Religion Lately: Jedi Training Camps and Marian Visions in Texas, Gay-ing Dead Mormons, & St. Valentine was a Pagan Too?

By Kenny Smith, Emory University  

In Austin, Texas, yet another “Jedi Camp”offers training for youngsters.  In San Francisco, adult Jedi demonstrate advanced light-saber fighting skills. Exactly how much Jedi-based social production does it take to constitute a “religious movement,” anyway?  

Down the road in Houston, neighbors continue to bring devotional offerings to an oak tree in one man’s yard, in which they claim to see the Virgin Mary. Fortunately, said resident has no plans to take the tree down and violate their religious freedom to come onto his property.   

While the Church of Later-Day Saints of Jesus Christ has been busy baptizing dead Jews (such as Anne Frank) into Mormonism (and apologize for it), one website offers to make dead Mormons gay, since “sadly, many Mormons throughout history have died without knowing the joys of homosexuality.” 

Glenn Beck, apparently, now self-identifies as Catholic as well as Mormon, since “Catholic” means “a person of faith” who stands up to government oppression.  

Verging on incoherence, a spokesperson for the Santorum campaign temporarily denounced President Obama’s “radical Islamic environmental policies.”  Speaking of which, one (billionaire) Santorum supporter argues for a more traditional and cost-effective solution to the contraception-debate: “have girls put an aspirin between their legs,” while one longtime evangelical (Chuck Colson) compares government requirements to provide insurance coverage for contraception to Nazi attempts to exterminate the Jews.  

In Sweden, a self-identified vampire and cannibal are to be married, presided over by a priest form the Church of Satan, despite the fact that both are “permanently confined to the high-security Karsuddens psychiatric facility for crimes that shocked the country.”   

One state legislator in Delaware is said to have taken a knee and “Tebowed” after his sponsored bill passed successfully through the chamber.  

Seven members of Michigan’s Hutaree militia are on trial for conspiring to kill a police officer (and bomb his funeral procession). Defense attorneys, though, argue that the Hutaree were preparing for war against the biblical anti-Christ, not the federal government. Since when did militias draw this fine of a distinction?  

At the Monroe Institute in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, ordinary folk learn to tap the mind’s hidden powers, up to and including voyages out of the body. 

While half way between the celebration of pre-Christian, spring-based holidays such as Imbolc (Feb. 2) and Ostara (March 21), modern-day Pagans and Wiccans recall the pagan roots of St. Valentine’s Day.

For busy Christians on the go, some churches offer Ash Wednesday drive-throughs, while others bring the sacred ritual out into the streets.  Elsewhere, this same approach is being tried out by funeral parlors, with drive-through viewings of loved ones, though not so much the “bring the viewings out in the street.”

In one northern Italian town, wives have forbidden their husbands from patronizing a new brand of racy coffee bars offering “sexpressos.” 

The son of Hollywood director Oliver Stone is said to have converted to Islam (as a Shiite, not a Suni), and plans to make a film (to be shot in Iran) about the 13th century Sufi poet Rumi.  

In North Carolina, some Baptists are arguing against a constitutional amendment that would rule out the possibility of same-sex marriages.  

In Tennessee, “a former FBI agent who claims mosques in nearby Nashville, Tenn., have no legal right to exist” has been hired to train local police “about Islam and the threats of terrorism.”  Sounds fair and balanced to me.  

It’s been two weeks, and Niki Minaji’s performance at the Grammys, “in which she confessed to a priest in Anglican dogcollar, was tied to a Catherine wheel, danced with some scantily clad altar boys, knelt in prayer and, at last, was exorcized,” is still surreal.

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