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Inventing God: A Case Study in Creating a New Religion
, Add to My Group(s)
It had long been my aspiration to understand how religions systems are created. On Earth, every know culture, no matter how remote, has independently developed a religious belief structure. There is even evidence that human ancestors, such as Neanderthals, possessed their own mystic beliefs. After spending my life studying past and present religions, I knew that in order to understand how religions come into existence, then I had to create one on my own.
Before entering the development stage for my new god, I first made several predictions; predictions on characteristics that the new religion would need in order to be successful, characteristics that the leader would need in order to shepherd the new religion through adversity, and predictions as to types of methods to overcome disbelief. There are six, and they are:
1. The origin of the myth would have to be shrouded in mystery, and yet be fantastic at the same time; enough to lure minds in and convince people that supernatural events could be the only plausible explanation for the new deity.
2. That multiple series of coincidences would have to be set up to appear that the divine will of a supernatural being was guiding the universe, and not natural events.
3. A new god would have to be infallible; as a result, natural events that would seem to contradict the new god’s power and existence would have to be brushed off and presented not as contradictory evidence to the power of the god, but as the will of the god.
4. It would be the leader’s job to chastise blasphemers and encourage other believers to join in the punishment.
5. The mythos behind the new religion would have to be tied into popular culture to provide familiarity as a foundation in the minds of believers.
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6. The leader would have to constantly remind the followers that reality is the “plan” of god.
With these six principals firmly in mind, I waited for the right opportunity to initiate my experiment and attempt to establish a new religion.
A large part of my inspiration was the satirical internet religion based around the Invisible Pink Unicorn (IPU). So called followers claim that she is pink, though she cannot see her, and that she is omnipresent, though she cannot be touched or smelt. The IPU phenomenon proved one thing; that it is impossible to disprove the existence of a god. The difference, however, is that my aim was to actually attract true believers.
My chance soon came, thanks to my Christian roommate who we’ll call Chris. Chris had a fascinating story to tell me one day after he came home from work. A strange man came to him out of nowhere, someone who he had never seen before. He said one line, “Here I want you to have this,” as he placed a 1922 United States silver dollar in Chris’ hand.
Confused, Chris looked down and the coin and examined it. When he looked up to ask for an explanation, the man had vanished as mysteriously as he had arrived.
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Intrigued by the story, I decided that the first order of business should be to establish the value of the 1922 silver dollar, called a “Peace Dollar” by collectors. Fortunately, I had a US coin collector’s price guide, and I knew precisely where it was located.
Once found, we immediately noticed a sheet of paper attached to book. It was lyrics to a song. An old acquaintance of mine had recorded the instrumentals to a song that he had written before he has passed away, but the lyrics were thought to have been lost. Now they were found.
Without the slightest bit of hesitation, I began to implement my experiment of creating a new religion.
“It was the will of the coin that led is to discover these lost lyrics from my deceased associate,” I explained to Chris, and it was also the will of the coin, and not of a man, who led a stranger to place the cryptic coin in our hands. And thus, the myth of the great cryptic coin was born. From that point on Chris and I propagated the tale, excitedly sharing it with everyone.
After time, interest in the coin and its powers spread throughout several social circles. Within a week, the first of several people who I never even met before asked me if I was the one with the sacred coin. The word was spreading.
With interest in the soon-to-be god spreading, the only thing that I needed now was a miracle. Since there’s no such thing as a true miracle, what I really needed was a nice coincidence that I could pass off as a miracle and attribute it to the powers of the coin.
On a late desert evening I, along with four coin skeptics, were driving along in a minivan and stopped at a convenience store for some soda. One of the passengers in the back swung open the side door and looked down to discover a credit card. He picked it up and breathlessly announced his discovery.
Without wasting a moment I immediately attributed the find to the coin. After all, it was right in my pocket the whole time. Once the former skeptics were persuaded that the great and mighty coin had indeed granted them with wealth, it did not even have to be suggested that they should spend their ill-gotten gains.
After all, would a god give a gift that it didn’t want its followers to use? And if it is a god’s will for one to break a law, will not the same god protect the individuals from law enforcement and punishment? Such is the logic of superstition and religion, and the new religion took over the group’s judgment, absolutely. A very intriguing phenomenon to witness first hand; I wondered if it had been similar with priests who murdered religion in medieval Europe for witchcraft.
That night, the four first members of the new religion that would later be dubbed “coinism” and “the cryptic coin cult” drove from gas station to gas station, stocking up on cigarettes and junk food. Why not one-stop shopping? One member claimed that he felt the coin telepathically warn him that they should make small purchases, so as not to get carded, and thus it was so.
…and the coin looked upon his creation and said, “This is very good.” And so said I as well! My experiment in constructing a new god was going well, and it was scarcely a week old. I only had four believers, but even Jesus started with just twelve, so four was a very good start.
Indeed, I had already met two of my predictions for my hypothesis of what criteria would be needed to create a god, a myth-like background story and coincidence that can be passed off as a miracle. Even the third criterion was becoming fulfilled; the new god was proving to be infallible in the sense that he protected his believers from getting caught while conducting illegal activities.
The next night another passenger, Adam, joined us in the minivan. He had been told of the coin earlier in the day, but expressed complete disbelief. He was defiantly a coin atheist. Adam went as far as to knock the god-coin off of a pedestal that it had been placed upon; a great sacrilege, to be sure, especially in the presence of all four believers.
