As of 2015 there are roughly 4,200 religions
in the world – some are thousands of years old and there are new ones being created all
the time. Here’s seven extremely bizarre religions that sound completely made up, but
they’re not. Let’s begin with the biggest religion in
our list. In 2001, thanks to each country completing a census of their populations,
this religion was found to be the second biggest in New Zealand and the fourth biggest in England
and Wales. Any guess as to what it might be? Strange the answer is; it’s Jedi
Yes, around 1.5% of Kiwi’s put Jedi or Jediism as their official religion. 58.9% put Christian
and then the next two spots were “No Religion” and “Object to answering”, so that puts
Jediism as the number two religion in New Zealand; unless “object to answering”
is a religion, there’s probably no point in asking them if it is though.
In England and Wales 0.8% of the country claimed their religion was Jediism, with the only
larger faiths being Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. So, how did this all come about?
A long long time ago, in a country not very far away, the galactic council, I mean the
national governments of many commonwealth countries, let everyone know they would be
having a census. Many people on the internet decided they didn’t want to tell the government
about their religion and so one of the first online viral phenomena began, with people
spreading the idea of saying they were Jedi on the census. When you look at their beliefs, it’s actually
all pleasantly positive. They obviously believe in the force, and the inherent worth of all
life within it, and much of the rest is just about not discriminating, being logical and,
I’m guessing here, never ever talking about The Phantom Menace in public.
Their doctrines have actually allowed them to be a fully recognised international ministry
and a publicly registered charity. So if you’ve got some spare galactic credits lying around,
you know where to send them. There are some people who you can imagine
being mistaken for gods; Ryan Gosling with his annoyingly handsome face, chess champion
Bobby Fischer with his godlike intelligence and quick thinking, or maybe Hugh Jackman
if you saw him chopping wood high up a mountain. But none of these people have an actual religious
following. The unlikely man who does however, is Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and husband
to Queen Elizabeth the second. And his followers are not some extreme British nationalists,
they are, in fact, inhabitants of a small island called Tanna, part of the Republic
of Vanuatu. Vanuatu is a chain of islands in the South
Pacific, just under 2000 km east of Northern Australia. Tanna is one of the 82 odd islands
and is populated mainly by Melanesians, a pacific island people of similar origin to
the Australian Aboriginals. An old myth exists on the island about a spirit ancestor who
had run off across the seas to find himself a powerful wife. So when Prince Philip visited
the island in 1974, arm in arm with her Royal Majesty, one of the most powerful women in
the world, they decided that he fitted the bill and declared him to be their god. I imagine
he endured a similar fate as C-3PO did under the hospitality of the Ewoks, during his visit
to Endor. Prince Philip, being the affable man that
he is, sent them a signed photograph. In return they sent him a club for killing pigs. I can
neither confirm nor deny if this had any connection to the increase in bacon consumption at Buckingham
Palace that year. Prophet Jack, the Prince Philip Movement’s
soothsaying religious leader, has claimed that a devastating cyclone, which came to
the island in early 2015, was a holy sign that the great Prince himself will be returning
to the island in 2016. We’ll just have to wait and see.
So for our next religion we have to travel all the way to… actually we don’t need
to travel at all, we’re staying on the island of Tanna.
Vanautu has a number of Cargo Cults. These are Melanesian movements that originated from
the native people coming into contact with the colonising societies who visited the Islands.
On Tanna, about 50% of the population are part of the Cargo Cult called John Frum, which
allegedly started with the visons of some elders in the late 1930s and became cemented
when the American troops came during WWII. The name is said to come from when a soldier
told the natives that he was “John from America” The people saw all the wonderful
cargo that these troops brought, such as lorries, radios and the world’s most iconic brand;
Coca Cola. When the soldiers left, the people knew that John Frum would return some day
and share his wonderful bounty with them all. In a way, they were right, since the island
now boasts an airport and some infrastructure for education, as well as a variety of western
brands. The people are very grateful and they share evenly amongst their community. February
15th is known as “John Frum Day”, the date which they believe John Frum will return
to the island. They celebrate John Frum Day, with a military-like parade, marching through
the island, carrying the stars and stripes and scrawling “USA” on their chests in
red paint. Throw in some fireworks and beer pong and it’s basically the 4th of July.
Our next religion is followed by a large number of atheists. I know what you’re thinking;
how can you have a religion for people who don’t believe in religion? Well the Pastafarians
have a pretty good reason. Pastafarianism came about in 2005 when Bobby
Henderson discussed The Flying Spaghetti Monster in an open letter to the Kansas State Board
of Education. This God is a sort of floating blob of wobbly noodles and meatballs. If this
all sounds very silly, it’s supposed to be. He came up with the idea in order to fight
against the decision to allow Creationism to be taught in schools, thanks to the campaigning
of Christian groups. For those of you not familiar with the argument;
Atheists agree with the large consensus of scientists who believe that the universe is
around 14 billion years old, with Earth being formed about four and a half billion years
ago, and that life has grown and diversified through evolution; with the smallest amoebas
eventually leading to us, the pinnacle of human evolution. Creationists believe that
God created the world around 10,000 years ago and that each creature was made as it
is now. It’s called Intelligent Design and it argues against evolution.
Pastafarian’s beef (and whatever other meats their noodly deity contains,) with creationism
being taught in schools, is that it violates the secular nature of the laws of the USA.
