Saving Money By Converting to Christianity

(Photo: Nora Morgan)

The Phnom Penh Post reports on a Cambodian village that’s converting to Christianity for economic reasons:

At upwards of US$500, the cost of slaughtering a buffalo to revive a relative condemned to ill-health by the spirits has pushed the Jarai indigenous minority residents of Somkul village in Ratanakkiri to a more affordable religious option: Christianity.

In the village in O’Yadav district’s Som Thom commune, about 80 per cent of the community have given up on spirits and ghosts in favour of Sunday sermons and modern medicine. 

Sev Chel, 38, said she made the switch because when she used to get sick, it could cost her hundreds of dollars to appease the gods with a sacrificial package that might include a cow or buffalo, a chicken, bananas, incense and rice wine.

“So if I sold that buffalo and took the money to pay for medicine, it is about 30,000 riel to 40,000 riel [for them to] get better, so we are strong believers in Jesus,” she said. “If I did not believe in Jesus, maybe at this time I would still be poor and not know anything besides my community.” 

Residents say that converting to Christianity has alleviated their fears of black magic, saving them hundreds of dollars in sacrifices to the gods in order to prevent illness and bad luck.

(HT: Steve Goetz)

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  1. Joby Elliott says:

    I can think of another alternative that would be even cheaper (no gods means no tithing).

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  2. Eric M. Jones. says:

    “…80 per cent of the community have given up on spirits and ghosts…”

    And this differs from Christianity how?

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    • DanSanto says:

      Spirits and ghosts in the Hindi tradition are wildly different from what we in the West typically think of, and very distinct from Christianity. In practice the native Cambodian Hindi view is almost indistinguishable from animism where virtually every object/area has its own “spirit” and when people die their ghosts are typically vengeful and angry.

      Christianity doesn’t have any spirits of objects, and no ghosts hanging around after death.

      I’d love to know how much of the conversion actually embraces Christianity and follows through on it, and how much of it is just an in-name-only conversion so they don’t feel they have to placate evil spirits.

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      • James says:

        Christians don’t have ghosts? A quick search finds that approximately a third of Americans believe in ghosts, while about 75% call themselves Christians. So it would seem that some Christians do believe in ghosts. Further, the Christian Bible explicitly states that ghosts do exist, as when Saul has the Witch of Endor call up the ghost of the Prophet Samuel (in 1 Samuel 23).

        There are also many Biblical mentions of vengeful spirits, which Jesus and his disciples go around casting out, as with the Gadarene Swine. The Catholic Church (among other denominations) still maintains the rituals and practice of exorcising demons, See for instance and

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  3. Craig says:

    It’s a good thing they’ve thrown off irrational, unsupported beliefs. Should be pretty smooth sailing for the Som Thom people now.

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  4. Michael Smith says:

    What an extraordinarily facile and poorly considered treatment of an important topic. Although even the source article is short on some details, this blurb is so terse as to be worse than meaningless. The conversion of many rural Cambodians from a largely animist belief system to a variety of Christian denominations has coincided with several other developments, notably access to some highly effective components of Western medicine and freedom from onerous superstitions.

    It is not cheaper to be Catholic, but the health of the residents who have given up on some elements of some traditional belief systems has improved because they are using the money they have available to purchase medicines that treat and in some cases eradicate many health issues common to rural southeast Asia, such as malaria, dengue fever, water-borne parasites, etc.

    The blurb confuses and conflates the issues of healthcare and religion. Although the two are often related, especially so in this instance, the Freaks seriously misstate what is happening in Cambodia by suggesting that religious conversions are for purely economic reasons. The conversions are part of widespread cultural change.

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    • James says:

      “…notably access to some highly effective components of Western medicine and freedom from onerous superstitions.”

      Still, I think the buffalo would be cheaper. As for the “onerous superstitions”, do a search on say gay marriage, anti-abortion activists, or the influence of the religious right in general. Still superstitions, just a different set, and arguably more onerous.

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      • TexCIS says:

        Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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      • James says:

        Since when are any of those things Christian ethics? You’ll find any number of non-Christians who share most of those values, and a lot of self-proclaimed Christians doing just the opposite. Indeed, I’d expect the percentage of either sort to be pretty much the same between Christian and non-Christian. (Maybe an economics/sociology thesis there?)

        What you don’t see (much) among the non-Christians are superstitions like the ones I mentioned above.

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      • J1 says:

        Arguably more onerous? In Christian countries, the debate is over gay marriage. In most atheist countries it’s how long homosexuals should be imprisoned. In Muslim countries, it’s the proper method of executing homosexuals. Opposition to gay marriage notwithstanding, Christian countries treat homosexuals a lot better than most non-Christian countries do. Even those supposedly dominated by the religious right. And the values Tex mentions, while not exclusive to Christians, are far more prevalent in Christian countries than in non-Christian.

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      • Lev says:


        The two “superstitions” you have mentioned are opposition to abortion and gay marriage. How many religions do you know that don’t have them?

        I’m fairly sure that only certain Christian and Jewish denominations allow gay marriage and abortion.

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      • Enter your name... says:

        The typical person in Cambodia earns about $700 a year. The buffalo costs eight months’ income. How could two-thirds of a person’s annual income cost less than Christianity, which is famous for extolling a woman who gave two of the smallest coins in production?

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      • Enter your name... says:

        Tex, don’t let the media fool you. The US is quite liberal compared to everyone in the world except northern and western Europe.

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      • Lev says:

        J1, What do you mean by “atheist countries”? If it’s Communist countries, then you are right.

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      • J1 says:

        All the countries I’m aware of that are atheist as a matter of state policy and/or law are communist or formerly communist countries.

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      • Ian M says:

        A small number of countries have a state religion. Of them, most are muslim (with some specifying Sunni or Shia). Does the USA fit into your description of a Christian country or an Athiest country? It is neither, being a secular nation like the vast majority of countries.

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      • prorock says:

        @lev “I’m fairly sure that only certain Christian and Jewish denominations allow gay marriage and abortion.”

        You just have no idea about religions in the world. Most religions do not treat such mundane things as sexual preferences as religious issue. It is mostly Judeo-Christian tradition to think that the God is so much interested in sex.

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  5. John Glenn says:

    Hey, at least it brought some good.

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  6. Voice of Reason says:

    It’s a variable 10%, rather than a fixed amount that they struggle to afford, could be 50-60% in some years. Who knows if they even do tithe.

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  7. P. Matye says:

    “If I did not believe in Jesus, maybe at this time I would still be poor and not know anything besides my community.”

    Somebody needs to introduce Atheism, STAT. Apparently accepting modern medical practices is equal to belief in Jesus’ divinity for these people, but they still have much to learn about how the modern world works. Glad to see a step in the right direction (it only slightly), but it certainly isn’t a far enough step.

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    • Lev says:

      It seems that most people require a deity to pray to. For example, both Buddhism and Jainism theoretically have no deities, but practically they do.

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  8. P Radhakrishnan says:

    An interesting report. But it does not reveal the hidden side of conversion to Christianity; for as conversion by its very nature is a black magic, it is switching from one black magic to another ; the result of the switch – whether it is economising rituals or freakonomic will be clear only much later. I thank Professor S Neelakantan for sending me this link.

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