Starting a religion is a surprisingly simple process. The entire system generally takes only a handful of basic steps.
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Step 1: Finding your followers
A religion is worthless if you don't have people to worship it. Do some basic research on who you're targeting with your divine message. This step is critical; failure to optimize your gospel towards the right audience can cause your project to be dead before it can even begin conversions. Statistics show that 92% of religions fail in their first year. Don't meet the same fate as them.
You'll need to determine which group of followers will benefit you most. There are four equally valid options, each with pros and cons.
Poor, powerless people
Follow in the footsteps of Jesus, for once in your life. Christianity, with its message of equality and spirituality over material wealth, has great appeal to the downtrodden.
- Advantages: There are lots of them, and they breed like rabbits.
- Disadvantages: They are, by definition, poor and powerless, so it's difficult to milk them for much.
An ethnic group
- Advantages: Your followers will feel ever-so-special.
- Disadvantages: You can only grow as fast as they can reproduce, so you'll need to pick a big one.
Rich, crazy people
Scientology targets rich, mentally ill celebrities, and every American knows about it.
- Advantages: Rich people have tons of money, power, and influence. Crazy rich people have tons of money, power, influence, and tabloid-worthy exploits. Do the math.
- Disadvantages: When money can solve most of your problems, you don't need to turn to religion for help.
As of yet, an untapped group.
- Advantages: They possess lots of technical skills; if your computer breaks down, PC repair can immedately become a free ticket to heaven.
- Disadvantages: They tend to be skeptics. Plus, do you really want a bunch of nerds for followers?
Step 2: Creating your main character
- A commanding authority figure
- A rugged, attractive image
- Adept at crowd control
- Blessed with an easily singable name
- Equipped with a beard
In the event you cannot create a single suitable figurehead, polytheism may be the one true calling. Experiment a bit and bounce ideas off of prospective members. Believeability is a plus, but not entirely necessary; religions have been created on less.
Step 3: Writing a backstoryWithout a backstory, your religion is utterly pointless. Who would believe in something without any historical basis? You'll need a solid explanation of how we all got here, what we're doing here, who put us here, and for what purpose. Craft a complex story involving divine acts, angels, epiphanies, godly powers, and pregnant chicks. If you can't think of anything good, take a stab in the dark. Uh... golden plates.
Step 4: Crafting a plotline
You need to make sure that your followers will keep coming back. Keep them entertained with cliffhangers. You can create these by crucifying your god, enforcing constant struggles, or crafting tabloid fodder. Any way you look at it, something's got to keep them interested. When you've got it figured out, put it in some sort of book. Writing down your story gives you an easy reference, and lends credibility to it; after all, if someone bothered to publish it, it must be true.
Step 5: Laying out rulesRule of thumb: the basic tenets of a religion should fit on the back of a post card. Think of the Ten Commandments or the Fivefold Path of Buddhism.
The rules of a religion should provide a handy how-to guide for life that covers everything from what you eat and wear to moral decisions. Questions to consider when crafting your rules:
Killing: Positive or negative?
You'll need to think this through very carefully; even the slightest loophole in a "Thou shalt not kill" can lead to a vigilante in the name of your god. Until you make the big leagues, that's some solid negative PR that can bring you down as a cult.
Of course, if your religion advocates killing, then you're not very concerned about PR; just kill your critics.
Women: Equal or subservient?
Are they inferior in the eyes of your god, and expected to do whatever the husband says? How many wives can each of your followers have? Does this limit apply to the leader of the faith?
Food: What do you hate?
Most religions have foods they consider taboo; for instance, Hindus can't eat cows, Jews can't eat pork, male Catholics can't eat sperm. If there are any substances you really can't stand-- mayo, for example-- you can simply have your god declare them unclean, unholy, and unacceptable. You'll never have to deal with it again.
Afterlife: What comes next?
