The other day I was walking around the office shaking a large tree branch. Glenn stopped me and asked what I was doing. I told him I was going to make it rain. He told me that shaking a branch would have no effect on the weather whatsoever. Normally I would have launched into an endless train of swear words that would make Rahm Emanuel blush, but I remembered that he signs the checks. So, I politely disagreed and told him that if I shook a tree branch, the Great Spirit Banzu would hear the rustle of the leaves and make it rain. It's one of the central tenets of my faith, Briantology.
That led to a discussion on faith. Apparently Glenn is religious (I had no idea) and we chatted for a long time about it. We didn't agree on much (he refuses to accept Great Spirit Banzu) but we both agreed that I should not try to make it rain indoors - so I went to the roof and did my branch-shaking there. Three hours later it hadn't rained a drop, so I can only assume Cappucina, Goddess of Baristas, is mad about something I did at Starbucks.
My discussion with Glenn piqued my interest in religions. Glenn said there are more than two (I had no idea) so I decided not to do any work and instead went about summarizing some of the world's biggest or more interesting faiths. Here's what I learned:
FOLLOWERS: 2.1 billion
PRO: Really pretty cathedrals.
CON: So many offshoots you get options paralysis.
FAMOUS CHRISTIANS: Chuck Norris, Don Imus, MC Hammer
As you might have guessed from the name, Christ plays a significant role in Christianity. Be grateful his name wasn't Bob: Bobianity lacks the right ring to it. A strong missionary element helped the religion to flourish. People were attracted to its emphasis on peace, good vs. evil and an afterlife of reward for the faithful adherents (not to mention the fear of punishment for the naughty ones). Over the centuries there have been numerous rifts such as the Catholic/Protestant split, and the time they had dueling Popes. There are 2.1 billion adherents overall, with 1 billion of them Catholic, nearly 400 million Protestant, and the rest all sorts of things ranging from Pentecostals to Baptists to Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists and Latter-Day Saints.
FOLLOWERS: 14 million
PRO: You're one of the chosen people!
CON: People keep choosing to try and kill you.
FAMOUS JEWS: Jesus, Paul Wolfowitz, Albert Einstein
Judaism is one of the Big Three religions that came out of the desert. It has a strong emphasis on being good and focuses on earthly life as opposed to afterlife. They have the best delicatessens. There is a very strong cultural emphasis on education which has resulted in a disproportionate number of Jews ending up in the higher echelons of business, science, entertainment and finance. This disparity has been known to make Richard Nixon, Mel Gibson and other anti-Semites terribly mad as they see this as some kind of conspiracy, when in reality it's merely the byproduct of a Jewish mother nagging her son until he applies to Harvard.
FOLLOWERS: 2.6 million
PROS: Nobody bothers to mock you.
CONS: Have to explain it all the time.
FAMOUS ZOROASTRIANS: Freddie Mercury, Zubin Mehta
Once the official religion of Persia (now Iran), Zoroastrianism was an attempt to corral all the wild beliefs of the time (there were gods for everything) and narrow it all down for simplicity's sake. After cleaning house, what was left was a god of good, Ahura Mazdah, and a god of evil, Ahrima. They each had a few arch-angels to help out with things because being good or evil is hard work. Good and evil are engaged in a constant struggle and followers spend a lot of time with purification rituals in an attempt to avoid being contaminated by evil. Its followers were nearly wiped out by Muslims in the 8th Century, so they fled. Many of them wound up in Bombay, which is now called Mumbai for some reason.
PROS: Can help you get a leg up in Hollywood.
CONS: It's a little weird.
FAMOUS SCIENTOLOGISTS: Tom Cruise, Nancy Cartwright, Beck (not Glenn, the musician)
Someone has an idea. Starts talking. Eventually has lots of people believing it. That's par for the course for any religion. It has been suggested that writer L. Ron Hubbard founded Scientology on a bet. That may or may not be true, but what is true is that the religion is heavily influenced by sci-fi. It's got aliens, "body thetans" and e-meters. The church has had a reputation for aggressively spying on, harassing and threatening those who have scrutinized it, and only in the last few years have its detractors become more and more vocal. Because of high profile members like Tom Cruise and John Travolta, Scientology draws Hollywood sycophants like moths to a flame.
FOLLOWERS: 900 million
PROS: So many gods to choose from!
CONS: No hamburger.
FAMOUS HINDUS: Gandhi, Deepak Chopra, M. Night Shyamalan
Despite having so many followers, Hinduism is virtually ignored here in the states where we tend to focus on Muslims, Jews and Christians. The faith is big on karma – what goes around comes around – and if something bad happens to you it could be from something you did in a past life. If you're especially rotten, you might come back as a mosquito. But cows are holy. The whole idea is to work out all your kinks over time so that your soul ultimately joins the Infinite Being. Hindus have tons of cool gods with awesome names like Shiva the Destroyer.
PROS: Marijuana plays a large role.
CONS: Munchies, slow reaction time, muddled thoughts.
FAMOUS RASTAFARIANS: Bob Marley, Peter Tosh
Rastafarianism arose in Jamaica in the early 20th Century. The religion promoted the belief that Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia was the second coming of Jesus Christ on Earth. The religion is Abrahamic and claims that the black race came from the original 12 tribes of Israel. It tends to be Afro-centric and adherents often reject modern society - which makes sense because of all the pot smoking. Followers have bloodshot eyes and are often too laid back to spread the faith.
FOLLOWERS: Approximately 500,000
PROS: Free entry into Renaissance festivals.
CONS: Can haunt you when running for office.
FAMOUS WICCANS: Gerald Gardner (only famous to Wiccans)
Primarily a religion for girls with ten cats and a need for attention, Wicca found itself in the news lately after old footage of Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell surfaced claiming she dabbled in it once. The Wiccan religion features two gods: a Horned Male and the Triple Goddess. Like any religion, it has a hundred different offshoots that all share one trait: silliness.
FOLLOWERS: 1.5 billion
PRO: You're allowed to visit Mecca.
CON: No-Fly Lists.
FAMOUS MUSLIMS: Osama bin Laden, Shaquille O'Neal, Fareed Zakaria
Islam is getting a lot of bad press lately on account of all the bombing and shooting and beheading and screaming and cartoon riots and threats and other generally unpleasant events to which some of its adherents seem inclined. A bad apple can spoil the bunch, and we're seeing a growing backlash against the religion - which is unfortunate for the quiet moderates who are now finding themselves the target of anger and increasing scrutiny. Like Christianity, it promises a swell afterlife for its adherents, but in this life it requires submission (that's what the word "Islam" means). Unfortunately the faith has had a hard time co-existing with a much more liberal Western society. Shariah, the Islamic code of justice, is effectively incompatible with Western sensibilities.
FOLLOWERS: 376 million
PRO: Everyone thinks you're cool and laid back.
CON: Half of L.A. claims to be one.
FAMOUS BUDDHISTS: Dalai Lama, Richard Gere, Oliver Stone
Buddhism derived from Hinduism, keeping the concept of reincarnation while dropping numerous things, including the god that looks like an elephant and the one with six arms. Buddhism relies on meditation and self-reflection as one pursues the goal of Nirvana - at which point you're relieved from all desires, suffering, and the cycle of reincarnation altogether. Buddhism is a favorite of Hollywood celebrities who are apparently blissfully unaware of the Dalai Lama's stance on homosexuality. Also, if you go to Benihana you can get a cocktail in a Buddha glass - so they're pretty laid back. Try doing that with Mohammed.
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