Why be a good person when you can pay your way to eternal life? Throughout the middle ages, the Catholic Church sold indulgences-medieval equivalents to get out of sin-free cards, profiting off the rich and poor alike. The Church promised eternal life in exchange for a lump sum of cash, filling their own pockets while increasing the poor’s hardships. The Catholic Church would not be the only group using religion to earn money. Only two years ago, a Minnesota man stole millions from unsuspecting investors under the guise of “doing God’s work,” housing oil workers in the freezing American North. He instead used the stolen money to purchase private islands and classic cars — neither of which the Bible mentions. Now a new prophet carries the tradition of using the Lord’s name to swindle the masses, and you may recognize him from the billboard top 100 charts. Kanye West’s sudden conversion to Christianity coincides with a brand-new Bible flavored album with dozens of expensive merchandise items. West’s products range from typical print t-shirts to the unorthodox pairs of “Jesus is King” emblazoned dirty socks, all for prices much higher than their manufacturing cost. Is Kanye West genuinely interested in using his platform to exalt the works of God, or is he simply the latest in a long line of con men using the Lord’s name to line his pockets?
Before discussing Kanye West any further analysis of those that inspired him is necessary. Throughout “The Economics of Religious Indulgences” by Alberto Cassone and Carla Marchese, the authors analyze the Catholic Church’s past practice of indulgences. Interestingly, they compare the Church to a club where leaders attempt continuously enlarging the club’s size. The authors claim indulgences entice risk-taking individuals to join the Church. These risk-takers are more likely to sin and earn money for the Church by paying for indulgences. Coming from the author’s perspective of viewing the Church as a club, indulgences are a win-win for the Church and its constituents. The Church facilitates spreading the gospel while also earning money to help fuel its operations, and members get a guaranteed ticket to heaven. However, many argue indulgences went against the Church’s teachings regarding equality and corruption. Most of the populous could not afford indulgences as they were too expensive. The poor were barred from heaven while the corrupt had an all-access pass. This injustice eventually became too much for the public to ignore.
Within “A ‘Traitorous Religion’: Indulgences and the Anti-Catholic Imagination in Eighteenth-Century New England” by Michael S. Carter, he explains the eventual backlash to catholic indulgences. Anti-Catholicism was prevalent in the early-modern English-speaking world. Many believed that indulgences gave Catholics a license to sin advance. Others feared that Catholics would have loose morals because they could admit guilt and pay to avoid repercussions. Carter elaborates on his position, explaining many viewed the Church as spiritual slavery that required monetary payments to escape bondage. As church leaders saw that others condemned indulgences, they realized that they could no longer ensure the club’s growth. Leaders then failed their two main goals: spreading the gospel and acquiring funds. Eventually, leaders decided to end the practice of indulgences; however, this did not end the use of religion to build the wealth of others.
Another example of religious exploitation is found in “Snake Oil Salesman.” by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the author outlines the steps Ronald Johnson took to swindle millions from others. Johnson stole from people in Montana and North Dakota under the guise of developing an indoor motor home park. Losses totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars per person, causing dozens of people’s livelihoods to be lost or wholly altered after Johnson stole their money. Described as highly charismatic and incredibly convincing, many have described Johnson as a modern-day snake oil salesman. He even convinced people to invest in his scheme by saying it was God’s work to build this motor home park to help the poor, freezing workers of the northern oil fields. After some analysis, parallels are quickly drawn between Johnson’s actions and the actions of the Catholic church hundreds of years ago. The most obvious comparison being Johnson and the Church’s use of God to motivate others to give up their wealth. However, Johnson scammed people by convincing them to earn God’s grace. The Catholic Church conned members by giving them a chance to please God and expunge their sins. Whatever the case, the wealth accumulation of both a Midwest conman and the most significant Christian religion had the same root cause. Nevertheless, Ronald Johnson’s classic cars would not be the last time the religious would be exploited for a quick buck.
In “Is Kanye West a Great Artist or a Great Marketer?” by Kevin Winter, he explores West’s marketing prowess throughout his career. Winter first poses the question, “Think about the last time Kanye came up in a conversation: Did you talk about his music?” For most people, the answer is no. Many believe West to have a screw loose or be incredibly unpredictable, yet these antics are part of the act. Ever since his first step into the spotlight in 2004, West has continuously clamored to be the focus of attention. Whether it be controversial public statements at the VMAs or saying slavery was a choice almost as soon as he re-joined social media, West knows how to create a stir. However, Winter believes West’s most significant fault is that he cannot merely let his art speak for itself. West diminishes the value of his work through clownish stunts and lack of humility. However, Winter also acknowledges the strategy behind these outbursts, noting Kanye West pulls a stunt exactly when he begins losing star status. Kanye West yearns to be a star and, more importantly, maintaining his bank account necessitates his constant relevancy. So, after stealing the spotlight from Taylor Swift at the VMAs, announcing his future presidential run without warning, and supporting the most controversial president in recent memory, West had to find a way to keep his stardom alight. West’s next evolution would see the man that just years ago declared he was a living god transformed into God’s most important messenger.
