The wealth of religions

Google “the wealth of the church”. You’ll discover that the Greek Orthodox Church “reportedly” owns property valuing up to €700 billion, that the Catholic Church is worth between ten and fifteen billion, and that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is worth over forty billion. You’ll also find “outrage” type articles that contrast various religious organisation’s wealth accumulation with their moral creeds, investigative reporting on assets held and portfolios maintained, and the odd post concerning our Reptilian overlords and their tendency to use religious orders to prolong their omnipotence.

 I don’t want to get into any of that. Instead, I want to share an observation. In days past, religions—be they Eastern or Western, popular or obscure—dominated. Every man and woman had his or her creed. Because of this, religious organisations prospered. Some, to this day, continue to prosper, and others did not survive the passage of time. So, a cynical and simplistic explanation for the vast wealth of institutions like the Catholic Church would be the force of compounding; religious orders got rich and figured out how to stay rich. But I think it’s deeper than that.

Much of modern culture takes aim at religion, if only because it positions belief as the opposite of all that we supposedly cherish: reason, truth, progress, science. But this relentless impairing of belief has another consequence. It weakens humanity. I’m not religious, but I can see that the value of religion and ritual lies in the stability and meaning it provides to the human spirit. Modern culture would strip that away and instead have us worship a diverse array of cults that masquerade as virtues; productivity, profit, power, progress. All the Ps. 

But considering the history of religions and the wealth that is woven through their tapestries of existence, I think it’s fair to say that religious orders only manage(d) to accumulate wealth because human beings feel impoverished without ritual and belief. Without the profound and steadying influence of these things, we stumble and err.