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This essay is about religion as an institution. As background I will provide a brief summary of the conclusions of the first essay in this “Invisible Hand” series which examined the physical object nature of our money and some of the unfortunate consequences of that nature.

All money in history (and pre-history) has been considered to be or to represent physical objects such as a basket of grain, a cow, a coin, or a paper bill. Today most money is in computer accounts and though it zips around the world from account to account at almost the speed of light, it still is treated as if it were a physical object of some sort. Because we treat money as if it were a physical object, anything which is true of physical objects in general will also be true of money. This obvious point is ignored by economists and others who talk and write about money even though it is the most important truth about money. The importance of the physical object nature of money cannot be overstated. What follows are some of the consequences of that physical object nature.

First, money is like other physical objects in that it can be taken from its owner against that owner’s will; by force, fraud, or stealth and it can also be lost or destroyed. This means that you need to suspect almost everyone of trying to get your money by fair means or foul.

Second, money must be amoral because all inanimate physical objects are amoral. Even animals are amoral, in that they have neither an ethical sense nor morality, especially when they are used as commodity money. You can use your physical object money for anything, good or bad.

Third, the money supply is independent of the supply of goods and services for sale because the supply of one physical object is independent of the supply of other objects.

Fourth, money falsely simulates a zero-sum game in monetary transactions because the money gained by one party must be lost by some other party or parties. Money makes us think that other people can gain money at our expense and that we can only gain money at their expense. It makes us treat others as if they were competitors, rivals, opponents, or even enemies.

Fifth, money is almost impossible for a society or nation to control. In every nation that attempts to limit, regulate, or tax trade a black market comes to exist; and organized crime flourishes in all nations.

Sixth, money transactions are two-party interactions. Two-party interaction is inherently unstable because if one party gains an advantage in power such as having more money, the stronger party can use that power to gain still more advantages. This is particularly true of money. The old saying “them as has, gets” is true. Possession of money does make getting more money quite a lot easier. Naturally, the weaker party in such two-party interaction will eventually want to end the interaction. Thus the relationship is unstable.

Keeping that review in mind, let’s consider religion as a social institution.

We have already discussed government and education as institutions and how they are affected by the nature of money. We found that government itself is a product and consequence of physical object money or POM. With a non-POM economy, government would almost cease to exist – and if all nations adopted such a system – there would be no government. With education we found that the functions which formal education perform would be far less formal, top down, rigid, autocratic, and would not be based on the prison/factory model. In other words, the educational institution would be basically changed. With the family, another institution, we found that POM was sometimes a support but more often a curse which destroys families and lives. In this essay we turn, with some trepidation, to religion and the roles money plays in religious institutions around the world.

I say “with trepidation” because two of the most dangerous things in the world are religion and money and I will be dealing with both in this essay. Without doubt I will inevitably step on many toes, no matter what I say about either religion or money. Some of you who have read several of these invisible hand essays have already been offended: perhaps, by some of the things I have written relating to money. If you also have a religious faith I may offend you again in this essay. But with money, I am trying to change your world view, and in particular I am trying to change your understanding of money and its place in the world… but I am in no way trying to change your view of any God or gods nor of any faith that you may have. In fact, I don’t think I will be writing anything at all about any particular faith. My statements will be limited to statements about religious institutions, acts of man not acts of God, of human social organizations not the Divine Will. What I will attempt to show is how people shape their religious institutions and organizations within the context of a physical object money or POM. I want you to understand what money does to religions around the world, how it shapes them and directs them and how religions are used by ordinary people to attain ends that are not always spiritual, honest, or worthy.

All of the cultures that I know of have aspects, beliefs, and stories which one could reasonably consider to be religious in nature. Even cultures with no written history, no government, and no church buildings still have tales of the origins of humanity and of spirit forces and entities. These stories and spirits vary considerably from culture to culture. But that is not our focus in this essay. It does not deal with religions that existed before the development of commodity money. I am looking for regularities across cultures. I seek things which cultures far apart in space and/or time seem to share concerning their practice of religion.

