A new study has come out from the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life that shows that young Americans are all a bunch of devil-worshipers. No, just kidding. Worshiping the devil is still a type of religion, however unorthodox, and what the study actually found was that 32% of Americans under the age of 30 count themselves as having no religious affiliation. Atheist website Patheos tells us that what this means is "more people are atheist, agnostic, or unaffiliated with religion than ever before. (In fact, 46,000,000 Americans are religiously unaffiliated, by Pew’s count.)"
And while this is certainly an interesting trend in a country where the word "god" is still thrown around with wearying frequency by everyone from Superbowl-winning athletes to the President, we think that what is missing is the acknowledgment that maybe, just MAYBE, the problem with all these godless young people isn't that they don't WANT to believe, it's just that they don't want to believe in the same boring old monotheistic religions as everyone else. Young people want variety. They want to do something new and different. And being an atheist isn't so cool anymore, not now that Ricky Gervais has co-opted it. Ricky Gervais is a man who never learned when enough is enough, you know? Not cool.
So I've come up with a list of pros and cons of other, lesser-known religions that the youth of today can latch onto in their hours of distress or on the night of their Grammy win. You know. When we all need religion the most.
The Aztec Religion
The Aztec people lived in Central Mexico and were comprised of groups of ethnically and culturally similar groups that all united in "1427 as a triple alliance between the city-states Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Tlacopan" to form the Aztec Empire. So, there is a lot of interesting history involved, but who needs a history lesson now, when I'm about to talk about child sacrifice?
-Environmentally Conscious: Aztecs were so afraid of nature being out of balance that they were constantly devising ways to keep the environment stable.
-Your Choice of Gods: There are a lot of gods. If you don't like the one that turns into a jaguar—although, why wouldn't you, what's wrong with you?—you could easily choose another god to like.
-They Like to Party: Seriously.There is a god for drunkenness named "Centzon Totochtin." He was also known as "the divine rabbit." What's not to like?
-Human Sacrifice: I mean, if this was only the sacrifice of, you know, really bad people or children or something, then maybe it would be a toss-up between pros and cons, but it was the sacrifice of everyone. Really. Basically anyone could be sacrificed. And remember how I said how environmentally conscious the Aztecs were? Well, the way they tried to keep the earth in balance was by sacrificing people. Did it work? Well, we still haven't had the end of days yet, HAVE WE?
-Apocalypse: So the Aztec people were pretty convinced, every 52 years, that the earth would end. That sounds pretty exhausting to me. Because, it's just like, END ALREADY, EARTH. Stop being such an apocalyptic cock-tease, you know?
I don't think the Aztec religion would be for me. I don't like the sight of other people's blood. And I am not so into preparing for the end of the world. Would I have to wear clean underwear? So many questions.
Greek mythology has been so totally absorbed into our cultural language that it is impossible to not know the rudiments of its stories. Although long since abandoned by Greeks for other, less polytheistic religions, the Greek gods live on through classic works of literature, like The Iliad, and classic works of film, like "Clash of the Titans."
-Wisdom: The goddess Athena is just a really, really smart lady. I love that the deity of intelligence is a woman. That is pretty progressive, when you think about it. She was also a total warrior. I love that.
-Familiarity: C'mon, now, admit it. You already know these stories, don't you? It'll be a pretty seamless transition from godlessness to Greek mythology. You won't have to learn a whole bunch of complicated new names, like "Centzon Totochtin."
-Entertainment: The Greek myths are SO MUCH more interesting to read than the Bible. There's none of that begat begat begat bullshit that thwarted my own youthful attempts to find god.
-Hedonism: The Greeks were into some pretty wild stuff. There was some hard-core debauchery going on in the house of Dionysus and we heartily approve of that.
-Rape: Yeah, this is not cool at all. A lot of the gods, including Zeus, used to routinely rape humans. Old Zeus would just descend from Mt. Olympus and head down to earth, sometimes in the guise of a BULL, and just rape whatever good-looking woman he came across. Sometimes while still a bull. Not cool, Zeus, not cool at all.
-War: The Greek gods were always fighting with each other. And they LOVE when humans were at war because then they could choose sides and just fuck around however they wanted. Again, not so cool.
-Patricide and Infanticide: The gods were pretty notorious for having killed their own father, Kronos, the titan. But also, Kronos, wasn't so great either because he ATE all of his children. My point is just that this is a pretty messed-up family tree.
I mean, I'm still pretty into Greek mythology because the stories are the very definition of iconic. But I just can't believe in it as a religion. It's just too rape-y.
Although the Celtic people had a presence in much of northern and western Europe during their most prominent period, for our purposes, we will look mostly at the traditions that survived to a certain extent in what is, today, Ireland. The language used transformed into Gaelic, which was pretty much discouraged by the Roman Catholic Church and by the British, but has still survived in its completely impossible-to read phonetic glory to this day.
-Feminism: Celtic mythology had battle goddess who was totally bad ass. Something that I think we should all take away from this is that much of the mythology that we've discussed is really not afraid to celebrate women and their strengths, both intellectual and physical. This stands in direct counterpoint to other, more prominent monotheistic religions that have routinely suppressed the rights of women for centuries.
-Cúchulainn: A Celtic hero who was extraordinarily handsome and ferocious and, according to legend, defended Ulster single-handedly against an invading force. Sure, he accidentally killed his own son, thinking that his son was an intruder, but stuff happens. Cúchulainn was even ferocious in death. Prior to dying, he insisted that he be tied to a stone so that he could die on his feet, and, once dead, his enemy tried to cut off his head, and a light came form the dead body of Cúchulainn, and the man trying to remove the hero's head, had HIS OWN HAND CUT OFF. By the light of the dead hero's body? I guess so!
