Friday, July 08, 2005

The Cult of the cult

So, here I sit in my kitchen, with my laptop, drinking my raspberry-chocolate flavored coffee. The CBC is yattering in the background. The news has recently returned to normal. The London bombings renewed the media's insistance on only reporting the bad news. There was a slight blip on the badnewsometer as of late: We are clearly numbed and most likely bored of the current atrocites in the Congo, Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq and the Darfur (to name only a few countries) So, my radar alerted me to Live8 (markeing circus or protest movement, take your pick) The G8 Gleneagles Summit (aka - politicians reclaiming the fiction that they care about anyone but their own western money making agendas)...and of course Tom Cruise, his big mouth, and not so popular opinions.

In one way, I feel rather silly about this composition. For one, the media hype is clearly over. War of the Worlds has been released and now Tom Cruise, and the great big money sucking media machine is reaping its' investments 10 fold. Or more. This is old news. Yet as I was transcribing the notes from my retreat, I was scratching my head after watching Cruise's embarassing tyrade on the Today show, ranting about PPD and promoting vitamins. Then there was all his oddness on Oprah, and the associated chatter about Katie's conversaion to Scientology. The nice thing about the media is that we are somehow forced to care about people who have rather irrelavent jobs. And we treat them with the same respect as we do with our extended family - there is no rumour or tidbit of gossip too damaging to spread. So this had me curious. (And yet I wonder if I am contributing to the great unrelenting media march?)(probably)

I went on a crazed reading frenzy on Scientology.
In my Introduction to Religious Studies course, I teach a section on New Religious Movements, and try as I might, to promote the idea that the word cult is as prejudicial and biogoted as referring to every Muslim a potential terrorist. It's a word that has more baggage than a hollywood starlet. What terms come to mind when you hear the world cult? Brainwashed, mind control, scam, weird, destructive, mass suicide, charismatic meglomaniacs, (to name a few). I ask "given the choice, would you want to join a religion or a cult?" and usually the answer is the same and then I continue preaching - "well why would you give someone else that label? What is that saying about your attitude?"

This attitude and prejudice about New Religious Movements is deeply so deeply ingrained, that I have learned, as a professor, that students are not ready to radically question this term. When I propose how destructive and bigotted this term is, students automatically assume that this means I am okay with all the behaviors and beliefs all traditions promote. (I am not sure what that is about.) If I suggest that the Branch Davidians had a right to choose thier beliefs, and that the most o them were intelligent, compassionate human beings, they assume I defend their actions. Oi! Usually, students come to the conclusion that any non-violent tradition (outside of the Big 5 - Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism) - is a New Religious Movemment and the bad ones are cults. (What about your attitude!! How does that perpetuate violence!!!). In my recent reading the word cult and scientology are expected companions.

Scientology has a developed cosmology, ontology and epistemology - not that any sit well with me. The practice, I think, was developed first - with L. Ron Hubbard's publication Dianetics. It addresses questions most of us are concerned with: why bad things happen and what I can do to change them. Originally, I think some of these ideas were not devised as having any sacred or religious significance. Esentially, our consciousness is imprinted with "engrams" (negative emotions) in traumatic situations which are recalled and reenacted when we are confronted with similar circumstances. Auditing (with or without the e-meter) was developed to rid the consciousness of engrams - and transform the mind from being a reactive agent to an active (and hence in control) agent. Sounds all very milk-toast to me. In fact, I can understand how some people would be attracted to this. It sounds to me as if could have a more positive outcome, say, than praying to a deity...I digress!.

What I am not clear about, is when its cosmology was developed. I think it was after people started practicing Dianetics. Here he presents the view of a galactic federation, Xenu, Thetans, a mountain, H-bomb and so on. You can read the tale anywhere on the net with very little effort. What I am not clear about is how L. Ron Hubbard came to this information. Was it in the form of a revelation? A dream? An alien visitation? I don't know. It is common knowledge that he was a science fiction writer - so how do his sympathizers distinguish his fiction from his facts? And sorry folk, I do not buy into the belief that all members of Scientology are blind followers and will believe anything that they are told.

And what about the countless reports online that Scientologists abuse and even kill dissenting members? Its possible, maybe even probable. Name me a religious tradition that has no blood on its hands. I hear that there is this Christian who claims to be "born again" and is self professed to crusade and rid the world of "evil-doers". He even has comissioned an army to do it for him, and to this date approximately 1800 of his young men and women have died in this holy struggle (and that is nout counting the hundreds of thousands killed, injured and displaced in the country he claims he has "freed") If I tried to convince anyone in the US that the American government should be prosecuted on the same grounds as Scientology, I'd be regarded as the nut. When did it start to make sense that it is not okay for Americans to kill other Americans - but okay to kill Iraqis? How did I get to this place?

I think I am still outraged about London.

1 comment:

hotboy said...

Did an expose of scientologists here years ago. This boy ended up quite high up in the business and was asked to go to this meeting in a big manor house in England. Everyone is wearing black polo necks. He's told a secret. His body is the home to x number of alien beings.

But I was getting an empowerment in Tibetan Buddhism last year and this nun starts saying there are so many wrathful and peaceful dieties in "drops" in parts of my body!

Fortunately, I decided not to believe in anything but scepticism some time ago! Hotboy