Top 10 American Religions, part three
Religion in America
In this third and final part of this series, we look at numbers 6-10 on the list of significant American-born religions.
In the 1840s in New York the Fox sisters Leah, Margaret and Kate reported the ability to communicate with a spirit in their home. The spirit was believed to be of a man killed near their home years before. The sisters became a sensation, and despite their later admittance that it was a hoax, Spiritualism was born. Spiritualism is a very open and simple belief system, recognizing a single creator God, and positing that spirits of the dead are able to communicate with the living. People trained as "mediums" have the power to communicate with these spirits and reveal secrets of the afterlife.
Spiritualism grew rapidly among middle and upper classes of English-speaking countries in the late 19th and early 20th century. It was highly decentralized, lacking any kind of hierarchy or authority figures, and non-exclusivist, welcoming the curiosity of a variety of people. Subsequently it declined in popularity, plagued by hoaxes and frauds. But the closely related movement Spiritism has enjoyed significant influence in Europe and Latin America.
Because of its flexible and open nature, specific numbers of Spiritualist adherents are difficult to come by. Estimates range from several hundred thousand to as many as 20 million globally. The smaller figure includes a narrower definition of Spiritualists in the US, UK, Australia and Canada, including members of the modern Spiritualist Church, and the larger figure includes a vast number of Spiritist followers or participants in other regions including Latin America, especially Brazil.
The first Church of Scientology was founded by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard in New Jersey in 1953. Scientology holds that human beings are immortal spiritual creatures that have forgotten their true nature. These beings are called Thetans, and they originate from beyond planet earth. Scientology endeavors to liberate humans from ignorance and the artificial constraints of the earthly body. For specified donations, the Church of Scientology offers courses and reading material for followers to rehabilitate and grow spiritually.
Reliable estimates of Scientology membership are difficult to come by, and the number of followers is probably somewhere between 50,000 and 500,000. Scientology is one of the most controversial religious communities today, and many believe that it is not a religion in the first place. Instead, they consider it a business, a cult or an organized crime enterprise. Some governments including France and Germany recognize Scientology as a business.
8. Christian Science
The Church of Christ, Scientist was founded in 1879 by Mary Baker Eddy in Boston. Eddy was the founder of the Christian Science movement, of which the Church is the principal part. Christian Science is a set of ideas and practices that constitute a combination of religion and science. It holds that sickness comes from lack of spiritual knowledge.
Christian Science believes the most effective means of healing is spiritual healing, that the methods of healing used by Jesus are available to all people today if they have the right knowledge, and that these practices are scientifically verifiable. Many Christian Scientists refuse conventional medical care, preferring instead the methods of prayer and spirituality-based healing described, documented and argued for by Eddy. Most employ both conventional and spiritual medicine.
Christian Science today has between 80,000 and 100,000 members worldwide. It enjoyed significant growth in the early 20th century, but has subsequently declined in popularity. It has encountered occasional controversy involving the sickness or death of some followers who refused mainstream medicine for religious reasons.
9. Nation of Islam
The Nation of Islam was founded in Detroit in 1930 by Wallace Fard Muhammad. It enjoyed some popularity during the 20th century, before declining significantly in the 1980s and 90s. The Nation of Islam under Fard taught that blacks were the original people, that Islam was the original religion of the black race, and that the white race and the tradition of white supremacy was created by the scientist Yakub (Jacob). Yakub created whites to sow discord and mayhem in the world, during a long and complex process involving social conditioning, infanticide of darker babies, and skin grafting. Although the whites were created as a race of "devils," individuals of any race could become righteous. The white race's original evil character is seen in the wars, oppression and slavery it has perpetuated.
From 1934 to 1975 the Nation of Islam was led by Elijah Muhammad, a close follower of Fard, who taught that Fard had been God in a human form, and was the Messiah of Christianity and the Mahdi of Islam. Muhammad believed that blacks were inherently divine and that whites were inherently weak, created as they were from the original black race. Differences between the Nation of Islam and traditional Islam include the ideas that God came in the human form of Fard; that the Quran and Bible were created and revealed by black scientists; and that the black race is superior; as well as different worship styles.
After Elijah Muhammad's death in 1975, his son Warith Deen Muhammad took leadership of the Nation of Islam. He forsook many of his father's racist views, and tried to bring the Nation of Islam into closer conformity with traditional Sunni Islam. Amidst several name changes for the community and disagreement as to its future course, it gradually declined, with many followers embracing traditional Sunni Islam.
Beginning in the late 1970s, Louis Farrakhan and a number of supporters split from the more moderate and mainstream ranks of the community led by Warith Deen, seeking to maintain the original spirit of the Nation of Islam as articulated by Fard and Elijah Muhammad. Today Nation of Islam membership is estimated at between 20,000 and 50,000, mainly in the US.
10. Polish National Catholic Church
The Polish National Catholic Church is a breakaway Catholic church founded in Scranton, Pennsylvania by Polish immigrants in 1897. Led by Father Francis Hodur, they were disgruntled with the language and cultural barriers encountered in established Catholic churches, and felt excluded and marginalized by Catholic authorities. Upon its establishment, the PNCC conducted services in the vernacular, while Roman Catholics were still conducting them in Latin.
The Polish National Catholic Church differs from the Roman Catholic Church in some notable respects. It does not have a binding policy on birth control, allowing married individuals to make their own decisions. Like the Roman Church, the Polish Church accepts only men as priests, but unlike them, it permits priests and other church officials to marry. The PNCC does not believe that original sin of the "first parents" is passed to succeeding generations. Today the PNCC has over 25,000 members.