Film Review: Sons of Perdition

Sometimes stories involve characters who only make the briefest of appearances, but their impact is felt in enormous ways—think of Jim, the gentleman caller in The Glass Menagerie, or Boo Ridley in To Kill A Mockingbird. So it is with Sons of Perdition, a 2010 documentary following three boys who are exiled from the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints community in Colorado City, Arizona. In this case, there’s not just one, but two unseen-but-key individuals: the boys’ families, and their spiritual leader, Warren Jeffs.

Our young heroes include seventeen-year-old Sam, who sports hair doused with peroxide. He has a complicated feelings toward his father (near the beginning of the film he muses that he was assaulted out fatherly love). His lively cousin is fifteen-year-old Bruce, a loveable goofball. Joe, also 17 and also a fan of outrageous hair color, is the most serious of the three, with a deep voice that belies his skinny frame.

They’ve escaped Colorado City, Arizona, where the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints all reside. This fringe group of Mormons broke off from the mainline church in 1890, when the LDS outlawed polygamy. To fundamentalists, polygamy is still a God-given mandate, and their leader Warren Jeffs is the ultimate human authority regarding who should marry whom. Men take multiple wives (some of them barely teenagers), who have several children, and the children are taught to be obedient sons and daughters. The kids receive education in religion and math, but they have little knowledge of the outside world—at one point, Joe confuses Bill Clinton for Adolf Hitler.

Getting their public figures mixed up is the least of the boys’ problems, however. As much as they enjoy their newfound freedom, their biggest struggle is not being around the families they’ve left behind. Each one talks about missing their brothers and sisters, and all of them try to find other families to replace what they had. But Joe also makes multiple attempts to get his mother and younger sister out of the FLDS community. His father intervenes every time, making each liberation attempt more suspenseful than the last. Although you only see his mother and sister in a handful of scenes, you root for them harder every time.

If Joe’s family are the invisible protagonists, then Jeffs is their villainous, invisible counterpart. He only makes his appearances by way of photograph and eerily soothing recordings of his sermons. But his influence can also be strongly felt by what’s not said: When the boys talk about spirituality, they focus more on their previous fears of going to hell than they do on God. For them, the spiritual has been filtered through a very power-hungry and ungodlike individual.

Luckily, Sons of Perdition does end on a happy note, with Jeffs being arrested during the filming and the boys each finding themselves among  family again. With the drama of their old lives settled, the boys are free to move on to writing happier stories for themselves—ones not haunted by ghosts of the past.

The Shutdown’s Effect on Religion

small__10062155615From would-be park visitors to Alaskan fishermen, the current drama in Washington D.C. has affected much of American society over the past week. Religion has been no exception.

Christianity:

Thanks to the shutdown, some priests who served on military bases are currently out of work. Due to a shortage of active-duty Catholic chaplains in the military, these particular priests were hired to work as government service or contractor employees. Now that the shutdown’s put the kibosh on 800,000 non-essential government workers, the spiritual needs of numerous military members are going untended. As John Schlageter, the General Counsel of the Archdiocese for the Military Services puts it, “ If you are a Catholic stationed in Japan or Korea and are served by a Contract or GS priest who is furloughed, unless you speak Korean or Japanese and can find a church nearby, then you have no choice but to go without Mass this weekend.”

Judaism:

While Jewish organizations are worrying over the shutdown’s effects on the broader society, the Times of Israel reports that for now, some Jewish government workers are enjoying the time off. To help them pass the hours, community centers and synagogues surrounding the D.C. area have been planning activities such as yoga classes and bagel brunches. On a more serious note, leaders of the Jewish Federations of North America have expressed concerns over the shutdown’s effects on programs like Women, Infants, and Children. They also worry over issues that have been pushed aside because of the shutdown, like “special funding for elderly Holocaust survivors.”

Islam:

Newsrooms are quiet on ways that the shutdown has affected Muslim citizens. However, satirical website National Report did post a story that President Obama was donating his own money so that a Muslim culture museum could stay open during the shutdown. This was, of course, a joke. But Fox News didn’t realize it.

The Amish:

Unconcerned.”

