Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Birth of a New Religion?


Updated:

I’ve been thinking about starting a religion.  I realize this is nothing particularly new or even exciting.  People start religions all the time.   In the last 200 or so years, new religions have been popping up regularly like acne on a teenager.

Here are just a few:  Jehovah Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, Baha’i’, Christian Science, Rev. Moon’s Unification Church, Scientology and many more.   We know about them because they have survived.  Many others did not.  The Shakers come to mind in that category.  My wife’s grandfather also started his own small, liberal Christian group.  It died with him.  

If I’m going to start a religion, I’d like it to endure.  To accomplish that, I have spent a lot of time studying the survivors to figure out what they had that other religions did not.  I examined not only the newer versions, but such long-lived religions as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shinto and more.

The first thing I noted is that they share very little in common.  Shinto, for example, is simply ancestor worship.  Buddhism has no god; Hinduism has thousands.   Judaism has no heaven or hell; Islam and Christianity happily consign each other’s followers to their own hells.  

To me, that was the easiest requirement:  I can be as inconsistent as anyone.

What did they share?
 
Holy texts.  They all have writings of some kind that are accepted as somehow divine.  I think I write well.  I imagine I could come up with a book and claim that some great power dictated it to me. That's what Joseph Smith did, and it worked for him.

Rituals.  All religions have some sort of rites that must be followed by adherents.  This helps set them apart.  Unitarians light a candle prior to a service, for example.  Catholics have sacraments.  I’m not sure what mine will be, but it won’t be onerous.  I’m not fond of ritualistic requirements.  Maybe everyone in my faith should know a secret greeting.  We still use the secret greeting of the followers of Mithra although the religion died centuries ago: a handshake.

Some kind of belief.  It doesn’t have to be logical – in fact, illogical is a strong selling point with religion.  After all, how can anyone prove the existence of heaven or hell? Or that every Mormon will be king of his/her own planet.  Or that virgins await every heroic Muslim?   Or that Hindus are reborn to work off karma?  No one knows if any of that is true, which makes it perfect for religion.  I believe in taking cruises.  I think that’s something everyone can embrace.

Allen
Obligations.  Every religion has something: no fish on Friday; fast on the Day of Atonement; no alcohol; walk around a sacred stone seven times; rest on the Sabbath; and so on.  I’m reminded of Woody Allen in one of his movies in which a revolutionary takes over an impoverished Hispanic nation and requires everyone to wear underwear on the outside.  I wouldn’t go that far, but I can imagine something easy to do, but distinctive.  Just as requiring all members of my faith to eat artichokes at least once a week.  I really like artichokes.

Clergy.  Someone has to teach the faith and serve as a spiritual guide.  Otherwise, how would anyone get married in the faith?  In Catholicism, the priests are given special powers, but that’s not true in most other faiths.  I like awarding powers.  My clergy can fly.  No one can see that, of course.  They fly during secret, arcane ceremonies that only they can attend. Ordination will involve a complex series of chores, like cleaning my house.,

Promises.  This may be the biggest thing.  Every religion promises something.  In many, a believer will live forever in unity with a deity.  The bigger, the more impossible the promise, the better.  This is one thing I know I can do, in spades.  I can promise anything to anyone.  In my religion, I promise that every member will enjoy all the food and money they need in the afterlife.  Gamblers will always win; athletes will play forever.  Teachers will have docile, eager students, and so on.  It will be just like heaven,. But without the halos and other rigmarole.

The successful religions are all built on existing beliefs, sort of adding new scaffolding to an existing building.  Or, in religious terminology: old wine in new wineskin.  This may be the hardest.  I really don’t want to tie into messianic faiths.  I don’t accept that idea and certainly don’t want that role for myself.  Messianic figures tend to get really badly hurt.  I also don’t want to link up with deity-based faiths like Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  They only want to fight each other to “prove” their divine support.  I’m a pacifist.
Rael

There are a lot of unusual religions to join.  For example, my religion could build on the Church of Euthanasia.  Its motto, “Save the planet; kill yourself,” says it all.  But, it’s a bit drastic for my taste.   So is Raelism, founded by a man named Rael (surprise!), who insists that extraterrestrial beings created human life.  This idea is absurd enough to become really successful in the future, but I don’t like anything completely refutable by DNA and science.

The Church of Maradona, named for a famed Argentinean soccer star who apparently invested heavily in drugs and desperately needs a weight-loss program.  While hero worship is commonplace, I tend to shy away.  It can be a very tricky business.  Who wants to hnor Bill Cosby these days, for example?

Happy Science argues that in 2050 the Angel Gabriel will be reincarnated in Bangkok, Thailand and that, 50 years later, angry gods will sink the U.S.  That’s a good way for a religion to grow: predict something beyond the lifespan of most people.  And I do like Thailand.  Nevertheless, I don’t want to associate with a religion with such a dire future for my American descendants.  

