Bigger Than Jesus: A Take on Alternative Religions

When John Lennon said these infamous words in an interview more than 40 years ago, he was convinced of the impact the Beatles were having and would continue to have on generations to come. In the following years, “The Walrus” has been proven right, as we’ve seen such a rise in pop worship that his band—along with many other such celebrity symbols—has gone from stardom to, essentially, a religion of their own.
Before talking about these alternative religions, it’s perhaps best to ground some definitions in order to avoid misunderstandings. So, despite the Jesus reference, “alternatives” are by no means any of the non-Christian-based established religions. All of these are treated the same for they have self-aware leaders and holy books to follow. Under this rule, scientology counts as official, regardless of any objections that could fill an article (or book) of their own.

Rather, “alternative” is a consideration for those new faiths spawned in modern times that lack these traits, or any holiness at all, relying more upon idolatry and fandom than true religious organization. Most religions started just like this when tracing back their history.

Without intending to sound contradictory, these alternative religions do have leaders that set the example for the followers. The difference, however, is intention, since these figures, usually artists, are earthly idols that are actually chosen by the people to be venerated as guides based upon their actions and works, which become sort of freelance gospels.

Think of the Beatles. Their impact was not limited to the confinements of revolutionizing music. They became the key factor for a social phenomenon, and an everlasting cultural symbol with a legacy that remains relevant today.

Thanks to their songs and the almost mythological history of its members, the band still inspires people around the globe in a joint effort to realize that peace and love are not only things that Lennon imagined. This universality and metaphysical participations elevate the Beatles from celebrities to spiritual leaders.

Evidence of this ranges from the fanatical actions of Charles Manson and his beliefs in “Helter Skelter” to LSD evangelist Timothy Leary’s “Thank God For The Beatles” essay to fans who brought handicapped fans up front so that, potentially, the Beatles could come down and heal them. Do a Google search for “Beatles” and “angels” to find some interesting comparisons between the Fab Four and the four holy cherubim.
Other examples of alternative religions abound. There’s the Jedi credo, just recently becoming an official church in Australia, that basically copies the lifestyle of contemplation and compassion taught by the Star Wars movies, their “expanded universe”, and Master Yoda (reportedly, they’d have more knights if lightsabers really existed). Similarly, there are the “Trekkies” that embrace Spock and the Vulcans as bearers of higher truths, or those who regard Tolkien’s novels as something more than literary masterpieces.

By comparison, perhaps the admiration produced by individuals such as U2’s Bono (who some people address as saint), or the passion that sport teams can prompt, can also be accounted as alternative religions too.

The first question that rises about these alternative religions is obvious: why do they develop like this, specifically nowadays? The answer is just as evident: because humans need spiritual relief and hope to cope with the harshness of reality, and the established ones don’t work as well as they used to for this purpose.

These alternatives offer a new gloss of paint to older ideas, sprucing them up and adding identifiable faces. Through this optic, the Beatles become eclectic preachers of humanism and the Jedis are rendered as sword-swinging Buddhist monks. Just compare Yoda to the Dalai Lama, and you’ll find they share teachings, facial expressions, ways of speaking, and awkward grammar. They’re part Samurai, part Gnostic Christian beliefs; they get a religion, however, while the same kind of devotion to sports ends up declared as hooligan zealotry.

Right after reflecting upon this resolution, the temptation of making a quality judgment of the alternatives surfaces. Are these new “faiths” good or bad then? It’s the wrong question to ask for this case or whenever two religions are equated. Instead, what must be inquired is if these fresh religions enrich and improve humankind, if they help ease human existence in this world through spiritual fulfillment and alleviation of conflicts and worldly concerns. It’s in this sense of exclusively individual merits that religions can and should be evaluated.

In the end, most people today have to a higher or lesser degree some kind of alternate philosophy or side devotion for their entertainment (not in the “fun” definition). The whole purpose, as it has been and always will be, is not to feel adrift in the chaos of the cosmos.

You can wander, but you ought to not be lost. Could it possibly be true that all we need is love? So while religions old and new usher humanity across the universe, just let it be, and may the force be with you!

*****

Originally published in the November 2007 issue of ‘A Modest Proposal’, the student opinion magazine of the University of Texas at Dallas.

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