Some time ago I read a little book called Posers, Fakers & Wannabes, by Brennan Manning & Jim Hancock. In the first little chapter was a story about a monk in his earlier years. He described an episode during a catholic ritual where, after hearing a reading of Psalms 51 by a superior, they would enter their cells and whip themselves with coiled telephone wire to rid themselves of their lust. He shares how he scourged himself in religious fervency and zeal leaving blood blisters on his back and buttocks. He recalls hearing a fellow penitent lashing himself rigorously in the cell next to him. The man was so zealous Brennan was sure the man was going to wound himself severely, so he stole a look into the man’s cell.
To Brennan’s horror and surprise, the man was sitting on his bed with a “bemused smile and a cigarette in his left hand. It was the wall he was whacking, not his own body, thwack, thwack, thwack…”
Recently I have been doing independent study, primarily for personal interest, on the power of cults and specifically Scientology. Reactions are swift and pointed today over Scientology’s commercial during the Super Bowl yesterday. Many are surprised that a religious group could afford, or would even be allowed to advertise on such a grandiose scale. Scientology has been much maligned of late, but remains a powerful force, especially in southern California. I have always been fascinated by people who would be willing to “drink the purple koolaid” for a cult leader or magnetic personality. I am fairly certain no one would kill themselves for me and that is probably a good thing. There is something in many of us which is drawn to supernatural solutions to our life issues and quest for meaning.
Listening to a video on YouTube recently about prominent Scientologists who have “blown” and quit (usually in the face of extreme persecution), I was stuck by one lady’s confession that after attaining OT3 she assumed that she would be about to use telekinesis and would no longer struggle with sickness or loneliness, pain or problems. Because of the strict rules of Scientology she was not allowed to talk to other OT3’s about her progress and, though she could not feel or practice any of these miraculous benefits, assumed the other practitioners could. This is reminiscent of some Christians I know who beat themselves up because, even though they had been practicing the spiritual disciplines for years, still weren’t seeing the miraculous results they assumed everyone else was. They incorrectly assumed that they were the only failure in the room.
There are no magic pills.
I have never met anyone who, after joining a church or seeing a guru or listening to Oprah never struggled again with life. Often people who join a church, for example, are led to believe that somehow they will not have the same struggles they once had. Later, sometimes much later, they realize that they still have issues and problems in life that they alone must deal with. Some of these people become very disillusioned, even exacerbating their distress.
Last week I spoke with a person who contended that counseling is only for people who do not have enough faith. I reminded her that she was a person of faith yet still battled physical pain, depression, a broken romantic relationship, and a wayward thought life. She was offended that I would be so blunt and told me, in so many words, that she was going to be “released” from all her problems at an upcoming spiritual retreat. I encouraged her to go and reminded her that I would still be around if things didn’t work out. She laughed at me and left the appointment.
I am not interested in demeaning spirituality, prayer, or the spiritual disciplines. I happen to believe that they things are very valuable and important. I am concerned, however, when people put expectations on their beliefs which even Jesus never promised (although L. Ron Hubbard may have). The most spiritual people I know have often endured unspeakable pain and trials. At least one of them was crucified for his belief. In fact, most of the spiritual giants I can recall were subjected to intense pain.
I have a picture in my office called Einstein And The Therapist. It reminds me that even the smartest among us, the most talented, even the most spiritual, needs a little help from time to time. It is my firm hope that you will find relief from your pain through prayer, meditation, or even Oprah. But if not, find a friend or a counselor who doesn’t suck.
You’re worth it.
- Renowned journalist throws the book at Scientology (religionnews.com)
- Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright – review (guardian.co.uk)