How to Start Your Own Religion
(A 12-Step Plan)
It's a flimsy world out there. Things are not always as they seem. We struggle to understand the universe around us, yet so many questions are left unanswered by science...
Why are we here?
How did it all begin?
What is our real purpose?
Is Tom Cruise gay or what?
As we search for answers, the battle between good and evil rages on without pause. Innocent people are senselessly murdered, small children are stricken with horrible diseases, and your favorite TV shows keep getting canceled mid-season. Meanwhile, despicable men rake in mountains of wealth, mass murderers run free, and the most powerful man on the planet can't even pronounce the word “nuclear”.
It's enough to make a person give up, cash in their chips, and hand it all over to a Supreme Being - even one that never returns phone calls.
Whether or not this Being actually cares about you is hard to say. It's possible such a Being doesn't even exist at all. But, for many folks, buying your way off of the roller coaster of cosmic doubt just seems a lot easier than trying to figure out how the whole twisted contraption works in the first place. And, for these people, there is an entire industry dedicated to manufacturing and servicing their hopes, fears and justifications.
That industry is Religion.
Now, If you're on the right side of religion - the upper-management side - you can have all the fun while the pee-ons do all the work. All you have to do is give them something to believe in. And they, apparently, will believe just about anything. So why join someone else's religion... when you can just start your own?
Believe it or not, starting your own religion is not as hard as it seems. Simply follow Captain Smack's EZ 12-Step Guide, and, before you know it, you will have your very own following - just like Jesus, Vishnu, or Metallica.
Step 1: The Creation of the Universe - No, seriously
If you're going to start your own religion, you'll need to come up with some kind of explanation for How-We-All-Got-Here-In-The-First-Place. The "I don't know" answer (while true and honest) has never been all that popular. Children will ask their parents "how did we all get here?", and the parents don't like to say "I have no idea". You might appear stupid in front of the child and lose your authoritative edge. Best to have a story prepared.
The good news is, it doesn't matter how ridiculous the story might sound. Creation myths are some of the most implausible explanations ever used for anything, yet no one seems to mind at all. The story could be as simple as: “The Mighty Ear of Corn shot forth a Great Kernel, and that Kernel is now the planet on which we live”. Boom, you're done. All of creation explained. And if they get pesky and want to know how "The Mighty Ear of Corn" came into existence? - tell them: "It has just always been there"; or better yet: "That is not for us to know" (which, by the way, is an excellent catch-all answer to plug up any other holes in your belief system).
Step 2: Big Daddy - The Good Guy
You're going to need a Messiah, a Prophet, a Big Daddy… aka “The Good Guy”. Any good religion, like any good story, needs a hero. It's true that some religions have multiple gods, but I would advise against it. If you want lots of gods complicating everything for you, go right ahead, but keep this in mind: all of the Fortune 500 Religions have either one god, or at least one main God. Sure, Dionysus was technically a god… but we all know who Big Daddy was, and that was Zeus.
So, following this principal, what kind of god do you want representing for you? You have a lot of options here: Your god can be a scary god, a nice god, a vengeful god, a forgiving god, a hairy god, a father-figure god, a mother-figure god… you could even have a hip, captain-figure god. But why choose one when you can have all the above?
Nobody wants a two-dimensional, paint-by-numbers god (actually, some people do want that, but they quickly lose interest). So go ahead and create a god that is complicated, hard to predict and easily offended. Have a god that is both wrathful and forgiving. Have a god that is sometimes scary, but sometimes nice... a god that rewards you with chocolates, but then punishes you for getting fat - only to accuse you of vanity when you go on a diet. But then, after you've lost the weight, forgives you and feeds you more chocolates to "comfort" you. This is the kind of god that matters to people, the kind of god that really affects them, deep down, where it hurts the best.
Gods can come in all shapes and sizes, but certain "looks" are more effective than others. Animal gods were once all the rage, but these types of gods came and went. Extensive marketing research shows that, if you want a god who won't go limp halfway to the Apocalypse, your going to need one shaped somewhat like a human. Preferably with male genitalia. And a beard never hurts.
