Religion

A Defense of Creepy Scientology (With Bonus Defense of Creepy Mormonism)

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For those Germans fretting about Tom Cruise's "cult" membership, and American voters not quite sure how to deal with Mitt Romney's Mormonism, a thoughtful piece from Mark Oppenheimer:

When it comes to Scientology, there's a hunger for the negative. I suspect that's because Scientology evinces an acute case of what Freud called the narcissism of small differences: We're made most uncomfortable by that which is most like us. And everything of which Scientology is accused is an exaggerated form of what more "normal" religions do….

Religions appear strange in inverse proportion to their age. Judaism and Catholicism seem normal—or at least not deviant. Mormonism, less than 200 years old, can seem a bit incredible. And Scientology, founded 50 years ago, sounds truly bizarre. To hear from a burning bush 3,000 years ago is not as strange as meeting the Angel Moroni two centuries ago, which is far less strange than having a hack sci-fi writer as your prophet.

If you like the thesis, but prefer something a little more wild-eyed and negative, opt for Hitchens' God Is Not Great instead.

NEXT: Stay Classy, Tim Rude

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  1. I kind of came to the same conclusion after reading “Under the Banner of Heaven”. I mean, is some dude translating non-existent gold tablets with the help of some magic rocks all that much more implausible than someone turning water into wine and rising from the dead?

    I became a lot less religious after that.

  2. I’m not pro-suppression of cults, I’m just anti-Tom Cruise.

  3. I enjoyed “God is Not Great”. Granted I was already sympathetic to its thesis, but still it was a very good read.

  4. I had a sociology of religion class with a great prof in which a variety of reps from different cults came and spoke to the class. One guy came from the Unification Church (the Moonies). During his spiel a girl stood up and said “that is all nice and good, but you are going to Hell if you really think Rev. Moon is the messiah. That’s just crazy.” My prof said “what is more crazy here, that this group that knows Rev. Moon, has seen him act in ways they find compassionate, holy, wise and noble, find him to be the messiah, or that most Christians think that a Semitic carpenter that lived half a world away two thousand of years ago whom they have never met was the messiah?” Cults today are certainly no less crazy than old established ones. In my opinion, the best way to judge these groups is “by their fruits ye shall judge them.” Like in South Park, Mormons (or what have you) might have nutty beliefs, but if those beliefs yeild great people and neigbors, then let the baby have its bottle…

  5. I agree with thoreau.

    I also think that the cure for Scientology is to have to read anything L. Ron Hubbard wrote. Those books aren’t even a good alternative to TV or a three year old Sports Illustrated in the dentist’s waiting room.

  6. Re: Scientology –

    Part of me thinks people actually believe it. And another part of me thinks people *believe* it only to expose other religions. The latter would be an awesome joke. Why hasn’t the Onion ran with that one yet?

  7. We shouldn’t be too hard on religion: it’s nothing more than a perfectly normal manifestation of gibbering idiocy.

    I say we give it a great big hand!

  8. To hear from a burning bush 3,000 years ago is not as strange as meeting the Angel Moroni two centuries ago

    Speak for yourself, buddy.

  9. Come on, orthodox Christianity takes the cake in weird beliefs. I just love it when evangelicals, who believe that the son of a Jewish carpenter who was crucified was God incarnate, that drinking his blood and eating his body will cure them of sins, and that they will be raptured into heaven in the “end times” talk about how weird Mormon beliefs are.

  10. The problem with Scientology is not what its members claim to believe, but rather with the organization itself. The COS has been involved in a lot of shady dealings and really appears to be more of a business than a religion.

  11. Scientology is unusually crazy. Just read a biography on Hubbard.

    It also has a gulag which deviant members are sentenced to. They also harass people who try to leave the organization.

    A truly whacked organization.

  12. The COS has been involved in a lot of shady dealings and really appears to be more of a business than a religion.

    This differs from televangelists and the whole history of the Catholic Church how exactly?

