By Jenny Neyman
Anthropology of religion might sound like a history class, examining how religion has influenced cultures, societies and political structures throughout the ages.
But on Thursday, the class at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus was very much a current event, with guest speakers who have been associated with those linked to some of the most gripping events in the nation’s, Alaska’s and the Kenai Peninsula’s recent past — the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the 2008 shooting at Central Peninsula Hospital, and the arrest of militia activists in Fairbanks earlier this month for allegedly plotting to kidnap and kill Alaska State Troopers, judges and others.
Norm Olson and Ray Southwell, founders and former leaders of the Michigan Militia, and current leaders of the Alaska Citizens Militia and their Freedom Church, based in Nikiski, spoke on the significant role religion plays in their lives and political views, and shared their assertion that much of what’s wrong with society and political structures today is that the guiding moral compass and strength of faith that religion provides no longer receives the adherence and priority that it should.
“This study of anthropology of religion has far-reaching implication as far as Americans in this country today,” Olson told the class.
Alan Boraas, anthropology professor at KPC, said he appreciated the opportunity to have his students meet face to face with national figures such as Olson and Southwell, who have been involved with issues of such importance.
“The students have learned a lot in the sense of how to deal with challenging ideas they don’t necessarily agree with. And that’s the purpose of education,” Boraas said.
Throughout human history religion has affected politics, Olson said, citing particularly the times of Roman Emperor Constantine, who is said to have seen a vision of a cross and “in hoc signo vinces” — in this sign conquer — above the battlefield in 312. Today, Olson said, other signs have become the banner to live, conquer and govern by — those of the dollar, the euro, the yen and the ruble.
“There is a massive shift in our thinking in America just in the last 50 years. We have gone away from our traditional beliefs,” Olson said.
Every Sunday in the multiethnic neighborhood he grew up in outside Detroit, Olson said that all the families piled into their cars and headed off to church, even if they were different denominations serving different faiths and diverse ethnicities.
“Today you don’t see that much anymore. You wonder, ‘Where are these people today? Where do they derive their strength? What do they look to for their sustenance and their leadership? Who now gives the laws today?’” Olson said. “We don’t look at the God of glory — the Jehovah, Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We look now to corporations and to government to give us all that we need, from cradle to grave.” Continue reading