Recently watched: “Hail, Satan!”

Next semester, I teach my “Religion in the United States” class, so I’m watching a few documentaries over the break to increase my knowledge and understanding. One of the topics I cover is American Satanism: both The Church of Satan and The Satanic Temple. The value of this particular subunit is that is stretches students to think critically about the concept of “religion”, what counts as “religion”, and what our motives are for labeling something a religion, denying that label, or dismissing a group as a “cult”.

Earlier this year, I read Joseph P. Laycock’s Speak of the Devil: How the Satanic Temple is Changing the Way We Talk About Religion (Oxford: OUP, 2020), which I reviewed on this blog (see “Recently read: Laycock’s ‘Speak of the Devil'”) and highly recommend, and I interviewed Laycock (see “Interview: discussing The Satanic Temple with Dr. Joseph P. Laycock”). Today, I’m watching “Hail, Satan!”. It’s R-rated, so won’t make it into my classroom, but it does get me thinking about something that parallels what another colleague of mine teaches when he has students read Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good people are Divided by Politics and Religion. He has them think, based on Haidt’s writings, about why we find certain things immoral and then pushes them to explain it. An example might be incense, which has the “ick!” factor, but is hard for people to explain in terms of morality. Similarly, The Satanic Temple (as highlighted by Laycock in his book and discussed in our interview) causes many people more problems that the earlier founded Church of Satan because (1) The Satanic Temple is almost uniformly non-theistic (i.e. Satan’s valuable as a symbol but isn’t a metaphysical reality) and (2) The Satanic Temple, as the documentary highlights, wants to rectify the wrongs done to people during the “Satanic Panic” by doing widely recognized good deeds (e.g. collecting socks for those in need, especially those who are homeless).

What Laycock covers brilliantly in his book is covered quite well in documentary-style in “Hail, Satan!” This topic is a fascinating exploration of the boundaries of religious freedom, our interpretations of the First Amendment, and related topics. Whether one comes out of this discussion seeing Satanism as a legitimate religion, a mockery of religion, or whatever, the questions raised by The Satanic Temple need to be addressed by our society.

Related, for those interested in the development of the presentation of Satan in the Hebrew Bible, Jewish literature, and the Christian New Testament, see my quick summary of Ryan E. Stokes, Satan: How God’s Executioner Became the Enemy (Eerdmans, 2019): “Recently read: Stokes’ ‘Satan'”. Stokes does an excellent job covering a breadth of literature.

Next up, I plan on watching “I, Pastafari: A Flying Spaghetti Monster Story” which is available on Amazon. It’s 13+ rating means it could make it into circulation for my “Religion in Global Context” class where I introduce Pastafarianism and Dudeism as a way of introducing questions about the boundaries of the word “religion”.


Defining ‘religion’: four options

In Units 1.3, ‘Family Resemblance v. Suprahuman Essentialism’, and 1.6, ‘The Three B’s: Belief, Behavior, and Belonging’, I’ll be introducing a handful of definitions of religion to my students who are taking ‘Religion in Global Context’ this year. Unit 1.3’s first draft is finished. Unit 1.6 will be complete next week, probably. I’ll share them in due time. For now, I’m writing out some of my thoughts on these definitions as part of my thinking-process.

Family Resemblance

The first theory, and the one that probably resonates the most with me personally, is the ‘Family Resemblance’ theory. This way of defining religion is inspired by the work of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s work on the definition of words. Wittgenstein challenges the idea that there can be a definition of the word ‘game’, as one example, that actually represents all the things we call ‘games’.

In his book, Philosophical Investigations (§ 66), Wittgenstein asks these questions:

“Look for example at board-games, with their multifarious relationships. Now pass to card-games; here you find many correspondences with the first group, but many common features drop out, and others appear. When we pass next to ball-games, much that is common is retained, but much is lost. – Are they all ‘amusing’? Compare chess with noughts and crosses. Or is there always winning and losing, or competition between players? Think of patience. In ball games there is winning and losing; but when a child throws his ball at the wall and catches it again, this feature has disappeared. Look at the parts played by skill and luck; and at the difference between skill in chess and skill in tennis. Think now of games like ring-a-ring-a-roses; here is the element of amusement, but how many other characteristic features have disappeared!”

