Monday, March 26, 2007

Scientology Ahoy!

I've really been laying hard into Christianity in this journal because it is, without doubt, the most powerful religion in America as well as the specific religion that Simon Peter is about, obviously.

However, the character of Jesus in Simon Peter is definitely an amalgam of characters. One of the figures that plays a reasonably big role in the personality of Jesus, in my book, is . . . L. Ron Hubbard. A great online resource is The Bare-Faced Messiah. It's an out-of-print, unauthorized biography of Hubbard and an utterly fascinating read, and a good place to start to learn about Scientology in an entertaining way.

More than any other self-proclaimed messiah, Hubbard embodies the con-man who got suckered into believing his lies. No one believes that Hubbard, originally, was sincere. Enough of his former friends and associates have come forward and said, more or less, that he started a religion to make money – that the talents of a science-fiction writer were wasted writing stories when there were other sheep to fleece. (Since he died worth hundreds of millions of dollars, there's probably something to that. Assuming, of course, that you could look at yourself in the mirror after selling bogus spirituality to needy people.) By the end of his life, few will doubt that he was a complete nutjob, that he was a paranoid, a sexual deviant and quite possibly schizophrenic.

How was he paranoid? Well, after having legal problems in several countries – the US, UK, Germany, Australia – it occurred to him that “70% of the world was without government”. The ocean! So he made this little Scientology navy, the Sea Org, where he went for years going from port to port. Eventually, so many ports in the Mediterranean were closed to Hubbard that he snuck back into the United States where he eventually died.

The Sea Org had some . . . interesting facts about it. One of them was the origin of the Rehabilitation Project Force, the RPF. In Scientology, the two worst sins are “overts” and “withholds” -- which are lies and secrets in English. If you do overts or withholds during “auditing” (the crude bio-feedback enhanced therapy sessions of Scientology) it is possible that you'll be put on the RPF.

When you're on the RPF, you are used for slave labor. I am not exaggerating. You're used for unpaid labor for an indefinite period of time, usually with sleep deprivation and inadequate nutrition. Some people were (and perhaps are) in the RPF for a year or two. You can't leave until they let you. It's literally slave labor.

In the Sea Org, the RPFers would be kept entirely below decks where they'd do the worst jobs – cleaning bilges, chipping paint or rust in bilges and other inaccessible parts of the ships, things like that. Landward, RPFers are often doing manual labor like ditch digging or clearing land.

Another thing that Hubbard started on the Sea Org was the use of “messengers”. Messengers were pretty pre-teen girls that would serve Hubbard – they say not that way, but one of the things they would do is sleep with him. Naked. They would also be his mouthpiece to the fleet, giving his messages – more than a few of them got drunk with this power and became petty tyrants in their own right. But Hubbard liked 'em young, so when they got too sexually developed they got the heave-ho. He also, apparently, often publicly humiliated them if they didn't do things the exact proper way; several of Hubbard's messengers have left Scientology and appear quite emotionally scarred by it.

Speaking of heave-hos, one of the common methods of punishing people would be throwing them off the ship into the water. The main ship of the fleet was a converted cargo ship, and the drop was something like a hundred feet, and often the water itself was cold and choppy. This could happen to a person several times in a row. More than one port revoked their rights based on this punishment.

While in the Sea Org, Hubbard would also go on imaginary treasure hunts. He would say he had a past-life memory of some buried treasure or the other, order the Sea Org to the spot and start trying to find it. Due to the paranoia with which Hubbard regarded all governments, he didn't bother to tell the government or get permission to do treasure hunting and, as a result, caused all sorts of problems for himself because this was during the Cold War. His treasure hunting looked a lot like espionage and his evasions seemed to confirm it.

I could go on for a long time on this vein, but I think my audience out there is seeing what I mean. Hubbard is one of the paradigmic historical messiahs. A sexually deviant person that gets drunk on power and orders people to do the craziest things and acts self-destructively. It's really easy to laugh at the galactic overlord Xenu and body thetans . . . and why not? They're fuckin' funny! But Hubbard isn't funny, really. He was a power drunk madman who's destroyed innumerable lives.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Where Do Gods Come From, Again?

In 1898, in Kenya, two lions killed around 140 people. The Tsavo brothers managed to do this in 1898 in a camp with a dozen people with guns capable of dropping a rhino. The Champawat tiger killed over four hundred people before being shot in 1907.

Could you imagine what it would be like living near something like the Tsavo brothers or the Champawat tiger not in the 19th or 20th century, but, say, the Late Stone Age? These cunning animals killed around six hundred people between them.

Could you imagine what would happen if a lion was terrorizing your community and one man went out and killed it? What would you do?

Well, you'd probably name him Hercules and deify him.

Likewise, a lot of early religions have the gods battling fierce animals. So you have Gilgamesh taking the bull by the horns and killing it. This is mimicked by Mithras defeat of Taurus the Cosmic Bull. Ragnarok is an orgy of wolf on god violence – and, overwhelmingly, the wolves win. Skoll eats the sun, Hati will eat the moon, Fenrir will eat Odin, Garm will kill and be killed by Tyr.

