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Voodoo and Zombies and the Absurdization of All Religions

Photo by Nathan Wright / Unsplash

Well, far out. Voodoo is back.

Actually, it never left.

Voodoo was originally a pagan African religion that got mixed with Catholicism in Haiti during Spanish and French colonial rule.

Since then, it has always been a religious force on the island and in 2003, it became an officially-recognized Haitian religion, courtesy of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former Catholic priest. According to the 2000 edition of the Oxford Dictionary of World History, a little over 80% of Haitians are Catholic and 90% of those Catholics also practice voodoo.

Odd combination, that. Voodoo is a combination of polytheism, ancestor worship, and black magic. How do the Haitian Catholics logically reconcile voodoo with Catholicism?

Heck if know.

I'm more interested in voodoo's new status as a stand-alone, legitimate religion. According to an article I read a while back, its practitioners are striving hard to emphasize voodoo's positive aspects.

I gather that the orgies, skulls, voodoo curses, and zombies are just a small percentage of voodoo practice. Just 5%, according to one voodoo priest. The rest of voodoo concentrates on radas, or good spirits, whose services are solicited with chicken sacrifices (or, for variety, sugar cane or rum sacrifices).

The voodoo proponents try to emphasize voodoo's goodness and establish it as a positive social institution.

How many zombies do you need to make voodoo into a social institution? I couldn't find an answer to that one, but I find voodoo's rehabilitation efforts interesting.

It's been a trend among off-beat religions lately. Wiccans, for instance, want everyone to know that their witchcraft is good witchcraft. Satan worshippers want everyone to know that their god has been maligned over the years and that Satan is really a pretty good fellow. A handful of Greeks want to rehab Zeus and Co.

I've been following the stories with a great deal of interest, and I've figured out why all these religions are getting rehabbed.

It's easy.

You just need to (1) say you're now a practitioner of X, and (2) say that the negative aspects of X are merely distortions by The Man (usually, the Catholic Church over the ages). You don't need proof. Just say it. You'll get great press coverage, and no one is going to gainsay you because they're too busy binging on Netflix.

And they're too awash in religious relativism to respond: Zeus or the Trinity? Satan or Jesus? Does it really matter or have an impact on how much money we make? You could set up Flannery O'Connor's comical "Church of Christ without Christ" and get nothing but a collective shoulder shrug from the community. Who, after all, are we to judge? And if we do judge, do we really want to stick our necks out and risk an argument with one of these religious relativists? Debating with a relativist is like wrestling with a 400-pound sack of water.

And have no doubt: All these R-cubed ("Ridiculous Religion Rehabilitationists") share relativism. They're generally tolerant of other religions, just as long as everyone tolerates their religion, too.

I think the blanket tolerance might be the best spot to reveal the shortcomings of these religions. They want to be treated as equally legitimate religions. Yet the person who claims equality doesn't really think he's equal. C.S. Lewis, speaking through his character Screwtape, observed:

No man who says I'm as good as you believes it. He would not say it if he did. The St. Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum, nor the pretty woman to the plain. The claim to equality, outside the strictly political field, is made only by those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior. What it expresses is precisely the itching, smarting, writhing awareness of an inferiority which the patient refuses to accept.

When the R-cubed say, "We deserve as much social recognition as Christianity," you know they don't mean it. If they did, they wouldn't say it.

But perhaps the real insidiousness of the R-cubed is seen from the rest of Screwtape's words about the person who says I'm as good as you. The person who says that, Lewis points out, resents the person who is superior: "[He] resents every kind of superiority in others; denigrates it; wishes its annihilation."

And there rests the true problem with the R-cubed: He promotes the annihilation of Christianity, or at least the annihilation of its role as the bulwark of civilized society. That may not be his intent. The R-Cubed's primary goal is to gain recognition. But in the process, he tears down Christianity.

After all, if every religion is equal, including the absurd ones, then every religion is absurd.