Jenny sent me Letters from a Skeptic by Dr. Gregory A. Boyd and his father, Edward K Boyd.
The book is a collection of correspondence between father and son, with the son being a Christian apologist and the father a skeptical unbeliever.
My first thought was to consider the book as just the material between the covers – find out what the relationship was – because, by the end of the correspondence, the father becomes a Christian.
The book was published as a guide to teaching Christians to communicate with the unbelievers within their circle of family, friends, maybe coworkers – people that you physically know.
Within that limited context, I did not expect the father to be an actual non-believer and skeptic, because most believers of these sorts, do not encounter actual skeptics. They encounter people who’ve been exposed to the religion as a given in childhood, but who have, over time, become disenchanted, disengaged and distant.
Which is a very different thing than a person who arrives as a realization that the premises upon which religion is founded, are baseless, unproven and no different than Santa Claus or Scientology.
I refer to Scientology in the sense that it’s origins are well documented – it was invented by L Ron Hubbard to make money and provide a universe for his science fiction writings to exist with.
In many ways, Xena the Warrior Princess can show us how religion works.
If you removed the gods and goddess characters from the Xena and Hercules shows – most of the episodes would remain unchanged – both Xena and Hercules lived their lives and carried out tasks based in the needs of the people in front of them.
They helped villages from being destroyed by warlords, retrieved stolen property and generally went around protecting people from harm.
If those programs only showed these episodes, they would still have been fun adventure stories – Xena and Hercules lived their lives based in the realities of their world and environment – despite the very real evidence that they had that the gods existed – Hercules being a half-god and both being able to talk to and interact with, the various gods.
But what if us as the audience didn’t get to see the gods or goddesses – we only saw what was evident in the world – characters who are then carrying out anything as being the will of gods or goddess then have some explaining to do about why they are sacrificing children or virgins….
And this is where the rubber meets the road with anyone who lives, not as if their religion is one possible one of many explanations, but rather as if their religion is the only possible explanation.
Which is why believers rely on Pascal’s Wager and binary restrict the options as either they are right or they are wrong – and they won’t accept they are wrong.
By getting dragged into the discussion on their terms, we have already lost.
Which is why the discussion has to change to being their terms.
So, the conversation can’t be religion vs science – but rather – religion vs naturalism.
Naturalism being the reality that the rest of us live in, science which is the study of nature, philosophy which is the study of the nature of existence, arts which is the study of humanity and how we interact with the components of our society and history.
We need to engage the religious and bring them into the natural reality in a way that allows them to keep their religious reality bubble inside them, but nested within an awareness of the natural world – being socially capable of functioning in a complex society with diversity and range of behaviours within a modern secular society.
Anyway, that’s the context that I am reading the book in.
I will go over the letters and discussion in future posts.
My second encounter with Scientology was in my mid 20s: me and a pal went to their centre to take their personality test. To be fair, we were wandering around Vancouver killing time between movies, saw the personality test sign and decided to have a laugh.
We asked for the test, with every intention of completing it honestly, but something happened to me within the first few questions. I realized the 200 multiple choice questions could all be boiled down to variations on 2 themes – how much of a sheep/follower are you and how well do you respond to corporal punishment.
Hardly a robust personality test, but then, I suppose, there is only one personality they are looking for: sheep who beleive they deserve to be beat.
I didn’t even read the test questions, I just skimmed the answers and marked whatever answer best involved being passive or beaten. It was a bit disappointing that they weren’t even smart enough to realize that the test should have taken more time, my pal who answered honestly, took almost an hour to complete the test. He was told he was artistic and mistrusted authority and was shown the street.
It’s also a bit surprising that the consistency of my responses didn’t raise any warning flags for them, but, I guess that might be expecting too much of people who are involved with the organization because they are followers who enjoy corporal punishment, for them to be suspicious of a random person off the street who scored as a perfect mark – to be something other than how they present.
The first person who debriefed me following the test was a seven year Scientology veteran, who was big on promises but not information.
