Sunday, February 22, 2015

Doth Trithemius Protest Too Much?

 From the preface to Trithemius' Polygraphia:
All and singular arise from God, with a true conscience, without injury to the Christian faith, with the integrity of the Ecclesiastical tradition, free of any superstition, without idolatry, with no involvement or implication at all of evil spirits; without suffumigation, adoration, veneration, worship, sacrifice or offering to demons, and free from all guilt or sin, both pardonable and mortal.

omnia & singula cum Deo, cum bona conscientia sine iniuria Christianae fidei, cum integritate Ecclesiasticae traditionis, sine superstitione quacunque, sine indololatria, sine omni pacto malignorum spirituum explicito vel implicito; sine suffumigatione, adoratione, veneratione, cultu, sacrificio, oblatione daemonum, & sine omni culpa vel peccato tam veniali quam mortali


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"It is impossible to see all this as a mere coincidence."

In 1486-1487, Pico and Ficino were forced to write Apologiae for their theses on magic, which form the core of (respectively) Pico's Conclusiones and Ficino's De vita coelitus comparanda. In the same years, two Dominican monks, Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Institoris (Kramer) published Malleus maleficarum, a tract directed against adepts of magic who, of course, had few speculative, dialectical, ad political means at their disposal to defend themselves. Just before condemning Pico, Pope Innocent VIII was induced by Kramer to issue his famous bull against witches. This bull, the Summis desiderantes affectibus, was included as a preface to Malleus maleficarum in 1487--the Pope's stamp of approval. Together, the bull and the tract established the criteria for repression for two centuries to come. Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola were undoubtedly very different in culture and influence from the simple countrywomen accused of witchcraft. Nevertheless, these two scholars aimed at establishing a natural theory of magic urgently needed in a period when more and more witches were being burned at the stake. It is impossible to see all this as a mere coincidence. Only then could they return--without incurring too much danger--to their readings and hymns, free to continue their speculation and fumigation in peace.
Excerpt from White Magic, Black Magic and the European Renaissance, by Paola Zambelli (link), pp 21-22.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Nuns making out and other things that will not cause deadly rioting (yet more blasphemous imagery)

Digging up another old post that still seems relevant. This one originally appeared on April 3, 2011. And be sure to check out the list of other blasphemous material at the bottom.
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Christian preacher Terry Jones finally made good on his threat to burn the Koran. And, predictably, this has resulted in a wave of deadly violence in the Muslim world.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. The following images say more than any quantity of words ever could about how different Islam is from other religions, including even it's closest rival for most violent and intolerant religion of all time.

It is worth pointing out that many, probably most, of the following examples of blasphemy were in large part motivated by a desire to grab attention, and also were done with the intention of being offensive, or at least in the full knowledge that they would be offensive.

Ticket to hell (from Marshmallow Ladyboy Jesus):


BRB (lol) (from motifake.com):


Jesus Kanye Christ (from Rolling Stone):


Sing-along Blasphemy from Happy Jihad's House of Pancakes:


Blasphemous Dog (from TheYoungTurks.Com):


Milo Manara draws a nun (from hyacint's soup):


Nuns making out:






Nun with whip:


Nun with pierced tongue:


Look on the bright side of life:


Leather Gas Mask Nun:


Artistic Blasphemy from Too Many Questions:


German soft-drink ad:


Love-Making Jesus:


Christopher Hitchens' book Missionary Position:


Jesus Tap Dancing Christ:


Kathy Griffin sez: "Suck it, Jesus!"


Evie Delatosso, from her x-rated film, Lost Salvation:


Last Temptation of Christ:


Priest (a personal favorite, here is a review at Alternate Sexuality):


Hail Mary:


Dogma:


more blasphemy at
e g r e g o r e s:

Thursday, January 8, 2015

What is wrong with Islam? Five views.

[This was originally posted on September 1, 2010. This is actually the second time I have reposted it. It seems, to me, to be more painfully relevant now .....]

1. Religion = Bad
All religions are both irrational and intolerant, and they all have a natural tendency toward totalitarianism. All religions are, therefore, ultimately incompatible with humanist values, with liberal democracy, and with the ideals of individual liberty and human equality. At most, Islam is simply a worst case scenario, but the negative characteristics of Islam are shared with all religions, if to a lesser extent.
Proponents: Atheists, Agnostics, Secular Humanists [This position was formerly that of most of the Left, but nowadays leftists are among the most loyal apologists for Islam.]

