When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

15 July 2009

A few are pure of heart; most are grabby of wallet

Killing the Buddha ("...a religion magazine for people made anxious by churches") is just wonderful.

Here's an excerpt from an article entitled "Jesus Is Just Alright" that captures the flavor of it:
A few of California’s holy men (and, occasionally, women) have been pure of heart, but most have been grabby of wallet: Werner Erhard of EST, Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, Hollywood “spiritual teacher” John Roger, “Crystal Cathedral” televangelist Robert Schuller. Some have been hairy-eyed nutters, such as Jim Jones of the People’s Temple or Marshall Applewhite of the Heaven’s Gate cult; others have been lovably loopy, such as the late Ruth Norman, founder of the El Cajon–based Unarius Academy of Science.

Dearly beloved of TV reporters the world over, Norman spoke in a fruity warble and wore jaw-dropping costumes that suggested the Good Witch Glinda on Moonbase Alpha. Norman’s “Cosmic Generator” getup was typical: a voluminous skirt festooned with comets and brightly colored planets, a blouse dominated by a massive “sun collar” with glittering extensions (solar flares?), a peaked cap bedecked with tiny lights. Somewhere, Liberace is shrieking with envy. In her devotees’ eyes, however, Norman was the Archangel Uriel. To her, and her alone, was vouchsafed the mind-shattering revelation that Space Brothers from the Interplanetary Confederation will touch down in El Cajon in 2001, heralding a Renaissance of Spirit that—hey, wait a minute!


Easy for me to roll my cynical, godless eyes now, of course. But long, long ago, in a universe far, far away, when the zeitgeist came in harvest gold, burnt orange, and avocado green, I was a teenage fundie. A fundamentalist. One of the Jesus People. A Jesus Freak. A cross-wearing, Bible-believing, born-again Christian.

It was 1973, and I wasn’t the only American teenager with heaven on my mind, as Judas sang, in Jesus Christ Superstar. As the religious scholar Stephen Prothero recounts in American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon, the late sixties witnessed the emergence of a countercultural Christianity. “The Beatles sparked a guru vogue when they went as pilgrims to India in 1968,” Prothero notes, but for every seeker who embraced Zen or the Buddha, scores more “tuned in to the Bible and took Jesus as their guru. . . . These Jesus fans were the praying wing of the Woodstock nation.”

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