Big-business religion, from the pulpit to the cemetery

Corporations and parishioners are increasingly coming together to spread the word of God and make money. All across the country, churches — once intimate places of spiritual interconnectedness — have been replaced by stadiums of worship that utilize advanced technological innovations to awe, edify and rip off those in attendance.

The jig goes something like this: Corporations underwrite the construction of vast religious complexes that awe people into regular attendance. The preacher's image is projected onto a big screen. His calm baritone is beamed out by state-of-the-art speakers. From all sides, his voice fills the room. The seats shake as he gives expression to the word of God.

It's a rousing experience, to be sure, and one that is increasingly paid for by corporations. In return for their funding, the churches circulate corporate promotional calendars and fliers and, if the corporation is really lucky, broadcast an endorsement straight from the pulpit. Trusting the pastor's judgment, the flock simply surrenders its money to whatever service the corporation is hawking. In such a manner, countless Christians are fleeced every year.

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The newest twist in the mortuary business is to rent a chunk of church property and offer their own in-house services with the implicit church endorsement. The archdioceses of Montreal and Los Angeles contract with Stewart's Enterprises and SCI chains, renting out their holy ground as though these mortuaries were some Starbucks franchise.

In return for a lucrative lease arrangement, the diocese lends its tacit endorsement to the mortuary and, in effect, channels its flock directly into the overpriced venues, swindling their own parishes for millions of dollars per year.

Of course these churches will benefit from their lucrative agreements. They may use the profits to erect some triumphant cathedral, decorated with such stunning artifice that its very presence proclaims the glory of God. All of which just indicates that these pastors don't actually care about their people.

After all, many churches could, in fact, offer free funerals to their members, not counting cemetery or crematory expenses. What more logical support group is there at a time of death? Instead, these ministers use their position as trusted leaders to fleece their parishioners.