01: Mattias Gardell’s impressive new book Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism (Duke University Press, $23.95) finds that such notorious white supremacist and anti-Semitic groups as the Ku Klux Klan and Christian Identity have been pushed aside as an “old man’s religion.”
The most cursory glimpse at white-racist publications, Web pages, and white-power lyrics reveals muscular heathens, pagan gods and goddesses, runes and symbols, magic, and esoteric themes in abundance.” Gardell, a Swedish historian of religion, writes that white supremacy has become further radicalized as it has moved away from its traditional themes of patriotism (as seen in many groups’ largely supportive stance of the Sept. 11 attacks) and Christianity. He notes that there is considerable diversity and fragmentation among these racist pagans, not to mention the many non-racial pagan groups:
For instance, Norse pagan or “Asatru” organizations can include groups stressing non-racial practices; those stressing ethnic roots and self-sustaining communities, though not necessarily white supremacist; and hard-liners admiring Hitler, national socialism and, in some cases, even endorsing Satanism and violent action.
The Norse-based Wotansvolk movement is clearly based on white power and has won a growing following in U.S. prisons. Gardell concludes that these groups are a global phenomenon (though based on an American model), and that it makes little sense anymore to speak of them as part of the “far right,” since they also include leftist elements such as ecology and anti-capitalism.
02: In Main Street Mystics: The Toronto Blessing and Reviving Pentecostalism (AltaMira Press, http://www.altamirapress.com; $26.95), sociologist Margaret Poloma examines how a revival in a charismatic church in Toronto led to a new wave of revival and change in the Pentecostalism throughout the world. Paloma recounts the incidents surrounding what has been called the Toronto Blessing or laughing revival (leading worshippers to break out laughing) at Toronto Airport Vineyard Church in 1994 (eventually called the Toronto Area Christian Fellowship — TACF — after the church was ousted by the Vineyard association).
Paloma’s discussion of Pentecostal practices and teachings and how they can be interpreted sociologically in the first half of the book is interesting but doesn’t seem to apply directly to the Toronto Blessing phenomenon. The second half of the book, however, is very good in showing how these events are changing Pentecostalism, including: the emergence of “prophets” (such as Rick Joyner) and the “democratization” of prophetic utterances (which were once quite infrequent) that became institutionalized in many churches in the post-Toronto Blessing (after 1996) period. In spreading around the world, the blessing has been incorporated into a national youth ministry known as The Call, as well as instrumental in the birth of social action ministries, such as Blood N Fire, a ministry to street people.
Paloma finds that the TACF continues to be a pilgrimage site for the world’s Pentecostals and charismatics, even demonstrating an outbreak of gold flakes allegedly falling upon members. The book is unique in mixing sociological theory and observation with the argument that theological and spiritual explanations cannot be ruled out. Poloma herself is a charismatic, although she attempts to “bracket” her beliefs when examining these developments.