It was now time to try out the next prediction; that the leader would have to chastise blasphemers or risk losing the conviction of the faithful. Thinking swiftly, I explained that though the coin was angered, it would soon reveal itself to Adam in its way – leaving plenty of slack to portray some future coincidence as being inspired by the coin’s divine mind.
To quickly change the subject, I practiced prediction number five; that the incorporation of well known mythos in pop culture would help to bring new converts to accept the coin as god. After all, it worked well for early Christians as they elevated the status of Mary, (not to mention countless saints), in Europe to appease the newly converted who were confounded by the lack of a female god.
The story that I told proclaimed that metallic elements that make up the coin represent portions of the nails that held Jesus to the cross, the knife that Brutus used to strike the final blow against Gaius Julius Caesar, and the bullet that killed Lee Harvey Oswald. The will of the coin had been present all throughout history, it seems.
This is another trick borrowed from Christianity, where many Christians claim that religions belonging to other cultures, especially those that predate any Biblical god, are actually the god of the Bible, just that people don’t know it. So, the coin has always been present in history, just no one knew it!
So, that night in the minivan, myself along with the five over passengers went to the same store, parked in the same spot, and found yet another credit card. It was simply too good to be true. Not one of those five people doubted the power of their new lord.
The events of that night unfolded the same as with the previous night; a small spending spree ensued and items of low value were purchased at a large number of stores. The spree continued until both the new card and the one from the night before were turned off. (Credit card companies check of these sorts of spending patterns.)
But at the last spot, and James, the driver, was getting in the car, what should he find just partially beneath his tire? It couldn’t be… but it was. It was another credit card.
By this point, I no longer had to speak for the coin. The coinists were aptly able to interpret its will. Wayne, another passenger, made a short speech about how the coin has a greater plan for this new gift and how it didn’t want them to be too greedy in one night, so they should wait one more day to spend it.
Unsurprisingly, the next night found the cryptic coin cult to be bolstered with new members. Everyone could hardly fit into the cramped minivan. The decision was made to use the new credit card to go to a record store, (this was back when CDs were really expensive and before P2P networks were established).
The plan called for everyone to pick out two CDs and tell Adam which ones. After making their selection, the coinist would then depart the store and enter the minivan, where James was waiting with the engine running. After everyone left, Chris was to then pick up all of the CDs, purchase them, and come out to the van.
The plan was doomed from the start. Despite Chris’ clever cover that he is a DJ, the sheer number of CDs added up to over $500. Waiting in the van, some members buckled under the stress. A girl named Anna said, “If Chris gets caught, I’ll never believe in the coin again.” Her friend Janet responded in kind.
Alarmed by this, especially with the knowledge that the plan hadn’t a chance of success, I interceded and introduced prediction six (“god’s plan”) into the equation. I explained that the group’s greed grew too great for the coin to grant them any reward, despite their piety, but that the coin would spare Chris.
I knew that Chris would get carded and I also knew that despite the fact that he is the furthest thing from being a criminal mastermind, he would say that he left his ID in the car, at which point he would get in and we would all drive away safely.
That’s what happened, and it worked. Faith was renewed in the disbelievers, and the coin traded gifts of petty crime for other coincidences, such as new romances and luck with employment. Everyone turned out to be a winner.
I reincarnated the coin god a few other times since. Once a believer was converted by the coin materializing a straw from thin air when one was need (i.e. the wind blew it). Another memorable occasion of conversion was when the coin transformed my $1 bill into a $20 right before the eyes of a new disciple. But what really had happened is that a clerk gave me incorrect change for a $5 dollar bill. That person’s name was Jesus, and he went on to convert fifteen people on his own.
At the onset of the experiment, the prediction was that by combining six basic principles, I would be able to create nothing from nothing, that is to say, I would be able to successfully create a god and convert people into believers.
Yes, this account of events is entirely true an accurate, though no real names have been used. If any reader is feeling judgmental due to the laws that were violated by coinists, I would like to point out that all history books, and even the pages of the Bible, are laden with crimes against humanity committed in the name of one god or another.
Though the experiment was a success, I found myself wondering if this is really how major world religions of modern times, especially Islam and Christianity, really got their start – by having a charismatic leader predict logical outcomes and attribute coincidence and the natural order of events to divine will and unearthly power in order to convince masses to follow a specific doctrine. In the post Roman world, the Christian church in Europe was instrumental in keeping the general population in line with the will of both the law of the land and the law of god.
Based on my results, the answer to that question is impossible to know, because all subjects were predisposed to modern belief systems, especially to Christianity and Judaism, religions from which several coinists were converted.
What is certain, however, is that claims made in the name of powerful religions and beliefs attributed to Biblical gods, Jesus, and Muhammad are just as absurd as those made by members of the cryptic coin cult and are attributed to a 1922 US silver dollar.
Perhaps Thomas Jefferson said it best; “Question with boldness even the existence of a God.” Those who have read this study, who don’t believe in the coin, and believe in no other god, need no convincing. Those who have read this and find themselves to be a coin atheist, but do believe in another god, then it is to them that I pose this question: What attributes does your god have that the coin lacks; why not be an atheist in regard to all gods? For a fleeting moment, among a select few, the coin was just as legitimate as its contemporary gods.
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