I had heard that one thing scientologists do is to stare in your left eye to stimulate your emotions, to confuse you and make you be willing to agree to anything if they just stop staring. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but the next time you have a conversation with a person, notice their eyes and your eyes – during conversation, you look around the environment and so does the other person. Scientiologists in recruit mode do not – they blink, but they maintain a direct and continuous eye lock on your left eye exclusively.
I decided that if I was really going to make a night of it, that I wanted to go for broke, so I kept saying that I didn’t understand to the man how they can measure emotional pain all while staring at his left eye and not looking elsewhere.
Before too long, he was squirming in his chair and looking furtively around the room to find someone higher than himself to pawn me off on.
He brought me over to a desk where a woman took over my introduction – and she was a 15 year veteran who was well versed in the eye lock predator stare better than smart alec me who’d been able to bluff my way through the technique and throughly rattled the 7 year veteran.
So, the woman prattled on about the benefits of being clear and what a great community the church is – and she got the eye lock on me, and I found that I was soon feeling very distressed and a little panicky. I even forgot that being there was optional and that I could leave, such was the completeness of feeling trapped by the steady gaze.
So, I did the only thing I could think of – I flirted with her. Just outright said that I’d like some one on one with her. Nothing I would have said in a lesbian bar, but it had the effect that I was looking for: she broke her gaze, rolled backwards in her chair, turned bright red and began to stammer that they could fix me so I wouldn’t be gay anymore.
Seriously, they continued on as if the test I completed was real and ignored the evidence that suggested the test results weren’t real – I was argumentative, challenged their authority, disputed their claims and facts and asked about their testing methods.
I cant help but think they get so few people willing to talk to them, that they don’t seem to have a baseline for people who are entertaining themselves at the Scientology centre’s expense.
After I regain equilibrium by flirting, I was taken downstairs to a hallway where there was a number of doors opening into rooms no bigger than a small closet with a narrow table and two folding chairs – I was told to take the inside seat against the wall and immediately knew that this was a serious mistake.
I had visions of brainwashing until they showed me the measuring device – a simple volt meter with wires leading to metal toilet paper roll tubes. This was the measuring device – the best it could hope to measure would be a small electric current through my body or heat from my hands.
I was told to think of the happiest thing I had experienced and the meter read extremely happy – never mind that I was imagining my grandmother’s funeral from when I was 12.
Then I was told to remember a sad event, so I remembered how great it felt to ride my pony when I was a little girl. Yes, I had a pony at my other grandparent’s farm, his name was Raindrop:
Their meter registered whatever they asked me to feel and I went with the opposite feeling with no impact on the device at all. There was no tingle of current and the room was quite cool and squeezing the metal tubs had no impact, so there must have been a foot controller or some other out of sight control to make the meter’s needle register anything on the meter’s face – because it certainly wasn’t measuring emotions.
Unfortunately, by the time I got out of there, we had missed whatever the movie was – and my friend was waiting outside on the street for me. He said he’d been bum rushed out so fast and I’d taken so long, he was starting to consider getting the police to go in and get me.
At this point, I explained what I did on the test – and I think he was seriously annoyed that he hadn’t figured it out on his own, but then, he’d just gone to kill time and I had decided to run an experiement.
My first encounter with Scientology was an employer of mine – he was a convert and he enjoyed challenging his beliefs by debating with me – and even though he was a believer, he didn’t beleive all the stuff they tell to the punters – apparently, there’s levels to Scientology, so what you learn as an initiate is later changed – which is a clever way to deal with having claims proven bogus, is to admit that they are bogus until you attain a certain level of enlightenment and are given the real true truth.
I have to admire a religion that admits their public claims are foolish and only the true faithful are shown the truth – it’s a way to be able to constantly remake the religion as needed, by revealing ever new insider circles, leaving the followers to wonder if they will ever reach the final level.
After all, why quit when you’ve been in for so long and you must be close to the final secrets…..
Seriously, how could I possibly resist?
Sadly, I did find this in the humour section – and I objected very strenuously to the book store clerk – yes, I bought it in a bricks and mortar store, even though I put links to online book shopping sites.
Now, I am not totally endorsing on line instead of in store book buy – after all, on line is great for a lot of shopping, but I just prefer my book experience to be a sensual journey of touch and smell.