Anthropologists and archeologists attribute religious meaning to temples and other structures which appear to have no function or purpose in the production of consumable products like food, clothing, and shelter. These structures, in many cases, obviously required huge amounts of work and substantial resources to construct. Even the maintenance of these structures would require countless man-hours of intense labor. Many of these structures are very impressive. Some, such as the pyramids of Egypt, inspire wonder. Others, such as the Taj Mahal, awe us with their beauty. Then there are those which have a stark arrangement of stone figures such as Stonehenge. All remain impressive to us, even though their religious meaning may have disappeared with the society that built them. But one must remember that for the society of the time and place of their construction, they must have appeared even more impressive. Think how magnificent the Cathedrals of medieval Europe must have appeared to people who had never seen anything taller than a large tree. What kind of effect do you suppose these structures might have had on the people holding a religion for which they were sacred objects? Do you think these structures might have strengthened the faith of the very people who built them?

Let’s also remember the role that religious figures have had in ancient civilizations. In many cases the highest civil authority was also the highest religious authority. In no case was the top religious authority without power to at least strongly influence the actions of governments. The Pharaohs of Egypt combined the roles of high priest and head of government because the government was part of the practice of religion. When one paid one’s taxes in grain and goats to the state, one was giving that “money” to the priests. The functionaries in the government were part of the religious establishment.

Given these two facts; that structures requiring great labor and resources to create exist in many cultures, and that religious leaders were often also heads of governments, one can perceive a connection. Perhaps those structures were intended to solidify the hold on the people by their religious authorities who were also governmental authorities. In other words, perhaps the power of government was being used to support the religion in order to secure the power of those in charge of the government. Perhaps these structures were not the will of the gods at all, but rather, just a means to retain power for the already powerful.

Clearly the taxing power of the state was employed to generate the labor and material resources used to create these structures. If one were to spend all of one’s time moving large blocks of stone from the quarry to the shrine one would have to be paid in commodity money in order to support one’s family. Records and graffiti from ancient Egypt indicate such was the case 5000 years ago in the Nile valley. One suspects that the temples and pyramids of central and South America also involved considerable taxes in their creation. The temples of India and Southeast Asia likewise indicate powerful taxing capacity by the temporal authorities in support of the religion.

But notice also that these structures did not increase production of food. They did not improve housing for the populace. They did not clothe the naked. They only increased the power and authority of the already mighty. If we consider the Cathedrals of Europe and other parts of the world we find the same pattern: Great expenditure of effort and resources with only a structure to show for it with no improvement in standard of living or way of life for the people who provided the taxes.

We can say that for all of historical time, religion and money have been intertwined. Religious organizations may call their demands for money something other than a tax but the tradition from which they come is a taxing tradition. We can confidently say that government and religion are bedfellows historically. Each has tended to support the other. Whatever persons had the power and the wealth found that the religious practices of their culture would support them. Divine right of kings comes to mind. Henry the VIII being the head of the Church of England (and seizing the assets of the Catholic Church of England) is another example.

For the first several thousands of years of governments, I believe that almost all of them merged religious and governmental authority. It was only when armies became sophisticated enough that commanders could become independent of their governments that states came to exist which were not headed by religious leaders. But those new leaders of military states would soon want to gain the support of the remaining religious leaders, and it comes as no surprise that the support they desired was not long in coming. Therefore, even when a state was secular to some degree, it would soon acquire the trappings of religion.

In all cases of religion and government in mutual support the religious leaders became wealthy. The support of religion does not come cheap. The evidence of that fact is overwhelming in the case of the old, established religions. Those large structures built by religions around the world prove that beyond a shadow of doubt. Given these obvious facts one can only conclude that the religious organizations were motivated to a significant degree in what they did by a desire to gain money and the power that money makes available. In other words, human beings of all kinds tend to react the same way to the temptations of POM, or physical object money: even those who are major religious figures.

