In entertainment news, everyone - including his publicist - is concerned that Tom Cruise's cheese has slipped off his cracker, as he gambols about the country, behaving untowardly on Oprah, and setting up tents in Germany to convert onlookers to Scientology. First off, I don't think it's possible to have the kind of life Tom Cruise has had since 1982 and come away unscathed - and secondly, why all the harshing on Scientology?
Sure Scientologists have an eerie sheen to them, and I've heard the stories about how they've held some people hostage to their darkest secrets, and yes, when we used to live near the Celebrity Center on Franklin Street in Hollywood, the dark grounds and obfuscated flowers would give one the heebie-jeebies. But why is so much scorn heaped on a religion that doesn't seem any more far-fetched than what "normal" Americans believe every day?
From the small bits I've managed to pick up, Scientology basically believes that an alien life force (or volcanoes, I can't remember) deposited an energy on Earth that still exists to this day. They believe you have to pick up on this energy (through "audits" and "e-meters" and the like) in order to reach your perfect self. Or something like that. There have been lots of Scientologists that you probably didn't know were members. Like Beck, for instance.
Now compare this with transubstantiation in any run-of-the-mill Catholic church, where followers believe that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ during the blessing. Keep in mind these things are happening on an average street on any given Sunday in suburban Ohio.
While we're at it, let's talk about Christ for a second. Christians believe he was the divine made mortal, the son of God, who showed up on Earth, performed miracles, was crucified, rose from the dead and ascended to Heaven. This particular blog entry is not intended to slag Christianity, but if you weren't so used to the story, it would seem fairly weird, no?
So Scientologists proselytize on national television. So does our goddamn President. So Scientologists are pushy, always trying convert everybody. No worse, certainly, than the Mormons, or even the Catholics, who went into Africa and baptized every "savage" they could get their hands on.
Scientology preaches against using Prozac-like drugs, but so does every redneck American who thinks if you don't take life on the chin, you're a fucking pussy. Not only that, but Scientology also does a pretty good job of getting people off drugs, something most churches barely pay lip service to. Sure, you have to be a Scientologist after you kick heroin, but at least you're not going to smash into a school bus on Sunset Drive.
The only reason to make fun of - or despise - Scientology is because it isn't old enough to take seriously. L. Ron Hubbard made up his bizarre stories in the 1950s - as opposed to 45 A.D., which puts him distinctly behind the curve. Age of story is a huge deal to people of faith; the Mormons are only just beginning to get a place at the table, and they've been around since the 1850s. It's 2005, and 61% of Americans still believe in some sort of Creationism.
If you pick on Scientology at the exclusion of all other religions, you're just like those asinine girls in college who only liked movies made before 1970, as if age trumped all flaws. It all comes down to a matter of faith, and to me, believing in an alien dust fairy makes just as much sense as trusting in Lazarus.
Posted by Ian Williams at June 6, 2005 10:04 PM
I've always been relatively ambivalent towards Tom Cruise. His movies, with few exceptions, haven't really done it for me, and his religious beliefs haven't caused him to show up on my radar as a fanatic in particular. I've largely ignored him. And as you point out, there have certainly been bigger extremists out there trying to push their beliefs onto the public in ways that I personally find more threatening (i.e. Judge Roy Moore in Alabama who felt that he could disobey the law if it conflicted with his duty to God as he saw it).
That is.. until this string of talk show appearances. His attacks on Brooke Shields in particular strike me as downright mean - but more importantly, as a scientist, I find his public campaign against modern psychiatry to be medically irresponsible ("just use vitamins!"). Tom can believe whatever he wants, but I have a serious problem with him going on national television and trying to "educate" the public about absolute nonsense - as in, his assertion that there are no such things as "chemical imbalances" in the brain although, in the case of Brooke Shields, he says there can be "hormonal problems." Gee, Tom... we at Harvard Neurobiology would love for you to teach us what the difference is between neurochemicals and hormones.
Our country is full of people who suffer from debilitating mental illnesses, many of whom fail to seek proper medical treatment because of the stigma historically attached to psychiatry. People like Tom Cruise are contributing to that stigma, and that just means that more people who need help might not get it. Those of us who have devoted our lives to the study of the brain do not believe for a minute that all of life's problems can immediately be solved by simply taking a pill. But the fact is... the brain, like all other organs in the body, is made up of circuits, composed of cells, filled with proteins... and, like every other bodily function, our ability to see and hear, to think and reason about the things we see and hear, all depend on those circuits working properly. In many people, they just don't. And no amount of meditation or exercise or faith or even psychotherapy alone is going to change that.
