HowTo:Start a Religion
Starting a religion is a surprisingly simple process, as most people are unquestioning and basically looking to be told what to think and do. 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 die for it or give money or sexual privileges to it. Do some basic research on who you're targeting: e.g., lost but loyal do-gooders, middle-aged questioners, or handsome blonde preteen boys. 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 [your diety], 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, if any.
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, except for cults like Heaven's Gate.
- 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
If you want to be in the big leagues causing international conflict, you need to craft a convincing lead. Christians have Jesus, Jews have Moses, Muslims have Mohammed and Google Employees have Google. Your Deity must be:
- A commanding authority figure
- Hiding or possessing a small Penis
- A rugged, attractive image
- Adept at crowd control
- Blessed with an easily singable name
- Equipped with a beard
- Someone who says "Listen to me and do what I say or else" a lot, in plenty of different ways
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 backstory
Without 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... volcano dipping, colorfully flaming Ascended Masters.
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 rules
Rule of thumb: the basic tenets of a religion should fit on the back of a post card. Think of the Ten Commandments or the Eightfold 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?
For a religion, it's usually good to kill members of other religions or non-believers because that means more of your faith to go around. Of course, dogs, cats, and lizards are exempt because they are soulless and going to burn, rot, and be tortured ad infinitum anyway.
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?
Afterlife: What comes next?
If your members simply live until death, they'll get bored. You have to give them something to look forward to! How about the ability -- after they die -- of being able to assist their grandchildren on their SAT tests? Yay for heaven!
Step 6: Determining your rituals
The essence of the ritual is mindless repetition, which keeps your followers from asking pesky questions like "If every religion says that my religion is false, why should I believe it?" Some tried and true methods:
- Hats. Be it a large pointy hat or a small disc, the average citizen believes the only thing between them and the "heavens" is a hat -- exploit this absurdity and require your followers to wear (or not wear) hats. Especially effective if hat-wearing-privileges are based on gender, religious seniority, or penis size.
- Taboo Foods: Can your followers eat fish? Can they eat pork? What about bullshit? Clearly they must, and they certainly will enjoy the dietary restrictions you impose, because they make it easier to shop and order out. Set up a system where food vendors have to pay your religious institution a fee to obtain certification or risk being ignored by members of your kick-ass religion.
- 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 local SPCA 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 finances
Religions 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 worship
Is your god physical? Can you pretend that they are for the sake of getting on your feet? You might just want to consider certain parts of the earth to be holier than other parts of the earth. 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
Piggyback on the cowardice of your government's attitude toward local religions: demand equal treatment as previously established religions such as tax-free real estate, exemption from military duty, and ability to practise scientific ignorance.
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, zeppelins, maglev, high-speed rail, 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 Canada.