Sorry, drooled a moment there.
The Pocket Guide to the Afterlife – 91 Places Death Might Take You was written by Augusta Moore and Elizabeth Ripley.
The 91 religions are all in the tags – sorry, couldn’t do all the funky international symbols.
What struck me the most – well, right after all these religions being able to be condensed into 2 or 3 pages of a slightly larger than a pocket book – nice to have the high level overview and not bog down in details.
What struck me the most was that a lot more religions than I realized expect to reincarnate. Some you can come back as anything, any other animal, plant or rocks even. In others, you are human and human alone, and your journey is being different kinds of humans. In others, what and how you reincarnate depends on how you behaved now and in past lives.
But the goal of all the reincarnation, living lives and learning, is to get to oblivion. And it seems to me that that is a lot of time and energy to get to a state, that on the balance, is pretty much were we go after death.
When you compare the religions that have clothing requirements, it’s almost like being a trend pimp in high school – plain clothes, over everything clothes, special hats, special hair styles – or no hair – and then there’s food.
Eat this, don’t eat that, you can eat that but not on magic days of the week.
Worst of all there’s the constant having to achieve a behaviour code that basically is anything that our natural incline is bad – whether it really is bad or not.
As of the book’s publishing, there are only 4 Quakers left. Why? They don’t beleive in sex. At all. Ever. Not even missionary. Ever.
The other enlightening part is how many times religions have rolled into another. Vodoo and Vodun have both rolled into Catholicism by simply matching their plethora of spirits to the plethora of Saints that the CC has. And they do all match up.
It struck me too that Catholicism is not a monotheistic religion – you’ve got god, jesus and the holy ghost, who also combine a trinity – but then there’s Mary and all the saints who are also prayed to and worshiped. Pretty Pantheonic by any standard.
But, even it’s all read, compared and giggled over, there is one truth that rings loud and in a clear and unmistakeable tone.
The major function of religion is not to define us as groups of people, despite being largely geographically determined who’s in one versus another.
It’s not to to provide moral guidance through our lives, as, most of the requirements are nonsensical, impossible standards and make life rather joyless. (Seriously Quakers, you shoulda thought of that one). For most, the commandments and requirements are also about worship the deity and authority – there’s nothing moral about that – and in fact blind authority worship will result in a general worsening of society.
The theme that rings clear and loud is that religions are all designed to make people accept their lot in life – especially those in the poorer categories.
Oh, you have to work off your bad karma from your last life, oh you must learn the lesson of humility, harder for the rich to get into heaven so be glad you’re poor.
There is nothing noble about grinding poverty, nothing truthful about being working poor.
If rich people really beleive that being poor is the way to heaven, then why do they stay rich? I know politicians cost a lot, but if they really beleive, shouldn’t they be poor too?
The purpose of religion is to maintain the status quo, so the poor do not rise up and demand the equality we claim our society offers. So they do not share in the benefits of their labour in order to obtain education and bring themselves up the socio-economic ladder.
Especially all the ones who claim to be about Jesus – a guy who didn’t own a horse, wore long hair and sandals and hung out with 12 guys and never married.
Hmm, doesn’t sound like the Evangelical way of huge missions, universities, fleets of cars and planes, tv networks, theme parks with waterslides, expensive suits and, well, with all that money, they should be able to get better haircuts.
It’ exhausting. If people sat down and read a book that provided just a short overview of what religions claim – their creation story, their god’s personality, the after death scenarios, you’d start to see that it’s all pretty random and a bit nutty.
I mean, as silly as a believer of one finds everyone else’s religion, so do they all find yours funny too.
So, why not enjoy them for the art works they inspired, as literature.
It’s not hard to be a good person – it’s the giving yourself persmission to be that good person.
It’s easy. Don’t kill except in defense of yourself or others.
Don’t assault or rape other people, especially children. You’d hope that this would be obvious, but it clearly isn’t to a lot of religions.
Don’t steal from people or businesses, it’s not yours until you pay for it.
Letting go of your gods will not turn you into a genocidal raping and pillaging crazed person, but there’s a lot of evidence that hanging onto a god will turn you into just that.