Over the last week I’ve had the chance to watch two different takes on alternative religions. The first was Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Alex Gibney’s brutal documentary that eviscerates Scientology. The second was The Book of Mormon, the hit Broadway musicals co-written by the names behind TV’s South Park and Disney’s box office blockbuster, Frozen.
As much as I enjoyed both of them, I have to admit I have a little tinge of guilt when I see mainstream treatments of alternative religions. As a Witch and a Pagan, I am myself a practitioner – and I would say beneficiary of – alternate spiritual practice. I was blessed to be raised with no religious baggage (I was “unchurched,” as they say), but with an interest in the spiritual. This gave me the ability to make my own choice, and I chose the path that fed my intellect and inspired my heart. I admire anyone who does the same, whatever faith they practice.
So, despite my chuckling at Going Clear’s picture of Galactic Overlord Xenu imprisoning his unwanted souls on Earth and seeding them into volcanoes, I was forced to look at the how odd my own spirituality may look to an outsider – any outsider. Despite reveling in the audience’s reaction to one of Book of Mormon’s most hummable tunes:
That the Lord God created the universe
And I believe
That he sent his only son to die for my sins
And I believe
That ancient Jews built boats and sailed to America!
Or the quick little jab at Mormonism’s relative youth:
I’m gonna take you back to Biblical times: 1823!
I have to admit that my own religious practice, rooted as it may be in ancient history and timeless techniques, is a new expression that would look pretty silly to those who don’t have the context to understand it. Joseph Smith was a mystic. L. Ron Hubbard was, at least for a while, an occultist. He hung out with Jack Parsons, one of the sharpest minds of his generation who was also noted Thelemite. Granted, Hubbard stole Parsons’ wife, but the two were tightly involved in Crowley style occultism for quite a while. As a Witch, mystical and occult practices are an everyday part of my life. I can’t just laugh off the work of either man.
That becomes doubly true when you really look at the documentary and the musical. The first 45 minutes or so of Going Clear present Scientology’s pseudo-scientific practice of auditing, which ostensibly helps people “clear” their life’s traumas and operate as their own individual and authentic selves. Sounds like a pretty good goal to me.
Despite the rampant satire, Book of Mormon makes constant mention of the polite and friendly aura that seems to surround Mormons:
Liberation! Equality! Let’s be really fucking polite to everyone!
I don’t agree with many of Mormonism’s social policies, but I can say that almost every Mormon I’ve met has been intelligent, kind, and really F-ing polite. I can’t get into their heads, but they seem to be truly at peace. Good for them.
So then I think, what if one of these writers decided to target Paganism, Wicca, or Witchcraft? Am I laughing at someone else while silently dodging my own bullet? Is that bullet coming for me at some point? Would I have the class that the Church of Latter Day Saints has shown (or the money) to buy three full page color adds in the program for the musical about how crazy and nudist Gerald Gardner was? Can you imagine a South Park inspired musical on him?
Anything out of context looks silly. The Great Rite? Communion? As a practitioner of a minority spirituality, should I be supporting these other non-mainstream faiths?
I think the answer, at least in the case of Scientology, comes later in the documentary. Over and over, we see people abused for questioning doctrine. We see those who leave the religion mercilessly harassed in their own homes by “Squirrel Busters” and other pro-church organizations. We see members of the Sea Org, Scientology’s most elite organization, mercilessly tortured on the accusation of being apostates. We see websites sponsored and organized by the faith specifically intended to discredit any “SP” (Suppressive Person) who speaks out against them.
Witchcraft and Paganism, with their focus on seeking your own connection with the Divine, is the antithesis of that kind of cult mindset. While “leaders” like that crop up at times, a symptom of our decentralized and Aquarian structure, they are often discredited and removed in the long run. There is no one supreme leader to answer to, and after watching Going Clear, I’m pretty thankful for that.
I’ve been to Temple Square. I’ve sat inside the famous Mormon Tabernacle and listened to its phenomenal acoustics. I respect an alternate spirituality such as Mormonism. But the problem comes when they see the need to enforce doctrine by excommunicating women who speak up for their own rights. The problem comes when they fund laws like Prop 8 in my state, which sought to overturn the law and prevent marriage equality. For those of us who try to live by the ethic of Harm None, it’s difficult to lend our full support to a spirituality that tends to enforce doctrine over kindness, oppression over love.
The most viewed post on my blog is a strange little pop culture piece I wrote comparing The Walking Dead to religion’s tendency toward science denial. In that post, which still gets constant views even when I’m not writing, I compared Rick’s three questions:
How many walkers have you killed?
How many people have you killed?
…to the religious denial of reality. I asked how your religion helps you, how much it forces you to deny reality, and why? That post is viewed by new people every day. I don’t know why, but it has something to do with Google Analytics. I’ve called it my Zombie Post for many reasons. It just keeps coming back. It’s annoying.
Yet it expresses a truth about those of us who practice any spiritual path, especially an alternative one.
What are we willing to believe? My practice is one of experience, not belief, so I really don’t care what someone believes. What are we willing to deny and oppress? When any religion moves into this realm, they risk harming others. There better be a damn good reason…
Why? If it’s for power, money, or prestige, then it’s not really spiritual. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things, but if you’re harming others in the name of faith in order to control them, then you’ve been corrupted. If you believe “God lives on a planet called Kolob,” that’s fine. If you believe Overlord Xenu inseminated you into a volcano, that’s cool too. If you use either of those beliefs to harm those who don’t believe or have stopped believing, then you’ve become a zombie. You’re mindless. You’re living off of the living. It’s always the Why that matters, not the What.