Invented Religions: Imagination, Fiction and Faith

By McCrary, Charles | Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

Invented Religions: Imagination, Fiction and Faith


McCrary, Charles, Journal of Religion and Popular Culture


Cusack, Carole M. Invented Religions: Imagination, Fiction and Faith. Surrey, England: Ashgate, 2010. 179 + viii pp. 55.00 [pounds sterling], $89.95. Cloth. ISBN: 978-0-7546-6780-3

Carole Cusack's Invented Religions examines six recently "invented" religions: Discordianism, the Church of All Worlds, the Church of the SubGenius, Jediism, Matrixism, and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Because these religions have received little to no attention from scholars, Cusack's work is a very valuable contribution. However, the book itself is at times frustrating, and Cusack's analysis is occasionally sharp but often muddled. The ideas around which the book is organized are provocative and enticing. "Invented religions," Cusack's chosen category, refers to those movements and organizations that, most important, "announce their invented status" (1). This distinguishes them from other "new religious movements" (NRMs) that purport to be "true." Invented religions are meant as commentaries on the category of religion itself, knowingly parodying common religious themes and specific religions.

The first chapter, "The Contemporary Context of Invented Religion," sets the terms for the argument and analysis. Cusack emphasizes the role of secularization in the West, especially in the last fifty years. Relying primarily on Peter Berger and Charles Taylor, she links secularization with consumerism and individualism--resulting in the condition wherein "belief is a personal choice" (11) and the rise of NRMs, Asian religions and their offshoots in the West, and New Age. This is all well and good, but Cusack quickly takes the study in the wrong direction. Strangely, she decides to take up the question of whether or not they really count as religions, rather than situating invented religions as perceptive and clever critiques of these cultural shifts. Cusack writes, "This study argues that invented religions are neither trivial nor necessarily invalid" (3). What "validity" could possibly mean in this context is not discussed, but some functionalist definition is at work. Invented religions are "valid" because, like "real" religions, they "pique curiosity, and send the imagination soaring" (5), and their "narratives fire the imagination of certain people" (125).

Discordianism, the Church of All Worlds, and the Church of the SubGenius each receive their own chapter. In these chapters Invented Religions is most compelling. The founders of these movements are invariably fascinating characters with insightful, cheeky, and often sarcastic critiques of twentieth-century consumerism and religion. "The Church of the SubGenius" (COSG), for example, "relentlessly parodies existing religions, particularly megachurch Christianity and Scientology" (84). …

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