Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The C Word

Some people find religion, in the comparative sense, fascinating. I am not one of those people. Sure, I get the idea that a system of proscribed mores and values can help provide comfort and solace in a violent, chaotic, entropic universe full of unexplainable -- and indeed unfair -- events and entities. It is the warm pink blanky that can grant purpose and meaning to someone who might otherwise not see any point to enduring a brutish existence.

The part of religion I do find interesting is how people can get caught up in more, let's say, dogmatic and rigid belief systems, especially those without any cultural standing or acceptance. In other words, cults. Now, like any good atheist I tend to subscribe to the notion that a "cult" is simply a religion that hasn't been around long enough to gain wide acceptance. But I think we can also describe pretty clear qualitative differences between, say, Judaism and the FLDS (or even mainstream Mormonism and the FLDS). It is a strange phenomenon to watch people who are willing to join and stay with a club that subjugates and abuses them as part of official policy. It's the worst form of Stockholm syndrome.

You may have watched the recent Alex Gibney doc Going Clear, a rather energetic broadside against Scientology that premiered on HBO last month. It's well-made, if not ideally sourced, and perhaps the most contentious section is the now well-known Xenu backstory that is revealed to adherents when they pass the coveted Operating Thetan 3 (aka OT III) level. This mythos is held as prima facie evidence that Scientology is a cult founded by a crackpot.

It's difficult to contest that assertion, except to note that pretty much all religions, mainstream and otherwise, have these types of stories built into them, either as creation mythos or as supporting evidence of certitude (for example, Jesus rising from the dead three days after being crucified). These stories serve two primary purposes:  one, to provide a colorful metaphor to convey some key component of the religion's belief system or pantheon; two, to challenge adherents to take that proverbial leap of faith (it is, after all, a leap of faith and not a leap of reason, n'est-ce pas?).

So the Xenu story is, to an outside neutral observer, no more or less ludicrous than the idea that Joseph Smith was directed to unearth hieroglyphic golden plates to be translated with "seer stones" -- all of which only Smith could see or use -- that commandeered a superstitious rube to fund the printing costs of the first editions of the holy book, even after the wife of said rube swiped the original manuscripts in order to test whether Smith was actually translating anything at all in the first place.

And yet Mormons -- at least the many individuals I've known over the years -- seem to be friendly and industrious. They place a high value on cooperation and self-sufficiency. Regardless of the origins, they seem to get decent results. You could probably find plenty of Scientologists living the same example, at least anecdotally. The salient point is that, strange creation mythos aside, Scientology has a record of retaliation against dissidents and apostates.

A good example is The Book of Mormon. The Mormons bought ads for the playbills. Imagine the reactions to The Book of Scientology or The Book of Islam. This is a religion that understands the value of good PR.

All of this is a rather meandering prelude to asserting that I might have gone a bit easy on the Duggars the other day. It seems that this Quiverfull bullshit that the family adheres to is a disastrous confluence of the worst knuckle-dragging nonsense, the sort of shit that blames girls for tempting their molesters, that regards women as brood mares.

Another sick aspect of the Quiverfull movement -- and the heart of it -- is the precept that it is a duty to out-breed Muslims in order to keep demographic pace with them. Never mind that birth rates are almost inextricably tied to socioeconomic conditions; one of the most heavily Muslim countries, Bangladesh, has cut its birth rate by more than two-thirds in just two generations. When women are empowered and educated, birth rates decline.

Fundamentalist cults, whether FLDS, ISIS, or Quiverfull, rely heavily on the consistent and systematic repression of women and girls. They hate women, they fear them, they regard them as temptresses leading them astray from the path to virtue, as well as vessels to be replenished as often as possible. This is a sick, hypocritical tenet that underpins these entire belief systems -- and marks them inextricably as cults.

That is the cult puzzle rational people find themselves confronted with -- that someone could choose to believe that there aren't enough humans in the world, that females have no higher calling than to reproduce, that the world is exactly what it was three or four thousand years ago. Worse yet, the Quiverfools are an offshoot of the larger Dominionist movement, which has infiltrated the officer ranks of the military, some of whom might be getting some bright ideas about armed insurrections and such like.

Not just Republicans and mainstream conservatives, but true wingnut Christofascists have instituted a much better ground game than their putatively librul counterparts. These freaks have infested the public sector at every level, from school boards to Congress. Either we figure out how to confront this problem squarely, or learn to live under their thumb.

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