Theological hypocrisy

Yay for the Guardian “Comment is Free” section!  True, the paper suffers under the burden of Andrew Brown and Madeleine Bunting, but it also has Anthony Grayling and Marina Hyde.  In her column last Friday, Hyde points out that the viral posting of news videos about Scientology (my own example here) has done tremendous damage to the reputation of that cult religion.  There’s something about seeing a Church official stonewall about Lord Xenu that brings home how truly ridiculous their belief system is.

It is the internet wot dun it. Did I lose you on the intergalactic tyrant stuff? Then Google it immediately, as you are fortunate enough to be able to do these days. During his lifetime, the religion’s inventor L Ron Hubbard deemed the chief enemies of Scientology to be tax inspectors and psychiatrists (it is not desperately difficult to figure out why). Even a sixth-rate science fiction writer such as himself would not have been able to predict that it would be the web that would pose the gravest threat to his church since his inception, facilitating everything from the circulation of whistleblower accounts and cult-busting advice to videos of Tom Cruise chuckling maniacally while repeating “KSW! Keep Scientology Working!” Strangely, there are times when “Lol!!” – normally the seal-honk of the internet’s least self-aware halfwits – really is the most eloquent dismissal on earth.

Similarly, if you haven’t seen the Bashir interview, you can do so on YouTube. Challenged on the old Xenu chestnut, Davis knows how utterly loony tunes it sounds, and walking out evidently seems less damaging than even having the discussion. And so with the French court case. How could the Scientologists possibly have argued that the readings from their Fisher Price-style Play’n’Polygraph machine justified a penny in the collection tin, let alone hundreds of euros worth of books?

Hyde floats the possibility that the internet could do to Christianity what it did to Scientology.  After all, when you put down Christian theology in black and white, it doesn’t look much saner than the soul-sniping exploits of Xenu:

Clearly, Scientologists should be forced to justify their doctrinal lunacies – the only sadness is that other religions are apparently exempt from having to do the same. Imagine for a moment a Bashir-type interviewing some senior cardinal. “So,” he might inquire, “you’re saying that by some magic the communion wafer actually becomes the flesh of a man who died 2,000 years ago, a man who – and I don’t want to put words into your mouth here – we might categorise as an imaginary friend who can hear the things you’re thinking in your head? And when you’ve done that, do you mind going over the birth control stuff?”

What a shame that we see rather fewer of these exchanges, however amusing and useful a sideshow Scientology may be.

I’m not holding my breath.  The question of why bizarre Christian beliefs are treated with more respect than the equally bizarre tenets of Scientology has a simple answer.   “Modern” religions, like Scientology and Mormonism, seem more bizarre simply because they’ve arrived on the scene only recently, making their  man-made nature more apparent, and because their adherents are not in the majority.

Indeed, next to the problem of evil, the problem of Why My Religion Is The Only True One is the greatest of all arguments against faith.  Christians — or adherents to any other religion — can simply give no good account of why their beliefs are the right ones, while those of Hindus, Scientologists, and Muslims are badly wrong.  It would be a dishonest Christian who would deny that had he been born in Saudi Arabia, he would be as big an advocate for Muhammed as he is now for Jesus.  Ask an evangelical Christian how he knows for certain that all Muslims and Jews are going to hell!  Believe me, the answer won’t satisfy you.

It is this irrational certainty that enables people like Andrew Sullivan to whine and cavil when we nasty militant uncivil atheists treat Catholicism without kid gloves, and yet to feel free to heap scorn on other faiths.  For the past couple of weeks over at The Daily Dish, Sullivan has been conducting a campaign against Scientology, calling it “The Super Adventure Club”, linking to South Park videos that mock it, calling it a “super-secret brainwashing cult” and the like. (See here for all his posts on Scientology.)

