Revisiting Waco: Prophets, Guns, and the role of the Government in Defining Religion

The tragic events of Waco, although different in many ways to those of Jonestown (especially as it regards the role of law enforcement), also forces the scholar as well as any curious person, to ask questions about the nature of religion and human existence: why do some people decide to believe certain individuals even when their claims may seem irrational, or even dangerous? What is the difference, if any, between a cult and a religion? What is the role of government in regulating religious groups? Why are American evangelical groups so obsessed with the end of times? As Smith said, our need to understand is not the same as our approval of the practices we study, but as he warned us “if we do not persist in the quest for intelligibility, there can be no human sciences, let alone, any place for the study of religion within them.”

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Jerry Garcia, the Grateful Dead, and the Ritual Sacrifice of Celebrities

I became fascinated by the constant religious references used by many of the people interviewed in the documentary to describe and explain the Grateful Dead phenomena: attending a Dead concert was a religious experience, Jerry Garcia was a prophet, a Messiah, a shaman, the audience at the shows were organized like a mandala […]The Grateful Dead, and Jerry Garcia in particular embraced the winds of change and created a band that reflected an utopian, egalitarian, decentered, unstructured way of making music. Their music, in many ways was not only an artistic statement, but also a reflection of their own social and political views. They played as they lived. And Jerry Garcia became the unofficial priest of a small but powerful movement that began to sweep America for almost three decades.

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Under His Eye: Handmaid’s Tale, Evangelical Christianity, and Mike Pence’s America

Some people may think that I am exaggerating, that this dystopian America is not what Trump, Pence, and their followers want. But as a thought experiment, if you take Pence’s ideas, which have been quite consistent throughout his time as a member of Congress and then as the Governor of Indiana, what kind of America do we see? What does an America in which women do not have the same rights as men (there is a very interesting New Yorker piece on his views on this issue), where abortion is illegal, where  gay people have no rights (in 2006 he said that “societal collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family.”), and race issues in America are not really a problem? The Handmaid’s Tale explores an America in which all of those ideals become a reality. 

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