2. "Islam is retarded."
Islam is uniquely irrational and intolerant, and its tendency toward totalitarianism sets it apart from other religions. Christianity, on the other hand, is especially compatible with, and in fact helped to give rise to, humanism, democracy and the ideals of equality and liberty.
Proponents: Geert Wilders, Sarah Palin, etc.

3. The Three Impostors theory
All monotheistic religions have their origins in totalitarian designs. In particular, Moses, Jesus & Mohammad were "grand masters of the art of trickery" whose sole motivation was the desire "to oblige the people to submit to them." The teachings of these "Three Impostors" have been cynically perpetuated down through the ages by "the ambitious" who used religion to accomplish "the propagation and perpetuity of their laws, as well as the culture of such ceremonies and fanaticism as they deemed proper to establish." [Quotes taken from infidels.org.]
Proponents: Variously ascribed to Friederich II, Averroes, Michael Servetus, Machiavelli, Rabelais, Erasmus, Milton, Giordano Bruno, Boccaccio, Gassendi, Spinoza, etc. The overall argument is similar to those found in the Enlightenment critiques of Christianity penned by Voltaire, Hume, Paine and Gibbon, and also to the writings of contemporary Egyptologist and historian of religion Jan Assmann.

4. The Evil Twins theory
As tempting as it is to classify the monotheisms together as above, it seems, at least to me, to be an outrage against common decency to lump the Jews together in this way with those who have expended so much energy to exterminate them. And I think there is also a need to give far greater weight to the practice of intolerance than to merely theorizing about it. We should look first to the historical record, according to which there can be no doubt that Christianity and Islam form their own aberrant subset of violently intolerant religions - religions that leave a bloody trail of smoking destruction everywhere they go. Having established this category on the basis of objective facts, we can then look to the "teachings", such as they are, of these Evil Twins, to better understand their behavior.
Proponents: Yours Truly

5. What is wrong with Islam? Nothing. And you are a vile bigot for even asking.
Islam is the Religion of Peace. It is not a mosque and it is not at Ground Zero. Arbeit macht frei. We will be greeted as liberators. The public was never in danger. It's morning again in America. We are the ones we have been waiting for. The smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud. Universal home ownership. With the Big Mind Process, a genuine kensho can occur in about an hour—seriously. Remember the Maine. We believe the products we make are not injurious to health. We have always been at war with Eastasia. Land Bread Peace.
Proponents: Karen Armstrong, Barack Obama, etc.


See also:
The Essence of Religion: Four Theories
Are there two kinds of religion?
Good Fences Make Good Religions?
Religions of the Library

[The "NEVER take your freedoms for granted" graphic was snagged from craigread.com, a right-wing website that promotes position #2 above.]

Monday, December 29, 2014

"Buddhist Warfare": Is Buddhism A "Religion of Peace"?

This post is now almost five years old, but it is still one of my all-time favorites. Original post-date: Jan. 1, 2010.
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Uh, compared to what?
When Muhammad and his Companions succeeded in their military conquest of what is today Saudi Arabia, they commanded that the practice of all non-Muslim religions would be henceforth forbidden. Polytheistists, Christians, Jews and anyone else who refused to convert had to leave or be killed. This policy has been continuously in place in the land of Islam's foundation ever since, by the express order of the founder of that religion. To this day, by law all citizens of Saudi Arabia must be Muslim. [See, for example, Tolerance and Coercion in Islam by Israeli scholar Yohanan Friedman, especially chapter 3.]

Prior to the Islamization of Arabia it had been a place where Pagan polytheists lived side by side with Jews and Christians. Here, religion was debated freely, and individuals were free to make their own religious choices, and free to change their minds. It was precisely this freedom that gave Muhammad and his Companions the opportunity to spread their new ideas.