There is supposed to be a complete separation of church and state, and this includes schools.
Creationism is a religious idea, specific to a few religions, not to all of them, therefore
it shouldn’t be part of state education. To prove this, Bobby Henderson argued that
he believed a supernatural Italian dinner was the world creator and that whenever a
scientist tried to carbon date an object, to see how old it was, this god was there
“changing the results with his noodly appendage”. He said his beliefs were just as valid as
Creationists, therefore should be included in the curriculum as well.
The idea took hold and spread around the internet and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster
has many followers, allegedly leading back to pirates, who were the original Pastafarians.
I’m sure you’ll all be very worried to know that they think the decline in the number
of pirates is a direct cause of global warming. Only the release of another 18 Jack Sparrow
films will start to reverse this trend. So, from extra pasta sauce to extra-terrestrials;
let’s have a look of one of the many UFO religions that sprung up in the second half
of the 20th century. Universe People, also called Cosmic People
of Light Powers, is a group that believe a fleet of spaceships float around the earth
where they subtly intervene in the lives of the good, assisting them on their way. And
some day the Ashtar Galactic Command, who lead the ships, will pick up the believers
and send them off to another wonderful dimension. Most of the followers are based in the Czech
Republic and in Slovakia, thanks to the religion’s founder Ivo A. Benda, whose name sounds like
the punchline to a politically incorrect joke. In 1997 he published the delightfully titled
Interviews With Instructions From My Friends From the Universe and he used this as a platform
to begin touring with a series of public lectures. He eventually made his way onto national TV
in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In the late 2000s, Benda began to realise
that the alien world, much like Earth, contained both helpful and harmful people. The Saurians,
or Lizard people, were out to get us, and Benda was going to do his best to stop them.
It was all very reminiscent of the classic Czech novel War with the Newts by Karel Capek,
where the salamanders end up turning on mankind. In 2007, Benda’s plan caused a security
alert at the Slovak ministry of defence when his suspicious protection packages arrived,
containing instructional CDs and promotional material. But if a man can’t protect his
country from large alien lizards with a recorded lecture and some fliers, then how else is
he supposed to do it? He still fights the good fight and you can
see what he’s up to on his website; universe-people.com. Just to warn you, you might want to put on
sunglasses before you enter; it’s more colourful than a teenage unicorn’s sock collection. Now I’m not saying lizard people are real,
but if they are, I’m pretty sure our next religious leader is one of them. Happy Science was founded in 1986 by the rather
reptilian-looking Ryuho Okawa. He had read an inspiring series of books by Takahashi
Shinji, no I’m not talking about the baseball player, but the other famous Takahashi Shinji
who is leader of the God Light Association. The books had a big impact on Mr Okawa and
made him see that he was actually the living embodiment of, among others, Christ, Buddah
and Allah. It was a tough decision but he realised that since he was an omnipotent super
god, he was probably over-qualified for his job at a large Japanese trading company, good
job though it was. So he resigned and began spreading the good
word that he was in fact the great super-deity; “El Cantare”. The fact that this means
“the singer” in Spanish, is just a cosmic coincidence.
To be a Happy Scientist, you need to focus on the fourfold paths of Love, Wisdom, Self-Reflection
and Progress, no actual scientific knowledge is required, so don’t worry if you’ve
forgotten all your chemistry. You might need to forget some of your history though, as
El Cantare has told us that certain parts of Japanese history, such as the odd massacre
of two, definitely didn’t happen. The politics don’t end there since the political
wing, called The Happiness Realisation Party, was set up in 2009 and received a rather surprising
1 million votes across Japan’s 300 constituencies. They didn’t end up with any seats though.
The main focus of their campaign was to double the Japanese population and to develop a nuclear
deterrent to threaten China and North Korea. They really don’t like China and North Korea.
I’m not sure that nuclear weapons are exactly what I would call Happy Science but hey, I’m
not the flamenco god of the universe so what do I know, right?
Our final religion has a much darker history than the others. It’s all fun and games
when it’s British princes, lizard men and El Cantare, but when your cult leads to murder
and mass suicide, that’s a whole different story. The Order of the Solar Temple was set up in
1984 by Joseph di Mambro and Luc Jouret and was a continuation of other groups Di Mambro
had been in and founded in the previous decade or so. They started out in Switzerland and
moved to a headquarters in Quebec, Canada, in the late eighties.
The religion was based on a mix of sources, the main one being the famous Knights Templar.
Their idea was to reassert the correct balance of power in the world and to lay the way for
the second coming of Christ, the Solar King. They also took inspiration from notorious
British occultist, Aleister Crowley. The Order’s dark side was revealed to the
world on October 1994, with deaths on both sides of the Atlantic. A couple and a young
baby where killed in Quebec, with rumours that Di Mambro had accused the child of being
the Antichrist. A few days later, in Switzerland, both Di Mambro and Jouret were found dead
along with 46 other cult-members. Not only that but the bodies were discovered, arranged
in a disturbing sun-shaped pattern on the floor. The true story will never be uncovered
but many of the group had been drugged, some were shot, some suffocated with bags over
their heads and both buildings were on fire. Unfortunately, it didn’t end with the death
of the founders, and there were further mass killings in 95 and 97. It transpired that
mass murders and group ritual suicides were all part and parcel of being a member of the
Order of the Solar Temple. No thanks, I’m going to join the Jedi instead.