Book Review: The Unlikely Disciple

The Unlikely DiscipleSome non-Christians, after being asked about their spiritual lives, may walk away  feeling uncomfortable.  Not Kevin Roose. Instead, he decided to withdraw from his  liberal island at Brown and spend a semester at Liberty University, one of the most conservative schools in the country. Determined to learn enough about evangelicals to hold a decent conversation with them, Roose arms himself with a Bible, sticks a Jesus fish decal on his car, and spends a semester posing as a newly minted Christian.

At first, he encounters a world filled with stringent rules. Students are given reprimands and fined up to hundreds of dollars for different offenses. Dancing. Sleeping in convocation. Watching R-rated movies. Men and women are required to live in separate dorms. And premarital sex? Fugheddaboutit.

As the semester progresses, though, he meets several individuals who don’t fit the typical Christian mold. There’s Joey, the rebellious Jersey kid who skateboards naked through the dorm. Leslie, the semi-feminist who doesn’t believe women should be subject to their husbands. And Max, the political-minded Republican who laments Liberty’s lack of academic rigor. Liberty students in general, he finds, share many of the same concerns as other people their age: school, dating, etc.

He even meets Jerry Falwell himself, when he scores an interview with the pastor for Liberty’s student newspaper. (By chance, it also happens to be the last print interview Falwell gave before passing away of a heart attack.) What he finds is a person who’s hard to vilify, even when he’s said some very awful things. Falwell, for example, tells Roose that a boy who lived next door knocked a baseball into Falwell’s yard. When Falwell gave it back, he wrote a note on the ball entitling the boy to four free years at Liberty University (which could be either calculating or altruistic, depending on your perspective).

Roose also sees the things that give truth to Christianity’s worst stereotypes. “Wouldn’t it be terrible to be a gay guy’s roommate and not know it?” asks one of his roommates, while another one often lashes out about “faggots” and how much he hates them. This atmosphere is influenced by Falwell himself, who stated that homosexuality, feminism and the ACLU were to blame for September 11. None of these facts sit lightly with Roose, but having befriended some of its students, he finds it harder and harder to think of Liberty as a fort of intolerance.

As he gets deeper and deeper into the Christian world, he approaches his project with an almost childlike open-mindedness.  This is a good thing for his audience . It gives secular readers a peek into the Christian world, unclouded by heavyhanded judgment. Meanwhile, Christian readers get a fresh, newcomer’s look at their faith—some may find it charming that Roose describes things they’ve been exposed to ad nauseam, like the Old Testament, as “complicated, fascinating stuff.”

He does all of this with a sharp but subtle humor. Though he pokes gentle fun at some aspects of the Christian culture, he pokes even more fun at himself. How can you not like a guy who, in contrast to the typical macho Liberty man, groups himself with “English major milquetoasts who drink mango smoothies and listen to the latest Michael Bublé album”? In fact, how can you not like a guy who uses “milquetoast” in his vocabulary?

For its in-depth reporting, balance and humor, The Unlikely Disciple is one of those books that is, to borrow a phrase from critics, “compellingly readable.”

Porter’s Call A Low-Cost Haven for Musicians

Porter's CallEven though the website for Porter’s Call uses words like “ministry,” “pilgrimage” and “God,” founder Al Andrews never mentions religion when he explains how the non-profit first began. He prefers to call the organization a “place of faith.”

“I’m openly Christian,” says Andrews, “but even that has such ramifications for so many different people that I’d rather say I’m a person of faith. I think we’ve established this as a safe place to come and find your way.”

Located in downtown Franklin, Porter’s Call offers low-cost counseling services to music industry professionals. It was founded in 2000, three years after Andrews moved to Nashville and established his private practice in Green Hills. During his time as a private counselor, he noticed that a majority of his clients were people involved in the music industry. After recording artists began knocking on his door, the idea for Porter’s Call started to brew.

“When I was meeting with artists, I realized that certain things were going on. Number one, nobody could afford me. Especially in the early part of being an artist—you don’t make a lot of money. And I couldn’t afford to keep discounting everyone. And then, they couldn’t come regularly. Because they’re on the road.”

To address these problems, Andrews decided to try selling a day of his counseling services to local recording labels. Sparrow Records, the first company he contacted, agreed under one condition: that it could also send artists from other labels to Andrews, and not just its own. (“Usually in [the music] industry,” he says, “everyone takes care of their own people. To be that magnanimous was a surprise, but they did it.”) Every Wednesday, artists would visit Andrews without having to pay out of pocket, and the results were so successful that three months afterwards, Sparrow Records approached him with the idea to start a non-profit counseling service for musicians. The label rallied support for it among its own circles, and Porter’s Call has been in operation ever since.

“The name comes from a 5th century monastery,” Andrews says, “where inside the gates of the monastery they have this old guy called a porter, and they describe him as a ‘wise old man who’s finished with his wandering days.’ The porter’s job was to welcome the sojourners who knocked on the door, and helped them find the way to what they need. If they needed food, they’d feed them. If they needed prayer, they’d pray for them. If they needed wise counsel, they’d offer it. I thought, ‘What if I became a porter, rather than a counselor? And I’ll be here in this little place in Franklin, and when artists knock on our door, give us a call, we open it and we help them define the way to what they need.’”

At first, Porter’s Call’s services were offered for free, but when “everybody started coming in with their Starbucks cups,” Andrews decided to charge five dollars per session. At the end of each year, the non-profit sends this money to a Ugandan school in support of its music program. Other funds for the organization come from donations made by music industry professionals and organizations, individual donors and the annual Evening of Stories, a storytelling event which has featured the likes of Vince Gill, Amy Grant and former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins.

Over the past 13 years, the organization has seen 800 industry insiders step through its doors. But Andrews has yet to wish he had a wider client base. “It feels very wide,” he says, “just because people are so different and unique. I feel like I’ve been blessed with a very unusual niche, in probably one of the only cities where you could have it.”

Film Review: Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians

Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians

photo credit: Jesus V via photopin cc

What happens when a group of Christians walk into a casino? They end up winning thousands of dollars–at least the Christians in this unique documentary do. Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians stars a group of blackjack players known as “the church team,” which is mostly made up of Christians who have also been trained as card counters. These clever players game the system by keeping track of the cards that are dealt, then adjusting their strategy accordingly to turn the odds in their favor. They’re so successful at what they do, the members even take to entering casinos in disguises so that they’re less likely to be recognized and asked to leave the premises.

In terms of how their faith affects their odd hobby, several members say that not everyone understands what they do and why they do it; others explain that their methods are a way of avenging all the people who step into the seductive trap of the casino thinking they’ll win big, only to lose everything in one night. “It doesn’t seem like the most noble things a person can do in the world, but at least we can liberate the money from the clutches of those who would use it for ill purposes,” says one player.

Like any real-life story involving everyday people and situations with thousands of dollars, the doc is engaging throughout,  but the religious aspect intensifies the drama. The movie climaxes when an atheist player is suspected of stealing—two players claim they know he stole because God told them as much, which prompts some interesting discussion from some over whether God really works in such mysterious ways. Religious guilt also eventually takes a toll on a church leader Mark, who over the course of the three-year filming evolves from enjoying existing in what he calls the “gray area” of Christianity to leaving the team because blackjack starts to seem meaningless.

Which brings us to one of the biggest issues of the film: You don’t get to see what blackjack allows the players to do with all their extra time and money. On average, the players only work an average of 40 hours per month. The rest of their time, as team co-founder Colin points out, can be used for ministry, and one pastor says he started playing so that he could grow his church,  but the impact on his or any other member’s church is never seen. Without this part of the story, the movie feels more about blackjack with religion sprinkled in, and less like the religious tale implied by the title.

Video Series: Deconversion, Belief, and the Power of Silence

Many inspirational Christian stories tell how non-believers came to believe. But how many times do you hear about the opposite? Several Youtube users have taken to the Internet to tell their own stories of leaving their religion, and one such story is a video series called Deconversion, Belief, and the Power of Silence.

The videos are by a former Christian named Eli, or as he’s known on his Youtube channel, Prplfox. Eli narrates his story over images of his own drawings, journal entries, home video footage and movie clips. His tale spans from the end of high school to the end of college, where he befriended other Christians, prayed with them and became an active member of a worship group. But as he started to ponder some of the harsher words of the Bible and the questionable acts of his fellow Christians, he embraced a more personal form of religion, until finally he rejected the idea of God altogether. Throughout this time, however, he leads a youth group, which makes the deconversion process all the more messy.

While the first video starts out a bit shaky (he ends all of his sentences in a questioning tone, like he’s not really certain about anything he’s saying), Eli speaks more confidently in each video afterwards, and the result is a narrative with beautiful, striking imagery from poems that he’s written. As he finds his voice through the videos, he sounds more and more like a spoken word artist describing something deeply emotional and personal. Admittedly, sometimes his statements are so abstract that it’s not always clear what he means. This does make watching the videos frustrating and a bit confusing for those who want a more straightforward story.

That aside, though, the series is an thought-provoking look at Christianity from an ex-Christian, a view of the religion that goes beyond the shallow wisecracks a la Family Guy. What Eli does is much more critical, and his most interesting points are in the last video (check it out around 1:18-3:48). It discusses some of the reasons that Christians identify as such. Though he acknowledges that his categories are simplistic, they boil down to  the following:

1. Situational-This is what I was raised to believe.

2. Evidence-I don’t believe we are a bag of chemicals.

3. Desire for death not to be the end-I want to go to heaven when my life is over.

4. Reasons for being-I am afraid of living a meaningless life

5. Relationship with Your Creator-Only Jesus can change your life.

 

The last point, argues Eli, is the most powerful: It grounds all the other four reasons, and becomes the core of a Christian’s belief. But as he says, “One could argue that beliefs don’t have to be true to change your life… Believing in Jesus changed my life, but that doesn’t mean that Jesus is true, it only means that believing in Jesus changed my life.”

Sometimes Eli’s storytelling is too convoluted, and the series as a whole isn’t perfect—but the last video is definitely worth a watch, if only for his thoughtful discussion of the above reasons Christians believe, and the powerful last few minutes he spends addressing anyone who’s in the process of deconverting.

Green Hills Church Settling Into Its New Space

IMG_0161Green Hills Church was one of the places I profiled in March for my story on churches that meet in rental spaces. After meeting in Cabana for several years, the church moved into its own space on Bowling Avenue in July. I caught up with lead pastor Mike Harder to talk about the new building.

How’s the new space?

MH: We’ve had a lot of people from the neighborhood check us out. Which has been different for us. There are things we have to learn that are learning curves for us. Like how do we use parking and how do we do rehearsal and how do we do hospitality, helping people walk in and walk out. We have two entrances now, and our lot’s not super-huge. There are these little intricacies with any space that you’re in, but it’s not been bad because we’ve  gotten to be pretty flexible.

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What can you do now that you weren’t able to do before?

Our band can rehearse during the week. Our music’s sounding better. We have a space for meetings, during the week, if we want to use that.   Also, it gives us the opportunity to do things that are outside of services. We haven’t really jumped into any of that stuff yet. [But we were thinking we] could do a farmer’s market in the area, in the parking lot. Or use it for ministries that we believe in, like Young Life or recovery groups. We haven’t jumped into that with both feet yet, because we haven’t fully got ourselves in.  We’ve been there about a month and a half. We want to get six months to just [put] a church in there, before we add anything new to the mix. But it will allow us to do Sunday night services if we want to, or do three services Sunday morning, or Saturday night.

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What’s your favorite thing about the new space?

No set up and tear-down! Honestly, my favorite thing is that we have good, safe, clean kids’ rooms. We’ve made a serious change in what we offer for our children. And being a dad, that’s the kind of stuff that really matters to me.

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Movie Review: Hellbound?

Hellbound?

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Hellbound? asks a number of different questions when it comes to understanding hell. What is hell like? Who’s going there, and how do we know with certainty who they are? What kind of God would allow such a place to exist? The answers make for a very thought-provoking ninety minutes.

Director Kevin Miller frames his descent into the hell debate with footage of 9/11’s tenth anniversary. Several threads tie this to the concept of hell. One is the members of Westboro Baptist Church, who are some of the first people seen in the movie. They’re picketing on the streets of New York City, holding up “God hates fags” signs and yelling “Thank God for September 11!” (Specifically, WBC believes God orchestrated 9/11 to punish America’s increasingly sinful behavior.)

To Miller, though, 9/11 has another connection to hell: It’s a comfort to think that eternal fire may await those who caused so much pain and suffering. “But if the only way to get rid of evil is to get rid of evil people, who among us will be left?” Miller asks. “If God responds to evil in the same way we do, how can we call him good? How can we call him God?”

Different voices sound off on this topic, ranging from an exorcist to a universalist, whose school of thought believes that eventually, everyone will end up in heaven. (The latter argument came to the forefront when pastor Rob Bell published his book Love Wins, which argues that hell is empty.) Many pastors disagree with Bell for a number of reasons. Some, though they’d be loath to admit it, have a personal investment in hell existing.  Without hell, Bob Larson the exorcist would have built his business on nothing. On a more philosophical note, some say that without hell, there’s no use for the saving grace of God, which renders the choice to follow him meaningless.

But critics of the classic view argue that if God is all loving, he wouldn’t doom some of them to fire and brimstone. Nor would he annihilate them altogether, as the view of end times known as annihilationism claims. Universalists still believe that He will punish sinners with a temporary period in hell—Hitler wouldn’t just be given a free pass, after all. But in the universalist view, if God really is great and unconceivable to the human mind, then his concept of justice and mercy will surpass  that of human expectations.  People like the WBC folk? They’re proposing a god that is human in his need for vengeance, and therefore ultimately flawed.

All of this seems to make hell just as contentious, if not quite as high-profile, an issue as homosexuality. As with the argument over how God feels about gays, some Christians disagree over what the Bible really says about hell. Though the classic view cites the Bible as proof that hell exists,  Miller’s film points out that several parts of the Bible can also be interpreted to support the annihilationism or universalism. On top of that, there are historical factors to consider; some verses that are often taken as literal references to hell aren’t actually referring to a fiery punishment pit, they’re warnings of the suffering that may take place if the errant people (like the Israelites who were sacrificing their children in Jeremiah) do not change their ways.

Some Christians who claim there is a hell also claim to know who will be going there. But Hellbound? argues that people who claim to know who’s going to hell are blind to the own evils they’re committing in their lives.  If God is meting out justice to people who have done bad things, then everyone should technically be punished. As universalist author Robin Parry asks, why should a regular sinner be saved, but not Hitler?

It’s this and all the related questions that make Hellbound?  a must-watch. For anyone who’s felt uncomfortable with the sadistic side of God, or for anyone who’s felt that they’ve been scared into believing, this movie can provide a gentler, more forgiving alternative.

Book Review: Hipster Christianity

Hipster Christianity

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Hipster Christianity explains the unbearable coolness of being a hipster. Why’s it so unbearable? Hipsters are constantly on the run for the next underground thing, once their own tastes have been co-opted by the mainstream. To author Brett McCracken, it is this constant chase, this desire for the next big thing before it gets big, that makes being cool incompatible with being Christian.

Hipster Christianity breaks down what it means to be cool in secular culture, then what it means to be considered a cool Christian. The book traces coolness through history, discusses the origins of Christian hipsters and their characteristics, and examines the problems of churches that try too hard to be hip. This divides the book itself into three distinct parts: academic argument, sociological description, and finally, a faith-filled reflection.

The author traces the development of cool back to the Enlightenment, when Rousseau’s Social Contract planted the dangerous idea that no man was better than the other. The lower classes began to buck the idea that aristocrats were better than they, and so began the history of individuals challenging authority and going against the grain. Eventually, this same mentality formed the basis of America’s founding; it was, after all, to be a land free of British rule. Before then, however, there were the fashion-obsessed dandies in France, individuals who were born middle-class but dressed like aristocrats, and were careful to see and be seen. This rebellion and fashion-forwardness eventually culminated in today’s hipster.

McCracken then provides a crash course on the skinny-jeaned elite. He describes several different types of hipster, though he places them into twelve categories when probably only five or six would suffice. For those who aren’t familiar with Christian hipster tastes, he lists their likes—David Sedaris, smoking cloves, buying organic—and their dislikes—megachurches, The 700 Club, Mel Gibson, etc. He also names a subjective list of hipster’s ten favorite cities, as well as describing some of the most successful hipster churches in the U.S.

After all this talk of cool, the book eventually glides into an earnest discussion of how churches who try to be hip are failing to provide the right spiritual experience for the faithful. The transition to this subject may seems a bit odd, but that may be intentional. McCracken’s main goal is to show how traditional coolness and Christianity don’t mix—hipsters are individuals, for example, while Christians are all about community. Hipsters care about the now; Christians care about what was, what is, and what will be. As he writes in the closing pages, “I want Christians to feel the dissonance.” And in a book where the tone suddenly shifts from that of self-aware amusement to sermon-like reverence, that dissonance is certainly felt.