Centuries earlier Christians had gained political power in the Roman world in the early 4th century AD with the ascension of Constantine to the throne. Immediately, they sought to impose their religion by force on the entire population of the Roman Empire, which at the time may have comprised as much as 1/4 the human race. Respected historians have described the violent intolerance of the early Christians in the harshest possible terms, such as the following:
[T]he determination of the Christian leadership to extirpate all religious alternatives [was] expressed in the silencing of pagan sources and, beyond that, in the suppression of pagan acts and practices, with increasing harshness and machinery of enforcement.
[Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries]

Persecution was an unavoidable consequence of Constantine's act in adopting Christianity. Two of the chief points in which this faith differed from the Roman State religion were its exclusiveness and the vital importance which it assigned to dogma. The first logically led to intolerance of pagan religions, the second to intolerance of heresies, and these consequences could not be averted when Christianity became the religion of the State.
[J.B. Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire]
Edward Gibbon, in his The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, famously attributed the success of Christianity first and foremost to "the inflexible, and if we may use the expression, the intolerant zeal of the Christians." But Gibbon, and the same is true of Bury and Macmullen as well, emphasized not only the intolerance of the Christians, but the tolerance of the Pagans whose religions the Christians sought to (and largely succeeded in the attempt to) extirpate.

Gibbon explicitly contrasted the "intolerant zeal" ushered in by the triumph of Christianity, with the prevailing "religious harmony of the ancient world" that preceded it. This "harmony" often exceeded mere toleration, in fact, so that "even the most different and even hostile nations embraced, or at least respected" each other's religious traditions. J.B. Bury puts it like this: "The purpose of the official cults in the pagan State was to secure the protection of the deities; these were liberal and tolerant lords who raised no objection to other forms of worship; and toleration was therefore a principle of the State."

Ramsay MacMullen, in his Paganism in the Roman Empire speaks of the "accommodation, fraternal welcome, courteous referral, or punctilious deference" that was shown by Pagans to each other (that is, to Pagans of widely different cultures and nations, often worshipping very different Gods in very different ways). MacMullen points out that this terrestrial good behavior was a reflection of what ancient Pagans assumed was a similar harmony in the Heavens: "until Christianity introduced its own ideas. Only then, from Constantine on, were Gods to be found at war with other Gods." [p. 93]

Michael Jerryson: From Clueless Dupe to Self-Righteous Debunker
I apologize for the above brief history lesson. The problem is that many highly educated people are either completely unaware of the historical record when it comes to the violent intolerance of Christianity and Islam, or they feign such ignorance when they find it convenient to do so. A case in point is Michael Jerryson, co-editor of a recent scholarly anthology on Buddhist Warfare.

Until quite recently (2006 or thereabouts) Jerryson apparently had been suffering under the delusion that Buddhism is an otherworldly religion whose hundreds of millions of adherents were all committed pacifists. The surprising thing (not really, though, if you have ever met many western "Buddhist scholars") was that Jerryson had acquired this ridiculous conception of Buddhism while supposedly "studying" the religion as a graduate student!

Jerryson's eyes were opened, though, in 2006 when he traveled to a region of Thailand where a series of deadly attacks against Buddhists by Muslim terrorists had recently taken place. Jerryson had been excited when he heard of these attacks because he was sure that this would provide a wonderful demonstration of the miraculous powers of Buddhist "peacemaking" against those nasty Jihadis. However, when Jerryson arrived on the scene he was mortified to find Buddhists actually -- horrors -- defending themselves!!

As soon as he recovered from the deep swoon that must have resulted from the initial, terrible shock, Jerryson immediately knew what had to be done. The world had to be told the truth: Buddhim has a dark side!! Jerryson simply could not stand the thought that there might be others who did not know the terrible, hidden secret that he had just discovered first hand: that Buddhism is not a pacifist religion after all.

Jerryson himself tells this story, with a straight face, in a literally self-promoting entry by him at the religiondispatches.org website (dated January 12, 2010), pushing his book. The article breathlessly claims that whereas previously "some of the great interpreters" of Buddhism have engaged in an outrageous fraud by promulgating "the notion of a purely mystical and otherworldly Buddhism", Jerryson will now reveal the sordid "history of Buddhist violence and warfare." He does this, naturally, not to bury Buddhism, but to "humanize" it.

Jerryson claims that he was the unsuspecting victim of "a very successful form of propaganda" being propagated by Walpola Rahula, the Dalai Lama and D.T. Suzuki. I will get back to those three great Buddhist teachers in a moment, but first I want to point out that Jerryson's stupidity and lack of intellectual curiosity are obviously no one's fault other than his own. Even worse, all he has done is trade in one fairy tail, that Buddhism is a purely pacifist religion, for another one: that Buddhism is just as violent and intolerant as Christianity and Islam.

Jerryson claims that there was a "Buddhist propaganda" campaign throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, to convince people of the terrible lie that Buddhism is a "religion of peace". The star witnesses that Jerryson calls are all certainly well-credentialed. But have they ever said what Jerryson claims they have said?

