How the Cookie Crumbles: Machiavellian Influence on Religious Institutions

As I walk down the Diag on a rare sunny day on the University of Michigan campus, I spot, along with a friend, three guys holding boxes of freshly baked, warm, mouth-watering Insomnia cookies. How can such a beautiful day get better? A couple of free cookies can’t hurt.

When I approach these people holding these boxes of free cookies, naturally my cynical sense takes over. With my eyebrows slowly closing in on each other and a slight grin growing on my face, I ask one of them, “Free cookies? What’s the catch?” The man, sporting a large smile, precedes to hand me a cookie from the box and states, “All you do have to fill out a quick survey.”

That’s not too bad. For a couple of cookies that would have otherwise cost $5, a minute of my time is worth it. First I am asked to fill out my name and my unique name. I look at the survey and the first two questions are fun, asking about my consumption of cookies. And then the third question hits me out of left field: “Would you consider joining the New Life Church?”

Not at one point was I ever hinted that this was a ploy to promote the church until I saw that question. They are selling religion behind a product that that everyone loves: cookies!

Many churches all over the world have displayed an unequivocal Machiavellian philosophy. One of the interpretations of Machiavelli’s The Prince is that he is claiming, in a general sense, that the ends justify the means. In this case, the means is the diversion of my attention toward cookies, an easy sell, instead of the church, a hard sell (especially toward a Jewish man). Some may call this deceiving or cunning, but in the Machiavellian sense, this is how power can be successfully accumulated. By the end, I had been introduced to the church and would of have thought highly of it if I wasn’t able to see through the weeds.

Portrait_of_Niccolò_Machiavelli_by_Santi_di_Tito

In my mind at the time, it did not seem too effective because I was easily able to see how they were trying to cunningly self-promote. But, a following event proved me wrong.

As I am walking with my cookie, I spot a couple of men promoting a birthright trip to Israel. Now, as a young Jewish man whose parents have been pushing to go on a birthright trip, this should have been extremely intriguing. I end up being too lazy and reluctant to sign my name just to get information. And I actually say jokingly to this Jewish man selling a product that is right up my ally, “Maybe if you just had some cookies like the New Life Church, I would have put my name down.”

As I look back at this story, I can look at the bigger picture in connecting the institution of religion to the Machiavellian philosophy. One of things that Machiavelli stressed is the idea of fear and love.

He states in Prince, “Here a question arises: whether it is better to be loved than feared, or the reverse. The answer is, of course, that it would be best to be both loved and feared. But since the two rarely come together, anyone compelled to choose will find greater security in being feared than in being loved. . . . Love endures by a bond which men, being scoundrels, may break whenever it serves their advantage to do so; but fear is supported by the dread of pain, which is ever present.”

The institution of religion, especially at its greatest power (the Catholic Church as example) has found the perfect mix of fear and love. In fact, they have found the most polarized mix to bring out the greatest emotion and vulnerability to a mass amount of people. The Catholic Church promotes the fear of burning in hell with the greatest of pain for eternity and at the same time offers the solution for avoiding this pain: extreme love for the God and following the rules of the Church.

I watch videos of millions of people surrounding the pope in Italy hanging on every single word he says. I see the emotion on everyone’s face. And then I then I read about the billions dollars in revenue that the Catholic Church takes in a year.

pope-in-vatican

Will I judge people for being a part of this religious institution? Absolutely not. But, I will judge a religious institution usingMachiavellian tactics in order to gain a mass following, which, whether directly or indirectly, takes their money and sometimes their livelihood.

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One thought on “How the Cookie Crumbles: Machiavellian Influence on Religious Institutions

  1. I agree with your position that the techniques used by the New Life Church may have been slightly deceiving, and tried to incentivize people to join the church, when religion should not be based on incentives. However, I believe that their actions are a result of modern-day society. You said it yourself, although birthright is right up your ally and something your parents have wanted you to join, you weren’t in the mood to do so because you weren’t being motivated.

    Furthermore, I’d like to add that while both were promoting something that was related and affiliated with a religion, the differences in what they were promoting is something that should be noted. Advocating the New Life Church as a whole was most likely done to spread awareness of the church and gain new members. However, Birthright was advocating a free-trip to Israel for any Jewish teenager; let’s be honest, that in itself is a much bigger motivator than three cookies.

    Having actually attended an Orthodox Jewish high school and having taken a gap year after high school to Israel I have encountered many birthright attendee’s in Israel. During May and June, once it becomes beach weather in Israel, I saw hundreds of birthright kids on the beach each and every day. Once you look at social media and you hear word-of mouth stories from Birthright, why wouldn’t you want to attend this free trip? That in itself is an incentive, or a box of three (if not much more) cookies.

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