How to Start a World Religion

Ten Easy Steps

Religion is something the masses need. They need to believe that some higher power, be it Christ, Mohammed, or the Great Flying Spaghetti Monster, is watching over them. It keeps them from going insane and yet somehow inspires them to do it at the same time.

By following these ten simple steps, you too can inspire great art, commit great atrocities, and amass vastly disproportionate amounts of the world's wealth for millennia to come!

Be Born Dramatically

The first step is to come in with a bang. A flashy birth makes people believe you'll amount to something, and make them more inclined to believe your real dad is a dragon in the sky.

Christ was born of a virgin. Virgins are always nice. No one ever sees that coming. Try to incorporate some meteorological phenomena too. Mohammed was born under a meteor shower. What really tops it off is having some perceived lunatic running around the desert predicting your birth and turns out to be right. It helps if he then dies gruesomely (see Step 7).

Other elements of a good divine birth include, but are not limited to: choirs of angels, aliens, or cab drivers, talking animals, blue-collar workers dancing frantically, drifters stopping by with gifts, weird-smelling incense, a nicely dramatic "either or" prophecy, endless amounts of literature, music, and art surrounding the event, and a mass commercialization of the major holiday that the date of your birth will eventually become.

Have an Uneventful Early Life

What was Christ up to at age twelve? Was Buddha mellow and right down the middle even as a teenager? We have no idea!

You don't want to start off too soon. An ordinary childhood sets the stage for an eventful adulthood. The sensation you're going for is "Whoa! Where the hell did that come from?" The element of surprise is key. You want to keep people guessing. A huge gap in the holy book describing (read: embellishing) your life makes people wonder if you might be mightier than you really let on.

Perhaps you spent your childhood strangling squirrels and bringing them back to life. Perhaps you journeyed to the Far East where you learned some crazy martial art that taught you how to rip out somebody's beating heart and show it to him before he dies. Did you marry? Did you have kids? Are their descendants still alive today? Does it really affect your doctrine at all if any of these things are true?

Probably not, but that's for your followers to bicker over and eventually write conspiratorial novels about.

Be Poor

Now that you've grown up, you've got to keep it real. A nicely humble, ragged appearance makes people wonder, which, as you've noticed, is integral to any good religion.

Shouldn't God send the savior of humanity as a mighty warrior, a rich and victorious king? It would make sense, wouldn't it? But religion isn't about making sense. In fact, it's usually a better idea if it doesn't. People want a briar patch of contradictions in their faith.

Poverty on Earth, wealth in Paradise. That little conundrum makes a hobo going on and on about salvation seem slightly less like a raving lunatic. Not very much, but it does make people more inclined to believe that blessed are they who eat spaghetti, but woe to those who partake of rigatoni!

The words "haggard," "down," and "miserable" should come to mind when people look at you. Diseases are good crowd-pleasers (especially when promptly followed by a divine healing) but leprosy, while nicely biblical, is not really worth the commitment. Try not to start any epidemics.

Lay Down the Law

Now that you've established yourself as savior, now is the time to set a few ground rules. Christ proclaimed Himself the New Law. Mohammed proscribed alcohol, image-making, and just about everything else. You can regulate everything from dietary habits to sexual intercourse to personal hygiene. The more arbitrary and illogical the law, the more likely your followers will obey them to grow closer to you.

Here are a few basic laws to get your started:

Thou shalt not partake of cheesecake that has passed the hands of Bohemians.

Thou shalt not breathe the air that has been scented by a generic air freshener.

When a powder blue Volkswagen Beetle crosses your path, spit out your gum and step on it.

It can actually be a fun game. Use the following Mad Lib to write your Book of Laws:

Thou shalt (or not) (verb) of (noun) that has been (adjective) by (noun).

5. Be Exclusive

Everybody has a tight-knit group of followers to spread their message. First and foremost, you should determine who is not allowed to follow you. For example, Jesus distinguished between disciples and apostles. There was no discernible difference between the two, but the apostles were special just because they were.

