A mundane story

This documentary about a cult, Christian Assemblies International, and its founder, Scott Williams, is notable for the cult’s ordinariness. It was the same old formula: a leader who claims to have direct insight into the mind of god, demands for obedience to the leader, sermons that raged at the evil heathens outside the church, extorting money to support the good works of the tribe (often involving pampering the leader)…all common stuff that is going on in churches all around Morris right now. Of course, Williams carried it further, and starting demanding that the young men in the group have sex with him, and he was scamming huge amounts of money from his congregation.

But what struck me is that in all the pictures and video clips of Williams, he comes off as incredibly boring and uncharismatic. He’s a pudgy schlub; his speeches are droning and awkward. He could be me! There’s just something wrong with people’s brains. We’re too susceptible to the formulaic nonsense behind religion — it’s like it’s designed to trip the gullibility circuits we all have, so that all a walking potato like Scott Williams has to do is recite a familiar pattern with confidence, and some small percentage of people will accept it.

Also, that it doesn’t take much to get rich: he went recruiting in Europe, and built up a congregation of “hundreds”. Hundreds! From countries with tens of millions of people! And that was enough that he could go on a spree, buying up valuable properties, and skipping from country to country, ahead of the authorities as they got wise to him.

That makes sense, too. We’re not talking about someone asking for small donations, ten bucks here, pocket change there, but an organized campaign to get those few hundred people to each cough up 10% of their income, hand over any inheritances, and make extra, large donations. It all adds up.

So there you go. If you’re sufficiently unscrupulous, and willing to embrace the proven con of religious bullshit, any of you can go off and get rich right now. Practice being really sincere and devout — that’s all it takes.


  1. tuibguy says

    It’s hard to explain to a high school student that the way to success is hard work and education any more, when market-based economics make it so easy for grifters to take
    “what the market will bear,” when there are suckers born every minute and then the message of religion is that “faith” is more likely to be true if it is logically more unlikely to be true.

  2. abusedbypenguins says

    This is a description of the republican party as a cult. Ordinary dudes convincing the rabble via religion to vote for them. Incompetent politicians voted for by incompetent voters, no wonder the state of our nation is so fucked-up.

  3. David Marjanović says

    How much effort would be required to re-name our species Homo credentis pontesbrooklyniensisemptor?

    1. Fill the International Committee on Zoological Nomenclature with the most imaginative ones of your cronies, then wait for them to find a reason to suppress the name H. sapiens. (The fact that it’s misleading is explicitly not a valid reason; more creativity than that is needed.)
    2. Get the species name down to one word (two with the genus name). It’s subspecies names that consist of two (three with the genus name).

  4. terrellk70 says

    And they say crime doesn’t pay. Being a member of the clergy is the best form of criminal activity a person can enter into….if you want to be a criminal. And you can past your criminal empire on to your children. Yea I’m looking at you Franklin Graham!

  5. marko says

    Just the same as anything really. How do you make lots and lots of money? Start of by being a shameless, heartless bastard, with absolutely no regard for your fellow man.

    “There is room at the top they are telling you still, but first you must learn how to smile as you kill.”

  6. says

    I’ve often thought that at some point L. Ron Hubbard got exasperated with his groveling followers and decided to test the boundaries of what he could get away with by just randomly making up crap and seeing who would swallow it. He discovered there is no such thing as “too far.” (Of course, it’s actually more likely he was just an amoral megalomaniac.)

  7. says

              I guess filling the International Committee on Zoological Nomenclature is going to be the easy bit!
    I was thinking of H. sapiens neanderthalensis when I added the subspecies, but on reflection, why drag them into it.
    I am really disappointed that “The fact that it’s misleading is explicitly not a valid reason”, though the fact that that isn’t a valid reason may be my best argument.

  8. vereverum says

    @ richardelguru #9
    Renaming might be difficult and miff some of us.
    A more reasonable path might be to show that both have a common ancestor. I often wonder if we’ve been confused by two species that are so amazingly alike in appearance and similarity of DNA.

  9. raven says

    Aesop said it long ago. A fool and their money are soon parted.

    These people’s childhood education didn’t take very well.

    As horrible (and familiar) as this all is, it isn’t even close to the worst of the cults.

    Reverend Jim Jones, an ordained AofG minister, managed to convince 900 people to drink poisoned Koolaide (or Flavoraide), and die in Guyana. Heaven’s Gate did something similar.

    Yo xians!!! If your cult leader starts having mass suicide practice drills, find another church.

  10. raven says

    We do owe a debt to Joseph Smith, Elron Hubbard, and Reverend Sun Myung Moon.

    Thanks to them we know where religions come from. People just make them up.

  11. marko says

    These people’s childhood education didn’t take very well.

    Unfortunately, I think you have this the wrong way round, their childhood education took far too well.

  12. hexidecima says

    @raven says it well.

    when someone came up with the scam of clergy, humanity suffered.