February 5 2010|11.44 AM UTC

Angelica Nierras

Can You Buy Your Way to Better Spiritual Health?

Category: Personal FinanceTags: , , ,


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.)

1. Buddhism

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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.

2. Scientology

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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)

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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.

4. Kabbalah

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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.

5. Judaism


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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.

6. Catholicism

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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

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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

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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.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Peter February 6, 2010 at 10:36 am

Mormons believe in the principle of sacrifice. I cannot testify as to the motives of the above religions, but the ability to make a sacrifice for what you believe, whether it is time, talents or money, is very enobling. Groups who require no sacrifice do not have the power to raise a person to a higher state of character.

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Anonymous February 8, 2010 at 8:11 pm

Nice fun article. Treats potentially delicate subjects with the right level of gentle humor.

I would point out for accuracy that Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) are asked to give quite a bit more than even what is described here. In addition to the tithing concept (described above) Mormons are encouraged to give generous and regular “fast offerings” (associated with a day of fasting) which funds (I think) go toward local poverty/humanitarian causes. Finally in addition to these main formal programs (tithing, fast offerings) there are numerous other channels where donations of money and time are suggested. Most (I think) go toward one humanitarian program or another.

Probably most churches have a lot of similarities in this. I just thought I would point out that tithing is just the beginning in terms of suggested donations! :)

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David February 8, 2010 at 8:11 pm

Yeah, that’s a complete misrepresentation of a Catholic indulgence there. A little research would go a long way. Indulgences have nothing to do with getting out of hell whatsoever.

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Al February 8, 2010 at 8:31 pm

Atheism will always be Free!

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Ed February 8, 2010 at 8:32 pm

Indulgences do not, and never have provided a ticket out of Hell. Catholic theology holds that when a person has sinned, they will receive temporal (often times referred to as purgetory)and eternal punishment (usually referred to as hell). The only way to get out of eternal punishment is through reconciliation with God. This is purely spiritual and internal.

This does not remove the temporal punishment (you can’t kill a hundred people, feel bad and be sorry for it, and get off with no punishment at all.)

The concept of indulgences is based on the concept that you earned your temporal punishment. “Unearning” that punishment can be done through an indulgence: doing good acts to offset some of your bad acts, or taking some of your punishment while you are alive (donating money, pilgrimages, self-inflicted pain, fasting, vows etc).

However, if you are rich, you kill a bunch of people. Then you decide you don’t want to go to hell, so you donate a bunch of money to buy lifesaving medicine for poor people. But you never reconcile your self with God, you don’t feel remorse etc… you are going to Hell.

This is a subtlety that many history books do not explain

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Bob February 8, 2010 at 8:37 pm

This would have been a much more interesting article if the writer understood the religions she was writing about.

In the case of Buddhism which “won” the top spot,it isn’t the renunciation of worldly goods that is the issue but giving up the attachment.

The story is told of the guru who told his disciple to renounce. The disciple gave up, his belongings, nope- not enough. Gave up even his clothing – nope, the guru said again “renounce.” The disciple was about to put his body into a fire as his last possession, when the guru stopped him and said “This body doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to your parents.” “Renounce! Give up your ego.” In this context, that includes giving up the sense of “my” and “mine.”

Not so easy. Giving up your ipod and iphone is much easier.

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Jeremy February 8, 2010 at 8:40 pm

Yeah, making a sacrifice in the name of a fictional deity is very ennobling.

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your lord February 8, 2010 at 8:43 pm

Is Mormonism really any more of a christian belief than Islam? They both are based on the Judea-Christian scriptures but believe in a later saint – it’s all the same garbage isn’t it?

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Zed February 8, 2010 at 8:46 pm

On Catholicism
1. Indulgences don’t get you out of Hell. They reduce suffering in Purgatory. If you die with unrepented mortal sin on your soul, you’re SOL.
2. Annulments cannot be bought. You may be able to hire a canon lawyer to help your case out, but if you’re not eligible, there’s nothing you can do.