But the foregoing is about the top-level leaders in large religions. What about relations at a more local level? We have evidence for those lower-ranking religious figures as well. Though it is by no means universal, one finds that local church leaders will tend to support local governments and leading economic figures, the rich people, of the area. This explains how during World War I the churches in Germany supported the Kaiser and the churches in England supported the King. Both sides prayed to God for victory confident in their minds that God supported what their government was doing. Each side thought that God was with them. Earlier, the churches of the southern United States supported the institution of slavery while some of the churches of the Northern states opposed slavery. In other words, if some activity is making people rich it will be very difficult for the local church authorities to oppose that activity. I am confident that my ancestors who went Viking each summer were sent off into the sea by priests asking for God’s blessings or perhaps several gods’ blessings upon that venture. The Viking raiders were going to kill, loot, pillage, and rape the people of the rest of Europe. Naturally, the Church leaders of the locations being raided prayed to their God to protect them from the Norsemen.

In every case, money is a prime motive for the actions and prayers of the Church leaders. There are far more local churchmen than there are heads of vast religious bureaucracies. When we talk of hundreds of thousands of people we can be quite confident that they will have a great diversity of morals, attitudes, beliefs, values, and behaviors in doing their religious work. Whatever your beliefs, there will be some who agree with you and many who would disagree. That’s just human variation. So some of these religious leaders are swayed to only a minimal degree and stay true to their faith’s ideals. On the other hand, some of these figures are in it for the money, and will do and say anything that they think will gain money for themselves. That’s just human nature as well.

Now let’s use the concepts and arguments we dealt with in our presentation on crime. Those businesses which are willing to do anything to gain money no matter how illegal and immoral will tend to generate more income than those businesses which stay on the “straight and narrow.” We concluded that all the largest corporations participated in massive fraud and used their wealth and power to shape the law to their advantage. Naturally, the same arguments will apply to religious organizations composed of people. The larger and more powerful a religious organization becomes, the more temptations to do whatever it takes to gain more money there will be. Religions which yield to those temptations will tend to prosper more than those which resist those temptations.

If we look at the various appeals for contributions by charitable organizations we find that many keep most of the contributed money for themselves. POM tempts us that way. Fundraising costs money.

The church is also involved in politics. Not only do the major religions tend to support whatever groups are in power but the church is also quite likely to attempt to have a say in which groups and which individuals attain power. This has been true for thousands of years on all parts of the globe. This relationship is most clearly illustrated by the coronation of kings by religious figures. In those beautiful paintings of such events, who is placing the crown on the royal brow? That’s right, the top local religious leader. It’s very easy for a religion to justify getting involved in politics. After all, religions claim to be the source of morality, virtue, and proper behavior. You will find this to be true in all cultures regardless of their religious views. Surely the heads of state and local government leaders should follow the dictates of religion. Yes, that does give religious leaders considerable power, so it is very tempting.

Therefore, if one is to trace the history of any religion, one cannot ignore the consequences of POM for that religion. How that religion has dealt with money will have considerable consequences for the structure and activities of the church.

At this point I must stop and remind my readers that I am not writing about the faith, I am referring to the human beings who provide organization and work as the expression of the various faiths. I am talking about human frailty and temptation, not about the truth of any religious views. The character of one who speaks about things divine does not determine the truth of what the speaker has said. Just as anyone can lie so anyone can speak the truth. I am talking about what people have done, not about whether their professed faith is valid or not.

As is my habit in these essays, I will now show how a transition to a non-POM economy would affect and change religious practices in the nation which made that transition.

The most obvious difference would be that no one could give money to any church or religious denomination. Just as in the times before the development of commodity money thousands of years ago, any gift to the church would have to be in kind. That is, one could give physical objects or one’s labor to the church but one could not give non-POM.

