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Apocalypse & the Uses of Religion

Sharon Astyk tipped me off to a couple of essays about apocalypticism, religion, and the community of folks who are preparing for a social, even a civilizational, crash.

Dmitry Orlov says that we may need religion more than we think in the very bad times he believes are coming. Excerpts:

Faced with all this, the natural response for many people is to want to turn their back on society, but without being alone. What institutions do we have that could help them accomplish this? Are there any that predate this now failed society, as well as the countless other societies that have failed before? Yes, there are. Religious institutions have turned their back on more societies than we can count, and have survived. Moreover, they have repeatedly provided a survival mechanism where all else had failed.


My point is that we have religious institutions, or traditions, that are able to survive just about anything. We also have a society that is disintegrating, a corrupt political system that will ruin many lies, and an economy that is failing to provide the necessities for more and more people. Why should we fight battles that have already been won? Religious institutions have already succeeded in fighting political institutions down to a reasonable truce, which the politicians are rightly terrified to break. Let us not start from scratch; let us work with what we already have.

Erik Curren, who attended the conference at which Orlov spoke, praised the organizers, Four Quarters, a New Age Pagan [corrected per Franklin Evans; see comments] commune being run like a Benedict Option refuge for riding out the collapse they believe is on its way. Orren Whiddon is its leader. Excerpt:

Whiddon, who traces his family roots back to Texas in the 1780s, is a practical visionary, but less like Steve Jobs than Moses with a bit of Sam Houston thrown in. Drawing inspiration from the “plain people,” Christian Anabaptist groups like the Amish and Old Order Mennonites who consciously decided to drop out of a mainstream society they saw as corrupt, Whiddon has a plan for his self-described “hippie church” to become a force for peak oil resilience in a sea of complacent but doomed consumers.

Just like Jesus Camp but without the Jesus part (or the cultish brainwashing), Four Quarters is in fact registered for tax purposes as a non-profit religious congregation.

Its grounds are an open-air church hosting installations across the usual range of New Age spirituality, from a shrine to Ganesh, to a sweat lodge, to what appears to be a life-sized recreation of a Stonehenge-type druid stone circle. Along with regular services to mark new moons, Beltane and other spiritual days, throughout the camping season the center offers programs such as “SpiralHeart Reclaiming,” “The Body Tribal” and “Drum & Splash.”

But there’s nothing touchy-feely about the way Whiddon and his board of elders runs Four Quarters. Full-time residents are required to live under strict rules, including the merging of their finances, in a lifestyle that Whiddon calls monastic and which requires a commitment to an ascetic counter-cultural lifestyle that hearkens back to Whiddon’s other inspirations, the Benedictine brothers and the Buddhist sangha.

Curren found this Pagan group to be an inspiring example of how religion can be used to build social resilience and endurance.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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