Are there problems with our current arsenal of psychiatric meds? Of course there are, just like with every other disease. That's the ongoing challenge of modern drug discovery. But that hardly means that people suffering from bipolar disorder or schizophrenia or major depression should just sit back and do nothing, other than having faith and taking Vitamin C as Tom Cruise would seem to suggest.
OK, I'll get off my soapbox now.
Great blog, Ian.
To those who believe "normal" relgions aren't cults: Seriously?
Cult is defined as: A religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader.
How does this not hold true for Christianity? You may not agree, but personally I think believing you'll go to hell for masturbating is *somewhat* extreme. Not to mention the abortion clinic bombers, the frighteningly-apparent majority attempting to infuse one and only one religion into our schools and laws, or the religion's history that boasts massacres like the Crusades and the Inquisition.
Perhaps Christianity (and I could very well be speaking about any other major religion) is not "generally" considered to be false, but I don't put much stock in our societal collective. Slavery was once "generally" considered to be the way to go. Too many scientific minds have concurred that the stories of the Bible are simply stories. And you can't trust those minds to develop cancer treatments and predict hurricanes but not when it comes to evolution. Blind faith is a whole other issue, but in terms of the religion being "false" (as in the opposite of true), Scientology has as much proven truth as Christianity.
Dave writes: "Scientology has been a very dangerous group for many years now. There are many well-documented cases of mistreatments, deaths, and illegal dealings associated with the cult."
And this doesn't hold true for Christianity? Tell that to the boys who were and are being abused by their priests. Tell that to the thousands of gay couples shunned from their houses of worship and refused their right to the sacrament of marriage. How about the "Patriot Pastors" in Ohio, run by none other than Secretary of State (and Bush campaign manager) Blackwell: http://ohiorestorationproject.com/plan.php
Not technically illegal, but totally shady. (This link is more for yesterday's eloquent comment about liberals pandering to "black churches".)
Cathie: You may belong to a fabulous, progressive church. They can be found, especially in big cities. But they are in the minority. Most churches will expressly NOT allow you believe/practice part or none of the dogma. Just look at your "authoritarian, charismatic leader". It's all or nothing with the Pope. You either do or you don't; you're in or you're out.
Sorry for ranting and raving, but religion, imho, is the root of all evil. You can extract some of the lovely things religion preaches and simply be "a good person", without all the dogma, segregation and hatred.
Who exactly is harshing on Scientology? I missed it. Unlike the comments here, I haven't seen a single critical word about Scientology in the media reports about Cruise's recent behavior. The media are questioning whether his current romance is real or simply cynical PR. Fair question. They report that Cruise gratutiously insulted Brooke Shields about a medical issue. True. The media, however, are not questioning whether Scientology's belief system is wrong or bad. They are going after Cruise on a more general level because he has raised issues of his creed or religion in public and he has *behaved* wrongly and badly. They would do the same thing if he was Christian and criticized someone publicly because they did someting that, in his opinion, was not Christian. Like Ian in today's post, the media aren't making qualitative distinctions among religious beliefs, because the underlying belief is that they are all stupid. It is just another little controversy to provide some content and get people arguing.
Quality prose or rhetoric can never substitute for the knowlege that allows one to write intelligently about a subject.
During the Catholic Mass, in preparation for Holy Communion, the priest says (chants), "Let us proclaim the mystery of faith" and in response the congregation says (chants), "Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will Come Again." Not only are Catholics well aware that the our faith is derived from "fairly weird" events but a key aspect of our religion is to *proclaim* and *celebrate* that mystery at every Mass.
To those who understand Christianity through knowledge and experience, much of what is written above is from non-Christians who do not know or understand the religion. They don't get it because they have not learned about it, and yet they mistakenly believe they know all they need to know about it. It is simply prejudice.
How about a post about particle physics or some advanced mathematical theories? We won't know whether you are totally wrong or not. We'll simply pretend we know what you are talking about and then we will pretend that we know what we are talking about. What fun!
Just about all of our fundamental values in the West (peace, love, human rights, freedom of conscience, freedom of self-determination) were introduced to human society by the Hebrew prophets and Jesus Christ and spread by Christian societies throughout much of the globe in fits and starts over the past 2,000 years. Without Christianity, what would Europe and the Americas look like? My guess: Picture them 1,000 years ago. What will be the impact of Scientology on the world 1,000 years from now? My guess: zip.