Subscribers to the New Jersey Star-Ledger receive a periodic local-interest magazine called Inside Jersey. Since I’m already inside Jersey and have too much to read as it is, I generally ignore the freebie unless a story catches my eye. Anyone who has followed this blog for long knows of my contention that what truly frightens us is related to religion, or lack thereof, including fictional movie monsters such as vampires and werewolves. Despite the claims that such interests are juvenile and immature, this month’s Inside Jersey features a story reflecting just how serious such issues can be. When my wife showed me the cover, I knew it was blog-worthy.
There are vampires among us. Not Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee-type Draculas, but actual blood-imbibing vampires. Only those who have shunned bookstores like a crucifix will not be aware that the Twilight series of teen romances have dominated middle and high school female reading lists for the last few years. The vampires in this magazine story, however, are not conflicted teens, but conventional young adults. The story covers what religionists call a New Religious Movement, or NRM. It is a religion, growing in the larger New York City area (as well as in other parts of the country), where consenting adults don artificial fangs and sip blood from willing donors. According to the story these groups, which include professional people who join under pseudonyms, engage seriously in religious rituals not unlike traditional Christianity’s sacramental rites. Now before snatching up your holy water and fresh hawthorn stakes, consider for a moment that adherents to this sub-culture are actually exercising their religious freedom.
Older, established religions are often quick to judge newer religious rivals. The fact is, however, that every religion on the planet was once a new religion. Believers often attribute the origin of their species of religion to the divine: special revelation, enlightenment, or a growing-up of humanity. All other religions, therefore, must be false. The difficulty here is that there are no final arbiters who can stand outside human religious institutions to tell us which is the right one. Lessing’s three rings have reached mass production and still there is no Ragnarok so that one religion might brag “told you so” to all the others. While I’m no vampire — I’ve been a vegetarian for over a decade — I have to accept the claims of those who are that this is their religion. The article ends with a revealing quote from a member of a local Court, so I give the final say to an actual interview with a vampire: “So many people think being into a certain lifestyle, you cut yourself off from the divine. It’s quite the contrary. To me, when you become more attuned to yourself, who you are uniquely, it brings you closer to God.”