Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Xenu Loves You and Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life

I’m pretty interested in why people—particularly a lot of really smart folks—believe seemingly fantastical religious stories and myths.

The myths behind Scientology, for example, make the Mormon stories seem prosaic and level headed.

You’ve got a Galactic ruler Xenu who trillions of years ago solved planetary overcrowding by shipping trillions of humanoids across the galaxy in ships like DC-8’s and stacking them like cordwood around volcanoes on the earth and then killing them all by nuking 'em, and, well, you get the idea. Yet somehow a whole bunch of bright and talented post-modern people accept this nonsense as a part of their faith.

Current religious faith is obviously a complicated topic, but let me throw out a take on why so many smart people buy this kind of stuff:

People buy into religions right now for their ‘practical’ benefits and aren’t too concerned about the myths and theologies behind those benefits.

Basically, post-modern believers don’t lose a lot of sleep over the coherency or truth of theology or foundational mythologies. In every religious group you’ve got folks who devote themselves to parsing theology and mythology and defending the faith, but for the most part, I just don’t think most people really care one way or the other whether God turned the lost tribe of Israel in America into ‘redskins’ because of their evil deeds or whether Xenu used earth as a galactic dumping ground. In fact, in Scientology a believer isn’t even introduced to those myths and stories until they’ve reached a fairly advanced level within the church.

It comes down to practical emotional and spiritual support, a good atmosphere for families, a cohesive and encouraging community, and a decent and effective base for moral strength and growth. Any religion that provides some or most of those things will grow and attract lots of followers—including smart and creative people—no matter how crazy and loopy their theology and mythology may be.

In a way that shouldn’t be surprising. The ‘truth’ of religious faith has always been as much about emotion, community and practical morality as it has about ‘abstract, objective truth.’ It’s praxis more than propositions. Post-modernism simply enhances that effect because it so strongly downplays objective truth and makes entertaining any take on the world--no matter how improbable or seemingly unhinged--a moral duty.

In fact, I’ve come to believe that in our present environment, the more ‘out there’ the theology and foundational myths the better, as long as the religion can deliver the practical goods. Whatever you say about the stories and myths of Mormonism and Scientology, they’re way creative and address some current existential and cultural realities more directly than myths and stories from the Iron Age probably can.

If you want a mythology that directly supports the spiritual, cultural and political ‘chosen-ness’ of America you’d have a hard time coming up with something better than Mormonism. I think that’s pretty appealing to a lot of people here and even overseas where lots of people highly value American culture even if they’re not too pumped about our present political leaders.

And if you likee the sci fi sensibility and want salvation heavy on the psychological healing, ya gotta go with Xenu and Scientology. Lots of people in the market for those goods.

Of course, downplaying the 'truth' of denominations and doctrine and myths and stories is relatively new and a big change from most of western religious history when praxis and propositional truth were both critically important. But I think it's here to stay.

I'm just waiting for some high end game designer to create a new worldwide religion out of some virtual online universe he conjures up. Can't wait to hear that storyline :^)....


Post a Comment

<< Home