It takes all kinds to make the world — even if that means a group that believes in living on only fresh air or committing suicide to save the planet. Marisha Karwa looks at some odd-ball groups that make our world (and heads) go around
1 Flying Spaghetti Monster
Let’s start at the very beginning of the universe. In 2005, pretty well known Bobby Henderson wrote, in jest, a letter to protest a state decision in Kansas, US, allowing the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in science classes. Henderson contended that whenever a scientist carbon-dates an object, a supernatural creator that closely resembles spaghetti and meatballs is there “changing the results with His Noodly Appendage.” This gave rise to the cult of the Flying Spaghetti Monster — considered to be the deity of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Pastafarianism. The social movement, whose central belief is that an invisible and undetectable Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe, promotes a light-hearted view of religion and opposes the teaching of intelligent design and creationism in public schools.
“I don’t have a problem with religion. What I have a problem with is religion posing as science. If there is a god and he’s intelligent, then I would guess he has a sense of humour,” he has said.
2 Raelism (UFO religion)
Before you start praying to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, spare a thought for the Raelians. Guided by a former French auto racing journalist, Claude Vorilhon, members of the Raelian movement believe that life on Earth was scientifically created by a species of extraterrestrials, which they call the Elohim. Members says that Elohim earlier intentionally misinformed us that they were angels, cherubim or gods. Raelism strives for world peace and cloning. Getting membership requires an official apostasy from other religions.
3 Cargo cult
If it’s hard for you to imagine UFOs and extraterrestrials, think of the tribals inhabiting remote islands in vast oceans. For these primitive groups, even ‘cargo’ is a manifestation of the God’s will. The movement encompasses a range of practices, such as making replicas of desired goods, after coming in contact with colonising societies. According to Wikipedia, the earliest recorded cargo cult was the Tuka Movement that began in Fiji in 1885 after the British colonials made their presence there. Cargo cults exemplify the third law of Arthur C. Clarke: that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
4 Ho No Hana Sanpogyo
Also in the realm of magic and clairvoyance existed the now non-existent sect Ho No Hana Sanpogyo, founded by Hogen Fukunaga. He claimed that he was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ and the Buddha and could tell people’s fortunes by reading the soles of their feet. Eventually though, Fukunaga was charged with fraud and came under debt for millions of yen.
5 Happy Science
Considering fortune telling is always riddled with risk, perhaps it’s better to always be happy. And guess what, there’s a religion for that too. ‘Master’ Ryuho Okawa founded the Happy Science religion and movement in Japan on 6 October, 1986. Happy Science claims that El Cantare is the true hidden name of the Heavenly Father in the Old Testament and that Jesus is the incarnation of the supreme spiritual being called El Cantare.
Poro is a male-only society in Liberia, Sierra Leone and a few other African nations that believe in the intervention of mysterious forces in human affairs. So, whatever happens in the physical world is a manifestation of what’s happening in the spirit world. Boys are initiated into this society on reaching puberty, by being taken behind the bushes and undergoing some rituals that are kept secret.
7 Black Jesus
Stephen Tari gave up his studies to be a Lutheran minister, and travelled in the mountains of New Guinea. He started his own cult and called himself “Black Jesus.” The cult had all kinds of rituals, made sacrificial offerings and even used ‘Flower Girls’— especially chosen young girls who served as concubines for Tari and other cult leaders. At some point the Black Jesus cult grew so popular that it has 6,000 members. Although Tari was charged for rape and managed to escape from a prison, he was eventually hacked to death and buried in a pit by the villagers of Gal.
No doubt beliefs and religion are very important matters, but what about the pursuit of interests for the sake of pure, unadulterated joy? Bikerni is a group of all women bikers that started in Pune to “encourage women to go on adventures they would’ve never thought to go on before.” Talk about women empowerment, ah!
9 Gadget Hackwrench
Forget Jedi, this character from Chip ‘n Dale has a cult following in Russia. Her fans pray to large cut-out posters of her, pen and sing songs in her praise and think of this female mouse as a divine being. “She is strict, cute, optimistic and her level of technical knowledge is unachievable for a mortal being,” is what her followers are known to have said.
And then the force turns to the worldwide web. While 4chan isn’t quite a grouping or even an association of like-minded individuals, we felt it qualifies to be a cult of all-things-Internet. This seemingly-simple, image-based bulletin board has single-handedly spawned some of the best creations in the digital world. Think Lolcats, memes and (hold your breath) hacktivist group, Anonymous.
11 Heaven’s Gate cult
Led by Marshall Applewhite, the followers thought that Earth was about to be “recycled” into a clean slate, and that they could escape doom by hitching a ride on comet Hale-Bopp in March 1997. Applewhite and 39 members, wearing armbands and Nike sneakers, poisoned themselves in shifts in a California mansion.
12 Church of Euthanasia
And while on the subject of death, here’s a cult that actively promotes dying. Wikipedia says that the Church of Euthanasia was inspired by a dream, in which Rev. Chris Korda confronted an alien known as The Being who speaks for the inhabitants of Earth in other dimensions. The Being warned that our planet’s ecosystem is failing, and that our leaders deny this. The Being asked why our leaders lie to us, and why so many of us believe these lies. Rev. Korda awoke from the dream moaning the Church’s infamous slogan, ‘Save the Planet — Kill Yourself’.’ The Church’s sole commandment: Thou shalt not procreate. And understandably, its four pillars are suicide, abortion, cannibalism and sodomy!
Is that too much information? Perhaps you want to stop and breathe. And live on that — on fresh air that is (if you are lucky enough to be in Switzerland). Breatharianism is the belief that we humans don’t need to eat for our nutrition, that is possible to live on fresh air alone. Before you roll your eyes, do note that quite a few people are already living the Breatharian life: People like Prahlad Jani and Hira Ratan Manek in India, the Nepalese monk Ram Bahadur Bomjon and Wiley Brooks, the founder of the Breatharian Institute of America, whose website is a must-read (http://breatharian.com/breatharians.html).
14 Santa Muerte
On the other hand, if you are sure that living on fresh air is going to lead to certain death, then just bow to Santa Muerte, whose following, many claim, is growing by the millions (ever since she appeared in a cameo in Breaking Bad). A personification of death, the skeletal, female folk saint is venerated primarily in Mexico (and as far as in Australia too), and is associated with healing, protection and safe delivery to the afterlife. Some of her most devoted followers are drug dealers and pick-pocketers!
15 Missionary Church of Kopimi
And the best for the last! Sweden has officially recognised this congregation of file-sharers as a religious community. But only after their application was rejected in three earlier attempts! The followers, Kopimists, are intellectual persons who believe that all information should be freely distributed. This philosophy opposes the monopolisation of knowledge in all forms of copyright, and encourages file sharing of media including music, movies, TV shows, and software.
Incidentally, the Missionary Church of Kopimism held its first wedding on April 28, 2012, in Belgrade, Serbia, between a Romanian woman and an Italian man. It was conducted by a Kopimistic Op, wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, while a computer read vows and some of Kopimism’s central beliefs aloud.
The church said, “Hopefully, they will copy and remix some DNA cells and create a new human being. That’s the spirit of Kopimism. Feel the love and share that information. Copy all of its holiness.”