As we can see, there are board, card, and ball games. There are games we play without an opponent. There are games without a winner/loser. There are games like ‘ring-a-ring-a-roses’ played by kids that are for pure fun/amusement. We might say that this game has a goal (fun! falling!) and rules (sing this song until you fall down). But does it have a feedback system? If someone doesn’t fall, can they still have fun? Do they ‘lose’? You get the idea.

In an excellent summary of Wittgenstein’s thinking, ‘Wittgenstein: Family Resemblance’ (very much worth reading in its entirety), FEEST.IO says this:

‘The ‘family’ that constitute games may share various features between them, but need not all share any one feature, like in the following sets:

{A,B,C} {B,C,D} {C,D,E} {D,E,F}

‘We see here that ‘C’ is common to the first three sets but not the fourth just as balls may be common to rugby, golf and tennis but not chess. However, golf, tennis and chess share the feature of being non-contact whereas rugby does not. We would call all of these activities games, however, even if they are not united by any singular property.’

The same might be true of religion. Maybe four religions have divine beings but the fifth doesn’t. That doesn’t mean it’s not a religion. It just means that not all religions share the exact same features.

To see this idea applied to religion, I recommend Andrew Mark Henry’s ‘What is Religion?’:

Suprahuman Essentialism

Of course, what bothers some philosophers is that Wittgenstein’s family resemblance approach seems to leave the door open for all sorts of things to be considered a ‘religion’ including sports, Wall Street, and even Coca-Cola. Yes, Coca-Cola. See Henry’s view on that idea here:

So, while I don’t know of anyone who would argue in a Platonic/Augustinian sense that the word ‘religion’ has some essential meaning—some ‘form’ if you will—there are scholars like the Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith who advocate for definitions that at least include some sort of suprahuman being. This isn’t a ‘superhuman’, per se, but something above human. Let me share Smith’s definition from his book,  Religion: What it Is, How It Works, and Why It Matters, p. 22 (emphasis mine):

Religion is a complex of culturally prescribed practices, based on premises about the existence and nature of superhuman powers, whether personal or impersonal, which seek to help practitioners gain access to and communicate or align with these powers, in hopes of realizing human goods and avoiding things bad.

Smith’s definition covers a lot of ground. It can include more ‘personal’ gods like those common to forms of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It can include the dynamic found in Hinduism which has both a monoid (Brahman) and various gods. It can include ‘the Dao’ of Daoism, which is impersonal, and sort of like ‘the Force’ in Star Wars mythology. It can include ancestors and their veneration, as we find in all sorts of cultures. But it rejects all non-theistic ‘religions’, whether that be a form of Buddhism, Confucianism, Satanism, Dudeism, whatever.

The Albanese Definition

Catherine Albanese of UC Santa Barbara has a definition of religion known popularly as the ‘4 C’s’ listed in her book, America: Religion and Religions (the summary of which I’m drawing from Joseph P. Laycock’s Speak of the Devil, pp. 118-119):

  1. Creed: ‘an explanation about the meaning of human life’;
  2. Code: ‘rules than govern human behavior’;
  3. Cultus: ‘rituals that perform the creed and codes’;
  4. Communities: ‘that are bound together by the other three elements’.

The Bostian Definition

My colleague, Nate Bostian, has one more C. His definition of religion that’s he taught students is this. Religion is:

A Religion is a shared CONSCIOUSNESS of Ultimate Reality, Supreme Value, or Collective Identity, which is bounded by a shared CREED of beliefs about the world and humanity, a shared CODE of moral values and standards, and a shared CULT of sacred rituals and events, – all of which unify and bind together an identifiable COMMUNITY of persons.

In essence, this definition is an agreement between Smith and Albanese.

I won’t push my students to choose one. In fact, I hope that the course continues to complicate their understanding. They’ll learn about a variety of religions with Hinduism and Judaism receiving the most attention. Confucianism will be highlighted toward the end to complicate matters further. They’ll encounter Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Pastafarianism, and Dudeism, at least. As you can see from that list, some of these aren’t religions by one definition but are religions by another.

Putting religion in its global context (1): What’s wrong with ‘World Religion’?