Walpola Rahula (1907-1997) wrote the following in his most famous book What the Buddha Taught:
This spirit of tolerance and understanding has been from the beginning one of the most cherished ideals of Buddhist culture and civilization. That is why there is not a single example of persecution or the shedding of a drop of blood in converting people to Buddhism, or in its propagation during its long history of 2500 years. It spread peacefully all over the continent of Asia, having more than 500 million adherents today. Violence in any form, under any pretext whatsoever, is absolutely against the teachings of the Buddha.
[What the Buddha Taught, p. 5]
The above quote might at first appear to lend some credence to Jerryson's claim, but that would only be true if critical reading skills are no longer being taught (or, better yet, required for admission) in graduate schools, or at least at UC Santa Barbara. The first and last sentences in the above paragraph are statements of opinion, whereas the middle two sentences are statements of historical fact.

Moreover, the first three sentences in that paragraph are all very specifically concerned with "tolerance", "understanding", "persecution" and most specifically with the lack of any reliance on violence in the spread of Buddhism throughout Asia. The last sentence, by contrast, makes a sweeping statement about Buddhism's view of all violence whatsoever. It is certainly a leap to go from (1) the claim that Buddhists preach and practice tolerance and understanding and do not engage in violence in the name of religion, to (2) the claim that "Violence in any form, under any pretext whatsoever, is absolutely against the teachings of the Buddha."

Any critical reader will note that the examples given by Rahula in the first three sentences do not prove the sweeping claim of the final sentence. It should also be apparent that even if the final sweeping claim were proven false, that would not amount to disproof of the far more limited claims of the first three sentences.

In fact, taken by itself, this one paragraph is not sufficient to tell us what Rahula's position on "violence" is. There are other places where he reiterates his conflation of Buddhism with pacifism, as when he states that "It is too well known to be repeated here that Buddhism advocates and preaches non-violence and peace as its universal message, and does not approve of any kind of violence or destruction of life. According to Buddhism there is nothing that can be called a 'just war'."

But Rahula also makes frequent, and always approving, mention of "the great Buddhist Emperor Asoka of India" who set a "noble example of tolerance and understanding." In fact that is taken from just a half page or so prior to the four sentence paragraph quoted above. Rahula explicitly states than an absolute commitment to "non-violence, peace and love" did not interfere with Asoka's ability to "administer ... a vast empire in both internal and external affairs."

There is no evidence, nor has anyone, including Rahula, ever claimed, that Asoka disbanded his armies altogether, or in any other way renounced the basic right of national self-defense. Rather, Asoka renounced conquest, which is a very different thing!

Over 12 years ago Matthew Kosuta produced a thorough study of "The Military in the Pali Canon", in which he documented that while there is a "pacifist ethic" in Theravada Buddhism (of which Walpola Rahula is a modern representative), this "ethic" has always "coexisted" with "a strong military tradition ... side by side with the Buddhist ideal."

Kosuta's conclusion is that the Pali Canon (which is as close as one can get to the "original" teachings of the historical Buddha) "recognizes that, in a mundane perspective, the military is ever present, of high prestige, and even necessary in some circumstances for the protection of Buddhism." Kosuta tries to have it both ways by also claiming that "ultimately ... the military is not conducive to Buddhist ethics." But the facts Kosuta presents speak clearly: there was nothing new, or in any way "propagandistic", about Walpola Rahula's statements concerning non-violence. Whatever contraditions there might be in Rahula's position on violence have always been intrinsic to Buddhism's relationship to the "real world"!

What of the Dalai Lama? The message of non-violence that he has promoted is different from that of Walpola Rahula in two important ways: (1) His Holiness does explicitly renounce Tibet's right to military self-defense, and (2) this aspect of the Dalai Lama's message of non-violence is at variance with historical precedent in Tibetan Buddhism. But, nevertheless, the Dalai Lama's statements on non-violence do not support Jerryson's bizarre claim of propagandistic deception.

The Dalai Lama has not sought to mislead people about the historical position of Tibetan Buddhism with respect to self-defense. In fact, much of the Dalai Lama's argument concerning non-violence has always been directed precisely at his fellow Tibetans, many of whom believe that Tibet should fight against the Chinese just as Tibetans have always fought against foreign threats in the past. One of the most prominent critics of the Dalai Lama's pacifism was his own older brother, Taktser Rinpoche, who participated in military resistance to the Chinese occupation of Tibet in the 1950's and 60's.