Now don’t get me wrong.  I agree with Sullivan:  Scientology is exactly as ludicrous as he makes it out to be.  The South Park video is a hoot.  But what Sullivan fails to get is that the beliefs of Catholicism and Christianity are just as weird as those of Scientology.  Here, from The Atheist Camel, is a summary of Christian theology:

The belief that a walking dead Jewish deity who was his own father although he always existed, commits suicide by cop, although he didn’t really die, in order to give himself permission not to send you to an eternal place of torture that he created for you, but instead to make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh, drink his blood, and telepathically promise him you accept him as your master, so he can cleanse you of an evil force that is present in mankind because a rib-woman and a mud-man were convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.

Does this summary sound offensive? It’s no more so than Sullivan’s summary of Scientology, and although it’s humorous, it’s also true.

As I’ve said before, in some ways I like Andrew Sullivan.  I find many of his political views agreeable, and I sympathize with the plight of a gay man whose faith is completely inimical to his sexual life.  But I’m fast losing any remaining respect for the guy.  With his sneering dismissal of Scientology, he shows himself to be nothing more than a hypocrite.  By all means whale away at Lord Xenu, Mr. Sullivan, but don’t complain when the rest of us go after your magical wafers.

32 Comments

  1. Sigmund
    Posted November 2, 2009 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    I sat in on an interesting theological discussion yesterday of relevance to the current topic.
    While our family was visiting some friends of my wife, a visiting Catholic priest, friends of one of the neighbors, happened to stop by. He was promptly asked to answer a series of theological questions by the husband of my wife’s friend – who happens to be seriously thinking of converting to catholicism (his wife’s religion). I was under strict instructions from my wife not to do my usual in priestly discussions since, as an ex-catholic, I know all the questions you are NOT supposed to ask the priest. Having read Hector Avalos and Bart Ehrman I have probably a better than average background in modern biblical scholarship but it was fairly obvious that for for this priest making stuff up as you go along was the name of the game. I kept out of the conversation as much as I could – only mentioning the council of Nicea at one point to test what the priest know of church history (the answer to that being virtually nothing!). His main explanation for the catholic church was that Jesus apparently had an idea to set up the church and appointed some individuals (the early church hierarchy) who would interpret the bible the ‘correct’ way for the people and this continues to this day. I kept biting my tongue though his description of John the Baptist writing the Gospels in 100 AD (!!)until he started talking about the immaculate conception and Adam and Eve in terms of real historical events. Luckily for the priest my wife rushed over and dragged me out of the room as she knew this would be too much for me to remain silent.
    The thing is I don’t think this sort of teaching by a priest is out of the ordinary. When I grew up in Ireland I, like most of the rest of my peer group, went to church every Sunday. Sermons about the bible never tried to distinguish between metaphorical or literal viewpoints – it was always treated as history. This may not be the ‘official’ position of the church but its the hands-on approach of probably most of the clergy. If they are told by catholic priests that the Adam and Eve story is historically true it is no wonder that many catholics have difficulty accepting evolution.

    • Rich
      Posted November 2, 2009 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      What a shame that your wife made you leave, you certainly could have enlightened that man about the reality of the religion he was considering!

      • Sigmund
        Posted November 2, 2009 at 10:08 am | Permalink

        The explanations from the priest were about as convincing as stories about Santa. If that’s enough to convince the husband then he’s a hopeless case. The weird thing about the whole discussion was that the husband said the local parish wasn’t sure he was serious enough about his faith to allow him to fully convert! I thought they were desperate for members since the vast majority of genuine catholics (as opposed to former catholics) that I know do not believe half the stuff the church teaches.

    • Posted November 2, 2009 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      Oh dear, I do get such a funny picture of you (necessarily blurry!) being rushed upon and grabbed and dragged off while the words try to force themselves out of your struggling form.

    • Håvard
      Posted November 4, 2009 at 3:18 am | Permalink

      “I was under strict instructions from my wife not to do my usual in priestly discussions…”

      I wonder why. Seriously. Why do you have to keep your mouth shut when you could have enlightened them? Why aren’t you allowed to point out the ludicrous bits?

  2. mk
    Posted November 2, 2009 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    That bit from The Atheist Camel belongs right up there with Tim Minchin’s “Tony the Fish” and Bill Maher’s rant on The Daily Show. Good stuff!

    http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-september-30-2008/bill-maher-pt–1

  3. Posted November 2, 2009 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    You know, when I was studying at the Center for Scientology, back in the early 70’s, there was no celebrity funding for projects such as LEM (Large E Meter) or TDPI (Thetan-Detection Protocol Initiative). I think the Scientology community as a whole is rapidly changing based on new, liberal interpretations of Dianetic…s, bioscientology and the merging of Orthodox Scientology with our understandings at the quantum level. Essentially, I think the future of neo-Hubbard epistemology remains in the detection of thetan particle position.

    • Wes
      Posted November 2, 2009 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      Exactly right.

      The problem is that militant scientology-haters are ignorant of sophisticated sciento-theology. Real scientology is like poetry–it transcends the question of whether Xenu exists. Fundamentalist a-xenuists are just rehashing the long debunked dogma of logical positivism. But if they read some Quine and got more up to speed on their philosophy they’d see the error of their ways. It’s entirely possible for an individual to believe in both Xenu and the science of aerodynamics, so clearly there is no conflict between science and Scientology.

      Mooney? Rosenau? Smijer? When will we see you guys making this argument?

    • Tulse
      Posted November 2, 2009 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      No, no, no, you and Jerry are being far too literal. Jerry’s crude depiction of the religion’s beliefs are laughably naive, a product of base materialism and dichotic thinking. All Scientologists understand that Xenu is in fact a symbolic metaphor for the ground of being in which we all seek meaning. Thetans are sophisticated representations of our own inner journey to understanding, and limn the boundaries of our inner/outer conflict.

      Of course, the DC-3 spaceships are real

      • Tulse
        Posted November 2, 2009 at 8:57 am | Permalink

        And Wes beat me to it by a minute…

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted November 2, 2009 at 9:17 am | Permalink

        Ha! Just wait until the Scientology apologists appear. .

      • Wes
        Posted November 2, 2009 at 9:32 am | Permalink

        Scientology apologists are real, and their tactics are extremely despicable. They’ll usually start out by demanding that you “confess” to your “crimes”, and when you don’t, they’ll start rattling off a list of hypothetical atrocities which you might have committed.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted November 2, 2009 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

        I confess to my crimes: My crime is letting theists have their say when their words are empty vessels.

        My other crime is letting accommodationists talk about their cowardice deference.

        Oh wait, I don’t let either get away with it. Never mind.

      • aratina cage
        Posted November 2, 2009 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

        Karen? Is that you?

  4. Posted November 2, 2009 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the expanded coverage of Marina Hyde’s comments.

    We had a little discussion of this over at Secular Cafe: http://secularcafe.org/showthread.php?t=3849

    I’ll link to this thread for our contributors at SC.

  5. articulett
    Posted November 2, 2009 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Yep.

  6. Tulse
    Posted November 2, 2009 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    I sent an email to Sullivan on exactly this topic, pointing out the hypocrisy of insulting Scientology while whining about uncivil atheists, and noting that South Park also did a famous episode about the Catholic Church and pedophilia (in which it is revealed that the whole purpose of the church is to allow men to have sex with boys — and to worship a giant spider).

    Oddly enough, Sullivan didn’t include these comments in his “Readers Respond” postings.

  7. jimvj
    Posted November 2, 2009 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Sullivan’s support for Christianity is doubly stupid because that Jewish deity who was his own son, insists that homosexuals like Sullivan should be stoned to death.

  8. Posted November 2, 2009 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    The difference is that Scientology hasn’t had the time yet to bury the crazy under piles and piles of sophistry like other churches have.

    • Sigmund
      Posted November 2, 2009 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      It’s a cargo cult where we know the real identity of John L Frum.

  9. Occam
    Posted November 2, 2009 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    It is a ludicrous state of affairs that both the substance and the level of the debate have hardly evolved beyond Ambrose Bierce’s mordant “Devil’s Dictionary” of more than 100 years ago. Almost every new thread seems to fit one of Bierce’s sardonic definitions.

    RELIGION, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.

    “What is your religion my son?” inquired the Archbishop of Rheims.
    “Pardon, monseigneur,” replied Rochebriant; “I am ashamed of it.”
    “Then why do you not become an atheist?”
    “Impossible! I should be ashamed of atheism.”
    “In that case, monsieur, you should join the Protestants.”

  10. Ken Pidcock
    Posted November 2, 2009 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Please, somebody, provide the name of the author of that summary of Christian theology.

  11. Posted November 2, 2009 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Although I am honored to have that summary of Christianity attributed to me, I cannot take credit.

    It is actually an amalgam of a number of versions that have been circulating throughout the internet for years.

    Best regards,

    Bart
    aka Dromedary Hump
    The Atheist Camel

  12. scott
    Posted November 2, 2009 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me that Andrew spends a little time each Sunday reading Jerry Coyne … Jerry, make sure this post doesn’t scroll down so far that he doesn’t see it. If the pattern holds, it will be a week till he gets back to your ministry again.

    So on Saturday, post a short follow up and link to this post, so on Sunday we can hear Andrews meditation on why the Catholic Church is not like the Super Adventure Club.

  13. cwlh
    Posted November 2, 2009 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    I was concerned about the quotation from the atheist camel: “…if you symbolically eat his flesh, drink his blood, …”

    It was my understanding that, given trans-substantiation, this is not a *symbolic* eating and drinking but an *actual* eating and drinking. Religious people are a lot stranger than the way the atheist camel describes them.

    • Posted November 3, 2009 at 2:09 am | Permalink

      True. The “symbol” people are Protestants. The Catholics actually eat Jesus’ body and blood (so they think) and get huffy if someone says it’s just a “symbol”.

  14. scott
    Posted November 2, 2009 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    Thomas Paine wrote, “Any system of religion that has anything in it that shocks the mind of a child, cannot be true.” … I’m not sure I agree with that, however, it came to mind recently when I took my 6 year old to the Duomo in Milan, and she looked at this statue of St. Bartholomew:

    http://www.sacred-destinations.com/italy/milan-cathedral-photos/slides/IMG_2322pa58.htm

    She wanted to know why he had so many muscles? We can easily forget how macabre and bizarre this Catholic stuff can get. Body parts as relics, the elevation of torture and depravity to a sacred place of honor and awe … I often wonder how the exposure of this kind of depravity as an object of devotion and love, rather than disgust and revulsion can be good for a person … Super Adventure Club indeed.

    But Hubbard is to the true faith of Catholicism what Cecil B. DeMille is to the real works of Pharaoh Ramses.

  15. Posted November 2, 2009 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    cwlh,

    Not all sects of Christianity believe in Transubstantiation… the literal turning of the wafer and wine into jesus’ body and blood at time of ingestion.

    The Catholics do, most Protestant sects see it as only symbolic canibalism.

    Hump

  16. Boko999
    Posted November 2, 2009 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    O HumpyCamelGuy, I loved your mashup of Xian dogma. Do you think you could work in the the bit about god torturing us on account o’ his deep love?

  17. Michael K Gray
    Posted November 3, 2009 at 1:44 am | Permalink

    ““Lol!!” – normally the seal-honk of the internet’s least self-aware halfwits”

    That is a classic ‘keeper’! (Lol!!):D

  18. Posted November 3, 2009 at 1:45 am | Permalink

    I would like to take this opportunity to announce the Thetan Rescue Project, a program whereby volunteers would accept thetans into their minds to provide them with refuge. After all, with all those ‘clears’ running around there has to be a lot of thetans roaming free and getting into things.

    Join the Thetan Rescue Project and help me save homeless thetans.

  19. Posted November 3, 2009 at 1:51 am | Permalink

    Much more seriously, “walking dead”? Not according to Christian doctrine. By mainstream Christian belief the resurrection brought Jesus back to life. No undeath, certainly no unlife. He lived, and that was the point of the whole thing. Christianity has its problems, but a revenant God is not one of them.


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