Sunday, February 27, 2011

Are Christians Different from Scientologists?

Awareness of cults such as Scientology was part of the deconversion process for me.  In them I saw the process that early Christianity may have undergone:  charismatic leader, incoherent yet appealing myth, and devoted followers convinced that to leave the cult would mean death.

This article from the New Yorker made me think of Scientology again.  ...and why learning about Scientology put a few more nails in the coffin on any credibility Christianity had for me.

First, there's the whole issue of personality.  L. Ron Hubbard & Jesus both claimed to know the big Truths of Life and how to avoid pain and spiritual death. That's true of all cult leaders as far as I know.  They have to offer some insight that their victims adherents can't find elsewhere.

The point where Paul Haggis knew his religion's leaders were full of crap was when he saw one lie about whether they had a policy called "disconnection."  "Disconnection" is when the Scientologist has to sever ties to relatives who are anti-Scientology.  Sound familiar?  Perhaps it's because you are familiar with Christianity:  "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple."  (Luke 14:26)

Reading through the article I find more parallels.  Scientology bragged on itself in its publications:  "participation in Scientology brings to many a broader social consciousness, manifested through meaningful contribution to charitable and social reform activities."  I hear this kind of thing from Christians.  They justify their belief system by its effects rather than proving their deity exists.  They have a lineage of creativity backing them up, too.  From Michelangelo to Bach our society has been enriched by their belief system.   ... as if Michelangelo and Bach were incapable of coming up with ideas for secular art.  The Brandenburg Concertos are probably Bach's most famous works, and they're not at all sacred.
Scientology got its foothold by cultivating celebrities:  "In 1955, a year after the church’s founding, an affiliated publication urged Scientologists to cultivate celebrities: “It is obvious what would happen to Scientology if prime communicators benefitting from it would mention it.”
Christianity benefitted from Constantine and later rulers adopting it as their official religion.  Back then, there were no movie stars, so they had to settle for kings and emperors. 

The following could easily be said of almost any believer in any faith:
“I had such a lack of curiosity when I was inside,” Haggis said. “It’s stunning to me, because I’m such a curious person.” He said that he had been “somewhere between uninterested in looking and afraid of looking.” His life was comfortable, he liked his circle of friends, and he didn’t want to upset the balance. It was also easy to dismiss people who quit the church. As he put it, “There’s always disgruntled folks who say all sorts of things.”
Once you've been sucked into (or born into) a religion, what keeps you there has nothing to do with theology, historicity, or any "proof" of the supernatural.  It's the comfort of belonging to a community, probably the most human need we have.  It's evolutionary: we are social creatures that depend on community for the survival of individuals, and our communities depend on the loyalty of the individuals for the survival of the community.

Yet Christians will point out how great their communities are as if other religions can't make the same claim.  (Americans will also brag on how great Americans are in a disaster, as if people in other countries won't rescue their neighbors during a natural disaster)

Some aspects of Scientology baffled him. He hadn’t been able to get through “Dianetics”: “I read about thirty pages. I thought it was impenetrable.” But much of the coursework gave him a feeling of accomplishment
Boy does this sound like the typical Christian.  Most have not read the Bible, or if they have they did it through coursework, being led to pay attention only to the convenient portions.  Bible study is one of those things I can respect because at least they're not just nodding their heads once a week on Sunday, but now that I'm an outsider, I realize there is no study of alternate viewpoints.  Of course any religion seems valid as long as you intentionally ignore all other viewpoints.
Haggis says: "I think I did, in some ways, become a better person. I did develop more empathy for others." 
This is also true of other religions.  The leaders and community can provide valid psychological insight and help adherents to develop empathy.  Again, no proof at all of the validity of claims of the supernatural.  Just a benefit of belonging to a community.  In the case of Scientology they suck you in with a promise of psychological help, and perhaps they really do help.  But do they help more than other types of therapy?  Or even confession? 

And how do they deal with doubt?  About the same way that Christians do:
Haggis expected that, as an O.T. VII, he would feel a sense of accomplishment, but he remained confused and unsatisfied. He thought that Hubbard was “brilliant in so many ways,” and that the failing must be his. At one point, he confided to a minister in the church that he didn’t think he should be a Scientologist. She told him, “There are all sorts of Scientologists,” just as there are all sorts of Jews and Christians, with varying levels of faith. The implication, Haggis said, was that he could “pick and choose” which tenets of Scientology to believe.
You might make the case that Scientology charges its victims adherents for religious instruction, but Christ told his victims followers to give all their money to their communal pot.  He also advocated a life of poverty, which rich people conveniently forgot.

No, the main difference is that the delusional ramblings of L. Ron Hubbard are of more recent vintage, so more easily dismissed.  Ancient beliefs seem to hold more sway.  If a text was written by long-dead writers who can argue with them?  Lao Tsu and Moses didn't leave paper trails, unlike Hubbard, whose military career and writings are available for investigation. 

But even though Scientology's claims have been proved false, its victims adherents cling to their false beliefs because belonging to a "religion" is more important than knowing whether its claims have any validty.  That's the main thing Scientology has in common with Christianity.


krissthesexyatheist said...

After I read that article, which was epically long-but good-I instantly thought of the Mormons. The whole control thingy, excommunication and such. At the beginning of this year i read When Men Become Gods so it was still fresh in my mind.

I guess they are all weirdo pants.


LadyAtheist said...

weirdo pants? hahaha

I should read that. I have a long long book list thanks to John Loftus' many suggestions.

Infidel753 said...

Religions are pretty much alike in their degree of bizarreness and insanity. It's just that whichever religion is dominant in a given cultural environment seems less so because it's familiar. Noah's Ark and the talking snake and a god having to be sacrificed to get people off the hook for their sins -- it's no less bizarre than all the stuff about Xenu and Thetans. It's just that we're more used to it.

B.R. said...

All cults follow similar patterns; whether it's Islam or Christianity or some other religion with an aggressive expansion policy and fear-mongering rhetoric. The only differences are the names of their idols.