Your god should have at least one easily distinguishable physical feature (it doesn't matter if your god is completely non-physical, it still has to look like something). Some already-used examples are long, white, wavy hair, or a beautifully round, fat belly, or, if you really want to kick it old school, an enormous, erect penis. Come up with something different, but memorable; why not give your god three retractable horns? Or a mouth within a mouth within a mouth? Or here's one: instead of a nose, a finger coming out of the middle of its face! See how easy it is? It doesn't even have to make sense, it just has to be strange, thought-provoking, and a little intimidating.
Step 3: And So It Was, Yada Yada - The Divine Stories
Everyone loves a good story, especially when it involves talking animals, incest, and lightning shooting from someone's finger tips. Coming up with long, highly symbolic fables may seem like a real chore, but it can actually be quite fun! The trick is to not think about it too much. Just turn your super-ego off, pour a glass of inspiration, and start typing. Let your fingers do the work. The stories should be rich in Jungian imagery, and, like everything else in religion, they don't have to make a whole lot of sense. In fact, you can just wake up each morning and write down your own dreams (changing the names and faces, of course), and, after a month or so, you'll have your very own stylistically inconsistent tales of supernatural wonder.
Not that good at remembering dreams? Hey, no problem - here are a few tried-and-true classic elements to get you started. Incorporate these into your stories, and feel free to mix-n-match as you like:
- Things that talk that aren't supposed to talk
- Things that look a lot like spaceships (but are NOT spaceships)
- People who get transformed into something weird because they didn't follow orders
- A son or daughter who has sex with their mother or father, but nobody seems to think it's weird
- A very small, under-equipped army inexplicably defeats a very large, well-equipped army
- It looked like The Good Guy, but was actually The Bad Guy
- Someone had a dream, and then the dream came true (more or less)
- They didn't believe the Village Idiot's prediction, so they all died in a horrific mudslide
- The madman turned out to be sane
- The sane man turned out to be mad
- The dead man turned out to be alive
- The cow turned out to be a Forbidden Thingamajig (see below)
- The town whore is "forgiven" for being such a delicious little hottie
- Certain numbers keep mysteriously reappearing, as if they "mean" something (the "meaning" is never revealed)
- And, of course, lots and lots of people killing each other for every conceivable reason.
Just take these little plot-points, work in your own unresolved issues and personal hang-ups, translate it back and forth through several dead languages, and before you know it you'll have a collection of stories that will have scholars scratching their heads raw for ages and ages. Oh, and don't forget to include a coloring book version for the kids!
Step 4: Creating The Rules - the do's and don'ts of "The Do's and Don'ts"
One of religion's main attractions is the code of ethics - the rights and wrongs, the do's and don'ts, the just-say-when's. Mortals are weak and stupid - it's hard figuring this stuff out for yourself… and the responsibility for deciding what's right and what's wrong can be a real headache, so it's good to create some basic "rules" for your followers to break.
It's ok to be vague here - in fact, it's preferable. While people like having their morality spoon-fed to them, they also enjoy arguing with each other. And if you're really going for mass appeal, be sure to throw in at least a couple of rules that are impossible to follow. Nothing keeps people in line like a steady flow of guilt and self-doubt. In other words, don't just tell them that they can't have Filet Mignon - tell them they can't even want Filet Mignon. This uses the "Forbidden Thingamajig" principle, which has worked quite effectively for a long time. Believe me - even if they have never ordered a steak in their lives, they will suddenly want Filet Mignon every time they drive past a Sizzler.
But too much guilt can hurt your religion and cause defectors. Best to have a "release valve" for all that guilt, in the form of "atonement". Atonement is great, because you are providing both the problem and the solution. And it creates a neat little cycle:
A. Do something "bad"
B. Punish yourself with guilt
C. Beg for forgiveness
D. Feel relieved and grateful
E. Rinse and Repeat
Wasn't that fun? Keep your followers on this easy-to-assemble hamster wheel of self-loathing/redemption, and they won't even have time to wonder how The Mighty Ear of Corn came into existence.
It's also good to lay down some rules that have nothing to do with anything. For example, tell them that they must always touch their noses while going to the bathroom. This, while not only mysterious (and therefore divine) keeps them guessing. Plus, it gives your flock one more thing to argue about with each other. Here are the types of questions that are certain to come up, but are probably better left unanswered:
"Am I to touch my nose the entire time, or just at some point during my bathroom visit?"
