Human Rights

June 26, 2013

This day will go down in the History books as the day America FINALLY got up off of its ass and supported marriage equality for ALL.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court decided today that the federal Defense of Marriage act is unconstitutional and invalidated it. The Defense of Marriage act prevented those same-sex couples legally married in their state from receiving the federal benefits those in “traditional” marriages enjoyed. This landmark decision means that the federal government may no longer discriminate against same-sex couples and allows those legally married in their state to be treated just like everyone else.

I am completely ecstatic and couldn’t be more proud to be an American than I am right now.

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(Photos taken by Andrew Burton / Getty Images from NBCpolitics.NBCnews.com)

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Ridiculous Religion: Scientology

I had to start another mini-series highlighting some of the other more interesting religions in the world because, let’s face it, Christianity is not the only one! I figured the best way to start this series is with one of the more ridiculous religions out there: Scientology.

What it’s all about:

Scientology was created by a man named L. Ron Hubbard who, after writing a sort-of self-help book called, Dianetics, determined that his findings were the foundation for a new religion. Dianetics was a psychotherapy book which used the method of auditing as a counseling technique to help people recall traumatic events. Through recalling these traumatic experiences, people were then able to become aware of and release their conscious or unconscious, negative responses to them — a process known as clearing. e-meter_0

These techniques are put to practice in the Scientology religion using Auditors and E-Meters. Auditors are higher level operating thetans (otherwise know as OTs) who are trained and trusted with helping pre-clears (those who have not cleared yet) discover their full spiritual potential. E-Meters are religious artifacts that send tiny electric pulses through one’s body, calculate the response and reflect that response back to the machine using a sensitive, reactive needle. The Church of Scientology describes the E-Meter as follows:

“The E-Meter measures the spiritual state or change of state of a person and thus is of enormous benefit to the auditor in helping the preclear locate areas to be handled. The reactive mind’s hidden nature requires the use of a device capable of registering its effects—a function the E-Meter does accurately. Different needle movements have exact meanings and the skill of an auditor includes a complete understanding of all meter reactions. Using the meter, the auditor ensures that the process covers the correct area in order to discharge the harmful energy connected with that portion of the preclear’s reactive mind. When charge lessens, the person heightens his ability to think clearly in the area being addressed and his survival potential increases proportionately. As a result, the preclear discovers things about himself and his life—new realizations about existence, the milestones that mark his gains.” (source)

After a person completes this auditing process and “clears” they then begin to move up to different levels within the religion. Different levels of people know different things and each level provides more knowledge, techniques and answers for why we are here and what we are meant to do. Each level is sworn to complete secrecy and before the records were released as evidence in a court case in 1995, no one really knew what Scientologists actually believed. The church claimed the secrecy was/is to prevent those who were not yet ready from being exposed to the information and taking it out of context. That information? Buckle your seat belts kids because here we go:

I mentioned the word, Thetan previously and you all are probably curious as to what that is. Well, a thetan is you — your essence, your soul. It is “the individualized expression of the cosmic source, or life force.” (source) A long, long time ago, thetans created the material universe for their own pleasure. They did not create it in the sense that it was then physically there, but in the sense that they all agreed it was there and therefore, it was. When the thetans began to believe in their universe and feel that it was a physical reality, they fell from grace and lost their memory of their true spiritual selves. This resulted in the thetans believing that they were physical beings. Thetans never die but are instead reborn when they “assume” new physical forms. According to L. Ron Hubbard, there have been various cosmic catastrophes imparted on the fallen thetans that he refers to as “space opera.”

So, how did humans come to Earth to be assumed by thetans you ask? The answer is obvious:

Xenu, a tyrant ruler of the galactic confederacy, brought billions of people to Earth 75 million years ago on planes, landed them by volcanos and then detonated hydrogen bombs causing the thetans to attach themselves to those humans that were still alive.

I’m serious. You can’t make that shit up. Well… I guess L. Ron Hubbard can.

Anywho, that event was the initial cause of all human trauma and as each thetan assumes body after body, each traumatic event experienced while in that body is brought forward to the next. People who reach higher OT levels are able to tap into all of these traumatic events (the ill effects of the thetan) and release them, allowing themselves to be more in tune with their original spiritual presence. The idea is that they become more and more in-tune with their spiritual presence as they assume body after body. There is even a Scientology symbol carved into the ground in Trementina, New Mexico that marks a spot for loyal followers to return back to when traveling from other galactic locations. This symbol is visible from the air and, buried beneath it, are stainless steel copies of L. Ron Hubbard’s works encased in titanium for preservation.

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Why it’s harmful to society:

Uh… do I really have to go there? It’s completely ridiculous, that’s why! Ok, ok. Believing that a virgin in the middle east birthed a white baby that walked on water, and healed the sick and dying/already dead, died a mortal, torturous death nailed to a cross but was somehow later strong enough to not only return to life but move a giant boulder away from his grave door (couldn’t use that strength previously to push his way past his prosecutors and torturers to freedom and safety) to float up into the sky and save everyone from the sins that his own father made them commit is just as ridiculous! So, fine. I’ll go there. 🙂

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Arguably the most harmful thing about this religion is that it was thought up entirely by one man and yet gained so much trust amongst its followers that it rapidly grew and continues to grow today. The scriptures consist solely of the writings of L. Ron Hubbard and the teachings/sermons during Sunday services are meant to only help one understand them, not interpret them. Christianity is harmful in the same way except that, at least in this case, we know who the author of the book is and with no room for interpretation, there can only be one sect of Scientology!

