Escape Velocity Girl

“If you want to make a lot of money, start a religion.”
March 6, 2011, 6:42 pm
Filed under: Real Worlds, Uncategorized

Scientology seems tailor-made for mockery, with its low-rent psychotherapy couched in Dilbertian bureaucratese, sinister attack-Pomeranian of a celebrity figurehead (Cruise, konechno) and neon-lit temples. And, then, of course, there’s the little matter of Xenu: galactic despot and amateur vulcanologist, mistakenly conflated in the public imagination with Travolta’s dreadlocked villain in the almost transcendentally terrible Battlefield Earth. With the recent publication of the New Yorker‘s blockbuster article on Paul Haggis’s apostasy, Scientology has come in for another round of “Shoot the Freak,” one of the Internet’s favorite games. While there are indubitably reprehensible (and potentially legally actionable) aspects of the religion – the pseudo-slavery of Sea Org, the exploitative formula of redemption through financial contribution – I am not sure that its mythology, when considered in isolation, justifies such mass snarkasm.

Major world religions are rife with myths that must appear outlandish (the story of the loaves and fishes as a more benign – but less groovy – Trouble with Tribbles) when objectively judged by those of use not indoctrinated in their particular brands of faith/crazytime – yet we abstain from making light of such stories out of respect for “tradition,” a quality so nebulous as to mean nothing more than “extended existence through time.” Scientology, however, is comparatively new and has accordingly not yet acquired a respectable patina of age; the scaffolding of cynicism and hucksterism, upon which it was built, is yet exposed. Put another (editorially superfluous) way, if Xenu is a La Belle Époque charmeuse, then we’ve stumbled into his boudoir before Chronos has cinched his corset.

Or perhaps the scorn that Scientology’s mythology triggers is related to its space-operatic substance. While sf writers like China Miéville and Iain Banks weave far more whacked out narratives than those in Cruise’s catechism (which are almost quaintly Golden Age, LRH having cut his teeth in the pulps), and proper Ph.Ds debate how to communicate with as yet undiscovered extraterrestrials, the use of science fiction tropes in religion is automatically considered curdled-lactose-product-y. And this despite the fact that, among certain elements in the s/sf community, the boundaries between faith, science and literature seem somewhat blurred – take, for example, Carl Sagan’s  prophesied “glorious dawn” (though perhaps my conflation of optimism and certainty with faith lacks nuance…). Auto-tune masterpieces aside, however, I wonder if Scientology (and its somewhat more benign cousins: Raëlism, Unarianism, and the various other UFO cults) is simply the vanguard of the next wave of religious development, drawing as it does upon our new understanding – or fictional representation – of the heavens in its own conception of heaven. I am no theologian (calling upon our lord Cheebus only in times of throbbing toes and unexpected turbulence), but there seems to be little latitude for traditional, terrestrial mythology in a world of precise cartographies; satellites have found no pearly gates floating cloud-high, and if Scylla and Charybdis are but rock shoal and whirlpool, then Odysseus is no epic hero. Unless a wannabe prophet is willing to eschew concrete, embodied deities and miracles, and base her belief system instead on a spiritualism amorphous enough to coexist with science, space would seem to be the only option: it will be, ahem, some time before we are able to declare the unlikely impossible in all corners of the universe.  If Brian Greene is right, there may just be a thetan or thousand hiding in those extra seven dimensions.  While Google Earth may strip away what modesty and mysteries our planet has left, next-gen Hubbards can still write  “here be dragons” on maps of the sky.

photo: Stray Cat Theatre’s “Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant”; taken by John Groseclose.


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