Similarly, Christ said that He'd take anybody, even lepers and (ugh) tax collectors, if they gave all of their wordly possessions to the poor to follow Him. This is a trickier proposition than it sounds. I mean, it's my stuff. If the poor want my stuff, they can pry it from my cold, dead, covetous hands.

Dense, esoteric tirual can also help keep your religion exclusive. Mohammed demanded Muslims pray three times a day on special mats, facing toward Mecca.

Who the hell even knows where that is, anyway?

6. Stick It to the Man

All religions in their day challenged the status quo. Governments as a rule don't like change. This is very good for you. People by their nature are contrarians. They luike to go against the grain. Once it's established that your religion is banned by the powers that be, converts will flock to you lik a moth to a flame!

It's fairly easy to get your religion banned. Simply find something that everybody likes and go in the opposite direction. Examples abound. The Romans banned Christianity because it weakened loyalty to the state. Europeans disliked Islam because it wasn't Christianity. The Chinese initially proscribed Buddhism because it's really boring.

7. Martyr Somebody

Religion kills people. That's proven science. Like in chess, sometimes you have to sacrifice a piece (or a virgin) to move forward (or appease the volcano). After your "lucky follower" has kicked the bucket, show up at his funeral and weep at his greatness, perhaps bestowing some arbitrary honor such as sainthood.

To help, I've provided a simple form eulogy:

"Alas, poor (martyr's name), you who are gone will surely be with my (parent deity/monster) in (Heaven/Paradise/Detriot/Chuck E. Cheese).

"You, (martyr's name) have earned the greatest of honors, the (arbitrary honor). You will be remembered in the annals of history, and when my Final (Judgment/Victory/Battle/Pizza party), is over, it is you who will be (blessed/victorious/victorious/served first) alongside me.

"Still, you should have remembered it was step-kick-step-pivot. It was almost like you were trying to piss off the volcano."

8. Convert Somebody Cool

Time and time again, religions have scored that one convert that turned things around, except for Islam. They were just really good at marketing. The Christians had the Emperor Constantine, who passed the Edict of Milan, legalizing Christianity in the Roman Empire. Constantine fits a specific profile that every coolest-convert should have:

In power and seeking further power

Winning a war

Susceptible to divine visions

Influenced early on by a converted relative

A massive ego

Huge amounts of cash

Solid military strength

A massive ego

Optional qualities include:

Has written bad science fiction novels

Has the phone numbers of several famous actors

9. Die Horribly

Getting yourself killed adds a nicely poignant exclamation point to your life, making people wonder what could have been, had you been able to live a long life. Christ was crucified, Mohammed ate poisoned lamb. No self-respecting messiah ever lets himself die peacefully.

It also raises the question that your doctrine may or may not be incomplete. After all, you can't possibly cover everything. Allowing your followers to make assumptions about what you might have said about the Polish or bumper stickers means you don't actually have to take the time to say it.

As for methods, suicide is a no-no. You'll come off as a kook. Assassination mid-speech is nicely sudden, but there's much to be said for extended suffering. Be sure, however, that you're obviously dead. A mere disappearance makes people hope you might come back someday.

10. Watch Your Followers Misconstrue Your Teachings, Preferably to the Point of Bloodshed

Religions have the best sects. Watching your followers quibble over the minutiae of your intricately convoluted doctrine is one of the most satisfying parts of messiah-hood, especially when the part they're fighting over isn't particularly important.

Excellent points from which your faith can crack and shatter include:

Whether you were divine, human, or both

Forgiveness of sins (or lack thereof)

What flavor of gelato is served in Heaven

Who jiggled the Jell-O

It's also good to send your religion hurtling into conflict with another. A faith can be unholy just because they decide to spell your name with an "F" as opposed to a "Ph."

Karl Marx called religion the "opiate of the masses." And, just like other opiates, we are totally hooked. Humanity cannot live without it. It's up to you and these ten easy steps to use this crutch to your financial, temporal, and moral advantage!

Happy converting!