Anyone with any real interest in Tibetan Buddhism will quickly learn that Tibet, which has been a Buddhist country for over a thousand years, has never been a pacifist nation. Tibet is far more accurately described as a warrior nation, and this did not change all that much when it became a Buddhist nation. That is not necessarily something that Tibetan Buddhists brag about, but it is the historical reality. But rather than bothering to study the history of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism, it appears that the sum total of Jerryson's knowledge of the subject is simply what he has gleaned from the "santaclausified" version of the Dalai Lama in the mainstream media, which merely demonstrates Jerryson's own incuriousness.

Finally, the Dalai Lama himself has at times conceded that even his pacifism is not absolute. In particular, on the question of terrorism His Holiness has on multiple occasions since the September 11, 2001 terrorists attacks, indicated that a purely non-violent approach is not sufficient to respond to and protect against terrorism.

So once again there is no basis for Jerryson's claim to have been duped by the Dalai Lama, any more than he was tricked by Walpola Rahula. But what about D.T. Suzuki (1870-1966)? This is surely the weakest of Jerryson's "witnesses". Anyone at all familiar with Suzuki's writings knows that he was an ardent admirer and proponent of "Samurai" style Zen, of the Rinzai school variety. Only a moron could possibly make the claim the D.T. Suzuki engaged in "Buddhist propaganda" to convince the world that Buddhism is pacifistic. In fact, only an abject fool could for a moment believe that modern Japanese Zen is in any way pacifistic.

Of course there were a great many abject fools studying Japanese Zen during the 60' and 70's. Many of them are today among the most well known Zen teachers in the West. It is one of the great mysteries of the 20th century how it came to be that apparently none of these Zen students ever bothered to ask, "What did you do during the war, Roshi?" But whether or not they did ask such questions, and regardless of the answers given if they did, it was an open secret that if there had been any Japanese Zen Masters who openly opposed their government during the period of Empire and War they did not live long, certainly not long enough to travel to California after the war.

Here is what D.T. Suzuki wrote under the heading "Zen and the Samurai", which is the title of Chapter IV of his Zen and Japanese Culture:
It may be considered strange that Zen has in any way been affiliated with the spirit of the military classes of Japan. Whatever form Buddhism takes in the various countries where it flourishes, it is a religion of compassion, and in its varied history it has never been found engaged in warlike activities. How is it, then, that Zen has come to activate the fighting spirit of the Japanese warrior?

In Japan, Zen was intimately related from the beginning to the life of the samurai. Although it has never actively incited them to carry on their violent profession, it has passively sustained them when they have for whatever reason once entered onto it. Zen has sustained them in two ways, morally and philosophically. Morally, because Zen is a religion which teaches us not to look backward once the course is decided upon; philosophically, because it treats life and death indifferently. This not turning backward ultimately comes from teh philosophical conviction; but, being a religion of the will, Zen appeals to the samurai spirit morally rather than philosophically. From the philosophical point of view, Zen upholds intuition against intellection, for intuition is the more direct way of reaching the Truth. Therefore, morally and philosophically, there is in Zen a great deal of attraction for the military classes.
Much more could be said. But this is already much more than enough time and effort wasted on such foolishness.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

"What is wrong in some societies where new religions are relatively absent?"

Time for another blast from the past. This is a repost from earlier this year (Feb. 3, 2014). The most basic underlying assumptions behind the academic study of so-called "new religions" are highly questionable. For example, most so-called "new religions" in Japan, where the field originated, turn out to be not "new" at all, but simply syncretic repackagings of Buddhism, Taoism, Shinto, etc. And it also turns out that the oldest "new" religions in Japan are now about 200 years old - much older than many prominent modern Christian sects. More importantly, however, is the original assumption that the appearance of "new" religions is some kind of signal of societal breakdown. In fact, as J. Gordon Melton discusses below, in any truly free society, religious experimentation is to be expected -- and wherever the continuous appearance and thriving of "new" religions is not found, then this can be interpreted as a sign that the society in question is lacking in the religious freedom department. 
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One of the leading scholars in the field of so-called "new religions studies", J. Gordon Melton,  published a truly remarkable paper back in 2007. In his New New Religions: Revisiting a Concept, Melton first gives a very helpful overview of the whole field of "new religions studies", starting from the study of shin-shûkyô in post-war Japan, up through the latest developments in the post-New-Age "Next Age" movements in America and Europe, and the "new new religions" (shin-shin-shûkyô) phenomenon in Japan.

