The Business of Religion

The link between money and religion is a grey area, fraught with conspiracy and scandal. Some of the wealthiest organisations on the planet are religions or religious movements - some ancient, some modern - yet the followers of religion and the countries in which they are practised are often the poorest.

Here, the money.co.uk team has examined some of the richest religions and their relationships with wealth.


Established in 1952 as a successor to dianetics, the Church of Scientology has always been a controversial entity. It has been criticised for taking money from vulnerable people, and reports of suicide and financial ruin caused by the extortionate fees incured as a Thetan are not unheard of. Rumour of harassment and covert surveillance of its followers are also rife.


Number of followers: The Church of Scientology claims to have over 8 million followers worldwide and 3.5 million in the United States alone, but a 2008 survey showed that just 20,000 American individuals identified themselves as Scientologists.

Notorious for: Its controversial beliefs, celebrity following and extortionate fees.

Fortune comes from: The subscription based religion charges to allow members to progress up the religious hierarchy. It costs around 168,700 to reach Operating Thetan VIII, the highest rank in the Church of Scientology. Newcomers to Scientology are thoroughly scrutinised financially and, according to many sources, often encouraged to take out loans if they cannot afford courses.

Total worth: Not known, but definitely in the hundreds of millions and probably in the billions of dollars.

Spends on: the Church of Scientology has a made many eyebrow raising purchases over the years, including nearly 2m in gold bullion and 9.3m on their very own cruise ship.


The Catholic Church isn't without its critics. The traditional bells-and-smells Catholic services extol the virtues of a life without possessions, and an existence free of money. However, the Catholic Church harbours some of the world's greatest and most exquisite works of art, and vast gold deposits stored around the world.


Number of followers: 1.181 billion worldwide and rising.

Notorious for: Pope Benedict XVI claiming that the distribution of condoms is making the AIDs crisis "worse", along with some known cases of child abuse.

Fortune comes from: Mostly priceless works of art, but the Catholic Church were implicated in the disappearance of plundered Nazi gold, discovered in a shrine in Fatima, which the Church admitted to having in 2000. Tourism to the Vatican accounts for some of their income.

Total worth: Hundreds of billions of dollars worldwide.

Spends on: Upkeep of an extensive international network of churches, compensation payouts for abuse victims (totalling over half a billion dollars in the USA). It is also one of the largest provider of humanitarian care and relief aid in the world.


Shrouded in secrecy and an air of mystery, Freemasonry is not a religion in its own right. It requires its members to believe in a *supreme being* of some sort, but is not specific as to which one. In some countries, like Sweden, the members accepted are only Christians. Hundreds of conspiracies exist, accusing Freemasons of being part of a New World Order which strives to dominate the planet through control of finances. A Masonic symbol, the Eye of Providence, can be found on the $1 bill, the Great Seal of the United States, and the logo of DARPA's Information Awareness Office.


Number of followers: Six million worldwide.

Notorious for: Secret handshakes, allegations of corruption and an impenetrable old-boys network.

Fortune comes from: Wealthy individuals form the bulk of the Masonic ranks.

Total worth: Depends who you believe - if the Freemasons control as much money as conspiracy theorists believe, the Freemasons are the richest organisation in the world.

Spends on: Charity. Masonic lodges all have philanthropic tendencies, and most run health or education projects.


This particular element of Christianity is a largely American phenomenon, whereby huge numbers of people can be addressed by one minister via television broadcasts. Ostensibly it's the same Christianity as everywhere else, but in reality it shares more with the personal morality preachers of Texan megachurches. The beauty of televangelism lies with something called the prosperity gospel, defined by the belief that *Jesus blesses believers with riches*. This assurance that *God will provide you with material wealth if you watch my television programmes and also the adverts in between* clearly works.


Number of followers: Although there are no official figures, televised Church services continue to draw in large audiences in America and across the world.

Notorious for: Preaching a distorted version of Christianity, speaking in tongues and being completely unaccountable to any reputable organisation within the Christian Church.

Fortune comes from: Donations, adverts, selling merchandise to followers, and many other commercial activities under a tax-free umbrella.

Total worth: Estimated to be around 1.5 billion.

Spends on: TV evangelists have a life of luxury. Multi-million dollar homes, travel by private jet and international 'crusades' at 2,000 a night are not uncommon.

The Church of England

The creation of the Church of Englnd can largely be attributed to Henry VIII's determination to divorce Catherine of Aragon. There had been attempts to separate the English church before, most notably by the Lollardy movement, but it was Henry's efforts which ultimately resulted in the creation of Anglicanism and his excommunication.

The Church of England

Number of followers: 25 million baptised members

Notorious for: A split within the Church over the ordination of women and homosexuals as priests and bishops.

Fortune comes from: £200 million ($320m) in cash donations from congregations, £250m ($400m) in legacies, events and services, and £200m ($320m) in Gift-Aid donations. The Church used to be the biggest landowner in Britain, but most of that land was sold off to fund the £4.4bn investment portfolio which earns £160m+ ($255m+) every year.

Total worth: Billions

Spends on: Pensions, salaries, and maintaining 16,000 ancient buildings (most of which are Grade 1 listed). There are 43 cathedrals which require constant upkeep and repair.

The Richest Billionaires with Faith

  • Carlos Slim

    Carlos Slim - 45bn
    Maronite Catholic.

  • Larry Ellison

    Larry Ellison - 24bn

  • Lakshmi Mittal

    Lakshmi Mittal - 20bn

  • Amancio Ortega

    Amancio Ortega - 18.9bn

  • Eike Batista

    Eike Batista - 18.3bn
    Very superstitious

  • Mukesh Ambani

    Mukesh Ambani - 16.4bn

  • Christy Walton

    Christy Walton - 16.1bn
    Born into Presbyterianism

Posted by Hannah