  13. Scientology has a more rigid donation requirement, which is tied much more tightly to its spiritual provisions, and provides fewer goods in return, than other religions. That’s what tips it into the cult bin for me.

    Also, next to Islam Scientology is the most aggressive persecutor of its detractors. The “Israel lobby” and the Fundie Culture Warriors are a long third. The direr the worldly consequences you threaten your opponents with, the weaker heavenly consequences you command.

  14. Yeah, I’m going to go out on a limb here, and say that finding writings from the “religion’s” prophet declaring his intention to found a phoney religion in order to make money actually DOES make that religion less credible.

  15. Religions appear strange in inverse proportion to their age.

    Yeah, but Scientology isn’t just young. It’s so blatant and unapologetic in its totally-made-up bullshitness. It’s like a teenager zooming around town in a Camero, banging everyone’s wives and daughters.

  16. Generally the reason that Jesus is more plausible a messiah is because he didn’t write science fiction, and there aren’t any stories about him getting into axe fights over gambling debts.

    The virtue of their age and image creates enough mystique to leave open the possibility of divine inspiration.

    The Messiah being a carpenter isn’t as inherently implausible as the Messiah demanding half of a city’s windows (Muhammad).

    The difference between religions with origins from then, and religions from actual recorded history is that we know they’re making this shit up.

  17. If you removed tax exempt status from religious organizations you’d find out pretty quick who the true believers were.

  18. The Messiah being a carpenter isn’t as inherently implausible as the Messiah demanding half of a city’s windows (Muhammad).

    What about guys rising from the dead, and the drinking of blood curing sin?

    I’m not an anti-theist, I think its perfectly fine if you believe in a religion with weird beliefs. However, when I hear believers in one religion talking about how weird the other is its the pot calling the kettle black.

  19. “It’s like a teenager zooming around town in a Camero, banging everyone’s wives and daughters.”

    That is a religion I’m all for joining.

  20. Cesar,

    I should know better than to get involved in this thread, but I should point out that the groups of Christians who believe that the elements of communion actually become blood and flesh and actually pay for one’s sins, and those who believe in a secret “Left Behind-style” rapture are distinctly different groups.

    The latter group, Dispensationalists, only emerged about 150-200 years ago. Prior to that, you’d be really hard pressed to find anyone (in the clergy, at least) who believed that all of the Christians were going to be invisibly snatched-up prior to God’s judgment on the world.

    Also, I think saying that Catholics (and some other Christians) believe that “drinking his blood and eating his body will cure them of sins” is a fairly superficial mischaracterization of what those folks actually believe.

    Probably small points, all things considered, but there you go. Again, not exactly sure what sort of masochism made me want to make these clarifications here, as I’m neither Catholic nor Dispensationalist, so I don’t really have a dog in either one of those fights. Then again, I AM a Presbyterian, so color me a crackpot…

  21. Some years ago, SCIENTOLOGY set out to destroy journalist Paulette Cooper’s life.
    In Byline magazine, a publication of the New York Press Club , Cooper told the full story of her 17-year battle against the followers of L. Ron Hubbard.
    It began in 1968 when she wrote a story, “The Scandal of Scientology,” for Queen, a British magazine. Despite receiving a death threat, Cooper decided to write a book on the topic. “I was naive and had no idea of the horrors that lay in store for me,” she writes.
    A series of lawsuits by the Church of Scientology convinced the publisher of Cooper’s book to issue an apology and a recall, but the forces she had unleashed were not satisfied. First, Cooper discovered her phone was being tapped. Then, her cousin was assaulted by a man who, posing as a flower-deliveryman, gained entrance to her apartment and pulled a pistol on her. (The gun jammed.) When Cooper moved to a more secure building, someone sent 300 of her neighbors an anonymous letter claiming she was a prostitute and had molested a child.
    It got worse.
    Cooper was arrested and charged with mailing an anonymous bomb threat to a Scientology spokesman. In front of a grand jury, the prosecutor revealed that her fingerprints were on the letter. Certain she was going to prison for a crime she hadn’t committed, Cooper contemplated suicide. Her fianc?e left her. She hired a private investigator-none other than wiretapping suspect Anthony Pellicano-who proved useless. Her weight dwindled to 83 pounds.

