Thursday, April 7, 2011

History 111: How to Start Your Own Religion (Part I)

So I have decided to put my dissertation research to some practical use and will be starting my own messianic cult. I figure that, considering my knowledge of the history of religion I should be able to learn from the mistakes of other would be Messiahs and prophets. (Note to readers; being a Messiah is a difficult and dangerous task to be left to those with years of professional graduate school experience.)

Now in making claims of supernatural revelation there are three levels, forming a very wide pyramid. At the bottom of the pyramid are the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people, throughout history who claimed supernatural revelation. Such people stood around on street corners and were, for the most part, ignored. The more successful of them  might have been mocked by those passing by or even arrested by the Inquisition on charges of heresy. We tend to call such people cranks and lunatics. Obviously as a would be Messiah of my talent I think I can do significantly better than this.

The next level up were those who managed to form small groups of followers around themselves; in other words cult leaders. Such people are relatively more rare, perhaps a few thousand in all of history, as this actually requires, as we shall see, a very specific set of skills. Examples of such people would be David Koresh, Rev. Moon of the Unification Church, Hong Xiuquan from nineteenth century China, who claimed to be the brother of Jesus and started the Taiping rebellion which caused the deaths of some twenty million people and my beloved Sabbatai Sevi. Such a path, while offering minor celebrity status, carries with it serious risk of sudden violent death due to government officials not appreciating your message of peace, love and killing the unbeliever. Of course Sabbatai did leverage his messianic career into a nice honorary position in the Ottoman civil service.

At the top of the pyramid were those very rare individuals who, with a mixture of talent and the right historical circumstances, managed to become the heads of major religions, with millions, even billions, of followers willing to start wars in their name, billions of dollars, and massive houses of worship to gladden the heart of even the most humble Messiah. The all time most successful person in this elite group was Jesus, with some two billion Christians. With over a billion Muslims, Mohammad comes in second. Even I, in my great humility, do not believe I can play in the same league as Jesus or Mohammad, but perhaps I can match the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, and create a religion with a few million followers and a Broadway show.

Entering this field is about as easy as becoming a struggling artist as it does not require any actual talent or job experience. All you need to do is claim a supernatural revelation, a visit from say God, the angel Gabriel, Elijah the Prophet, Jesus or the Virgin Mary, and a message, something about peace, God's love, his kingdom is coming and everyone is going to die unless they repent very soon. While it may require no talent, it is necessary for even the most talented Messiah to start at the bottom so the position is not to be mocked. Being a divine messenger has the advantage over being an artist in that, by virtue of just the job title, you can automatically catapult yourself over all those theologians with years of theoretical experience in the field; artists have to walk in the shadow of those more established in their field. Of course being an artist has the advantage of allowing you to sit around coffee shops, safe from the elements and the mob, instead of street corners. Note to self; make sure to do research into the feasibility of becoming the first Starbucks Messiah.     

(To be continued ...)


Garnel Ironheart said...

I know you're enjoying the academic thing but have you ever considered gainful employment as a better way of passing the time?

Izgad said...

I am open to suggestions if you have know of any jobs that might require someone with my particular set of skills. :)

Clarissa said...

"allowing you sit around coffee shops"

- to sit.

" Not to self"

-Didn't you mean "note to self"?

A great post! You have a fantastic sense of humor. :-)

Izgad said...

Thank you.