Monday, October 22, 2012

Religious Truths No Secret



Scientology cross

A recent AOL video featured Janet Reitman, who called herself a contributing editor from Rolling Stones magazine, revealing the “truth about Scientology.” According to Reitman, the big secret is that Scientology is largely commercial.

Only people who pay around $100,000 or who dedicate decades to the religion, Reitman said, are finally introduced to the truth that the faith is built around a intergalactic figure from thousands of years ago, a character from one of founder L. Ron Hubbard’s science fiction book.

Thank goodness Reitman has finally pried the cover off the top of this scandal.  Oh, wait a minute.

Moses on Mt. Sinai
Just for starters, Reitman is contrasting truth as she knows it with Scientology teachings. That’s wonderful if Reitman knew what the truth is.  How can anyone know if any belief is correct or incorrect?  Did Joseph Smith stumble over the truth in upstate New York, when he found golden tablets that he claimed told the bizarre story of Jesus coming to the United States to inspire the descendants of the lost tribes of Israel?  How about Moses, standing on a mountain amid the clouds and getting the laws for the Jewish people?

Sure, Scientology sounds a bit strange.  However, is it any more absurd than the idea that a person born in human form was really God who then was killed as a sacrifice for the supposed sin of a nonexistent Adam and Eve?  Or that a long-dead relative might be reborn as a cow?  Scientology fits right in there with that lot.

Besides, the truth of any religion doesn’t matter.  People apparently are willing to believe most anything.

As for Scientology’s economic considerations, all religions require financial support.  Jews pay dues to synagogues, for example.  We’ve all read of individuals who made huge donations to various evangelical preachers, only to complain later.  How about the wealth of the Roman Catholic Church?  That’s what helped precipitate the Protestant Reformation.   Scientology may be more or less greedy than some other faith, but it is hardly unique.

Nor does the fact Scientology has mysteries mean anything.  Mysteries are nothing new.  Christianity is the last of the mystery religions that once thrived in ancient times.  Every culture had them.  Beliefs in a god or goddess – Isis, Demeter and others – were augmented by hidden rituals available only to members and designed to create contact with the deity.

Communion wine and bread
Scholars today can only guess at those forgotten sacred and hidden rituals, because even ancient historians who were members declined to reveal them.

Christianity still maintains some of the secret rites, such as communion:  the eating of bread as the body of Jesus and drinking wine as his body.  At one time, that was a hidden rite available only to parishioners.  Paralleling similar sacred rituals in competitive faiths, communion was (and is) designed to bring the participant into contact with God.   Christian groups once fought over whether or not the bread actually became the body of Jesus or was only representative of the body.

Vatican Library
All religions also keep secrets.  In the 1970s and early 1980s, the Church of Latter Day Saints busily bought up what turned out to be forged early church documents and hid them away from public view.  The texts were embarrassing to the church and increasingly absurd in their claims.  The Roman Catholic Church has buried ancient documents for centuries.  Only recently has the Vatican library been opened to a wider audience, but some of the secret texts – there are an estimated 150,000 of them -- likely will never see the light of day because they likely cast doubt on official teachings

The real question then is why Reitman was allowed to make such a presentation.  I can think of a few reasons:  maybe it was a slow news day; Rolling Stone needed some publicity; or Reitman has friends at AOL.  More likely, Reitman’s comments provided the brief sound bite that helped fill space.

On the other hand, there’s a more sinister possibility.  With much of our population now undereducated and willing to swallow any claims without critical review – just think of the absurdities politicians are claiming in apparent sincerity –  and, as a result, drawn to the religious partisanship popularized by a variety of media figures, attacks on smaller sects have become more commonplace.  For example, anti-Semitism episodes in 2010 increased by more than 100 percent worldwide compared with the previous year, according to a report from the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism at Tel Aviv University.

It’s an isolate-and-destroy approach that characterized Nazi Germany’s approach to ethnic cleansing.

I’m no fan of Scientology.  I think it’s a ridiculous hodgepodge of ideas designed simply to vacuum money from the pockets of dupes.  Nevertheless, I support the right of that religion or any religion to be as ridiculous as it wants to be without facing unwarranted criticism of its claims. Those who are attacking may simply be trying to guarantee that only their faith survives as the “truth.”

And that may be the real secret.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.net.  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at http://www.udemy.com/comparative-religion-for-dummies/?promote=1


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