Documenting the Coming Singularity

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Absurdity of Belief and What the Heck is Going On with Celebrities?

By 2:57 PM
First, a couple of witticisms:

"Everybody should believe in something; I believe I'll have another drink."

"The invisible and the nonexistent look very much alike."

I don't know who first spoke either one of these, but that's not what's important. What is important is the essence of what they both communicate: That people will believe anything, no matter how lacking in evidentiary support or abounding in absurdity. Case in point: Consider the newest up-and-comer, Scientology. A brief list of celebrity Scientologists includes such worthies as Tom Cruise (their new Messiah), Kirstie Alley, Anne Archer, Beck, Plácido Domingo, Chaka Kahn, Lisa Marie Presley, Leah Remini, and John Travolta. To name only a few. Now, consider what Scientologists believe. From the source of all knowledge, Wikipedia:
In Scientology doctrine, Xenu (also Xemu) was the alien dictator of the "Galactic Confederacy" who, 75 million years ago, brought billions of aliens to Earth in DC-8-like spacecraft, stacked them around volcanoes and blew them up with hydrogen bombs. Their souls then clustered together and stuck to the bodies of the living, and continue to wreak chaos and havoc today.

These events are known to Scientologists as "Incident II", and the traumatic memories associated with them as The Wall of Fire or the R6 implant. The story of Xenu is part of a much wider range of Scientology beliefs in extraterrestrial civilizations and alien interventions in Earthly events, collectively described as space opera by L. Ron Hubbard, science fiction writer and founder of Scientology.

Hubbard detailed the story in Operating Thetan level III (OT III) in 1967, famously warning that R6 was "calculated to kill (by pneumonia etc) anyone who attempts to solve it." The Xenu story was the start of the use of the volcano as a common symbol of Scientology and Dianetics from 1968 to the present day.

The story of Xenu is covered in OT III, part of Scientology's secret "Advanced Technology" doctrines taught only to advanced members. It is described in more detail in the accompanying confidential "Assists" lecture of 3 October 1968 and is dramatized in Revolt in the Stars (an unpublished screenplay written by L Ron Hubbard during the late 1970s). Direct quotations in this section are from these sources. (See also Scientology beliefs and practices)

Seventy-five million years ago, Xenu was the ruler of a Galactic Confederacy which consisted of 26 stars and 76 planets including Earth, which was then known as Teegeeack. The planets were overpopulated, each having on average 178 billion people. The Galactic Confederacy's civilization was comparable to our own, with people "walking around in clothes which looked very remarkably like the clothes they wear this very minute" and using cars, trains and boats looking exactly the same as those "circa 1950, 1960" on Earth.

Xenu was about to be deposed from power, so he devised a plot to eliminate the excess population from his dominions. With the assistance of "renegades", he defeated the populace and the "Loyal Officers", a force for good that was opposed to Xenu. Then, with the assistance of psychiatrists, he summoned billions of people to paralyze them with injections of alcohol and glycol, under the pretense that they were being called for "income tax inspections". The kidnapped populace was loaded into space planes for transport to the site of extermination, the planet of Teegeeack (Earth). The space planes were exact copies of Douglas DC-8s, "except the DC-8 had fans, propellers on it and the space plane didn't." DC-8s have jet engines, not propellers, although Hubbard may have meant the turbine fans.

When the space planes had reached Teegeeack/Earth, the paralyzed people were unloaded and stacked around the bases of volcanoes across the planet. Hydrogen bombs were lowered into the volcanoes, and all were detonated simultaneously. Only a few people's physical bodies survived. Hubbard described the scene in his abortive film script, Revolt in the Stars.

The now-disembodied victims' souls, which Hubbard called thetans, were blown into the air by the blast. They were captured by Xenu's forces using an "electronic ribbon" ("which also was a type of standing wave") and sucked into "vacuum zones" around the world. The hundreds of billions of captured thetans were taken to a type of cinema, where they were forced to watch a "three-D, super colossal motion picture" for 36 days. This implanted what Hubbard termed "various misleading data" (collectively termed the R6 implant) into the memories of the hapless thetans, "which has to do with God, the Devil, space opera, et cetera". This included all world religions, with Hubbard specifically attributing Roman Catholicism and the image of the Crucifixion to the influence of Xenu. The interior decoration of "all modern theaters" is also said by Hubbard to be due to an unconscious recollection of Xenu's implants. The two "implant stations" cited by Hubbard were said to have been located on Hawaii and Las Palmas in the Canary Islands.

In addition to implanting new beliefs in the thetans, the images deprived them of their sense of personal identity. When the thetans left the projection areas, they started to cluster together in groups of a few thousand, having lost the ability to differentiate between each other. Each cluster of thetans gathered into one of the few remaining bodies that survived the explosion. These became what are known as body thetans, which are said to be still clinging to and adversely affecting everyone except those Scientologists who have performed the necessary steps to remove them.

The Loyal Officers finally overthrew Xenu and locked him away in a mountain, where he was imprisoned forever by a force field powered by an eternal battery. (Some have suggested that Xenu is imprisoned on Earth in the Pyrenees, but Hubbard merely refers to "one of these planets" [of the Galactic Confederacy]; he does, however, refer to the Pyrenees as being the site of the last operating "Martian report station", which is probably the source of this particular confusion.[3]) Teegeeack/Earth was subsequently abandoned by the Galactic Confederacy and remains a pariah "prison planet" to this day, although it has suffered repeatedly from incursions by alien "Invader Forces" since that time.

Now you might be thinking (unless you are a Scientologist or Scientologist-sympathizer), "What the heck? How could any sane person buy into this crap?" But in having these kinds of thoughts, are you not expressing your own religious biases? I would be willing to predict that, in less than 100 years, Scientology's systems of belief will become respectable. All that's required is time and some influential proponents.

If you were to consider the religious beliefs of more established groups (e.g. Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Islam, Catholics, Protestants, etc.) with an unbiased mind, you would see that Scientologists' belief in a 75 million-year-old event like Xenu's transporting billions of aliens to earth is no more far-fetched than any other religion's supernatural assertions. A magical steed that flew Mohamed around? An angel named Moroni? A burning bush that never burns up? Bread turning into the body of the Lord? Why should we single out poor Xenu?

Here's what it comes down to: People will believe what they choose to believe, and it will be true to them in some internal way that outsiders cannot disprove with appeals to reason. And who knows, maybe they're all right.


Spaceman Spiff said...

Yeah, people will believe what they want to believe, and no matter which way you slice it, its ridiculous from some perspective. Some people choose to place complete and total faith in sense experience, and believe that sense experience is all there is. There is nothing to *prove* that or make it more or less likely than anything else.

I'd argue that it isn't because one outlandish experience is more or less likely to have happened that makes one religion more or less "respectable" as it were. It has much more to do with how well it handles the variety of human experience.

From the "rational" standpoint, I feel its fair to say that historical analysis will *never, ever* support Scientology the way it supports Christianity and Judaism.

From another standpoint, Scientology is too cultic and involves too much denial of reason. As you'll notice, scientologists aren't introduced to this story till they've invested tons of time and money and showed their loyalty. This is so clearly anti-human that

I don't think it offers much of what Christianity, Judaism and Islam are offering as far as understanding ourselves and the world around us.

I think it is easy and convenient for the atheist to claim his belief is less absurd, or requires less faith, than anyone else's, and it is also easy and convenient to lump all explicitly positive belief together into one bunch. But I don't think these claims are sound. Atheism requires positive belief, and other belief systems are not all equal.