Because of its rapid growth and acceptance, Scientology has been regarded (and rightfully so, I believe) as a brainwashing cult. It is by far the most expensive religion to be a part of as each audit, and each OT level require a HUGE amount of money to complete. This tends to be why it appeals only to rich people, including celebrities. Hubbard actually decided early on in the creation of Scientology that celebrities would play a key role in the dissemination of his religion and had his followers go after specific celebrities to initiate conversion.

Scientology is not recognized by some states internationally as being a genuine religion and was even stripped of its religious organization status by America in the 1970’s. It was later reinstated in the 1990’s with its religious, tax-free affiliation after a long, drawn out legal battle ensued. The fact that any state or country would even waiver on the decision of whether a practice is actually a religion or not should be a huge red flag to any potential follower. Religions are wacky anyways, but if it is so wacky that a country won’t even recognize it, you should be even more hesitant to join.

Another harmful idea born out of Scientology is their belief that the practice of psychiatry is harmful and should be abolished. They believe that psychiatrists can not adequately and responsibly help their patients retrieve traumatic experiences and that they are even less capable of helping them deal with these experiences appropriately and in manner that won’t cause further harm to the patient. Scientologists feel that psychiatric practices are abusive and therefore do not seek help from professionals if/when they should.

Why it’s not as bad as the others:

This quote is direct form the Church of Scientology website:

Scientology believes Man to be basically good, not evil. It is Man’s experiences that have led him to commit evil deeds, not his nature. Often, he mistakenly seeks to solve his problems by considering only his own interests, which then causes trouble for both himself and others. Scientology believes that Man advances to the degree that he preserves his spiritual integrity and values and remains honest and decent. Indeed, he deteriorates to the degree that he abandons these qualities.” (source)

Ultimately, the view that humans are basically good is a beneficial one that can only positively progress society. It still holds everyone accountable to themselves, but not just for themselves, for the greater good. The focus of this religion is to become more in-tune with yourself in order to be a more useful and effective member of society. It talks a lot about helping others and making a positive impact on the world.

The Church of Scientology has been responsible for several human rights movements centered around non-discrimination of race, color and creed in either government sanctions or otherwise — which is a good thing. However, their creed talks only about the rights of “men” and makes no real mention of any of the more active human rights campaigns today (i.e. homosexual marriage, women’s equality, etc). So, while they might be on the right track, I doubt the Church of Scientology will be spearheading the success of any big human rights campaign.

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My Soap Box

I firmly believe that atheists should have a bigger voice in this world. We should not allow ourselves to remain sequestered for fear of what others (namely employers, family, friends, potential constituents, etc) will think of us if we don’t. Personally, I’m done with hiding my non-belief. I’m over just answering with a “No” when asked if I go to church. It’s time to start answering, “No, I do not because I am an Atheist” instead because I want them to inquire about it. I want people to start thinking differently about atheism and what it means. I want Americans to begin accepting openly atheist people into their government and local positions of power. We are not evil. We are not immoral. We are not devoid of meaning in our lives.

To me, religion as it stands today is a disease. It is a disease that is spreading through the weak and the weary spreading ignorance and turning us on each other. It has created a culture in which one is not allowed to be happy with themselves or with anyone else if what makes them happy is outside of their religious doctrine. Religion suppresses people. It suppresses progress and tolerance and it suppresses growth and personal responsibility.

If it were up to me, people would practice or not practice any religion they choose if it makes them happy and fulfills their life but also understand that each person is different and will have different views of what that fulfillment looks like. Unfortunately, religious people can’t seem to recognize that those outside of their religion are just like them — they have dreams and goals and families. Instead, they view someone else’s happiness in another religion as dangerous and ignorant. They kill people who are different than they are because they are viewed as a threat. Ok, death is on the extreme end of this spectrum but, you get the point.

What I want to know is this: Why can’t people just be happy for people who are happy? Why do we have to be right all the time? Why do we have to be in everyone else’s business and personal life? If people are not pursuing personal happiness at the expense of others (i.e. murder, rape, burglary, etc.) then why do so many feel so inclined to stop them? Let them be gay. Let them be nerdy. Let them be Muslim or Jewish or atheist. And you should expect the same respect in return.

There is a huge movement happening in this country to put an end to bullying. While it’s great to teach your kids not to bully others, we should consider leading by example first. Adults in this country are bullying each other every day. There are idiots at all ends of the spectrum looking down on those opposite them while belittling, hurting, offending and essentially shitting on everything they believe to be real and true. How could that not make people mad? How could they not react?

