Wuhan Journal of Cultic Studies
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Volume 2: Issue 1, 2022
‘You people don’t know what the truth is... Truth is obsolete’: New Religious Movements and Possible Future Scenarios
Raymond Walter Radford
University of Sydney
Transmetropolitan, a long form graphic novel series (1997-2002), is the story of Gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem, seeking to expose the truth amongst a futuristic world of lies. The first six issues, collected in a trade edition entitled Back on the Street, introduce readers both to the state of the world in an uncertain future, but also to new religious movements (NRMs) of the future. In issue six, Spider and his assistant Channon attend a NRM convention, which is held due to a new religion emerging every six minutes within the city. These religions are created in a time and place in which technological marvels allow its denizens to be constantly connected or constantly distracted. Houses and apartments have mechanical ‘makers’ to reconstitute matter, creating new from old. The city’s citizens can do and be what they wish, allowing seekers to join or start an NRM; that these religions are still created and are popular in a society that seemingly has it all, permits the exploration the role of NRMs in society. This article investigates Transmetropolitan’s author Warren Ellis’ statement that “Science fiction is social fiction” to anchor the future NRMs in the series to ideas he found in his own world. This article attempts to understand how twenty- first century NRMs emerged in answer to societal ills or injustices that required solutions. Transmetropolitan is set in an unknown future, but the society it portrays can be utilized to explore twenty-first century first world culture. NRMs were seen as a problem in the 1960s when first studied by sociologists, but are now regarded as a normal part of human social interaction, and have been facilitated by advances in Internet and communications technologies. Using Transmetropolitan as a guide for how we could view NRMs in the future also allows for exploration into the way that NRMs are designed to solve the ills of modernity (what was modern for Jim Jones in 1979, for example, reflects the fears and anxieties of specific times and places), which in turn reflects thoughts, attitudes and beliefs that become inherent in new religious movements. These movements are then explored through the concepts of seekers: if given a world in which anything is permissible, why do people continue to search and seek out new forms of belief and belonging?
Warren Ellis, New Religious Movements, Futurism, Modernity, future of religions, Jim Jones, Peoples Temple, Shoko Asahara, Aum Shinrikyo.