Five Future Religions Waiting To Happen

By Jay Kinney


JUDGING FROM the cultural collisions already in progress in pop music, art, and politics, we're in for some strange mutations and hybrids in the zone of religious beliefs and organizations. Here are five future trends to watch for:

Suburban Santeria

AS MID-AMERICA and its suburbs become increasingly multicultural, Hispanic followers of Santeria and Voudoun are no longer found only in the inner cities or places like New Orleans. Botanicas, those do-it-yourself supply shops where followers of the saints can purchase Orisha effigies, candles, herbs, John the Conqueror roots, and jinx removing powders, begin to appear in suburban shopping malls alongside the Hallmark card galleries. Before long the Anglophone middle class takes up this folk religion and an enterprising team of MBAs founds a successful chain of unthreatening and antiseptic botanicas called Mojo-Meister, Inc.

In a successful effort to integrate the rites of Santeria into preexisting cultural forms, the suburban santeros sponsor voudoun aerobics classes at local YMCAs where dozens of matrons in pure white tights and warm-up sweats are "ridden by the gods" and develop buns of steel at the same time. The messy sacrifice of doves or cocks to Eshu, the lord of the crossroads, is replaced by the more palatable practice of tossing a bucket of KFC Hot Wings out of car windows into the middle of freeway cloverleafs.

Although the movement enjoys great popularity for a few years, rapid decline sets in when the Mojo-Meister chain's top officers are indicted in an insider stock selloff scandal. Many disillusioned believers end up joining the Church of Unitology (see below) and drop out of sight.

The Galactic Catholic Church of Ras Tafari

ON AN OTHERWISE nondescript day, thousands of L.A. gang members and roller-bladers gathered on the Venice, CA, boardwalk are unexpectedly sprayed with a powerful hallucinogen by a disgruntled CIA employee in an unmarked black helocopter. The woozy crowd is simultaneously seized with the conviction that they are witnessing the second coming of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, the Lion of Judah. This news is confirmed by several channelers in Sedona, AZ.

The word spreads instantly via the Internet, provoking ecstatic Rastafarians to storm and occupy the Vatican in an effort to win the Pope to their cause. After two weeks holed up in a "smoke-filled room" where he is forced to inhale giant spliffs and listen to piped-in Peter Tosh singles, the pontiff emerges onto his balcony and announces to the expectant throngs that "Jah works in marvelous ways." In an unprecedented move, a shocked College of Cardinals ousts their toasted leader. He relocates to Kingston, Jamaica, and founds the Galactic Catholic Church of Ras Tafari.

The new church attracts many with its modified sacraments, especially its "herb cakes" which are dispensed during the Mass. Unable to actually produce the risen Haile Selassie, the church evolves a doctrine of "suspended occlusion" which teaches that the Messiah has retreated from Venice to a secret hideaway in Ethiopia and there awaits the right moment to lead his followers out of Babylon. Decades later, the faithful are still patiently hopeful.

The New Temple of Ishtar

PREVIOUSLY RESTRICTED to limited circles of feminists and neo-pagans, Goddess worship goes mainstream under the auspices of the fast-growing New Temple of Ishtar. First started by an idealistic sexworkers' support group populated with former Rajneesh devotees, the NToI (pronounced "en-toy") attracts large numbers of (primarily) men to its "sacred prostitute"-assisted safe-sex worship services, where temple priestesses lap-dance and disrobe in return for donations. Although initially plagued with vice-squad busts around the country, the tide turns in the NToI's favor when the Supreme Court rules that freedom of religion allows for "ritual touch" between consenting adults within a religious service.

The NToI spreads by word of mouth and members initially meet subrosa in topless bars and priestesses' living rooms, with some individual "counseling sessions" in peepshow booths. However, the accelerating growth of the NToI forces its congregations to seek larger meeting halls. In many towns, vacant Masonic temples and Oddfellows' Halls are purchased by the burgeoning cult and converted into modern-day Temples of Ishtar.

Public opinion is split over the NToI. A coalition of outraged Christian conservatives and radical feminists pickets the church's temples, charging that they are "dens of iniquity" and "travesties of women's self-exploitation," respectively. Fervid believers counter that they are merely invoking the spirit of Ishtar and healing their shattered libidos. Within a short time, the sales of adult videos fall off drastically, psychotherapists report a steep decline in the number of new clients, and the divorce rate stabilizes for the first time in 40 years.

