July 17, 2007

New Religions

Six miles from the nearest road, in the vast Siberian wilderness, a bearded man in flowing white linen robes sat at his kitchen table and talked about his crucifixion at the hands of Pontius Pilate 2,000 years ago.

In a voice barely louder than the rain falling on the mountaintop home his followers have built for him, Sergei Torop said it was painful to remember the end of his last life, in which he says he walked the Earth as Jesus Christ.

So begins an article in today's Washington Post. An isolated nut case? A fraud? The next paragraph in the story starts with,

Torop, 46, is a former Siberian traffic cop who is now spiritual leader of at least 5,000 devoted followers.

The article doesn't say what Torop and his followers call their movement, but the Russian authorities call it the "Church of the Last Testament" after Torop's nine volume opus. And this isn't the only new religion to spring up in Russia or around the world. "Custom-made religions spring up nearly weekly across the world, some attracting a handful of adherents and others many thousands." Christopher H. Partridge, had this to say,

A misconception is that these people are all the mad and the gullible and the stupid. . . . Often they are very well-educated. It's usually people who had thought a great deal about themselves, their place in the world and their life in the world to come. They are looking for something.

Articles like this always remind me of this quotation from Mark Twain,

The easy confidence with which I know another man's religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also. [as recalled by Paine, in Mark Twain: a Biography]

These new religions can provide a valuable field school for the study of the factors that produced religions that are not so new.

I am sure that a secular society can address the all too human needs that draw people to these new religions (and the old ones too.) It has for me. But secular society tends to lack the kind of infrastructures and the charismatic leadership that provide solidarity with a group. But then it is exactly those charismatic leaders, secular or otherwise, that all too often have led us into horrible moral error.

Please read the complete article. It's abnormally interesting.

Via Pharyngula

Posted by Duane Smith at July 17, 2007 10:39 AM | Read more on Religion |

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