INSTRUCTIONS: Make up an imaginary person. This person could be truly imagined, like the Tooth Fairy, or you can pick someone who has died and make up imaginary things about their life, like a tall tale.
Now, you need to write down these imaginary stories. You write down that this imaginary person rose from the dead and then went up into heaven. Rather than be smart and keep it vague, you decide to be very specific about the way your imaginary person died: when, where, by whom (using famous historical figures), how, etc. And you’re also quite specific in how your imaginary person rose from the dead, listing specific people who saw him, and the places where he was seen.
Now, depending on how you decide to make up your religion will determine which challenge you will face in this next step to gain credibility. If you decide that your imaginary stories happened several hundred years ago, you will have to figure out a way to get people to believe in someone they’ve never seen or heard of. In a way, this will be to your advantage because your audience wasn’t around hundreds of years ago, so you can pretty much say whatever you want about your imaginary person and you’ll be fine. But then again, why would they believe in a random story that’s 400 years old that they’ve never heard a single thing about? That’s probably not very plausible, so what you should do is try to capitalize on an existing myth. Like a legendary person from the past that you somehow create a bunch of amazing stories about and write them down and people buy it. But instead of a legendary person, you pick a peasant carpenter who died on a cross, the most disgraceful, humiliating death around. This convincing bit isn’t turning out to be so easy. Nobody is buying 400 year old stories that just turned up out of the blue. Let’s try a different strategy…
Instead of creating the stories after 400 years (or 500, or 250, or whatever you decided), you write them about your contemporaries. You use names of people in the stories who will have your very writings handed to them. They will literally read scrolls with their personal names and hometowns on them. This is a great strategy you’ve come up with: you made up stories about the very people you are trying to convince that your fake stories are true. This is actually quite brilliant. The most credible way to get someone to believe a story you made up is to put them in the story, right!? On second thought, that actually might not work very well.
I got it! The magic bullet: Create incredible incentives for your first followers. Give them unlimited sex, money, land, and power. Your problem is you’ve set up your fake stories to be about people who lost everything to follow your imaginary person. And you created your imaginary person to be someone who teaches things that nobody in their right mind is going to want to do. Things like loving people that hate you, selling your stuff and giving to the poor, saving sex until marriage (and that even a thought about sex outside of marriage is the equivalent as the act itself in your heart), the first being last, and of course the ultimate incentive: picking up your cross (a.k.a. Roman death, torture, & humiliation instrument) and following this imaginary person. I’m sure a lot of people will happily line up for that! The more I talk to you about this, I’m realizing you are really an idiot when it comes to making up a religion.
You also made up stories about how the first followers were killed for their faith. You made fake ancient art and altered archeology so it would look like the first followers of your imaginary person were eaten by lions in the Roman Coliseum. Which of course is false! How could people get eaten by lions for following an imaginary person that you made up hundreds of years later!? (Wait, did you actually build the Roman Coliseum and pass it off as historical? Because that would be freaking awesome! I would definitely take back my idiot remark about you.)
Or, maybe you went the brilliant route mentioned earlier to write your fake stories to your contemporaries (about your contemporaries). In this case your incentive problem is really messed up because you’re going to have to fake your own persecution! Tarring and feathering yourself, jumping into the Roman Coliseum to be eaten by lions, asking Roman soldiers to beat you to death just for kicks. I mean, that is definitely plausible, but you are going to have to be really committed to this starting a religion thing to pull that off. But don’t worry, it will be so worth it for you in the long run! You get so much of out all of this charade.
You know, let’s scrap all this. If you’re going to make up a religion, we need a few ground rules of what to do and not to do:
- Numero Uno: Do not include your primary imaginary person / your “God,” as a human who raised from the dead! Do not do not do not put that into your imaginary religion! That is the easiest thing in the world to disprove. All someone would have had to have done is display his dead body in public and your entire “religion” would have been defunct in a single moment. In fact, don’t make them a real human person at all! Duh.
- Make sure your imaginary religion is very attractive to your earliest followers, especially men. Make sure they get land or sex or power or money (or all of the above is even better!).
- Try to tie in your imaginary religion with one specific culture. For one, this will give it a lot of play in today’s politically correct culture. Nobody is going to knock “the religion of ______” for fear of offending an entire people group, even if the religion itself doesn’t hold any water. Plus, people will believe pretty much anything handed down to them by their parents and their culture, so if you can just get the ball rolling… This is especially helpful when you can tie in family, business, financial, military, and/or government advancement and pressure to stay in the religion. Who’s going to leave your religion if they would lose their job or be excommunicated from their family because of it? Now we are cooking.
- Don’t claim a lot of people as eyewitnesses to the “divine revelation” of the religion’s origin. The more eyewitnesses you claim, the more explaining you’re going to have to do. There’s much less headaches if you just have one person who receives their divine revelation in some remote place by themselves. Have them see an angel or something, no other witnesses around, then they can go around teaching everyone what the angel said. Heck, that person could be you! The key to whoever this person is is they need to be very persuasive, having power helps, and again remember the incentives.
- Make sure people have to do good works to earn their salvation. Keeps ’em busy and most importantly, they’ll be forced to comply with whatever you tell them. It also helps to keep your God distant and impersonal.
- One more side tip: the more religions you start, the more confused people will get. They’ll start believing all religions must be the same, without even looking at the differences between each. This is definitely to your favor because it will give your imaginary religion, or in this case religions, credibility without anyone ever even looking into its origins or unique claims. So once you’re done with this one, feel free to start a few more. You’ll thank me later.
I hope you’ve figured out how to go and start a religion now. You’ve certainly come a long way since some of those terrible ideas you had at the beginning. Only an idiot would believe a fake religion claiming an everyday tradesman known in the region by everyone had raised from the dead and that somehow his body wasn’t able to displayed by the Roman government who had executed him and openly opposed his movement, I mean, your fake religion. That kind of imaginary story wouldn’t gain a single follower, even the ones who will believe anything.
The only way you’d gain followers with that is if it really happened.
Author of Beyond the Battle: A man's guide to his identity in Christ in an oversexualized world
Host of the The Flip Side Podcast
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