"Does this rule include number one and number two?"
"What if I'm peeing outside, and am not technically using a 'bathroom'? Do I still have to touch my nose?"
"What about young children who pee in the bed while asleep? - did they 'do wrong' because they didn't touch there nose?"
Etc, etc, etc…
Not only will they argue over these critical distinctions, they will begin to settle some of these arguments, and through this process the religion will evolve and develop on its own, creating new rules and sub-sets of rules. All you have to do is plant the seed. And if your followers can't agree on the bathroom issue, then they will divide into sub-sects and hate each other, which revitalizes the religion, keeping it competitive and healthy.
Step 5: Rituals - Put your left foot in, take your left foot out
Everyone has rituals, whether they mean to or not. Farmers have rituals. Baseball players have rituals. Even pot-heads (well, especially pot-heads) have rituals. Not only does it make the time go by, it's a great way to feel like you're in control, like you know what you're doing. If you're going to have your own religion, your going to have some rituals, there's no way around it.
Some rituals are very complex, but remember - they didn't get that way overnight. The thing about ceremonial customs is that they have a way of evolving and growing in complexity all on their own. This is a natural process, and it makes your job a whole lot easier. Don't waste your time inventing a 400 step, play-by-play sequence of events. All you have to do is create a few basic "Sacred Gestures". Your followers will add things, one by one until, eventually, they are hopping on one foot down a "Red Carpet of Truth", with one finger on their noses, singing "The 49 Prayers of Delusion" while swinging "The Chain of Lizards" in honor of "The Day of Macaroni" and wearing "The Elaborate Gown of Perpendicular Sawdust". People love this kind of crap; it's highly entertaining to watch, is a great marketing gimmick, and there's a ton of money to be made on red carpets, lizard chains and sawdust gowns.
Step 6: Religious Symbols - The Sacred Doodles
Symbolism and Religion go together like Alcohol and Unprotected Sex. It's highly recommended that you come up with a few doodles that will serve as Sacred Symbols, for these are the logo's of your religion, and are a great way to "brand" your unique belief system, so that people will be able to distinguish it from all the other unique belief systems at a quick glance.
Don't get too complicated with your symbology - keep it simple. A general rule of thumb: if a drunk person can't scribble it on a martini napkin with a ball-point pen, then it's too complicated and won't stick in people's heads. It's also recommended that you incorporate some very common shapes into your symbols; things you might see in nature, or in a grocery store perhaps. This way your followers are reminded of their beliefs on a daily basis. Plus, it's free advertising! If one of your symbols is a curved tube, for example, then your followers will be reminded of their divine duties every time they use a vibrator or eat macaroni & cheese. It will also allow them to make connections between things that are otherwise unconnected, and give them inspirational "cues" or "omens" that, while completely random, will seem profoundly significant and magical, as if from a higher power. Let the macaroni & cheese do the work for you.
Step 7: The Sacred Objects - Relics and Doodads
People like sacred "thingies" to go along with their belief system. All the religions have them - little symbolic ornaments and trinkets they can put on their coffee tables. Not only do they add a bit of pizzazz to your living room, or look snazzy hanging from your rearview mirror, they are also great conversation starters, which gives the propagation of your religion a little "nudge". The neighbor stops by for coffee and says "what's that thing?" Before long she's got one on her coffee table. Plus, you can sell them in the "Sacred Gift Shop" for a nice little profit.
Helpful hint: Don't make your Sacred Objects too large. Your followers should be able to carry them with one hand, and easily fit them on his or her desk at work. Sometimes these knick-knacks can double as actual tools for divination, like magic eight-balls (but for adults), that your followers can use for guidance and entertainment when the cable's out. Or just make one of your sacred symbols into a candle. This way you incorporate fire, which always seems kind of ceremonial (and adds a touch of "danger")... or perhaps make one of your symbols into a night light or air-freshener. You can print up t-shirts and bumper-stickers that showcase your sacred symbol, or have your slogans on doormats - the possibilities are endless.
Step 8: Them - The Bad Guys
Every great action movie has good-guys and bad-guys. It's a simple device used by Hollywood to keep the audience from becoming confused and wondering why everyone is killing everyone else. Why should your religion be any different?