What's the result of following or not following the rules? Without consequences, your rules aren't enforceable. Put in a Heaven, Hell, Hades, Purgatory, whatever. Reincarnation is also good, both as a reward and a punishment ("If you disobey God's word and eat mayo, you will come back as a lowly creation; a bug, or a rock, or an eggplant, something like that. THE LORD HAS SPOKEN.")
Step 6: Determining your ritualsThe essence of the ritual is mindless repetition, which keeps your followers from asking pesky questions like "If every religion says that every other religion is false, why should I believe in any religion?" Some tried and true methods:
- Chants and prayers. Chant words in a language you don't speak, babble in tongues, copy sacred texts, or say prayers fifty times until you too bored out of your skull able to think critical, rational thoughts about their meaning. When faith is going out your mouth, disbelief cannot go into your mind.
- Sacrifice and offerings. Killing animals is historically done as a ritual in numerous religions, but these days it tends to get the ASPCA and PETA after you. You may want to hold off on sacrificing lambs and chickens. Aim your spiritual sights a bit lower; try sacrificing a vegetable, such as a squash or turnip. Offerings of money, made at altars, idols, and off-shore bank accounts, are a great source of supplementary income.
- Feasts and fasts. Everyone loves a feast, especially if you're in the United States. Schedule as many holiday feasts as possible, and you'll keep your pudgy people pleasant. Fasts aren't as popular these days, but add some in anyway; market your religion as a combination of spiritual salvation and a proven weight-loss regime.
- Substances. Some religions also involve the ritual use of substances such as wine or peyote. Hint: get your congregation to fire up a few bowls, start reading your Sacred Text, and then put Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" on in the background. It's waaay trippy, man!
Step 7: Lining up financesReligions are gigantic empires, taking lots of money to sustain themselves. If you want to stay afloat, you'll need to get financial backing. You can go a few different ways depending on your own personal preferences.
- Your followers. This is the most common method, and your weekly paycheck is easily collected in the form of a "tithing," "donation," or "charity drive." As long as there's a positive cash flow, you can call it whatever you damn well please.
- Politicians. You'll find that "donations" from politicians are exceedingly generous. Be sure to repay the favor with a loving endorsement for the giver's "generosity."
- The government. This is the hardest to accomplish; you'll need to either a) convince an existing government to adopt your religion as the state religion, giving you a portion of tax money to maintain the "moral well-being" of its citizens, or b) create your own government, setting your own rules and regulations.
Step 8: Getting out there
You've made all the preparations. You've got a character, a story, and a plan for survival. It's time to put it out there. There are several ways to establishing yourself.
a. Create a website
Nothing says spiritual redemption better than a page thrown together in Microsoft FrontPage in fifteen minutes giving a basic outline of your beliefs. Toss a link around a bit in guestbooks and comments, and Google will pick you up. If all goes well, you should end up the top hit for "holy deity religion spiritual one true path." That's the money search.
b. Opening a place of worshipIs your god physical? Can you pretend that they are for the sake of getting on your feet? Open a place of worship near you. You need not build an extravagant cathedral; a rented-out storefront in your local strip mall will suffice. Remember: the one true religion always has humble beginnings.
c. Boastful beginnings
If you've gathered financial backing already, blow it on promotion. Hire people to join the ministry, advertise on television, and pay stores to only accept your religion's prayers as currency. Remember: the one true religion always has extravagant beginnings.
d. Stir up a shitstorm
Raise some hell. Hold protests. Declare bounties on celebrities on the word of your god. If all else fails, start a campaign to create a colony that's "holier" than current civilization. Somewhere in the Rockies should suffice.
Step 9: Milking the profit
You should be rich and famous by this point; you're the leader of a major religion, you have people worshipping your creation, and you will never pay for another check when you're on a date. Milk it for all it's worth. Planes, trains, automobiles, lions, tigers, bears, snap, crackle, and pop. Gather as much as you can from your followers. Take pride; you are the most powerful man in existence.
Now book it to Mexico.