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Matt February 8, 2010 at 8:47 pm

Jehovah’s Witnesses are not required to spend any amount of time preaching. It is something done willingly. So if someone’s situation allows them to spend more time in the ministry and they want to then they can. It’s not required by any means, many older ones cannot even preach more than maybe a hour a month.

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Adrian February 8, 2010 at 9:00 pm

check out Vipasana, its all over the world. a 10 days meditation course, cost – you can contribute as much as you like. Not religion oriented.

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Red February 8, 2010 at 9:06 pm

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a religion that asked for no sacrifice and rewarded hard work as opposed to zealotism? I’d almost be motivated to look into that, if I wasn’t busy dedicating myself to the church of the FSM and the invisible pink unicorn.

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Fail February 8, 2010 at 9:10 pm

#1 – Buddhism? lol… fail. i am sorry to hear about your unshakable materialism.

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duphenix February 8, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Buddhism has no business being on this list. There is a large difference between attachment to things and getting rid of everything. If you get rid of everything and it makes you miserable you are still suffering from attachment, and will likely try to get things again. Similarly even if you don’t own something you can be attached to the desire of owning a thing, like people who lives are only about buying the next fancy car, they are suffering for that attachment. On the other hand if you own mansions and cars and are not attached to your possessions, then even if they are all taken away and you have nothing you won’t suffer. There is no need to get rid of everything, in fact sometimes just the opposite, the less you own things for your own personal satisfaction, the more you can put everything you to work for the good of everyone.

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Fufi February 8, 2010 at 10:04 pm

The most expensive path to “spiritual” health is psychotropic drugs. Hundreds of $ every month for pre$criptions, until they increase your dosage and then you die.

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glenneroo February 9, 2010 at 4:49 am

Totally agree with duphenix, adding buddhism was a cheap shot!

Also to note, _ALL_ Catholics in Austria/Germany (especially outside of ‘progressive’ cities) are expected to make yearly payments to the church (ranging 100-300 euro, per family member 18 and older) otherwise you are kicked from the church and are not allowed to do any of the silly catholic rituals (marriage, baptism, etc) anymore.

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Tormak February 9, 2010 at 7:01 am

@lord “They both are based on the Judea-Christian scriptures but believe in a later saint – it’s all the same garbage isn’t it?”

There is a huge difference. Islam rejects Jesus Christ as the son of god, rejects the crucifixion and the atonement. Mormons accept Jesus Christ as their savior, the literal son of god, and the atonement. Your definition of omitting groups that believed in prophetic works that came about after Christ would omit most early Christians. It was the Catholic church who decided during the middle the first millennium AD that they didn’t need prophets anymore. Up until that time many Christians believed in ongoing prophecy (as was normal in the Jewish tradition.) For example, there was a post-Christ prophet called Hermas, and his revelations called “The Shepherd of Hermas” was considered canonical scripture by the early christian fathers up until at least the end of the third century AD. In fact the existence of “spiritual gifts” such as miracles and prophecy were widely used as a basis of proof of the efficacy of the early Christian church.

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PLotus February 9, 2010 at 8:31 pm

There must be something attractive in giving away all your possessions, including the aspiration for that IPad and the condo in the bahamas… In australia, at the last census, buddhism was the fastest growing religion, with christianity (loosely defined as the top three – Catholic, CoE, Protestantism) running second. It would appears, based on sampling globally across all type of countries that this trend has continued, with Islam (again loosely incorporating all Islam devotional disciplines) coming second. Any thoughts on why this religion, as opposed to the others, has this quietly amazing trend?

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Anonymous February 9, 2010 at 11:15 pm

Fact Check

1. ISLAM: Why is it that the pilgrimage is noted as one of the five pillars BUT it is not factored into the $ cost of this religion.

This “pillar” is a pilgramage to MECCA, and depending where one is from…

Well you get the idea. If the cost were included Islam could otherwise have topped the list.

2. JUDAISM: Paying for shabaat or high holy days in Judaism? Not true.

If temple does have a membership fee, expect that this is membership to temple services like day care, hebrew school, etc.

