Although the Allegheny Mountains are hardly the Rockies—they’re much older and gentler on the eye—they harbor many tourist locations. Even before my daughter attended Binghamton University, I’d been drawn to the natural beauty of upstate New York. Prior to when college changed everything, we used to take two family car trips a year, predictably on Memorial and Labor day weekends, when the weather wasn’t extreme and you had a day off work to put on a few miles. One year we decided to go to Sam’s Point Preserve (actually part of Minnewaska State Park) near Cragsmoor, New York. It features panoramic views, a few ice caves, and, as we learned, huckleberries. What my innocent family didn’t suspect is that I’d been inspired to this location suggestion by the proximity of Pine Bush.
A friend just pointed me to an article on Smithsonian.com by my colleague Joseph Laycock. Titled “A Search for Mysteries and Monsters in Small Town America,” Laycock’s article discusses how monster pilgrimages share features with nascent religion. People report strange encounters with all kinds of creatures and objects, and science routinely dismisses them. Odd encounters, however, leave lasting impressions—you probably remember the weird things that have happened to you better than the ordinary—and many towns establish festivals or businesses associated with these paranormal events. Laycock has a solid record of publishing academic books on such things and this article was a fun and thoughtful piece. But what has it to do with Pine Bush?
Although it’s now been removed from the town’s Wikipedia page, in the mid 1980s through the ‘90s Pine Bush was one of the UFO hot spots of America. Almost nightly sightings were recorded, and the paranormal pilgrims grew so intense that local police began enforcing parking violations on rural roads where people had come to see something extraordinary. By the time we got to Pine Bush, however, the phenomena had faded. There was still a UFO café, but no sign of the pilgrims. I can’t stay up too late any more, so if something flew overhead that night, I wasn’t awake to see it. Like Dr. Laycock, I travel to such places with a sense of wonder. I may not see anything, but something strange passed this way and I want to be where it happened. This is the dynamic of pilgrimage. Nearly all religions recognize the validity of the practice. It has long been my contention, frequently spelled out on this blog, that monsters are religious creatures. They bring the supernatural back to a dull, capitalist, materialistic world. And for that we should be grateful. Even if it’s a little strange.
Posted in American Religion, Holidays, Just for Fun, Memoirs, Monsters, Posts, Science, Travel
Tagged Joseph Laycock, Monsters, NY, paranormal, pilgrimage, Pine Bush, Sam’s Point Preserve, Smithsonian, UFOs
Sects and Violence in the Ancient World is nine years old today. Not that I’m keeping count. Really, I’m not. WordPress sent me a notice, and they ought to know, being the virtual womb whence my thoughts gestate. The original plan for this blog was to take my abiding interest in the religions of antiquity and give them a more public face. My brother-in-law, Neal Stephenson, thought I should do podcasts, because, at the time I spoke incessantly about ancient deities. I can still hold forth about Asherah at great length, but ancient Near Eastern studies is, believe it or not, an evolving field. You need access to a university library, or at least JSTOR, and a whole sabbatical’s worth of time to keep up with it. Even though telecommuting, I’m a nine-to-five guy now, and my research involves mostly reading books.
So Sects and Violence began to evolve. I realized after teaching biblical studies for over a decade-and-a-half that my real interest was in how the Bible was understood in culture. Having a doctorate from a world-class university in the origins of the Good Book certainly should add credibility. My own journey down that pathway began because of interpretations of Scripture that were strongly cultural in origin. I first began reading with Dick and Jane but quickly moved on to Holy Writ. It has shaped my life since before I was ten. It’s only natural I should be curious.
Like most tweens, I discovered sects. Why did so many people believe so many different things? And many of them call themselves Christians. And the Christians I knew said the others weren’t Christian at all. And so the conversations went, excluding others left, right, and center. As someone who wanted answers, this fascinated me. The Bible was the basis for many belief systems of sects everywhere. From Haiti to Ruby Ridge. From New York City to Easter Island. From Tierra del Fuego to Seoul. And not just one Bible, but many scriptures. And these beliefs led to behavior that could be called “strange” were it not so thoroughly pervasive. Scientists and economists say we’ve outlived the need for religion. By far the vast majority of people in the world disagree. I couldn’t have articulated it that way nine years ago, but since losing my teaching platform, I’ve been giving away for free what over four decades of dedicated study—with bona fides, no less!—has revealed. Happy blogday to Sects and Violence in the Ancient World.
Posted in American Religion, Bible, Current Events, Just for Fun, Memoirs, Posts, Religious Violence, Sects
Tagged blogging, Edinburgh University, Neal Stephenson, religion, Sects, violence