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)

Joby Elliott

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

Enter your name...

Tithing isn't mandatory in Christianity.

Eric M. Jones.

"...80 per cent of the community have given up on spirits and ghosts..."

And this differs from Christianity how?


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.


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


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

Michael Smith

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.



"...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.


The U.S. is one of the most "religious right" countries, and one of the most wealthy. Coincidence? I think not. Christian ethics: work hard, provide for your family, help the poor, don't lie or steal, don't get drunk or abuse drugs, don't have children out of wedlock. All of these things provide the best for our society, and others.

John Glenn

Hey, at least it brought some good.

Voice of Reason

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.

P. Matye

“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.


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.

P Radhakrishnan

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.

Shane L

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.


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.

Enter your name...

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.


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.


Eric M. Jones.


"...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.

Enter your name...

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


The correct title should be

"Wasting less money, by converting to Christianity"

Mark Wolfinger

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


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.


On the other hand, atheists didn't provide them any Western medicine.


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..


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.

Cafeteria Non-Catholic

Why don't they just practice Cafeteria Black Magic: continue to believe in the same gods and spirits as before, but only offer the ritual sacrifices that are convenient and affordable?


Now THERE'S a comment that gets at the economics. Trying to game the system, with the lowest cost for the greatest gain. Clever. Kudos.

iftikhar ahmad

i want to become a christain becouse i want to nationality in christain contry and get money


i want 2 convert my religioun n convert hindu 2 Christianity.
Plz how dis posible


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