Secular Religion: How many prophets?
by phil on Monday Jan 5, 2009 6:36 AM
I wonder how many living claimed prophets there are in the United States? Is it on the order of 1-100. Is it in the 1000s, or 10,000s? I'm guessing it's maybe between 5,000 and 10,000. If this is the case, by the sheer quantity and frequency of occurrence of prophets, a new major religion is bound to be formed every 50 years or so.
With so many candidate prophets, some of them are bound to be very charming and convincing. Plus, with the constant flux in social order, spiritual vacuums are constantly forming. As a result, opportunity meets talent frequently and produces new cults on a probably weekly basis. Some of these cults are bound to seem very credible, and some of them may resonate with the Zeitgeist. Combine the budding movement with a few all-star believers/promoters, and you have the genesis of a new religion.
When I ponder the way people behave today, I find it convenient to think back to a tribe or village setting, and imagine what kind of social roles get reliably fulfilled. Shamans and witches seem to be a regular and normal occurrence, so there is maybe a 1 in 2,000 chance that your son or daughter will specialize in awakening the spirits of others. While as most of these spiritual types will only be blessed with ordinary talent (like singers who only perform in local bars) a few will become superstars, and speak to the soul of the masses.
Modern theories of prophecy discuss schizophrenia as a possible cause. If that is the case, then it could imply that there is an evolutionary reason for prophets to regularly come along, shake things up, and form movements.