Photo above: The Branch Davidians’ “Mount Carmel Center,”
near Waco, TX, burns during an attack by FBI Agents on 2-28-1993.
This Essay presents our sketches and brief remarks on 40 selected Modern Cults & Unusual Spiritual Paths. In general, we Agents of Nature’s Continuing Creation oppose modern cults and most unusual spiritual paths because they involve myths and miracle stories.
Some of the 40 Cults & Paths have been chosen for the human suffering they cause. Others were chosen for their nuggets of wisdom. Still others for their sheer weirdness. Nearly all of them are fairly modern. Most of them have taken place in the United States, reflecting the fact that these are most familiar to your American author, J.X. Mason.
Nearly all the forty Entries have been paraphrased from their respective Wikipedia articles, as of 2023 and early 2024. J.X. Mason has chosen not to list the cited footnotes; readers can easily find those citations at the end of the respective Wikipedia articles online.
Wikipedia refers to all these minority spiritual paths and cults as “New Religious Movements,” a neutral term chosen to offend the fewest readers.
A few of our entries have used other, non-Wiki documents as their primary source. In these cases, we have been careful to cite those other “primary sources.”
As always, our evaluative comments are in bolded-blue type.
Wikipedia has an excellent “List of New Religious Movements,” which covers great many cults and strange spiritual Paths. It is a very long list; interested readers should take a look.
In addition, there are roughly 20 images of Venn Diagrams of Irrational Nonsense, online. These extensive diagrams use overlapping fields to show how the many “New Religious Movements” have impacted each other. The Book of Continuing Creation opposes nearly everything shown in the Diagrams of Irrational Nonsense. See: http://crispian-jago.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-venn-diagram-of-irrational-nonsense.html.
We’ve presented our list in alphabetical order. (We thought about a chronological order but decided instead to mention the important historical connections between the entries on our list.)
Elsewhere in the Book of Continuing Creation, J.X. Mason has said that religions and spiritual paths arise because they are thought to be solutions to the life-problems of people at certain times and places. These solutions break into two groups:
A. Practical Real-world Solutions:
- Promise of a better life here and now through revolution or conquest;
- Promise of a better future through creativity and technology,
- Promise of rescue by a richer, more enlightened country or international agency;
- Reform of the present culture – more morality, more justice, more sharing, more jobs.
B. Spiritual / Mental Solutions, – i.e. New Invented Religions:
- They may invent a religion that features: Rescue by a messiah; and/or
- Promise of a second life in a supernatural heaven; and/or
- Provides a means of mental escape here on Earth.
The things in Group B point to the high probability of inventing a new religion, given sufficient misery among the populace.
“A” things may combine with “B” things to create “Secular Religions” – such as Communism or Nazism.
“A” things may also combine with “B” things to create fanciful expectations of supernatural solutions expected to happen here on Earth. These are the anticipated “solutions” we see in many of the Cults and Unusual Spiritual Paths we list in this Essay.
Here are some of the characteristics readers should look for in the Cults and Spiritual Paths on our List:
- Secret knowledge; knowledge that outsiders do not have.
- A handsome, charismatic, self-confident, narcissistic leader with an excellent voice.
- A path that offers integrated, on-Earth solutions to all the followers’ problems.
- Offers a solution now, or at least soon; not after death. (e.g., Jesus returns and leads a Kingdom of God on Earth.)
- Communal living. Everybody is equal (except the exalted leader and his lieutenants).
- The Leader often takes over the wealth of the followers.
- The Leader often takes over sexual access to the young and beautiful followers.
- A Special “rising up” (feeling carried away by a presence of God) that outsiders will not experience.
As you see these features take shape in the various Cults and Paths that we list below, remember that the same features are present in respected dystopian novels, such as The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, or in George Orwell’s novel, 1984.
Remember that there is great human capacity to believe all kinds of nonsense – Sedona Arizona vortexes, “auditing,” the healing power of crystals, rejection of modern medicine, the angel Moroni, the extreme Communism of the Khmer Rouge, speaking in tongues, the burning of witches. Only the lamp of reason, critical thinking, and intellectual inquiry stands against such nonsense.
The Practice of Continuing Creation finds many Shortcomings, and some Strengths, in each of the “one-off” Paths that we list below. We insert the word Strength, or the word Shortcoming, to quicky express The Book of CC’s evaluation of each of the Paths.
Note: For a baseline comparison, see the Humanist Manifesto online. Also, see three of our own Essays:
- Leading an Ethical, Moral Life;
- Leading a Virtuous & Honorable Life; and
- Leading a Fulfilled and Happy Life.
Below is our List of Cults & Unusual Spiritual Paths or Movements, Presented in Alphabetical Order.
Amish and The Mennonites
The Old Order Amish (often shortened to the Amish) are a group of traditionalist Anabaptist Christian church fellowships with Swiss, German, and Alsatian origins. The Old Order Amish are known for simple living, plain dress, Christian pacifism, and self-sufficiency. They are slow to adopt many conveniences of modern technology, with a view not to interrupt family time, nor to replace face-to-face conversations. The Amish value rural life, manual labor, humility and Gelassenheit (submission to God’s will).
In the early 18th century, many Old Order Amish and the less restrictive Mennonites immigrated to Pennsylvania. Today, most Amish speak a variant of German called “Pennsylvania Dutch.” As of 2021, over 350,000 Old Order Amish lived in the United States, and about 6,000 lived in Canada. Non-Amish people are generally referred to as “The English” by the Amish.
Amish church membership begins with adult baptism, usually between the ages of 16 and 23. Church districts have between 20 and 40 families, and worship services are held every other Sunday in a member’s home or barn.
The Ordnung (rules of the church) must be observed by every member and covers many aspects of day-to-day living, including prohibitions or limitations on the use of power-line electricity, telephones, and automobiles, as well as regulations on clothing.
The Amish typically operate their own one-room schools and discontinue formal education after grade eight. Most Amish do not buy commercial insurance or participate in Social Security. Like many present-day Anabaptists, Amish church members practice nonresistance and will not perform any type of military service.
In the second half of the 19th century, the Amish divided into Old Order Amish and Amish Mennonites; the latter do not abstain from using motor cars, whereas the Old Order Amish retained much of their traditional culture.
There is much to recommend the Amish and Mennonite ways of life. After the coming energy crisis ruins Earth’s ecosystem, communal living, if it is based on sustainability, may save our ecosystem and all humanity.
Bahá’í Faith (1848 to now)
The Bahá’í Faith is a monotheistic religion emphasizing the spiritual unity of all humankind.
It was founded in 19th-century Persia by Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892). He was exiled for his teachings, from Persia to the Ottoman Empire, and died while officially still a prisoner. After Bahá’u’lláh’s death, under the leadership of his son, `Abdu’l-Bahá, the religion spread from its Persian and Ottoman roots, and gained a footing in Europe and America, and was consolidated in Iran, where it suffers intense persecution. There are probably more than 5 million Bahá’ís around the world in more than 200 countries and territories.
In the Bahá’í Faith, religious history is seen to have unfolded through a series of divine messengers, each of whom established a religion that was suited to the needs of the time and to the capacity of the people. These messengers have included Abrahamic figures as well as Dharmic ones—Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, and others. For Bahá’ís, the most recent messengers are the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh.
Shoghi Effendi, the appointed head of the religion from 1921 to 1957, wrote the following summary of what he considered to be the distinguishing principles of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings, which, he said, together with the laws and ordinances of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas constitute the bedrock of the Bahá’í Faith.
The following principles are frequently listed as a quick summary of the Bahá’í teachings. They are derived from transcripts of speeches given by `Abdu’l-Bahá during his tour of Europe and North America in 1912: (The list is not authoritative; a variety of such lists circulate)
- Unity of God
- Unity of religions
- Unity of humankind
- Equality between men and women
- Elimination of all forms of prejudice
- World peace
- Harmony of religion and science
- Independent investigation of truth
- Principle of Ever-Advancing Civilization
- Universal compulsory education
- Universal auxiliary language
- Elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty
- Obedience to government and non-involvement in partisan politics unless submission to law amounts to a denial of Faith.
With specific regard to the pursuit of world peace, Bahá’u’lláh prescribed a world-embracing collective security arrangement as necessary for the establishment of a lasting peace. 
Although the Bahá’í teachings have a strong emphasis on social and ethical issues, there are a number of foundational texts that have been described as mystical. The Seven Valleys is considered Bahá’u’lláh’s “greatest mystical composition.” It sets forth the stages of the soul’s journey towards God. It was first translated into English in 1906. The Hidden Words is another book written by Bahá’u’lláh during the same period, containing 153 short passages that present spiritual truths in brief form.
The Book of Continuing Creation’s author, J.X. Mason, says that Bahá’í’ has an excellent list of Principles, but he has not read any of the Bahá’í’s “mystical” foundational texts.
Branch Davidians and David Koresh
Note: The main source here is not Wikipedia, but The Critical Dictionary of Apocalyptic and Millenarian Movements. Specifically, see https://www.cdamm.org/articles/koresh-davidians#:~:text=The%20Branch%20Davidians%20are%20an,God’s%20Word%20in%20the%20Bible. But do also see the Wikipedia article, “Branch Davidians.”
The Branch Davidians were a splinter group of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA) whose members believed in the imminent return of Jesus and who believed that living, modern-day prophets can interpret the hidden meanings of God’s Word written in the Bible. Jesus’ “immanent return” means he will return to rule a Kingdom of God here on Earth. (John 14:2-3). The several protestant denominations who preach that Jesus will return to Earth and govern a 1,000-year Kingdom of God on Earth, before the Last Judgment, as foretold in the New Testament’s Book of Revelation, are called “Millennialists.” The Seventh-Day Adventists, who have 20 to 25 million members worldwide, are one such denomination.
The original leader, Victor Houteff (1885–1955), claimed unique insights into the Book of Revelation, founded the “Davidian Seventh-day Adventists.” In 1935, Houteff established his church, the “Mount Carmel Center,” near Waco, Texas. After Houteff died in 1955, his successor, Benjamin Roden (1902–1978), took the title “Branch” based on a passage in the Old Testament, “and a branch shall grow out of his roots” (Isaiah 11:1). His followers became known as the “Branch Davidians.”
David Koresh, born as Vernon Howell, (1959–1993), joined the Branch Davidians near Waco in 1981, becoming leader of the core group by 1984. Koresh was handsome and charismatic.
