[[HeavenSeeker Looking for heaven in all the wrong places]], Bob has found a religion that seems to have all the answers. But the faith he has found is really just an empty shell: A scam, a whole lotta nothing, a glaring emptiness hiding behind a paper-thin façade of superficial wisdom.

The teachings and followers of the Scam Religion are not evil, it's merely a matter of wasting time and resources. In a setting where there is One True Religion, the greatest crime of the Scam Religion is to keep people distracted, thus preventing them from accepting the ''true'' salvation. In a setting where there isn't One True Religion, then the Scam Religion is, well, just a scam. That said, even in settings where there is no One True Religion, Scam Religions aren't entirely harmless - some of them can literally ruin the lives of their participants financially or relationally or otherwise, and just because the Scam Religion isn't plotting to kill people in society at large or summon TheLegionsOfHell does not make it entirely harmless. (For example, while one may not be seeking to kill people at large, it may be quite willing to kill ex-members who leave and could bring back lawyers and/or media attention. Or the sex the higher-ups are getting is ''rape.'' Or the amounts of money being taken are so significant that victims are left impoverished or dependent on government or other people. Etc, etc...)

The ''founder'' of the religion is another matter. He might be [[StrawHypocrite outright evil]], an [[ChaoticNeutral immoral]] ConMan, the victim of a ThePresentsWereNeverFromSanta situation, IgnorantOfHisOwnIgnorance, crazy, [[UnwantedFalseFaith an unwilling victim of his own hype]], a person who has [[BelievingTheirOwnLies brainwashed himself into believing his own empty hype]], all of the above, or ''whatever''. However, if he's still around, he does not (usually) [[PathOfInspiration use his cult for purposes more nefarious]] than getting undeserved admiration, money, and sexual encounters from his followers.

In a [[KitchenSinkDrama Low Magic World]], a Scam Religion typically has no power at all. In a [[HeroicFantasy High Magic World]], it will have power — but its power will be empty, inferior, low level. Arcane tricks rather than true divine miracles.

Often a {{Cult}} or a ParodyReligion. See also ChurchOfHappyology and GodGuise. Contrast PathOfInspiration, where the cult members are ObliviouslyEvil {{Mook}}s of some kind of EvilOverlord or AncientConspiracy, and ScaryAmoralReligion, which leads its followers into depravity.

TruthInTelevision to some extent: there have been "religious" or "spiritual" movements throughout history that were primarily focused on relieving their followers from their money, and some people will use the concepts of religion to promote financial scams (e.g. the "affinity scam" where a person operating a non-religious scam like a FourOneNineScam or a {{Ponzi}} scheme markets it to churchgoers using religious jargon).

Compare/Contrast ParodyReligion, which is a combination of this played for RuleOfFunny and [[EverybodyKnewAlready everybody involved knowing it's not a genuine faith.]]
[[noreallife]]

%% '''NOTE:''' Only add examples that can be objectively verified to be scams according to the narrative.
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!!Examples

[[foldercontrol]]

[[folder: Anime and Manga ]]

* ''DragonBallGT'' had the Luud cult.
* ''Manga/FullmetalAlchemist'': The Church of Leto, led by [[SinisterMinister Father Cornello]], who gathers followers in Lior by convincing them he can do amazing miracles with power given to him by the sun god, Leto. In reality he's just a regular alchemist (and not even a particularly talented one), albeit one with a Philosopher's Stone that enhances his alchemy. Edward uncovers the scam very early on in the manga. Much, ''much'' later, we find out he was going to [[LifeEnergy use his follower's souls]] as part of the GambitPileup orchestrated by the BigBad.
** It's implied that the Ishvalan religion was invented by [[spoiler:Father]] in order to have an easy genocide target when the time came. Of course, its also implied that this god intervened in the fight between [[spoiler:Wrath]] and Scar, blinding the former with a ray of light at a key moment, so [[MaybeMagicMaybeMundane who knows]].
* ''TheTatamiGalaxy'' has a combination religion/pyramid scheme.
* In ''LightNovel/{{Bakemonogatari}}'' this is part of Senjougahara's backstory. Her mother got scammed by one of these cults and gave away their family's life savings, as well as [[spoiler:offered her daughter to be raped by the cult leader (she escaped).]] Played for drama.

