Friday, February 11, 2011

Scientology and Christianity

Mark Warren from Esquire writes reaction to a New Yorker piece on Scientology

I mean, I grew up believing that every breath I drew sent a god-made-man named Jesus Christ writhing on the cross to which he had been nailed — an execution for which he had been sent to earth by his heavenly father thousands of years ago, so that he might die for my sins so that I might live. And yet I was born not innocent but complicit in this lynching, incomprehensibly having to apologize and atone for this barbarism for all my days and feel terrible about myself and all mankind. And not only that, but every day when I went to Mass, we would solemnly re-create this human sacrifice by drinking Christ's blood and eating his body in delicious wafer form. This was not an exercise in metaphor. As long as I shall live, I will never forget the look of spiritual transport on the face of my mother every time she received Communion. This was not a symbol of Christ's body; this was his body, through the miracle of transubstantiation. "You better believe it, boy," she'd say to me. And so I did. Oh, and then we'd wrap up each Mass by celebrating the fact — fact — that three days after Jesus had died, as any mere mortal would have after having been set up by your father and nailed to a cross by a mob, his spirit had risen on a cloud into heaven to rejoin the same god in the sky who had sent him on this errand in the first place.
I find this interesting. It seems he must have grown up Catholic but much of his understanding of the crucifixion seems more protestant. The focus on the penalty that Jesus had to pay for us. The idea that the Father demanded the Son bear His wrath. Just God's demands. But the notion of a disunity between the Father and the Son during the crucifixion is something many protestants teach and Catholics deny.  Catholics talk more about Christ's love that atones for sin. He does not endure the Father's wrath. He offers Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of all of us. The Father loves Him through it all.

Even his description of our contribution to Jesus' suffering is flawed. We do bear responsibility. Yet we don't have to feel terrible about ourselves. We need to feel terrible about our sin. Again we see the influence of protestant ideas like total depravity. Our sin goes deep but it is not our very essence. At our deepest level we are children of God. By God's grace we can be holy.That is the point of the cross. Not to tell us we are bad and therefore responsible for Jesus' death but to allow us to become good. He seems to miss that entirely.

It does show how these theological questions around the atonement are important. Catholics do look at the cross more. That is because we see it as something that can transform us into saints. Mark just saw it as a source of guilt. With Calvinist theology and Catholic practice it made for quite a dysfunctional spirituality. .

Now, I ask you: Why is that story no less ridiculous than Hubbard's mumbo jumbo? Is it because we have invested it with the power and majesty of myth for a far longer period, giving it now the air of the ordinary, and because of the veneration of that myth by generation after generation of people whom we love, and who have power over our young minds as we were coming up? Because certainly, in the twenty-first century, the story I grew up believing is every bit as risible as all the Scientology nonsense that Wright dutifully details, as did Janet Reitman in Rolling Stone before him, as have dozens of very good journalists before her. I say this not to denigrate this area of inquiry in any way, for these are examples of good and even brave journalists doing their jobs, and covering a subject that has shown a ruthless willingness to sue reporters into submission. (And incidentally, I also say it not to denigrate the scores of ordinary people, such as my dear mother, who have reaped astonishing and tangible benefits from the simple act of belief.) 
I didn't copy all of Hubbard's  mumbo-jumbo but the answer to this is No. The Christian story is historical. Hubbard's story involves interactions with aliens that allegedly happened 75 million years ago. It cannot be scrutinized by analyzing the historical record the same way the story of Jesus can. The other major difference is Jesus did not create a new story. He was the fulfillment of an existing covenant. Hubbard's story is completely new. You need to believe that before Hubbard all religion was false and he manged to create a true one. Then you have the matter of Hubbard's religion being basically self-serving while Jesus' mission involved him being crucified. So there are many reasons who the Christian story is "less ridiculous than Hubbard's mumbo jumbo."
Rather, I mean here to instead ask a question: Why all the fuss over Scientology, when your resources and time might better be directed at the finances, earthly corruption, and raw power of, say, the Catholic Church, an institution that wields influence incalculably greater than Hubbard's itty-bitty religion? 
Is he saying the press never says anything negative about the Catholic church? Sure Scientology gets more press than it deserves because of the celebrities that have been involved with it. But it is a much more secret religion than Catholicism. So the press has a much bigger role to play in revealing the truth about it. The press has a role to play with the Catholic church as well but they generally fail completely
Can not some of this journalistic industry be trained on the church of my birth, whose chief vicar, an infallible man, lives in a palace in the middle of his own city-state while still claiming a vow of poverty and a simple Christ-like existence? The same vicar who presided over revelations — long-known but secretly guarded, that many of his employees were criminals and child molesters — not with the mien of the keeper of his flock but rather with the ruthless demeanor of the CEO of a massive corporation lawyering up against the barrage of lawsuits to come? The same vicar who successfully claimed that his canonical law (whatever that is) superseded civil law when it came to prosecuting the despicable crimes perpetrated by his subordinates, which is the only thing that explains why so few priests are in prison — unless you count those being harbored at the Vatican. The same vicar who presides over a church which holds homosexuality as an abomination.
Where to start? He speaks of the "journalistic industry" like it is a weapon. That the proper use of this weapon is against the pope. Then he lists a bunch of half-baked accusations that have been launched by the press against the pope over and over again. The trouble is none of them hold up to scrutiny. Shall we count the errors?
  1. The pope is not an infallible man. The office has a limited gift of infallibility. 
  2. He does not live in a palace. He lives in a 10 room apartment. He does not own it. We honor his office by giving him things.
  3. Pope Benedict has not taken a vow of poverty. Some orders of priests do that but most priests only take vows of celibacy and obedience. Not that the priesthood is likely to make you wealthy. 
  4. The "secretly guarded" thing is just an unsupported accusation. Which case has he behaved badly in? I am not aware of one. There is just an assumption that so much mud has been thrown some of it must be true.
  5. The church has no authority to say canon law supersedes civil or criminal law. The state is responsible for civil and criminal law. They are the reason priests are not in jail. They have deemed the evidence to be insufficient to get a conviction. If the state charged a priest there is nothing the church could do about it. 
  6. Priests being "harbored at the Vatican." What does that mean?
  7. The church does not say homosexuality is an abomination.The bible says sodomy is an abomination. The church accepts that. But homosexuals don't have to engage in sodomy. They are called to lead chaste lives just like the rest of us.

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