    Her luck finally turned after a Scottish professor who was writing a book on Scientology provided prosecutors with information about “fair game”-the Church doctrine that encourages Scientologists to attack their enemies by any means. Cooper also persuaded a neurologist to inject her with truth serum and interrogate her to prove she was telling the truth. The government dropped its case.
    In 1977, an FBI raid on Scientology offices revealed the truth: Cooper was the target of something code-named “Operation Freakout,” a scheme intended to land her in jail or in a mental ward. She concluded that a man who had stayed in her apartment prior to her arrest had been a Scientologist who had stolen paper with her fingerprints on it to forge the bomb threat.

    Sorry guys, Mormonism at it’s absolute worst is nothing like this. The Mafia is more ethical than SCIENTOLOGY

  22. Monkey-

    I don’t think the vast majority of believing Christians are crackpots, and I certainly wouldn’t characterize you this way.

    But if you were, say, raised Hindu instead of Christian don’t you think you would find a lot of Christian beliefs really weird at first glance?

  23. Also, I think saying that Catholics (and some other Christians) believe that “drinking his blood and eating his body will cure them of sins” is a fairly superficial mischaracterization of what those folks actually believe.

    What they (Catholics, Protestants, and Mormons) actually believe is that the Sacrament is in remembrance of Jesus’ cruxifixion, and that by partaking of this symbolic blood and body, we pledge to try to follow His teachings, and thus overcome the temptation to sin. The eating and drinking doesn’t cure the sins, it just reminds us that leading a better life is possible, and gives us strength to try to make the changes that will lead to a better, happier life.

    Weird and kooky beliefs, yeah? What a bunch of dysfunctional nutjobs. 😉

  24. how many religions have their members secretly infiltrate the government to spy on it and influence it? (key word: secretly. Pat Robertson and his kind do it openly.)

    how many religions protect their holy writings by copyright, instead of sharing it freely?

  25. Oh, sure. I think almost any belief system foreign to the way you were raised sounds really weird at first glance (and not just formal religions, I include atheism and less organized religions here.) The question is how do they look upon further examination.

    Scientology, in my opinion, deserves some particular criticism in that they actively fight further examination by non-participants. They sue anyone who tries to document their beliefs or publicly discuss those beliefs in detail. Few other religions fight so vigorously to keep you from knowing what they believe.

    But I take your point. Many elements of Christianity (particularly the miraculous) will look very “out there” to anyone not raised with routine exposure to those elements.

  26. how many religions have their members secretly infiltrate the government to spy on it and influence it? (key word: secretly. Pat Robertson and his kind do it openly.)

    In Pat’s case, I think it’s probably more a case of a pro-war shill friendly to the government infiltrating the Church than vice versa.

  27. Scientology, in my opinion, deserves some particular criticism in that they actively fight further examination by non-participants. They sue anyone who tries to document their beliefs or publicly discuss those beliefs in detail. Few other religions fight so vigorously to keep you from knowing what they believe.

    I think trying to keep non-participants from knowing what you practice and believe is at least one of the things that separates a religion from a cult.

  28. Should read, “Separates a cult from a religion”.

  29. No matter how crazy sounding one belief or belief system is compared to another, I think one thing that makes believing it more understandable is the fact that most members have been indoctrinated from a young age. Scientology seems that much more crazy to me because most of it’s members joined as adults. How can a free thinking adult in an enlightened society come to believe in science fiction as religion? Thetan spewing volcanoes, rediculous devices that read how many demons are in a person, a science fiction writer as your prophet with a compulsory book-buying club that acts as your tithing….