I’m not vehemently against the label ‘World Religion’ but I was uncomfortable enough with it to petition our school to change the name of our comparative religions course from ‘World Religion’ to ‘Religion in Global Context’. For many, this may seem like petty semantics. I get that. But when you’re obsessed with your area of study, sometimes being petty is necessary for precision, and precision is necessary for educating. Also, I’m convinced I don’t want to just teach ‘World Religion’, as it has been traditionally understood, but religion—that sloppy ‘term created by scholars for their intellectual purposes’ which is not natural but instead a ‘a second-order generic concept that plays the same role in establishing a disciplinary horizon that a concept such as “language” plays in linguistics or “culture” plays in anthropology’ (see Jonathan Z. Smith, ‘Religion, Religions, Religious’, pp. 281-282 in Critical Terms for Religious Studies).

In other words, I want my students to wrestle with how we define ‘religion’, what makes something a ‘religion’, and why we care so much about differentiating ‘religion’ from say ‘culture’, ‘worldview’, ‘philosophy’, etc. Sure, there are pragmatic reasons for this separation, but there’s also been a long history of political reasons for doing so. I know my students don’t know those reasons, but I sensed that the structure of the class—a class that focused mostly on surveying the ‘Great Traditions’ of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Confucianism, and Daoism—lended itself toward being an information dump that undermined other important religions like Sikhism and Shinto while overgeneralizing the unity of say ‘Hinduism’ or ‘Christianity’ as if these are monolithic realities.

I could ramble on about this but the ‘Keeping It 101’ podcast has two episodes that are way more entertaining and insightful than what I can write here, so if you’re wondering about the problems with the label ‘World Religion’, let me invite you to listen to one or both of these episodes:

Next time, I’ll start sharing how I hope to morph my class away from just a survey of the ‘Great Traditions’ and more toward a foundational class for Religious Studies and philosophy of religion that will equip my students to think not only about the ‘Great Traditions’ but all the other traditions as well. And it won’t be as hurried because honestly, teaching a survey of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (and then some years Confucianism and Daoism) is almost impossible to do in a single semester if you want to avoid just providing an ‘info dump’.

Educating in the Era of COVID-19: Day 20

Today’s focus was lesson planning for my ‘Religion in the United States’ class. This week they’re learning about how religion can go wrong as they become acquainted with Jim Jones and The Peoples Temple and David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. Next week they’ll encounter Heaven’s Gate.

These three groups bring up interesting questions, so the second part of the week, next week, they’ll revisit the debate over whether we can ever use the pejorative ‘cult’ or whether it’s best to follow the example of the academy in using the label ‘new religious movements’. Then I’m asking them to think critically about their understanding of religions and religious freedom by choosing two case studies out of four options.

My students will be able to choose from this list:

  1. Should we tax the Scientologist?

Read the Los Angeles Times Op-Ed by Alex Gibney titled ‘Op=Ed: ‘Going Clear’ filmmaker: Scientology abuses its tax-exempt status’. Once you’ve read the article summarize Gibney’s argument in three sentences and then explain in three sentences why you agree or disagree with him (three beyond just telling me whether your agree or disagree):

2. Should Satanic imagery be allowed to put a statue of Baphomet on public land if other religious groups (e.g., Jews, Christians) are allowed to do so?

Watch Vice News’ video ‘The Satanic Temple’s Protest for First Amendment Rights’ (13:33). Once you’ve watched the video, summarize why a Ten Commandments monument has motivated The Satanic Temple in a single sentence, then explain the rationale for The Satanic Temple’s offer to put up a statue of Baphomet in two sentences, and then in three sentences tell me why you think The Satanic Temple has or doesn’t have a legitimate cause for putting up their statue:

3. Should the IRS have removed The Peoples Temple’s tax-exempt status?

Read the essay ‘To avoid another Jonestown, reform IRS church reporting policy’ by Annie Laurie Gaylor, the co-President and co-Founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Once you’ve read the article, summarize Gaylor’s argument in three sentences and then explain in three sentences why you agree or disagree with him (three beyond just telling me whether your agree or disagree):

