Preying on Human Weakness

Posted at Salon in response to this article on the Mars Hill Church:

Since I was raised in a cult, (Church Universal and Triumphant), I have a special understanding of the destructive forces at work. The psychological damage of this type of environment cannot be understood by those who have not lived it. Unless you can pull yourself out of it through intensive therapy and introspection, it will ruin your life.

[NOTE: CUT is quite different than Mars Hill. It has less tolerance for sociocultural diversity, yet is also less intent on subjugating women. What both organizations share is a view of truth as revealed, rather than observed or discovered. This approach  to belief is quite simply the basis of all religious pathology.]

That these organizations take root at all is a testament to human weakness. As long as people have a choice, some of them will decide to embrace totalistic "belief systems" which ironically take away their freedom to choose. It’s hard for me to understand how modern liberated women could embrace such a misogynistic nightmare. The men who rely on a book to justify their insecurity and codify their domination of women are equally pathetic. When will men grow up enough to deal with women on equal terms? When will women learn to love themselves enough to stay away from these women-hating religions? How can both sexes continue to be so gullible?

Apparently for some, this abdication is preferable to a true and deep confrontation with their existential pain, uncertainty, and fear of death. We cannot have self-knowledge without this pain. While attractive at first as an escape, and an exclusive club for believers, cults are a psychological meat-grinder. They have one goal, and that is to destroy people’s uniqueness and break their will. Mars Hill promotes the illusion of diversity by its acceptance of modern styles. But no amount of allowances for personal expression, tattoos, etc. can make up for its theofascist demands for congregants to accept the bloody bible as literal truth. An auditorium full of pierced and tattooed fundamentalists is no less scary than one of the scrubbed-and-suited variety.

I wish there was a way to mount a secular response to this type of group, but I don’t think it’s possible. Secularists are generally strong individuals who would never go in for this sort of thing. They do not readily form communities, which would be needed to ‘compete’ with the likes of Mars Hill. Since we are all different, we have different needs. It would be like herding cats. It may take generations for today’s converts to discover the true price they are paying for their false certitudes. Unfortunately, a free society has no choice but to allow this process to unfold on its own terms.

Comments (5 comments)

GF / September 16th, 2006, 10:37 am / #1

I don’t think it has to be like herding cats. Some will be too wrapped up in their own worlds, but others won’t. If we really care about maturing as a species, we have a responsibility to participate in bringing about the changes we desire….just as we have a responsibility to take environmental externalities into account. Its not enough to discuss and intellectualize ( and for some whine about…though I am not at all saying that you are Sean. I very much appreciate your journal, and your contribution to this process).. how awful religion is. I think the healthiest and most realistic answer I’ve heard to shifting the power that religon holds over people is the response espoused by Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan’s wife.

I believe you linked to this article in some prior post, and as I recall didn’t like her approach in many ways (which I really don’t get) but I encourage it be read through again.

I think its possible , to see a world where kids are so enthralled with the kind of experiences Cosmos Studios has set up in planetariums that they nag their parents to the ends of the earth to take them back. It would be such a gain to everyone if, in the language we use to teach science ( and/or through entertainment… the Mars folk are open to popular media) the immensity, and wonder were conveyed such that it couldn’t help but trigger the centers in our brain that crave the sense of communion to fire. And those centers are very real( I will comment on this later) The ‘religious impulse’ will be assuaged. This would not be a lie, or running from reality at all. This in no way takes away from honoring the purity of the scientific method, as its applied in research. It would be an acknowledgment of how we are made, of the biological imperitive that needs quenching, at least for most humans. There has to be an alternative for those whose predisposition requires a more sensate expereince of awe, than for those whose psychological development or intellectual capacity to come to terms with existential realities, provide a compensation in some way. And believe me, I know higher IQ’s do compensate. ANd therein lies a responsibility, if we wish to see change.

I also agree with Druyans take on the problem of the loss of the Feminine archtype in both science and religion, but this comment is long enough. Maybe later.

I don’t know if it’ll do this for others but her article has stirred my desire, to check out the closest Center for Inquiry, hit a planatarium very soon, and look into how her intentions are being implemented in school systems.

BlackSun / September 18th, 2006, 11:34 pm / #2

Thanks GF, I really appreciate your comment. I do think it would be great if the “reality-based community” could figure out a way to speak to those who are seeking what religion has to offer. I worry that religion’s emphasis on providing social services, and a support network to the vulnerable and downtrodden really boils down to a marketing mechanism. In this, churches speak to a captive audience, and they are essentially buying converts.

Scientific naturalists don’t make a habit of offering such services. They simply seek to define the world as it IS, while allowing governments and individuals to sort out the rest.