[[/folder]]

[[folder: Comic Books ]]

* ''{{Fables}}'': in The Great Fables Crossover, [[UnwantedFalseFaith the belief in Blue Boy]] temporarily turns into this as Jack takes over as its shepherd.

[[/folder]]

[[folder:Fan Works]]
* In ''FanFic/WithStringsAttached'', the ruling religion of Ketafa is quite clearly fake, though it isn't portrayed as a bad thing overall; it encourages good works by the populace. However, the Idri'en Tagen used it to sway the Ketafans to support them by setting up a fake Vasyn, claiming it restored the gods to the formerly godless continent, and encouraging its treatment as a holy object.
** On the other hand, while the gods of Baravada are most certainly real, whatever rule they're exerting over the Baravadans—and it isn't much—has nothing to do with religion and worship; the relationship is more like employers to employees. George speculates that the gods aren't “real” gods but people with some powers who set themselves up as gods, so it may be a weird variant of a Scam Religion.
* In the ([[AlternateUniverseFic vaguely]] ''AxisPowersHetalia''-based) fic ''FanFic/SoldToTheHighestBidder'', the character [[ManipulativeBastard Toris]] uses one of these as an instrumental tool in an assassination, [[TheRevolutionWillNotBeCivilized by convincing a leader to kill himself]] in pursuit of [[HeavenSeeker divinity]].
** [[spoiler: Of course, this backfires ''magnificently'' in the long run.]]
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Film]]

* In ''Film/LeapOfFaith'', SteveMartin's character is a self-confessed ConMan who sees religion simply as a way to scam the people who attend his revival meetings. However, he's forced to rethink his views on religion when [[spoiler:the people's faith starts resulting in actual miracles.]]

[[/folder]]

[[folder:Literature]]

* ''TheChroniclesOfNarnia'': The seventh book features an ape trickster called Shift, who makes people believe in a fake Aslan that is really a donkey named Puzzle in a cheap lion costume. He also states that [[BigGood Aslan]] and [[EldritchAbomination Tash]] are one and the same.
* ''Literature/StrangerInAStrangeLand'' has Fosterism, a Dionysian quasi-Christian sect that was founded by scam artists looking to extort money (and sex) from gullible believers. Oddly, its Supreme Bishops [[spoiler: become archangels when they die. Or perhaps resume angelic identities they had prior to being born on Earth. It's not that clear.]]
* Bokononism in ''CatsCradle''. Quite openly.
* Hillman Hunter of ''Literature/AndAnotherThing'' has one of these and is shocked when the apocalypse he's been preaching not only happens, but his cult is let off the planet in time, which (at least superficially) is just as he predicted.
* In the Literature/DoctorWhoMissingAdventures novel ''The Crystal Bucephalus'', the Lazarus Intent was deliberately founded by a ConMan as a source of suckers who would bail him out when he finally got himself into real trouble.
* The book ''Leaving Fishers'' by Margaret Peterson Haddix is about a girl who joins a cult called Fishers of Men. Among the many other things wrong with it, one thing she finds out at the end [[spoiler: when she de-converts]] is that the head of the cult is using their donations to support a lavish lifestyle, while making it out as though he can barely afford things. [[spoiler: The main character admits to having given the cult her college savings...]]
* In ''Literature/TheBible'', Moses exposes the polytheism of Egypt as a scam religion by calling down ten plagues. Each plague is directed against one major Egyptian deity, but each time the polytheistic priesthood is unable to stop the plagues - thus proving that the God of Moses is the true God.
* Fighting a scam religion forms the main plots of books eight and nine of ''RangersApprentice.''
* ''Literature/SixthColumn'': The protagonists, who are seeking to liberate the United States from a [[JapanTakesOverTheWorld PanAsian occupying force]], use the one avenue of expression that is permitted to them by their overlords. They form the "cult of Mota" and preach to the masses with a message that is notionally supportive of the occupation but is in reality just subversive enough to attract people who are disaffected. They are aided by a bit of AppliedPhlebotinum that gives their "priests" powers that appear genuinely divine in nature.
* There's a form in ''Literature/GalaxyOfFear''. The B'Omarr Monks have a degree of scamming built into their way, though they would argue that, for example, having new initiates walk over "coals" with the belief that the faith would protect them when said "coals" are harmless is just a way to get them on the right track. The ''real'' scam, though, is run by [[spoiler: Grimpen]], who flatters interested people, rushes them through some of the rituals, and [[spoiler: removes their brains, puts ''those'' in [[BrainInAJar spider droids]], and puts the brains of criminals into their skulls]] as part of an elaborate scheme. It's resolved in part by the other monks being {{blackmail}}ed about the coals thing.

