Through some lovely serendipity, I have come upon an interesting journal published by University of California press titled, appropriately, BOOM. It's subtitle is "A Journal of California," and that fits. Perusing the last couple of years of issues, I see some fascinating articles on various aspects of CA culture, past / present / future.
The article I recommend from it today is titled, A Golden State of Grace? by Lois Ann Lorentzen. Here are the opening lines that hopefully motivate you to read further...
Making sense of religion in California is a daunting task. California’s religious extravagance is fascinating—Heaven’s Gate, the Crystal Cathedral, Synanon, Starhawk, Harold Camping’s end-of-world predictions, Aimee Semple McPherson, Esalen, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the Grateful Dead. Everything is here, it seems, and then some.
Keep in mind what isn't mentioned in this quote: the California Missions, Calvary Chapel and the Jesus Movement, the Vineyard, Scientology and Saddleback... and these days, Bethel Church is leaving its mark. What a fascinating, spiritually eclectic place that California is!
Given the breadth of this topic, the author only touches on several examples in the article -- and makes me want to learn more. At the outset, she gives a quick recounting of earlier CA history, and I found this powerful:
The point of this abbreviated history is to note how populations and religions change dramatically in very short windows of time. California went from indigenous in 1769 to Catholic by 1833 and to predominantly Protestant by 1860. The mix of religions in California doesn’t look the same as other states.
Check out these stats:
Forty percent of all US Buddhists live in California, as do most Hindus and most Muslims—70,000 Muslims in Los Angeles County alone. California is 28 percent Catholic, 20 percent Evangelical Protestant, and 10 percent mainline Protestant. This is in contrast to the United States as a whole, where 70 percent of Christians are Protestant. To study religion in California is to study the world’s religions.
This grabs me the most:
As goes California, so goes the nation.
California’s present is the nation’s future.
Though I sound like an impassioned representative of the Tourism Bureau at this point, I would say that none of us can ignore this. History seems to bear out this theory, so it's worth studying in depth.
The article concludes with these thoughts:
Is there anything special about religion in California? As a teenager in northern Minnesota, I fantasized about California a lot; I knew it was special. I wanted it, the mountains, the oceans, the freedom, the diversity, the tolerance, the experimenting. Did I romanticize and essentialize? You bet! But now I am a Californian, with an ongoing love/hate relationship with this place. An academic, I’m still unsure about the answers to the questions I posed at the beginning of this essay. I have concluded, however, that California matters a great deal when we think about religion.Forgive me if you are not a Californian reading this. But as I vacation throughout the state this week, it still intrigues me greatly.