Strange and Curious Sects: Koreshanity

Cyrus Reed Teed, a.k.a. the Prophet Koresh. Public-domain image from Wikipedia.It seems that every religion has at least one signature bizarre belief: whether it be that the messiah is an American soldier who will return from across the ocean bringing marvelous cargo, or that human beings are possessed by the ghosts of murdered aliens, or that God wants us to transform him into crackers and consume him each week. But for sheer extravagant, defiant wackiness in the face of obvious … [Read more...]

Do You Really Believe That? (Xenu/Thetans)

Although past installments of "Do You Really Believe That?" have skewered absurd beliefs from other sects, I doubt any religion has doctrines as laughably ridiculous as Scientology's beliefs about "space opera". Today's post will explore the most infamous of those.According to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, Xenu was an alien overlord who, 75 million years ago, was in charge of a "Galactic Confederacy" consisting of 76 planets, including Earth (which, according to Hubbard, was then … [Read more...]

Strange and Curious Sects: The Millerites

Today's edition of "Strange and Curious Sects" concerns a now-defunct religious group, but one which has offshoots that survive to the present day. Like the stories of John Frum and Sabbatai Zevi, it's also a lesson in the almost limitless capacity of the human mind to rationalize away disappointment.William Miller was born in 1782 in Massachusetts. A voracious reader, he converted to deism when he was young, but his belief in an intervening god would be restored in the War of 1812. Miller … [Read more...]

Strange and Curious Sects: Sabbatai Zevi

Past editions of Strange and Curious Sects have explored religious splinter groups that came into existence relatively recently. Today's edition will focus on an older cult that still has lessons to teach us: the bizarre story of the would-be Jewish messiah, Sabbatai Zevi.Sabbatai Zevi was born in 1626, supposedly on the anniversary of the Roman destruction of the Temple, to a wealthy Sephardic Jewish family in Smyrna, modern-day Turkey. In his youth, he studied the Talmud and especially the … [Read more...]

The Gospel of Elvis

In the book God?: A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist, William Lane Craig (debating Walter Sinnott-Armstrong) makes the following argument for why God chooses to remain hidden:"Could God reveal himself more clearly?" Of course, He could: He could have inscribed the label "Made by God" on every atom or planted a neon cross in the heavens with the message "Jesus Saves." But why would He want to do such a thing?...[T]here is no reason at all to think that if God were to make His … [Read more...]

Strange and Curious Sects: Jesus Malverde

Malverde's shrine stands near the railroad tracks on the west side of Culiacan, well-known to just about everybody in town. Nearby are Malverde Clutch & Breaks, Malverde Lumber and two Denny's-like cafeterias: Coco's Malverde and Chic's Malverde. Outside the shrine people sell trinkets, candles, and pictures. Inside the shrine are two concrete busts of the man. Malverde, supposedly a poor man from the hills, turns out to look a lot like a matinee idol -- dark eyes, sleek mustache, jet-black … [Read more...]

Strange and Curious Sects: John Frum

Today I'm inaugurating a new series on Daylight Atheism, Strange and Curious Sects. The follies and fallacies of larger, mainstream religions are well known; this series will examine some of the smaller and lesser-known splinter groups, cults, and sects, both past and present, that are part of the vast diversity of religions imagined by human beings. By examining these frequently unique and bizarre belief systems, I find, we stand to gain a clearer perspective on various aspects of the larger … [Read more...]

The Pretense of Superiority

Religion has always been used to sanctify inequality here on Earth, in the present no less than in the past. By teaching their followers that they are God's chosen rulers, religious authorities can accustom the flock to obedience and ascend to positions of power without the consent of the majority. The fundamentally oligarchic and anti-democratic nature of most established religions, in which the church leaders choose their own successors, testifies to this.These anti-democratic beliefs are … [Read more...]

Scientology to Stand Trial?

Some welcome news out of Brussels:A Belgian prosecutor on Tuesday recommended that the U.S.-based Church of Scientology stand trial for fraud and extortion, following a 10-year investigation that concluded the group should be labeled a criminal organization.Although I take a dim view of the principle, held by many European countries, that speech and belief can be censored in the name of promoting societal harmony, this is one instance where the United States' more expansive view of … [Read more...]

Smoothing Out the Rough Edges

Normal people don't start new religions.This seems like an obvious thing to say, but there's an important point behind it. Most people, both in the present time and in past eras, are conformists who are far more likely to follow the trails paved by others than to blaze their own. Theists in general seem content to go to church each week, stand or sit or kneel when asked, leave a donation in the collection plate on occasion, confess their sins when necessary, and trust that everything will … [Read more...]


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