonic ranks.
Total worth: Depends who you believe – if the Freemasons control as much money as conspiracy theorists believe, the Freemasons are the richest organisation in the world.
Spends on: Charity. Masonic lodges all have philanthropic tendencies, and most run health or education projects.
This particular element of Christianity is a largely American phenomenon, whereby huge numbers of people can be addressed by one minister via television broadcasts. Ostensibly it’s the same Christianity as everywhere else, but in reality it shares more with the personal morality preachers of Texan megachurches. The beauty of televangelism lies with something called the prosperity gospel, defined by the belief that “Jesus blesses believers with riches”. This assurance that “God will provide you with material wealth if you watch my television programmes and also the adverts in between” clearly works.
Number of followers: Although there are no official figures, televised Church services continue to draw in large audiences in America and across the world.
Notorious for: Peddling a distorted version of Christianity, speaking in tongues and being completely unaccountable to any reputable organisation within the Christian Church.
Fortune from: Donations, adverts, selling merchandise to followers, and many other commercial activities under a tax-free umbrella.
Total worth: The industry could be worth billions.
Spends on: TV evangelists have a life of luxury. Multi-million dollar homes, travel by private jet and international ‘crusades’ at $3,000 a night are not uncommon.
5. The Church of England
A lot of the Church of England’s distinctive flavour stems from Henry VIII’s determination to divorce Catherine of Aragon. There had been attempts to separate the English church before, most notably by the hilariously named Lollardy movement, but it was Henry’s efforts which ultimately resulted in the creation of Anglicanism and his excommunication.
Number of followers: 25 million baptised members
Notorious for: split within the Church over allowing homosexuals and women to become priests and bishops.
Fortune from: £200 million ($320m) in cash donations from congregations, £250m ($400m) in legacies, events and services, and £200m ($320m) in Gift-Aid donations. The Church used to be the biggest landowner in Britain, but most of that land was sold off to fund the £4.4bn investment portfolio which earns £160m+ ($255m+) every year.
Total worth: Billions.
Spends on: Pensions, salaries, and maintaining 16,000 ancient buildings (most of which are Grade 1 listed). There are 43 cathedrals which require constant upkeep and repair.
6. The Richest Billionaires with Faith
Carlos Slim – $74bn
Larry Ellison – $39.5bn
Lakshmi Mittal – $31.1bn
Amancio Ortega – $31bn
Eike Batista – $30bn
Mukesh Ambani – $27bn
Christy Walton – $26.5bn
Born into Presbyterianism
The original article can be seen here.