It would be difficult to in the same breath argue for individualism, and then devote large amounts of time and effort to community services. I simply don’t think secular people have sufficient common goals to compete with churches on a level playing field to create communities to rival ‘faith communities.’ This is what I mean, when I say it would be like herding cats.

Philosophy and social services are two completely separate areas of endeavor. Religion has combined the two into a more collectivist approach, while many in the secular community give far more value to individual action and responsibility.

Some great secular thinkers are also socialist, and I would challenge them to attempt to put their beliefs into action if they can figure out how to make it function. (Socialism doesn’t work very well without coercion.) This is an entirely separate problem and discussion.

My view is that if society wants to help those in need, it should be mandated by law that all such assistance must be independent of any particular ideology. I for one don’t want my tax dollars (or tax exemptions) going to support any brand of religion whatsoever.

Having said all that, I think Ann Druyan has an excellent perspective on how to meet the spiritual needs of humans, based on the splendor of the natural universe. It is a completely expansive and nonjudgmental way of presenting the truth. If her concepts were taught in schools, in the way that she presents them, I’m sure young people would have much less need for the unsatisfying fictions they are currently force-fed in the name of their parents’ chosen religion.

Darkeros / September 19th, 2006, 10:20 am / #3

Great post and comments, Black Sun & GF. I have just read Druyan’s article as well. I would love to go to one of these planetarium’s and have a virtual experience of evolution! Yes, entertainment such as this does evoke those deeper responses from the brain akin to the ‘awe’ one would have felt in immense cathedrals hundreds of years ago coupled with the vibration to your very bones of the pipe organ.

Being a many yeared student and teacher of the science and art of depth psychology, I recognize that what science in this form does not address are the social and psychological issues that arise in our daily lives. Religon gives a person not only the creation and who dun it context… but also explores (mostly answers) questions of how to deal with the difficult issues of living, relationships, and the shit that is happening on the planet. What I see is that this is the crux of what religion is about for people and unless science somehow marries psychology (yes, a science but not referred to in discussions of science) people will not turn to science.

This is how myths of old served. Inherent within them was a code for living…. thousands of years ago, albeit! we need to update, and that IS how I think science and the image/metaphor part of the brain will converge. Think of how a star is born out of a nebula: form is created out of clouds & seeming chaos. Anyone know that state? we need to update our myths & metaphors to reflect our science of today.

We must include psychology and the inner universe in these discussions otherwise people will continue to frantically hold on to outdated religions that offer guidance and physical handouts, as well as tribal warfare as their patterns for behavior.

GF / September 19th, 2006, 1:39 pm / #4

I think that a spontaneous result of a Druyan style approach to teaching/ conveying science, would be that it would open a new door for secular discussions of meaning; questions of living that religion attempts to address could be discussed but framed in a language that is based in reason while honoring the human subjective experince. When we weave a more inspired language in describing the sciences,(one that encourages, embraces the felt sense of magnificance in contemplating reality) along with the fact that we live an inter- dependent ecosystem, that changes to any part has implications for /ripples on the whole,(a point which is foundational to teaching science ) it instantly begs larger questions of meaning and application, which other branches of science included in school ciriculums, at age appropriate levels, (such as pychology, philosoph, mtholog anthropolog,etc) could then address. I agree that ‘hard’ science combined with greater emphasis on its inter-relationship with these ‘soft’ sciences is required if religion is to lose its hold. And it would do a far better job of addressing questions of origin, health relationships, and existential angst than religion has. The shift in language Druan propose would open the door to giving deserved weight to the disciplines that must be included if we are to address the realities of being human.

I envision a world where at an early age kids are armed with both a reason based language,and one that honors the felt senses. One appropriate for their developmental level ..that allows them to think about questions of meaning and human interaction, and as earl as developmentall appropriate, taught about how our brain impacts all of our perceptions. A ciricullum which emphasizes critical thinking skills, along with a more inspired language for teaching science.. would allow kids, at their levels,to begin to understand and discuss smbol, metaphor, and abstraction. This, along with classes honoring their subjective experiences, encouraging self expression around these questions through sponateous and structured arts programs which implicit address each individuals pscholog..I know this is a dream.. too much to hope for…(m keboard is screwed up…fill in the missing letter) But the power of language can’t be denied. In teaching science as Ann Druan proposes…it would change the whole dnamic, elevate implicitl that which is contained in the feminine archetpe into light and open up tremenous possibilities.

Druyan is in the process of publishing a book on science and ‘spirituality’ (I wish there were a less loaded word, but try to take it for what she means). Hopefully it will speak to this.

Abogada de la diabla / September 23rd, 2006, 7:18 pm / #5

“It may take generations for today’s converts to discover the true price they are paying for their false certitudes.”
Just wait till the Mars Hill children become teenagers. I wish I could be a fly on the wall in their houses. Ha ha ha ha ha!

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