Making Up Religion
According to an article in USA Today, there are 40-50 new religious movements created in America each year. This boggles my mind. I knew about the top American-made religions of Mormonism, Scientology and Jehovah's Witnesses. But are there really that many others?
The articles main purpose though is to tell of Stephen Prothero's religion class at Boston University, where he has students devise a religion as a way to learn about the main parts of a religious faith. The professor tells of Dessertism, which preaches the stomach as the way to the soul; The Congregation of Wisdom, which honors Jeopardy! phenom Ken Jennings as its patron saint; and Exetazo, which dedicated to sorting out the pluses and minuses of all the other religions so you can find a faith tailored to your own unique personality. The professor writes,
What strikes me most about my students' religions, however, is how similar they are. Almost invariably, they mix fun with faith. (Facebookismianity anyone?) But they do not mix faith with dogma. My students are careful — exceedingly careful — not to tell one another what to believe, or even what to do. Above all, they want to be tolerant and non-judgmental. Most of the religions my students developed were fully compatible with other religions. They made few demands, either intellectually or morally. Repeatedly, their founders stress that you can join their religion without leaving Catholicism or Judaism or Islam behind.He goes on to note that this is like what theologian H. Richard Niebuhr accused liberal Protestants of in the 1930s, which was preaching "a God without wrath (who) brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross."
This is not surprising as I find that many folks prefer the "cafeteria plan" of faith. Take a little Native American spirituality and throw in a dash of Buddhism and call that your spirituality. The downside is that these personal spiritualities never seem to include the discipline common to any mainstream religion, which is certainly to be found in Christianity (especially in Lent). The end result of the cafeteria plan is a hollow faith that can't get one through the tough times in life. Amusing in a dorm room conversation, but pointless in an emergency room or in the oncologists office.
The professor ends by challenging religious leaders to be in dialogue with the spiritual, but not religious younger generation and to adapt in ways to not leave them by the wayside. The full text of his article is here: Is religion losing the millennial generation?
I am very sympathetic to that task, but trust that the end result will still need to be some form of discipline in which it makes a difference that you are a Christian and you make a difference because you are a Christian. The end result can not be to simply baptize the way we already want to act and call that Christianity. Right? If not, you can always try Pastafarianism and the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor