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Sep 13 2013

Karen Stollznow has a new book coming out soon

Now this looks interesting: God Bless America: Strange and Unusual Religious Beliefs and Practices in the United States.

God Bless America lifts the veil on strange and unusual religious beliefs and practices in the modern-day United States. Do Satanists really sacrifice babies? Do exorcisms involve swearing and spinning heads? Are the Amish allowed to drive cars and use computers? Offering a close look at snake handling, new age spirituality, Santeria spells, and satanic rituals, this book offers more than mere armchair research. It takes you to an exorcism, a Charismatic church and a Fundamentalist Mormon polygamist compound. You will sit among the beards and bonnets in a Mennonite church, hear the sounds of silence at a Quaker meeting, and listen to L. Ron Hubbard’s sci-fi stories told as sermons during a Scientology service. From the Amish to Voodoo, the beliefs and practices explored in this book may be unorthodox, and often dangerous, but they are always fascinating. Some of them are dying out, while others are gaining popularity with a modern audience, but all offer insight into the past, present and future of religion in the United States.

My only question would be…are there religious beliefs that aren’t strange and unusual?

26 comments

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  1. 1
    AndrewD

    are there religious beliefs that aren’t strange and unusual?

    No, next question

  2. 2
    sawells

    I think you’d have to say that religious beliefs held by billions of people would have to count as “not unusual” -e.g. the idea that there is a god.

    That doesn’t mean the beliefs aren’t wrong, dangerous, and incoherent; it just means that having wrong, dangerous and incoherent beliefs is not unusual.

  3. 3
    CaitieCat, getaway driver

    It looks like a great book, might prod my local library to get it. Thanks for the heads-up. :)

  4. 4
    greg1466

    Funny how it doesn’t visit the most common ‘strange religious belief’ of worshiping a guy hanging on a cross.

  5. 5
    apfergus

    This definitely sounds like a good read. American home grown religions offer a lot in the way of bizarre, I think, particularly because they came about in such recent recorded history that coming to the conclusion that, “Yup. That’s a load of crap.” is almost trivial. It made it easier to abandon my religious upbringing, anyway.

  6. 6
    Gregory in Seattle

    @greg1466 #4 – I would think the ritual cannibalization of the guy hanging on the cross is a bit weirder than just worshipping him.

  7. 7
    John Horstman

    …are there religious beliefs that aren’t strange and unusual?

    Yes: were religious belief not normative (and therefore common and familiar), we wouldn’t need organized secular or atheist activism.

  8. 8
    busterggi

    Gads but I miss her on Monster Talk.

  9. 9
    bryanfeir

    Are the Amish allowed to drive cars and use computers?

    There may be situations where those are allowed, I dpn’t know. (I expect it’s mostly a matter of riding but not driving, though I believe there are also ‘if necessary to save lives’ exceptions.) I know they can accept credit cards, though. A friend of mine was somewhat boggled to find that an Amish furniture store could take credit cards: they use the older handheld impression machines which copy the numbers onto carbon paper. That, after all, qualifies as a mechanical printing press, which is acceptable technology to them.

  10. 10
    moarscienceplz

    Sounds like the literary equivalent of a carnival freak show.

    re: the Amish. According to a PBS show I saw, there are no hard and fast rules for which technology is accepted or rejected. Amish don’t have official ministers, they form a congregation of neighbors who do church services in their homes on a rotary basis and make lifestyle decisions communally (although I think men have much more say than women do.) Some Amish/Mennonite groups are pretty liberal about gadgets.

  11. 11
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    Are the Amish allowed to drive cars and use computers?

    Depends on the sect, really.

    Some do, some don’t. The Amish are pretty variable.

  12. 12
    Paul K

    Sorry for the slight derail, but something jumped out at me:

    I found it a bit odd to see Quakers (officially The Religious Society of Friends) among that crowd. I’m biased: my wife is a Quaker, and I’m a ‘Quaker sympathizer’.

    We are both atheists, which is fine with many Quakers, as individuals, and institutionally. Quakers believe in walking the talk of their beliefs, which are mostly about social justice and peace. There are wide swaths of varying religiosity among them, which is also part of what they’ve always been about: individual contemplation of what is good and right. This is why ‘conservative’ Quakers still meet in silence, without a pastor or other authority figure leading anyone. People sit together, without talk or distractions. Those who feel moved to do so ‘speak out of the silence’, and there is community pressure to not speak of trivially personal things. I’m not a joiner, and have not often sat in ‘Meeting’, but this is a powerful practice, being silent, together, and speaking only of ‘weighty’ things.

    I realize that folks reading this might think it all sounds a bit silly and quaint, and I can see that. People often think of funny clothes and ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ when they think of Quakers, but even those odd aspects (gone for many decades now) had social justice as a rationale: Quakers wore simple clothing, in part, to show that all people are equal, and many were killed for not addressing their ‘betters’ with the more formal ‘you’ instead of the personal ‘thee’. They would not kneel, or remove their hats, even for kings. Quakers have been and are very active in many social justice issues. It was Quakers who got conscientious objector status recognized, and many abolitionists and early women’s rights advocates were Quakers. Many accepted marriage equality long before other groups did. Heck, the sect itself won the 1947 Nobel Peace Prize.

    The sect started in the middle of the English Civil Wars, and this statement was made in 1660, and is still a key part of what makes Quakers Quakers: “All bloody principles and practices we do utterly deny, with all outward wars, and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatsoever, and this is our testimony to the whole world.” The statement was made to King Charles II, by a woman, Margeret Fell, one of the early leaders of Quakerism (very radical in itself at the time).

