Scientology and the Prison of Intestinal Distress

I arrived in Helsinki, Finland yesterday (Monday May 21) at around 4:30 in the afternoon. On Sunday I got on an Air France flight bound for Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris that departed from LAX at 3:15pm. I changed planes in Paris for a Finnair flight to Helsinki. All told, I was in the air for about 15 hours.

I hate flying. Especially long flights. They do bad mojo to my guts. The vegetarian meals they serve on planes always seem to be full of beans, which makes things even worse. By the time I landed in Helsinki yesterday I was in considerable abdominal pain. And sleep deprived. And I had a pretty intense headache.

Every time I arrive in Europe I make a vow to myself that this will be the last time I do one of these excursions. A year later, I’m always back.

A couple days before I left I was at the Out of the Closet thrift shop in Echo Park, not far from where I live in Los Angeles. There I picked up a copy of the book Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief for a dollar. That’s what I ended up reading for most of the flight.

That book was made into a movie a few years ago. I saw the movie at the Arclight Theater on Sunset Boulevard, just a couple miles from the giant Scientology center. That center was once a hospital. And that hospital once appeared in a Three Stooges film. And that Three Stooges film was nominated for an Oscar. Don’t say you never learned anything from my blog!

I’m only a little way into the book. It’s interesting reading about L. Ron Hubbard. The author paints a largely negative picture of Scientology and its founder. Yet he admits that Scientology does seem to have some real benefits to its practitioners. It couldn’t have been so successful if it didn’t.

Religions founded by people nearer in time and space to us have a particular quirk that ancient religions do not. Which is that we can know a lot of details about the people who started them that we can’t know about the people who started very ancient faiths.

For example, I learned yesterday, between my bouts of gastro-intestinal distress, that L. Ron Hubbard worried that he masturbated too much. He also trained himself to have up to eight orgasms a day. Which is something one trains oneself to do by masturbating too much, I would assume.

You just don’t know that level of detail about guys like Buddha or Jesus Christ. If we did know those sorts of details about our ancient religious founders, we might have a different impression about them.

We also know a lot about where L. Ron Hubbard’s ideas came from, who he hung out with, what his influences were. Whereas we don’t really know, for example, what aspects of Jesus’ teachings came from John the Baptist. We have a bit of info about some of the Buddha’s teachers, but what we know about them doesn’t amount to much.

Also, our ancient teachers end up being kind of composite characters. It’s pretty evident that a lot of what’s in the New Testament comes from Greek philosophies that were added later rather than from Jesus himself. The words of the Buddha weren’t written down until something like 400 years after he died, so we can be pretty sure a lot of stuff got added in or changed over the centuries.

When it comes to L. Ron Hubbard, we have the books he actually typed out himself, as well as a whole lot of recordings of his lectures. Even when it comes to Dogen, 800 years ago, we have a lot of the man’s words preserved in his actual handwriting.

As a consequence, we know these more recent figures better. Because of that, they don’t seem so holy to us. They might be regarded as very wise — geniuses even. But they don’t have that special glow that really ancient teachers do, where we can imagine them as infallible or as possessing supernatural powers.

When it comes to someone like me, and you know that I get gas on long plane flights, how can I ever seem enlightened?

This is why I always approach stories about ancient teachers with a high degree of skepticism. Back when I was a student at Kent State University in Ohio and the campus ministry people regaled me with stories of Christ’s miracles, I couldn’t take that stuff very seriously. If the reason to have faith in Jesus was what they told me it was — namely because he had superpowers — then I couldn’t have any faith in Jesus because I didn’t believe he had superpowers. It would be like having faith in Aquaman or something. It was too easy to debunk.

On the other hand, this is also why I don’t put a whole lot of stock in the writings, tweets, and YouTube videos of the current crop of neo-atheists like Richard Dawkins and pals. All they seem to be able to debunk is the really easy aspects of religious faith. Like the belief that we should have faith in Jesus because he could walk on water. It’s too simple to refute that. But there are deeper aspects to Christian faith that are harder to discredit and those neo-atheist smarty-pants guys never seem to want to go there.

I’m rambling now. I’m still pretty jet-lagged. This time of year, the sun sets in southern Finland at about 10:30pm and rises again at around 4am. I managed to sleep most of the night, but just barely.

Tomorrow, I’m doing my first event here. I’m speaking in Turku with my friend Essi who is deeply into Discordianism. The event is called Don’t Be a Jerk and it’s at a place called Bar Ö in downtown Turku. It ought to be a fun event, so come along if you can.

After that I’m leading a retreat out in the countryside far north of Helsinki. Then I’m on my way to Vienna, where I’ve got three talks scheduled. Then I head for Munich for a talk and a retreat day. After that, there are a couple other retreats in Germany. The one at Domicillium only has a handful of participants registered so far. Please show up and keep us company if you’re able to. The other retreats and talks are pretty full, but could still take more people, so don’t be shy. After that I’m off to England for a retreat in Hebden Bridge and a couple of events in London. All of these events are open to anyone who wants to join.

It’s all listed below, including links for how to sign up. I hope to see some of you there!




May 28, 2018 VIENNA, AUSTRIA TALK: The Art of Sitting Down and Shutting up

May 29, 2018 VIENNA, AUSTRIA TALK: Don’t Be A Jerk -Applying Dogen’s Teaching

May 30, 2018 VIENNA, AUSTRIA: Hardcore Zen Dharmatalk









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