A second obvious difference would be that the church, as an organization, could not own any property. All the property of a church would be owned by individual persons. As in all other cases of ownership an individual would be responsible for that property and what was done with it. My guess, and it is only a guess, is that a typical church would be owned by the minister in Protestant America. The minister would assume the responsibility for seeing that maintenance was done and that the structure was usable. I would expect that use of Church buildings during the times when services were not being held would be common. Such use would increase the pay of those who supported the building, maintenance, and upkeep of the structure.

Third, the lack of government in a non-POM economy would mean that the long time marriage of government and religion would end. No longer would there be politicians seeking the support of religious institutions since there would no longer be politicians. Religious leaders who desired to influence behavior in the community could certainly speak out, both in their official capacity as a religious leader and as a private citizen. The reporting of such speech by news media would be the choice of those who worked in such media. The church could not buy coverage. If members of the media were members of that religion they might very well choose to make the messages of the religion available to a very wide audience. But no one could be hired to do so.

Please let me remind you that with a non-POM economy, earnings are based strictly upon the observed net benefits of the actions of individuals. One should expect that if the provision of religious services is seen by the community as a benefit, then those who help provide such services would earn money as a consequence. But let us assume the worst and describe a hypothetical situation in which the community sees no such benefit in religious services. Some individual of faith decides to spread the word of that faith. That individual is completely free to do so. You might reference the presentation on liberty to see why this would be the case. Even if the statements of that individual disagreed with the sentiments of the community, the individual could continue to espouse the new faith. The testifying individual would not have to work to earn money in order to stay alive and healthy. Food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and education would be available to that individual without charge. All that individual’s efforts could be concentrated on and focused upon spreading the word. Should that individual be successful in bringing others to share the individual’s faith, those others might contribute materials for signs, a room in which to hold services, a loudspeaker, access to members of the media, web page skills, and so forth. In other words, regardless of the individual’s life situation, no matter how little money she has, no matter what her family situation, no matter her reputation, she can devote her efforts to spreading her faith. No one need suffer want because of such a decision.

Similarly, no minister or member of the clergy need suffer want because their congregation is composed of persons with little or no money. If a religious person chooses to fast or to live with a minimum of clothing they may do so. I am picturing in my mind Mahatma Gandhi of India with his loincloth and skinny arms and legs from frequent fasting. But no religious leader would be forced through poverty to live in such a way.

Next I would like to deal with charity in that many religious organizations have made major contributions to charitable activities and helped millions of people around the world. You will have noticed, perhaps, that with non-POM charitable actions earn money. If you feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, comfort the sick, or educate the ignorant you earn non-POM for having done so. With non-POM, money is no object when it comes to helping those in need. For example: if a religious group got together and built a modest house for people to live in, they would earn money as that house was used. They would be like any other group of people who built houses in that regard. So the nature of charity would change dramatically. One could say that charity as we know it would no longer be needed, in that people would take care of those in need for their own selfish motives to earn non-POM. Or one could say that everyone who aided the needy was providing charity, as when a mother cares for her newborn babe. My guess, and this is just conjecture of course, is that the concept of charity would cease to exist. Taking care of those in need would be routine, normal, the usual run-of-the-mill activity of almost everyone. There would be nothing to distinguish charity from other activities which were provided to everyone. Yes, in a non-POM economy, no one has to pay for basic food or clothing.

Therefore the church would no longer be considered to be an agent of charity, a succor to the poor, or a comfort to the needy: because there would be no more poor or needy in a non-POM economy. There would be no more religious-affiliated organizations appealing for your money to support their good works. This branch of religious activities would wither and die because it would no longer be needed.

So how would religion change? One way would be that one would never have to suspect the preacher of being a hypocrite for living like a rich man at the expense of the poor whose money he has talked them into giving. There would be no passing of the plate in services. If a person felt called to the ministry, they could heed that call. I would expect the level of sincerity among ministers to rise as a consequence. I know that ministers today have to be concerned with church finances and budgets. That whole aspect of a minister’s life would be gone. There would be no finances and no budgets. No bills to pay and no difficult decisions about which of the congregation’s needy families to help this month.

