Better to convert the poor than to feed them.
This post, inspired by a fellow debater on various virtual debate groups also flows from our earlier series on the wealth and crimes of the Catholic Church in the category “God’s money”. Expanding our title a bit, as titles can only be what they are, I give an example of how and where the money spent on advertisement by organized religions, could perhaps have served a better purpose; a purpose those same religions often so proudly boast about: helping the poor.
I really have to employ a lot of speculative imagination to come up with a scenario that can explain how a seemingly useless religious monument is helping out the poor [I might actually come up with a few], but in the best case scenario, I doubt any poor person will feel better fed, better clothed or better housed by the sight of a religious extravagance. Churches and lavish mansions for preachers and priests obviously serve an easily demonstrated function. The same may not as easily be said about the below example.
The Christ the Redeemer statue, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Who hasn’t seen images or heard about this majestic statue towering above Brazil’s famous Rio de Janeiro. Estimates of the total construction cost of this religious statue slightly vary, but hover around the 3.8 million USD (as of 2021). In Brazilian Real, that is approximately 19.5 million. It has become a major tourist attraction for the city and the country and now receives close to 2 million visitors each year. And sure enough, those visitors bring in a lot of money. As with any tourist destination, admission fees vary, but with a fair average of 40 real per person in admission fees, this amounts to 80 million Brazilian Real per year (15.60 million USD).
The bigger and more problematic question now is: where does all that money go to, or what is it used for? Numbers to answer that are very hard to come by. The statue is owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro and that in itself makes it almost impossible to get an insight on how the income generated by the statue is being used. Evidently, a big chunk of that income goes to the upkeep of the monument itself. We have found no numbers specifying that or to base an estimate upon. On top of the normal recurrent costs, come the cyclical major renovations. One of these in 2010 cost 4 million USD. The Catholic Church being the Catholic Church, it is a documented fact that the maintenance and the restorations of this statue are also funded by the government as well as other private groups or institutions.
Apart from the directly related costs, the generated income is also used to finance the Archdiocese. In other words, it is also used for the upkeep of the owners of the statue, their housing, clothing, transportation and food. How much that would amount to is a mystery. Since the income of the statue is watered down in the soup of the Archdiocese’s finances, and without any available independently audited financial statements, we can but give a reasonable guestimate, and that 25 % of the income goes to charitable works, or 20 million real per year. Now that is a whole lot more money than no money. But…
It may be naïve to think any tourist would be interested in doing so, but what if all those visitors of Rio de Janeiro would directly give their money to the poor in the favelas of Rio? It would be an instantaneous increase in donations to the poor by a staggering 300 %. The twenty million BRL could provide one meal for 606,060 people in Rio, the 80 million would finance 2.42 million meals. While significantly better than the former, even the latter would be nothing more than a drop on a hot plate. The best case financial scenario would do nothing to relieve the poor’s situation on a long term basis. The corona pandemic has worsened the situation in Rio, and recent estimates state that 27 million people in this city alone live below the line of absolute poverty.
Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day...
What if we would have used the construction cost of 19.5 million BRL to send a few thousand of those “invisibles” through school and / or help them set up their own businesses all those years ago? What would have been the impact of that, and how could we possibly calculate that? Adding the money of those 2 million tourists a year directly to the education would have perhaps caused such an upward spiral that no charity would still be required at all.
Contrary to what many believers admire about the famous character Jesus, we find nothing miraculous in feeding 5,000 hungry people for one day (and who knows how many of that alleged audience were indeed poor, continuously hungry people – anyone visiting a theatre an entire day would get hungry, but that doesn’t mean they have no means of existence). We think that it is a much better long term policy to teach a man to fish, rather than to give him a fish today, and let him starve anew tomorrow.
This is the, perhaps utopian, dream of the Church of Isa Lahat, to one day have the means to finance the education of a child and/or help it set up a business that would not only support that one person, but create a few more jobs allowing others to sustain themselves. We are by no means saying that this is not yet being done to some extent by religious organizations. What we are questioning is how much money has and is being poured in the construction of religious buildings and vanity projects serving first and foremost the members of those organizations building them, rather than using those funds to directly help the ones those organizations are proudly claiming to help.
Patricia Forrester, 11 May 2022
Notes, sources, references:
Octavia Drughi, “Worshiping With The Most Expensive Religious Monuments”, 31 January 2014, The Richest, Home > Luxury > Most expensive,
https://www.therichest.com/most-expensive/worshiping-with-the-most-expensive-religious-monuments/ Consulted on 11 May 2022;
Sic: Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: construction cost of 3.5 million USD (2014)
Wikipedia, “Christ the Redeemer (statue)”,
US News Travel, “Christ the Redeemer”,
https://travel.usnews.com/Rio_de_Janeiro_Brazil/Things_To_Do/Christ_the_Redeemer_62687 Consulted 11 May 2022
“Rio de Janeiro Prices 2022”, http://hikersbay.com/prices/brazil/riodejaneiro?lang=en
Jamie McGeever, “Millions in Brazil thrown back into poverty as pandemic aid dries up”, 27 March 2021, 1:19 am, updated a year ago, Reuters, Business News, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazil-economy-poverty-idUSKBN2BI2OE
Meme kindly provided by Mr. Robby Glitcherson
Artyominc - Template:Artyom Sharbatyan “A panoramic view of the statue at the top of Corcovado Mountain with Sugarloaf Mountain (centre) and Guanabara Bay in the background.”, File created on 09 February 2010, File name: Christ on Corcovado mountain.JPG, License: Creative Commons BY-CA 3.0, retrieved from: Wikipedia, “Christ the Redeemer (statue)”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christ_the_Redeemer_(statue)