In daily teachings at Mount Carmel, Koresh outlined his interpretations of the Book of Revelation. Koresh claimed to be the “Son of God,” the “Christ for the Last Days,” and the “Lamb of Revelation.” Koresh was handsome and self-confident. (Being handsome and charismatic helps religious leaders attract believers.)
The Branch Davidian group had licenses to manufacture and sell weapons. Believing the group was illegally stockpiling weapons, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) attempted to serve a search and arrest warrant on the ranch in February 1993. An intense gunfight erupted, resulting in the deaths of four ATF agents and six Branch Davidians.
Then, a siege lasting 51 days was initiated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In April 1993, the FBI initiated a tear gas attack in an attempt to force the Branch Davidians out of the ranch. Shortly thereafter, the Mount Carmel Center became engulfed in flames. The fire resulted in the deaths of 76 Branch Davidians, including 25 children, two pregnant women, and David Koresh. The events of the siege, the attack, and particularly the origin of the fire, are disputed by various sources.
In the years leading up to the raid by the FBI, claims of child and sexual abuse had been levelled at Koresh and the community by former members and critical relatives. Koresh did engage in sexual relations with a number of minors. In 1984, he had married his wife, Rachel Jones, when she was 14, with the permission of her parents who were longstanding members.
In 1986, Koresh claimed a divine mandate to take other spiritual wives from among the young women and girls within the community. In 1989 he began to teach that all women in the community, including those married to others, were his wives; all the men, other than himself, were to be celibate.
Koresh taught that he was intended by God to father 24 children. These children would be raised within the community and would eventually serve as the “Twenty-four Elders” spoken of in the Book of Revelation (verse 4:4) who would govern during the “Millennium,” a thousand-year period when Jesus would rule as King of the Kingdom of God on Earth.
Among Koresh’s spiritual wives was Michele Jones, sister of Rachel, who was 12 at the time, below the age of legal consent in Texas. Many of the women believed that it was an honor to have a child with Koresh and parents consented to their young daughters entering the extra-legal marriages. By 1993, Koresh had fathered 17 children by eight different women. But one girl, Kiri Jewell, alleged that Koresh sexually molested her when she was 10.
It is an appalling shortcoming of religion that charismatic leaders abuse their persuasive power over followers to have sex with under-age boys and girls in their congregations. But we have seen this abuse of religious power over and over across history. Such abuse has been done by Catholic priests, by Joseph Smith and early Mormon leaders, and by the Branch Davidian leader David Koresh.
The New Testament’s crazy, blood-soaked Book of Revelation should not be a part of the Bible. Humans are perversely enticed by visions of creepy, cruel punishments – witness the example of Dante’s Inferno. The more extreme, the easier these fictions are believed, especially when they are repeated over and over.
The Brethren (1970-1980)
Also known as “The Travellers” and “The Road Ministry,” the members of The Brethren shunned material things and family, living essentially as vagrants and doing odd jobs to pay their expenses. Active from 1970 to 1980.
Cargo Cults of the South Pacific (1942 to now)
During WW2, both the Japanese and the Americans air-dropped and air-delivered vast amounts of military equipment and supplies to Islands in the South Pacific. Manufactured clothing, medicine, canned food, tents, weapons and other goods arrived in vast quantities for the soldiers, who often shared some of it with the islanders who were their guides and hosts.
With the end of the war, the military abandoned the airbases and stopped dropping cargo. In response, charismatic “Big Man” islanders developed Cargo Cults. The cult leaders explained that the cargo would be gifts from their own ancestors, or from mythical, powerful Americans. It is not at all clear if the Big Man leaders were sincere or were simply running scams on gullible populations.
On the island of Tanna, Vanuatu, islanders were persuaded that a mythical individual named “John Frum” or “Tom Navy” would deliver the goods. The John Frum Cult is the most widely known and longest-lived cargo cult.
In attempts to get cargo to fall by parachute or land in planes or ships again, islanders mimicked the day-to-day activities and dress styles of US soldiers, such as performing parade ground drills with wooden or salvaged rifles. They carved headphones from wood and wore them while sitting in fabricated control towers. Many built life-size replicas of airplanes out of straw and cut new military-style landing strips out of the jungle, hoping to attract more airplanes.
Cults spin and sell fantasies to their gullible followers. But religions of all sizes also sell myths and miracle stories to their followers. The magical arrival of Cargo by Air for people who build “control towers” is a lot like the promise of Heaven after death for people who confess sins, atone, say prayers, and make offerings — it is a Shortcoming.
“The Celestine Prophecy” and “Synchronicity”
The Celestine Prophesy was a best-selling 1993 novel by James Redfield in which wo travelers uncover an ancient manuscript which prepares them for a set of unique experiences. These experiences reveal “Nine Insights,” which many regard as the nine guidelines to living a “New Age” life:
- Pay attention to chance coincidences, because they may be “Synchronicities” (i.e., coincidences that aren’t really coincidental).
- There is a meaning and purpose in life.
- There is a subtle energy that infuses all things.
- An unconscious competition for energy underlies all conflicts.
- The key to overcoming conflict is to get our personal energy directly from the source, and not to manipulate others for a share of their personal energy.
- Heal our childhood traumas.
- Follow our inner guidance.
- Find your tribe.
- Create heaven on Earth.
Our Practice of Continuing Natural Creation agrees with #2, #4, #6, and #9.
Christian Science is a set of beliefs and practices associated with members of the Church of Christ, Scientist. It was founded in 19th-century New England by Mary Baker Eddy, who wrote the 1875 book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, which outlined the theology of Christian Science. The book became Christian Science’s central text, along with the Bible, and by 2001 had sold over nine million copies.
From its First Church in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1894, Christian Science became the fastest growing religion in the United States, with nearly 270,000 members there by 1936. That figure declined to just over 100,000 by 1990 and reportedly to under 50,000 by 2009. The church is known for its newspaper, The Christian Science Monitor, which won seven Pulitzer Prizes between 1950 and 2002, and for its public Reading Rooms around the world.
Ms. Eddy described Christian Science as a return to “primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing.” Adherents subscribe to a radical form of philosophical idealism, believing that reality is purely spiritual and the material world an illusion. This includes the view that disease is a mental error rather than physical disorder, and that the sick should be treated not by medicine but by a form of prayer that seeks to correct the beliefs responsible for the illusion of ill health.
The church does not require that Christian Scientists avoid medical care; but maintains that Christian Science prayer is most effective when not combined with medicine. Nevertheless, the reliance on prayer and avoidance of medical treatment has been blamed for the deaths of several adherents and their children. Between the 1880s and 1990s, parents and others were prosecuted for, and in a few cases convicted of, manslaughter or neglect. The rejection of modern medical science is a fundamental Shortcoming of Christian “Science.”
A Course in Miracles (1965-Today)
A Course in Miracles (“ACIM” or “The Course”) is a 1976 book by Helen Schucman, a clinical and research psychologist. A Course in Miracles (ACIM) was “scribed” by Schucman between 1965 and 1972. She experienced the process as one of a distinct and clear dictation from an inner voice, which earlier had identified itself to her as Jesus. Her inscription of A Course in Miracles began with these words: “This is a course in miracles. Please take notes.”
The greatest “miracle” according to the Course in Miracles is the act of simply gaining a full “awareness of love’s presence” in a person’s life. Scholars say the book has been largely borrowed from New Age movement writings. Christian critics say that ACIM is “intensely anti-biblical” and incompatible with Christianity, blurring the distinction between creator and created and forcefully supporting the occult and New Age worldview.
The psychiatrist and author Gerald G. Jampolsky’s first book, Love is Letting Go of Fear, which is based on the principles of ACIM, was published in 1979. With the help of promotions on Oprah Winfrey and Johnny Carson, over three million copies of A Course in Miracles were sold. Marianne Williamson, an announced candidate for U.S. President in 2024, has promoted the book on past Oprah Winfrey shows.
Deprogramming — Exiting a Cult
Joining a Modern Cult (or even an Unusual Spiritual Path) can damage a person’s psyche. A number of modern cults require members to give all their worldly goods to the cult leader, and some even require that female members must give sexual access to the Leader. A good number of clinics and have arisen that “de-program” or “straighten out” escaped cult members who are trying to return to conventional beliefs and a mainstream lifestyle. However, if the deprogrammer is “mis-motivated” or poorly trained, the prescribed cure can be worse than the disease. (For more, see the Wikipedia article on Deprogramming. Search for legitimate deprogrammers by enlisting the help of a licensed physician or psychologist. If a family is trying to “retrieve” a loved one from a cult, consulting an attorney is also a good idea.)
The Ecumenical Movement is a main-stream Christian movement teaching that Christian denominations, including Catholics, should work, sometimes worship together, and honor each other. While it is laudable that the world’s religions should talk to each other, most of them need to eliminate their own reliance on supernatural gods and goddesses.
Esoteric Thought & Practices
Scholars broadly agree on which currents of thought fall within a category of western esotericism — ranging from ancient Gnosticism and Hermeticism (alchemy, astrology, and theosophy) through to Rosicrucianism and the Jewish Kabbalah and on to more recent phenomenon such as the New Age movement. Nevertheless, scholars specializing in the subject disagree as to how best to define it.
- One view sees “esotericism” as a perennial “hidden inner tradition.”
- A second perspective sees esotericism as a category of movements that embrace an “enchanted” worldview in the face of increasing disenchantment.
- A third view sees Western esotericism as encompassing all of Western culture’s “rejected knowledge” that is accepted neither by the scientific establishment nor orthodox religious authorities. These things would include magic, seances, fairies, wizards, fortune telling, folklore, and alchemy.
Continuing Creation aims to steer clear of all forms of the esoteric. Our Practice is based on Nature, Reason, and Science; without any myths or miracle stories.
Existentialism – (Late 1800s to 1946)
Existentialism is a fully developed philosophy, not “an unusual spiritual path.” Therefore, we don’t cover it in this Essay.
Instead, see our Essay, “Forerunners to Our Path & Practice.”
Falun Gong emerged toward the end of China’s “Qigong boom” — a period circa 1990-2000 that saw a proliferation of practices involving meditation, slow-moving energy exercises and regulated breathing. Falun Gong combines meditation and qigong exercises with a moral philosophy. The practice emphasizes morality and the cultivation of virtue, and identifies as a practice of the Buddhist school, though its teachings also incorporate elements drawn from Taoist traditions. Through moral rectitude and the practice of meditation, practitioners of Falun Gong aspire to eliminate attachments, and ultimately to achieve spiritual enlightenment.
