Attempting to recover the Authentic Core | The Sociology of Religion

Sociologists have thus far figured that religion is nothing more than elite ideology, collective delusion, or Sunday social event. While these perspective do represent truth, religion is ideology, it can be delusion, and it is often little more than a social event, it is also much more. Religion is the search for answers to the big questions and no where do we see this more clearly than when we compare what some might consider radically opposed traditions. When we look we see that pagan, Christian, Jew, heavy metal rocker, or even scientists, we’re all struggling (against ideology, self interest, and the exploitation of spiritual needs for personal gain.) to find the answers

By Jessica Arcand

New Evangelicals, Neopagans, and heavy metal rockers are examples of movements that exist as grass-roots responses to the oppressions of modern capitalist society. In their anti-establishment and anti-institutional focus, all three movements can be seen as looking to reclaim the “authentic core” of spirituality. The purpose of this essay is twofold; first, I will explore the concept of an “authentic core” of spirituality. Finally, I will analyze the common themes shared by the three movements, including corruption, mindless following by believers, and perseverance when faced with adversity and vilification from others. This essay will argue that New Evangelicals, Neopagans, and heavy metal rockers are similar in their emergence as a response to modern capitalist society, and while their belief systems may be dramatically different, they are similar in their pursuit of spirituality’s “authentic core.”

At the “authentic core” of spirituality is the genuine desire to answer life’s big questions. According to Lundskow, emergent religions, like Neopaganism or New Evangelicalism try to find this “authentic core” and separate it from the consumerism, misogyny, or exploitation of capitalist society. Though these religions would appear oppositional, they actually have much in common, including criticism from society and scepticism towards the corruption of mainstream religion. Extending this analysis, heavy metal rockers seek the “authentic core” of music, and antagonize it to the restrictive bonds of traditional religion. Although heavy metal rock music is not a religion in the traditional sense, their opinions and beliefs in reference to religious content creates meaning and community for the people who engage with it, similar to a religious congregation. Essentially, these movements provide a basis of belief as it relates to the “authentic core” of religion – finding answers to life’s big questions.

The first similarity that all three groups occupy is hypocrisy and corruption, which is usually inevitable with religion and associated concepts. Religion is a complex subject, and one that is extremely difficult to maintain legitimacy for in a system riddled with rules and restrictions. Any group of people assembled for religious worship will have authority figures and an unbalanced distribution of power, which could lead to corruption. For example, as Dr. Mike explained, Ozzy Osbourne from Black Sabbath would rail against the greed and insincerity that comes from controlling figureheads in religion and politics. However, there are many double standards invoked here, as Ozzy Osbourne has millions of dollars that he made through his work and living in an L.A. mansion. While in the beginning, he may have been emerging from a place of frustration with the established institutions, it is apparent that he used this image to gain a following in order to advance his career, as many musicians do. Most of the acts that heavy metal rockers use are gimmicks in order to gain talk and attention in the media to boost album sales.

A similar case can be found in New Evangelists, whose true desire is to preach and spread what they believe is the “true” message of God. Some New Evangelists, such as Peter Poppoff, use televangelism to spread God’s message, which is extremely corrupt. Peter Poppoff uses the network to receive donations, using the idea that he could perform miracle healing as justification. He also lives in a mansion, using the donations for personal spending. Ultimately, he was using religion to deceive and con people. In one instance he would claim to heal people to walk who were disabled in a wheelchair, unbeknownst to the audience that these people were faking and could already walk, as investigated by James Randi (“Faith Healers”, 1989).

Neopagans also have their share of corruption, in those who claim to have psychic, healing, or medium abilities. While it is unknown whether anyone truly has these abilities, there have been instances when people con others in order to gain profit. There are some wiccans who engage in spells for large sums of money, while there are others who will do it for free to teach believers the fundamentals of how it works. I believe it is very problematic to exploit beliefs in order to gain profit, and while I understand that it is the way most of them make money, there has to be some maintenance of authenticity.