4. Should the ATF have changed their approach to the Branch Davidians?

The Department of Treasury and Justice investigated the methods of the ATF and ‘determined that some tactics and decisions were poorly executed; and certain actions by ATF were criticized.  However, the September 1993 U.S. Department of Treasury Administrative Review concluded: “…the agency is made up of dedicated, committed and experienced professionals, who have regularly demonstrated sound judgment and remarkable courage in enforcing the law.  ATF has a history of success in conducting complex investigations and executing dangerous and challenging law enforcement missions.  That fine tradition, together with the line agents’ commitment to the truth and their courage and determination has enabled ATF to provide our country with a safer and more secure nation under law.”’ (Source

The ATF put together a testimonial video called ‘Waco at 25: as they remember it’. Watch the video and summarize why these agents feel they did their job well in three sentences and then explain in three sentences why you agree or disagree with them (three beyond just telling me whether your agree or disagree):

Notably, when my students studied the Scientologists, I emphasized how under the classification system of the IRS, they are considered a religion. Similarly, I point to the same stamp of approval being given to The Satanic Temple but also in my interview with Joseph P. Laycock he made the case for why The Satanic Temple should be considered a religion. When we came to The Peoples Temple, I asked my students if anything could’ve been done to stop what happened, noting that many feel the government didn’t do enough. When we came to the Branch Davidians, I asked my students if anything could’ve been done to stop what happened, noting that many feel the government did too much.

Day 19
Week 4
Week 3
Week 2
Week 1

Recently read: Laycock’s ‘Speak of the Devil’

Joseph P. Laycock, Speak of the Devil: How the Satanic Temple is Changing the Way We Talk About Religion (Oxford: OUP, 2020).

The past two years I’ve taught a class called ‘Religion in the United States’. My broad focus has been the presentation of how Americans have designed, interpreted, and implemented the concept of ‘religion’ in the public square. In some sense, the class could be classified as religious studies, American history, political science, and sociology. Underneath this broad focus, and the variety of subjects of which it could be a subset, is that cherished concept of ‘religious freedom’.

When I teach about ‘religious freedom’, I’m inclined to be positive toward the idea. Religious intolerance hasn’t had a good track record. But I’m also inclined to be disappointed. A cursory examination of American religious history reveals that ‘religious freedom’ has meant, usually, religious freedom for the majority. In this country, that has meant a variety of things—for example, Protestants lorded over Catholics—but it has never meant ‘non-Christians’.

Joseph P. Laycock’s new book Speak of the Devil may seem to some to be argument ad absurdum when it comes to religious freedom. (Why use the Satanists as exemplars?) But in fact, the Satanist may be the most interesting case study available. There’s no religion out there that makes people as uncomfortable with their own claims regarding religious freedom as the Satanists.

When it comes to matters of the separation of church and state, the Satanists confront our presuppositions and expose biases. Do we want ‘prayer in schools’ to include the right of state-employed teachers to lead a prayer? Many Americans might say ‘yes’. But what if the teacher was a Satanist? They’re unlikely to maintain the firm ‘yes’. The most natural side-step is to deny that Satanism is a real religion but then we get into tricky territory of asking who gets to define real religion. The courts may be wrestling with this but the IRS has been clear that Satanism, at least in the form of The Satanic Temple, is a real religion.

In Laycock’s book his main focus is The Satanic Temple, though Chapter 2, ‘Origins and History of The Satanic Temple’, and Chapter 4, ‘The Satanic Reformation’ (and other parts of the book), remind people not only of the influence of Anton LaVey and the Church of Satan, but also of ‘the writings of Romantics such as Blake, Shelley, and Byron’ (p. 88) who represented Satan not as the baddest-baddie but as the rebel with a legitimate cause (with God being the omnipotent, cosmic-bully). These two chapters will help readers see how The Satanic Temple is uniquely Satanist, when contrasted with the more libertarian, Ayn Rand type Satanism of the Church of Satan, but also traditionally Satanist when rooted in the aforementioned presentation of Satan found in the Romantics.

