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 religious … [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...]

The Root of All Evil

One of the more bizarre offshoots of fundamentalist Christianity that has been making headway in recent years is the "prosperity gospel", also called the "Word of Faith" movement. Devotees of this theology believe that God, far from the dour, gloomy Puritan deity who expected people to deprive themselves in this life to be rewarded in the hereafter, is actually more like a rich uncle who can't wait to shower us with riches and grant us financial prosperity. In this movement, wealth and fame in a … [Read more...]

How Religions Are Born

On Tuesday night, after watching the lottery drawing (I didn't win, alas - and I wished really hard for it, too!), I saw an ABC special about one José Luis de Jesus Miranda, a Puerto Rican man who has announced to the world that he is the second coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Ordinarily, such a claim would firmly relegate one to the ranks of street-corner crackpots, but Miranda differs from garden-variety kooks in one fairly important way: he has somehow attracted an actual … [Read more...]

Bending the World Around Yourself

In light of all the momentous events currently taking place around the world, this next story might seem somewhat trivial in the grand scheme of things. But it illustrates some important points that are of more general application, and more importantly to me, it concerns my own alma mater, Binghamton University, of which I am a proud alumnus.It seems that a Binghamton sophomore, Aaron Akaberi, recently converted to the Rastafarian religion. As part of his conversion, he decided to adhere to a … [Read more...]

A Religious Fugitive is Captured

(Author's Note: We temporarily interrupt the "Roots of Morality" series to bring you this late-breaking news...)A few weeks ago, I read Jon Krakauer's book Under the Banner of Heaven, a chilling account of the persistence of fundamentalist Mormon sects in the Utah desert that still practice polygamy, often forcing girls as young as 12 or 13 to marry older men who already have dozens of wives. (As Krakauer documents, this practice was instituted by Joseph Smith himself and is still enshrined in … [Read more...]

No Messiahs

To judge by the narratives of our culture, an observer might well come to the conclusion that Homo sapiens was a race of fearless, free-spirited revolutionaries. History and mythology both religious and secular is filled with stories of the mavericks, the dissenters, the nonconformists who rebelled against an unjust and senseless system and "did it their way".However, this seeming admiration for dissent conceals the unsettling truth: Humanity is, and has always been, a race of followers. Ever … [Read more...]


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