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Religion and LARPing (Can We Tell the Difference?)

In this series, we began with a humorous look at the similarities between religion and nerd culture.  On the way to a more serious analysis of this similarity, we’ve looked at how the Western world gradually became “disenchanted”.  The ancient pagans lived in a world that was alive, filled with a dizzying array of gods, demigods, spirits, and demons.  Christianity gradually pushed these to the margins, though many remained in new forms–angels, demons, fairies, elves, and so on.  The Enlightenment saw the rise of reason over all, and gradually completed the process whereby Westerners went from viewing the cosmos as a living organism to seeing it as a dead machine, while at the same time traditional religion went into gradual, and now steep decline.  Finally, we saw the rise of pop culture and fandom, whereby fascination with fictional worlds gradually developed into obsession, then into a mainstream lifestyle choice.  In this post, I’d like to try to tie it all together, as far as possible with such complex phenomena.

I’ll start with the image at the top of this post.  Someone unfamiliar with pop culture and Catholic religious orders might think that the two sides of the picture were more or less variants on the same theme.  In fact, as I imagine most readers of this blog will have immediately noticed, the left is a group of Jedi.  No, it’s not a scene from a movie, and it’s not necessarily cosplay.  There is an actual, real-life movement in some countries to have “Jedi” or “Jediism” registered as an official religion.  How “seriously” this is intended is something we’ll come back to.  Meanwhile, in addition to these efforts, there are organizations for “real” Jedi.  That is to say, they take the principles and practices, either explicitly stated or implied, of the Jedi Order of the Star Wars franchise and try, as far as possible, to use those principles and practices as guidelines for living their lives.  Their real, actual lives in the real, actual world.  They do this by a combination of aphorisms derived from the Star Wars franchise (movies and extended universe), martial arts training, meditation practices, and so on.  They often, as can be seen, dress in attire based on that of the cinematic Jedi.  The right-hand part of the image above, by the way, is a group of Franciscan friars*.  Their expressions seem a bit surly–maybe it’s because they don’t get to carry light sabers….

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The Long Journey to the Trinity

The title of this post is a slight alteration of the title of this excellent book, a translation of the Ad Monachos of Evagrius Ponticus.  I am not here applying it to Evagrius or his works, but to myself.  I mentioned back here that I was an Arian–or perhaps, better, “quasi-Arian” or “little-u unitarian”–in my younger days.  I said that a detailed unpacking of my beliefs and how they developed was for another time.  That time is now.

I grew up in a small town in Appalachia, part of the Bible Belt and hotbed of Fundamentalism, and (paradoxically) one of the most unchurched regions of the country.  I was raised in a sort of generic, culturally Protestant way, without anyone in the family formally belonging to any church.  Both my parents had been baptized before I was born, though I don’t know the details.  During my life, though, neither was a formal member of any church, nor a regular attender.  I was sent to Sunday school at a Methodist church from about the age of four until about seven; and at a Baptist church between the ages of about eight or nine and thirteen.  During this latter period, I was usually sent to vacation Bible school in the summers, at the Baptist church (and once or twice, I think, at a second Methodist church).  Every once in awhile, my mother would go to church services (this was at the Methodist church–she never attended the Baptist one, as far as I remember) and drag me with her.  “Drag” was the operative word.

I was always extremely reluctant to go to church, and never did so voluntarily.  I don’t know exactly why.  I do remember I that I associated church with fear.  I don’t clearly remember any hellfire and damnation sermons, though there may have been some.  Mom and Dad certainly never used threats of hell, as some parents did.  I remember thinking that being in an actual church involved a commitment I was unwilling to make.  I recall one time Mom dragged me to church, and the hymn being sung was, “I have decided to follow Jesus/ No turning back, no turning back.”  I mouthed the second line without singing it.  I wasn’t going to sign up for that!  I remember another time in Sunday school at the Baptist church, there was a visiting preacher, a black Baptist (there were very few black people where I grew up, so for us this was exotic).  The one thing I remember about him is that at one point he said, “When you say I’m going to follow God and get my life together tomorrow, that old devil just laughs and laughs!”  Those words haunted me for years.

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