Publishing Your Own Scriptures
- Wednesday, August 13, 2003
America, however, is uniquely disposed at this point in time to welcome new revelations and possibly use them as foundational texts for successful new religions, according to religion scholars. One major reason: Americans no longer depend on established religious authorities for spiritual guidance.
"Religion has become deregulated," said John Berthrong, dean of the School of Theology at Boston University and author of "The Divine Deli: Religious Identity in the North American Cultural Mosaic" (Orbis, 2000). "That means many people who would have lurked in the shadows of the occult are now out in the open. There's just much more freedom to express yourself without fear."
Such free expression in Buxani's case came as a "breath of fresh air" to Kanhai Keswani, a 55-year-old exporter with homes in London and Bombay. The publication of "Salam" has further enforced his confidence the new religion will catch fire.
"It was clear to me on reading it that so much of what people are doing (religiously) around the world is superstition, mumbo jumbo," Keswani said via telephone from London. "With this (Salam), there is no restriction for me at all.... If you don't want to fast, you don't have to. But I look forward to my fasts twice a week. I feel lighter, less stressed, happier. That's what we're all looking for."
In this deregulated religious climate, readers have shown a fascination with ancient writings that might have become scripture had authorities not rejected them from a religious canon. The Gospel of Thomas, for instance, has remained in print for more than a decade, generating a spate of recent discussion and analysis, including Elaine Pagels' best seller, "Beyond Belief" (Random House).
To base a new religion on a newly written, sacred text is more the exception than the rule in the eye of history. The Old Testament or Hebrew Bible, for instance, gives accounts of religious experience that preceded the establishment of any sacred writings. Yet there are examples of prophets recording revelation first and then going on to found a great movement upon the text's code for life. Mohammed founded Islam in this manner in the 7th century. Joseph Smith began Mormonism by the same method in the 19th.
Scholars declined to speculate on which writings or types of writings could be candidates to give birth to a new religion with staying power. But they also declined to discount any contenders as hopeless.
"Some of them really do become large mass movements," Berthrong said. Especially if the future brings disaster or a great deal of uncertainty, he said, "I would not be at all surprised to see that."
© 2003 Religion News Service
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