Now, for many of my students, it has been disappointing to hear that Satan is a myth, or a symbol, for most Satanists. In other words, few Satanists believe they are worshipping a real, metaphysical being. This may lead some to think that Satanism is a parody religion rather than a real religion. Laycock addresses this misconception is Chapter 5, ‘Religion or Trolls: How The Satanic Temple is Changing the Way We Talk About Religion’ when he examines The Satanic Temple through the lens of Catherine Albanese’s ‘four c’s’ framework (religion defined as a ‘creed’, a ‘code’, a ‘cultus’, and ‘communities’, all four being possessed by The Satanic Temple). While some theorist argue that a religion must embrace some form of the supernatural (see Christian Smith, Religion: What It Is, How It Works, and Why It Matters), most theorist—including past versions of the Supreme Court of the Unite States—don’t. Therefore, as my students have learned, so readers will see that Satanism qualifies as a religion by most scholarly and legal metrics available.

My favorite chapter in the book is Chapter 6, ‘Satanic Bake Sales: How The Satanic Temple Is Changing the Way We Talk About Evil’. In this chapter, Laycock writes about how Satanists ‘appropriate the discourse of evil’. In other words, they identify with a symbol (Satan) that many equate with evil but they do so in ways that most equate with good—bake sales, charity, care for the poor, defending marginalized groups, etc. These actions scramble our categories of ‘good and evil’ (especially when we see ‘good’ Christians doing terribly oppressive, racist, bigoted things). This chapter will challenge the linguistic, philosophical, and religious ideologies of the reader more than maybe any other chapter in the book.

Anyway, this isn’t a review; just a report. I enjoyed this book. I found it as intellectually stimulating as anything I’ve read in a while. And if you haven’t seen, I had a chance to interview Laycock several days ago. It’s well worth your time but don’t just watch the interview, get the book, and read the book. If you are interested in definitions of ‘religion’, how religion is practiced, questions about ‘religious freedom’, and the like, you’ll find this book is well worth your time.

Interview: discussing The Satanic Temple with Dr. Joseph P. Laycock

In an effort to make the most out of the move to online education, I’ve begun reaching out to scholars and/or religious practitioners to see if they’d be willing to be interviewed about their research and/or beliefs. Since my ‘Religion in the United States’ students are learning about the Scientologist this week and Satanist next week—both being groups that challenge conventional definitions of religion—I thought I’d reach out to Dr. Joseph P. Laycock of Texas State University. Laycock is an assistant professor of religious studies who focuses on new religious movements and American religious history. His newest book, Speak of the Devil: How The Satanic Temple is Changing the Way We Talk About Religion, is excellent. I wanted my students to be able to hear directly from a scholar and I was thrilled that Laycock agreed to participate.

My students will watch this interview as part of their homework next week. But I want to share it now for those who might be interested. As a preview, here are the seven questions I asked him:

  1. Please tell everyone why I’m talking with you about this topic. What do you research and how did Satanism become one of your interests?
  2. One of the first things I tell my students about Satanism—and it’s something that find somewhat surprising—is that most Satanist don’t actually believe that Satan is a real, metaphysical being. Instead, he’s more of a symbol. Can you explain what Satan symbolizes for most Satanists?
  3. I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area, so I’ve known the name ‘Anton LaVey‘ and I’ve known of the Church of Satan (CoS) for years. Can you explain why LaVey and his CoS is important to understanding Satanism in the United States?
  4. In your excellent book, Speak of the Devil: How the Satanic Temple i Changing the Way We Talk about Religion, you focus on a new group of Satanists: The Satanic Temple (TST). Can you explain what TST is and what’s their mission and purpose is?
  5. Last year when I taught my class on American religion, I showed my students the graphic that can be found on TST’s website that juxtaposes their identity with that of the CoS. What would you say is the most important difference or differences between these two groups?
  6. In Chapter 6, ‘Satanic Bake Sales’, you wrote about a fascinating concept. You walk about how Satanists wrestle with the best way to appropriate ‘the inverted order’ or ‘the discourse of evil’. What does this mean and why are these concepts important for understanding TST (or even Satanism in general)?
  7. Some people dismiss TST, and even COS, as ‘fake’ religion or a mockery of religion. My students have read J.Z Smith’s article ‘Religion, Religions, Religious’, so they get the gist of why the word ‘religion’ can be tricky but can you explain why it’s problematic to dismiss TST or COS as a ‘fake’ or ‘mock’ religion?

