This morning I watched a program on 4OD entitled Scientologists at war, which detailed the experience of Marty Rathbun, an ex-member of the church of Scientology who has since been harassed for leaving the church and practising the religion independently. Before watching I was unaware of so called independent Scientologists but I suppose, like all religions, there are those people who will be called moderate and don't follow their faith completely, preferring just to stick to the bits they approve of. This to me, rather than helping the issue, actually puts a reasonable face on idiocy and makes the idea of faith and believing whatever you choose to, despite evidence to the contrary, more acceptable.
Marty Rathbun is obviously well-intentioned. In the program he condemns the intimidation and frankly torture, that he himself once advocated and ordered as the number two guy in the church of Scientology, and rightly so. However, the program doesn't say whether or not Marty still believes that an alien overlord named Xenu deposited frozen 'thetans' ie souls, on earth near volcanoes which were then destroyed by a series of nuclear explosions, forcing the thetans to inhabit human bodies which must then be purified by Scientology's practice of 'auditing'.
No I didn't make that up, that's actually the mythology underpinning Scientology. Apparently L Ron Hubbard wasn't just a science fiction writer, he was a really bad one.
This is the crux of my point. Do we really think it's acceptable to believe such nonsense? People should be allowed to of course, but it should be ridiculed whenever it's brought up. As should the belief that a Palestinian Jew was born of a virgin and rose from the dead. Or that an Arab named Mohammed flew to heaven on a winged horse. Religion, all religions, without exception, have ridiculous stories at the heart of them and yet there is still a sense in society that it's wrong to criticise someone's religion. Why? We can criticise someone's politics or their economics, but when it comes to religion, that's out of bounds.
It's funny too, how a Christian for example, will clearly laugh at the Scientology myth, but when you point out that their religion is based on the idea of virgin births, resurrections and people living to be 900 years old, they will defend it wholeheartedly. Scientology is no more crazy than Christianity, or Islam or Judaism or Hinduism, or any of the ancient religions you wish to choose; Greek, Roman, Egyptian etc etc, it's just plain and simply more modern, and that's it. Since the beginning of recorded history - defined by the invention of writing by the Sumerians around 6000 years ago - historians have managed to catalogue somewhere in the region of 3700 supernatural beings and 2870 of these can be considered gods. The only difference between me and a Christian therefore, is I don't believe in 2870 gods and he doesn't believe in 2869. A Christian feels exactly the same way about Zeus as I do about Yahweh.
So yes, moderate religious people should be praised for condemning and ignoring the evil parts of their specific doctrine but that doesn't mean that the bits in their particular holy book that don't call for death or slavery or the worship of our alien overlords aren't open to rational criticism either. By shaking off the evil bits they've only done half a job. Toss aside the pseudo-science, the metaphysics and the mythology too and think critically about the world! Embrace and wonder at the unknown. I'm going to finish this blog post with what is probably my favourite Christopher Hitchens quote:
"The offer of certainty, the offer of complete security, the offer of an impermeable faith that can't give way, is the offer of something not worth having. I want to live my life taking the risk, all the time that I don't know anything like enough yet. That I haven't understood enough, that I can't know enough, always hungrily operating on the margins of a potentially great harvest of future knowledge and wisdom, I wouldn't have it any other way and I'd urge you to look at those who tell you that you're dead 'til you believe as they do, (what a terrible thing to be telling to children) and that you can only live by accepting an absolute authority, don't think of that as a gift. Think of it as a poison chalice, push it aside, no matter how tempting it is, take the risk of thinking for yourself. Much more happiness, truth, beauty and wisdom will come to you that way."