Carole Cusack: Invented Religions

Long-term readers (or perhaps “reader” would be more accurate) will remember me hinting at a SECRET PROJECT over the last few months. Well, that project is secret no more – On the website, we’re publishing a weekly interview with leading scholars on cutting-edge research, important themes and paradigmatic methodologies in the contemporary social-scientific study of religion. They’re designed to get the interesting points across without being dry, long-winded or riddled with jargon. We’re hoping it will build over time into a great resource for undergraduate students and interested members of the public. We are also publishing other features and resources of use to young religious studies scholars like myself (ahem).

I suspect that readers of this blog will be particularly interested in hearing Carole Cusack  (Associate Professor in Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney) discussing “Invented Religions”. What is an “Invented Religion”? Why should scholars take these religions seriously? What makes these “inventions” different from the revelations in other religions? Discussion flows through Discordianism, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Scientology, Jediism and the New Atheism – and demonstrates how the works of authors such as Robert A. Heinlein can be transformed by others and take on a life of their own. In her own words, “This is a fiction so good it should be true…” Listen here to stream it, or you can find it on itunes here. If you enjoy it, please subscribe and tell your friends.

Also of interest is this response to Foster Gamble’s Thrive movie, which I blogged about recently, by sceptical blogger Muertos. Although his debunking agenda is obviously different to my approach, he comes to some interesting conclusions which we are very much in agreement with, regarding the meaning of this blend of New Age spirituality and NWO conspiracy theories. A short extract follows, but I recommend you read the whole thing:

Once you start to consider Thrive from this angle, everything falls into place. It suddenly makes sense why Thrive carefully strokes the various tropes of New Age belief systems: UFOs, ancient astronauts, alt-med miracle cures, benevolent aliens and magical free energy machines. It also makes sense why, once the movie has proclaimed its sympathy with these themes, it turns on a fire hose of conspiracy craziness, theory after theory thrown willy-nilly at the audience in an attempt to make one or more of them stick. The movie’s point, therefore, is this: “The reason that our New Age beliefs haven’t transformed the world is because the evil conspirators are thwarting us.”

This also explains why Thrive’s supporters aren’t generally swayed by factual arguments or applications of logic and critical thinking. The point is not to establish literal, verifiable truth (though the film seems, on the surface, to want to do this as well). The point is to validate an essentially spiritual belief system. At its core, then, seen from this angle, Thrive is basically a religious text. A Thrive supporter is no more likely to abandon his support for the film, when presented evidence that crop circles are terrestrial in origin or the Global Domination Agenda does not exist, than a Mormon is to leave the Church of Latter-Day Saints when told that there is no archaeological evidence that the Nephites and Lamanites actually existed.