[[/folder]]

[[folder: Live Action TV ]]

* In ''Series/{{Community}}'', Pierce Hawthorne is part of the "neo-Buddhist" church, which is blatantly obviously one of these. In one episode, they sell him an overpriced lava lamp [[spoiler:telling him it's his dead mother's spirit energy inside.]]
* The ''Series/{{Sliders}}'' episode "Prophets and Loss" has a fundamentalist church which "sends its believers to paradise" with what the protagonists think is Sliding technology [[spoiler:but is actually a human incinerator]].
* In ''LawAndOrderSpecialVictimsUnit'', the SVU team take on a cult leader, who brainwashes women into his cult by making them his wives so he can get access to their bank accounts.
* ''Series/StargateSG1'' dealt with destroying many of these, from the parasitic Goa'uld, to the demigod-like Ori, and even a few fringe cults, like the time an SG team member went crazy/rogue and declared himself a god.
* In an episode of ''Series/SabrinaTheTeenageWitch'', Sabrina convinces Miles to join an "alternate reality" group that turns out to be a cult whose leader claims to be a witch.
* ''Series/{{JAG}}'': The Wicca religion is portrayed as such in "The Witches of Gulfport".

[[/folder]]

[[folder:Radio]]

* Radio/HudsonAndLandry's "Fredrickism" skit; involving the worship of creator Freddie Schultz, obeying the 26 Commandments grants you immortality, and under investigation by the IRS.

[[/folder]]

[[folder: Tabletop Games ]]

* ''TranshumanSpace'', with its memetic science, has several bizarre religions, most of which are at least partly engineered. Some of them are genuine, at least one [[UnwantedFalseFaith started as a joke that got out of hand]], and then there's things like Ecoherence, which is pretty close to being an eviromentalism-themed ChurchOfHappyology, carefully designed to create "self-reinforcing cycles of dependency", and charging for brain-scans to judge how "coherent" its followers are. And the Unified Way, which was created ''[[PathOfInspiration as a weapon]]''.
* ''{{Dragonlance}}'' had the Seekers, who used the void left after the gods abandoned the world in the wake of the Cataclysm to seize power by peddling false religion.
* ''TableTopGames/{{Pathfinder}}'' features the Church of the Living God, a {{Cult}} run by Razmir, an incredibly powerful human wizard in GodGuise who employs mages disguised as priests to enforce his will. One of the first monsters in the Inner Sea Bestiary splat is an incorporeal undead created from the spirits of the followers of this cult, who realize they were tricked upon reaching the afterlife and are consumed by hatred. Known as Apostasy Wraiths, they prefer to go after living members of the Razmir cult, but suffer an ironic aversion to them that, combined with their spite and envy, makes them quite happy to attack followers of other religions as well, since they resent the people who have true faith in a religion that isn't a scam.
* The Orzhov Syndicate, from the Ravnica setting of ''TableTopGames/MagicTheGathering'', is half of this, and half of LegitimateBusinessmensSocialClub. It's a little unclear of ''how'' fake the Orzhov church is, but it's abundantly clear that everyone in that guild is there for the money and power, and not the piety.
* ''BattleTech'''s pre-schism [=ComStar=] (and after the split, Word of Blake) has aspects of this. Heavily shrouded in mysticism towards outsiders and definitely capable of inspiring religious fervor in its own members as well, [=ComStar=] is ''fundamentally'' just an AncientConspiracy hoarding technological know-how and waiting for the Successor States to bomb themselves so far back into the Stone Age that they can step in and take over for the ostensible good of all mankind. (They're not above stirring the pot themselves if it looks like things might actually settle down or quietly eliminating outsiders who might be on the verge of making scientific breakthroughs, either -- since they just so happen to control most interstellar communication under the guise of neutrality, they tend to be ''very'' well informed.) Interestingly, this is by many accounts not what [=ComStar=]'s founder ever intended, for all that many members of the organization are prone to dropping supposed pearls of his wisdom into conversations at every opportunity; it's only under his ''successor'' that things rapidly started to take on a religious bent.
* ''{{Exalted}}'':
** The Church of Balor, which is attended by many Fair Folk. Every single one of the churchgoers know that it is fake, but they join anyway because it gives them the identity as enemy of Creation, and identity matters greatly to TheFairFolk. FYI, the Church is named after the leader of the [[ApocalypseHow most devastating]] Fair Folk incursion in the recent history of Creation.
** Also the Immaculate Order: it was created from scratch as a social control tool by the Sidereal Exalted, and is still secretly controlled by them. Still, nobody knows this, the huge majority of his priests and adepts are sincere, and the teachings, while discutable and obviously biased, can't be described as merely evil or egoistical.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Theatre]]