In October 1999, the Chinese Communist Party initiated a nationwide crackdown and multifaceted propaganda campaign directed against the practice of Falun Gong, calling it a “heretical organization” that threatened social stability.
The practices of Falun Gong, as described by Wikipedia, seem innocuous to your author, J.X. Mason. However, additional study could reveal that there is more to the story.
Free Masonry. (circa 1400 until today)
Each Mason must believe in the existence of a “Supreme Being,” which includes the “gods” of Islam, Hinduism, or any other world religion.
While Christians believe that people will be saved and enter Heaven if they accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, Masons believe that a man will be saved and go to heaven in reward for his good works and personal self-improvement.
In the Masonic view, the Bible is not considered to be the exclusive Word of God, nor is it considered to be God’s sole revelation of himself to humankind; but only one of many religious sourcebooks. Most of them are considered to be good guides for morality and ethics.
All Masons are required to believe in a deity. Different religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc.) acknowledge the same God, only call Him different names. Freemasonry invites people of all faiths; even if they use different names for the ‘Nameless One of a hundred names,’ they are yet praying to the one God and Father of all.
Masonic View: There is no doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ. It is deemed to be un-Masonic to invoke the name of Jesus when praying or mention His name in the Lodge. Suggesting that Jesus is the only way to God contradicts the principle of tolerance.
Masons teach that man is not sinful, just “rude and imperfect by nature.” Human beings are able to improve their character and behavior in various ways, including acts of charity, moral living, and voluntary performance of civic duty. Humanity possesses the ability to move from imperfection toward total perfection. Masonry teaches that its G.A.O.T.U. (Great Architect of the Universe), whom Masonry believes is the true God of the universe, is representative of all gods in all religions.
The Strengths of modern-day Masonry are its tolerance, common sense, strong links to creative construction, rejection of original sin, and commitments to individual self-improvement, civic duty, and charitable giving. While Masonry has distinct ceremonial ranks (called “degrees”), the higher degrees do not steal from, belittle, or prey upon the lower ranks or upon outsiders. (For more about Freemasonry, See our Essay, Forerunners to Our Path & Practice.)
Fundamentalist Christianity in America Today
Today in the United States, the fundamentalist-Christian denominations have become increasingly political under the banner of the “Religious Right.” Many of them work diligently to oppose the truth of evolution, gay marriage, and abortion. Note: Margaret Atwood, in her 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale and her 2019 sequel, The Testaments, has written a chilling dystopian forecast of the New Dark Age that might descend on the U.S. if the Religious Right were to come into full political power.
The Gaia Movement (1970 to now)
The Gaia Movement (or Gaianism) is an earth-centered philosophical, holistic, and spiritual belief that shares expressions with Earth religions and paganism. The term describes a worldview which implies a transpersonal devotion to Earth as a superorganism. Practitioners of Gaianism are called Gaians (or Gaianists). The Gaia Movement seeks to reverse global warming, practice sustainable farming and industry, and restore the Earth’s ecosystems to their natural health. Many commentators associate the Gaia Movement with New Age. The Gaia Movement is an important forerunner to the practice of Continuing Creation, which we often refer to as Nature’s Continuing Creation.
A “Hare Krishna” is a member of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKON), which is one of the mainstream schools of Hinduism. As a mainstream school of Hinduism, we will noy say much about ISKON in this Essay. In the late 1960’s through the 1970’s. Hare Krishnas were frequently seen chanting in American streets, parks, and airports. Hare Krishnas follow a lacto-vegetarian diet, do not consume intoxicants, do not gamble, and do not engage in “illicit sex.”
Haredi Judaism (1900 to now)
Note: The Wikipedia articles on Haredi Judaism and Hasidic Judaism are excellent and very comprehensive. With deep religious roots going back thousands of years, the Haredi and Hasidic movements could never be called “cults.” To outsiders, they do appear to be “unusual spiritual paths.”
Haredi Judaism consists of groups within Orthodox Judaism that are characterized by their strict adherence to halakha (Jewish law) and traditions, in opposition to modern values and practices. Its members are usually referred to as ultra-Orthodox in English; however, the term “ultra-Orthodox” is considered pejorative by many of its adherents, who prefer terms like “strictly Orthodox” or “Haredi”. Haredi Jews regard themselves as the most religiously authentic group of Jews, although other movements of Judaism disagree.
The Haredim emphasize withdrawal from, and disdain for, the secular world, and the creation of an alternative world which insulates the Torah and the life it prescribes from outside influences. The Haredi choose to live in and among other Haredi Jews. Haredi boys and girls attend separate schools, and proceed to higher Torah study, in a yeshiva or seminary, respectively, starting anywhere between the ages of 13 and 18. A significant proportion of young men remain in yeshiva until their marriage (which is usually arranged through facilitated dating). After marriage, many Haredi men continue their Torah studies in a kollel. Studying in secular institutions is often discouraged, although educational facilities for vocational training in a Haredi framework do exist. Families are large, with as many as twelve or more children.
Haredi Jews are typically opposed to the viewing of television and films, and the reading of secular newspapers and books. There has been a strong campaign against the Internet, and Internet-enabled mobile phones without filters have also been banned by leading rabbis. Haredi Jews are typically opposed to the viewing of television and films, and the reading of secular newspapers and books. There has been a strong campaign against the Internet, and Internet-enabled mobile phones without filters have also been banned by leading rabbis.
The men dress in black with white shirts (no necktie) and black fedora hat over a yarmulka. Usually, men must let their sidelocks grow long. Women must cover their hair in public. Dairy foods must be kept separate from meats. (Why? Because it says so in the Torah.)
Many authorities say that Hasidic Judaism is subset of Haredi Judaism, but many Hasidic Jews would not agree. To outsiders, Hasidic Jews do appear to be the same as Haredi Jews in their dress and customs.
However, Hasidic Jews (the Hasidim) practice a more mystical form of Judaism that draws heavily from their study of the Lurianic Kabbalah. The foundational document of the Kabbalah is the Zohar, written by Moses de Leon (1240-1305 CE). Jewish Kabbalists use these classical Jewish scriptures, and the numbers associated with them, to explain and demonstrate Judaism’s mystical teachings. These teachings are held by Kabbalists to define the inner meaning of both the Hebrew Bible and traditional rabbinic literature. This study reveals their formerly “concealed dimension,” and the “inner significance” of Jewish religious observances.
An American cult founded in 1974 by Bonnie Nettles and Marshal Applewhite who attracted a following of several hundred people in the mid-1970’s. The central belief of the group was that followers could transform themselves into immortal extraterrestrial beings by rejecting their human nature, and they would ascend to heaven, referred to as the “Next Level” or “The Evolutionary Level Above Human.” The death of Nettles from cancer in 1985 challenged the group’s views on ascension; where they originally believed that they would ascend to heaven while alive aboard a UFO, they later came to believe that the body was merely a “container” or “vehicle” for the soul, and that their consciousness would be transferred to new “Next Level bodies” upon death. On March 26, 1997, deputies of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department discovered the bodies of the 39 active members of the group, including that of Applewhite, in a house in the San Diego suburb of Rancho Santa Fe. They had participated in a mass suicide, a coordinated series of ritual suicides, coinciding with the closest approach to Earth of Comet Hale–Bopp.
Jehovah’s Witnesses (1880 to now)
The Jehovah’s Witnesses are known for their door-to-door preaching, distributing literature such as The Watchtower, and for refusing military service and blood transfusions. They consider the use of God’s name (“Jehovah”) vital for proper worship. They reject the Trinity, the inherent immortality of the soul, and hellfire. They do not observe Christmas, Easter, birthdays because they have pagan origins incompatible with Christianity.
They consider “human society” to be morally corrupt and under the influence of Satan, and most limit their social interaction with non-Witnesses. Congregational disciplinary actions include formal expulsion and shunning, a last resort for what they consider serious offenses. The Watch Tower Society has made various unfulfilled predictions about major biblical events such as Christ’s Second Coming, the advent of God’s Kingdom on Earth, and Armageddon. Alas, this denomination has little to recommend it.
Jim Jones, The Peoples’ Temple Cult, and Drinking the Deadly “Flavor-Aid”
James Warren Jones, known as Jim Jones, (May 13, 1931 – November 18, 1978) was an American preacher, political activist, and mass murderer. He led Peoples Temple, a new religious movement, between 1955 and 1978. In what he called “revolutionary suicide”, Jones and the members of his inner circle orchestrated a mass murder-suicide in his remote jungle commune at Jonestown, Guyana, on November 18, 1978. Jones and the events that occurred at Jonestown have had a defining influence on society’s perception of cults.
Jones was ordained as a Christian minister in the Independent Assemblies of God, attracting his first group of followers while participating in the Pentecostal Latter Rain movement and the Healing Revival during the 1950s. Jones distinguished himself through civil rights activism, founding the Temple as a fully integrated congregation, and promoting socialism.
Beginning in the late 1960s, reports of abuse began to surface as Jones became increasingly vocal in his rejection of traditional Christianity and began promoting a form of communism he called “Apostolic Socialism” and making claims of his own divinity. Jones became progressively more controlling of his followers in Peoples Temple, which at its peak had over 3,000 members.
Following a period of negative media publicity and reports of abuse at Peoples Temple, Jones ordered the construction of the Jonestown commune in Guyana in 1974 and convinced or compelled many of his followers to live there with him. Jones claimed that he was constructing a socialist paradise free from the oppression of the United States government. By 1978, reports surfaced of human rights abuses and accusations that people were being held in Jonestown against their will.
U.S. Representative Leo Ryan led a delegation to the commune in November of that year to investigate these reports. While boarding a return flight with some former Temple members who wished to leave, Ryan and four others were murdered by gunmen from Jonestown. Jones then ordered a mass murder-suicide that claimed the lives of 909 commune members, 304 of them children; almost all of the members died by drinking Flavor Aid laced with cyanide.
The Peoples’ Temple was a true cult with the usual cult characteristics: Charismatic, narcissistic leader; financial and sexual abuse; and a violent and tragic end.
The Law of Attraction
The Law of Attraction is the “New Thought” spiritual belief that positive or negative thoughts bring positive or negative experiences into a person’s life. The belief is based on the idea that people and their thoughts are made from “pure energy” and that like energy can attract like energy, thereby allowing people to improve their health, wealth, or personal relationships. There is no empirical scientific evidence supporting the law of attraction, and it is widely considered to be pseudoscience.
