I was listening to a short discussion about restoration cults this morning in regard to the Esoteric Order of Dagon in HP Lovecraft's "Shadow Over Innsmouth" on hppodcast.com. In it, professor Robert M. Price (Professor of Theology and Scriptural Studies, Colemon Theological Seminary) was discussing how ancient cults who were overtaken by foreign cults generally took two paths. One is conformity to the new cult (they beat us, therefore their cult is stronger than ours). The second involves those who want to restore the old cult, often creating a cult that is not that similar to the old, and often assimilates the foreign cult's practices. This made me think of the changes in the religious right that has been going for some time in the United States, with a major shift during the Reagan era. Being a non-religious type, I refer to Christianity as a cult. If this offends your particularly sensibilities, please note that I do not judge directly on religious beliefs but on the actions said beliefs lead one too, and that a cult is merely a religion in my book, regardless of size.
The notion that the religious right is a restoration cult is partly true, but partly fabricated by its members. Since the 1980s in the United States there has been a sense among some Christians that they are the victims of persecution. The secular world is encroaching too greatly on their beliefs. The removal of prayer in schools and the completely fabricated "War on Christmas" gives them a position to propagate this belief. You only have to look briefly at the current Republican hopefuls and their noisiest followers to see that a strain of modern Christians are making a sort of "Neo Protestantism" whose enemy is not the papacy, but rather the government and secular entities that offend their beliefs. Same-sex marriage and abortion are high on their list of offenses allowed by both enemy camps, followed by global warming and their false concept of Evolution.
Early in my life, the issue of prayer in school was the most stark line between us and them (or myself and them if you prefer). Many of my high school friends began going over to rather shabbily organized youth churches and tried creating prayer groups at the school. Despite the back-woods hillbilly mentality of its central Tennessee locale, the school disallowed the groups, fueling the fire of their fictitious persecution. It was their way of being rebels, I suppose, much as many of the earliest Christians were young girls interested in pissing off their families, these Neo Protestants got to be considered outsiders, rebels, and rule breakers. The problem is, these people are now in their forties and many maintain this stance.
Back to the restoration cult idea, all you have to do is look at your more fringe churches to see how they are assimilating secular practices to influence those less prone to be adherents. A rather large, reportedly odd, church near us (they call themselves a "temple") has skateboarding ramps they bring out weekly, and if you tune to your "we play all the hits from the 80s, 90s and today" station on a Sunday morning you are very likely to hear religious music that you really have to listen to for a bit to figure out that it is indeed religious. To them the secular world is the invading cult, and the more of it they can assimilate to get you interested (particularly if you are young and impressionable) the better their chance of keeping you. When summer rolls around again look at the signs for vacation bible school. They will (at least in the South) be themed. Sometimes it involves a current trend in popular culture, but will often go back to tried-and-true kid pleasers like dinosaurs. These are of course ways to get kids to want to go to these summer programs by offering up an entirely non-religious carrot. The more sinister of these in my mind are themed towards archaeology, certainly perverted to discredit Natural Selection and promote the idea that man and dinosaurs co-existed, or the less common teaching that the deity planted dinosaur bones to test our faith.
Again, despite my Atheism, I do not care what you believe. I never discount a person strictly because of their particular brand of faith, just as being a fellow Atheist does not get you a free pass with me. I am one who worries about anyone whose goal is gathering power and influence. You have to try to divine their motives. Is Rick Santorum really as committed to his beliefs as he says, or is he pandering to the throngs that have been taught to feel persecuted? If he is truly firm in his beliefs, what does that say about this restoration cult if it is as bigoted and narrow minded as he leads us to believe. He is not alone by any means, I just pick on him here because he is the most unapologetically bigoted. Just be careful, religious people. Religion is just like advertising. People will twist it to get you to buy things you don't need, and may soon discover you don't want.