As an urban youth, I was actually slightly confused about the stories of the Nemean Lion and the Cosmic Bull. I thought to myself, “They're just animals.” I think this is commonplace. We have forgotten the power of animals, because for tens of thousands of years in our pre-history, humans waged a terrible struggle against these animals whose conclusion was not obvious to the humans at the time. We can't even imagine what it must be like to try to fight a bull, wolf, tiger, bear or lion with an underpowered bow and spear with a chip of stone for a tip – especially if that animal had already killed someone. Or, perhaps, literally dozens or even hundreds of people. How does a person face it? I suspect, usually they don't survive and either the man-eater destroys the community, moves on or dies of something else. Even a bull, which wouldn't be given to killing humans, could do terrible damage to a fragile neolithic community, quite capable of destroying houses and barns back when they were made of fragile mud and wattle, shattering the jars where grain was stored and generally creating an awesome fuss.

Now, two points. The first is that such an animal could easily be considered divine, either sent by the gods as an affliction or actually being the physical presence of a god. It would be considered unstoppable. Thus all the animal motif gods and goddesses in that old time religion. Before humans had technologically developed enough to protect themselves from animal attacks, there would be pretty good reason to at least consider the possibility that animals – especially large, dangerous ones – were divine. (And, if they were man-eaters, that they were akin to demon gods, thus the Norse obsession with god killing wolves or monstrous Nemean lions and their kin.)

The second point is that if someone did manage to kill one of these monsters they would take on special significance. If a man-eating lion is considered divine, certainly the person who fought and killed such a beast must, therefore, be divine – a god or sent by the gods. Hell, even today if someone killed a man-eating lion not with a gun, not even with a spear, but a club we'd be intensely impressed.

Usually, when people talk about the formation of religion they attribute it to crude attempts to understand the world around them. Arthur Schopenhauer pointed out (in On the Freedom of the Will and perhaps other places) that the difference between your body and all other matter in the universe is that your body is matter that obeys your will directly. So, in primitive times, the hypothesis goes, people attributed all motion to some will – the wind blows not because of differences of heat and pressure in the atmosphere over large areas but because a spirit (a word whose etymology, in nearly all languages, comes from “breath”) wills it to occur. The sun rises and sets not because the earth is rotating on it's axis in revolution around a star, but because a divine force carries it across the sky. The earth moves not because of tectonic activity, but because a divine force causes the ground to shake.

I suspect there is some truth to this. But in most religions before there is a sky god or an earth god there are beast gods. Thus, the neolithic gods such as Coyote or Raven. Or even the bestial Pan and Zeus' numerous transformations into animals (usually to rape some poor woman) and his frequent identification as a bull. Before most people started developing human-shaped gods we developed ones based on animals.

Mostly it has to do with technological development. In neolithic and moreso in paleolithic times, animals could seem to have it pretty good. Not just the big, dangerous ones, either. But while humans are freezing at wintertimes, man animals simply grow a new coat of heavy fur to survive the winter. Animals were, generally, faster and seemed stronger than humans, and rather than having to depend on crude tools they were naturally equipped with claws, teeth, horns – not to mention, sometimes, wings. Very primitive technology didn't seem nearly as good as the things animals were born having.

Also, before the invention of animal husbandry, how did anyone know how clever animals were or weren't? Was the howling of wolves singing in a tongue no person understood? The grunts and snorts of a bull a language unknown to humans? After all, animals seemed to have complex social rituals as well as knowledge of events humans didn't seem to have – such as running ahead of a fire before humans could smell, hear or see it. Without the knowledge of animal husbandry, before humans had prolonged contact with any animals, how could we judge their intelligence at all?

Our first gods were animals, in short, because they could kick our asses. Faster, stronger, able to survive without needing fire, or spears – independent and free – animals were often thought of humans to be superior to humans. I think it was only with the advent of animal husbandry and metallurgy – themselves acts attributed to divine skill – was it that humans started looking for humanocentric and then abstract gods. It took a while for us to be filled with enough pride in our own skill to believe human-like gods worth worshiping and even a little while longer to imagine transcendent gods. But in the beginning, humans worshiped animals because, well, they deserved it. They appeared divine.

Epilogue: I am also thinking that the very notion of placating gods (and the elaborate rituals around that) might have come from the animal worship phase of human pre-history. While it is patently absurd to placate the sun, it is possible to placate a dangerous animal. So, leaving a single goat tied to an altar so the wolves eat that, get their fill and then ignore the rest of your herd in the barn – well, that could happen. That could work. Then, when more human-like and then transcendent gods started replacing animal gods, the sacrifices were transferred over to the new gods even though placation is impossible (thus also the tendency, over time, for sacrifices to be useful to priests and not gods – sacrificing a goat makes sense if you're trying to give a wolf a full belly to save the rest of your stock, but there's only so many goats that a priest could possibly use so, y'know, why not give money instead).

Epilogue 2: The main reason I wrote this is because on a couple of different blogs have spread the sentiments of the post under this link relating Christianity to solar cults around. I am generally of the opinion that solar worship is a very civilized thing and while I think that Christianity does have a lot in common with solar cults (notably, Mithraism from which Christianity stole so much, from virgin births to last suppers to birthdays, tho' I also think that Christianity has been stripped of almost all it's solar content), I don't think that the origins of religion have much to do with the weather which wasn't nearly as important during the pre-civilized periods of human history during which religion developed.

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