Advocates generally combine cognitive reframing techniques with affirmations and creative visualization to replace limiting or self-destructive (“negative”) thoughts with more empowered, adaptive (“positive”) thoughts. A key component of the philosophy is the idea that in order to effectively change one’s negative thinking patterns, one must also “feel” (through creative visualization) that the desired changes have already occurred. This combination of positive thought and positive emotion is believed to allow one to attract positive experiences and opportunities by achieving resonance with the proposed energetic law.
For example, the early twentieth century Minister, Wallace Wattles believed that the mind, properly used, worked like a magnet to attract favorable circumstances.
Supporters of the law of attraction refer to scientific theories and use them as arguments in favor of it. However, it has no demonstrable scientific basis. A number of researchers have criticized the misuse of scientific concepts by its proponents. Nevertheless, it is quite true that the positive ideas and visualizations in a person’s mind will influence that person to take action. The action might be to get a new job or to seek out situations and people that can aid the person in realizing his or her goals.
Millerism — (1831 – 1844)
William Miller was a farmer who lived in Low Hampton, New York, who preached that the literal Second Coming would occur “October 22, 1844.” Millerism became extremely popular in western New York State, and some views remain active in church organizations affiliated with Adventism (i.e., the belief that Jesus will return to set up a Kingdom of God on Earth).
“Moonies” — (1954 to Today)
“Moonies” are members of The Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, widely known as the Unification Church, is a new religious movement, derived from Christianity. They are called “Moonies” because their leader was the late Sun Myung Moon (1920-2012) and his wife Hak Ja Han. According to the church’s Divine Principle, a proper understanding of theology focuses simultaneously on man’s relationship with God (vertical) and man’s relationship with his neighbor (horizontal). Man’s sin has disrupted both of these relationships and thus caused all the problems in the world. These problems will be solved through the restoration of man to God through Christ, as well as through such measures as establishing appropriate moral standards and practices, forming true families uniting all peoples and races (Oriental, Western, and African), resolving the tension between science and religion, correcting economic, racial, political, and educational injustices, and overcoming God-denying ideologies such as Communism.
Mormonism – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (1829 to now)
Note: This entry on Mormonism is paraphrased from two main sources: the Wikipedia article on “Mormonism,” and Jon Krakauer’s non-fiction book, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, 2003, First Anchor Books, pp. 54-72.
In his 2007 book, God is Not Great, the late Christopher Hitchens wrote, “In March 1826, a court in Bainbridge, New York, convicted Joseph Smith, age 21, of being ‘a disorderly person and an imposter.’ At trial, Smith admitted to defrauding citizens by organizing mad gold-digging operations and claiming to possess ‘necromantic’ powers. Just four years later, he was back at it with Mormonism.
Smith was operating in the ‘Burned-over district’ of western New York State, known for generating one-off cults, including the Shakers and William Miller’s Adventism (belief in a Second Coming.” The name was inspired by the notion that the area had been so heavily evangelized as to have no “fuel” (unconverted population) left over to “burn” (convert). (See Christopher Hitchens’ book, God Is Not Great, 2009, Hachette Book Group, pp. 161-8.)
There were a large number of ancient Indian burial mounds in the area, and a group of people were fond of digging into the mounds in search of silver and gold. Another faction believed they could unearth the resting place of the “lost tribes of Israel.”
Joseph Smith went for the “big con.” He claimed that he was visited by the Angel Moroni, who directed him to a set of buried gold plates, which would explain the origins of all the people living on the North American continent and the arrival of Nephi, a central character in the Book of Mormon, who ostensibly wandered the land, fought battles, and gave birth to a large progeny over many generations.
Smith was also directed to two buried “peep stones,” or “seer stones.” Smith would place his favorite peep stone inside his hat. Then he would bury his face in the crown of the upturned hat. The stone miraculously allowed the unknown script (“reformed Egyptian”) on the plates to appear in English in Smith’s mind, and Smith would then dictate the words for a friend on the other side of a blanket strung across Smith’s kitchen, to write down. (The blanket kept the friend from seeing the gold plates.)
This process, over a period of about eleven months, produced The Book of Mormon. Smith took the text and had it self-published in late 1829. Smith would never show the gold plates to anyone, and when he had finished dictating their words to his neighbor and scribe, the plates were divinely swept up and away into heaven.
In April 1830, Smith incorporated his new religion of Mormonism, now known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
The Book of Mormon is a narrative of ridiculous fictional events. The lost Tribe of Israel (one of them) comes to North America 600 years BCE. The tribe splits in two – the virtuous Nephites and the evil (and dark-skinned) Lamanites. Jesus Christ makes an appearance, and his word persuades the two clans to cooperate for 700 years. But then they split again and go to war. The good Nephites are wiped out by the bad Lamanites, who are the ancestors of the American Indians (also a people of color). The last leader of the Nephites is a man named Mormon. Of course, there is no historical or archaeological trace of either clan anywhere on the North American continent. And DNA analysis shows there is no ancestral link between Native Americans and any Hebrew people.
On the basis of this text, African-Americans were denied membership in the Mormon Church until the1960’s. Then, around the time of passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1965, the Mormon leaders in Salt Lake City had a second revelation which told them that African Americans were okay after all. A similar “second revelation” convinced the Church that polygamy was wrong, just in time to avoid federal intervention in the marriage laws of Utah. (Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, 2009, Hachette Book Group, p. 167.)
Joseph Smith possessed a charismatic, outsized personality. He had boundless energy, a zest for living, complete self-confidence and a true gift for oratory.
He also had an enormous sexual appetite – what today we would call a sex-addict. We don’t know whether Smith cynically extended his Great Con to ensnare the prettiest girls of his congregation, or whether he – like so many other popular leaders down through the ages — came to “believe in his own propaganda,” and concluded that God really did intend for the most powerful Mormon male to “gather unto himself” the comeliest maidens of the new faith.
Smith bedded 15-year old Marinda Johnson in 1831, while he and his wife were boarding with Marinda’s parents in Kirtland, Ohio. For this offense, Smith was dragged out of bed by an angry mob of neighbors and badly beaten. But in 1833, he took as his second wife the 16-year-old Fanny Alger, who had been working as a servant in the Smith household. .
Smith continued to take more wives – all of them young beauties – through the 1830’s and 1840’s. Between 1840 and 1844, Smith married some forty women. Many – seventeen-year-old Lucy Walker and fourteen-year-old Helen Mar Kimball — were coerced into marriage under the threat of eternal damnation. And all during the 1830’ and 1840’ Smith took pains to conceal his polygamous behavior from all but a close inner circle of the most dedicated Mormons. But even 40 young wives could not satisfy Smith’s addiction to sex. Creditable testimony shows that Smith visited a house of ill-repute in Nauvoo dozens of times during the years he and his followers lived in that town.
Smith’s new Mormon religion had immediate success. It explained the existence of the mysterious local Indian burial mounds, and where the Indians came from. In the middle of two centuries of warfare between North America’s new white settlers and the Native Americans, the idea of an ancient conflict between the Nephites and Lamanites made sense to Smith’s followers in the 1830’s and 1840’s. And the Mormons were delighted to hear that they were God’s chosen people, that they had a special place in Heaven. They were also pleased with the new theology and the new sermons which extolled American free enterprise, the unabashed pursuit of wealth, and a positive uniquely American attitude toward the United States, its freedoms, and its seemingly endless bounty of the western frontier.
Joseph Smith also had the prescience to make Mormonism highly adaptive. He decreed that down through the generations, the most senior elders of the Church would also be automatically gifted with the power of prophesy, just as he himself had been.
Today, the Mormon doctrines of hard work, positive attitude, pursuit of earthly wealth, and family-centered clean living continues to draw thousands of people into the Church of Latter-Day Saints.
Here are the main Strengths of Mormonism —
- Pursue mainstream avenues of achievement – normal jobs, create wealth, family first.
- No jihadi warriors
- No retreat into hours of Zen meditation.
- No monasteries, nunneries
- No ingrown priesthoods that harbor child molesters.
- Normal dress. No weird costumes. (They do wear what they call “the garment,” but it is worn underneath and is not visible to the public.)
And here are some of the Shortcomings of Mormonism –
- They have a truly ridiculous mythology, including the assertion that Jesus Christ visited the United States.
- They initially excluded Black people (the “people of Hamm”) as an inferior race compared to whites.
- Mormons who go to heaven can bring their ancestors with them. For this reason, some of the best genealogical resources in the world are located at Salt Lake City. This proved to be a fantastic marketing ploy: “Join the Mormon Church and not only will you go to heaven, but all your ancestors will as well.” This welds together two ancient human impulses: The desire to live in paradise after death, and ancestor worship.
Neo-Paganism, also known as Modern Paganism
Beginning in the late 1970s, some feminists, open to feminine personifications of the deity, became interested in witchcraft and Neo-Paganism. Neo-Paganism in the postwar decades has flourished particularly in the United States, in the United Kingdom, and in Scandinavia. (This entire entry on Neo-paganism is paraphrased from Encyclopedia Britannica, online. See also our separate entry on “Wicca.”)
Adherents rely on pre-Christian, folkloric, and ethnographic sources to a variety of degrees; many follow a spirituality that they accept as entirely modern, while others claim prehistoric beliefs, or else attempt to revive indigenous religions as accurately as possible. At one end is reconstructionism, which seeks to revive historical pagan religions; examples are Heathenry (Germanic), Rodnovery (Slavic), and Hellenism (Greek). At the other end are eclectic movements, which blend elements of historical paganism with other religions and philosophies; examples are Wicca, neo-Druidry, and the Goddess movement. Polytheism, animism, and pantheism are common features of pagan theology.
Some of the major Neo-Pagan groups are:
- The Church of All Worlds, the largest of all the pagan movements, which centers on worship of the Earth-mother goddess;
- Feraferia, based on ancient Greek religion and also centered on goddess worship;
- Pagan Way, a nature religion centered on goddess worship and the seasons;
- The Reformed Druids of North America;
- The Church of the Eternal Source, which has revived ancient Egyptian religion; and
- The Midgard Vikings Brotherhood, which celebrates Norse rites.
Followers of Continuing Creation place a lot more confidence in the Gaia Movement that we do in Neo-Paganism.
New Thought Movement (1820- today)
Note: The New Thought Movement happened before the New Age Movement. We are reversing their strict alphabetical order in this Essay, because “New Thought” was an historical and ideological forerunner of “New Age.”
“New Thought” is a spiritual movement that coalesced in the United States in the early 19th century. The origins of New Thought have often been traced back to Phineas Quimby, or even as far back as Franz Mesmer (originator of “Mesmerism,” a.k.a. hypnotism). Many of these groups are incorporated into the International New Thought Alliance.
The contemporary New Thought movement is a loosely allied group of religious denominations, authors, philosophers, and individuals who share a set of beliefs concerning positive thinking, the law of attraction, healing, life force, creative visualization, and personal power. Continuing Creation agrees with “creative visualization” as a key step in performing creative acts.
We Co-creators reject all of the ideas in this paragraph; for example, we hold than nothing is “divine.”
In general, adherents of New Thought share these core beliefs:
- God or “Infinite Intelligence” is supreme, universal, and everlasting;
- Spirit is the totality of real things;
- Divinity dwells within each person;
- Divine thought is a force for good;
- All people are spiritual beings;
- The highest spiritual principle is loving, teaching, and healing one another;
- Sickness originates in the mind;
- Right thinking has a healing effect;
- Our mental states are manifested in daily living.
Of the nine things on this list, the Way of Continuing Creation supports only the last one. The other eight lack clear definition and lack support from evidence. See also, the “Law of Attraction,” a separate Entry on this List.
New Age Movement (1970 ~ 2000)
(Note that the New Age Movement happened after the New Thought movement discussed above. New Thought was a conceptual forerunner to New Age.)
New Age teachings became popular during the 1970’s as a reaction against what some perceived as the failure of Christianity and the failure of Secular Humanism to provide spiritual and ethical guidance for the future. Its roots are traceable to many sources: Astrology, Channeling, Hinduism, Gnostic traditions, Spiritualism, Taoism, Theosophy, Wicca and other Neo-pagan traditions, etc.
The movement started in England in the 1960’s where many of these elements were well established. Small groups, such as the Findhorn Community in Inverness and the Wrekin Trust formed. The movement quickly became international.
New Age is a range of spiritual or religious practices and beliefs which rapidly grew in Western society during the early 1970s. Its highly eclectic and unsystematic structure makes a precise definition of “New Age” difficult. Although many scholars consider it a religious movement, its adherents typically see it as spiritual or as unifying one’s Mind-Body-Spirit, and rarely use the term “New Age” themselves.
New Age drew heavily upon esoteric traditions such as the occultism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, including the work of Emanuel Swedenborg, Spiritualism, New Thought, and Theosophy. More immediately, it arose from mid-twentieth century influences such as the UFO cults of the 1950s, the counterculture of the 1960s, and the Human Potential Movement.
Early New Age mileposts in North America were a “New Age Seminar” run by the Association for Research and Enlightenment, and the establishment of The East-West Journal in 1971. New Age expanded widely in 1970’s, 1980s, and 1990s, in particular in the United States. By the start of the 21st century, however, the term New Age was increasingly rejected, with some observers arguing that the New Age phenomenon had ended.
Theologically, New Age typically accepts a holistic form of divinity that pervades the universe, including human beings themselves, leading to a strong emphasis on the spiritual authority of the self. This is accompanied by a common belief in a variety of semi-divine non-human entities, such as angels, gurus, and “masters,” and in channeling them through a human intermediary.
New Age includes a strong belief in the importance of uniting to preserve the health of the earth, which is often looked upon as Gaia, (Mother Earth), who is seen as a living entity. (Her life would be the interconnection of all Earth’s lives, and Her mind would be the interconnection of all Earth’s minds.)
Another common New Age belief is in a forgotten age of spiritual wisdom, declining into periods of increasing violence and spiritual degeneracy, which will now be remedied by the emergence of an “Age of Aquarius,” from which the milieu gets its name. There is also a strong focus on healing, particularly using forms of alternative medicine, and an emphasis on unifying science with spirituality.
Several key events occurred which raised public awareness of the New Age subculture, including the production of the musical “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical“ (1967) with its opening song “Aquarius” and its memorable line “This is the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius,” and the release of Shirley MacLaine’s book, Out on a Limb (1983), later adapted into a television mini-series of the same name (1987).
New Age Works Include the Writings of:
- James Redfield (The Celestine Prophesy)
- Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now and A New Earth)
- Barbara Marx Hubbard
- Christopher Hills
- Marianne Williamson (Illuminata, A Return to Love, A Woman’s Worth)
- Deepak Chopra (The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, The Book of Secrets),
- John Holland
- Gary Zukav (The Dancing Wu Li Masters, The Heart of the Soul, The Mind of the Soul)
- Wayne Dyer (The Power of Awakening, Living the Wisdom of the Tao)
- Rhonda Byrne (The Secret, The Power, The Magic).
Note: The books named above are not the complete works of their respective authors.
Surveys show that between 5% and 10% of New Age followers believe in one or more of the following things:
- Astrology as a method of foretelling the future
- Crystals are a source of healing or energizing power
- Tarot Cards are a reliable base for life decisions
- God is “the total realization of personal, human potential”
And 25% of New Age followers believe in non-traditional concepts of the nature of God which are often associated with New Age thinking. For example, 11% believe that God is “a state of higher consciousness that a person may reach.”
Some very conservative Christians believe that a massive, underground, highly coordinated New Age organization exists that is infiltrating government, media, schools and churches. No such entity exists. Some conservative Christians do not differentiate among the Occult, Satanism, Wicca, and other Neopagan religions. Many seem to regard all New Age concepts as forms of Satanism whose followers perform horrendous criminal acts on children. (For example, see Pizzagate and QAnon). The Book of Continuing Creation rejects these right-wing conspiracy delusions.
New Age argues for Universal Religion: The universal religion can be visualized as a mountain, with many spiritual paths to the summit. Some paths are hard; others easy. There is no one correct path. All paths anticipate that a new universal religion which contains elements of all current faiths will evolve and become generally accepted worldwide.
Followers expected The New Age would be celebrated as The Age of Aquarius — an Earthly utopia in which there would be world government, and end to wars, disease, hunger, pollution, and poverty. Racial, religious, gender, and other forms of discrimination would cease. People’s allegiance to their tribe or nation would be replaced by a concern for the entire world, and for its people, its species, and its ecosystems. Followers of Nature’s Continuing Creation are very much in agreement with such a change: from allegiance to tribal gods to allegiance to Earth’s Continuing Creation.
Here is a List of Common New Age Practices:
Aura Reading — An Aura is believed to be an energy field radiated by the body. Invisible to most people, it can supposedly be detected by some as a shimmering, multi-colored field surrounding the body. Those skilled in detecting and interpreting auras can diagnose an individual’s state of mind, and their spiritual and physical health. Psychics have offered aura readings for many years. They claim to have a unique ability to see or sense individual’s auras, however no evidence has ever been provided to substantiate this claim. The idea of “auras” is too magical and irrational for Weavers of Continuing Creation.
Crystal Healing – In the English-speaking world, crystal healing is heavily associated with the New Age spiritual movement. Practitioners believe that placing crystals on or near the body can boost low energy, prevent bad energy, release blocked energy, and transform a body’s “aura.” Participants view the practice as “individuated;” that is, dependent on extreme personalization and creative expression. Nevertheless, lasers made of crystals can have healing powers when they are used in laser surgery. It is also true that crystal lattices in certain clays may have provided a framework or template for “abiogenesis,” the formation of First Life. (See our Essay, https://continuingcreation.org/essay-3-warm-pools-rock-pockets-deep-sea-smokers-panspermia/.)
Channeling – Channelers usually try to make contact with a single, “spiritually evolved being.” That being’s consciousness is channeled through the medium who then relays guidance and information to the group, through the use of the medium’s voice. Channeling has existed since the 1850’s and many channeling groups consider themselves independent of the New Age movement. Perhaps the most famous channeling event was the popular, A Course in Miracles. It was supposedly channeled through a Columbia University psychologist, Dr. Helen Schucman, (1909-1981), over an eight-year period. (We discussed “A Course in Miracles” earlier in this Essay.) There is no scientific evidence that “channeling” works.
Meditating – A process of blanking out the mind and releasing oneself from conscious thinking. This is often aided by repetitive chanting of a mantra or focusing on an object. The Practice of Continuing Creation strongly endorses meditation. See our two Essays, Leading a Fulfilled and Happy Life, and Meditations for Co-Creators.
New Age Music — A gentle, melodic, inspirational music form involving the human voice, harp, lute, flute, etc. It is used as an aid in healing, massage therapy and general relaxation.
Astrology – The belief that the orientation of the planets at the time of one’s birth, and the location of that birth predicts the individual’s future and personality. Belief in astrology is common amongst New Agers, but definitely not limited to them.
Holistic Health or Alternative Medicine – This is a collection of healing techniques which have diverged from the traditional medical model. It attempts to cure disorders in mind, body and spirit and to promote wholeness and balance in the individual. Examples are acupuncture, crystal healing, homeopathy, iridology, massage, various meditation methods, polarity therapy, psychic healing, therapeutic touch, reflexology, etc.
Human Potential Movement – (a.k.a. Emotional Growth Movement) This is a collection of therapeutic methods involving both individualized and group working, using both mental and physical techniques. The goal is to help individuals to advance spiritually. Examples are Esalen Growth Center programs, EST Seminars, Gestalt Therapy, Primal Scream Therapy, Transactional Analysis, Transcendental Meditation, and Yoga.
Personal Transformation — A profoundly intense mystical experience that leads to the acceptance and use of New Age beliefs and practices. Guided imagery, hypnosis, meditation, and (sometimes) the use of hallucinogenic drugs are useful to bring about and enhance this transformation. Believers hope to develop new potentials within themselves: the ability to heal oneself and others, psychic powers, a new understanding of the workings of the universe, etc. Later, when sufficient numbers of people have achieved these powers, a major spiritual, physical, psychological and cultural planet-wide transformation – The “Age of Aquarius” — is expected. (Note: You can hear the hear The Fifth Dimension, with the fabulous Marilyn McCoo, sing The Age of Aquarius, and Let The Sun Shine, on YouTube!)
Oneida Community (1848- 1881)
The Oneida Community was a perfectionist religious communal society founded by John Humphrey Noyes and his followers in 1848 near Oneida, New York.
The community believed that Jesus had already returned in AD 70, making it possible for them to bring about Jesus’s millennial kingdom themselves, and be perfect and free of sin in this world, not just in Heaven (a belief called perfectionism). The Oneida Community practiced communal property and possessions, group marriage, male sexual continence, and mutual criticism.
The community’s original 87 members grew to 306 by 1878. The Oneida Community dissolved in 1881, converting itself to a joint-stock company. This eventually became the silverware company Oneida Limited. We Agents of Continual Natural Creation applaud the Oneida but reject its myth-based theology.
Opus Dei (1928) and People of Praise (1971)
Opus Dei is an institution of the Catholic Church whose members seek personal Christian holiness and strive to imbue their ordinary work and lives in society with Christian principles. The majority of its membership are lay people; the remainder are secular priests under the governance of a prelate elected by specific members and appointed by the Pope.
As of 2018, there were 93,203 lay persons and 2,115 priests; plus an estimated 2,000 diocesan priest members of Opus Dei’s “Priestly Society of the Holy Cross.” Members are located in more than 90 countries. About 70% of the members live in their own homes, leading family lives with secular careers, while the other 30% are celibate, of whom the majority live in Opus Dei centers.
Aside from their personal charity and social work, Opus Dei members organize training in Catholic spirituality applied to daily life. Members are involved in running universities, university residences, schools, publishing houses, hospitals, and technical and agricultural training centers.
People of Praise, founded in 1971 as a lay Christian intentional community, resembles Opus Dei, but is generally less restrictive. Protestants can join People of Praise communities.
People of Praise practices a form of spiritual direction that involves the supervision of a member by a more “spiritually mature” person called a “head.” People of Praise maintains that members retain their freedom of conscience under such direction. The community, like the Catholic Church, has few women in leadership positions. It nevertheless encourages women to pursue higher education and employment. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett and her immediate family are members of People of Praise.
People of Praise membership is open to any baptized Christian who affirms the Nicene Creed and agrees to the community’s covenant. The majority of its members are Catholics, but Protestants can also join, reflecting the ecumenical nature of People of Praise. It has 22 branches in the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean, with approximately 1,700 members. It founded Trinity Schools, which are aligned with the philosophy of classical Christian education for grades 7-12.
In its early history, People of Praise influenced the institutional development of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement in the United States and played important roles in national charismatic conferences. Once again, We Agents of Continual Natural Creation applaud these lifestyles, but reject its myth-based theology.
Pedophilia Scandals in the Roman Catholic Church (from Centuries ago until now)
Note: This entry is taken from 2014 motion picture, Spotlight. That film dramatizes The Boston Globe’s newspaper investigation of sexual abuse of minors by priests of the Boston Archdiocese, presided over by Cardinal Bernard Law (1931-2017). The Globe’s series of articles on this topic won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. The Globe’s investigation and writing was done by the Globe’s “Spotlight Team,” dedicated to doing in-depth investigations over the years.
The film depicts the Spotlight Team’s telephone interviews with Richard Sipe, a psychotherapist, former priest. In the film, Sipe says that his 30 years of treatment and study of Catholic priests, including a 25-year ethnographic study published in 1990, showed that only 50% are celibate. Sipe says that “many of the priests were ‘psychosexually stunted’ – at the level of 12 or 13 year olds.”
“In a May 2009 study, Sipe found that there were extensive problems in the sexual behavior of Burlington, Vermont, Catholic clergy. He examined the records of 102 priests “whose records were available” between 1950 and 2002. He claimed that, of this group, 23 priests were sexually involved with children under age 13. Of those priests, 15 were reported for involvement with married women and 19 were said to have had sexual relationships with adult men. He asserted that 49 could be said to have a homosexual orientation.” (Wikipedia’s article on Richard Sipe, as of 3/5/23
“Richard Sipe (1932-2018) was a former Benedictine monk-priest of 18 years, a sociologist and author of six books about Catholicism and the sexual abuses arising from the Catholic Church’s requirements of celibacy. He was an American Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor trained specifically to deal with the mental health problems of Roman Catholic priests. He practiced psychotherapy, “taught on the faculties of Major Catholic Seminaries and colleges, lectured in medical schools, and served as a consultant and expert witness in both civil and criminal cases involving the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests.” In 1970, after leaving the priesthood, Sipe married a former nun, Marianne; they have one son together.” (Wikipedia’s article on Richard Sipe as of 3/5/23.)
Spotlight proved that Cardinal Law knew of at least 90 cases of child abuse by priests, nearly all them routinely settled out of court (for only $20K per case — the legislated legal limit of liability). The archdiocese routinely had the priests reassigned or placed in halfway houses and it directed public legal documents to be illegally removed from the county courthouse.
During 2002, Spotlight wrote 600 stories on child molestation & cover-up within the Poston Diocese. A total of 249 priests and brothers in the Boston archdiocese were publicly charged. Over 1000 survivors came forward in the Boston area. In Dec 2002, Cardinal Law resigned. He was reassigned to the Basilica de Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, one of the highest-ranking catholic churches in the world. Major child-abuse scandals involving the Catholic church were uncovered in 204 major world cities. For example, in August, 2018, a Pennsylvania Grand Jury published an investigation saying priests had abused 1000 children in Pennsylvania.
These twisted and illegal behavior patterns are the fruits of the Catholic Church’s military chain of command, its ridiculous doctrine of “priests may not marry,” and the absence of any congregational control over their parishes. Clearly, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Ways to Reform the Catholic Church in Order to Eliminate Sexual Abuse of Children
- Instances of abuse should be reported first and foremost to the police, then to the clergy.
- Make it a crime to shield or hide a priest from investigation & prosecution by the civil law.
- Let women be priests.
- At the same time, raise standards for admitting new people to the priesthood.
- Abolish celibacy.
- Provide the members of each perish with a say in the hiring and firing of its clergy.
- Get rid of the “Princes of the Church” mentality toward bishops and cardinals.
- Open all church archives dealing with priests’ assignments and questionable behaviors.
- Let priests get married (both opposite sex and same sex marriages). If priests are alone and celibate, temptation grows to reach out to the people closest at hand for sex. (This also happens in prisons and in military cadres.)
- If married people can become priests, then the priesthood will be able to attract new priests from a much larger population pool of candidates. Thus, the church will be able to be more selective in choosing qualified candidates.
- Extend or do away statutes of limitations for these crimes.
Of course, Pedophilia has been rampant in organizations that are neither cults nor religions. An important example is the Boy Scouts of America. According to Wikipedia, “The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is one of the largest youth organizations in the United States, with 2.3 million youth members and approximately 889,000 adult volunteers. In 1979 there were over 5 million youths in BSA. Over 92,000 sexual abuse claims were filed with the bankruptcy court before November 16, 2020. There were nearly 2,000 reported cases of abuse within the Boy Scouts of America prior to 1994, and at least one abuse incident as recent as 2006. The high risk of volunteer youth organizations has been recognized, and, in 1988, the BSA created a sex abuse education and prevention program called the Youth Protection program to help address the problem… On February 18, 2020, the Boy Scouts of America filed for a Chapter 11 financial restructuring to offer “equitable compensation” to survivors and their families. The BSA cited approximately 200 pending lawsuits in state and federal district courts across the United States and 1700 potential claimants in total. In May of that same year, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware set November 16, 2020, at 5pm EST as the bar date for all survivors of sexual abuse. 82,000 sexual abuse claims were filed with the bankruptcy court before the November 16 deadline to receive claims.”
Positive Thinking and Positive Psychology Movements – 1950’s
In 1952, The Reverend Norman Vincent Peale (1898-1993) published a very popular book called The Power of Positive Thinking. It provided anecdotal “case histories” of positive thinking using a biblical approach, and practical instructions which were designed to help the reader achieve a permanent optimistic attitude. These techniques usually involved affirmations and visualizations. Peale claimed that such techniques would give the reader a higher satisfaction and quality of life. The book was negatively reviewed by scholars and health experts but was popular among the general public. President Reagan was a devotee of positive thinking.
The Positive Thinking Movement that originated in the 1950’s has had a profound influence on American life. In essence, its doctrine was “If you think it, you can make it so.” There is truth in that adage, especially if you think it over and over.
Positive thinking appears in the sermons and books of several best-selling author-preachers, including Norman Vincent Peale (The Power of Positive Thinking), Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People), Maxwell Maltz (Psycho-Cybernetics), Napoleon Hill, (Think and Grow Rich) and today’s Joel Osteen (Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential.)
Note: In 2014, a new book came out — One Simple Idea, by Mitch Horowitz. This is a very well-researched and written intellectual history of the Positive-Thinking Movement.
Much of Positive Thinking morphed into the New Thought movement, which contends that “our thoughts possess some kind of power, both on ourselves and on events around us.” This idea, often called “the Law of Attraction,” is a little spooky for us Continuing Creationists. A thought has no effect on anyone else unless it is expressed in language, facial expression, posture, gesture, or action. See our earlier entries on the ‘New Thought Movement’ and on the ‘Law of Attraction.’)
Positive Psychology (1998 to now) is the more recent scientific study of what makes life most worth living, focusing on both individual and societal well-being. It studies “positive subjective experience, positive individual traits, and positive institutions…it aims to improve quality of life.” It is a field of study that has been growing steadily throughout the years as individuals and researchers look for common ground on better well-being.
Positive psychology began as a new domain of psychology in 1998 when Martin Seligman chose it as the theme for his term as president of the American Psychological Association. It is a reaction against past practices, which tended to focus on mental illness and emphasized maladaptive behavior and negative thinking. Positive Psychology builds on the humanistic movement put forward by Abraham Maslow (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs), Rollo May, (The Courage to Create), James Bugental (The Search for Authenticity), and Carl Rogers (A Way of Being), which encourages an emphasis on happiness, well-being, and positivity.
While not attempting a strict definition of what makes up a good life, positive psychologists agree that people need to be engaged with meaningful with their experiences in order to have a Full and Meaningful Life. Both Positive Thinking and Positive Psychology strongly contributed to the Book of Continuing Creation’s online Essay, Leading a Fulfilled and Happy Life.
Prosperity Gospel (1880 to now)
Quite a few Evangelical Christian Ministers in the United States preach “The Prosperity Gospel,” which holds that God will bless all hard-working true followers of Jesus with business success and material prosperity. The Mormon Church (see our entry above) teaches this doctrine, and Mormons who are “down on their luck” often receive practical and/or monetary help from more prosperous members of the church.
