US religious gurus earn a

fortune flogging their self-help books. Now a best-selling

parody is ruffling their `angelic' feathers, reports Tobias Jones

THE INTERMINABLE era of self-help and self-hope books (from Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac to Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking) may finally be at an end. In America, big business and religion go together like bread and butter, and such books have so far been inevitable bestsellers, published without irony. So when God Is My Broker was published it seemed like just another get-rich-quick book. But with its seven and a half laws of spiritual and financial growth, it has become the best literary hoax of the year, confounding America with details of how a religious breviary could be used as an index to Wall Street trading.

It comes complete with the "Prayer of the mendacious salesman" and "Market meditations": "The Bible says, `Let he who is without sin cast the first stone'. But if the competition and I are both sinners, who goes first?" A cross between The Thornbirds and Only Fools And Horses, the book parodies the race for profit: with the abbot obsessed with Deepak Chopra's Creating Affluence ("Money is like blood; it must flow"), it shows the upstate New York monastery of Cana importing Chilean wine and passing it off as its own to gullible pilgrims.

To secure an interview with Brother Ty, the alleged author, I had to seek permission from the Order of Saint Thaddeus. Having negotiated that formality, Ty came on the line, complete with an eery trans-Atlantic echo. I asked him how much time he had to talk to me. "You're on a holy mission, my child", he said, "as long as you want."

The real authors are Christopher Buckley (author of Wry Martinis and Thank You For Smoking) and New York Times columnist, John Tierney. "Anytime you have a book with 3 names on it," says Buckley, the clerks don't know where to put it. I've gone into bookstores and found it in every section except gardening and gay." "A lot of people," says Tierney, "don't like to admit that they've read these self-help books... I was appalled but at the same time developed a grudging admiration for them. They offer solace, and address people more directly and effectively than traditional religion. Their basic message is that you don't have to work hard, you only have to have a few tiny secrets, the right attitude and the right smile."

"Writing it together we only wanted to kill each other three or four times," says Buckley. "We had about six months, working between five and eight in the morning: that's the challenge, to be funny at five. We would wander around and scratch our balls, trying to think of funny lines. When the book came out here, Random House was even getting calls from CNN and the National Enquiry wanting to interview Brother Ty. We were going to get an out-of-work actor, someone in Monk's garb, to appear."

Endlessly cynical, the authors also sent copies to every cardinal in the country. "We were kind of hoping for religious denunciation from the pulpit," says Buckley. "We also sent copies to Springfield Public Library in Boston, because it once banned Huckleberry Finn and hugely boosted its sales." Random House bought airtime for an infomercial on three networks, showing Leviticus as market adviser, but NBC's New York office refused to give it airtime on grounds of its "offensive" content.

So has it made ends meet? "We got an advance in dollars," says Buckley, "in the lowest possible six figures, although half goes to Uncle Sam. The paperback sold for the same, and the movie rights would be $750,000 (if it goes ahead), and we already have a downpayment of a third ("John Cleese or Danny De Vito would make the perfect sacrilegious Abbot" says Tierney). Ten per cent goes to our agent. I'll do anything make a buck or a euro." As Market Meditation the Seventh says: "The only way to get rich from a get-rich book is to write one."

God Is My Broker is published by Nicholas Brealey Publishing