  30. jh,

    To be fair, many (most?) Christian denominations do not believe the eucharist to be exclusively symbolic, and some definitely believe that participating in it has some real effect on your sin. The Wikipedia entry actually does a good job of summarizing the different views:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eucharist

    I DO think your description probably describes the predominant view among non-denominational protestants in the United States. Also, in the context of this thread we may be verging on pinhead-dancing-angels territory here. 🙂

  31. Dan T. | August 1, 2007, 11:35am | #

    The problem with Scientology is not what its members claim to believe, but rather with the organization itself. The COS has been involved in a lot of shady dealings and really appears to be more of a business than a religion.

    Agreed. Here’s a scary article about how Scientology works…

  32. Pinette,

    Beck, the musician, was raised a Scientologist. I wonder if we’re going to start seeing the UFO-cult equivalent of of Christmas-and-Easter Catholics.

    “Yeah, I consider myself a Scientologist, but I haven’t had an e-meter reading in years.”

  33. So my worship of the Egyptian god Horus from 3,000 BC isn’t strange at all?

  34. It’s like a teenager zooming around town in a Camero, banging everyone’s wives and daughters.

    Or even like a dude going around banging everyone’s wives and daughters, then saying that God told him that it was OK if those women were now his wives. And if you want to have a bunch of wives, God said that’s OK too. But a while later, when the government came breathing down his neck, God talked to him again and said maybe they should stop doing that.

    I’m no expert on the motivation of early Christians, but good luck finding a revelation of Joseph Smith or the other Mormon “prophets” that didn’t have a great big upside for the guy to whom it was being revealed.

  35. Religions come and go. Urkobold&trade is forever.

  36. how many religions protect their holy writings by copyright, instead of sharing it freely?

    If you think the Book of Mormon isn’t literally shared freely, contact anyone who’s Mormon and ask for a free copy. You’ll get one right away (and a lot of follow-up visits from missionaries, unless you’re incredibly rude or pointedly assertive).

    Most religious scriptures are old enough to not be subject to copyright protection, and in fact were written before such laws were enacted. You could write your own satirical version of the Book of Mormon, if you so pleased — the copyright protection was applied for to keep anti-Mormons in the 1830s from stealing the copyright and then using that to prevent anyone from publishing the Book oF Mormon at all.

  37. The problem that belief systems of more recent origin is that the incredible events are said to have happened at a time when paper was cheap and there are loads of documents describing the minor events of the time.

    That wasn’t the case 2000 years ago. Trying to figure out what was really going on in first century Judea, from the non-religious texts of the time, would be like trying to figure out what was going on in 20th century America based solely on the movie Forrest Gump.

  38. URKOBOLD COMMANDS jimmydageek TO WORSHIP THE LOBSTER GIRL FOR TEN MINUTES.

    DON’T FORGET THE PAPER TOWEL, THIS TIME.

    THAT IS ALL.

  39. Mormonism is verging on old enough to have some veneer of respectability, but joe is so right about Dianetics. There is ample evidence in Hubbard’s own hand that he planned on making up a fake religion out of thin air for the express purpose of bilking people out of their money. (It was a well known story in SF fandom years before this stuff hit the mainstream.)

    Now I admit to being a “pox on all religions” type, but the people who believe and give money to this crap have to be considered in a special class of gullible/stupid. Maybe “Hubbtards.”

    Of course there is a large vein of humor to be mined out of the fact that this is wildly popular in the entertainment industry…

  40. TWELVE MINUTES.

    ANY MORE CHEEKINESS WILL RESULT IN MORE SERIOUS PUNISHMENTS.

    NOW GO AND MASTER YOUR BODY WEIGHT.

  41. There is no comparison between Scientology and various religions because Scientology is not a religion. They only declared it so at a later date (sometime in the 60’s?) for tax purposes.

  42. crimethink,

    Trying to figure out what was really going on in first century Judea, from the non-religious texts of the time…

    No non-religious (or religious) text about Jesus was written during his lifetime or even immediately thereafter. Indeed, the first non-religious author to mention him (Josephus) did so a generation after his death and the next writer followed on about generation after him. Indeed, Josephus’ texts are some of the only written materials we have from the region during the whole of the First Century.

  43. Sorry guys, Mormonism at it’s absolute worst is nothing like this.

    Not any more, but back in its early days, Mormons perpetrated (and were victims of) way more violence than Scientology has ever had its hands in.

  44. yeah for all its weirdness and drive through take your money routines and pure petty vindictiveness, scientology has an absurdly low body count.

    i have a soft spot in my heart for those nutbags.

  45. Grotius,

    Yes, that’s my point. The lack of secular documentation of Jesus’ existence and deeds is often cited as a reason for dismissing Christianity. But, as you point out, there’s precious little documentation of anyone’s existence or deeds in Judea of that time.

    Consistency demands that those who dismiss Jesus for lack of evidence must also presume that no one existed or did anything in first-century Judea.

  46. crimethink,

    Well, we do have non-native reports from Romans and Greeks and archaeological evidence as well, but none of it speaks about this Jesus guy.

  47. “But if you were, say, raised Hindu instead of Christian don’t you think you would find a lot of Christian beliefs really weird at first glance?”

    I had the opportunity to read what one Hindu had to say. He thought it odd that Christians could read about miracles and not go “Wow! this is really amazing!” instead of just taking them for granted.

  48. In other words, what we know of this Jesus fellow comes from the four canonical gospels and perhaps a few of the non-canonical ones (the Gospel of Thomas being the best candidate of the latter).

  49. Anyway, thank goodness (or good taste?) that Christianity doesn’t have as a main religious symbol a guy offering up blood from his penis as was the case in a lot of so-called pre-classical Mayan religious art.

  50. “In other words, what we know of this Jesus fellow comes from the four canonical gospels and perhaps a few of the non-canonical ones (the Gospel of Thomas being the best candidate of the latter).”

    What we know of Jesus is revealed by the Holy Spirit.

  51. I don’t think Grotius is going to count the Holy Spirit as a reliable source.

  52. In any case, I’m following the counsel of St Thomas Aquinas (namedrop!) that the role of the Christian theologian or the apologist is not to prove the veracity of matters of faith, but to show that they are not impossible.

    The lack of documentation of Jesus doesn’t prove that he existed or did the things we claim, but it doesn’t disprove it either.

  53. crimethink,

    That is fairly likely.

    Anyway, apparently that sort of ritual did happen. Pre-classical Mayan kings would pierce their penis and offer the blood up as sacrifice as a means to protect their people from drought, etc. Ouch.

  54. Raising Beck as a scientologist might explain some of those wacky lyrics. However, Sea Change is the only album guaranteed to put my disabled 20 month old to sleep, so I have to give him a pass on his nutty cult.

  55. Crom laughs at your gods. He laughs from his mountain.

  56. My god is stronger. He is the everlasting sky! Your god lives underneath him.

  57. penis and tongue! with a vine with thorns through it!

    which makes sense if you think about it – what’s more worthy of sacrifice, the interesting stuff or the non-interesting stuff? the stuff that creates (speech / people) etc.

    this double suicide is being blamed on scientology stalking by some as well:

    http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/cl-et-blake25jul25,0,4215227.story?coll=la-home-middleright

  58. “The lack of documentation of Jesus doesn’t prove that he existed or did the things we claim, but it doesn’t disprove it either.”

    I seem to recal that the exist no physical evidence that Socrates existed.

  59. I also recall a time when I was better at spelling…

  60. My old buddy Gonzalez claimed to worship at the Church of Head. I never found that odd somehow.

  61. There were a couple of splits in the church resulting in the followers of Armageddon Head and those that were into Nuclear War Head.

  62. Plato,

    Aristophanes (who disliked him) wrote about Socrates. It is unlikely (to me) that he would have been so inventively humorous about a guy who never existed.

  63. Indeed, the first non-religious author to mention him (Josephus) did so a generation after his death and the next writer followed on about generation after him. Indeed, Josephus’ texts are some of the only written materials we have from the region during the whole of the First Century.