McCracken speaks on these things from his own viewpoint as a Christian hipster. Being both makes him a good candidate for pointing out the problems of coolness and churches that try to adopt it. However, the same thing that makes him an expert also weakens his writing. While his first-person anecdotes serve as a jumping point for commenting on hipster culture, at times they make the book smack of self-indulgence. Does the reader really need to know about his experience seeing Interpol in Chicago? For that matter, does he really have to establish his hipster cred by mentioning it was an Interpol show?

Moreover, he dates the rise of the Christian hipster to the publication of a Relevant, a magazine he eventually began writing for; he also lists Relevant’s home city of Orlando as one of the top ten hipster cities in the country. (And if you’ll forgive me for showing some bias of my own, how did Nashville end up being only an honorable mention?)

Yet for all of McCracken’s references to his own hipster experiences, one thing he never explains is how he himself balances identifying as a hipster while disdaining parts of the hipster world at the same time. Sure, his disdain seems reserved for a certain type of hipster—the ones who rebel, only for the sake of rebellion. They’re different from Christian hipsters, who McCracken says has a cause in the form of their faith and love for God. But one can’t help but wonder how McCracken himself negotiates his own indie traits with the less appealing parts of being a hipster.

Santa Muerte Not As Dark as You Might Think

Santa Muerte

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With the debut of Breaking Bad’s final episodes last weekend, it seemed like every website on the Internet had something to say about the show. For CNN religion writer Rachel Heidi Evans, Walt’s fall into hubris and greed has been a warning of what could happen to any of us. For Christianity Today’s David Zahl, Breaking Bad has an “unshakably retributive” quality that depicts “the horror of getting what we deserve.”

However, when I think of religion in Breaking Bad, what sticks out in my mind the most is the Season 3 opener, where we see several men and women crawling on their stomachs through a desert village in Mexico. The literally silent but deadly duo known as the Cousins pull up in their Mercedes and begin crawling in the dirt along with them, expensive suits be damned. Their destination? An altar with many lit candles and a skeleton figure sporting a black female wig. Beside the figure, they pin a picture of Walt’s altar ego, Heisenberg.

What exactly is going on here? They’re visiting a shrine dedicated to Santa Muerte, a.k.a. Saint Death, a saint venerated in Mexico but not officially recognized by the Catholic Church. She is the poor man’s saint, worshipped by the fringes of Mexican society, and in several cases, by drug dealers.

For benign believers, Santa Muerte is a safeguard against the evil forces in their lives; she provides hope and protection for those who feel abandoned in a politically corrupt society. They offer her gifts like flowers, incense and tequila. Some of them crawl on their knees toward her shrine in Mexico City, carrying smaller Santa Muerte figures in their arms—a less extreme form of the practice seen in Breaking Bad.

For others, however, she is the saint of darker things. According to an essay written for the FBI by Dr. Robert J Bunker, Santa Muerte is considered “non-judgemental (amoral)”, and those who treat her well will get what they want. This is why she’s become so important to Mexican drug cartels. Since she lacks the same sense of virtue as traditional saints, drug traffickers feel free to ask that she grant their bloody requests.

These may include “the death of someone’s enemies, protection from harm (or, at least, hope for a quick and glorious death), cultivation of a dangerous reputation, and ability to enjoy the benefits of fabulous riches—including the company of beautiful women.”

Of course, none of this is sanctioned by the Catholic Church. In May, the Vatican issued a statement that criticized Santa Muerte, saying that “the mafia, drug trafficking and organised crime don’t have a religious aspect and have nothing to do with religion, even if they use the image of Santa Muerte.” The Pontifical Council for Culture also deemed Santa Muerte worship as blasphemous.

But as sensational as Santa Muerte may seem, Dr. Bunker notes that most of her worshippers are not involved in the drug trade. “The devotion to Santa Muerte, la Nina Blanca, is not just by vulnerable groups. It’s a family-oriented devotion. It is an alternative, emerging devotion,” historian Alfonso Hernandez tells ABC News.  Isn’t it odd, worshiping a skeleton? “For everyone, if we remove the skin, we are all skeletons,” says one woman, who began praying to Santa Muerte after her son was cured of a bad illness.

So in spite of what the drug world might lead one to assume about the so-called “Skinny Girl,” it appears that she’s more of a beacon for hope that’s been hijacked for corrupt purposes.