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This question is inspired by: Is it possible for a religion with >1 billion followers to die out? and by the fact that I got approached by Missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

Current Earth, "tomorrow" I am going to start preaching Worldbuilding religion. Such religion might be totally new (say preaching God of Evolution) or mutation of existing religion (I am yet another Jesus prophet).

Goal: Have a billion followers in shortest time possible. By "follower" I recognise anyone who would tick "Worldbuilding" when asked about their religion. Best outcome would be to have 1 billion followers in hundred years (by 2116)

Limitation: I am unable to prove my God exists and as far as miracles concern, I am not really sure I can perform any.

Religion spread: It does not have to be "worldwide" religion. Say if it is followed only in Asia, I am OK with that, as long as I have one billion followers.

Am I able to do it?

P.S.: Worldbuilding religion is dummy name

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    $\begingroup$ Make it a competition, the person with the largest religion by this time next year has the correct answer. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jan 23 '16 at 9:49
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    $\begingroup$ @user16295 I will rather make it into religion golf: Person with billion followers in shortest time earns +50 reputation ;) $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Jan 23 '16 at 10:02
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    $\begingroup$ 1 bil = 1 * (1 + x)^100 solve for x $\endgroup$ – King-Ink Jan 23 '16 at 10:36
  • $\begingroup$ @King-Ink First, I like math, so the answer to that is approx. 2.23026877. Second, I don't understand how that's applies to this question. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jan 23 '16 at 13:18
  • $\begingroup$ Are you sure your decimal is in the right place? i is the growth rate required to met the goal. $\endgroup$ – King-Ink Jan 23 '16 at 13:20
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You can.

But there is competition in the area, with a nearly saturated market. Main competitors are the Abrahamic religions : Christians 2.07bil., Muslims 1.2bil., and a few other for a 3.35bil. total. Dharmic (mostly Hinduist and Budhist) are 1.2bil. Non-religious people are about 0.92bil (source Worldmapper).

Now, your religion seems definitely a classical one, based on belief and faith, not verifiable, without any proof of its veracity. But this is definitely not an issue ; your competitors prove it. People are begging for answers to complex questions about themselves, about their own death, about their depressing and meaningless existence, about the place of mankind in this small muddy place turning around a second category star, in an universe incredibly vast, hostile, and merciless.

Facing such reality is hard, so provide anything that can help people believe something better exist and they will run for it. Alcohol, drugs, psycho-active substances, are too clear workarounds. But structuring people's belief, that is shaping their perception so that the reality matches some distorted view that explains most of the observable reality but biased enough to provide happy answers, and you will have followers.

Forever happiness, love that never disappear, are good starting points. You may want to enforce this love for the afterlife by creating hate of the current world, making people hate their bodies, their sexuality, their fantasies. Here and today will become places of the evil, of the enemy.

Your religion must have an enemy, so that your followers have a common group cause ("us") and some clear target ("them"). Scapegoating usually works very well. Pacific and non-fighting minorities are good, provided they stand long enough to build up the required hatred. You can always change target thereafter, as the main authority.

Please tell use more, so that we can follow your progress !

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  • $\begingroup$ It is not accurate to say that no classical religion has any proof of its veracity. $\endgroup$ – pygosceles 2 days ago
  • $\begingroup$ What pygosceles said... Christians, at least, would beg to differ. Moreover, many or all of the religions Uriel mentioned (including uniformitarianism) are, or have been, known to employ coercion to gain and/or retain converts. That said, a big part of why Islam is eating Christianity's lunch is because they're willing to have a strong theology and not cave to uniformitarianism and secularism; Uriel is definitely on the right track as far as "anything that provides answers and moral guidance". BTW, don't fall into the "make everyone happy" trap. $\endgroup$ – Matthew yesterday
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    $\begingroup$ Just about every religion that has as its basis supernatural entities or powers would beg to differ. And none of them have any proof of their veracity. Or, to put it another way, what proof can the Christians offer that the Hindus aren't right? $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison yesterday
  • $\begingroup$ @pygosceles I am more than willing to review any main religion's proof of its veracity. $\endgroup$ – Uriel 7 hours ago
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Depends what you mean by religion. Obviously fraudulent claims about supernatural abilities and stuff like that won't fly, when there are so many video cameras around and stuff. Notice how UFO sightings have virtually vanished ever since everyone started carrying camera phones around? Not a coincidence.

  1. Look at whatever it is that the most successful religions promise. It's usually an afterlife, plus serenity and crap in this one. Copy that in your notebook.
  2. Unless you have an astonishing reputation yourself already, you must Find a cloak. Now, your best chance is to cloak yourself in science. Science has cache, has prestige, can haz nukes, etc.
  3. Use a message board/blog to build up an audience. You can promise followers better thinking (upgraded rationality sounds cool), longer lives (healthy scientific diets or miracle meds to come), and CAKE.
  4. Start meetups in many cities, grow the fanaticism level of your most ardent believers.
  5. Gather your writings and publish them in a book. Ask your followers to buy it.
  6. Milk richer and gullible followers, and establish a "Research Institute." Spend your time there playing ping-pong and banging followers of your preferred sex(es). In your spare time, write dire warnings, (any good religion has an enemy figure to fight, be it future evil AI and/or the status-quo) to gather more funds and more followers.
  7. Create a political and legal wing. Ask for religious protection and research funds for your crony Temples/Research Institute. Ask your followers to relentlessly pursue lawmakers and lobby groups that are susceptible to influence. Sue the hell out of anyone who objects.
  8. Using newly found political power, expand influence and establish power bases. Start schools to indoctrinate the young. Make sure your appeal extends to reproductive age females, to ensure reproduction of the "faith" into the next generation. Provide things like childcare and retraining, mixing indoctrination and genuinely useful stuff into the curriculum.
  9. Expand internationally. Go super-aggressive in developing countries. You can do bullying, assassinations, drugs, prisons and brain-washing, as long as you have the politicians there in your pocket, you'll be fine.
  10. Build on the organizational capabilities of your group. It's one thing to handle a million followers, another to handle a billion. You must have shrines, holy sites, ritual, plastic toy figures, holy books, the works. Profits will just keep raking in. Invest all surplus into recruiting the young and the vulnerable, with selected celebrity endorsements here and there.