-Drunk Fairies: I like any religion that involves fairies, but when they're drunk? They must be even more spritely and mischievous and other fairy-like things. The clurichaun is not the same thing as a leprechaun, although they are frequently confused. Clurichauns will protect you as long as you're nice to them, but if you're a dick? They'll drink all your booze and steal your stuff.
-Spelling Errors: This might seem like a small thing, but to me it makes a big difference. I don't know how to pronounce any of these words. None of them. This could be a problem. What if a clurichaun got pissed off at me and stole all my wine, just because I called him Charlie for short. I'd be devastated.
-Kelpies: Kelpies are beautiful mythical horses that lure unsuspecting people into riding them. Nice, right? Wrong! Once you mount a kelpie, its skin takes on Gorilla Glue-like powers and they dive to the bottom of a lake and YOU DROWN AND THEN THE KELPIE EATS YOU.
There is a lot of beauty and a lot of terror in Celtic mythology, both of which are very appealing to me. That said, Celtic mythology is also somewhat responsible for the movie Leprechaun which is an amazing movie, but also kicked off the career of Jennifer Aniston, so it's decidedly a mixed bag. In the end, it's not for me. Blame Jennifer Aniston.
Snake handling is an offshoot of the Pentecostal Church, so it kind of goes against my whole polytheistic theme here, and yet it is such a completely bizarre sect, that I'd be remiss if I didn't offer it as an example of an alternative religion. Because this religion is definitely alternative, some might even say its followers choose it as an alternative to sanity.
-Animals: This is a pro, right? Animals are great. Even when—especially when?—they are slithery and smooth and could crawl right into one of your sleeves and out the other. Who doesn't love a snake?
-Community spirit: Since snake-handling is such an exclusive club, with relatively few followers, you'll feel a firm sense of belonging. It's like a fun little club that doesn't let just anyone join.
-Injury and Death: Some of the snakes that get handled are venomous. So bites and subsequent illness and death are not exactly unheard of. Some risks are worth taking, I guess, but not this one. Not to me.
Why be a snake handler? No, really, why? Go pick up a snake if you want to, but you don't need to, like, make a religion out of it. Plus, it might not be so bad hanging out with the snakes, but those other snake handlers? Seem a little bit creepy.
Thanks to Marvel and the Avengers and that hot guy with a hammer, Thor, everyone knows a little bit about Norse mythology now. But did you know how much of Nordic culture and language has been incorporated into our language and culture? For example, the days of the week. Thursday? Named for Thor. Wednesday? Named for Odin (also, occasionally spelled Woden.) Friday? Named for Freyr. So, basically, the week would only be four days long without the Norse gods. I think that's how it works.
-Odin: Also known as the all-father, Odin is the dude in charge of the Norse gods. How did he ascend to that high perch? Well, one day, he decided that he wanted limitless knowledge and he would do anything to get it. He went to the magical well and then RIPPED HIS EYE OUT OF HIS HEAD because in order to gain wisdom he had to sacrifice a part of himself. Personally, I might have cut off some of my hair? But that's why I'm not the all-father. Then Odin had to promise to only drink alcohol forever after (something that I might be able to handle, but who knows, really.) And finally? He had to hang himself from a tree for nine days while getting stabbed repeatedly. And he did all of this. Just to get super-smart. And that is pretty righteous.
-Yggdrasil: Norse mythology says that the universe exists as part of a giant tree which is named Yggrasil. Its branches extend into the heavens and its roots descend into hell and even thought this might not be the MOST scientific formulation of how the universe is put together, it is certainly a beautiful image to dwell on. We're all just part of a giant tree, stretching up and down in equal parts, branches tendriling out, reaching for the stars.
-Wolves: I love wolves. That's just me. In Norse mythology, Fenrir, the wolf, is kind of a bad guy because he kills Odin during Ragnarok, the Norse apocalypse, but I don't hold it against him. He's a wolf. Plus, Odin was pretty aware that the world needed to end in order to be born again. So, Odin was probably cool with it.
-Mistletoe: Is there anything more weird and awkward than mistletoe? It's a poisonous plant that theoretically induces random kissing, of all things. The whole mistletoe-schtick was actually part of a Norse myth that involved the god Loki. The actual myth is much cooler and not about kissing. It's really about fratricide and about how Loki killed his sort-of brother Balder with a mistletoe arrow. No kissing was involved, so I guess I can't really blame the Norse for this one.
Ragnarok: The Norse apocalypse is kind of a clusterfuck with just everyone dying and fighting and the whole world burning and it just sounds terrible. Looked at purely symbolically, though, it's kind of a testament to how everything must die. Nothing and no one—not even gods—is immortal. There will be rebirth and renewal, but first the old things must burn.
There is a lot I like about Norse mythology. And I didn't even touch on my favorite, the goddess Freyja, who really just constantly gets in trouble and screws around with people, though not necessarily maliciously, but always gets out of trouble due to her brother Freyr. She also has a chariot that is pulled by cats. I love that. I guess, what I like about the Norse gods is that they seem like real people. Well, not Loki, really. That guy gave birth to an eight-legged horse, so that's not really so relatable. But other than that, they are like any great characters in literature in that they seem universal with personality aspects that serve as touchstones for all of humanity. In essence, the Norse gods make you feel like you too could be a member of their crazy community. So, if I had to pick a winner—and I don't, but I will—I'd choose Norse mythology.
Give it a whirl. See what happens. BELIEVE. Believe for once in your cynical life. What could go wrong?
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen