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Religeon on the Internet

By Devin D. O'Leary

SEPTEMBER 15, 1997:  I get tons of useless e-mail. Most of these "spam" jobs are trying to sell me some useless product or service for which I have absolutely no interest. Just the other day, though, I got one that intrigued me. David Carnell at the Buddhist Instruction Ministry sent a letter encouraging me to check out his church's "Fundamental Buddhism Explained" Web site. Gee, an entire major world religion explained to me on a simple, easy-to-access Web site? Could the Internet be the world's newest tool for attaining spiritual enlightenment?

A quick dash over to Yahoo confirmed my suspicions. Thousands of Web sites covering hundreds of religions: Mithraism to Cao Daiism, Quan Yin to Satanism, Rastafarianism to Zoroastrianism. Incredible! All the world's religions at the touch of a button--from the over-represented (8234 "Christianity" sites) to the under-represented (only lonely "Ifa" site). No longer will men have to go to the desert, starve themselves, eat bizarre fungus and hallucinate just to catch a glimpse of God. Spirituality is now just a mouse-click away.

Fundamental Buddhism Explained (www.fundamentalbuddhism.com)--The Buddhist Instruction Ministry's home page turns out to be a little more Zen than Buddhist. There are no pictures, no graphics, no snazzy animations or distracting colors. There are simply two plain text documents attempting to accomplish their titled task. The creators of this site recommend "reading slowly out loud" for "more effective comprehension." I read some of the document out loud, but I didn't comprehend a lot more of it and people in the office were staring at me, so I stopped. The massive document tells about the founding of Buddhism by Siddhartha Gautama and contains lots of emphatic capitals on phrases like "THE ULTIMATE TRUTH." By the time I got about 10 pages down to the Second Noble Truth--which states, in part: "arising of ill is based on ignorance and it is perpetuated by the craving and intoxication for sensuality and sensations"--I realized that maybe this one isn't for me. No sensuality or sensations? Moving right along ...

The Ifa Foundation of North America (mcni.net/~obatala/)--I figured this one deserved my attention if only for the fact that it's the only site of its kind out there. Turns out that Ifa is some adaptation of African tribal customs with lots of Shaman talk thrown in for good measure. The Ifa doctrine clearly states: "Unlike Christianity, negative energy is not directive, or enticing (The Devil) us to failure or destruction, it simply is." Other sections of the site talk about "Oludumare" (The name of God, apparently), "Orisa energy" and the practice of "reading shells." Words like "Obi," "Babalowa" and "Iya Aye" are tossed around with abandon. Apparently, if you've got no capitals, you should use lots of foreign words to get your point across. In a section about the church's history, the current "Babalawo" talks about his church's trouble in getting official tax-exempt status in America especially with "the animal sacrifice issue." Um, maybe this one isn't right for me either.

International Raelian Movement Homepage (www.rael.org)--Now, if you're looking for entertainment value in a religion, this one's got it in spades. It was started by a French journalist who was contacted by space aliens in 1973. The aliens (known as "Elohim") told old Rael that they created all of humanity in laboratories using DNA. Rael got word that he'd better get on the stick, start a religion and build a landing pad for the alien's eventual return. Now Rael boasts "35,000 members in 85 countries. Join now!" He's also got UFOland, "the first UFO theme park in the world. Opening in August 1997. Come and visit!" and the Embassy of the Elohim, "the first official embassy to welcome extraterrestrials. Designed in 1973. Come help us build it!" Any religion with that many exclamation points and a theme park must be worth checking out. UFOland is somewhere up in Canada and boasts a full-sized UFO, the world's largest representation of DNA (more than 25 feet) and "a room to experience sensual meditation, the technique taught to Rael by the extraterrestrials." Man! UFOs and sensuality. I think I'm a convert.

The Agnostic Church (www.agnostic.org)--Of course, I really shouldn't commit to anything without examining both sides of the issue. On this site, a fellow named William A. Schultz has developed a fairly fanatic religion about not having a religion. Several nice pictures of planets and astronauts accompany the church's doctrine (appropriately titled "Why Start an Agnostic Church?") and a rough draft of the "Agnostic Bible." Schultz seems most interested in attaining that elusive tax-exempt status, so that he can fight his "enemies." He uses lots of phrases like "ABSOLUTE TRUTH!", which utilize both capitals and exclamation points. Jeez, if this guy could just work in some obscure African words, I think he'd have something.

--Devin D. O'Leary

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