You may still not reach a billion anytime soon, but even with 1 -20 million followers, your cult will exercise undue influence.

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    $\begingroup$ Scientology ticks at least 8 out of the 10 boxes, right? $\endgroup$ – Crissov Jan 24 '16 at 10:50
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  • Start like Jedism. Come up with a compelling fictional story which includes the followers of a philosophical system. If that is intentional and not just an unexpected side effect of fandom, you might get a viable religion out of it.
  • Start with an existing religion which allows self-declared preachers. Select a secular cause which is broadly in line with the religion. Get your sermons behind that cause and try to recruit fellow protesters. Take care that the cause has the potential of becoming mainstream. E.g. come up with "answers" to the widening pay gap between CEOs and workers which are based on the Christian New Testament.
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1 billion people in 100 years from on person requires 23.2% annual growth which is too high to be expected. You would really have to get your message out there.

Could the Mormons do it? The internet which tells no lies tells me there are 15 million Latter-day Saints (I wonder if the Pope has been informed) they would require 4.3% annual growth. They seem to be in a better position than you do. That said 4.3% is actually pretty fantastic growth.

So the answer to the question Is it possible to form new religion with > 1 billion followers today? is yes but it would be better if you started earlier.

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  • $\begingroup$ The global annual population growth rate is currently around 1.1%. It used to be around 2% some 50 years ago and is expected to approach 0% in around 100 years when we’ll have reached 10 billion people. Anyhow, 1 out of 7.4 seems a bit more ambitious than 1 out of 10. $\endgroup$ – Crissov Jan 24 '16 at 10:57
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1 billion or about 10% of the world population within the given time frame of 100 years is an ambitious goal, but not impossible if you somehow gain momentum.

@Uriel is right that the market currently looks quite saturated, but there are two points worth noting:

  1. There’s almost a billion people who don’t expressively subscribe to religion at all (mostly agnostics and atheists).
  2. Out of the billions of formally religious people, many are so only on (church) paper, because they are secular in almost every aspect of their lives, but they have been born to (nominally) religious parents and may have been baptized (or passed an equivalent initiation rite) out of tradition only.

How do you get someone to join a certain religion when they …

  1. hadn’t ever been part of one before or
  2. would need to abandon their current one?

Make it unique. Make it easy to join and simple to follow. Make it beneficial to join, more beneficial to practice. Make it compatible with existing religions, i.e. non-exclusive.

Have charismatic leaders who lead by example and will never exploit the possibilities that come with the call. Don’t rely on a single prophet. Don’t leave essential questions unanswered because that would lead to segmentation into sects sooner or later. Don’t discourage popular traditions associated with religion, e.g. gift exchange for christmas.

Probably most importantly, don’t require belief in god(s)! Otherwise you couldn’t get any agnostics and atheists.

Encourage but don’t require followers to change their habits. Ideally, people would realize, prior to joining, that they already believe everything in the creed and have always tried to live by the resulting code of conduct.

Example

To target christians, followers of other abrahamitic religions and agnostics/atheists from countries with strong christian tradition, one could start with the assertion that it’s not important at all whether there has been an actual Jesus (or Mohammed) or what relation he had with a celestial god, because (since we can never prove it) it also doesn’t matter whether that (single) god exists or ever existed. It’s okay to believe in them, though. All that counts (today) is the Holy Spirit, the community. The point of the New Testament seen fro this perspective was that the other two parts of the christian Trinity vanished from Earth (with Ascension), if they ever were on it, and humanity was left to take care of it (similar to Genesis). Pentecost (or something like it) would therefore become the holiest or only festivity.

That’s compatible with essential practical beliefs of christianity that secular christians would agree with, but disagrees with several theological axioms, i.e. it would be considered “heresy” if claimed to be catholic etc., because it’s a subset that leaves out some essentials. It does not (yet) sufficiently cover Islam, but it should be possible to pass Mohammed as a prophet.

Morals and ethics would build strongly on individual responsibility for the social and natural environment. Freedom and liberty would be stressed, but bound by the categorical imperative.

The practical benefits would mostly come from the resulting social network, not due to some promise of salvation.

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  • $\begingroup$ A lot of "agnostics" are actually uniformitarianists, and they can be every bit as zealously religious as the most ardent jihadist. Those individuals are not likely to convert. (Probably not even if your religion caters to their beliefs, as being "not religious" is a pillar of their theology.) $\endgroup$ – Matthew yesterday
  • $\begingroup$ Orthogonal to my previous comment, I'm not sure if forming a religion in which allows you to define as encompassing existing beliefs will actually get people to check the box for that religion, which was explicitly the goal. $\endgroup$ – Matthew yesterday

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