    And the authenticity of the relevant passages in Josephus are hotly disputed. They do appear to have been rather sloppily inserted after the fact, though I can’t claim to have read them in the original language (Latin or Greek). Part of the problem for historians is that Constantine the Great hired folks to do some “cleaning up” of the documentation that existed at that time.

    Another aspect of it is that, even by the version told in the Bible, Jesus’s life and actions were a small blip on the radar during his life. Basically, he wasn’t much of a notable in his own lifetime, so why would there have been much written by contemporaries?

    I think even most skeptics concede that there is some *some* historical personage at the center of the New Testament, and it’s really just an issue of whether said person bore any similarity to the Jesus of the Bible.

    Interestingly, Islam has many of the same issues, since Muhammad forbade his followers from putting the Qu’ran into writing. It was only done decades after his death, with the Hadiths being necessary as a narrative accompaniment. Of course, it is certainly debatable whether the Qu’ran is an accurate rendition of what Muhammad told his followers, and whether the Hadiths are remotely accurate.

  64. Someone mentioned The Onion and Scientology.

    One.

    Two.

    Christians:

    What do you suppose happened the second time Lazarus died? Poor Lazarus, there on his deathbed. Again. His loved ones around him. Or maybe not, ’cause they’ve already paid their respects once.

    And some of his friends died in between, so his final thoughts of them are a reflection back on their deaths. Watching them die, listening to them curse his name because they don’t have some special Friend to make it all right. Well, He’s not around to bail Lazarus out again this time, so he supposes they got the last laugh, after all.

    He tries, in vain, to recall that period during his first death. What had his soul been up to? It’s gone all fuzzy on him. And it’s strange, because now that he thinks of it, he can’t recall anyone asking him about it. But maybe that’s just his memory failing, here at the end. The real end, this time, at least for the body…

  65. Proposed rule: All participants in a Christian history vs. faith threadjack discussion who post over three times (see the Gas Pouring ruling section) must drink.

  66. The original article, and this post, totally miss the point. The distinction between a cult and a sect isn’t what they believe — it’s how they act. If a religious group seeks to isolate its members from families and friends, exploits them for their money and labor, and makes them do dangerous and distasteful things on penalty of expulsion and ostracism, that looks like a cult to me. There are plenty of Christian and Jewish cult-like organizations out there, too.

    Besides, he doesn’t address the astonishing creepiness of Scientologists — ever seen a black-clad swarm of them handing out leaflets and trying to get you to take psychological tests? They make Hare Krishna flower-peddlers look warm and wholesome.

  67. ChrisO,

    I’m one of those folks who thinks that what is attributed to Josephus is partly authentic. That is he did mention Jesus. Of course, he (obviously*) never met the guy and all he could have known of him were third hand (or worse) accounts.

    *Given that he was born after the generally accepted time of Jesus’ death. Then again, we may ask why we would wish to accept that generally accepted chronology as accurate.

  68. Proposed rule: All participants in a Christian history vs. faith threadjack discussion who post over three times (see the Gas Pouring ruling section) must drink.

    But will I be drinking the blood of Christ or merely a symbolic representation?

  69. hare krishnas are generally pretty nice.

    maybe i just have a very high tolerance for weirdos?

  70. Grotius, I think the best answer to both the ‘Josephus authenticity’ question and the general historical reality of Jesus is that we’ll never know for sure. Unless there is another amazing cache of unfound documents hidden in the desert somewhere, we’ve got all of the hard info we’ll ever have.

  71. Fun time waster:

    Famous Adherents

    My fave so far:

    Ogden Nash – Baha’i

  72. ChrisO,

    You must to yourself, my son, and follow your heart.

  73. “URKOBOLD COMMANDS jimmydageek TO WORSHIP THE LOBSTER GIRL FOR TEN MINUTES. DON’T FORGET THE PAPER TOWEL, THIS TIME.”

    And don’t forget your bib, too!

    Oh, wait a sec. This has nothing to do with eating the lobster, does it?