The Prosperity Gospel was first pointed out by the sociologist Max Weber, who wrote a book in 1905 called The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Today, Weber’s book is regarded as a pioneering book in the then new science of sociology.
This gospel of wealth, however, was an expression of “Muscular Christianity” and understood success to be the result of personal effort rather than divine intervention. 1
Weber shows that certain branches of Protestantism supported worldly activities dedicated to economic gain, seeing these activities as endowed with moral and spiritual significance. Productive work was seen as a moral good. Wealth was not the aim, but merely the by-product and evidence of one’s hard work and dedication to God’s progress.
Prior to the industrial revolution, the Roman Catholic Church had assured salvation to individuals who accepted the church’s sacraments and submitted to the clerical authority. Weber wrote that the Protestant Reformation had effectively removed such assurances.
In the absence of Catholic assurances from religious authority, Weber argued that Protestants began to look for “signs” that they were saved. Worldly success became one of these signs. People who were prosperous could be confident that they were “saved.” Weber also noted that within Protestantism, a vocation or calling from God was no longer limited to the clergy, but could include any useful occupation or trade.
In the United States, according to historian Kate Bowler, the prosperity gospel was formed from the intersection of three different ideologies: Pentecostalism (a person’s direct experience of God), New Thought, and “an American gospel of pragmatism, individualism, and upward mobility”. (See our entry for “New Thought” earlier in this Essay.)
The American Prosperity Gospel was promoted by the steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie’s 1889 article, “The Gospel of Wealth” and Reverend Russell Conwell‘s famous sermon, “Acres of Diamonds” (1900-1025), in which Conwell equated poverty with sin and asserted that anyone could become rich through hard work.
Note: Interestingly, there is also a “prosperity gospel” in modern Hinduism. (See Professor Stephen Prothero’s book, God Is Not One: The Eight Religions that Run the World, 2010, Harper One, p. 153.)
We Co-Creators in Continuing Creation also see productive work as a moral good, but only if that work contributes to the progress of Continuing Creation. The progress of Continuing Creation, however, is not about making money. It is about the advancement of science; engineering; medicine; ecology; justice; relationships with family, friends, community, and society; and personal well-being. Money is only a very crude, often distorted, measure of those advancements.
QAnon (2017 to now)
QAnon is an American political conspiracy theory and political movement, not a religious or spiritual movement. However, its beliefs are weird enough to be myths, and QAnon can easily be described as a modern cult; a cult that takes place mostly online.
QAnon originated in the American far-right political sphere in 2017. QAnon centers on fabricated claims made by an anonymous individual or individuals known as “Q.” Those claims have been relayed, developed, and supplemented by numerous communities and influencers associated with the movement. This activity has principally taken place online.
“The core QAnon conspiracy theory is that a cabal of Satanic, cannibalistic sexual abusers of children operating a global child sex trafficking ring conspired against former U.S. President Donald Trump during his term in office. The QAnon conspiracy theory has direct roots in “Pizzagate,” an Internet conspiracy theory that appeared one year earlier. QAnon also incorporates elements of many other theories.
Followers of these conspiracy theorists say that the Trump administration secretly fought the cabal of pedophiles and would soon conduct mass arrests and executions of thousands of cabal members on a day known as “the Storm” or “the Event”. QAnon conspiracy believers have named Democratic politicians, Hollywood actors, high-ranking government officials, business tycoons, and medical experts as members of the cabal.
QAnon has also claimed that Trump stimulated the conspiracy of Russian interference in the 2016 United States presidential election in order to enlist Robert Mueller to join him in exposing a liberal sex-trafficking ring, and to prevent a coup d’état by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and George Soros.
Note: Will Sommer, a highly respected news journalist, has recently published an excellent best-selling book on QAnon titled, Trust the Plan: The Rise of QAnon and the Conspiracy that Unhinged America. (2023, Harper Collins.)
Rosicrucianism (~1775 to now) is a spiritual and cultural movement that arose in Europe in the early 17th century after the publication of several texts announcing to the world a thitherto unknown esoteric order. Rosicrucianism is symbolized by the Rosy Cross or Rose Cross. In later centuries, many esoteric societies have claimed to derive from Rosicrucianism. The most influential of these societies has been the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which counted many prominent figures among its members. They engaged in Seances and Tarot-Card Reading. The largest is the Rosicrucian Order, AMORC, a multinational organization based in San Jose, California. In 1989, Paul Foster Case, founder of the Builders of the Adytum as a successor to the Golden Dawn, published The True and Invisible Rosicrucian Order: An interpretation of the Rosicrucian Allegory & An Explanation of the Ten Rosicrucian Grades. (See also our entry on Theosophy.)
Scientology (1952 to now)
Hubbard characterized Scientology as an “applied religious philosophy” and made it the basis for a new religion. The first Scientology church was established in New Jersey, in December 1953. The Church of Scientology is legally recognized as a tax-exempt religion in the United States.
Scientology teaches that all people are immortal spiritual beings, “Thetans,” which have lived many prior lifetimes. However, most people have forgotten their true Thetan nature.
In Scientology, the concept of the “Thetan” is similar to the concept of self, the spirit, or soul as found in other belief systems. Scientologists believe that it is a person’s inner Thetan, not the central nervous system, which commands the body.
Continuing Creation holds that “Thetans” are fictional. They are mythical; as are gods, goddesses, angels, demons, leprechauns, witches, and trolls. No outside creature, force, ghost, or “prior person” controls any human brain.
In Scientology, one’s “reactive” (emotional or subconscious) mind stores adverse mental images, called “engrams,” which are not readily available to the “analytical” (conscious) mind. Engrams are emotionally painful and debilitating. As they accumulate, people move further away from their true positive and creative identity. Uncovered “engrams” are analogous to childhood traumas or adolescent crises.
In Scientology, a person’s engrams are removed largely through “auditing” sessions. During auditing, individuals consciously re-experience painful or traumatic events in their past in order to free themselves of their limiting effects. Auditing is done one-on-one with a trained Scientology Auditor.
Once an area of concern has been identified, the auditor asks the individual specific questions about it, in order to help him or her eliminate the engram and uses an “E-meter” to confirm that the engram’s “charge” has been dissipated and the engram has in fact been “cleared.” As the individual progresses, auditing moves from simple engrams to engrams of increasing complexity.
Through repeated, progressive auditing sessions, when all engrams have ostensibly been revealed and left behind, the audited Scientologist is declared to be “Clear.” A Clear individual responds rationally and creatively to life events rather than reacting to them under the warped direction of stored engrams. This process is sometimes referred to as moving along the “Bridge to Total Freedom,” or simply “the Bridge.”
There are higher levels of initiation, above the level “Clear,” where people are promoted to become “Operating Thetans“ (OTs).” These mystical teachings “may be harmful to unprepared readers.”
A commonly held belief among Scientologists is that main-stream psychiatry and psychology are destructive and abusive practices. Continuing Creation holds the opposite view. We consider it dangerous for an “Auditor” to conduct mental/emotional therapy on another person without training and licensing as Psychiatrists or Clinical Psychologists.
Members are required to make “donations” for study courses and auditing as they move up the Bridge, the amounts increasing as higher levels are reached. A number of outside observers contend that Scientology fleeces its members by charging far more than their Auditing sessions are worth.
The Eight Dynamics (Levels) of Scientology
Scientology teaches that the aim of life is to survive [and prosper]. There are eight ascending levels of “survival,” called “the Eight Dynamics:”
- First Dynamic is the individual’s desire or drive to survive [and creatively prosper].
- Second is the desire for the family to survive and creatively prosper.
- Third is the desire for groups (clan, tribe, nation) to survive & prosper.
- Fourth Dynamic is the drive for mankind, our species, to survive & prosper.
- Fifth is the drive for Life Forms [the ecosphere] to survive & develop.
- Sixth is the drive for the Physical Universe to survive and evolve.
- Seventh is the drive to survive & develop as Spiritual Beings.
- Eighth Dynamic is the urge toward Infinity, the “Allness of All.”
These Eight Levels are very similar to Continuing Creation’s arenas or concentric circles of human connection, with the exception of Scientology’s number Eight, which is…. uhm, “unclear.” The recognition of the importance of all life forms, and thereby the ecosphere in Dynamic #5, is a Strength of Scientology.
Scientology teaches that spiritual progress requires and enables the attainment of high ethical standards. Actions are considered ethical if they promote survival across all eight dynamics, thus benefiting the greatest number of people or things possible while harming the fewest. Continuing Creation thinks this is reasonable.
While Scientology states that many social problems are the unintentional results of people’s engrams, it asserts that there are also truly malevolent individuals. Twenty percent of the population, Hubbard thought, were “suppressive” persons. And about 2.5 percent hopelessly antisocial personalities — “the Adolf Hitlers and the Genghis Khans, the unrepentant murderers and the drug lords.” These percentages seem to be roughly consistent with analyses done by qualified psychologists, sociologists, and criminologists who say that about 4% of people are sociopaths.
At the “OT” levels, the levels above Clear, teachings include accounts of various cosmic catastrophes that befell the Thetans over the eons of their repeated lives. Hubbard referred to these early events collectively as “Space Opera.” It is fascinating that Hubbard would use an appellation so overtly fictional to describe events he presented as real. However, “The bigger the lie, the easier it is to sell if it is repeated often enough.”
One controversial Scientology belief is that Thetans lived among extraterrestrial cultures before becoming trapped in bodies on Earth. It is believed that Thetans were brainwashed by these extraterrestrial cultures as a means of population control. Agents of C.C. think it’s way beyond controversial; it’s ridiculous.
The belief in extraterrestrial origins and other “Space Opera” topics are not taught to new members but are only presented after members have risen through the ranks of Scientology. Participation in higher-level courses on the Bridge may cost several thousand dollars, but Scientology maintains that members usually move up the Bridge at a rate governed by their income.
Shakers (1747- Now. Now, only one community left)
The Shakers split off from the Quaker religion at a time at a time when the Quakers were weaning themselves away from frenetic spiritual expression. The Shakers have been known for their ecstatic bodily shaking during their Christian religious services. They emigrated from England and settled in Watervliet, New Your, in 1774. At its peak in the mid-19th century, there were 2,000–4,000 Shaker believers living in 18 major communities and numerous smaller, often short-lived communities. Today, the only remaining community is the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, in Maine. In their heyday they practiced a celibate and communal utopian lifestyle, pacifism, uniform charismatic worship, and equality of the sexes. They are also known for their simple living, architecture, technological innovation, music, and furniture.