Now, we all know who the Good Guys are - that's us, obviously. So who are the Bad Guys? And why are they always trying to destroy us?
A well designed religion should never run out of Bad Guys. In fact, the Bad Guys should be everywhere, all around us, all the time. It is they who are causing all the problems in the world. It is they who are blind and refuse to accept the truth. And it is they who started this whole mess in the first place (any mess can apply, even imaginary ones). If only they would just see the light - or die. Either way, this keeps your followers busy and makes them feel better about themselves, while simultaneously taking the heat off of your own god when things go wrong.
Step 9: Evil Incarnate - THE Bad Guy
Unlike the Bad Guys (who are everywhere and are easily accessible), there inevitably has to be "THE Bad Guy" - The One True Bad Guy who cannot be killed or converted. He is the root of all badness, like a weed that cannot be yanked from the Garden of Righteousness (or whatever) by anyone except The Good Guy himself (which will definitely happen at some point in the near future, most likely in our lifetimes). THE Bad Guy cannot be defeated by us, because - and this is crucial - when he's gone, the whole operation's gone. A religion without a Bad Guy? What would be the point?
The Bad Guy can be anything you want, as long as he or she is a worthwhile adversary. You don't want some bumbling idiot as the enemy; that's no fun at all. Also, The Bad Guy should have some attractive or admirable qualities, like good looks, cool hair, technological advancements or amazing guitar abilities. It also helps if The Bad Guy has access to The Forbidden Thingamajig (whatever that may be) and is able to offer it freely. This creates a demand for The Bad Guy, while also reinforcing the inherent "wrongness" of the Forbidden Thingamajig itself.
Step 10: The Really Nice Place - All You Can Eat!
Generally speaking, life is a slime-sucking eddy of despair, filled with long periods of extreme disappointment followed by brief moments of false hope. Everyone over the age of 12 knows this, and without massive amounts of mind-altering substances or electro-shock therapy at your disposal, it's difficult to convince people otherwise.
But does this mean you can't offer them true happiness? Does this mean they can't have everything they've ever wanted and a side order of fries? Of course they can have all those things, and more... er, just not right this second. But once they're dead, that's when the FUN begins, baby, that's when The Great After-Party gets started right! So say goodbye shit hole, hello fantasy land - you're going to The Really Nice Place!
When it comes to designing your own Really Nice Place, make it however you like - but give the people what they want. Keep in mind: modern folks have many Really Nice Places to choose from; some with lots of wiggly little virgins, some with shiny harps you can play like a pro without having to take lessons, and some with killer 3-D psychedelic graphics. You need to zero in on your target audience, your particular demographic. So ask yourself: "what kind of over-indulgent crap would my followers get off on? What are they into?" Do a little research, find out what your people obsess over. Perhaps they can finally have The Forbidden Thingamajig, for it is no longer forbidden.
And The Really Nice Place should be really, really nice; the kind of place that makes Disney Land look like Cambodia. It's good to throw in some accouterments, like personalized gold-plated Goblets with their names engraved on the side, or rivers of various substances that, on Earth, are very expensive, like wine or Red Bull. And give them personal upgrades as well - like wings, so they can fly around, or special surf-boards that they won't fall off of.
And while your at it, get rid of all those typical pain-in-the-ass problems that plague Earth dwellers. Overweight? Not in The Really Nice Place, you aren't. You can eat from the Cherry Garcia Mountain all day long and never gain a pound. Hey, missing a leg? It's waiting for you here at The Really Nice Place, come and get it! You're an alcoholic or drug addict? You won't need drugs here - It's like your on high-grade heroin twenty-four hours a day, but with none of the nasty side effects or jail-time.
A Really Nice Place is a great incentive to recruit believers. But sometimes it's not enough. Some people are actually happy with their lives, and are simply not that motivated by positive reinforcements alone. These people will need a negative reinforcement to round out the picture. Sometimes you have to hit them with a one-two punch - come at them from both directions at once and mind-fuck them into accepting The One True Path. Sometimes you have to offer them eternal bliss… and then scare the living shit out of them. Which brings us to…
Step 11: The "Other" Place - Now You're Screwed
If you think life on Earth sucks, you ain't seen nothing. Give them a Not-So-Really-Nice Place; an Oh-My-God-This-Is-So-Fucking-Horrible Place. A place that makes Cambodia look like Disney Land. The Other Place.
