A couple of weeks ago there was a bit of a stir on the teh internetz when some truly comical videos leaked from behind the sealed doors of Scientology. One was of Tom Cruise in a promotional video of some sort, and the other was of his acceptance speech on received an award for valour. Quite how one wins an award for valour when one’s personal achievements basically involve exploiting the insecurities of the gullible for astronomical quantities of cash is a little beyond me, but valour it was.
I have nothing against these videos. They are hilarious, and they show up Scientology for the brilliantly ludicrous nonsense that it is. They also offer an unparalleled opportunity to have a bloody good snigger at one of the most deluded loons since Michael Jackson giving free reign to a brilliantly vainglorious Messiah Complex. In other words, it makes them all look like twats, and it’s great. Is religious belief, something we think to be so profound and important, really such a trivial phenomenon that it can be generated by something this blatantly idiotic in such a short space of time? Splendidly, the answer appears to be ‘yes’.
And then I thought about the American elections, because religion is at the fore like never before. It reflects very, very badly on the American population as a whole that it would actually be impossible for a declared atheist to be elected president of their country. In fact, people have been falling so desperately over themselves to declare the depth of their religious convictions, whatever they might be, that something has managed to slip quite neatly through the net: Mitt Romney is a Mormon. I know this has generated plenty of discussion in the United States, so to say that it has escaped scrutiny is a little false, but it has been the wrong kind of scrutiny. People have questioned him on his beliefs and he has declared them immune to political examination and exempt from debate.
What far too few have pointed out is that they are fucking insane. And this is where Scientology comes in. I doubt anyone would have any issue with mocking Scientologists for the basic silliness of their beliefs. Aliens, volcanoes – I mean it’s just hilariously infantile. So infantile, to be honest, that it borders on being a learning disability. But Mormonism is no more than a slightly older version of something equally foolish: it centres around the self-declared deification of a certain Mr. Joseph Smith almost two-hundred years ago. It’s just as preposterous, but that hundred years or so has been enough to remove it from the sort of entirely justified derision that Scientologists have to put up with, to the sort of beliefs from whose questioning Mitt Romney can declare immunity due to religion. He thinks it is wrong to ask questions such as why his church permits polygamy and only changed its stance that interracial marriages were forbidden by god as recently as 1978. While, presumably, he was a living, practising Mormon.
So how old does a cult have to be before it is sanctified as a religion? Or is it a question of numbers? Ultimately, I reckon that Christianity will have to embrace and legitimise Scientology as a proper faith, rather than a joke. Why? Because they are qualitatively identical. All religions basically rely on a belief in magic – on believing in the occurrence of events which, judging from all the physical evidence we have before us on this planet, are impossible. It is about faith, not evidence, that is the fundamental tenet of the entire concept. The Christians will have to accept Scientology because there is no argument that can refute it that would no apply equally to their own superstitions*. That is why they have to accept the equally silly Mormonism.
Their mutual enemy is reason and evidence, and ultimately that will bring them together. For what are the Abrahamic religions more than an equally magical set of stories that have only achieved their exalted status in our society by dint of age and weight of numbers – they are in no substantive way different from Scientology. I watch Obama furiously professing his Christianity, Romney babbling on about Mormonism and Cruise doing a wonderful impression of Tony Blair’s demon eyes and I honestly can’t can’t see much difference.
Of course, the biggest problem with accepting religion into political discourse is not one based on the atheism, it is based on plurality. A leader has no place making ostentatious public displays of their beliefs not because they should be ashamed of them or that they are wrong, but because they are supposed to represent all of us. Declaring something a religious belief and hence inviolate terminates debate, and debate is democracy. Beliefs have no place in political debate precisely because there are too many of them. Faith can justify anything, no matter how stupid, be it the stoning to death of rape victims for adultery or the existence of alien souls in mystical volcanoes. Reason and premise, argument and evidence are the only bases on which to debate and conduct goverment.
Otherwise we will end up with a fucking Scientologist in charge one of these days – probably bewilderingly soon, actually. Go watch Battlefield fucking Earth and tell those fuckwits in the primaries to fucking well keep their faith to themselves in future.
Bob Dylan – With God on Our Side
Willard Grant Conspiracy – Evening Mass
Half Man Half Biscuit – God Gave Us Life
Crash Test Dummies – God Shuffled His Feet Yes, I actually do like this song, so fuck you.
*Unless of course any documentary evidence comes to light supporting the oft-repeated rumour that Scientology was born of a bet made between founder L. Ron Hubbard and Arthur C. Clarke some fifty years ago. That might change matters, as well as being hilariously funny.