? + ? = Religion

Because of the press concerning HBO’s upcoming documentary Going Clear:  Scientology and the Prison of Belief, I have been reading about Scientology the last two days.  Some of the things that believers of Scientology believe in are mind boggling.  The central story of the religion seems like a bad science fiction story.  It is like if someone wrote a science fiction film with a mythology and plot so far fetched and incoherent that it was impossible to follow.  I was just reading about Xenu.  Xenu was the dictator of something called the Galatic Confederacy and the one who brought his people to earth millions of years ago.  The story of Xenu, and it just gets more ridiculous and confounding from there, is important to the creation myth of Scientology.

I mean anyone who reads about Xenu who isn’t already a Scientology believer is probably going, “What the fuck?!!!”  However, if you think about most other religions, they too have stories that defy common sense.  But why is it that many other religions seem more respectable than Scientology?

I think it is because those other religions are much older.  There is nothing like an ancient artifact or a strange stone temple to make something appear more mysterious and outside the realm of human understanding.  Even if they are things that were made by human hands, they seem otherworldly.  A parchment in a dead language with strange symbols seems like a clue to a much bigger mystery, even if all it really is is a piece of paper a priest in the olden days wrote down a bunch of mumbo jumbo on after tripping on mushrooms.  A tomb from 2,000 years ago seems a lot more mystical than some shiny new gravestones that one of your neighbors has to weed whack around, even if it is inherently the same thing.  These old sites and items seem spooky and enchanted because they come from an ancient world that we can’t completely comprehend.  We therefore allow our imagination to infuse the stories surrounding these things with a weight and a mysticism that isn’t really based in reality anymore than the story of Xenu.

So in thinking about all this today, I came up with a simple equation:

Made-up stories + time = religion

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief Review in Variety

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Going Clear Review

I am very interested in seeing the new Alex Gibney documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.  It is based on Laurence Wright’s book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief.  I have seen a bunch of Gibney’s previous documentaries and they were all excellent.  I especially found Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer to be especially captivating.  Above is a review of the new film at Variety.  It debuts on HBO in March.  I find Scientology interesting because I think it casts a wider net into religion at large.  How can people believe unbelievable things?

Ideas of Value and Worshipping at Decaying Alters

I once read part of Niall Ferguson’s The War of the World.  Although I don’t agree with Ferguson on most current political issues and he can often be pompous and arrogant, there were parts of this book that were really interesting and one part in particular that stuck with me.  This was the idea that technology cannot only spread progress and enlightenment, but can also spread bad ideas just as quickly.  In the book he talks about the implementation of rail.  Rail allowed certain regions to progress economically and culturally.  Goods and technology that had not reached parts of the world were now more easily available and allowed civilization to advance.  Different people that had never been in much contact were able to come together, become more familiar with each other, and share worthwhile ideas.  However, things like racism and anti-semitism, that might not have been prevalent in certain areas, were able to spread as well.

We can see in modern times how the internet allows both good and bad ideas to spread more easily.  Not only can the internet be a place where democratic ideas can be shared, but fundamentalists and fascist corporatists are able to spread their message through the internet as well.

Earlier tonight as I drove home from a gig I was listening to Chuck D’s album The Black in Man.  On one of the songs Chuck D raps that,”There’s a difference between censorship and senseless shit.”  I’m against censorship of any kind, the banning of ideas.  However, this does not mean that ideas have equal value and should be regarded as such.  There is not enough critical thinking and bullshit detecting going on in our society.   Whether it is the right’s fear of intellectualism, because facts are often not in their favor, or the left’s fear of things being deemed intolerant, too many of the conversations we have end up being about how people respond to something and not the actual value an idea itself.

