Between Stockholm Syndrome and Lima Syndrome
Part 50: A Self-perpetuating Pyramid Scheme Trickled Down Straight from Heaven
-ROBERT G. INGERSOLL
In Part 49 (It Takes Two to Tango) we briefly touched on the subject of foolishness and waste, which are indeed incompatible with the core beliefs of most organized religions. Historically, all religions started as cults, evolved into sects, then subsequently evolved into religions. While cults come and go, those which survived and matured into religions must have relied on resourcefulness, if not extreme conservation of resources.
Hinduism teaches the notion of "conserve ecology or perish." The third chapter of Bhagavad Gita (dialog between Krishna and Arjuna), states that a life without contribution toward the preservation of ecology is "a life of sin and a life without specific purpose or use." Islam is explicitly against extravagance, particularly in the notions of israf (consuming more than what one needs) and tabzir (spending resources for unnecessary things).
Raised as a Catholic by strict parents who would raise hell if I had the audacity to skip even a single Sunday Mass, no one can blame me for still memorizing Jesus' aphorism of the camel passing through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24) which captivated me as a kid. Well, sorry Jesus, but just tell this parable to ultra rich pastors whose net worth are beyond your wildest imagination. According to a report released by the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance of January 2011 (Grassley Releases Review of Tax Issues Raised by Media-based Ministries), regarding tax-exempt status of churches and religious organizations, many pastors are so rich they can actually buy out the kingdom of God, change all divine conventions, and overrule Jesus.
As summarized in the aforementioned report, Kenneth Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries (KCM) in Texas has a net worth of at least $1,200,000,000. Owning two private jets—a Cessna 550 Citation Bravo and Cessna 750 Citation X—it was reported, that his private jet had made several layovers in Maui, Fiji, and Honolulu, which were all claimed to be "ministry trips" and therefore qualified the jet to remain tax exempt. Indeed Pastor Copeland claimed that no less than God Himself told him he needed to be a billionaire! Also tax exempt is his huge mansion, valued at just over $6 million and includes its own landing strip. His ministry alone has over $20 million in assets yet it takes huge loans from the Mr. and Mrs. Copeland, only to be paid back shortly after with high interest rates.
With an estimated net worth of $1.1 billion, Edir Macedo of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in Brazil holds the second spot. Some accuse him of taking money from poor people and laughing all the way to the bank. The only problem with this statement is that Edir is so filthy rich that he actually owns his own bank (and probably the kingdom of God as well). In fact, in July 2013, Forbes reported that Macedo acquired 49% of Banco Renner and this acquisition had been confirmed by Brazil’s Central Bank.
Third on the list is Bishop David Oyedepo of Living Faith Church World Wide (Winners' Chapel) in Nigeria with a net worth of at least $150 million, according to Forbes. In addition to having a net worth higher than the country he lives in (Nigeria), he also has two mansions and four private jets. One may wonder how a pastor in one of the poorest countries on earth has a net worth of over $150 million. Hint: the poorest people are usually the least educated and the most vulnerable to be manipulated. They faithfully give their hard-earned money to him; in return he promises them riches and the kingdom of God. Subsequently the shrewd Bishop Oyedepo invested some of that money to publish tons of religious books through his own publishing company, Dominion Publishing House.
Let's get it straight. A poor Nigerian worker donated his hard-earned money to a rich Bishop whose net worth of $150 million includes two mansions and four private jets. Then with the donations from millions of other believers, the Bishop published and sold books like "Understanding Financial Prosperity", "Breaking Financial Hardship" and "The Unlimited Power of Faith" which surely makes the Bishop even richer and the workers even poorer. This miracle happens in a country with an annual per capita income of $2,970 (World Bank, 2014) or $8 per day, where 46% the population live below the national poverty lines (World Bank, 2009). I don't know what God is doing to end this inequality, but it is certainly a self-perpetuating pyramid scheme trickled down straight from heaven. Witness the religious Stockholm Syndrome in high definition.
The cruelest irony is that such phenomenon is universal and do not only happen in Texas, Brazil and Nigeria. In fact, the famous L. Ron Hubbard, Founder of the Church of Scientology, once confided: "You don't get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion." This is straight from the horse's mouth; indeed one has to appreciate Ron Hubbard's brutal honesty.
And efficiency. Thanks to the tax-exempt status granted by the IRS in 1993, according to Jeffrey Augustine, of the blog The Scientology Money Project, the Church of Scientology is doing very well. It has a book value of $1.75 billion, about $1.5 billion of which is tied up in real estate, mostly at its headquarters in Clearwater, Florida, and Hollywood, California, in addition to other properties in Seattle, London, and New York.
[To be continued.]
Johannes Tan, Indonesian Translator & Conference Interpreter