A Business in Charity Clothing

Jun 21, 2012 1 Comment by

It has been frequently remarked that churches show strong similarities to businesses. The evolution of such schemes is obvious: the church is set up so that people can gain better lines of communication to the core of their religion, but the church must be built and renovated, and its many services maintained, so it must surely need money, and where is it to get its money other than the willing donations from its adherents. The church sells the religion to the people; it offers a service and charges for it.

There are a few details I would like to highlight at this point. Firstly a distinction needs to be made between a church where all proceeds benefit only the institution and not its higher members, and a church where senior participants are paid specifically to do some job within the institute, and need not work elsewhere in between events. Secondly, when it becomes obligation for adherents to pay money to the church, and when it is considered inappropriate to not pay money, this is enforcement of payment (which is particularly concerning when a religion is dominant in a country or region). Thirdly, religions provide a service specifically to the followers and not to outsiders.

Many within religion would probably reject the notion that churches are in fact businesses. Since charities also offer some service in return for donations, why can’t the donations made by church-goers be considered charitable donations towards the upkeep of the church? The distinction between charity and business can be found if the aforementioned distinctions.

Some would say that the purpose of a business is to make money. Ultimately businesses are simply ways to pay the people who work in them, so that those people can eat and live. But is a business still a business if the workers don’t think they’re in it to make money, but nevertheless do make money? If businesses are simply ways to pay someone their wage, then regardless of whether the conscious intention is to make money, surely it is still a business. This is the first point above. If the vicars, priests, bishops, clerics, imams, rabbis and so on are being paid specifically to do these roles, then it is a business, since the job is sustaining them economically.

We can compare this to the standard model of a charity, where many of the lower level participants work for free in their spare time, and it is only those who do not have the time to do another job who must be given a wage. (I would reject the idea that ministers or priests do not have the time to do another job.)

The notion that churches are businesses becomes more convincing when one considers that it most churches put a pressure of expectation on followers to pay up. The obligation for money effectively gives determinable value to the services being offered. And to return to the earlier point, whilst churches may often undertake standard charity work and provide services for people other than the followers, proper charities almost never provide for their contributors.

The idea that churches are businesses leads to some more interesting notions. If a church is a business, then it must follow the laws governing other businesses, which surely includes legislation concerning false advertising. Companies nowadays must often prove any claims they make about the product, or risk being sued. Since the church cannot prove its religious claims, surely it only takes one person claiming otherwise to make a lawsuit. This notion has already crossed the minds of many atheists I’m sure. The fact that many religious institutions receive tax reductions is contrary to their business structure, since businesses and companies must often pay great quantities of tax. Then there is the issue of pressure. Religions typically exert psychological pressure on their members to continue believing. If any company did this it would cause outrage.

It is unfortunate that if these considerations were highlighted, the likely response from most courts is that religion is somehow different, despite the above. The fact that churches aren’t legally considered businesses shows yet again the reserved places that religion has in society.

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About the author

I am the founder of Atheism Network.

One Response to “A Business in Charity Clothing”

  1. litesp33d says:

    All religions are businesses. That is the real reason they are so anti atheism. It is not about belief because if you truly believe your religion is the correct one what should it matter what anyone else thinks. It is not about numbers (yet, but we are getting there) as there are still more followers than atheists.

    It is about money because if you don’t believe or more realistically you have come to understand there is nothing there why would you want to give them your money. And don’t kid yourself they are not bothered. They are because we are at the tipping point. All religions are in decline. We just have to convince the millions of non believing Muslims that it is OK.