It is my opinion that public school children should be taught a class in comparative religion.

I recall a cursory review of the history of Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism as part of social studies but Americans are pretty clueless about other religions besides their own. That’s a societal flaw. I’m not particularly interested in common religions; I have a general idea how they practice. But uncommon religions are pretty darn strange, and even more interesting to me when they involve occult practices or bizarre ideas. It’s about time I found out more about them.

Karen Stollznow’s book God Bless America is subtitled “Strange and Unusual Religious Beliefs and Practices in The United States” so I was pretty sure it would contain some zingers. This book is a parade of information about the lesser known and controversial (OK, weird) religious beliefs of America and it is suitable as a text for a class on world religions. The title is not very fitting because it’s not about God so much as about the people who invest themselves in these unusual belief systems. Stollznow goes to meet many of them firsthand. They would have creeped me out.

It’s readable and suitable for older teens and adults of any religion (there are some strange sexual practices mentioned in some sections such as Satanism which may make it unsuitable for kids under 17), but in general, I sure wish more Americans would make an attempt at learning more about the outskirts of religious practice in the U.S. instead of automatically condemning any religion other than theirs as “other”, “evil” or “wrong”.

The book covers Mormons, Amish & Mennonite, Charismatics & Pentecostals, Afro-Caribbean religions, demonic possession and exorcism, Satanism, Scientology, New Age Spirituality and Quakers – a nice array. I would have liked to see something on Wicca, and I have been finding more mention of Santeria and Santa Muerte followers in the U.S. but they have not reached a point where they would be known to many people. Santeria is briefly discussed in the book. There is no shortage of religious beliefs and practices we would find odd in America. It’s a shame that citizens who so value religious freedom aren’t very curious about the type of worship going on down the street. I’d recommend checking out God Bless America.

Listen to an interview with Karen talking about this book here on SFR.

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