Having laid this groundwork, Melton then goes on to discuss how, in his view, the field of "new religions studies" is now "being challenged at its very core". The challenge is two-fold. On the one hand there is the practical issue of "new religions" scholars justifying their continued existence in the face of many and varied territorial threats to the field. Among these threats are the active, and often very effective, resistance of major Christian and Jewish groups to the denotation of any of their coreligionists as followers of a "new" religion. Another threat comes from rival sub-specialties devoted to the study of Esotericism, Buddhism and Hinduism. A closely related threat is the dying down of the moral panic of the 80s and 90s over "dangerous cults", that, while it lasted, helped to give the impression that the study of "new religions" was serving some broader purpose in helping to alert and arm society against potentially dangerous religious elements (while simultaneously, although to a lesser extent, allowing some scholars to pose as high-minded protectors of "new religions" from slanders and misrepresentations).

But the second threat to "new religions studies" is far more worrisome, or at least should be to anyone involved in the field. For, as Melton states rather plainly, the whole theoretical basis for the study of "new religions" is highly questionable, and that might be putting it too diplomatically. As Melton explains, the field of "new religions studies" started out guided by the assumption that the appearance of "new religions" was somehow inherently problematic. That is to say, "new religions" scholars were posing the question: "What was wrong that people were turning to new religions?" This question was based on the assumption that "new" religions do not tend to occur in societies that are stable and secure, and/or that individuals who are well-adjusted do not get involved with such things as "new religions".

One major problem with the whole "new religions" paradigm and its underlying assumptions is that what scholars had labeled as "new religions" turned out to be, on closer inspection, simply repackagings of religious ideas and practices that are not "new" at all. By the 1990s this had become painfully obvious to those who were studying the phenomenon of "new religions" in Japan, which is where it all started. Another problem was that, as the 20th century was drawing to close, the original "new" religions of Japan were far less "new" than they had been at first. Moreover, a whole new crop of "new" religions was appearing under very different circumstances, and scholars felt compelled to dub these "new new religions". On top of this, it was now recognized that there had been at least two other phases of "new religions" prior to the end of World War II, so that a total of four distinct phases of "new religions" were now recognized in Japan, with the oldest of these "new" religions being over two centuries old!

By 2007 Melton had come to realize that the emergence of "new" religions must be seen as a normal, continual process in human societies. "New" religions appear in good economic times, and bad economic times; during times of war, and times of peace; during times of social upheaval, and during times of relative social stability. For example, Melton points out that more "new" religions came into existence in the U.S. during the 1950s than during the 60s and 70s!

Meton's conclusion demonstrates that true scholarship requires not just intellectual curiosity, but intellectual courage as well. For he concludes that instead of asking what is wrong with the societies in which "new" religions arise, and/or with the individuals who take part in them, scholars must turn the question on its head and ask: "What is wrong in some societies where new religions are relatively absent?" And Melton goes even further and asserts that "The production of new religions is a normal, ongoing process in a free society."

Here is how Melton himself puts it in his words in the conclusion of his paper:

Let me suggest one insight that comes from my reconsideration of the idea of new new religions. In the 1990s Japanese scholars divided their history into several periods, a format quite understandable in light of the dramatic change in 1945: the Meiji Era (1868–1912); the post-World War I period to 1945; the post-World War II period to 1970; and the time of the new new religions. In examining each of these periods,it can be seen that new religions were produced. If we break down these eras into decades or even shorter periods, we find that new religions were forming in each and every period. In good times and bad, socially turbulent times and relatively calm times, new religions were founded and experienced ups and downs.

Simultaneously, the same occurred in the West. We can document the steady rise of new religions country by country, and how in each country the founding of new religions is directly related to a relatively limited set of factors: the level of religious freedom (which has varied immensely across Europe); the size of the country’s population; and the percentage of the population that is urbanized (that is, the existence of centers of high-density populations). It is of more than passing interest that relative to the population, in the United States more new religions were founded in the 1950s than the 1960s or 1970s. It should concern us that attempts to project the increase of new millennial movements in the 1990s fizzled, and that actually there were far more millennial expectations alive in the 1970s than at the end of the millennium.

