“I would only believe in a god who could dance.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
Religion is like Rob Ford: intense, divisive, and running for political office.
But seriously, religion. One word which encompasses a galactically colorful range of ideas and meanings. The quintessentially human phenomenon has been around forever, and virtually everyone has an opinion about it.
I’m not here to put religion on blast or to belittle anyone’s views. You have a right to believe whatever you like, and frankly, I just don’t care that much. Well, most of the time. The point at which I start caring what other people choose to believe about religion is the point at which religion becomes a reason to commit atrocities or deprive people of basic rights.
Sadly, it has been that, like millions of times. More than 1,000 x 10,000 people died in religious wars in the last millennium. In 2012, there were 1,340 religious hate crimes in the United States. Numerous other statistics and examples could be cited. The point is: like most allegiances humans use to mold their sense of identity, religion can easily become a source of animosity directed toward those whose identities are grounded elsewhere.
To guard against this, maybe we ought to think critically about our religious views (and all our other unquestioned assumptions) from time to time, to examine them and to see if they’ve caused us to harbor unnecessary hostility. We might even want to examine them for other reasons, too—like, I don’t know, maybe some of the rules are actually oppressing or repressing or depressing us, or making us fear existence. Who knows.
So, yes, let’s scrutinize our religious views, and while we’re at it, let’s maybe just try to calm down about the whole thing. If someone’s belief (or lack thereof) in something isn’t harming anyone, who really gives a shit?
One fine method for merrily contemplating religion is to explore the world of fringe religious positions. People have concocted all manner of religious viewpoints, and some of them are downright gorgeous, ponder-worthy, and chuckle-inducing. Look:
Dudeism is a philosophy and lifestyle based on the character Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski in the movie The Big Lebowski. The organization’s official name is The Church of the Latter-Day Dude, and as of August 2012, over 160,000 “Dudeist Priests” had been ordained. Though sometimes regarded as a parody religion, its founder and many of its adherents regard it seriously.
Dudeism’s stated primary aim is to promote a modern form of Chinese Taoism blended with concepts by the ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus and presented in a style reminiscent of The Dude. From Wikipedia:
“The Dudeist belief system is essentially a modernized form of Taoism purged of all of its metaphysical and medical doctrines. Dudeism advocates and encourages the practice of “going with the flow”, “being cool headed”, and “taking it easy” in the face of life’s difficulties, believing that this is the only way to live in harmony with our inner nature and the challenges of interacting with other people.”
Dudeism claims Kurt Vonnegut, Lao Tzu, and Walt Whitman as prophets, among others. The Dude abides.
“Bokononism is based on the concept of foma, which are defined as harmless untruths. A foundation of Bokononism is that the religion, including its texts, is formed entirely of lies; however, one who believes and adheres to these lies will have peace of mind, and perhaps live a good life. The primary tenet of Bokononism is to “Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.”
Vonnegut cooked up a whole lot of really spectacular terms and ideas around Bokononism. A “karass”, for example, is “a group of people linked in a cosmically significant manner, even when superficial links are not evident.” When a Bokononist is about to commit suicide, he says, “Now I will destroy the whole world.” And a Bokononist whispers “Busy, busy, busy” whenever he thinks about how complicated and unpredictable the machinery of life really is.
Discordianism is a religion and philosophy that venerates or worships Eris (or Discordia), the Greco-Roman goddess of chaos, or the ideals or archetypes associated with her. Its ideas have been likened to certain absurdist schools of Zen and Taoism. Again, from the bountiful bosom of Wikipedia:
“Discordianism is centered on the idea that both order and disorder are illusions imposed on the universe by the human nervous system, and that neither of these illusions of apparent order and disorder is any more accurate or objectively true than the other. […] Discordians use subversive humor to spread their philosophy and to prevent their beliefs from becoming dogmatic. It is difficult to estimate the number of Discordians because they are not required to hold Discordianism as their only belief system.”
