The tragic events of Waco, although different in many ways to those of Jonestown (especially as it regards the role of law enforcement), also forces the scholar as well as any curious person, to ask questions about the nature of religion and human existence: why do some people decide to believe certain individuals even when their claims may seem irrational, or even dangerous? What is the difference, if any, between a cult and a religion? What is the role of government in regulating religious groups? Why are American evangelical groups so obsessed with the end of times? As Smith said, our need to understand is not the same as our approval of the practices we study, but as he warned us “if we do not persist in the quest for intelligibility, there can be no human sciences, let alone, any place for the study of religion within them.”
I became fascinated by the constant religious references used by many of the people interviewed in the documentary to describe and explain the Grateful Dead phenomena: attending a Dead concert was a religious experience, Jerry Garcia was a prophet, a Messiah, a shaman, the audience at the shows were organized like a mandala […]The Grateful Dead, and Jerry Garcia in particular embraced the winds of change and created a band that reflected an utopian, egalitarian, decentered, unstructured way of making music. Their music, in many ways was not only an artistic statement, but also a reflection of their own social and political views. They played as they lived. And Jerry Garcia became the unofficial priest of a small but powerful movement that began to sweep America for almost three decades.Read more "Jerry Garcia, the Grateful Dead, and the Ritual Sacrifice of Celebrities"
Yoda reinforces the teaching that the Force is not confined to books, traditions or institutions. The Force is ever present.Read more "Religion in The Last Jedi"
Gene Luen Yang’s The Rosary is not only a comic book, it is an actual rosary. The comic book is transformed not only into a vehicle for prayer, the comic book IS the prayer. Each panel becomes a meditation on the various chapters of the life of Jesus, and the prayers that have to be said in each panel become a way to ritually familiarize oneself with his life and deeds.Read more "Gene Luen Yang, the Rosary, and Comic Books as Prayer"
Some people may think that I am exaggerating, that this dystopian America is not what Trump, Pence, and their followers want. But as a thought experiment, if you take Pence’s ideas, which have been quite consistent throughout his time as a member of Congress and then as the Governor of Indiana, what kind of America do we see? What does an America in which women do not have the same rights as men (there is a very interesting New Yorker piece on his views on this issue), where abortion is illegal, where gay people have no rights (in 2006 he said that “societal collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family.”), and race issues in America are not really a problem? The Handmaid’s Tale explores an America in which all of those ideals become a reality.Read more "Under His Eye: Handmaid’s Tale, Evangelical Christianity, and Mike Pence’s America"
Note: In this post I look at NBC The Good Place Season 1 (available on the NBC website as well as on Netflix). There are some spoilers towards the end. The question of what happens to us after we die is as old as humanity itself. From the oldest known temple structure, Göbekli Tepe, a burial […]Read more "The Good Place: When Heaven Feels Like Hell"
Last weekend, Darren Aranofsky released his latest film Mother! to abysmal box office results and quite strong negative reactions by audiences. Critics, overall, seemed to have liked it, but the public in general was mostly confounded, if not downright outraged by what they had watched. CinemaScore, a site that surveys audiences reviews of films gave […]Read more "In Defense of Mother!"