Thus we come to a significant hypothesis: The production of new religions is a normal, ongoing process in a free society. It may be that the type of new religions may change from era to era, but the production is fairly steady relative to population and urbanization. The emergence of new religions seems to be one sign of a healthy and free society, and we can now see everywhere that the slowing of the process of the formation of new religions occurs only where the suppressive powers of the state are called to bear. This view of new religions represents a significant change from how we viewed them just a generation ago. In the West, we began the enterprise of studying new religions by trying to explain their emergence: What was wrong that people were turning to new religions? Now we ask the opposite: What is wrong in some societies where new religions are relatively absent? In every such case, we find that the state imposes severe penalties on anyone who chooses to join a new religion.

The situation of state repression actually supplies us with an amazing amount of material concerning how people who found and join a new religion discover the various strategies, apart from adopting a wholly clandestine existence, to get around the law. For example, one sees a group of new religions, especially Esoteric groups, defining themselves as “not religion.” Other groups will develop variations on accepted religious practices and limit meetings to the facilities of an older religion—a strategy alive and well in many Muslim countries. Additionally, one sees new religions emerging as special interest, social betterment, or community service organizations—a widespread phenomenon in the People’s Republic of China where there are only five officially recognized religions.

In the end, a reconsideration of the concept of “new new religions” again informs us of the reason it fell by the wayside as an operative concept. Whichever group of religions are labeled the new new religions are already in the process of becoming the older new religions and being replaced by still newer new religions. That is simply the process within a dynamic social setting. This insight now sets a new agenda for us.

We understand that when people are in a free social context, some will form and join new religions. But why will those few particular people form a new religion, and why will others choose to join it? What kind of categories are best for understanding the process: social, psychological, para-psychological, economic, historical ...divine? Once formed, what will happen to the new religion? Will it survive to a second generation? Is knowledge of those religions that died out important? Will the new religion join the religious establishment or remain in the fringe? Will it remain local or become international?

There is still a large untouched program for research for new religions studies, and it may just be that new new religions will be our best asset in moving it forward.

Links:

TABLE: Japanese "New Religions" founded since 1925 with membership (as of 1990) of 500,000 or more, according to Shimazono, Susumu (2004): From Salvation to Spirituality: Popular Religious Movements in Modern Japan. Trans Pacific Press. pp. 234-235. For context, the total population of Japan in 1990 was estimated at about 123 million.


NAME FOUNDED MEMBERSHIP (1990) FOUNDER(S)
Sōka Gakkai 1930 17,736,757  Makiguchi Tsunesaburō (1871-1944) and Toda Jōsei (1900-1956)
Risshō Kōsei-kai 1938 6,348,120  Naganuma Myōkō (1889-1957) Niwano Nikkyō (1906-1999)
Bussho Gonenkai Kyōdan 1950 2,196,813  Sekiguchi Kaichi (1897-1961) Sekiguchi Tomino (1905-1990)
Perfect Liberty Kyōdan 1946 1,259,064  Miki Tokuharu (1871-1938) Miki Tokuchika (1900-1983)
Myōchikai Kyōdan 1950 962,611  Miyamoto Mitsu (1900-1984) 
Honbushin 1961 900,000  Ōnishi Tama (1916-1969) 
Sekai Kyūsei-kyō 1935 835,756  Okada Mokichi (1882-1955)
Seichō-no-Ie 1930 838,496  Taniguchi Masaharu (1893-1985) 
Ōyama Nezunomikoto Shinji Kyōkai 1948 826,022  Inaii Sadao (1906-1988) 
Nenpō-shinkyō 1925 807,486  Ogura Reigen (1886-1982) 
Reiha-no-Hikari Kyōkai 1954 761,175  Hase Yoshio (1915-1984)
Shin'nyoen 1936 679,414  Itō Shinjō (1906-1956)
Zenrin-kyō 1947 513,321  Rikihisa Tatsusai (1906-1977)
Sūkyō Mahikari 1978 501,328  ---
Byakkō Shinkō-kai 1951 500,000  Goi Masahisa (1916-1980)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Where the West Went Wrong: Five Flavors of Anti-Modernism


  • Enlightened Traditionalism: blame Christianity

  • Reactionary Traditionalism: blame the Enlightenment

  • Namy-Pamby Perennialism: others will be blamed

  • Nietzsche: blame Zoroaster

  • Kingsley: blame Plato