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Scientology & Mormonism: Weird things to believe in

October 4, 2009

Every so often, I will get into a conversation over weird things to believe in…and scientology usually comes up. Yeah, ok, it’s pretty weird. But, some of the time, Mormonism will also come up (or maybe it’ll come up first).

Is Mormonism all that weird?

…I guess so. Yeah, ok, it’s pretty weird too.

And yet I still bristle at the equation…because it seems that to put the respective weirdnesses side by side is entirely missing something. I may be biased, but I do not believe Mormonism is on the same level as Scientology.

I have to be conscious while writing this, because of couse, I’m extremely biased. One is my family and heritage, and one is the other. Secondly, I know some people who would disagree with what I have to say — and they have the scars to show for it. So, I have to wonder if their experiences are atypical or if mine are.

Quite simply, I think that making a comparison based on basic weirdness is silly. Scientology is weird, yes, and Mormonism is weird, yes…but every religion is weird. We simply are steeped in years of cultural familiarity with some religions more than others. And plus, other religions have 1400 years of historical gloss (Islam), 2,000 years of gloss (Christianity), or even more (Judaism, Hinduism, etc.,).

So, I don’t really quite think I have to compare the “weirdnesses” of varying belief systems (or even specify what the most weird beliefs are)…because I think, all in all, most of the major religions “net out” to be pretty similarly weird. The problem that many people do not want to accept is that they are steeped in one tradition or another, and so may be putting the religions on unequal footing.

(A similar approach might be…religions like scientology and Mormonism are still “new.” It’s tough to imagine that a religion like scientology could come about in an era with well-established scientific research…but it’s easy to imagine that in the backwaters of the 1st century Middle East, crazy stuff could have been reported without being closely scrutinized. So perhaps the claim is that Mormonism and Scientology are “weirder” because people ought to know better.)

See...no pitchforks here.

See...no pitchforks here.

Anyway…here’s where I think the two differ: in actions. Mormonism has had a rough and rogue path and history (Mountain Meadows Massacre, Danites, etc.,) but…these rough historical events were part of a larger rough historical culture (yeah, 1830-60s…not exactly the most civil time in WORLD history, if you sample the events across the world that took place). So, when you look at Mormons now, you see that Mormons are surprisingly tame. In the 50s, there was electroshock therapy to cure “teh gay,” (and that went over spectacularly poorly, of course), but now Mormons simply have civil, well-dressed, well-oiled political machines to vote and pay their way to depriving gay men and women of expanded rights.

Mormons are known as nice people — I am fortunate to hear that from most of the people I meet. Even when people say, “Mormons have weird beliefs…” they generally follow up with, “…but they are some of the nicest people I know.” So, I think this niceness in action and attitude (although…there are some who get the opposite experience — Mormons are also somewhat known for love-bombing, treating non-members as “projects,” implicitly shunning heterodox believers and apostates) is a kind of “cash value” to the practicality of Mormonism. I know that when I look at the church, beliefs aren’t really all that critical (blasphemy!) Really, it’s actions. So, I net “personal niceness” with “organizational vendetta against marriage equality” and for me, it comes out as “Civil, not physically harmful, but still a political force to reckon with.”

Let’s contrast this with scientology. While some Mormons I’ve dealt with have made some threats regarding “finding me” and spreading my information to other parties (which is pretty scary), this is not the norm, as far as I’m aware. On the other hand, Scientology has a history of modern intimidation tactics just like this (and more). Have you read about “fair game” against those Scientology deems to be “suppressive persons”?

I mean, I’m probably paranoid, but when I think of scary organizations…effective terrorist conspiracies…the Illuminati, the Bilderberg Group, etc., do not come to mind. (Imagine if there is some kind of new world order conspiracy…do you see how sucky international politics is? OH WOW, THE NEW WORLD ORDER IS SO ADEPT AT CONTROLLING INTERNATIONAL POLITICS SO IT LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE…old-world, uncoordinated politics?) But Scientology…I think if Dan Brown wrote a book about Scientology, he wouldn’t have to elaborate and resort to fringe conspiracies. But I think the reason Brown doesn’t write a book regarding scientology is because he enjoys his life and doesn’t want to mysteriously disappear one of these days.

If I had to tell of the fundamental difference I see between the LDS church and the Church of Scientology, it would be that the LDS church is *trying* to help and improve people. But since the General Authorities, like the rest of us, see through a glass, darkly, they often trample on a lot of toes. I do not believe, as some do, that the GAs are specifically out to bring misery to people’s lives. I do believe that in their orthodoxy and in their duties to “preserve the mantle,” they tend to the 99 and are disconnected from “the one” (the Intellectual…the doubter…the homosexual…the feminist…) with harmful consequences. But it isn’t intentional. Every general conference, the leaders present messages that have the right goals, and I find that though I may disagree with their conclusions or tactics, the bigger picture is sound.

On the other hand, with scientology, I just don’t know. I don’t know if the upper echelon truly want to help people (however misguided e-meters and Dianetics are)…

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6 Comments
  1. “Mormonism has had a rough and rogue path and history (Mountain Meadows Massacre, Danites, etc.,) but…these rough historical events were part of a larger rough historical culture (yeah, 1830-60s…not exactly the most civil time in WORLD history, if you sample the events across the world that took place). So, when you look at Mormons now, you see that Mormons are surprisingly tame.”

    I think that’s a key factor for my own feelings.

    I also share your bristling. I go out of my way not to talk smack about the Mormon church – not because I think it’s true, but because having grown up in the religion, I can see how logical it is when you start with certain precepts:

    If A, then B, then C.

    If (the Book of Mormon is true) then (Native Americans came from Isrealites) then (they could have left gold plates).

    When you grow up within a religious system, of course things make sense to you. And even after you leave and people go “Woah – people really believe that” – there’s that part of you that doesn’t want to admit you did when nobody else does.

    It’s like Santa Claus – people don’t mind admitting they believed in Santa because so did almost 99% of the US population.

    It was part of our identity, and there’s a natural desire to defend that identity. And either way, I don’t feel its right to rag on any religion. I might say confidently “I don’t believe in these asserts of supernatural belief without proof” – but I’m not going to call people names just for believing something “different.”

    I’ve been in their shoes. And I remember what it felt like.

  2. I remember thinking Japanese culture was “weird” when I was there. But somehow, with time, I got over a lot of those hang ups.

    I agree, “weird” isn’t an argument. It’s really just name-calling.

  3. re Seth: Japanese culture most certainly is weird. Getting over those hangups mean you’re slowly descending into weeabooism.

    re John: Good comment. That’s one thing that kind of gets me…sometimes, people misuse what “logical” means…they say, “It is completely illogical to believe…”

    Well, no…most religions don’t have gaping logical fallacies (discounting the ones that do exist). Rather, the issue is…we have several premises and we may disagree on if one of the numerous premises is true or not. So, we more often disagree on if the argument is *sound* rather than if it is *valid*. *Logic* itself can’t tell us soundness vs. unsoundness.

  4. I’m also not impressed by people arguing from weirdness. A couple of points.…

    LDS electroshock therapy for homosexuality wasn’t just in the 50’s.

    I suspect that the real difference between the LDS church and Scientology is that the LDS church decided to invest heavily in PR. I think a better comparison is with Jehovah’s Witnesses anyway.

  5. FireTag permalink

    Two unrelated commments:

    You can’t blame the fully indoctrinated for indoctrinating.

    As to conspiracies, surprisingly sophisicated systems can emerge from simple elements competing for their own interests without the necessity of conscious coordination. There’s an old saw that to understand any complex system, assume it will act exactly as if secretly controlled by a cabal of its worst enemies. In other words, old world uncoordinated politics can act exactly as a new world order would, even if the latter doesn’t exist.

  6. The fact that “weird” is relative doesn’t mean that weird does not exist. Norms certainly exist–anthropologists, sociologists and social psychologists work with them all the time. And if norms exist, then departure from norms also exist. Ergo weird.

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