Finding EnlightenMEnt (Dogma as Drama, Part I)

27 06 2012

I have a good friend who doesn’t like Christianity because of all its dogma. He extols the virtues of free inquiry, parochially understood as thinking what you want when you want and how you want. I found the perfect religion for him this morning on a DVD some friends gave to me over the weekend: The Church of Scientology.

This “religion” is for the spiritually faint of heart, for those who spurn any ideas of existential commitment that might involve some pain. This religion is about getting rid of the pain through reaching the Clear, which fundamentally means becoming YOURSELF. And here I thought I was myself all along. Alas…

How does one achieve this self-indulgent enlightenment? Through auditing sessions with an Auditor who is trained to use an E-Meter(?!) that registers just how sick/healthy you are and where those blocks exist in your psyche and soul that are prohibiting you from true happiness and wholeness. All for the low, low cost of…

Scientology is for the dogma-averse who are naive enough to think that you can be tabula rasa going in and who don’t want to be preached at. They actually have someone on their promotional video say this: “This is a place where you won’t be preached at; where you’re not told what to believe ~ you decide what you believe”. But then, in the very next jump cut, they show you a typical Scientology “church,” which has dozens (hundreds?) of self-activated multi-media kiosks that dispense hundreds of tidbits of wisdom and insight for the wary seeker. Turns out, you’re verily assaulted with information as you walk through the door. I daresay, the Church of Scientology is the most “preachy” church I’ve ever encountered, even if it is all under the guise of “think-what-you-want’ism.” In the immortal words of the Who in their classic song “Won’t Get Fooled Again“: Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.”

But in truth, there really is no dogma (properly understood) in Scientology. Just creeds that say nothing specific or — God forbid — troubling. This is the Church of Thomas Jefferson where every truth is self-evident and easily swallowed. This is for the non-discerning seeker who wants a religion of ME. This is the perfect tonic for the Facebook generation. Watch it grow.

But back to my anti-dogma friend. He grew up in a Christian fundamentalist home, an often sure-fire guarantee of a swift departure from all things Christian in later life for any earnest truth-seeker. One only hopes such people find a path back to the heart of the Christian faith and away from the pharisaism of Fundamentalism. My friend is yet to get on that path. For now, he is his own Church, the Church of Syncretism, where he takes a little of this, a little of that, patches it together and — wala! — basks under the light of his own creation. And not that I can blame him, mind you. He’s doing what he needs to do to get rid of the detritus of his former prison. I don’t begrudge him. I admire him. At least he has the chutzpah to take it seriously. I only hope that he moves beyond this level.

Trouble is, without dogma, you have nothing worth believing. And by “dogma” I mean insisting upon things that are not readily self-evident, and because of that, are not always palatable, and hence often difficult. Take for example,

I believe in One God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Come again? Since when did One = three? Or how about this doozie:

I believe in Jesus Christ, God a very God and man a very man.

You see, if you’re a church and you want to have creeds, or you’re an individual and you want to be a church, have the huevos at least to come up with a creed that actually challenges your tenacious grip on this illusory thing called the Self and on your precious notions of freedom. There’s a scant difference between religion and a Hallmark card, but the difference is crucial.

Scientology has some very reasonable things to say, and some very reasonable practices to help one achieve clarity. And I have no doubt that it helps some people, just like a colonic might, or a good night spent with friends, or a good counseling session. The trouble comes when it goes above its pay grade and fashions itself a religion on par with other religions. It lacks all the moxie of authentic religion. It doesn’t smell like a religion, or “feel” like one, much less look like one. It’s the path of least resistance to easy spirituality; it’s the Masonic Lodge for the 21st century, but instead of Masons, when you join the church you’re called a Thetan. Nifty, no? Hell, even their video looks like it was put together by the marketing and promotional department. In fact, I’m certain it was. It has the look and feel of a Nike ad, replete with ambient rock music (think U2 on ecstasy) in the background, good-looking people, bad acting, scenes of nature, happy couples, kittens, the obligatory 3rd world starving child. It all wreaks of tawdry sentimentalism disguised as authentic spirituality. Much like, I must confess, many expressions of Christianity in the contemporary church.

In my next post, I’d like to extol the virtues of true dogma, dogma that hurts, that isn’t self-evident, that takes maturity to adopt, much less understand. In the meantime, if you want something that isn’t atheism but is, more or less, religion for the agnostic, you might want to try Scientology. There’s something there for everyone.

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