Yesterday I took the #2 bus up Sunset to the Arclight theater in Hollywood to see the documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief*. There are already numerous articles on the movie all over the Interwebs. The most succinct one I’ve found is on the Los Angeles Magazine website. Salon.com also has a very good interview with author Lawrence Wright, whose book inspired the film.
There wasn’t much in the film that I’d never heard before about Scientology. I knew they had boatloads of money. If you live in Los Angeles you’re constantly confronted with large, prominent reminders of just how much property the church of Scientology owns. In fact, the Arclight theater is just a few blocks away from the gigantic Scientology center that was once the Cedars of Lebanon hospital seen in the Three Stooges’ Oscar nominated film Men in Black.
I knew John Travolta and Tom Cruise were members and that the church allegedly used information gathered in their “auditing” sessions as a way of blackmailing members who want to leave. What’s amazing is that the church is now apparently trying to prove this allegation is true by using information presumably gathered during these sessions to mount a smear campaign against the ex-Scientologists who appear in the film.
I also knew their theology was based on a really bad sci-fi story concocted by founder L. Ron Hubbard, who started his career as a pulp science fiction writer. I saw it all on that one South Park episode. The movie gives you a few more details about the story of Xenu the Galactic Overlord that the South Park episode omits.
Which is basically what I got out of the film; stories I’d heard before only this time with a lot more detail.
Since I’m working on starting my own cult here in Los Angeles, I was watching the film with an eye on what to do and what not to do. Actually, I hope my proposed center doesn’t turn into a cult and I don’t think it will as long as I’m around. But you never know where things will go.
Lots of people these days like to point out that the wacky theology of places like the Church of Scientology or the Mormons is not that much crazier than stuff you can find in the Bible, the Torah, and similar writings revered by other mainstream religions including Buddhism. This is a good point, I think.
It seems to me that in this life you often have to choose your delusions. You need to decide which set of crazy ideas works best for you. To me, it makes the most sense to believe in things that are rational and provable. But then you have to wonder if you are really capable of judging.
For example, I believe in science. I’m typing these words on a very sophisticated piece of equipment that exists because lots of people in the past experimented with things in the physical world to see how they actually worked. They developed theories and tested them to see if they fit the facts. Theories that didn’t fit the facts were discarded. Even the ones that did fit the facts were only accepted provisionally until such time as flaws were discovered, at which point those theories were either discarded or modified.
But there are limits to how far we can trust this stuff. Scientology is supposedly intended to bridge the gap between science and theology. The organization has developed a whole slew of machinery that is supposed to prove that their theories are correct. And many claim that these machines do exactly what they say they do. Those e-meters look pretty hokey to me. But I am unqualified to test those machines, so I can’t really say for certain.
In any case, I choose not to follow Scientology because their particular set of delusions do not appeal to me. Their vision of the ideal person looks to me like a big Type-A douchebag with lots of money and a thirst for control. That’s not who I aspire to be. But I can see that if you do aspire to be that kind of person, Scientology can probably help you achieve that.
But then I ask myself, is Zen any less delusional? I certainly think it is. Rather than believing in Xenu the Galactic Overlord, John Smith and his disappearing tablets, Jesus Christ rising from the dead, or even the various marks that supposedly proved Buddha was, if not precisely divine, at least a superior human being, Zen Buddhists don’t have any standard set of required beliefs.
Yet I had a certain degree of faith that my teachers were not lying to me. I felt something from them. Some kind of inner peace that had come as the result of their sitting practice. Just like someone who comes to Scientology because they want to be as rich and powerful as Tom Cruise, I started doing zazen because I wanted to feel the kind of inner peace my teachers seemed to possess.
After more than thirty years of working with this practice, I haven’t had any reason to doubt its effectiveness. Though I have had plenty of reasons to doubt my own understanding of it. I’m not really sure why it works. I know that zazen practice alone can’t keep a person from being an asshole, that it doesn’t cure cancer, that it can’t save your relationships or net you a six figure income. Even so, it has made every single aspect of my life better.
I’m sure John Travolta would tell me the same thing about Scientology. I’m not precisely sure why, though, but I know I wouldn’t believe that.
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*If you have HBO and can record the movie when it plays there on March 29th and you want to send me that recording, please let me know.
April 3, 2015 Pomona, CA Open Door 2 Yoga 6 pm 163 W 2nd St, Pomona, California 91766
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I need your money way ore than Scientology does. So send your donation intended for them to me instead!