* The Rhythm of Life Church in the musical ''SweetCharity''. It was supposedly founded at the urging of a mysterious Voice:
-->And the voice said, "Brother, there's a million pigeons\\
Ready to be hooked on new religions."

[[/folder]]

[[folder: Video Games ]]

* ''VideoGame/FallFromHeaven'' has a spirit magic user in the backstory who regularly did this.
* ''VideoGame/FableII'' features [[FunWithAcronyms T.O.B.Y.]], the Temple of Business and Yodeling, also known as the Temple of Benevolent Yokels. A quest in Bloodstone involves you running errands for the founder, Toby, but you eventually find out it's just a front for Toby to find suckers he can con into buying useless crap or running errands for him.
** And hookers. Don't forget the hookers.
** In the first game, the backstory reveals that both Avo the God of Good and Skorm the God of Evil are fakes invented by an enterprising merchant as a way of collecting money from the donations of followers. The scam works because their temples are built over places of very strong naturally occuring magical energy, so the power itself is real, even though the deities themselves are not.
* ''VideoGame/DeusExInvisibleWar'' has the order, a front for the illuminati created for the sole purpose of unifying all religion. Aside from the leader herself everyone thinks it's the real deal, even the leader's second-in-command.
* ''VideoGame/GrandTheftAutoViceCity'' has Pastor Richards, who is raising money for a Salvation Statue to save himself and his followers from the apocalypse. He admits on the radio his plan to use the statue money to build a mansion in Hawaii.
* ''VideoGame/FinalFantasyX'' has the Church of Yevon. It teaches that Sin was a divine punishment for using machina, that machina weapons are evil, that Sin will go away with enough prayer and repentance, and that the Final Summoning can free the world from Sin. While it's true from one point of view that machina brought about Sin (Bevelle won the war because of their superior weaponry, and Yu Yevon created Sin as his revenge), they are not inherently evil and Sin is not divine; the church uses this lie to keep the populace under control (no advanced weaponry = harder to overthrow the church). Sin will not go away with any amount of prayer or repentance, and the Final Summoning is actually how Sin is reborn; this lie is used to give the people false hope and keep them ignorant of the true state of things. It's made very clear that the Maesters are fully aware of the continued lies they spread.
* The usual game plan of the BigBad of the last four ''Franchise/{{Ultima}}'' games. The most obvious example is the [[ChurchOfHappyology Fellowship]] in Britannia, but he pulls the same trick in at least three other worlds to weaken them for conquest. Where he succeeds the scam quickly metamorphoses into a ReligionOfEvil.
* In ''{{Persona 3}}'', the Moon Social Link for [[FanNickname Minato]] at one point requires a "salvation fee" of 320,000 yen [[spoiler:which you don't actually have to pay.]] You can even later call out the person you share the link with.
-->'''Minato''': You're scamming them, too?
* [[VideoGame/EarthBound EarthBound's]] [[ChurchOfHappyology Happy Happyism]] is a prime example. The leader of the cult, Carpainter, [[spoiler:is essentially high on the presence of the Mani-Mani statue. In fact, the Mani-Mani statue, through which the BigBad Giygas works his evil will, is the source of evil in the form of false beliefs and {{Corrupt Corporate Executive}}s where ever it goes.]]
* In VideoGame/{{Xenogears}}, [[spoiler:the Ethos is revealed to be a mere front for a Solaris operation, much to Billy's dismay]].
* In the ''SengokuBasara'' series, Xavism (the resident stand-in for Catholicism) is vaguely hinted to be this (though their main schtick is to play up the FunnyForeigner part). Its 'founder' Xavi appears to have founded it to make himself rich, although his extreme {{Cloudcuckoolander}} LoveFreak nature makes it ambiguous: It's possible he actually believes his own insane dogma and is just too loony to recognize the inherent hypocrisy of his teaching. It's normally played for laughs more than anything. Despite this, Xavism is evidently very successful at gaining followers as various characters occasionally show up as converts in certain stages such as [[BadassGrandpa Yoshihiro]], [[ManipulativeBastard Motonari]] and [[ButtMonkey Kanbe]].

