Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Fundies of a Different Stripe

I Don’t Believe You - The Thermals (mp3)
Sea Talk - Zola Jesus (mp3)

To be religious is, ultimately, to delight in the absurd. One cannot be sincerely and thoughtfully devout about any religion I know of without accepting the absurdity of certain beliefs.

One of my very best friends, who was raised a Christian and who continues to attend church, simply can’t bring himself to accept the virgin birth. From whence the fertilizing sperm? Thin air? A lascivious ghost? A burning bush with a penis? Why couldn’t an omnipotent God merely use Joseph’s or some other human’s sperm as the vessel for Holy Seed?

Personally, I’ve never wrestled with this one too heavily. I get his point, but there’s so much about the impregnation of Mary that I can’t possibly know that I merely accept the claim as “good enough.” The notion of a virgin birth exists in dozens if not hundreds of myths and religions, but in the case of Mary, I somehow ignore the coincidences and the absurdities and accept it. Call it blind faith, or call it stubborn ignorance; I don’t really care what you call it, ‘cuz it’s my religion, not yours.

My wrestling matches have always focused more on the seeming personality changes in God over the course of the Testaments, on the motives of key players, on the seeming contradictions in commands, edicts, and advice.

Example: The Ark of the Covenant is riding along and hits a pothole. It begins to tip over. A dude reaches out to steady the cart and thus prevent the Ark from falling. God kills him. Because dammit, rules are rules.

Example: Judas. My questions surrounding Judas are legion. Few are likely to be sufficiently answered for my conscience in this life.

Back to my original point: Religious belief is absurd. And as a card-carrying believer in a particularly absurd-sounding religion, I appreciate this, and it’s my appreciation that makes my goofy little faith in Jesus stuff all the more precious.

Acknowledging my own absurdity is important. It gives you, dear reader, proper opportunity to question my authority and opinions when I make my next claim:

Scientology is just about the goofiest, loopiest, scariest religious cult I’ve ever come across.

My latest reminder is the novella-sized expose on Scientology recently published in New Yorker magazine (Seriously. It’s, like, 26 pages long). The drama centers around longtime member and recent defector Paul Haggis, a highly-regarded Hollywood screenwriter. He claims to have always had problems with a few specifics of Scientology, but only recently had enough straws piled on his camel’s back to break him.

Most of us know very little about Scientology. If you’re one of those people, don’t feel too bad about this ignorance. You’re not missing much. (NOTE: I previously wrote about my first encounter with the religion back in November 2009. It was not a good first encounter.)

Here’s what feels pretty solid. They’re bullies. They’re insecure. They behave very much like pod people from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Their system of progression is a pyramid scheme where money helps you buy your way up the ladder of importance. They use child labor. They keep people imprisoned against their will. They insist that the only people entitled to know the details of their deepest religious truths are those who have bought in enough.

Not all of these qualities are exclusive or unique to Scientology. I know plenty of Christians who are bullies and insecure and often give an impression that they have medicated their brains so thoroughly with Holy Water that they’ve lost touch with all reality. But I don’t know of a Protestant faith where your rank is purchased. And I don’t know of any mainline Christian faith* where we keep secrets from non-believers, at least not since the time of Martin Luther.

Christianity puts itself out there for mockery, scorn, disbelief. It parades around its absurdities quite proudly.

I watched a YouTube clip where the BBC’s John Sweeney, a supposedly-respected journalist, gets broken by Tommy Davis, the Tom Cruise doppelganger and son of Anne Archer who has long served as one of its main ministers of information. I challenge anyone with a free and unbiased mind to watch this clip -- or any of the “related videos” cascading down the side of the page -- and not be completely freaked out by the militaristic mind-control feel of what’s going on.

In the link above, there’s some annoying editorializing. Someone’s trying to scream at me to think Scientology is screwed up. I don’t like being told what to think, so this took away from my wanting to find it all creepy. But eventually a reasonable person can’t help but be creeped out by all of it. In fact, I totally dare you to watch any clip of Tommy Davis and not be creeped out. The dude. Is. Scary.

And don’t get me started on the Sea Org. Or the “reactive mind.” Or Thetans.

I enjoy plenty of Beck's music, and I’ve watched and enjoyed 90% of everything Tom Cruise has ever done. Fortunately, I’m comfortable believing great artists need not be intelligent or wise. And none of the famous folks who follow L.Ron sway me from this opinion: Scientology is absurd on a galactic level.

* -- Mormonism, which keeps a plethora of secrets (and undergarments) buried and reserved only for believers, is clearly not included in my own definition of “mainline Christianity.”


troutking said...

I believe in God, only I spell it N-A-T-U-R-E. --Frank Lloyd Wright. His fellowship/school gets my vote as Best Cult Ever.

Bob said...

Billy, can I borrow your copy of Battlefield Earth? I'd like to watch that again. I thought John Travolta was magnificent.

Daisy said...

I'm still hoping for Katie to break from the cult and rat out Tom and the others on Barbara Walters.

Hank said...

I'm really surprised that a nerd war hasn't broken out here, although reading the New Yorker article it sounds like practicing Scientologists are not as avid Google Alert users as Avett Brothers fans. Tommy Davis is probably having their lawyers shut down your blog.

Brandon said...

Nice article uncle -- you forced me to undergo 26 pages of a slow, Afghan-driven internet connection to read the entire New Yorker article, but it was worth it. I am deployed with two Mormons now, and it's best that I not have religious discussions with them because it goes nowhere (I've debated with Mormons, and let's just say they're less than receptive to logical criticism). Like Mormons, it seems that Scientologists prefer to hide behind a veil of outsider ignorance in order to legitimate their belief system. Hopefully articles like yours and The New Yorker will change that....