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. Shane L says:

    I’ve often been puzzled by the big expenditure on religious rituals, cathedrals, temples, etc. that appeared to be common in early societies. Since they were so common I’d assumed that they had some kind of material benefits to societies: helped to build social cohesion or deter enemies or something.

    So I wonder how the abandonment of expensive ritual might affect this society. Perhaps Christianity will fill the basic role of the older religion somehow, and society won’t change too much.

    That said, in history Christianity often ended up adopting the rituals and festivals of the pre-Christian religions. We’ll see if the old sacrifices to spirits will be replaced by new sacrifices to saints in due course.

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  2. Lev says:

    One thing I don’t understand is this phenomenon of conversion of faith. It can go like this:

    I have decided to convert to Christianity and will do it tomorrow. Therefore, today I believe in spirits, but tomorrow I’ll believe in Jesus Christ.

    This doesn’t make sense. If he decided to convert to Christianity because he thinks it’s the true religion, then he already doesn’t believe in spirits as they aren’t “true”. If it’s for economic reasons only, then again it doesn’t make sense.

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    • Enter your name... says:

      I think it’s the difference between “believe in” and “follow”. James (in the New Testament) says “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that —and shudder.” You can “believe in” the Christian God, the Hindu gods, any number of spirits, the Almighty Dollar, President Obama, your family, or anything else, without “following” any of those things.

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    • Sean Ormiston says:

      It’s not like getting a library card. From the perspective of an animist, Jesus (and the Father and the Holy Spirit, a little pluralism to make things easier for polytheists to swallow) has just emerged as a bigger and badder dog out of a pre-existent arena of competing deities. Animistic polytheists are always able to “believe” in the presence of a foreign god because for them gods are like Pokemon, and you can’t catch them all. From there, it’s just a drastic shift in sense of which gods are important. Jesus is just undercutting the competition.

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  3. FrDennis says:

    Say what you will about medieval European villagers who had 4 or sometimes 5 generations giving what the could to build cathedrals so they would have a great building to visit on Sundays, but consider that the people of Dallas / Ft. Worth recently spent something close to $900 million to build the new Cowboy stadium so they would have a great building to visit on Sundays.

    As for Christianity being just another stupid set of superstitions among many, consider for a minute that the very idea of atheism, historically, is only possible in a Christian (largely Catholic) intellectual tradition. Of all the religious systems that ever developed, on Christianity has made space for the possibility that someone might believe nothing at all. If you are an atheist who views history as progressive, with a trajectory leading ever toward smarter and smarter ways of thinking, with the greatest progress coming from the shedding of all religious ideas, then you might consider being just a little grateful to the Christian (Catholic) intellectual tradition, which still to this day considers the marriage of faith and reason to be among the most important of projects.

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    • Eric M. Jones. says:


      “…atheism, historically, is only possible in a Christian (largely Catholic) intellectual tradition….”


      All Buddhism is technically atheist. In fact most Eastern religions (even Native Americans) don’t subscribe to a unitary god…they are awed by the “the cosmic mystery”, but that’s about it.

      The US (except for Massachusetts and Maryland) was founded by steadfastly non-religious people as a result of the Catholics burning nine million witches and centuries of countless other travesties and abject horrors.

      Google “613 Commandments” and get back to me bubela.

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      • Enter your name... says:

        Actually, most indigenous American religions are pantheistic (multiple gods), just like Hinduism and ancient Greece. The opposite of “monotheism” is not “atheism”.

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      • FrDennis says:

        I’d love to see your source for your claim that Catholics burned 9 million witches. I’m aware of 1 heretic in all of history who was burned by Church authorities. Perhaps one too many. Or maybe not enough. Depends on your view of history. But 1 heretic is not 9 million witches. To quote the commenter, “Baloney.”

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      • FrDennis says:

        Did some quick checking. Don’t know everything off the top of my head, and wrote my previous comment before looking into a few things.

        To amend my previous comment for fairness, heretics and witches are not the same thing. Turns out the 9 million number you quoted was from a Canadian film called “The Burning Time,” which was widely criticized for exaggerating the numbers and playing loose with history. Looks like maybe 100,000 people were executed by Catholics for witchcraft. 100,000 too many, I’d say. It’s also a lot less than 9million.

        That said, the greatest atrocities in all of human history were committed by athesistic ideologues of the 20th century: Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and others.

        So let’s be clear. We all can point to examples in history of people of various faiths or no faith at all who have committed mass murder to promote their ideologies. No one should point to Stalin’s atrocities and say “See, this is what atheism leads to!” because we can easily point to good, moral atheists who would be horrified by the idea. Likewise, to say “Christianity encourages murder, violence, war, and all sorts of evil” is the worst kind of intellectual dishonesty.

        I’d like to see a world where such ad hominems disappeared from internet comments. It’s fun to feel superior to everyone, but it doesn’t accomplish much. In fact, baseless ad hominems might actually be harmful to the establishment of a more peaceful world. I wish John Lennon had mentioned ad hominems in that song.

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      • Dan says:

        “Catholics burning nine million witches”

        Off by multiple orders of magnitude, buddy. Some haters of Christianity apparently occupy a virtually fact-free zone.

        For instance, only 20 were sentenced to death in Salem, Mass. And none by burning. Your common sense should have alerted you to the absurdity of your statement. Consider that the whole of the Spanish Inquisition recorded less than 50,000 deaths. Absolutely horrible, but still more than 1000x less than the number that were later killed under Communism.

        Honest attempts to determine the number of ‘witches’ killed in history are generally in the five-figure range, similar in magnitude to the Spanish Inquisition.

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  4. Mickey says:

    The correct title should be

    “Wasting less money, by converting to Christianity”

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  5. Mark Wolfinger says:

    The converts are not going to be happy when then learn all about tithing.

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  6. James says:

    It would be interested to learn whether there were Christian medical missionaries active in the area. If so, the conversion might well be the mistaken result of “bait and switch” sales tactics: the missionaries provide religion-neutral western medicine, but tell the villagers it’s part of Christianity. The villagers claim to have converted to Christianity, but in reality have converted to medicine.

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  7. Harihar says:

    This is how actually people fall trap and can not differentiate between modern medicine and cureall gods.. Typical example of concerted efforts to promote “Belief” making use of backwardness of communities at the cost of nativity and diversity..

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  8. brothersower88 says:

    I was disappointed in the discussions about religion in the comments on this page. I am also disappointed in the author of this Steve Goetz.

    Before anyone commented they should have taken time to read the original article. Goetz did a poor job of summarizing it, and rather (and successfully) wrote to encourage passionate responses.

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