Latest religio-legal comedy: the Seven Aphorisms of Summum

Is Summum an actual religion, or a parody? Hard to tell.

Adherents of a religion called “Summum” are suing a Utah town with a Ten Commandments monument in its park to insist that it put up a monument to Summum’s “Seven Aphorisms,” which comment on Summum’s “Seven Principles.”

I. The Principle of Psychokinesis

“SUMMUM is MIND, thought; the universe is a mental creation.”

II. The Principle of Correspondence

“As above, so below; as below, so above.”

III. The Principle of Vibration

“Nothing rests; everything moves; everything vibrates.”

IV. The Principle of Opposition

“Everything is dual; everything has an opposing point; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes bond; all truths are but partial truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled.”

V. The Principle of Rhythm

“Everything flows out and in; everything has its season; all things rise and fall; the pendulum swing expresses itself in everything; the measure of the swing to the right is the measure of the swing to the left; rhythm compensates.”

VI. The Principle of Cause and Effect

“Every cause has its effect; every effect has its cause; everything happens according to Law; Chance is just a name for Law not recognized; there are many fields of causation, but nothing escapes the Law of Destiny.”

VII. The Principle of Gender

“Gender is in everything; everything has its masculine and feminine principles; Gender manifests on all levels.”

Recipe: Mix some basic Heraclitus with bits of Bishop Berkelely, astrology, and Taoism. Throw in some generalized New Age gibberish for flavor. Serve chilled. The commentary also has touches of Egyptian religion and kabbalah.

The obvious thought here is Dahlia Lithwick’s: “Summum is weird.” A less obvious thought is that Summum is an elaborate hoax, a bit of conceptual Dadaism, like the Museum of Jurassic Technology. If that’s the case &#8212 and the fact that the prophet of Summum calls himself “Summum Ra” but is apparently called “Corky” by his friends may be a hint &#8212 then Lithwick’s reflection (based on her own devotion to kashrut) that “Only the religious convictions of other people are weird. Yours are perfectly rational” may reflect exactly the conclusion the authors of the hoax wanted the audience to draw.

If that’s what’s at work here &#8212 and, never having heard of Summum before now and never having met anyone involved, I have no way of knowing &#8212 then getting a case all the way up to the Supreme Court makes this one of the finest practical jokes ever.

Offhand, I have no clue about how the Court will rule, or any clear thought about how I think it should rule. (It looks as if the town is caught on the horns of a dilemma: if the Ten Commandments monument reflects the government’s viewpoint, then the town has an established religion; if it represents a private viewpoint, then the town can’t properly exclude a different viewpoint from a public forum.) The principle that no piece of the American government can try to distinguish between true and false dogma seems important to me, and it must follow that the courts also can’t distinguish actual dogma from nonsense. So whatever happens I hope the Court will shy away from deciding whether Summum is or is not a “religion.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: