The Shysters of Faith
We in the Western community of non-theists tend to spend much of our time focusing on the effects and ramifications of Christian religion on our politics and lives, and we know all too well what these are: religions taught in schools, religion in governments making decisions based on interpretations of the bible, indoctrination of the young into faiths, and using religion as an excuse to impose bigotry on others, just to name a few.
One of the most insidious practices within religion is not those who truly believe, but those who see the human weakness of propensity for belief as a means to gain from it. Evangelical churches in the USA net massive profits in the name of their God, claiming faith healing and miracles abound within the walls of their churches. For example, Joel Osteen’s church reportedly makes as much as 75 million dollars in profits per year (according to this 2008 report) from his megachurch that holds over 16,000 people, “by urging us to let go of it, to turn it over to God, to accept God’s favor so that we may be as prosperous as Joel.”
Some would say this is fine, Joel is making use of his God-given talent for preaching and turning a tidy little profit, all while spreading the word of The Lord. But what people may fail to see is that unemployment rates are high in the congregation, and yet Osteen still willingly takes their money. People like Osteen profit from others weaknesses, and yet they still love him and flock to see him every week. Just what is going on here? What is it in people, apart from perfect hair and botoxed jowls, that makes people believe in others to the point where they may be doing themselves a disservice?
What is it about a person that makes others want to follow them?
At this year’s SXSW festival an American filmmaker named Vikram Gandhi set out to make a film where he posed as a guru, walking the earth and preaching to people for the sakes of his documentary experiment “Kumaré“. Watch this short report to find out more.
So people can easily create personas, and people will follow along if all the trappings seem right. For Vikram Gandhi, it helped that he was able to grow such a full guru-esque beard, and that he is of Indian heritage, and the phrases and words of these gurus can easily be found on the Internet. The whole package, then, is that Gandhi actually became Kumaré to his followers.
If is is this easy for a Westerner to grow a beard and emulate the accent of his parents to become a guru, it makes me wonder how many people are following the words of gurus in the third world?What kinds of things are people believing simply because the trappings seem right? What we often overlook is that this kind of profit-taking happens all over the world, and in areas with high population, poverty and disease. In India, the problem of “magic men” coming into villages and profiting off the poor villagers is rife. The people claim to be able to rid the villages of evil spirits, increase fertility, ensure healthy crops for the coming year, and allow for prosperity of this village. But of course it is all sham.
Some people are sick of the blatant trickery of these gurus and have decided to do something about is by becoming gurus themselves, performing the tricks, and them revealing to the villagers the scam, in the hopes that the people of India might stop believing in suerstition and trickery, and thereby be able to hold on to their precious possessions.
Do you see the parallel between Joel Osteen’s church and the guru in India? The scale is markedly different, but the message is the same; it’s easy to prey upon those weaker than you in the name of superstition, and in the process make a living.