God. The Higher Power. Krishna. What do you believe in? Litchfield’s dietary dilemma as well as Norma’s acceptance group open a series of questions about the fundamental elements of religion and spirituality which earn them legitimization. Norma’s spiritual group ultimately suggests to viewers that one’s beliefs do not to be concrete; one may be spiritual without having a book to reference, rules to follow, or one particular god to revere.
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) states that the United States court system has a set of criteria when determining whether or not one’s belief system can qualify as recognizable in the eyes of the law, an issue which Poussey takes issue with. Because Norma’s group does not necessarily address “fundamental and ultimate questions,” nor does is it “comprehensive in nature” or present “certain formal and external signs,” their group would likely not qualify as an established religion, which could cause them to run into problems such as eligibility to request space for spiritual observation and communal meetings, as is the case in this episode. Because Norma’s following is not widely accepted, nor adequately understood, other’s ignorance compels the group to be perceived as a cult. Now, when the term “cult” is thrown around, it leaves the group vulnerable to sinister connotations as well as the idea that they are going to kill someone, or themselves, in the name of Norma. This is likely not the case. ACLU recommends comparing a lesser known belief system to more established ones, such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, in order to gain credibility; however, what makes this group “so special,” Poussey urges, is that there aren’t any rules. Furthermore, the “R”eligion aspect gets in the way of their ability to practice kindness and acceptance, which is indubitably a stab at how contemporary issues with controversial topics such as abortion and homosexuality cause “religious” individuals to get caught up in the rules and lose sight of their religion’s core beliefs.
Although Leanne Taylor suggests that imposing a structure and set of rules onto their group will help their group gain acceptance, her own Amish background proves that highly organized religion is still subject to skepticism. Furthermore, rules would only serve to suggest that Norma’s group strives to exclude others rather than accept all. The kosher meal dilemma sheds light on the fact that these rules are not foolproof, however. The fact that Sister Ingalls, a Catholic woman, is the only one who could pass as Jewish suggests that one’s beliefs do not necessarily confine them to one religion. In fact, their education could allow them to understand and practice several religions, or at least conform to several.
What should we take away from episode 9? Perhaps Jenji Kohan wants us to understand that regardless of your beliefs, one should never lose sight of what is most important and essential to that belief system. Like Norma’s cult, everyone should accept each other’s differences. While she casts a rather dubious eye on organized religion’s obsession with discrediting others, she also illuminates how organized religion is riddled with hypocrisies.
American Civil Liberties Association. “Know Your Rights: Freedom of Religion in Prison.” ACLU. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Jan. 2016. <https://www.aclu.org/know-your-rights/freedom-religion-prison>.