  74. “If a religious group seeks to isolate its members from families and friends, exploits them for their money and labor, and makes them do dangerous and distasteful things on penalty of expulsion and ostracism, that looks like a cult to me”

    My very exceptionally socially retarded brother-in-law almost got nab by the scientologists. He called from the airport saying he was fly to LA (from Minneapolis) to live the dianetic life, so I and my wife went to the airport. He was with a guy in a Hubbard costume who had taken care of everything for him (e.g., was arranging the sale of his assets). But here’s the thing — I’m pretty well off and that was apparent to the scientology guy. So rather than try to prevent my brother-in-law from leaving, I told the scientology guy that I was also very interested in scientology (a few years in a road band taught me how to lie without a trace).

    Well the scientology guy lights up like a neon sign and we end up agreeing to all go to the dianetics place downtown in order for me to get more info on their fantastic religion (the premise being he and I would go to LA together – mor money for hubbard), which got my brother-in-law out of the airport, allowing his dad time to drive down from North Dakota and talk him out of going to LA.

    20 years later and I still am on their crap mailing list.

  75. DannyK is on target here regarding the creepiness factor. My wife, back a few years ago, had a reading done, just for fun (yeah, she’s kind of weird like that). One of the things they did was try to keep her there for as long as possible, telling her what was wrong in her life, bringing in other members, etc., until they finally realized she wouldn’t buy in to what they were saying. She said she could definitely see how they could take advantage of someone who was emotionally unstable. Her story reminded me of timeshare sales techniques.

  76. BTW, more on-topic, I think it’s demonstrable that all religions start out as cults, or at least those religions based on conversion and claiming to be universal (i.e., not Judaism).

    Scientology is a head scratcher for me, too, but there is something in there that draws in a lot of people. I suppose it’s not more ridiculous than EST or Synanon were, and those too attracted many otherwise intelligent followers.

    Perhaps a weak mind can overcome rationality?

  77. ChrisO,

    I’ve often wondered whether there atheists or skeptics amongst animist populations or amongst the Aztecs, ancient Egyptians, etc. If they did exist they either chose not to leave a record of such or weren’t allowed to.

  78. Her story reminded me of timeshare sales techniques.

    I went to 2 such pitches, lured by the promise of cash and free crap. I got my cash and free crap, but I will never, ever do that again. I don’t care what they offer.

  79. Lamar,

    Oh, wait a sec. This has nothing to do with eating the lobster, does it?

    My father gave me a few simple rules to live life by, one of the most important being:

    Don’t go down on a chick with breast implants.

  80. I’ve often wondered whether there atheists or skeptics amongst animist populations or amongst the Aztecs, ancient Egyptians, etc. If they did exist they either chose not to leave a record of such or weren’t allowed to.

    We know there were atheists among the classical Greek ruling class, so it wouldn’t seem impossible for other ancient peoples to also have had skeptics.

    That said, religion in the ancient world functioned more as a form of pseudo-science than as the emotional crutch that conversion-based religions do. In other words, religion to the ancients was an attempt to explain the world around them, not an attempt to make them feel better. As such, the basis for skepticism would have been different. A perceptive individual might have intuitively grasped the truth that one’s daily material well-being was not governed by the spirits of the hearth and cupboard, let alone by various remote sky gods.

  81. Adding to ChrisO’s comment, Buddhism was an attempt to introduce some skepticism into Hinduism. Although some premises weren’t seriously challenged (e.g., rebirth), it’s pretty clear that attempts were made to strip the religion down to a few core assumptions, and from that basis attempt to derive everything else based on reason and on people’s (sometimes inaccurate) understanding of how the world worked.

  82. I’m with those who say that Scientology isn’t an evil cult. It’s a business pretending to be an evil cult for the tax benefit.

  83. Adding to ChrisO’s comment, Buddhism was an attempt to introduce some skepticism into Hinduism.

    And yet, in many ways Buddhism was the first ‘modern’ religion, in that it was primarily concerned with a person’s “inner being” than with functioning as a form of pseudo-science. Given that we know Buddhism had penetrated as far west as Iraq by the 1st Century AD, I have little doubt that it influenced the development of Christianity.