You can watch the (unedited…because I haven’t developed that skill set yet) interview here:

Religion according to the Supreme Court

According to the IRS, religion (or a ‘church’) has some mixture of attributes such as a ‘recognized creed and form of worship’, a ‘formal code of doctrine and discipline’, ‘literature of its own’, ‘regular religious services’, and so forth. This is a type of ‘family resemblance theory’ (see Andrew Henry’s video ‘What is Religion?’, starting about 3:40, for a good explanation) that understands religions as not having all the same characteristics but a limited range of shared characteristics.

More interesting is the chaotic reasoning of the Supreme Court. I was reminded of this while going over the topic with my ‘Religion in the United States’ students this week. The Freedom Forum Institute has a helpful summary of the various cases when the Court attempted to provide a working definition of religion titled ‘Has the Supreme Court Defined “Religion”?’ if you’d like more information but in gist it’s shifted from 1890 to 1972 as this list exemplifies:

  • ‘one’s views of his relations to his Creator, and to the obligations they impose of reverence for his being and character, and of obedience to his will’ (‘Davis v. Beason’, 1890)
  • ‘a given belief that is sincere and meaningful occupies a place in the life of its possessor parallel to that filled by the orthodox belief in God’ (‘United States v. Seeger’, 1965)
  • ‘beliefs’ that are ‘deeply held’ and vaguely related to ‘religion’ (see ‘Welsh v. United States’, 1971; ‘Thomas v. Review Board’, 1981)

In spite of (or because of?) these vague definitions that variously require some belief in a Creator God, to beliefs that are as meaningful to the person as belief in a Creator God is to others, to beliefs that are generally ‘religious’ in nature, the Supreme Court, the recent courts this decade has been very friendly to claims that someone’s First Amendment rights are being violated…at least when it concerns religion. For example:

  • American Legion v. American Humanist Association (2019): a cross on public property maintained by tax dollar was allowed to stay
  • Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018): a baker’s choice to not make a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage was upheld as a First Amendment right because of the baker’s religious objections to same-sex marriage
  • National Institute of Family Life Advocates v. Becerra (2018): ‘a pro-life entity’ offering ‘pregnancy-related services’ won their case against California when California attempted to enforce a law where this ‘entity’ has to disclose that weren’t a licensed clinic when advising them regarding contraception and abortion
  • Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer (2017): a private religious preschool was allowed to receive state funds for a playground
  • Holts v. Hobbs (2015): A Muslim man was allowed to maintain a (one-half-inch) beard in prison in spite of the prison’s rules that people in the prison must be shaven
  • Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014): Hobby Lobby was able to opt-out of providing contraception to their employees as required by the Affordable Care Act
  • Town of Greece v. Galloway (2013): a city council was said to not be violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment although they opened many of their sessions with prayer from a Christian clergy

The exception may be Trump v. Hawaii (2018) when it was determined that Trump Administration didn’t intend a ‘Muslim ban’

Most of these cases have to do with actions which shows things have changed drastically from 1890’s ‘Davis v. Beason’ which determined that the First Amendment didn’t protect Latter-day Saints practicing bigamy or polygamy because ‘in the context of the First Amendment, “religion” refers primarily to “one’s views of his relations to his Creator” and “modes of worship” and is not intended to be “invoked as a protection against legislation for the punishment of acts inimical to the peace, good order, and morals of society.”‘

Religion according to the IRS

The late Jonathan Z. Smith in his essay ‘God Save This Honourable Court: Religion and Civic Discourse’ commented, ‘The Internal Revenue Service is, both de facto and de jure, America’s primary definer and classifier of religion.’ (Relating Religion, p. 376) Here’s the criteria the IRS used to determine if a group qualifies as a ‘church’ (some mix needed):

-Distinct legal existence
-Recognized creed and form of worship
-Definite and distinct ecclesiastical government
-Formal code of doctrine and discipline
-Distinct religious history
-Membership not associated with any other church or denomination
-Organization of ordained ministers
-Ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed courses of study
-Literature of its own
-Established places of worship
-Regular congregations
-Regular religious services
-Sunday schools for the religious instruction of the young
-Schools for the preparation of its members

I’ll be dedicating a class period of this semester’s ‘Religion in the United States’ (and next year in ‘Religion in Global Context’) to this topic. It’s a fascinating list of criteria. (In recent years it’s allowed the Scientologist, the Satanic Temple, and even John Oliver’s spoof ‘Our Lady of Perpetual Indulgence’ have qualified.)