I myself am guilty of this. I make jokes about Christianity almost daily. A big part of me even enjoys doing it. I think the difference is that I would never suggest to a Christian that they need to stop being a Christian. I would only suggest that they need to stop chastising me for not being one. So, Christians (or, anyone really) bring on the jokes right back at me. We should all care about what others have to say but we should also be respectful of their thoughts when they say it. Making jokes and/or expressing yourself is one thing, hurting people intentionally is quite another. We are all different and differences make people uncomfortable, I get that. But, instead of falling victim to discomfort by never exploring others, why not engage each other and learn something. By opening our minds to the different and unusual we can become more accepting of what others say and do.

I think, for the most part, atheists get this. We all tend to agree on the premise of, ‘To Each His Own’. Unfortunately, some of us tend to lash out when others cannot accept that premise and 9 times out of 10, those unwilling or unable to accept are the religious ones. This change in human perspective has to start in the religious world. Muslims have to stop killing westerners, Christians have to become more tolerant of other beliefs/lifestyles, and Jehovah’s Witnesses have to stop knocking on my door!

The burden is on religion and those that practice it to make our world a better, more peaceful place. As an atheist, that makes me extremely uncomfortable (to be honest) however, if I have faith in anything, I have faith in people. I have faith that people are capable of great love and tolerance. At the end of the day, we all want the same thing; we just have to agree to disagree on the details.

Offensive

I was reading a blurb from a sermon by Tim Keller on Preachingtoday.com (sermons can be quite interesting) in which he talked about how the Bible will inherently contradict and offend every culture at least once. I was incredibly intrigued by this as I have trouble reading the Bible and not being offended myself. Here is what he had to say:

“Many of us read a certain passage of Scripture and say, “That’s so regressive, so offensive.” But we ought to entertain the idea that maybe we feel that way because in our particular culture that text is a problem. In other cultures that passage might not come across as regressive or offensive.

Let’s look at just one example. In individualistic, Western societies, we read the Bible, and we have a problem with what it says about sex. But then we read what the Bible says about forgiveness—”forgive your enemy;” “forgive your brother seventy times seven;” “turn the other cheek;” “when your enemy asks for your shirt, give him your cloak as well”—and we say, “How wonderful!” It’s because we are driven by a culture of guilt. But if you were to go to the Middle East, they would think that what the Bible has to say about sex is pretty good. (Actually, they might feel it’s not strict enough!) But when they would read what the Bible says about forgiving your enemies, it would strike them as absolutely crazy. It’s because their culture is not an individualistic society like ours. It’s more of a shame culture than a guilt culture.

Let me ask you a question: If you’re offended by something in the Bible, why should your cultural sensibilities trump everybody else’s? Why should we get rid of the Bible because it offends your culture? Let’s do a thought experiment for a second. If the Bible really was the revelation of God, and therefore it wasn’t the product of any one culture, wouldn’t it contradict every culture at some point? Therefore, if it’s really from God, wouldn’t it have to offend your cultural sensibilities at some point? Therefore when you read the Bible, and you find some part of it outrageous and offensive, that’s proof that it’s probably true, that it’s probably from God. It’s not a reason to say the Bible isn’t God’s Word; it’s a reason to say it is. What makes you think that because this part or that part of God’s Word is offensive, you can forget Christianity altogether?”

Tim Keller, in the sermon Literalism: Isn’t the Bible Historically Unreliable and Regressive?, PreachingToday.com

Really good stuff there. Stuff I hadn’t really given much thought or consideration before. I would agree with Tim that various cultures interpret the same text differently and may have more or less qualms about particular parts than others might. I would even take that a step further and, instead of comparing North American culture to Islam (which is really like comparing apples to oranges) I would compare different regions of America itself. The south has a far different culture than the west. California girls are much different from southern belles; They hold different values and insights about the world and the way it ought to be. So, to this degree, I believe Tim is absolutely right. However, the things that I take offense to in the Bible are not about culture to me- and that’s not just my culture talking either!

The things I take offense to in the Bible are about the infringement on universal rights, no matter what, whom or where. When the Bible describes a woman as being unclean and inferior and the origin of all sin, people should take offense because it is so blatantly hateful and wrong. Now, are men in the Middle East likely to agree with the Bible on this one? Sure. But does that make it right? Absolutely not. Not even one hundred years ago, we as Americans were hardly offended by the passages in the Bible about slavery. In fact, the Bible was used as a defense of it! Nowadays we have laws forbidding it but who’s to say that if those laws were to somehow magically disappear that we would not resort back to it? Would that be considered a cultural opinion? Shouldn’t everyone be repulsed by the idea of “owning” another human being? Cultural or not?

I think the problem with this sermon is that it had a good foundation for an argument, but fell severely short. Just because a book says something that offends some but not others based on their cultural beliefs, does not make what the book is saying right or just. As a human species, as a whole, we should not ever be unaffected by inequality, rape, murder, social injustices or anything of the like, regardless of cultural background. People should always be treated with respect, no matter their differences, and we should NEVER, under any circumstances, turn the other way when they are not. THAT is what the Bible should be about. There should be nothing in it that can be viewed as “regressive” because if an all-knowing, omnipotent god spoke it, it should outlast the test of time and be relevant in any age and in any culture. This is what makes me think I can “forget Christianity altogether”.  And, it’s what made me do it.