Do investing and religion mix? As sure as the "In God We Trust" inscription jingles around on the change in your pocket, it's hard to deny that behind every great deity, there's a pretty sound business plan.
This doesn't have to be blasphemous. Just watch as I tiptoe through this very delicate subject without angering any particular sect or the layers of beliefs that lie within. I'm not aiming to offend here. It sure as heck ain't my place to do so.
Today is the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. If you want to argue about separation of church and state, I can direct you to more than a few charged blogs out there -- or even some of the intellectually stimulating debates that you'll find on our related discussion board forums. I'm not here to rustle up the pile of leaves that align with your faith -- or your lack thereof. I'm here just to state the objectively obvious fact that business and religion mix pretty lucratively in today's society.
More than $7 billion in religious merchandise was bought last year. Evangelical Christian entertainment, led by top musical acts like Third Day, Jars of Clay, and Michael W. Smith, is now a $4 billion-a-year business. Even Christian fiction is a meaty market, with the Left Behind series having generated $650 million in book sales alone.
Every new megachurch that pops up, and every broadcasting network accused of catering to the "religious right," just represents the business reality of giving a subset of the people what it wants. You don't have to take sides to realize that much. No matter where you stand on the groundswell, it's easy to see there's clearly money changing hands in the name of religion.
Mutual funds have certainly heard the call in recent years. Pax World became the first socially responsible investing fund in 1971, when two workers with the United Methodist Church, one of them a pastor, wanted to give investors a more religiously wholesome alternative. Others have followed suit. The Timothy Plan family of mutual funds offers its shareowners a "biblical choice when it comes to investing."
This doesn't mean that investors are giving up chunks of capital appreciation in the pursuit of fiscal righteousness. When our own Shannon Zimmerman was covering mutual funds for Morningstar
It's in The Book
Have you heard of Thomas Nelson
Thomas Nelson stumbled this past quarter. Earnings dipped as sales fell by 7%. However, the stock has still doubled over the past three years, with the company producing healthy bottom-line growth before that.
You also have Courier
Religion permeates many different companies. Privately held Chick-fil-A closes all of its fast-food restaurants every Sunday to give its employees the opportunity to go to church. Motley Fool Income Investor pick ServiceMaster
The clout of the devout
Four out of every five Americans are Christians. That doesn't mean that they all practice what they preach. However, the socioeconomic climate has been kind to those who want to preach what they practice. Last year's third-highest-grossing film at the box office was Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. A few months ago, struggling NBC scored big, at least initially, with its apocalyptically charged Revelations miniseries. Over the holidays, Disney
Religion is no longer taboo. That will find even more prolific companies angling to cash in by appealing to specific beliefs. The wide range of media specialization can only help facilitate these fiscal missionaries. Thanks to the advent of cable and satellite television, most homes are able to receive hundreds of different channels, many already earmarked for evangelical telecasts. On the audio front, satellite radio has made the most of its ability to broadcast more than 120 channels to its subscribers. XM Satellite Radio
So getting back to our original question -- do business and religion mix? Absolutely. You can be pious and profitable. You can lash out at Lucifer and still be lucrative. Bonding with like-minded individuals has always been an ideal conduit for commerce. These days, it just makes more sense.
Now, if only you could hock your sins at the local pawnshop!
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz knows better than to bring up religion at a cocktail party, but it's still a fascinating topic. He does own shares in Disney. The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.