And if you're going to have an Other Place for the Bad Guys, don't hold back - pull out all the stops, and really let em' have it.
What's the worst thing you can imagine? Being on fire? Imprisonment? Celibacy? Or maybe it's being stuck on the Atlanta freeway, forever unable to make your exit. Either way, it doesn't matter, because it's nothing compared to the tortures that await you in The Other Place. And how long do you spend there? Forever and ever and ever.
Now, to some people, that might seem a bit much. Why do they have to suffer for the rest of eternity? Why not give them time off for good behavior? You might find yourself feeling some sympathy for the poor fools, you might want to give them a chance to get out of The Other Place once they are there for a while…
Don't do it. That's my advice.
When it comes to Eternal Damnation, don't go soft, don't give em' any wiggle-room. They have to make up their minds while they are still here on Earth. What's the point in letting people out? They chose their path (all the while laughing at you and your followers, by the way), so now they have to pay the piper. Besides... all the Sacred Gift Shops are here on Earth. So make sure they understand: play your cards wrong, and you could end up in... The Other Place.
Step 12: Enlightenment - How to Get Your Hands on Some
Some religions like to offer "enlightenment", which, unlike The Really Nice Place, is a little sump'n-sump'n you can get while you're still alive… kind of a pre-death "bonus" you can reward your more astute followers with for doing their homework. But enlightenment will not be easy to attain - it will take a lot of hard work.
Fortunately, to create the rules for attaining enlightenment, you don't have to actually do any of the hard work yourself. You just have to lay down the instructions. This can be a bit tricky. It may take some actual research and cosmic exploration. But if you want to take an easy short-cut, just do what everyone else does: rip off the Tibetans. Just take their sacred text, rearrange the order of things here and there, change some of the words around, slap your logo on it, and wah-lah! You now have your very own Bridge to Truth, which you can charge people to cross.
But if even that sounds like too much work, and you want to whip up a path-o-wisdom from scratch, here are some basic ingredients:
Boredom and Starvation
Make them sit under a fig tree for three days with no food. I promise you, they will have amazing "visions" which they will then excitedly tell everyone else about for weeks and weeks.
Come up with some mysterious sounding paradoxical commands. Tell them to "not think about a white dog", or tell them to "try to not try… but without trying to". This might just blow their minds, which is sort of like a mini-enlightenment, and will keep their appetites whetted.
Tell them that they are not allowed to do something that they normally would do all the time. Like talking, for example. Make them shut up for a couple of years and see what happens. Who knows? They might actually figure some stuff out.
This is an easy short cut, and can sometimes be fun for your followers. But make sure they go get the psychotropic plants themselves, as most countries have various laws about this sort of thing, and you don't want to be there when The Man kicks the door in. Also, don't allow your followers to do this too often, unless you want a bunch of hippie-types following you around all the time.
As you can see, a path to enlightenment doesn't have to be all that hard to throw together, and it won't cost you an arm and a leg. And the best part is, if any of this crap actually works, you get all the credit! And if it doesn't work? Well, hey, it's not your fault, it's their fault. They just weren't trying-not-to-try hard enough. Or too hard. Or whatever.
Well, that about wraps it up…
Like most worthwhile tasks, starting your own religion may seem a little daunting at first. But I hope that with this EZ 12-step guide, I have been able to shed a little light on the religion-making process, while smoothing out some of the cosmic wrinkles, and helping you to avoid the common pit-falls and embarrassing bloopers that other start-up religions (e.g. The Shakers) had to learn the hard way.
Leading the blind masses to spiritual salvation is no picnic - but with a little determination, a little elbow-grease, and an ego the size of the Taj Mahal, you can construct your own diabolical scheme to control the minds and pockets of the millions and millions of cow-like idiot consumers; those who graze in the pastures of ignorance, but hunger for the green grass of truthiness.
Teaching your own customized version of truth can be a tricky business, but just remember this one final rule: You don't have to believe it - you just have to believe in it. And that's what makes all the difference.