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Archive for the ‘Bad Religion’ Category

Medieval Witch
The Middle Ages were not particularly known for their tolerance. It was a time of great ignorance, and bad hygiene, where peasants regularly pointed suspicious fingers at each other and persecuted people of different beliefs. One of the groups that was hunted down were witches – or rather, any man or woman who just happened to be next to the accuser’s pig before it died.

It was fairly easy to determine whether a person was a witch or not. You simply tied them to a bag of rocks and threw them into a lake, and if they floated, they were a witch! You then dragged them out and promptly burned them at the stake. If, on the other hand, the person sunk to their death, you knew that they weren’t a witch, and gave them a big posthumous hug.

It’s not known how many people were killed or imprisoned for being a witch. Some claim tens of thousands, while others believe far less. What is known is that many were accused of sorcery and put on trial for their villainous deeds (with the trial mostly consisting of the person being pelted with rancid tomatoes for half an hour.) This is far different in modern times, where they merely have to explain to people the tenets of a mysterious thing called ‘science’.

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mcchurch
Many churches have gotten extremely rich over the years. They get some of this from donations, and not having to pay taxes, but mostly by adding corporate sponsorship and consumerism to their religious services. They sell advertising space and soda and sneakers, all to support the faith. Sure, your personal Lord and Savior said that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven, but he never saw a gigantic church with six jumbotron screens and a Starbucks kiosk located conveniently at the entrance.

Did we mention the water slide?

The common term for these religious institutions is “McChurches”, and they can be found throughout the South and Midwest. But unlike chocolate and peanut butter, these aren’t two great tastes that go great together. Overwhelming conspicuous consumption and spirituality make for an uneven fit, at least if you’re trying to follow your religion’s actual tenets. This is apparently quite easy to forget, though, when you’re speaking in front of a massive animatronic Jesus and wearing a ten thousand dollar suit with glowing sequined crosses on it.

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snake-handling
The serpent is the classic symbol of the Devil in Christian theology. He tempted Eve to eat the forbidden apple in the garden of Eden, leading to the expulsion from paradise. It is thus a common practice in rural churches across America to parade around with poisonous snakes in hand as a sign of religious conviction. Should a church-goer be bitten during the ceremony, it is because said person lacked faith, and not because snakes generally don’t like to be manhandled by wild-eyed zealots making a bunch of sudden movements while they dance around the room.

Snake handling has been banned in three states (Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky), forcing believers to swagger about with serpents in the confines of their own homes. To most, it is just not the same. Some ministers have also been said to use snakes that are not poisonous at all, but merely garter snakes, which are about as dangerous as your garden hose. For this to be true, however, one would have to first accept the ridiculous notion that the preachers are being dishonest and willing to pull the wool over their collective flocks’ eyes, and that’s just silly.

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You there, reader! Turn on your television immediately! Start flipping through the channels until you see a phone number at the bottom of the screen. Are they selling Hummel figurines? Keep flipping. Don’t stop until you come upon a well-dressed man with a mad gleam in his eyes who is surrounded by hundreds of rapturous followers. Do you see it now? Do you see the light?

Televangelists are an incredibly powerful, and uniquely American phenomenon. To become one, you need only three things: bad hair, great charisma, and a perfect smile. By some odd coincidence, those are also the requirements to become a game show host. Knowledge of religion is not actually required, because you can just pull out your bible and quote from it at random, or speak in tongues for a few minutes if things ever get awkward. You’ll soon have millions of viewers hanging upon your every unintelligible word.

When it comes to economic power, televangelism is right up there with the big corporations. The Trinity Broadcasting Network pulls in an estimated $190 million each year, which they use to spread Christianity to impoverished nations, fund amusement parks that have robotic versions of Adam and Eve standing alongside dinosaurs, and to prevent God from calling Oral Roberts home. All in all, a much better use for one’s life savings than paying off the home mortgage or sending little Suzy to college of her dreams.

It has been noted that the messages spoken by televangelists are often contradictory. The Reverend Gene Scott, for example, regularly interspersed his angry tirades about the moral downfall of America with ten-minute long video footage of himself lounging about his vast estate in a black Speedo while a well-endowed blonde girl in a bikini would roller-skate around him, occasionally stopping to jiggle for the camera. The phone number for the Ministry remained at the bottom of the screen while this occurred, of course, asking for donations.

A sizeable number of televangelists have ended their careers in scandal. Jim Baker was jailed for accounting fraud (which included, among other things, ill-gotten money for air-conditioned dog houses), Jimmy Swaggart was involved in a sordid sex scandal that led to a tearful confession to his TV viewers, and Ted Haggard received numerous “massages” from a male prostitute who sold him methamphetamines. The unifying theme for each of these cases appeared to be, “Do as we say, not as we do.”

No, hold on. Don’t do what they say, either.

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There is a small group of people who, when confronted with the constant excesses of modern society, combined with insurmountable problems in the workplace or home, decide to sell all of their possessions, shave their heads, and join a doomsday cult. These apocalyptic groups believe that the end of the world is nigh (it’s possible), and that they possess the sole means towards salvation (not quite as likely). There’s also usually a forbidden barn in there somewhere and a widely held perception that “The Leader” needs to have as many wives as possible.

One of the more dangerous aspects of a doomsday cult is their willingness to kill themselves, or others, in the name of the group. If the world is about to be invaded by flying saucers from the Horsehoe Nebula, then there really isn’t much reason to hold oneself back (especially if the aliens are able to reconstitute their bodies.) You thus end up with situations like Heaven’s Gate, who were convinced that mass suicide would allow them to hitch a ride with a spaceship carrying Jesus that was hidden behind the tail of the approaching Hale-Bopp comet. Sadly, he chose to take a later flight, so their sacrifice was for naught.

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Something odd happened with the 2001 British census. The English government allowed their citizens to write in religious affiliation, and much to their surprise, over 390,000 people listed “Jedi” as their choice. At first it was assumed to be a joke, and the jury’s still out on that one, but it technically exceeded the number of Jews, Buddhists, and Sikhs living in the country. Not wanting to be left out, an additional 153,000 light saber-wielding zealots soon did the same in Australia, Canada, Scotland, and New Zealand. The geeks had spoken, and they weren’t going to let some damn Nerf Herder tell them what to do anymore.

So… what are their actual spiritual beliefs? According to the assorted websites, that there is an ‘all-powerful force that binds that universe together.’ There is a light side, a dark side, and a really dark side that believes Han shot first. Oh, and that Muppets are good at speaking cryptically and can hop around really fast if the need should arise. It’s unknown if the Church of the Jedi will catch on to the same extent in the United States, but considering the number of people who regularly dress up their dogs as Boba Fett at science fiction conventions, the safe answer would probably be yes.

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