[[/folder]]

[[folder:Webcomics]]

* The Church of Wayne in ''ScaryGoRound'' is really just a con to net money and women for Wayne.

[[/folder]]

[[folder:Web Original]]

* The Hymn of One in ''{{lonelygirl15}}'' is actually a front for [[AncientConspiracy The Order]].
* Inverted with several scambaits, which feature a fake religion meant to ''prevent'' scams ([[FourOneNineScam of the 419 variety]]), or at least humiliate the scammers. The baiter will usually assume the identity of a priest of said religion, claim that he wants to help the scammer's made-up cause but that sending the money [[AgainstMyReligion is against his religion]] and force the scammer to do various humiliating actions (including [[http://www.419eater.com/html/ahmed_sadiq.htm getting a tattoo bearing the baiter's name]] or [[http://www.419eater.com/html/tope.htm getting photographed in a bizzare pose]] in order to join the church and recieve the (non-existent) money. After joining, the scammer will usually be presented with all sorts of crazy excuses to delay payment, until the scammer gives up.

[[/folder]]


[[folder: Western Animation ]]

* Movementarianism from ''WesternAnimation/TheSimpsons'' (which is also Happyology).
* ''FamilyGuy'': Many episodes portray mainstream Christianity and Judeism as a scam, either in spot gags or as a main driver of the plot.
* ''WesternAnimation/SouthPark'' has portrayed both Scientology and Mormonism is this way. Ironically, other episodes have shown that Mormons are the only people who get into Heaven, [[SpoofAesop so it's not taking itself that seriously]].
** That said, the episode about Mormonism was pretty much entirely "Woah, Mormonism is a load of bull -- but Mormons are the sweetest people on Earth, so who cares?"
* The ''WesternAnimation/ChipNDaleRescueRangers'' episode "The Case of the Cola Cult" has Gadget half-heartedly attempt to join a soda-worshiping cult of mice. The evil second-in-command of the cult was using all the belongings new members gave up and keeping them.
* Sympathetic example: in the ''WesternAnimation/AvatarTheLastAirbender'' episode "The Painted Lady", [[spoiler: Katara]] starts one of her own. As she helps some villagers, they mistake her for their local deity--and instead of [[UnwantedFalseFaith trying to clear up the mistake]], she chooses to make the most of it, turning herself into a false deity for them to worship. Of course, the villagers are outraged when they find out that she has deceived them, but they quickly forgive her since they realize that the help she gave them was genuine rather than part of some manipulative plot. [[spoiler:After the whole thing is over, it turns out that the Painted Lady actually does exist--and she is pleased with Katara's deeds]].
* In ''WesternAnimation/ThePrinceOfEgypt'', this is how the Egyptian mythology is portrayed. The High Priests replicate Moses' stick-to-snake miracle, but it's all about creative lighting, ominous statues and chanting, sleight-of-hand tricks and a big helping of showmanship. While Rameses is impressed, he fails to notice that Moses' snake devours the priests' snakes during the VillainSong. The priests are later exposed when they prove to be utterly useless against the Abrahamic God's ten plagues.

[[/folder]]

[[folder: Real Life ]]

* [[DepartmentOfRedundancyDepartment Again,]] we're not going here. It's true that just about every religion- particularly major ones- have looked something like this at times (usually due to a combination of MotiveDecay and influence by and on "Worldly" matters like amassing power). However, it's also true that A: this isn't a permanent status quo, and if the religion survives long enough it tends to have forces countering that decay with revivals; and B: that even at points of the most advanced decay most followers tend to genuinely believe in it at least on some level (even the most powerful or corrupt ones). Since can't safely and impartially categorize *anything* like this for sure, [[NoRealLifeExamplesPlease that's as specific as we're getting.]]
* There's also the occasional effort to set up a "church" that exists ''only on paper'' in an effort to bamboozle a religious tax exemption for somebody or several somebodies out of the country's IntimidatingRevenueService. The IRS and other countries' equivalents thereof are rarely fooled by any of these, however.
[[/folder]]
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