Several good reads for your Sunday morning. Here is a profile in courage — a former evangelical pastor in the bible belt loses faith and becomes a public atheist. Loses his wife and is shunned by nearly everyone. The subtext to the story is that religion has as much to do with community and social networks as it does with individual beliefs.
In this Rolling Stone piece on the love guru Amma, also known as the “hugging saint,” we learn why her 32 million followers pay so much money to visit her San Ramon, California ashram. Adulation doesn’t come cheap:
[A] large portion of the temple has been turned into a kind of bazaar specializing in all things Amma: T-shirts, hoodies, books, DVDs, magnets, key chains, essential oils, body washes, mantra counters. There is jewelry Amma has blessed ranging from silver bracelets costing $800 to a silver crown for $5,000. One of the most sought-after objects for sale is the Amma doll: a stuffed, handcrafted replica of Amma whose design seems inspired by the Cabbage Patch Kids. It comes in small, medium and large – $45, $90 and $180, respectively – and the idea is that it provides a kind of cosmic hotline to Amma when not in her presence. “Sometimes, I need a hug from her, and that same feeling of all-accepting love and softness is there,” a nameless devotee says of the dolls on the Amma Shop website.
Hugs are free.