(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)
(This earlier post from some time ago got deleted. I am reposting it with the comments since they added some interesting information and perspectives. Sorry about that.)
Sophisticated religious believers in the older religious traditions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) have almost nothing in common with the average follower. At the very extreme these sophisticated religious people belong to a category that I have labeled as religious atheists. But since they feel a need to cling on to religion, they tend to use theological language to hide the fact that what they say has little or no content. Taking a cue from George Orwell’s 1946 essay Politics and the English Language, one can say that religious speech and writing, like political lanuage, are largely the defense of the indefensible, designed to make lies sound truthful, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
But while such people disdain magical thinking, rightly realizing that such things are blatantly anti-science, these sophisticated believers tend not to harshly criticize the magical thinking of their own co-religionists. Instead they turn their fire on the magical thinking of believers in other religions.
The question of why bizarre Christian beliefs are treated with more respect than the equally bizarre tenets of Scientology has a simple answer. “Modern” religions, like Scientology and Mormonism, seem more bizarre simply because they’ve arrived on the scene only recently, making their man-made nature more apparent, and because their adherents are not in the majority.
Indeed, next to the problem of evil, the problem of Why My Religion Is The Only True One is the greatest of all arguments against faith. Christians — or adherents to any other religion — can simply give no good account of why their beliefs are the right ones, while those of Hindus, Scientologists, and Muslims are badly wrong. It would be a dishonest Christian who would deny that had he been born in Saudi Arabia, he would be as big an advocate for Muhammed as he is now for Jesus. Ask an evangelical Christian how he knows for certain that all Muslims and Jews are going to hell! Believe me, the answer won’t satisfy you.
These sophisticates often employ a hypocritical double standard, ridiculing other religions as false or even absurd while being quick to complain whenever anyone attacks their own religion. A prime example of such behavior is columnist Andrew Sullivan, a Catholic. Coyne blasts him for carrying on a sustained campaign of ridicule against Scientology (calling is a ‘super adventure club’) while being the first to whine when atheists criticize the equally bizarre beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church.
In an earlier post on Scientology I linked to the South Park video that made fun of that religion and flat out accused it of being a scam. I was reminded by commenter Eric that they had done a similar show on the Mormons that you can see here.
So South Park has made fun of the core beliefs and origins of Mormonism and Scientology. I do not know if South Park has done any shows making fun of the core beliefs of Christians, Muslims, or Jews. I suspect not because there would have been a huge hue and cry but if anyone has information on this please let me know. [Update: See the comment below by Eric about how South Park dealt with Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and atheism. See also the comment by Disgruntled Goat about a court case.]
If Mormons and Scientologists wanted to, they could fight back by ridiculing Christianity, Judaism, and Islam the same way that they are ridiculed. They could portray Christianity in the manner of The Atheist Camel who defines it in 110 words as:
The belief that a walking dead Jewish deity who was his own father although he always existed, commits suicide by cop, although he didn’t really die, in order to give himself permission not to send you to an eternal place of torture that he created for you, but instead to make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh, drink his blood, and telepathically promise him you accept him as your master, so he can cleanse you of an evil force that is present in mankind because a rib-woman and a mud-man were convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.
But they cannot do so. It is not because their beliefs are more ridiculous but because they are not the dominant religion. What they instead try to do is protect themselves by trying to pull the protective blanket of mainstream religions to cover themselves too. For example, Mormons often try to argue that they are just another denomination of Christianity, who happen to have some extra prophets and holy books. They are helped in this effort by the realization of some mainstream religious believers that the arguments used to discredit Mormonism and Scientology can boomerang, as this Jesus and Mo cartoon strip points out.
Marina Hyde at the Guardian, commenting on the interview that the Scientology spokesperson had with ABC News’s Martin Bashir, ruthlessly exposes the hypocrisy of those who protect some religions while attacking others.
Clearly, Scientologists should be forced to justify their doctrinal lunacies – the only sadness is that other religions are apparently exempt from having to do the same. Imagine for a moment a Bashir-type interviewing some senior cardinal. “So,” he might inquire, “you’re saying that by some magic the communion wafer actually becomes the flesh of a man who died 2,000 years ago, a man who – and I don’t want to put words into your mouth here – we might categorise as an imaginary friend who can hear the things you’re thinking in your head? And when you’ve done that, do you mind going over the birth control stuff?”
What a shame that we see rather fewer of these exchanges, however amusing and useful a sideshow Scientology may be.
POST SCRIPT: ABC’s Nightline report on Scientology
The news program interviews Jenna Mescavige, the niece of the current leader of the church of Scientology to learn about what happened to her and others when they decided that the church was abusive and controlling and wanted to leave.
Thank you for the shout-out; a few things of note:
1) Sullivan’s reference to Scientology as “Super Adventure Club” is ALSO a South Park reference; it refers to the episode made mocking Isaac Hayes for leaving the show in a snit because it made fun of Scientology. In that episode, Chef (Hayes’s character) gets seduced into a pederast cult who brainwash & force him to cut off ties with his family and friends. In one sequence remarkably similar to the “This is what scientologists actually believe,” there is an equally ludicrous origin myth with the text of “This is what Super Adventure Club actually believes.”
2) South Park has been mocking the core beliefs of Christianity & Judaism for far longer than they have any other religion. They just happen to do it more piecemeal. The original pilot, “The Spirit of Christmas,” features a fight to the death between Jesus and Santa over the reason for the season. The 2nd season’s “Jewbilee” involves a brainwashing by the ghost of Moses, who looks suspiciously like the MCP from “Tron.” Islam finally got the treatment in the Season 10 2-parter, “Cartoon Wars.”
Atheism isn’t immune to South Park, either – Season 10′s “Go God Go” was their send-up of the militant atheist movement; but, not having a belief structure to mock, it ended up being an hour-long poke at creationists, people in general, and a really bad impression of Richard Dawkins.
I suspect that the reason why the “Big 3″ haven’t been hit as directly is that it wouldn’t get aired, so they have to be a little more subtle. But Parker & Stone have basically said that they’re trying to make fun of pretty much everything.
Posted by Eric on December 10, 2009 10:33 AM
Thanks for this info. I should track down and check out the shows you mention. I am glad that South Park is hitting everything (including atheism). There should be no sacred cows. If a belief structure cannot withstand satire and derision, then it is too weak to be worth holding.
Posted by Mano on December 10, 2009 03:22 PM
Here’s the U.S. Supreme Court on religious freedom:
“The Fathers of the Constitution were not unaware of the varied and extreme views of religious sects, of the violence of disagreement among them, and of the lack of any one religious creed on which all men would agree. They fashioned a charter of government which envisaged the widest possible toleration of conflicting views…The religious views espoused by respondents might seem incredible, if not preposterous, to most people. But if those doctrines are subject to trial before a jury charged with finding their truth or falsity, then the same can be done with the religious beliefs of any sect. When the triers of fact undertake that task, they enter a forbidden domain.” U.S. v. Ballard, 322 U.S. 78 (1943)
Translation: courts can’t inquire into whether crazy religions make sense, because then our religion would come under scrutiny too.
Posted by Disgruntled Goat on December 10, 2009 07:41 PM
Which is the point of FSMism – if the Judeo-Christian origin myth can be taught as science in schools, so can the Tale of the Noodly Appendage.
Posted by Eric on December 10, 2009 07:50 PM