• Poonam Dutta (Satyamshakti)

The subtle art of making money from religion

Once upon a time, people of this world functioned perfectly well when guided by the laws of spirituality. With the rise of human greed, these belief systems fell, only to be replaced by the institution of organized religions. Wars were fought over who's religion served the one true God and in the end, there was no real winner. Today, in the developed world we are the height of secularism, the world has simply switched to pseudo-religion worshiping the God of money.

The famous author and journalist George Orwell once wrote: "there might be a lot of cash in starting a new religion". Frustrated by the illogical laws of religion, at one point even you might have had the thought about starting a new religion of your own or maybe open up a new franchise or an old one?

Given the widespread practice of "religious" saints, preaches and pandits to enrich themselves at the expense of the followers, you are not the first one to think about climbing up the career ladder in a religious enterprise. Regardless of God served, the unchecked and unimaginable growth of religious institutions across the globe is mostly backed by politicians and greedy mindset of religious impostors.

Since time immemorial, religion has exploited human behavior either through the threat of hell or the promise of heaven. There are numerous reports of god men exhorting worshipers to pay generously if they want the Lord's blessings. The more they pay the more their God will exclusively listen to them. If not done so, they are sure to be ravaged by demons in hell.

There is no doubt that fear or praise of God sells like hot cakes in a country like India. The Indian religion market is estimated to be worth over $30 billion! The movie 'Oh My God' directed by Umesh Shukla brilliantly exposes this shady side of the so-called pious representatives of god. These gurus, mullahs, and pastors are shown to be knee-deep in money and scandals run in the name of God!

A few weeks before the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, the goons of Hindu temples start swirling around residential areas forcing people to pay donations to create a huge Ganpati idol. They make further money on this idol by charging worshipers to come and see it, little amount to stand in the long queue and considerably higher amount to skip the line and see the idol. This doesn't include the highly-priced prasad to keep under the feet of the idol.

Another huge affinity fraud comes from the close-knit and secretive community of Dawoodi Bohras. While on the outside they maintain the facade of a peaceful and business-minded community, from inside the story is different. The Dawoodi Bohra Dai (leader) runs his own internal government and forcefully collects taxes from the followers known as wajebaat. He is not accountable to any of the amount collected, neither does the Sayyedna declare what welfare projects are to be carried out with the amount collected.

In 2005, the 52nd Dai- the late Sayyedna Mohammed Burhanuddin inaugurated Saifee Hospital in Mumbai, built in the memory of his father the 51st Dai Sayyedna Taher Saifuddin. To collect funds for this hospital, a worldwide campaign was run amongst the Bohra community, where members were forced to add donation along with the yearly wajebaat. Technically, this makes it a public hospital but all the benefits gained from it go directly in Kothar’s (the royal family) coffer.

It's safe to say that the faith market has become a sublime way to make a ridiculous amount of wealth. And mind you this entire business is run through trust, meaning it's exempted from taxes and almost impossible to be traced to the religious teachers.

The reason affinity-based frauds are flourishing is that people want to trust. People for some reason feel more comfortable when it comes to affinity situations. Be it a temple, church, or a mosque, people don't look as hard as they should at what's in front of them.

As a student, preacher, and spreader of spirituality minus the mumbo jumbo of the godly idol, I firmly believe that inner peace can not be bought or sold. And as long as there are people who willingly take advantage of the ignorant and ignorant people who think they can buy forgiveness for their sins and reserve a ticket to heaven, the complex relationship between spirituality and money will prevail- all this in the name of a God.

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