Snake Handling, Faith Healing, & Speaking in Tongues in American Christian Evangelism
Note: An acclaimed fictional film criticizing Faith-healing Evangelism and Tent Revival Meetings is 1992’s “Leap of Faith” in which Steve Martin plays a tent-revival faith healer. This dark comedy shows the magic tricks employed by “faith-healing” con-artists.
Snake handling is a religious rite observed in a small number of isolated Christian Evangelical churches, mostly in the rural United States, usually as part of the Pentecostal movement and/or the Holiness Movement. These movements commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus Christ while they were in Jerusalem celebrating the Feast of Weeks, as described in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1–31).
The charismatic ministry of George Went Hensley of Grasshopper Valley, Tennessee, helped spread the practice of snake handling. Serpent-handling in north Alabama and north Georgia originated independently with James Miller in Sand Mountain, Alabama, at about the same time. The current membership of snake-handling churches is unknown but has recently been estimated as low as 1,000 and as high as 5,000, in possibly fifty to a hundred congregations located between Florida and Columbus, Ohio, with a few in Canada.
Practitioners believe serpent handling dates to antiquity, and they quote the Gospels of Luke and Mark to support the practice:
- “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” – Luke 10:19.
- “And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” — Mark 16:17-18. (This second passage above is part of the “longer ending of Mark” which many biblical scholars regard as a later addition to the manuscript tradition. However, the canonical status of these two passages is rarely disputed.
Worship services usually include preaching, singing, praying, speaking in tongues, testifying to miracles, snake-handling, and occasionally drinking poisons such as strychnine. During the service, believers may approach the front and pick up the snakes, usually raising them into the air and sometimes allowing the snakes to crawl on their bodies. Handling the snakes is not compulsory for those attending services.
Bitten believers usually do not seek medical help; but look to God for their healing. If they get bitten by the snake, it is a sign that they lack the true Spirit. The congregation prays over them. If they die, then God intended for that to happen. In response to snake-handling, a number of states have passed laws related to the handling of venomous animals.
Religious Snake-handling, speaking in tongues, and poison drinking are three of the absurd and appalling results of taking the Bible literally. The existence of these three practices are major Shortcomings of Evangelical Christianity. These three practices show what can happen when followers are uneducated. See also our entry below, ”Fundamentalism in America Today.”
Sunday Assembly Movement
Sunday Assembly is a non-religious gathering co-founded by Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans in January 2013 in London, England. The gathering is mostly for non-religious people who want a similar communal experience to a religious church, though religious people are also welcome. As of December 2019, Assemblies have been established in 48 locations around the world, with the majority in Europe and the United States, and are run and funded by volunteers from their communities. See SundayAssembly.org. for these following quotations:
- “Sunday Assemblies are a 100% celebration of life. We are born from nothing and go to nothing. Let’s enjoy it together.
- “Has no doctrine. We have no set texts so we can make use of wisdom from all sources.
- “Has no deity. We don’t do supernatural but we won’t tell you you’re wrong if you do.
- “Is radically inclusive. Everyone is welcome, regardless of their beliefs – this is a place of love that is open and accepting.
- “Is free to attend, not-for-profit and volunteer run. We ask for donations to cover our costs and support our community work.
- “Has a community mission. Through our Action Heroes (you!), we will be a force for good.
- “Is independent. We do not accept sponsorship or promote outside businesses, organizations or services.”
“What should you expect from a Sunday Assembly event? Just by being with us you should be energized, vitalized, restored, repaired, refreshed and recharged. No matter what the subject of the Assembly, it will solace worries, provoke kindness and inject a touch of transcendence into the everyday. But life can be tough… It is. Sometimes bad things happen to good people, we have moments of weakness or life just isn’t fair. We want The Sunday Assembly to be a house of love and compassion, where, no matter what your situation, you are welcomed, accepted and loved.”
Sunday Assemblies look like a great place for Co-Creators in Continuing Creation to spend some of their Sundays.
Theosophy (1880 to now)
Theosophy is a religion established in the United States during the late 19th century. It was founded primarily by the Russian, Helena Blavatsky (1831- 1891) and draws its teachings predominantly from Blavatsky’s writings. Categorized by scholars of religion as both a new religious movement and as part of the occultist stream of Western esotericism, it draws upon both older European philosophies such as Neoplatonism and Asian religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism.
Blavatsky taught that there is an ancient and secretive brotherhood of spiritual adepts known as Ascended Masters, who—although found around the world—are centered in Tibet. These Masters are alleged by Blavatsky to have cultivated great wisdom and supernatural powers.
Followers believe that these Masters are attempting to revive knowledge of an ancient religion once found around the world and which will again come to eclipse the existing world religions. (Readers will note the similarity between the Ascended Masters and the “Operating Thetans” of Scientology.)
Theosophical groups do not refer to their system as a “religion.” Theosophy preaches the existence of a single, divine “Absolute.” It promotes an emanationist cosmology in which the universe is perceived as outward reflections or emanations from this Absolute.
Theosophy teaches that the purpose of human life is spiritual emancipation and says that the human soul undergoes reincarnation upon bodily death according to a process of karma. It promotes values of universal brotherhood and social improvement, although it does not stipulate particular ethical codes. Weavers of Continuing Creation agree that “The Absolute” is better word for Continuing Creation than “God,” but none of us think and/or feel we are stimulated by “emanations.”
Skeptical Movement, or Skeptics Movement
The Skeptics Movement is based on the idea of scientific skepticism. The movement has the goal of investigating claims made on fringe topics and determining whether they are supported by empirical research. Skeptics pursue “the extension of certified knowledge.” Skeptic Magazine, edited in chief by Michael Shermer, has 50,000 subscribers, including the author of this Essay, J.X. Mason.
Transcendentalism (1825- now)
Transcendentalism is a philosophical movement that developed in the late 1820s and 1830s in the New England region of the United States. A core belief is in the inherent goodness of both people and Nature. Society and its institutions are said to corrupt the purity of the individual; and people are at their best when they are truly “self-reliant” and independent.
Transcendentalists see divine experience inherent in Nature and in everyday life, rather than believing in a distant heaven. Transcendentalists see physical and spiritual phenomena as part of dynamic processes. Emphasizing subjective intuition over objective empiricism, its adherents believe that individuals are capable of generating completely original insights with little attention and deference to past masters.
Transcendentalism arose in protest against the general state of intellectualism and spirituality at the time. The doctrine of the Unitarian Church as taught at Harvard Divinity School was closely related to Transcendentalism. Its famous figures include Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. The Path of Continuing Creation owes a great deal to Transcendentalism, and it is clearly one of our important Forerunners.
Unitarian Universalism (1550 to now)
Worship within the Unitarian Universalist tradition accommodates a wide range of understandings of God, agnostics, and even a few atheists. The focus of the service may be simply the celebration of life itself. Each Unitarian congregation is at liberty to devise its own form of worship, though commonly, Unitarians will light their chalice (their symbol of faith), and include sermons, prayers, hymns, and songs. Some will allow attendees to publicly share their recent joys or concerns.
“UU”s relish the inquiry, the journey, the process, the search, going outside the boundaries.
The downside for UUs is the possibility of never finding anything that is the answer. But most UUs really do think there is something irreducible, transcendent, and mysterious. We just work harder at making sure it is not a false God.”
Your author, J.X. Mason, who has been a “UU” for decades, thinks that Continuing Creation best describes “the irreducible and transcendent,” and does so without being mysterious. (See our Essay, Forerunners to Our Path & Practice.)
Here are the Eight Principles of Unitarian Universalism:
“We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote:
- The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
- Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
- Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
- A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
- The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
- The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
- Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.“
- We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote: journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.”
The Practice of Continuing Creation embraces all Seven of these Principles, but would change the first to read:
- The Inherent worth and dignity of person and every eco-system.
Unity Church of God (1889 to now)
In the Unity Church of God, (or simply, Unity Church), God is understood as spiritual energy which is everywhere present and is available to all people. God is not a being in the sky who is capable of anger. The presence of God only seeks to express the highest good through everyone and everything.
According to Unity founder Charles Fillmore, God is spirit, the loving source of everything. God is one power, all good, all wise, and everywhere present. God is Divine Energy, continually creating, expressing and sustaining all creation. In God we live and move and have our being.
Unity believes that Jesus expressed his divine potential and sought to show others how to do the same. Unity sees Jesus as a master teacher of universal Truth and one who demonstrated the Way. Unity uses the term “Christ” to mean the divinity in all people. Jesus is the great example of the Christ in expression.
Unity teaches that we are individual, external expressions of God. Our essential nature is divine and therefore we are inherently good.
Unity understands the Bible as a complex collection of writings compiled over many centuries. The Bible is a valuable spiritual resource but is understood as a reflection of the comprehension and inspiration of the writers and their times.
Affirmative prayer is understood, in Unity, as the highest form of creative thought. It includes the release of negative thoughts and holding in mind statements of spiritual truth. Prayer and meditation heighten our awareness of truth and thereby transform our lives. Prayer is valuable not because it alters the circumstances and conditions of your life, but because it alters you.
The Path of Continuing Creation regards Unity Church as a welcome partial update of the Bible, but Jesus is not the best historical exemplar of Continuing Creation. See our Essay, Radical Sharing & Universal Love Don’t Work. Also, Unity’s definition of “affirmative prayer” is actually a definition of meditation.
Wicca (1954- now)
(See also our earlier entry on Neo-Paganism.)
Wicca – Scholars of religious studies classify Wicca as a new religious movement, and more specifically as a form of Neo-Paganism, also called Modern Paganism. Wicca is cited as the largest, best known, and most influential form of Modern Paganism.
Several academics have also categorized Wicca as a form of Nature Religion, a term that is also embraced by many of its practitioners. However, given that Wicca also incorporates the practice of magic, several scholars have referred to Wicca as a “magico-religion”.
Wicca is also a form of Western esotericism, and more specifically a part of the esoteric current known as occultism. Some academics have categorized Wicca as part of New Age, although others, including many Wiccans, dispute this categorization.
The Path of Continuing Creation applauds Wicca’s attempt to find purpose and meaning in Nature, but we do not condone the practices of occultism and magic.