Unlike earlier in his career, West no longer portrays himself as a literal god, he is now an agent of Christianity, at least that is what he wants us to believe. Stereo Williams explores Kanye’s newest stunt in “Kanye West’s ‘Jesus Is King’ Is Fake Christianity at Its Finest.” Williams outlines Kanye’s new life as a born-again Christian. West’s incredibly popular Sunday Services around the country have been significant attractions for Hollywood A-listers and the upper middle class alike. Unlike the typical religious sect, West does not bother engaging with the lower classes. While his services and events are free, they fill to the brim with designer clothes and celebrities. In Salt Lake City, a sea of expensive clothes and upper-middle-class high school students clamored for a chance to see West remix gospel songs on a keyboard for an hour. Kanye is only occasionally interested in seeking God’s grace or praising His mercies and is far more interested in nailing himself to a cross. West needs the attention to be on him; his conversion is a publicity stunt as only Kanye West knows how to pull off. By all accounts, his strategy has worked, and West has been thrust back into stardom. What many would like to know is whether Kanye is using his resurgence to fill others with the gospel or fill his pocketbook.
They said the Devil would be attractive; those people did not expect him to wear Yeezys. During the episode “Botham Jean’s Brother Hugs Amber Guyger, Is Kanye West ‘Jesus Is King’ A Scam? More | SOTC S2 E8” of commentator Joe Budden’s podcast, the topic of West’s newfound religion is met with skepticism. He believes all of this Jesus stuff is an attempt to sell merchandise and make money. West is no different from a televangelist or pastor riling up the masses for his gain. The issue is people are naïve enough to believe it and buy into his schemes. West is going against one of the principal teachings of Christianity: humility. West uses the hype around his new album and persona to rake in millions while diminishing the impact of traditional Christianity. The hosts quickly add that Christianity is a positive force in the lives of millions. However, West’s homebrew brand does not have the same impact.
It is consumerist, it is shallow, but most importantly, it is profitable. West thrives in a society wherein the populous clamors for his blessings. $300-dollar sweatshirts with circles on them sold out in minutes, $25-dollar dirty socks sold in the thousands, and people who had never previously listened to a non-explicit album in their life blast Christian music with a sax solo. From the consumer standpoint, the infatuation with West makes perfect sense. All of these individuals wish for the approval of God’s self-proclaimed chosen musician. Merchandise is the modern-day indulgence; through their purchases, the consumers cleanse their sins. However, in this case, the sin is not theft or adultery; sin is rejecting Kanye West. Religion typically aims to offer something that individuals do not already have, whether it be an explanation for existence or a way to achieve eternal life. West preys on the upper-middle class and the rich because they already have their necessities. West’s disciples yearn for bread and circus. They demand entertainment, and West delivers through his constant changing of persona and publicity stunts. West uses his marketing skills to swindle these masses using the same act of God justification that convicted conman Ronald Johnson used. However, West is still at large, and instead of spending the money on classic cars, he spends it on maintaining his incredibly expensive Italian marble floor. The said floor can only be repaired by select artisans who must fly in every time a repair must be made (which is also not in the Bible, by the way).
Some believe West truly is doing good work through his modernization of Christianity. His supporters often cite the faith’s inability to modernize for a 21st-century society built upon hyper-consumerism and decadence. However, West’s tactics could not be farther from Christianity’s teachings. Rather than using his charisma and wealth to help the disadvantaged West funds his operas and family vacations. Rather than promoting service, he dines at the most excellent restaurants and travels in a private jet. Rather than apologizing for past actions, West will stand by them till the day he dies. None of these traits are very Christian-like, nor are they evidence of a right person. West uses his 68-million-dollar tax return and his fanatic fan support as evidence of God’s blessing. However, a short Bible reading would quash their claims.
“As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10). West could use his platform for good; his reach is almost limitless. Instead, West distracts from worthy causes such as charity or social work that make a difference. Rather than being a Mother Tereasa, Kanye West is a Ronald Johnson or a corrupt Catholic priest, and his success is our fault. Throughout history, humans have witnessed these figures harm our societal systems. The only way to stop Kanye West’s abuse of Christianity is to stop encouraging his antics, as entertaining as they may be. When will society stop enabling those that wish to hijack these social systems? Probably when they stop buying $300 t-shirts.