TO START YOUR OWN RELIGION
article shows the extreme to which mankind is going. This couple have made themsleves
their own god from scratch, and the world will love it I gather. What I want you
to see is the way fallen men make themselves into gods, as Satan suggested in
the Gardent of Eden.
Mormon Mitt Romney believes he is a god in the making.
Shaped Unique Religions at Home
the years, Ed and Joanne Liverani have found many reasons to summon God. But now,
at middle age, they've boiled it down to one essential: "Not to get clobbered
of Catholic school never taught either of them how to "cope;" indeed, they said,
it only made them more neurotic. By now, "there isn't a church in all of America
I want to go to," said Joanne, setting out dinner plates in her Burke living room.
sometime in the last 10 years the Liveranis began to build their own church, salvaging
bits of their old religion they liked and chucking the rest. The first to go were
an angry, vengeful God and Hell , "That's just something they say to scare you,"
Ed said. They kept Jesus, "because Jesus is big on love."
the local bookstore, in a bulging section called "Private Spirituality," they
found wisdom in places they had never before searched, or even heard of: In Zen
masters, in New Age chestnuts such as "A Course in Miracles," in their latest
find, a bestseller called "Conversations With God."
they commune with a new God, a gentle twin of the one they grew up with. He is
wise but soft-spoken, cheers them up when they're sad, laughs at their quirks.
He is, most essentially, validating, like the greatest of friends.
best of all, He had been there all along. "We discovered the God within," said
Joanne. "That's why we need God. Because we are God. God gives me the ability
to create my own godliness."
worried the '60s might kill off God. Instead, the era seems to have uncorked a
free-floating ether of spirituality. Americans have responded to the question
on Time magazine's 1966 cover: "Is God Dead?" More than 30 years later, a steady
95 percent of Americans say they believe in God, more than in any other Western
country. And they believe with urgency; about half of all Americans think the
nation is in the midst of a religious revival.
in the last decade or so, even as that revival spreads, many have stopped believing
so strongly in church. Seven in 10 Americans say they can be religious without
going to one, and every year fewer and fewer do. Since 1992 alone, church attendance
is down 12 percent, according to the Barna group, which tracks religious trends.
the new millennium, there will be a growing gap between personal spirituality
and religious institutions," write Richard Cimino and Don Lattin in their new
book, "Shopping for Faith," which is filled with portraits of such home-brewed
religions. "Spirituality and religious faith are increasingly viewed as individual
private matters with few ties to congregation and community."
her most confident days, Joanne feels closest to God when she looks in the mirror
and sees godliness right there. On days when she can't see it and she's feeling
slumped, she needs God's help to understand "why I should even get out of bed."
worry is beneath His concern, no detail too small. Take that awful table in her
dining room, for example. That misbegotten, hulking pile of splinters came months
late and was delivered in the wrong size, and the manufacturer could not have
been less helpful and then the idiots went out of business.
ago, the haggling would have had both Joanne and Ed slamming the phone on the
counter. Now they see the hassle as God's gift, "exactly the way things are supposed
to be," a chance to let their own godliness shine.
voice on the end of the 800 line is really a "friendly soul," explained Joanne.
The more obnoxious life gets, the deeper Ed and Joanne reach into reservoirs of
"pure love." As a sign of her gratitude, Joanne got the address of the voice from
the furniture company, in this case a young woman, and mailed her a gift: a copy
of "Conversations With God."
terminology, "friendly soul," "pure love", sounds like flotsam from the '70s,
a last whiff of New Age vapor. But Ed and Joanne are no aging hippies. He works
for the Army, she's a court reporter. They're both clean-cut parents raising a
teenage son in a suburban house that smells more like Windex than patchouli.
'70s were all about freedom and sex and drugs, but this feels different to me,"
said Ed Liverani. "We're older now, we've moved into a different stage. And with
age you feel these things deeper, more weighty."
call the phenomenon "private spirituality." Beyond that, they don't distinguish.
New Age, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, they're all on the same bookstore shelf.
The national midlife crisis has reaped the industry so many profits and has come
to dominate book sales so thoroughly that publishers have dubbed the last 10 years
"the decade of the soul," as in the "Chicken Soup" series, "A Sixth Bowl of Chicken
Soup for the Soul," "Chicken Soup for the Golfer's Soul."
an eclectic approach," said Lynn Garrett, who tracks religious books for Publishers
Weekly. "People borrow ideas from different traditions, then add them to whatever
religion they're used to. But they don't want anything to do with organized religion."
survive, obviously. But the ones that thrive do so by trying to tune into this
rootless questing and harness it, as advertisers tried to co-opt the '60s counterculture.
In a recent survey, according to Barna, six out of 10 pastors described their
churches as "seeker-sensitive," meaning that they are open to those who are still
just looking and are not yet entrenched in any belief.
many churches, surviving means adopting some of the drifters' lingo. These days,
the strictest evangelical church overflows with 12-step classes. Hidebound institutions
bubble with self-help. Even religions imported by waves of immigrants eventually
succumb to the therapeutic fever.
a school for Catholic priests in Omaha, seminarians learn to "discover the feminine"
as they meditate to cassettes of "Blowin' in the Wind." At a synagogue in Washington,
an Orthodox Jewish woman wonders why Isaac never "communicated" with his dad.
At a mosque outside Chicago, Muslim students practice Native American meditation
techniques to help them commune with Allah.
Journey to godhead
spiritual quest is the latest leg of the transcendental American journey. If any
one thing defines the chaos of this country's religious life over the last 200
years, it's Americans' unique demand for "direct, personal access to God," wrote
the late historian Richard Hofstadter, an attitude summarized by Thomas Jefferson's
statement, "I am a sect myself."
first such audacious demand predates the country's birth. When Massachusetts Bay
Colony was barely 10 years old, obstreperous Anne Hutchison announced that God
had spoken to her, without the intervention of clerics.
was run out of the colony, but the seed of rebellion was planted. ("I had rather
hear such a one that speekes from the meere notion of spirit, without any study
at all, than any of your learned Scollers," wrote one of her many livid followers).
Since then, a nation of Hutchisons has blossomed.
the 19th century, during a period known as the Second Great Awakening, America's
religious rebellion began in earnest. Parishioners published biting doggerel aimed
at their own clerics and even overthrew some of their religious leaders. Charismatic
itinerant preachers sprouted across the East Coast and made their way west. Some
rebels won a solid following, growing into what later became well-established
churches: the Methodists, the Mormons.
latest wave of rebellion has taken its own unique shape. In the past, splinter
groups called themselves Protestant, but that dominance has dimmed in the past
30 years. Old denominations are fading, overrun by churches that call themselves
nondenominational or adopt names like "Vineyard."
profusion of new religions has rendered the countryside unrecognizable. You cannot
drive into any large city or suburb anywhere without stumbling upon glorious Hindu
temples or Sunni mosques. Last year, the first suburban schools began granting
days off for Ramadan along with Christmas, in deference to the 4 million Muslims
in the United States now, five times as many as lived here in 1970. (Hindus have
grown from 100,000 to 950,000 in that same period, and Sikhs from 1,000 to 220,000.)
too, is the peculiar temperament of this latest rebellion. In fits and starts
since the 19th century, Americans have spit at ecclesiastical authority. But this
time Americans seem blandly admiring of clerics.
say they like clerical garb because it's "authentic," priests because they are
"spiritual." Like the Liveranis, they choose the elements of traditional church
they like and ignore the rest.
write their own Bible. They fashion their own God, then talk incessantly with
Him. (Think here of President Clinton's possessive pronoun: It's between me, my
wife and "our" God.) More often than not, the God they choose is more like a best
friend who has endless time for their needs, no matter how trivial.
call this "domesticating God," turning him into a social planner, therapist or
guardian angel. When sociologist Natalie Searl taped a women's Bible study at
a conservative evangelical church for a year, she was surprised to see people
spend much of their time praying about personal bankruptcies, babies crying in
the middle of the night, spouses not being affectionate, relatives in the hospital.
may be that this is the way people have always been spiritual," said Robert Wuthnow,
a sociologist at Princeton University who directed the research. "And yet it's
a slice of real life that is much closer to how people are experiencing the end
of the millennium than stories about flying saucers and revelations from angels.
reminded of the quip that we all get the gurus we deserve. Maybe we also get the
gods we deserve. Nowadays they don't speak to us in burning bushes. But they help
us get through the hard days and long nights."
those who prefer the traditional way, all this picking and choosing is no more
than a narcissistic romp.
should be called the ME-lennium," said Rev. Joan Brown Campbell of the National
Council of Churches, an umbrella of traditional Protestant denominations concerned
with civil rights-era causes. "They're not building community, they're building
individual comfort zones."
trivialized God," said Larry Crabb, a Christian psychologist and popular author.
"Most of these books assume God is the butler who serves you for one reason,"
he says of the list of current bestsellers. "To give you a happy life. We've turned
Him into a divine Prozac."
Pendulum Swings Back
though, the neo-spiritualists are setting limits on their own self-absorption.
Like children who've strayed too far, they are starting to rein themselves in
with the help of old-fashioned ritual. Churches that thrive seem to embody two
opposite concepts: They buy into the self-help school, with its endless therapeutic
excuses for human failing, but at the same time, they focus on responsibility
typical bustling megachurch looks like McLean Bible Church in Virginia, which
offers a menu of customer-driven worship groups, grief recovery, sexual addiction,
post-abortion recovery, beloved unbeliever, even as it proposes an unforgiving
theology: "The Bible is inerrant and infallible," says the church's mission statement.