The NToI cinches its popularity through the innovative distribution of free Nu-Isis brand condoms on street corners nationwide. The condoms' foil-packs list local temple addresses along with worship schedules for guest celebrity high priestesses. However this method of publicity is later squelched when word spreads that NToI rubbers have replaced PokZmon cards as the favorite collectibles among pre-adolescent boys.

The Church of Unitologyª

UPON THE QUIET and decidedly unmiraculous death of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the Unification Church is thrown into disarray. A temporary loss of direction is finally solved when the church leadership enters into negotiations with the Church of Scientology leading to a successful merger of the two religions. The new hybrid religion, under the name of the Church of Unitology (tm), is unsurpassed for marketing and legal savvy, resulting in a number of innovative accomplishments:

* A series of previously unpublished science fiction novels by the late Rev. Moon are discovered. Upon their publication, they shoot to the top of the bestsellers' list.
* Church of Unitologyª lawyers spearhead a legal challenge to the IRS, eventually leading to its abolishment. A new federal sales tax replaces the income tax.
* Wandering Church flowersellers diversify to offer on the spot E-meter readings for the general public for a flat per-reading donation.
* Ditching the money-losing Washington Times, the Church launchs its own 24-hour satellite and cable news channel to compete with CNN.

These and other successes propel the Church past the Mormons into the top slot as fastest-growing church in the world.

During the extended period while Church leaders are bogged down in amalgamating the complex cosmologies and theologies of the two groups into one unified whole, members are urged to focus on clearing their own personalities of unwanted toxins and doubts. This triggers a grassroots effort, unhindered by specific dogmas, resulting in a pure "belief in belief itself." This simple approach finds a ready audience among members of twelve-step groups resulting in the friendly absorption of A.A. into the Church. When last heard from, the Church is negotiating with the U.N. to take over its global peace-keeping functions.

The Fellowship of Gaia

CROSS-FERTILIZATION between militant vegetarians, animal rights activists, eco-warriors, and assorted naturists (of both pagan and nudist varieties) lead to this highly ascetic sect of nature worshippers. Loose and liberal in matters of religious belief, the FoG requires strictly disciplined behavior from its initiates. Pets, meat, leathergoods, electronic equipment, and automobiles are all taboo, while a thorough program of "zero garbage" is enforced through total composting and recycling. Reflecting its back to nature and minimalist philosophy, the Fellowship's oft-chanted motto is "no shirts, no shoes, no service!"

New FoG members must all undertake vision quests in the wilderness where they are expected to make psychic contact with both Gaia (the planetary spirit) and an adopted tree (their individual power point). While the Fellowship officially disavows violence or sabotage as methods to defend Gaia, the group's decentralized structure of local cells and members-at-large allows individuals and small groups to flout official FoG policy regarding tactics.

The Fellowship gains its biggest slice of unwanted publicity when a small FoG affinity group makes a botched attempt to free all captive animals from the Kansas City SPCA. Trapped inside the building for several weeks by BATF agents, the FoGies and all unplaced pets are finally "put down" in order to avoid "further suffering." Later Congressional hearings regarding the tragedy prove inconclusive.

Jay Kinney co-wrote, with Richard Smoley, Hidden Wisdom: A Guide to the Western Inner Traditions, about which Rob Brezsny had this to say:

"Most literature of the Western esoteric spiritual tradition falls into two categories: the enthusiastic how-to manuals of true believers and the dry, meticulously skeptical assessments of scholars. But Kinney and Smoley have managed to pull off the seemingly impossible: render a smart, objective report on the great mysteries while maintaining a loving reverence for them."

Publisher's Weekly commented:
"Smoley and Kinney offer engaging and lively histories of esoteric movements, ranging from Kabbalism, magic, Wicca and neopaganism to shamanism, alchemy, hermeticism and Sufism. Each chapter provides a historical overview, an introduction to the major beliefs and practices of the movementand comments on the reasons spiritual seekers might find that particular esoteric tradition attractive . . . . a useful introduction to the many varieties of Western esotericism."

Jay Kinney was also the publisher of the now-defunct GNOSIS Magazine, making its back issues an invaluable resource. Order copies here.