Making scientific decisions is better when science is the metric for a decision and not economics.  A culture that treats women equally is flat out better than a culture that tries to keep them subservient.  These, and others, are simple conclusions that can be reached easily when reason and critical thinking are involved.  Now more than ever, in this information age, we need people that can critique our culture in a meaningful way and that aren’t afraid to stand up and be counted.  At the same time we need these same kind of people to be unafraid to change their opinions when facts add up to something different than what we previously thought.   Utilitarianism, what benefits the most amount of people, should be a force in that debate, even if that idea in and of itself isn’t enough.  (No matter how many benefit from something, it should not be at the expense of suffering of the minority.  There needs to be clear ethical lines as safeguards to that utilitarianism.)  What gives the people the best chance to be free of fear, want, and oppression?  How do we as a society prosper and live lives of meaning without creating suffering in others?  What brings long term meaning to life?  What kinds of short term satiation of our desires makes life less meaningful in the long run?

We have all of the information of the world at our fingertips, but kids are taught less and less how to actually parse that information and decide what has value.  People on the right and the left sense their is something sick in our culture, even if they can’t agree on what it is.

In my opinion, although there is still a lot of ill in our culture due to petty tribal and religious differences, our main problem is that we have allowed money to become the thing we worship above all else.  Whatever sells wins, even if in the long run it will lead to our destruction.

As I read the news today I couldn’t help but notice all of the false gods that we worship on a daily basis.  We too often worship the god of the tribe, while allowing money and power to have their way while we are distracted at decaying alters.

I already know, before even reading over what I wrote, that it is somewhat rambling, that it possibly touches on too many different ideas.  But I can’t help but feel these are the kinds of things we should be thinking about, that these are the kinds of questions that we should be asking.

Pope Francis Vs. The Theocons

Francis Vs. the Theocons Round III

Andrew Sullivan has an interesting article about Pope Francis, the Pope’s encyclical on climate change, and the far right’s anger over the Pope’s stance on climate change.  It should be mentioned that Sullivan is a Catholic.  A sample:

The theocons created an abstract fusion of GOP policy and an unrecognizable form of Christianity that saw money as a virtue, the earth as disposable, and the poor as invisible. It couldn’t last, given the weight of Christian theology and tradition marshaled against it. And it hasn’t. Francis is, moreover, indistinguishable on this issue from Benedict XVI and even John Paul II. As in so many areas, it’s the American far right whose bluff is finally being called.

They Are Not Exactly Charlie

They Are Not Exactly Charlie

Matt Taibbi, truly getting better and better all of the time, on some of the backpedaling that has gone on in defense of free speech since the French attacks.    A really interesting article that I believe is correct in its assessment.  He spares no one on the right or the left that has gone soft on defending free speech out of either defense of religion or political correctness.

God and Don Rickles

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So let’s, for the sake of argument, agree right now that there is definitely a God.  Now let’s also agree that he created everything that ever was and ever will be.  He created all life and all mater.  He created everything from the stars in the sky to the lowliest microscopic life form on earth.  Are you going to tell me that an all powerful and all knowing supreme being, the kind of which we have just described, didn’t also create humor?

As an agnostic who doesn’t claim to have any secret information about what happens when we die, I don’t pretend to know if there is a God or an afterlife of any kind.  If I make a joke about religion, I don’t see how it can cause any harm except to the people that are too tight assed to laugh at themselves.  If there is a humorless spiteful Old Testament God, well then trust me, a few jokes aren’t going to save me from eternal hellfire.  If there is no God, then there is no hell and therefor nothing to worry about.

But again, if there is a God, can you tell me that He/She invented everything in the universe except humor?  Almost everyone loves Don Rickles.  People actually ask to be made fun of by him, as it is seen as an honor.  Do people have thicker skin or a better sense of humor than an all knowing and all powerful being?  Is God really such an egoist that he can’t take a couple jokes by a temporary being of mere flesh and blood?   Could God not handle the Don Rickles treatment?

The more you think about the God that seems to dictate the lives of fundamentalists, who really worship a God much closer to the vengeful humorless God of the Old Testament than the more loving one of the New, the more ridiculous and absurd it becomes.  And the absurd and the ridiculous are a great jumping off point for jokes.

When Turning Water Into Wine is Not a Miracle

Just an honest question: One of the miracles that Jesus performed was turning water into wine.  But what if you were really dehydrated and thirsty that day, or what if you were a teetotaler?  Would it still be considered a miracle or would it then just be an unfortunate magic trick?