  84. Adherents of Scientology may come off as harmless, nutty weirdos but their leaders are most certainly evil, criminal con-men. And it’s important to note that there are two strains of Scientology: the Hollywood brand that tries to appeal to the masses by putting a smiling face on it, and the Regular Joe brand that’s nothing more than a con game. It may be more business than cult as Max said but it does use cult-like techniques.

  85. Given that we know Buddhism had penetrated as far west as Iraq by the 1st Century AD, I have little doubt that it influenced the development of Christianity.

    Joseph Campbell believed it did. I can’t remember what book it was in, but Campbell made a persuasive argument that Proverbs and The Sermon on the Mount, the only words in the Bible directly attributed to Jesus (I think), are very Buddhist in nature.

  86. Grotius/Crimethink…

    Random rambling before I go home…

    This stuff is not fresh in my mind, but…

    Tacitus mentions Jesus and Pilate (I assume he is the “next author” Grotius mentions). So presumably during his time the concept of Jesus having lived was non-controversial enough to make it into a respected Roman history. Hardly proof, but certainly something. The fact that the other surviving artifacts are “non-secular” hardly makes them any less reliable than the secular accounts around the same time. It seems unlikely that there was not a real person at the center of the early movement. The details, of course, will never get closer than second hand unless we find something in the hand of either Jesus or a Disciple (and that can be authenticated…how would you do that). I think the fact that the secular details of the gospels align with what was/is known about the people/places says something about their validity as historical documents. Discounting them reduces your sample size to nearly zero.

  87. I can’t remember what book it was in, but Campbell made a persuasive argument that Proverbs and The Sermon on the Mount, the only words in the Bible directly attributed to Jesus (I think), are very Buddhist in nature.

    Those aren’t the only words attributed to Jesus by the Gospel writers, though they may be the only words that revisionist “bible scholars” think Jesus actually spoke. Such scholars do habitually throw out everything he said that had supernatural implications, and focus on the moral philosophy. Not that the moral philosophy isn’t good, but it certainly wasn’t unique: earlier Jewish thought as well as that of the Stoics and Buddhists had already been there, done that.

    Clearly, if we take the Gospels’ attribution of sayings to Jesus at face value, there are a lot of things that he said about God that no Buddhist would approve of. But throwing out the supernatural stuff allows these same scholars to claim that Jesus was just preaching a warmed-over Buddhism.

  88. One name: Lisa McPherson.

  89. One name: Lisa McPherson.

    Exactly. Evil, evil organization. I didn’t even know they managed to buy a judge to somehow void the 1st Admendment (“The Profit”). Wow.

  90. crimethink,

    though they may be the only words that revisionist “bible scholars” think Jesus actually spoke.

    As I have read there are a number of standards by which the various statements, acts, etc. ascribed to Jesus are judged and they are pretty good standards IMHO. One is, for example, statements, acts, etc. which were (in light of the culture of the time) embarrsassing or damaging. Jesus’ crucifixion is an example of such (as I understand it being crucified was something which carried a great deal of shame with it at the time).

  91. crimethink,

    An example of another technique is that of the Criterion of Multiple Attestation.

  92. dhex: “yeah for all its weirdness and drive through take your money routines and pure petty vindictiveness, scientology has an absurdly low body count.”

    True, but that may simply be because it never had the support of any government. (This differentiates it not only from Christianity and other “old” religions, but from the Mormon Church, which at the time of the Mountain Meadows Massacre was the de facto government of Utah.)

  93. crimethink,

    I don’t think what Campbell was saying was that Christianity was warmed over Buddhism. He was just arguing that it shows evidence of a strong eastern influence. The Golden Rule is about as Buddhist as it gets. The idea is that interaction with Buddhism and other eastern schools of religious though put a new spin on Judaism. That new spin is what evolved into Christianity.

    Or, some of the teachings are similar because the human brains that conceived them were similar.

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