How about the fact that survivors, even second and third generations of holocaust survivors are PAID in retribution – an extremely insufficient gesture compared to lives lost, BUT for this analysis it should have been considered.

3. BUDDHISM: Why is this number one? Period.

Side note, this interpretation of Buddhism is inaccurate. Buddhists aren’t luddites.

4. CATHOLICISM:

Because The New York Times is an authority on the Catholic Church?

* hint – Better reference: the Vatican.

5. Trancendental Meditation:

Not a religion.

6. JEHOVAH’s WITNESS

Do these followers have to support themselves financially while donating their time to ‘evangelize’?

The answer might change your figures.

7. SCIENTOLOGY:

money = salvation. period.

8. KABALLAH:

not a religion.

9. “MORMONISM”:

Aside from cost descrepancies… Mormons and non-mormons alike will argue that they are not Christians – by way of doctrine.

End.

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D March 4, 2010 at 7:09 am

Including Jehovah’s Witnesses in this list of the world’s most expensive religions is ridiculous! There is NO tithing, there are no collection plates passed at any time, no manuals or courses to purchase, etc. There are no “monetary requirements” at all. This religion stands alone in the world as being NOT about money. Its worldwide organization has always and will always function solely on voluntary donations. In fact, no one knows or keeps track of what anyone donates, it’s anonymous. They spend their OWN money to bring the Bible’s message to their community (gas, wear and tear on their cars, literature, etc.) Everything Jehovah’s Witnesses do is based on the way things were handled in the early Christian congregation (which Jesus established) as described in the Bible. And, no one is paid to do anything. There is no profiting off the word of God here … this is another truly unique aspect of the religion. If anyone would like to see scriptures that offer details about these topics, I would be glad to list them. It’s fascinating.

The author of this online article clearly did not do enough fact-finding. Where in the world did you get the idea that “those with part-time jobs are required to spend 100 hours a month evangelizing”? No one is required to spend 100 hours at anything! You may be confusing this with the voluntary choice to be a full time evangelizer (regular pioneer) — those who want to do this arrange their schedules to be able to spend approximately 70 hours per month in the witnessing / Bible educational work. They can leave this fulltime position at any time if circumstances change or if they just don’t want to do it anymore. Only a small percentage of Jehovah’s Witnesses are pioneers anyway.

People, please: don’t just automatically believe what other people say about Jehovah’s Witnesses. There is so much prejudice, so many lies, so much misinformation being spread. If you want the facts, ASK one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Your preacher, uninformed media, and your gossiping cousin are not reliable sources of information. Like Jesus, Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t deserve to be persecuted. As a group, they are the most honest, moral, productive, sincere, dedicated, unselfish, content people you’ll ever meet. All they want is to share with you what has brought happiness, fulfillment, and a purpose to their lives. It will never cost you a penny. By the way, have you ever tried taking your faith to the streets? Do you have any idea how hard it is to walk up to total strangers, one right after the other, and engage in a meaningful conversation about God and the Bible? Or how challenging it is to never know who’s going to be behind the next door and what kind of questions the person will need answered from God’s Word? Could you think on your feet and open the Bible to defend your beliefs out there? Would you voluntarily be continually subjected to abuse from rude people when you’re just there trying to help them? If nothing else, please listen to the next Jehovah’s Witness that approaches you, out of respect and human kindness. You might be pleasantly surprised to discover a tidbit of knowledge that will positively affect your life. If you’re a Christian, would you turn Jesus away if he came to your door to talk about his Father?

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Zipporah December 2, 2010 at 10:19 am

This is a very untrue statement about JW’s. “those with part-time jobs are required to spend 100 hours a month evangelizing. ” I’ve worked part times. Most of my family works parttime and are not spending or expected or required to give 100 hours a month. Where are you getting your “facts”, because they are not “facts.” You might want to recheck your sources. No one is expected to give that many hours. If you WANT to be a Full time minister, you will have to give 70 hours a month. Missionaries give more. This is strictly volunteer. In fact, I would suggest that you read their magazines personally and find the facts.

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