Rules Are for Schmucks: Money Tips from the God Industry – Part 1

Last spring I wrote a piece called How Religion Makes Its Money, touching on a variety of innovative ways in which a God industry with nothing genuine to sell manages to rake in the billions—everything from kidnapping to insurance fraud to market manipulation for gravestones. I don’t know if anyone else liked it, but I did. So here are a few more tidbits along the same lines—so many, in fact, that I’ve had to split it into two pieces, lest it overload and break your Internet.


The God industry has dramatically declined in Japan, where only 13 percent of the population now describes itself as religious. To the rescue rides, with its new “Rent-A-Monk” service. You can see the listing here but it’s in Japanese, so you may need to use a browser with a translation feature. In any language, it’s the perfect gift for the man or woman who has everything: a prayer or a whole set of incantations, recited at a location of your choice and that do nothing at all!

Not everyone appreciates what this Amazon vendor is doing, though. Just as brick-and-mortar booksellers resent that fact that Amazon has driven most of them out of business, Japan’s monks who aren’t listed on the Rent-a-Monk service are equally resentful and demand that their new competition be shut down. “In Christian or Muslim countries, there are no examples of commercializing a religious act,” Akisato Saito, chairman of the Japanese Buddhist Federation, harrumphed to one newspaper.

No commercializing of religious acts in Christian countries? Mr. Saito ought to tune in to a televangelist sometime. Maybe he’d get some fresh ideas to perk up his own sales, instead of just trying to put his competitors out of business.

Coffee competition

B’Nei Brak is reputed to be the most religious, most Orthodox-dominated city in Israel. Prominent Orthodox businessmen, though, who had dominated coffee sales in the city, were infuriated when the evil of competition reared its ugly head. A chain of coffee shops called Cofix recently entered B’Nei Brak, employing the satanic trick of reduced prices.

A secular response might have been to match the lower price, or improve your quality, or improve your ambience, or smile more when you’re serving the coffee. Instead, the established coffee kiosks are dragging God into it, plastering the city with posters reading “A new disease has appeared recently, seriously threatening the pure identity of the city of Torah and Hasidism.” The posters are signed by “The Committee for Maintaining the City’s Identity.” According to reports, religious schools are forbidding (or at least attempting to forbid) their students to buy this godless coffee, and B’Nei Brak’s Ashkenazi rabbi, Moshe Landa, refused to grant his kosher approval stamp to three cheap coffee kiosks.

A Wing and a Prayer

In March 2014, Malaysian Air Flight 370 disappeared without a trace, after (maybe) wandering way, way off course. It has never been found, despite a massive international search. Four months later, Malaysian Air Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine. Then a few months after that, another Malaysia-based airline, AirAsia, crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 162 aboard. These disasters sparked a number of jokes, which might have been funny only if you avoid thinking about the thousands of surviving family members whose lives have been shattered. And now they’ve sparked some godly competition in the form of a new Malaysian airline that promises to stay airborne through the power of Allah.

Rayani Air will begin every flight with a recitation of Muhammad’s supplication before his travel, with all passengers expected to participate. Don’t expect to buy any alcohol on board, or for that matter a ham sandwich. If you buy beef, chicken, or lamb instead, you can be assured that the animal will have been tortured in the proper halal manner at the time it was slaughtered. The days of flight attendants being hired for their looks are happily long gone, but the flight attendants on Rayani Air will be required to hide whatever charms they happen to possess behind heavy Muslim tents.

Here’s a factoid the comedians ought to be able to do something with: Rayani Air is actually owned by Hindus, not by Muslims. They’re just cashing in on Muslim superstition as best they can.

Monetize Refugees

Rhett Butler sagely notes in Gone With the Wind that “There’s good money in empire building. But, there’s more in empire wrecking.… I’m making my fortune out of the wreckage.” Faith-based organizations are heeding his advice by making millions off the plight of Syrian refugees.

Refugees frequently have to borrow money to pay the costs of their travel. Lenders, including government lenders, are anxious to be repaid. That’s a little more difficult, though, when a borrower ends up who-knows-where in another country. So lenders have begun paying rich commissions to faith-based refugee organizations, who often have a better handle on where many of these refugees are, to help track them down and squeeze loan repayments out of them—at the same 25-percent-of-all-amounts-recovered rate that commercial debt collectors get. Last year, religious agencies earned more than five million dollars this way.

Next time you hear religious lobbying for admitting more Middle Eastern refugees (as opposed to, say, Mexican refugees who make their way here on their own), think for a minute about the multiple motives involved.

Sell Indulgences

Martin Luther raised a stink five hundred years ago about the Catholic Church’s practice of selling reductions in divine punishments for sins. After the Reformation, Catholics cut back on the practice, but didn’t eliminate it entirely. It now focuses on the “Jubilee Year,” a time during which Catholics who make a pilgrimage to Rome and jump through some other hoops can earn reduction in the punishment for their sins. Once in Rome, of course, Catholics tend to spend lots of money, which is the point.

Originally, there was supposed to be a Jubilee once every hundred years, but the desire for more and more money has caused the church to pick up the pace. There was a Jubilee in 1983, another in 2000, and another that just started last November. The Vatican has taken special precautions to make sure that the euros spent by tourists end up in its own pockets, not in those of other entrepreneurs, by enlisting the Italian government to help crack down on “fraudulent” apostolic blessing documents. But come one, is a “real” apostolic blessing actually more valuable to the customer than a “fake” one?

Despite all the hoopla, this year’s Jubilee seems to be a bust—tourism levels in Rome are apparently no higher now than they were this time last year. Have they gone to the well one time too often?

Next week: Stealing from collections, godly tax strategies, and protecting assets from special dangers