Another aspect of religion in a non-POM economy would be the relative lack of sin. I don’t claim to be an expert on sin, but I have spent many an hour in church on Sunday and listened to the sermons from the choir loft. There are a host of sins related to money. The Christian Bible describes the love of money as the root of all evil. But on the other hand, non-POM is a moral form of money. It encourages being kind, thoughtful, and considerate to other people. It makes obvious that people are mutually interdependent. It rewards being a good steward. Non-POM is actually an ethical system. Non-POM brings about good behavior on the part of the general public. Non-POM rewards those who prevent harm to others. The inescapable conclusion is that replacing a POM which encourages sin with a non-POM which rewards virtue and makes many sins impossible will have a great effect in reducing sin.

I assume that you are all familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan. He finds someone in great need, a stranger, and provides help in several ways even though that stranger cannot in any way compensate him for his assistance. With a POM economy, that’s a “man bites dog” story. But with a non-POM economy, that’s what almost anyone would do. In fact, for someone to simply walk on past such a helpless person would make the news and destroy that callous individual’s reputation. So the sermons that we are accustomed to hearing today would be quite different in a non-POM context. There would be no appeals to give more money to the church for replacement of the organ or fixing the roof. There would be far less need to fight against youth drug addiction, because there would be almost none. There would be less need to speak out against discrimination, because discrimination on any grounds other than performance would be quite expensive to those who discriminated. Families would need less counseling because they would experience far less stress. It would be easier to rear children because they would be exposed to non-POM which would reward their contributions to the community.

Life is far more pleasant when everyone is on your side and supporting your efforts. A church full of happy people is far easier to minister to than a church full of angry, fearful people.

But some things will not change. There will still be tragedies. Family members will die from a variety of causes. The grieving will still need comfort. The troubled will still need counseling. A minister will still need to minister to the spiritual and emotional needs of the congregation. It is not as if the calling would cease to exist. The fact that by doing these good works a minister will earn non-POM does not eliminate the virtue of those actions. Just because a good minister will be loved and respected and even honored for being a good minister does not mean that the minister is a bad person.

Now we come to the organization of the religious body itself. Some religions use a hierarchical, top-down power structure as the basis for their organization. This is quite acceptable in the context of a non-POM economy. The difference is that such an organization cannot use the power of POM to coerce its members into obedience. Obedience will have to come from a spirit of cooperation if it is to come at all. The power of personality or charisma may be sufficient to gain obedience from the religious body to its leader. They may shower that leader with luxuries bought with their non-POM. This is certainly permitted, allowed, and no one else’s business in a non-POM economy. What you do with your property is your affair and you may certainly reward a religious leader if that is your choice. The religious leader may attempt to encourage such gifts by threats of religious sanctions or by offers of spiritual rewards in return. Again, that is not anyone else’s business so far as non-POM is concerned. Many religious sects have been begun by charismatic individuals and a few have lasted for many years even after the original leader was no longer there. Such events can still take place with non-POM. It’s just that there’s no longer a money motive for charlatans to try to start such groups. There will be no religious frauds since there’s no money in it for them.

Therefore religious organizations may become more egalitarian and less authoritarian. The power to coerce using money being lost, the need to use other means of obtaining cooperation will become more important. It would seem plausible that the result will be a reduction in commands and an increase in suggestions and requests. But, as always, with non-POM there is liberty; and what constraints people choose to impose upon themselves is nobody else’s business. So a highly authoritarian religious organization is certainly possible with non-POM… though in my considered opinion it would be unlikely.

Please note that nothing about the non-POM system as an ethical system has anything to say about anyone’s religious faith. Nothing about non-POM will prevent the exercise of religion by anyone so long as that exercise does not result in harm to anybody or to their property. With non-POM your religion is truly nobody else’s business.

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