There aren’t any hard and fast rules for what makes a movement a religion. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, a religion need be no more than “a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.” Here are five cases that prove the term religion is an umbrella for so much more than the churches, mosques, and pious practitioners typically identified with it.
Photo: Josh Boot on Unsplash
Forget your dinner spaghetti. This is the sacred (and flying) Spaghetti Monster you worship. The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster ostensibly began in 2005 when Bobby Henderson, a physics graduate from Oregon State University, wrote a letter to the Kansas School Board protesting that the teachings of his Pastafarian religion should be taught in schools alongside intelligent design and evolutionary theory. It’s a boldly deviant movement that aspires to be a mainstream religion by the year 3000, with noodle-worshipping pirates as its mascots.
Some think the religion is satire. Pastafarians protest that they are a serious religion despite their satirical tendencies. Reading their literature, it is hard sometimes to tell whether they are in true deranged earnest or merely executing a triumphant farce. Read their website to decide for yourself.
Use the Force.
There’s no doubt that the Star Wars films inspired generations of fans. But, since 400,000 U.K. citizens listed it as their religion in 2001, it appears this enthusiasm has transcended to a new level. Jedi Church members believe that “the Force” and morality are the same and innate to all humans throughout the universe. Jedi are careful to distinguish their life philosophies from the fictional Star Wars universe. They claim its members are people who live according to the principles of Jediism, which, they clarify, inspired the Star Wars franchise.
While the origins for this practice are not clear, most members choose to wear hoods in public, a practice that has caused several Jedi to be expelled from public places. If you visit Texas, you can visit the Temple of the Jedi Order and maybe even attend a Jedi wedding.
You’ve been Carlin-ed.
Although George Carlin was raised Catholic, he was by no means devout. In fact, he was an outspoken and controversial, although scintillating, critic of religion. Ironically, it was his irreverent analysis of death that unwittingly catalyzed a religious movement. As the legend goes, Carlin said that “when a person dies, his soul rises and is thrown like a frisbee onto a roof, where it becomes attached and remains.”
This metaphor is the heart of Frisbeetarianism, a religion that bases itself on a comedic routine and a parody of Christian death beliefs. To Frisbeetarians, George Carlin is the Grand Disc elect. Unlike Pastafarians, however, it appears Frisbeetarians are unapologetically satirical, with no more Internet presence than a Facebook page and plenty of clickbait.
All for Mother Earth.
It seems a prudent message to conserve our environment and resources, until the solution becomes to kill ourselves. While it might be hard to image a religion that encourages its followers to champion death and abortion, Chris Korda’s Church of Euthanasia succeeds at just that.
Boasting to be the world’s only anti-human religion, the Church’s only commandment is “Thou shalt not procreate.” Suicide, abortion, cannibalism, and sodomy are honored as the Four Pillars of their religion. They believe the world’s population is unsustainable and must be reduced to save the earth. As recently as 2003, visitors to their website could find instructions for committing suicide with helium. (These instructions were removed after a woman committed suicide using them). With slogans like “Eat a Queer Fetus for Jesus,” the Church of Euthanasia remains a deeply controversial organization since its founding in 1992. It’s no oversight that there’s no link to their website in this post: it’s a disturbing place to visit. Explore at your own risk or be wise and preserve your blissful innocence.
Welcome to Hell’s Neighbor.
The hodgepodge of Taoism, Buddhism, and Christianity, Cao Dai was founded in 1926 by a Vietnamese spiritualist. The religion is named after its supreme god, whose left eye is also its official symbol. With a hierarchy and political clout that rivaled the Western Catholic Church, Cao Dai grew into a powerful force throughout Vietnam, controlling large swathes of land and even forming an army. Although their army was disbanded for opposing Vietnam’s ruler, Cao Dai remains influential with almost eight million supporters in Vietnam alone and at least 30,000 throughout Australia, the United States, and Europe.
Purity is central to Caodaists’ beliefs, and, in honor of this virtue, they wear all white robes. Only men, once they have reached a certain level of enlightenment, are permitted to wear colors. At services, a choir of virgins chants the Bible in an almost incomprehensible accent. But perhaps most bizarre of all their peculiarities, is their belief that, of the 72 planets, the first planet is closest to Heaven while the last planet is nearest to Hell. With Earth being the 68th planet, that would position us a neighborly distance of four planets from Hell.
Lesson to Our Readers.
And the moral to this exposé is: never underestimate the depths that may be lurking behind a word as ingenuous as religion. From pasta-crazed pirates and unholy frisbee lovers to misanthropic earth-worshippers and the grim devotees who believe earth just a hair from hell, these five religions prove that anything goes--and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Olivia Amici is a hustler who has been writing short stories for fun since high school and editing scientific papers since moving to Concepcion, Chile, for a gap year. Before then, she paid her way through community college while working as an event coordinator and a dental assistant. Once she returns to the States, she is excited to complete her degree in biology at University of Florida. In ten years, she would like to be working as a medical research editor and own an African Gray Parrot and a house in San Diego.