"All have sinned and fall short of His glory."
is being revived, needless to say, minus the parts that might impinge on modern
life, especially where women are concerned. Reform Jews are starting to wear yarmulkes
again, speak more Hebrew in services, search their roots, but also welcome female
rabbis. Muslim women are donning the hijab, the traditional head covering, and
wearing it on college campuses.
is rigor without submission," writes David Brooks in his new book "Bobos in Paradise,"
referring to a "Bohemian Bourgeoisie." "They are rigorous observers, but they
also pick and choose, discarding those ancient rules that don't accord with modern
sensibilities. This is Orthodoxy without obedience, indeed, Flexodoxy."
represents an especially workable compromise for Muslim immigrants, especially
women, caught between demands of a conservative family and modern American life.
After the largest influx of Muslims arrived with the immigration law reform of
1965, mosques starting popping up, mostly in city centers.
a decade ago, the immigrants began to absorb the American style, adopting a more
personal, emotional mode of worship, said Yvonne Haddad, a professor at Georgetown
University who studies Muslims in America. They began using the "language of personal
instituted altar calls, the quivering climax of black Baptist services where a
priest calls anyone ready to accept Jesus up to the altar. Muslim parishioners
began to refer to themselves as "born again." Bumper stickers appeared on immigrants'
new American cars: "I- Allah."
are demanding respect and autonomy and this new orthodoxy is part of a shield
for that," says Steven Warner, a professor at the University of Chicago who directs
a project on immigrant religion. "We're not talking about shyly cloistered women
wearing the hijab. We're talking about real, assertive women. They're not hiding
their faces, they're hiding their hair, and in effect, that concentrates attention
on their face and eyes. When they look at you, there's real fire there."
Sharif is one such woman, a daughter of Pakistani parents, now a student at Queens
College in New York. Teenage life was impossible for her; neither world felt right,
not the "ashtray-smelling" high school cliques, nor her parents' house, "where
every time I walked in the front door I felt like I just got off an airplane."
most of her life, Sharif understood religion as a family duty, and an annoying
one. Her father went to a mosque, but her mother seldom did, merely teaching her
about a "woman's role." After much pleading, her parents let her go to college,
but only if she wore the hijab. Ironically, it was there, on a secular campus,
that, thanks to an African-American Muslim friend, Sharif discovered Islam.
Koran now means something to Sharif. "When I'm feeling down, I look in there to
lift my mood," she said. When she does badly on a test or argues with a teacher,
she goes home and curls up with the book. Last week, for a school assignment,
she wrote a poem about a female prophet who rescues a famous king.
I grow up, I will open my own mosque," she said. "The imams will be me and my
best friend, Allah."
a New Tradition
Liveranis arrive for the meeting early and take a seat at the circle. For now,
this is their makeshift itinerant church, a biweekly meeting of local "Conversations
With God" devotees, held this week at the Arlington apartment of a woman in her
atmosphere is warm and casual; the room where they meet looks like a college dorm,
with mismatched chairs and little else but a stereo. People bring homemade cookies
and chips; they are about 20 in all, mixed races and ages, a couple from Baltimore,
immigrants from Kenya, a few single women, some older men.
one exception, all are refugees of a traditional past, raised Catholic, Lutheran,
Methodist, Jewish and, in one case, in a very strict Mennonite family.
for one, is ready to begin. Her parents have just come to visit and dealt her
a rough week. "I need this," she said, her Brooklyn accent sounding especially
thick. "I'm in a lousy mood, just feeling blah. And I can't hear myself sounding
so negative; I sound just like my mother."
a few announcements, they begin the meeting as they often do, listening to a tape
of author Neale Donald Walsh having his conversation with God, who is played by
are in the act of defining yourself," God's voice tells Walsh, who plays the confused
but persistent questioner. "Every act is a self-definition. All your life they
told you that God created you. Well, I tell you this: You created God."
1:21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither
were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart
22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible
man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to
dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
25 Who changed the truth of
God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator,
who is blessed for ever. Amen.
FROM A READER: Some choice sarcasm
reason I'm writing is to tell you how grateful I am to you for pointing me to
the True Church-- The New Jerusalem Church.
Now, let me see if I have this straight: Christianity fell away sometime after
the death of the last apostle, and so the Church had to
be RESTORED through this retreaded Hindu guy. Wow! A "restored" church. I've never
heard THAT before! Well, except for the Campbells, Joe Smith, Russell, Ellen G.
White, Herby Armstrong, Sun Myung Moon and now this yo-yo.
old friend of mine used to say that at the county fair he'd see a booth for The
Only True Church. Then he'd see a booth for the OTHER only true church. And further
on down, he'd see the booth for the OTHER other only true church. Where do these
jokers get an audience for that old yarn? Blessings your way, Brother.
Peter 2:3 And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise
of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth
to the New Jerusalem message--
Jerusalem has moved
to Bombay in case you had not heard :-)
"Not to vorry- thank you please."
land of one of everything
Oprah New Age cult-- Satanic "Course in Miracles"
OUR ARTICLE ON TRANSHUMANISM
This is a technology New Age attempt to become
gods by tinkering with genetics
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