While you may not be able to take money into the afterlife, these religions let you put it to good work while you’re still around. Always conscious of your bottom line, BillShrink has put together a list of the world’s most expensive religions, in rough order of what it would cost a truly devout believer to attain salvation, enlightenment, heaven, inner peace, etc. Remember, just like your cell phone bill, your religious health can come with hidden fees. (Disclaimer: No offense to adherents is intended; we merely hope to point out for those undecided spiritual seekers that not all religions come with equal price tags.)
Buddhism climbs to the top of this list because as it turns out, in order to be a really, really good Buddhist — like seriously enlightened — you better get rid of your nice house, fancy computer, and healthy bank account. Buddhism preaches that suffering ceases only when attachment to desire ceases, so say sayonara to that iPhone and Mercedes you’ve been longing for. Of course, if you choose a more casual approach to Buddhism and accept simply its tenets of mindfulness and inner peace and love, your only real monetary obligation is to make sure your local monks don’t starve.
Scientology was created in 1952 by L. Ron Hubbard and teaches a method of spiritual rehabilitation through extensive study. Scientologists complete over ten different levels in their quest to become “clear” — and boy does it cost to get there. Each level in Scientology requires extensive training and study, ranging from the free introductory six month beginning membership to the $1 million Gold Patron Meritorious level. Although Scientology has been criticized severely since its inception, it continues to attract believers like worldwide celebrities John Travolta, Beck and Tom Cruise.
3. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormonism)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, whose members are more generally known as Mormons, is a restorationist Christian church founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith. Believers accept Joseph Smith as God’s prophet and his Book of Mormon as an addition to the Holy Bible. There are some particular aspects of Mormon belief, however, which make them perhaps the priciest of all Christian denominations. No collection plate is passed during Mormon services, as believers are expected to contribute 10% of their income as a tithe to the church. The money benefits the church and Mormons in need. In this practice, Mormons follow Malachi 3:10, in which God says, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse [...] and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”
In addition to tithing, single Mormon men between the ages of 19 and 25 are expected to go on a two-year mission far from home in efforts to recruit for the Church. Missionaries do not receive a salary for the work they undertake. Most are financially supported by themselves or their families, meaning that the mission represents another substantial financial outlay.
However, Mormons are taught to treat their bodies as temples. This means no alcohol, no tobacco in any form, no use of recreational drugs and no caffeine. Without Starbucks and bar tabs, we’re talking about big savings right there.
Kabbalah is a branch of Jewish mysticism focused on the relationship between the Creator and his creations. It holds that only part of that relationship is clear to us; Kabbalah helps guide its students through an understanding of the other hidden forces that help make up our world. The red Kabbalah string, believed to ward off misfortune, is relatively inexpensive ($3.99 on Amazon.com), and has been spotted on the wrists of Paris Hilton, Madonna, Demi Moore, and Jennifer Aniston. Other important articles of the faith cost quite a bit more, however. Books are de rigeur for Kabbalah devotees, especially the mystical text Zohar. The entire 23 volume set runs about $400, though excerpts and commentaries are also available at more reasonable prices. Kabbalah also strongly encourages devotees to donate 10% of their annual incomes to further the sect.
Did you know kosher foods cost about 30% more than regular? About one-sixth of American Jews adhere to the ancient dietary laws, which prescribe a very specific method for killing animals destined for the table. Utensils that come into contact with meat may also not be used with dairy, and utensils that have come into contact with non-kosher food may not be used with kosher food. Those who keep kosher, then, must buy their meat and dairy at specific shops and restaurants.
Temple memberships, rather than donations, are the norm for Jews. You can expect to pay around $250 – $1000 a year depending on whether you are buying a single adult membership or a family. Prices will also vary depending on location; in urban areas membership will climb into the thousands. Also, tickets to attend services during the High Holy Days will cost about a hundred dollars per person, and again will go up or down depending on your location.
The world’s largest Christian church, boasting one-sixth of the world’s population, has long prided itself on (and been simultaneously derided for — see Protestant Reformation, etc.) its acceptance of worldly wealth as a route to heaven. For instance, last year The New York Times covered the return of indulgences for Catholics. Basically, indulgences give believers the option of reducing the expected punishment from their sins (or the sins of a loved one) in the afterlife through charitable acts, prayers — and yes, monetary donations. Until 1567, the Church allowed you to purchase indulgences outright; in other words, rich people could buy a ticket out of Hell.
Today the Catholic Church operates a basic system of donor appeals and the usual collection plate each week. Donations and fees are also expected for major events such as marriage. (And while divorce doesn’t exist to the Church, annulments can be purchased for the right price, typically $200-$1000.)
7. Sunni Islam
Sunni Muslims make up about 85% of the world’s Muslims, who are generally united by a belief in Muhammad as God’s final prophet and the Qur’an as the holy book of revelations. The Five Pillars of Islam are five practices central to the Sunni sect and govern testament, ritual prayer, fasting, alms giving, and pilgrimage. The alms-giving requirement is the Islamic version of the Christian tithe, and is known as Zakat. Rather than the Christian tithe of 10% (which only Mormons follow today), Zakat requests 2.5% of believers’ wealth for the express purpose of benefiting the poor and needy. Like Catholics, Muslims may also donate more as an act of voluntary charity and achieve additional divine favors.
Islam also prescribes a set of rules known as halal that govern permissible food, drink, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals, so the cost of adhering to halal must also be taken into account. Also, depending on the level of your devotion or your sect of belief, don’t forget the cost of a prayer rug, burqa, and other accoutrements necessary to maintain the faith. Remember, though, Muslims are generally forbidden from alcohol and drugs and therefore the costs of debauchery are zero.
8. Transcendental Meditation
For those whose sweet spot is less about organized religion and more about individual spiritualism, transcendental meditation is a form of mantra meditation started in India in 1955. A seven-step course will run you about $1500. Devotees meditate using mantras for 15-20 minutes twice per day.
9. Jehovah’s Witnesses
Jehovah’s Witnesses is a Christian denomination best known for its strong literal and Biblical beliefs that have thrown it into conflict with the government over issues of military service, flag salutation, and prayer in schools. While monetary requirements are quite modest, the religion is based on every member being a strong evangelizing force. Those with full-time jobs are expected to spend spare moments evangelizing, and those with part-time jobs are required to spend 100 hours a month evangelizing. Becoming a Jehovah’s Witness is perhaps best suited for those with time to donate rather than money.
These nine religions clearly do not cover the range of religious and spiritual options available today, but they give a good overview of the kinds of costs you encounter along the spiritual path. Pretty much all religions will require some form of sacrifice in the quest to become closer to God, human transcendence, Allah, Yahweh, Buddha, etc. But don’t forget, heaven is forever and money is fleeting. The cost of enlightenment = priceless.