Another problem that all three groups run into are mindless following without true understanding by believers of the core of the movement. I have some friends who proclaim to love heavy metal music, including music by Metallica and Marilyn Manson, who also express similar religious themes in their music as Black Sabbath. One in particular cannot delineate the gothic images that heavy metal musician’s use in association to satanic imagery. For example, when he is at a heavy metal show he will show support by making hand signals in the shape of devil horns. However, the lyrical content of most heavy metal music is not really satanic at all, especially considering most of the lead singers are in fact religious like Ozzy Osbourne who is Christian. An example of this is ‘Antichrist Superstar’ by Marilyn Manson, which people use to target the singer as satanic. In reality, this song, as explained by Manson, is a reference to the “evil that we all have inside of us” and it is important to acknowledge it and understand it (Manson, 1998). Many Christians believe they are following the bible and believe themselves superior to nonbelievers, but don’t realize they are sinning in other ways. For example, many Christians condemn homosexuality, but they are lenient in other areas of the bible that are convenient for them, such as divorce.

Neopagans have also been experiencing a resurgence of followers, especially with younger generations due to the media. For example, wiccans started to become very popular when people became influenced by media portrayals that make it appear ‘hip’ like in Buffy The Vampire Slayer and American Horror Story: Coven. Some Wiccans actually use slang to refer to these sort of people as “playgans” because they believe being a Wiccan adds to a certain image they are trying to play, but do not actually understand the true nature and work that goes into the religion (“Urban Dictionary”, 2012). New Evangelists also face this problem. Due to all of the examples listed above, most of the authentic core that the founders of all three groups try to maintain is ultimately lost due to the insincere belief of some of their followers.

Conversely, there are many genuine people who are involved in all three movements who try to live a fulfilling spiritual life, especially with reference to the innate human desire in understanding the “big questions.” The people who try to uphold authenticity still are faced with criticism from people who lack understanding of what their religion is all about. This can make it difficult for them to live their life without fear of judgment. As expressed above, heavy metal rockers are usually met with great opposition due to lack of interpretation and misunderstanding of their image and lyrical content. Some people believe that they are rebellious, satanic, and against religion. However, this is usually not the case, as the lyrics often hold a common theme in expressing the need for spirituality with removal of the corruption and greed that occurs in religion. It is more about returning to the authentic core regarding what religion is truly about, rather than abandoning it all together, which causes spiritual isolation.

Neopagans are often vilified as satanic and demonic. They do not worship Satan or become involved in satanic sacrifices, but have had a negative image associated with their practice since the medieval ages. They have been faced with extreme adversity, but their religion is more centred on nature and spiritual energy. Most pagans believe in balance and reject the notion of evil, as well as the existence of the devil. Therefore, the notion that they worship Satan in no way corresponds to their actual beliefs, but many are faced with this accusation frequently.

New Evangelists are also confronted with hostility as well; mainly due to how assertive they are with their beliefs. One of the key components of their religion is fundamentalism, but also the spreading of the Christian gospel by public preaching. Many people view this as a disturbance, especially when their opinions are being forced onto others, but it usually stems from what they believe is a good, religious place. In the bible, Jesus tries to fulfill God’s work by spreading the “good news” to as many people as he can, travelling to villages and towns preaching with his twelve disciples, as discussed in Luke 8:1. Ultimately, new evangelists believe they are following what God wants them to do based on religious teachings.

In conclusion, while all three movements emerged due to a longing for authenticity, their actual beliefs differ. New Evangelicals, Neopagans, and heavy metal rockers emerged as grass-roots responses to the injustices and oppressions of capitalist society. Although they, like many religions, face problems of corruption, blind followers, and hostility, I still agree with Dr. Mike in that these groups needed to emerge as a vehicle for people to question the validity and truthfulness of other religions that have been changed and tarnished over years of manipulation.