Who can argue with a cool religion whose followers routinely incorporate wacky tobaccy into their rituals and get to wear dreadlocks? It all began back in 1930 when Haile Selassie I was an Ethiopian emperor. He is now considered a living god, so they worship him. Rastas believe the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden was actually a marijuana tree. Guess that explains the talking serpent. The dreads are symbolic of lions, and Rastas believe smoking weed helps them focus on prayer and meditation. Their belief that Ethiopa is heaven doesn’t quite jibe with the photos we Westerners see of starving children. Neither does their belief that Jamaica is hell, judging from all those Club Med and Sandals commercials.
4 Universe People
From the Czech Republic comes a religion called the Universe People. They believe imaginary friends are not angels, but aliens. A fellow by the name of Ivo A. Benda founded it sometime in the ’90s after being visited, telepathically of course, by a loving extraterrestrial named Ashtar. Ashtar told him alien beings were lovingly watching over humanoids by virtue of a fleet of spaceships that orbit the Earth. Very soon, they will land to transport their followers to a world beyond this realm. Ashtar frequently brings Benda messages to spread to the faithful, sometimes even in person. His latest message is that these aliens are implanting microchips in humans so they may enslave Earthlings. Now, Ashtar probably doesn’t want to be called a name-dropper, but he does say that Jesus is his BFF.
3 Church of Euthanasia
Yep, there really is a church dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equally bad and should forthwith kill themselves. They even offer links on their website with suicide tips for those who really want to show how dedicated they are to their religion. They don’t require you to commit suicide—only to promise never to have children, and, if you already do, don’t do it again. They strongly advise that if you are going to kill yourself, they’d be very appreciative of your joining their church first and bequeathing them all your stuff. Very pious, these CoE’ers. Oh, and they say cannibalism is fine as long as the person is already dead.
2 Snake Charmers
Ancient Hindu snake charmers have been charming king cobras for centuries all because one of their deities, Lord Shiva, was depicted with one around his neck. Fact is, snakes don’t have ears, are not music aficionados and are only reacting to a perceived imminent threat. There’s no danger since their mouths are usually sewn shut (yes, they starve and die). But the Appalachian Pentecostals didn’t get the memo about rendering the snake harmless, or maybe they just don’t believe in animal cruelty, because they, too, handle large venomous snakes. Their purpose is to show their trust in God. After all, God will let no harm come to the faithful. The trouble is, God appears to follow state laws that prohibit messing around with snakes, since He doesn’t always save believers; several have died and many have come close to it. Hmm, maybe it’s time to bring in a mongoose and worship him instead.
When I adopted a vegetarian lifestyle back in the ’80s and attended my first animal-rights conference, I thought I was all high and mighty and oh-so-enlightened because I stopped eating cows. Imagine my disappointment when I met a group of people who practice a 3,000-year-old Indian religion called Jainism. They’re so enlightened, they don’t even eat bugs. Now, that’s not strange in itself, but wearing a face mask so you don’t accidentally inhale a bug—that’s a bit extreme. They are nonviolent and peaceful—a sect we really shouldn’t be deriding, unless, of course, you are of the belief that there are just too many gnats in the world.