Wednesday, January 14, 2009

jesus and scientology...

I was reading my Bible last night (resolution #6! I'm awesome!*) and I started thinking about religions.  The chapter I was reading was in Matthew, and it was talking about when Jesus began his ministry by recruiting all the fishermen he could find.  It made me think a lot about two completely unrelated things.

1. I realize that Jesus did not speak in prosaic English, but the language in the Bible is really funny if you think about it.  If someone came up to me and said "Come.  Follow me.  I will make you fishers of men."  I would think they were reciting a monologue from something.  It is probably a lot more likely that Jesus saw a fisherman, waved at them, and said something like this.  "Hey, what's up?  Want to sit down and chat?"  and then he struck up a conversation and got to know the guy.  And when the guy got to know him a little bit, he was probably thinking hey, this Jesus guy is pretty cool.  I wouldn't mind spending more time with him.  He seems like he's really got his act together.  And then Jesus said something like, "I know you have a really successful fishing career, but how would you like to come with me?  I've got a new job for you that is so much more rewarding than what you're doing.  Instead of catching fish, you'll be saving people's lives.  Are you in?"   And the fisherman couldn't say no, he was so amazed by what was happening.  I am no Bible scholar and I don't know Greek, but my guess is that's more like how things went down.

2.  Religion is a really weird thing when you think about it.  Take Christianity, for example.  The concept of an intelligent being that created the universe -- okay, that makes sense, I can see anyone believing that.  But the rest of it, the creator of the world turning his son into some perfect hybrid God-human thing two thousand years ago and sending him to be born from a virgin and letting him grow up to be a carpenter slash miracle worker slash preacher who eventually gets killed, but not really, because three days later he suspiciously is alive again, and then he gets beamed up to heaven on a cloud - this stuff is not for the faint of heart.  And maybe when you're a child, you believe it because it's what you're told in Sunday School.  But once you get old enough to really think for yourself, you either discount it all or you really, really believe it.  There has to be some pretty powerful faith behind it.  I mean, you have to believe hard enough to stake your life on it.  Which is hard to do.

Here's where I get confused.  I don't mean to pick on any particular celebrities or anything, but let's think about another religion, for example (oh, I don't know) Scientology.  The principles of this one are pretty weird as well.  Founded by this guy named L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s, it is formed around the belief that all human souls used to exist in extraterrestrial beings, but now that they are humans on earth, their goal is to pay thousands of dollars to the church in order that they can advance through the different levels of enlightenment in the hopes of one day reaching the level of "the Bridge of Total Freedom."  One of the methods of working toward this freedom is through counseling sessions known as "auditing," where the person is hooked up to electrodes for the purpose of measuring body electrical content and locating areas of concern.  It's all very complicated, and I'll let you read the Wikipedia article for yourself if you so desire.  Back to my point.  I am not objectively saying that the principles of Scientology are any more or less weird than those of Christianity.  I'll let you decide that for yourself.  

What got me really thinking last night, though, was what I said earlier: in order to call yourself a follower of Christianity or any religion, you have to have a really good reason to believe it.  You have to be willing to stake your life on it.  It becomes part of everything you are.  I know tons of Christians, including myself, who are like this.  It's a two thousand year old tradition.  What I have trouble understanding is how people feel the same way about Scientology.  Maybe I am just shortsighted.  I can understand why people would discount religion in general; after all, on first glance it does look rather silly, and as a very rational person myself I can see why someone would choose not to believe in gods or religion.  

However, I have a lot of trouble understanding how people can dedicate their lives to the study of a "religion" that was dreamed up no more than fifty years ago and requires massive financial donations in order for you to move to higher spiritual levels.  The cynic in me wants to say that they are just doing it to be trendy; I'm sure its massive celebrity following doesn't hurt the church's numbers.  Maybe that's true for a few, but I want to give people more credit than that.  After all, a small percentage of the world might be members of the Scientology church, but a much larger percentage of the world actively ridicules them and their beliefs.  (If you are picking a church to be "cool," Christianity is much more accepted in mainstream circles today.  In fact, there are plenty of trendy, flashy mega-churches that probably don't require much spiritual commitment at all.)  So what is it that draws people to this religion?  Is it the hope of becoming someday enlightened?  Is it the actual, legitimate belief that your soul once belonged to a space alien?  Are people just that desperate to believe something that they choose this?  

I don't know any Scientologists, so I will probably never fully understand this.  I'm just immensely curious.  

*1 out of 21.  Not bad!


Tricia said...

I think every person truly wants something to believe in.

Maybe it's because God created us in his own image and so a part of us is wired to seek faith?

I think that aspects of religion will always sound weird, but a relationship with Christ and an understanding of the power behind God's mercy and justice in the cross is not weird or silly, it changes your life.

Gib said...

Thanks for bashing my religon, Allison...

Are you saying that $20,000.00 check that I just mailed to Will Smith, and the $10,000.00 check I mailed to Tom Cruise last year were misspent? I really hope not. Just think about how many aliens/people are going to be saved by my donation (providing they have enough cash). Eat your words and cease from mocking those of L.Ron...

Jabes said...

That is so profound and deep. Good job, Allison!

Neal said...

1) I'm with Gib. Wtf, Allison.

2) I enjoyed your post, though I have a somewhat different worldview. That of a Scientologist. Wtf, Allison.


3) How much reading did you actually get done over Jan-term? You thought I was gonna say Wtf, Allison, but I didn't.


allison said...

Gib: i'm glad to know our tax dollars are being spent so wisely on your large air force stipend.

Neal & Gib: i had no idea briarwood high school was raising such a large population of scientologists. maybe for a future post i will interview the two of you about your beliefs.

Neal: hmm. that is a good question. i will need to do some reflection in order to remember what i actually read over the break and i will get back to you. (it was not that entire stack of books, i can promise.)