    Of course, there are, as with all religious groups, Quakers and Quakers. Many Quakers are Bible- and ‘Christ-centered’, though this is juxtaposed to the many who are decidedly not. Some Meetings are not conservative, and have programmed worship; many even have what amount to pastors. In fact, these Quakers now outnumber the conservatives. (The largest concentration of Quakers is actually in Kenya, and they seem a whole different kind of thing from what I’ve experienced.) I find it interesting that these groups are also more like other christian groups in other ways, for example, not accepting marriage equality. Personally, I’m not sure why they some themselves Quakers, other than history.

    I could go on, but I’ve derailed long enough. Religion does far more harm then good, but I think that the belief and practice of Quakers — some Quakers — comes close to refuting that. The book sounds great; it just seemed grating to have Quakers in the same list as fundamentalist Mormons and L. Ron Hubbard.

  13. 13
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    Paul K, firstly the speech about Quakerism was not really necessary.

    Stollznow was making a list of “strange and unusual” belief systems – defined as outside the mainstream, atypical.

    Quakers – and I say this as someone whose last bit of religious feeling was Quakerism and who still hangs out in Friendly spaces – very much fit that standard. Quakerism is not normative, standard. Theologically (when was the last time you saw people in large numbers advocate that all children be taught the testimonies of equality and peace?) or in terms of what worship looks like.

    And in any case, Quakers are as prone to woo-y irrational thinking as any other religious group.

  14. 14
    theoreticalgrrrl

    I am so glad that Scientology is now being treated like the dangerous, controlling cult it is in mainstream media. I saw a program called Deadly Persuasion (I think?) about a woman who join CoS when she was in her early twenties, and the horrible abuse she and her husband went through for years in the Sea Org before they finally escaped. I hear even that asshole Tommy Davis has left the church.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67Jx9KG0VeU
    Thank you Katie Holmes!

  15. 15
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    Echoing John Horstman:

    My only question would be…are there religious beliefs that aren’t strange and unusual?

    Of course there are: those that are familiar and commonplace.

  16. 16
    Inaji

    I pre-ordered the nook book, sounds like good reading. (Spellcheck suggests ‘pee-ordered’. That’s a word?)

  17. 17
    lesofa

    There’s a Nook version but not a Kindle version? :(

  18. 18
    JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness

    16
    Caine, Fleur du mal

    I pre-ordered the nook book, sounds like good reading. (Spellcheck suggests ‘pee-ordered’. That’s a word?)

    I image if rats where making things or shipping them, it would be. :)

    ———

    17
    lesofa

    There’s a Nook version but not a Kindle version? :(

    There’s a way to work around that if you don’t want to wait for a kindle version or if they don’t have one. (I don’t see why they wouldn’t have one soon.)

    You could use Calibre to convert and transfer to your Kindle. I LOVE Calibre. Makes managing my nook so easy. And I’m not locked down into an ecosystem and I won’t loose my books due to DRM.

  19. 19
    Inaji

    JAL

    I image if rats where making things or shipping them, it would be. :)

    Yes, that was my first thought too, but I don’t think rat speak is official or anything. :D

  20. 20
    lesofa

    JAL #18
    Yeah, if they never make it for Kindle, I’ll do that, thanks!

  21. 21
    JohnnieCanuck

    My only question would be…are there religious beliefs that aren’t strange and unusual?

    Ask any religious person and the answer will usually be, “Yes, mine, and a few others that are similar”.

  22. 22
    frankb

    Esteleth # 13

    “Quakers are as prone to woo-y irrational thinking as any other religious group.”

    FTFY

  23. 23
    congenital cynic

    Are there any Shakers left? Last I heard there were a few elderly women, and that was it. They didn’t marry and didn’t have children, but relied on converts to bolster the numbers. Seems like it was a losing strategy, in the end. Talk about ignoring the importance of biology. How many modern youngsters, even among other christian sects, would choose that option. Especially when the Catholics have the market cornered on the celibate pedophile crowd. I’ll bet it’s an interesting book. There’s an older one, often read in Sociology courses, called Extraordinary Groups: An Examination of Unconventional Life-styles, by William Kephart. It’s a good read, though it deals with a much smaller number of groups. I read it more than 30 years ago and can still deliver a solid summary of every chapter. That’s how well written and compelling it was. I still recount it from time to time in conversations. The Oneida community is particularly interesting.

    As for the Shakers, they made nice chairs. We have a couple.

  24. 24
    Paul K

    Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001, at 13:

    firstly the speech about Quakerism was not really necessary.

    Looking back at it, I agree.

    Stollznow was making a list of “strange and unusual” belief systems – defined as outside the mainstream, atypical.

    Again, this makes sense. I just looked at the list and saw most of them as ‘bizarre and maybe even downright nasty’.

    And in any case, Quakers are as prone to woo-y irrational thinking as any other religious group.

    I’m not sure I agree with this. As frankb says at 22, any group is prone to woo, but Quakers as a group, with their emphasis on equality, contemplation, and forming consensus, are, I think, not as likely to go goofy as groups that embrace authoritarian leadership. This judgment is, of course, based just the experience I’ve had, and the reading I’ve done.

  25. 25
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    congenital cynic #23

    Are there any Shakers left? Last I heard there were a few elderly women, and that was it. They didn’t marry and didn’t have children, but relied on converts to bolster the numbers.

    They apparently were also prone to adopting kids out of orphanages to be raised as Shakers until the law changed in1960 and they weren’t allowed to anymore. There’s three of them left, at Sabbathday Lake, Maine, although they still take converts if anyone wants to.

  26. 26
    David Marjanović

    this is a powerful practice, being silent, together, and speaking only of ‘weighty’ things.

    ~:-|

    Spellcheck suggests ‘pee-ordered’. That’s a word?

    Mine (on the phone, where I haven’t switched it off) often suggests two completely unconnected words instead of one I’ve typed.

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