The purpose of this post is not to anger or look down on your beliefs. It is simply just one man thinking out loud with the hopes of beginning a conversation. As I proceed, I will be as fair as possible. All that I ask is that you do the same. With that said, you might be asking yourself how I got to the topic of “Religion on Film.”
The last time I was in Portland I made a stop at the world’s greatest bookstore, Powell’s Books. I was on the hunt for this book I had been hearing about called, “Going Clear.” After some digging in the religion section, I found it. As soon as I got back to Seattle, it made its way to my bookshelf (other books always get in the way). Then in April, HBO aired a documentary based on the book. Well played HBO, you beat me to the punch.
Like millions of others, I watched as those being interviewed talked about their time in the Church of Scientology. Those involved in the film did a great job of covering the church’s founding, belief system, growth, recognition as a formal religion by the IRS and the current state of the church. As the screen went black, I was shocked. I was flooded with a thousand thoughts which have sort of turned into an obsession. I now spend a lot of time reading about the church and L. Ron Hubbard. The more I read and research the more I am convinced that this religion is a cult. From Xenu being the dictator of the Galactic Confederacy, to his depositing of billions of people on earth 75 million years ago, to his stacking of those people around volcanoes, to killing them with hydrogen bombs, to the thetans now occupying our bodies and causing us harm, (for more on Xenu, click https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xenu), it is easy to mock Scientologists for what they believe. It is easy to mock Scientology, because it was created before our eyes no more than 50+ years ago. It is a religion created by a man who seemed convinced to make money any way possible. It is easy to call it a cult, because their beliefs in Xenu and disbeliefs in modern day psychiatry seem so far-fetched.
As these ideas lingered, another thought came to my mind: Could we do the same to other major religions? Scientology’s great challenge has always been modern communication. The origin story was filmed before our eyes. As the religion matured and belief systems cemented, it was only a matter of time before word got out to the public. As the church grew in popularity, it was only a matter of time before it invited critics. And as parishioners uncovered the truth, it was human nature that made them want to spread the message to others. The modern age revealed Scientology to the world.
Other major religions didn’t have to worry about these challenges. At the founding of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the world operated much differently. There was no such thing as mass communication. Slackers couldn’t try to change the world with a tweet or post. Some jerk from Seattle couldn’t get you to expand your mind with a blog post. Most stories in the Torah, Bible and Quran, were passed down by word of mouth. A great majority of the stories and scriptures weren’t recorded until years and years after the fact. For me this means, we weren’t there for the origin story. Believers use faith to justify and discern for themselves the accuracy of those stories. As an agnostic, this passing of stories causes me pause. They make me pause, because the lack of firsthand accounts. They make me pause, because I’ve played the gossip game. I have watched as a story grew and shifted as it worked its way around the room. I can’t help, but think that the big three religions might have been created in the same fashion, but have been given a pass because of the passage of time.
In relation to Scientology, I can’t help, but wonder if the vast majority of people would believe in the God of Abraham and the three books based on this Supreme Being if they had been there from the beginning of the religion. This is not a question I can answer. If we are honest, none of us can answer that question. To do so it to flirt with hyperbole, and for some it may cause them to question their faith. This is not a post about getting you to question your faith. If anything, this is a post about applying the frame in which we judge new religions like Scientology to the three major religions. My hope is the application of that frame will do one of two things; cause you to dig deeper into the stories which serve as the foundation of your faith and/or force you to uncover your own lack of faith.
When we do these things, I think we would uncover truth, falsehood or a lack of knowledge. I think it is possible to be a good Jew, Christian or Muslim and not believe the world was created in 7 days, great floods, men living in the belly of whales, talking bushes, resurrection or ascension to heaven. I think there are amazing life lessons and morality affirming stories to be found in all three religions and their holy scriptures. I am sure there are wonderful lessons to be learned from “Dianetics.” Whether these religions are viewed as truth or philosophy, I think they each present something powerful and we shouldn’t take them on face value alone. We should be willing to roll up our sleeves, study, research, discuss, and affirm our beliefs or lack thereof.
When we do, and this is my meandering/rambling point, I think we will discover all religions benefit from the passing of time. The farther we get from the point of origin the harder it gets to prove what happened as right or wrong. At these moments, faith becomes so important or for some a deterrent. In the end, Scientology deserves our judgment. It is not a religion and should lose its tax exempt status, but as we make such a bold statement, let’s ensure every other religion is ready to defend what they believe and why they believe.
Thanks for entering my world,