In Discordianism, every member is considered a Pope, and anyone can ordain anyone else a Saint. Robert Anton Wilson is among the most well-known Discordians. Principia Discordia, the original holy book of Discordianism, abounds with cheeky verses that give a sense of the spirit of the religion. For example:
“If you want in on the Discordian Society
then declare yourself what you wish
do what you like
and tell us about it
if you prefer
There are no rules anywhere.
The Goddess Prevails.”
Possibilianism is a philosophical position which rejects theism as well as atheism and distinguishes itself from passive or resigned forms of agnosticism. Possibilianism aims to define a position of active exploration and was first defined by neuroscientist David Eagleman. Eagleman later elaborated on the idea in an interview with the New York Times:
“Our ignorance of the cosmos is too vast to commit to atheism, and yet we know too much to commit to a particular religion. A third position, agnosticism, is often an uninteresting stance in which a person simply questions whether his traditional religious story (say, a man with a beard on a cloud) is true or not true. But with Possibilianism I’m hoping to define a new position — one that emphasizes the exploration of new, unconsidered possibilities. Possibilianism is comfortable holding multiple ideas in mind; it is not interested in committing to any particular story.”
“All Hail Nicolas Cage!” is the rallying cry of this religion and subreddit (/r/onetruegod, over 70,000 strong). Cagenism appears to have originated on Reddit about two years ago, and its supporters are certainly religious in their constant outpouring of .GIFS, memes, artwork, and photos of The Most High, Nicolas Cage. The devotees even have their own creation stories, which contain hilarious excerpts like this one:
“And so His mighty mind devised a Sacred Erection, and it was the very first of Things. He declared it good. Its quantum flesh was mighty and true, but it stood alone. The Cage performed a Divine Pelvic Thrust, and the universe was created at great speed, expanding. Its contents were of heated radiation, unshaped stardust flying at immense velocity.
Nicolas Cage blinked, and eons passed. The Holy Stardust collected through His gravitational will, forming great space seas of dust and light. He breathed, and Galactic Oceans condensed, forming a multitude of suns and stones. And with one stroke of His Mighty Boner, the Universe slowed down and cooled.”
Jediism is a recent religious movement based on the philosophical and spiritual ideas of the Jedi from Star Wars. Yep, it’s a real thing. Believers follow a “Jedi code” of 21 maxims as well as “The 16 Teachings of the Jedi” and insist that their path is different from that of the fictional characters. Several peculiar and sort of hilarious accounts of this religion exist on the ‘pedia, one of which follows:
“Jediism received press coverage following a worldwide email campaign in 2001 urging people to write “Jedi” as their answer to the religion classification question in their country’s census. The majority of such respondents are assumed to have claimed the faith as a joke. In the 2001 England and Wales census, 390,127 respondents indicated Jediism as their faith. 2012 census figures had dropped to 176,632, although this was still more common than some other “alternative” faiths, and was the seventh most common response overall.”
7. Church of the SubGenius
The Church of the SubGenius is a bona fide parody religion that originated in the US in the 70s. Its teachings are complex and focus on J.R. “Bob” Dobbs, the religion’s prophet who was purportedly a drilling equipment salesman in the 1950s. “Bob’s” name is always spelled with the quotation marks, according to the Church. From the caverns of Wikipedia:
“Ivan Stang, who co-founded the Church of the SubGenius in the 1970s, serves as its high profile leader and publicist. He has imitated actions of other religious leaders, using the tactic of culture jamming in an attempt to undermine better known faiths. Church leaders instruct their followers to avoid mainstream commercialism and the belief in absolute truths. The group holds that the quality of “Slack” is of utmost importance—it is never clearly defined, but attaining it involves the avoidance of hard work and the embrace of leisure.”
Ideally this was a pleasant exercise in open-mindedness that has left you feeling fuzzy, bemused, and more tolerant than ever of humanity’s limitless capacity for meaning-making. There’s just so darn much out there. Busy, busy, busy.
Best to go with the flow, I’d wager. May the Force be with you.