Sunday, November 22, 2009

Australian Scientology in Hot Water

I suppose a pragmatic argument can be made that many types of religion serve a positive and practical purpose in society (though, see). Scientology is not among those qualifying for such a defense. After wielding the power of intimidation against the press for some many years, the past couple of years have seen more willingness by many to speak out against the abuses by the church. The latest are comments and an article in Australia.

In France they have been convicted of fraud and brought within a sight of being stripped of their church status. Literally from Scientology's doorstep The St. Petersburg Times has done an expose series on various aspects of the "church" (an excellent read).

ABC Nightline has done a two part series into David M and the church. (See Tom Cruise receiving an award. Is it just me or does he look genuinely insane? If not that, completely deluded.)

In part one of the Nightline series there was a very interesting comment by one of the former members that the church has the power over eternity. Where have we heard this before being used to control members? In fact all the brands of Christianity and Islam hold eternity over the heads of members, either implicitly or explicitly. Growing up in the Adventist Church I lived with the constant threat of being stricken from the Book of Life. The terror of seeing that day when Jesus comes in the clouds to receive his own, and watching all my family rise into the sky to meet Him while I watched from the ground laced my every decision. With Catholicism and many types of Protestantism the fear of eternity suffering in the flames of hell is the hammer to drive people into the particular direction that churches and leaders want their "flock" to go. Guilt over the suffering of Christ is also used, especially in recruiting help for some goal. Mel Gibson's movie drove a spike in returning people to religion and motivating them to prosthelytize the lost.

Talk of Scientology always brings up the question for me, "What is a religion?". We protect the religious freedoms of people in this country; as a necessary side effect to reach this goal, we provide a protecting bubble around religions. They receive tax exception and first amendment protection for what they say as part of their religion. Scientology receives this same protections in this and other countries. Why? Because they declared themselves a religion? Because they have unprovable history and metaphysics? Because they evangelize and claim to provide help and healing for people? Because they call themselves a "church"?

In fact, in my mind they are no church and they are dangerous. Yet as I denounce their right to be labeled and protected as a "religion" I am well aware that other religious groups and sects also could come under the same scrutiny; who would survive an inquest into the efficacies of their teaching, history, practices and prophecies?

At about -5:50 into the second ABC Nightline video the Scientology spokesman avoids the interview questions on Scientology's theology and teaching by hiding in a cloak of church secrecy and spiritual sensitivity. When asked questions about Xenu, volcanos and teachings by L. Ron Hubbard their official spokesperson refuses to answer the questions as "offensive" (always a good hiding place. Love this guy.) and inappropriate. He denounced what we commonly find on the Internet as vulgar misrepresentations. He refuted them but was unwilling to offer clarification to what we find described on the Internet. What religion does this? Why would anyone want to join a religion that refuses to honestly disclose its own teaching? In the end he rips off his microphone and walks out of the interview as he promised. (My response? What an ass.)

Scientology is dangerous. It is not a church. It needs to be exposed now before it modifies its tactics and becomes more mainstream and acceptable (see Mormonism and Seventh-day Adventist). It needs to be stripped of protections before time itself protects it. Some guy goes out into the desert and invents a religion by declaring that an angel visited him and dictated a holy book. It's crazy, but through force of intimidation and military prowess it eventually (with time) establishes itself as one of the "Great Religions". A thousand years later a guy sticks his head into a hat and an angel helps translate a lost holy book and now and entire state of our nation is identified with this religion. If Scientology is allowed to continue, 100 years from now will we be calling it one of our "Great Religions"?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Dead man...walking?

I found this story of the Brazilian man who attended his own funeral intriguing. He "died" in a car crash and the next day the family held a funeral for him. Problem was, he didn't get the memo that he was supposed to be dead and strolled into his funeral.

I'm sure that's not the first time that this situation happened. What I found intriguing was this quote:
The sight of Ademir Jorge Goncalves alive shocked relatives, some of whom tried to jump out of the windows of the funeral home in southern Brazil.
I don't doubt that seeing him alive was shocking. It's the ones who tried to jump out of the window that is strange. The dissonance between what they believed to be true - based on vague or second hand evidence - and what they could actually see was true was too much for them to handle. Since many in these Latin, Catholic-infused, countries believe in spirits and ghosts the combination of "facts" drove them to a faulty and weird conclusion: The dead man's ghost had just strolled into the room.

Was it the emotion of the situation that caused the panic and confusion? Was it the religious soaked culture that virtually "saw" ghosts and spirits in every shadow? Was it simply a normal reaction? I imagine that I also would have been very confused at my Grandfather's funeral had he strolled into the room during the service. Yet why would we not immediately believe our own eyes and search for a reasonable explanation?

Carl Sagan addressed this in Demon Haunted World. Our minds are so easily fooled that even solid facts are at first rejected in favor of our long-held beliefs. In this case, the man who attended his own funeral had not been in the car that crashed - someone else was in the car. Lacking the advanced testing capabilities of dental records or DNA I don't suggest that they were wrong to conclude that he was the driver - especially since he was nowhere to be found. Yet, deciding to jump out of a window when he walked into the room is a ridiculous response; I doubt this response would have happened if the culture did not believe in ghosts and spirits of the dead.