Off the Boat and Out of the Box
Let’s face it, the United States has produced some way-crazy religions. Not to name any names, but anybody can name names . . . way crazy.
Sometimes, when I hear from some of the progeny of those way-crazy religions, I have to wish that the Reformation hadn’t happened and the Pope could still pull a switch and put a stop to the crazy. Where’s the Vatican army when Alabama needs it?
But that’s just not America. The US and crazy religions are like Sonny and Cher. Or U and 2. And, well, the beat goes on. That’s what the latest Pew poll on religious affiliation shows—Americans are striking out for the spiritual territories. And the next poll will show that too. And the next.
(I’ve gone from Pentecostal to Unitarian in my life and a few things in between. And I ain’t done yet.)
Let’s face it: it takes individualists to make it in the US. I’m not talking about “making it” in social capital terms. I’m talking about scratching out a living in the “richest nation on earth” where most of us are poor. Want to become an Existentialist? Try getting your car repossessed.
From the very beginning of the European invasion this nation has produced DIY religious crazies—heck, the Puritans were “nones,” people!
And the Quakers. And . . .
Do It Yourself. All we need is the Home Depot of Religion. Gimme some power tools and a video, and I’ll build that sucker.
The pretense toward “everybody is middle class” that took hold in the 1960s held sway a little while and mainline religion appeared to be sitting in the catbird seat. But that middle class pretense went the way of the union and the social safety net.
The US is a land where Jesus speaks to anyone who will listen. There’s no need for the Vatican. Jesus talks in the sort of trailer parks I grew up in. Jesus stalks Walmart, where bibles, prophylactics, semi-automatic weapons, and whiskey are only a bounced-check away. (I know a guy who did this, and he praised the Lord when they took the check.)
The rise of the nones—the unchurched DIY followers of Jesus, Buddha, Patanjoli, and any number of other charismatic figures (or, what-the-hey, all of the above)—neither spells doom for Christian orthodoxy nor presages the rise of the rational secular hordes. It’s merely the DIY impulse that brought you the First, Second, and Third Great Awakenings. Welcome to the Fourth. And the Age of Aquarius and the Second or Third Coming, for that matter.
We Americans are crazy. We have to be to sustain an illusion as large as ours. Still and all, we know a good deal when we see one. At the pawn shop. On the street corner. Or at the church on TV. We will take that deal, thank you very much. We will take that tune and sing it ourselves.
So the “nones” are a quarter of the US population now? The only change is that they’re just not putting any shade on their act. Put this in your pipe and smoke it: on one of his US visits, Pope John Paul II was horrified when American Catholics took the host from his hand and fed it to themselves. Heresy? Welcome to America, pal.
From Humanism to Scientology, it’s all about the DIY.
Do-it-yourself, baby. For good or ill, that’s religion American style.