The Church of All Worlds is based on a fictional religion created by a science fiction writer.  That’s similar to Scientology, but this one’s only sin is hypocrisy.  Apparently, followers are unaware that hypocrisy is a prime requisite for a successful faith.  I don’t hold out much hope this will survive.
Chen Tao

In Taiwan, in 1993, Chen Tao started a religion based on the idea of founder Hon-ming Chen that, in 1998, God would appear on a television station.  Chen offered to be crucified when that didn’t happen.  His followers declined to follow through; some are still waiting for the cameo.  Since 1998 isn’t likely to come around again, I think I’ll pass on this one.
Actually, I couldn’t find any faith my new religion could merge with that wasn’t already absurd, illogical and beyond plausible belief.  I’ll keep looking.  Maybe I should focus on creating a religion based on something no seems to have considered yet:  one that makes sense.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history with an occasional foray into American culture.  He holds an ABD in American Studies from Case Western Reserve University.   He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at wplazarus@aol.com. He is the author of more than 18 books, including comic novels like The Great Seer Nostradamus Tells All as well as a variety of nonfiction books, including Comparative Religion for Dummies.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers, including Bold Venture and Southern Owl.  He can also be followed on Twitter.


Friday, December 6, 2019

Taking Aim at Gun Control



Successful deer hunt
A friend recently posted a notice that 36 million deer hunters were out in the woods and there wasn’t one mass killing.  To my friend, that proved it’s human intent that matters, not the weapon.

That’s, of course, as I told her via Facebook, nonsense.

Not one of those hunters was carrying an AK-47 or similar assault weapon.  Why?  Because if they shot a deer with rounds from one of those guns, the animal would be shredded beyond recognition. 

Moreover, a person may be just as intent to kill and have a knife instead of an Uzi.  Guess which weapon will cause more damage?

Successful people hunt in Dayton
No one with a knife killed nine people in Dayton, Ohio this year and wounded 27 more or killed 22 people in Waco, Texas and wounded 24 more.  The list could go one.  After all, there have been more than 380 mass killings in the U.S. just in 2019. 

From 2009 to 2018, this country has averaged 19 mass shootings a year.  That has led to the deaths of 1,121 Americans, including 309 children and 19 law enforcement officers.

No other country has come remotely close to those numbers. That’s because most other countries don’t allow citizens to own weapons willy-nilly.

In countries like Switzerland and Finland, where gun ownership ranks among the highest in the world, gun owners are required to pass mental and criminal records checks among other requirements.  Guess what?  Far fewer gun deaths and virtually no mass shootings.
Hemenway

It’s no hard to figure out why.  Harvard professor Dr. David Hemenway wrote, "We analyzed the relationship between homicide and gun availability using data from 26 developed countries from the early 1990s. We found that across developed countries, where guns are more available, there are more homicides." 

Doh.

Gun homicide rates in this country were “25.3 times higher and gun suicides were 8 times higher in 2010 than in other populous, high-income countries,” according to a 2016 study. Overall, 82 percent of all people worldwide killed by firearms were Americans.

Our response to the carnage?  Congress passed a law preventing research into gun violence while common sense gun controls have never even got through either house since the Brady Bill in the 1994.  And that law, requiring background checks and a cooling off period, has been circumvented by excluding gun shows.  My nephew owned a gun shop.  He knew very well the impact of unregulated gun sales.

In Australia, in contrast, conservative Prime Minister John Howard and legislators appalled by a 1996 mass shooting in Tasmania that left 35 people dead placed strict requirements on gun ownership.  In the next decade, homicides caused by guns dropped 59 percent.  There have been no more mass shootings Down Under.

Opponents to gun control cite the Second Amendment, which clearly states that the need for a militia requires the right to own guns.  Any of those deer hunters in a militia?

Besides, we have journeyed more than 200 years since that Amendment was added to the Constitution.  Weapons have improved.  Then, after every shot, a shooter had to reload.  The idea of an assault rifle didn’t exist.
 
Nor are restrictions on gun ownership illegal.  In McDonald v. Chicago (2010), the Supreme Court ruled that anyone can own a gun, but municipalities have every right to restrict purchases.  That’s been the norm for more than a century.  After all, in the old West, every town that incorporated invariably passed a law banning forearms in the city limits.  Those people lived with gun violence every day.  They knew.

My favorite howler is the claim that citizens need assault rifles to defend themselves against their government.  They also say that the Nazi Party disarmed everyone after taking control in 1933. 
Both are false.

In the first place, gun owners are supposedly patriotic.  Apparently that means waiting to be ambushed by a government armed with nuclear weapons and every high-powered weapon known to man.  Good luck with even an assault rifle.  In Germany, Nazis removed guns from people they didn’t like.  Everyone else was left alone.  Democracies don’t act that way.

Democracies are also guided by the people, who, in poll after poll, overwhelmingly favor gun controls in an effort to end the mass murders in our schools, malls and offices. 

Assault rifle
We can start by banning assault rifles, just as they were from 1994 to 2004.  The law had little effect because ownership was grandfathered in; and rifles were rigged to handle larger magazines.  Only a law that removes these weapons from private hands would accomplish the task.  There is no known use for an assault rifle except to kill people.


With proper restraints in place, you can hunt all the deer you want after clearing background checks and other limitations.  Maybe then, you’ll stop hunting people.


Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history with an occasional foray into American culture.  He holds an ABD in American Studies from Case Western Reserve University.   He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at wplazarus@aol.com. He is the author of the recently published novel The Great Seer Nostradamus Tells All as well as a variety of nonfiction books, including The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.