I was recently watching HBO’s new documentary on Scientology, Going Clear, and was astounded at how so many wealthy, powerful, and seemingly intelligent people have bought in to L. Ron Hubbard’s bizarre and sci-fi inspired vision of the world. 75 million years ago some god called Xenu transported a bunch of humans to earth in a spaceship and dumped them into volcanos? Really? And Maverick from Top Gun buys into this shit?
But it quickly occurred to me that any system of beliefs — including the Catholic one to which I hold (albeit poorly) — is equally bizzare-sounding at first blush. God became a man and died and rose again from the dead? Really? And Riggs from Lethal Weapon buys into this shit?
The fact is that the only reason any belief system sounds reasonable to a person or a society is because they’re used to it. Christianity’s notion of theosis sounds no less crazy than Mormonism’s belief that the faithful will one day be gods over their own planets or Islam’s hope for 70 virgins in the afterlife. In this case, familiarity breeds not contempt but consent — if you grow up hearing something often enough it becomes more and more plausible (especially if the belief is held by the majority of the surrounding community).
Lest the non-religious take this opportunity to look down their noses at us superstitious mystics, I would remind you that there are plenty of secular versions of supernaturalism. One obvious example is an iron-clad adherence to the theory of evolution. While I as a Catholic have no real problem with the idea as such, I do marvel at the absolute certitude and borderline-evangelistic zeal with which its its proponents hold it (not to mention their anathematizing its detractors and banishing them to intellectual and cultural hellfire and brimstone). My point has nothing to do with whether evolution is true, and everything to do with the idea that an untestable narrative of origins that took place billions of years ago can apparently be held to with tenacious impunity, while a belief in other equally fantastical ideas is mere backwardness and superstition.
Another example is love. Who doesn’t love love, and being in love? Indeed, were it not for this, the majority of art, poetry, films, and music would not exist. And yet the existence of love is something we must accept by an act of faith, since love is not a physical substance in the brain or nervous system that can be implanted, removed, or examined in a test tube. It’s just there, something whose presence we celebrate or whose absence we lament. It’s bigger than us, like an ocean is bigger than us, which is why we fall in it, rather than the other way around.
Of course, the crassest of atheists will insist that love really is nothing more than a trick our physical brains play on us, a sham and farce no different from Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. But for my part, any account of the universe without love as central to its metanarrative not only fails to do any justice whatsoever to the human condition as it is actually experienced by most of the world (especially by children too pure and unsophisticated to yet be atheists), but is simply too cold, unimaginative, and boring to be true.
So you can keep your closed system with its grinding gears and rigid laws. I’ll take priestcraft, myth, and magic any day.
And love. . . .