Reminding You That All Religions Were Once New

I’ve long wanted to paraphrase the slogan from Composers Datebook to apply it to another interest of mine:

“Reminding you that all religions were once new”

The original phrase is applied to music, and the point is that all the music we label “classical” today was once simply “music”. Classical is what has stood the test of time, but just because it is old, or because it has remained popular, doesn’t automatically mean it is ‘better’. Indeed, it doesn’t seem clear that there is any objective way of assessing ‘betterness’ in music. Is religion much different? If so, how?

Certainly one approach is to judge them by their “fruits”. But then why aren’t more people flocking to Jainism? And why haven’t blemished in Christianity’s history led to the revocation of its “classical” status?

I decided to post on this because of a recent article by Michael Shermer about Scientology, which some of my colleagues have been discussing. Is there anything different about mocking or threatening a new religion, as opposed to doing the same towards a well-established older one?

At the very least, in terms of U. S. democracy, the answer is no. If the first amendment is to be meaningful, it cannot just apply to religions that began before a certain date. Our ‘free market’ approach to spirituality also suggests that the new and the old must compete on a level playing field, and there is some evidence that might suggest that the older traditions are the better for it. The John Templeton Foundation is a big supporter of this ‘free market’ approach to religion and spirituality. Of course, that isn’t too surprising…

Then again, there may be a tension worth noting within our own capitalist democracy. Has anyone else noticed that, while we emphasize democratic government, most corporations in the U.S. are structured like mini dictatorships?

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  • You’re kind of into this Democratic Ideal vs. the way we practice/worship, aren’t you? ;^)

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know about mocking or threatening a new religion.What I do know about is that Scientology, is at its heart a scam made to make money and to fool people. If there surfaced documents that showed that Jesus laughed at his followers and detailed plans to make money, and to whitewash his reputation, then I’d be just as suspicious of christianity. L Ron Hubbard was a mythomaniac, a liar and a deeply dishonest person. St Paul told us to look at the fruits coming from the tree. A bad tree can not bear good fruit.Scientology have no regard at all for free speech and openness. They harass and blackmail defectors in a coordinated manner. This is not good fruit. There’s a reason why this is an anonymous comment. I oppose them in other venues as well.It’s no laughing matter, and we shall not lower ourself to their level. What we shall do is to put light upon their practices. Scientology hurts people and if you love your fellow man you don’t want them hurt, will you?

  • I have been following the Anon. vs. CoS almost since it started and I feel that both sides of this situation are misunderstood. For starters, Anon is a group that does not stand against the teachings of Scientology and dianetics. What Anon is against is the CoS use of censorship against anything that puts them in a negative light and the practice of charging the churches members for readings. Second, CoS is viewed as some sort of secretive cult, but yet anyone may read through the volumes of material published by L. Ron and learn about the essential teachings of CoS. yes I have seen the exagerations that the leaders of CoS have done to the life of L. Ron but it is easy to find the discrepencies and it should be noted that L. Ron himself did not attempt to make the claims that are now attributed to him.I am not for or against either side. CoS leadership reminds me of the medieval Catholic church who began selling redemption to turn a profit. Just because the leadership may be in the wrong it doesn’t mean that the original ideology is wrong as well. As for Anon, they haven’t done anything illegal and they haven’t caused in harm or damage to any members of CoS, as long as they continue non-violent protest I don’t see how we could, or why we would, need to stop them. For the anonymous member who left a post. Don’t forget your roots this movement was partially started just for the lolz. Take a look at the blogs about the first protests, they where done in the spirit of being amused.

  • I am not at all opposed to criticism of religious tradition, and am frustrated when members of any tradition try to shield their ideas, their values and their claims from rational thought. It is when one goes from debating ideas and critical analysis to threatening people or calling for violence. Not only is that legally and morally problematic, it also is the least likely approach to bring about positive change.

  • Thanks for the Shermer article.I’ve been thinking about these issues lately too, ever since the Romney candidacy. What do YOU make of the CºScientology’s self-identification as a “religion.” A couple of thoughts:I notice that the Scientologist mythology is sorta dated, that is, it reflects the time period that it was conceived in (DC9-like spaceships, hydrogen bombs—the thetan story sure looks a lot like an Eisenhower-era apocalypse).Can I (let’s say :), as an intrepid entrepeneur, write a book in which I re-frame the metaphors of the information age to re-describe the problem of evil and then build a tax-exempt “religion” around it?Why not? Hubbard did it. Perhaps the definition of the word “religion” needs revising.If I want to go around street corners professing that Barry Manilow is the anti-christ and that we should destroy all televisions (I often do this in my free time, it helps me relax 😉 can I call myself a religion?Where’s the line?Scott Ferguson: (et al) Have you ever heard the James Carroll speech on “The Holiness of Democracy”?

  • Thanks, Quixie, for your comment! I suppose the irony is that one can get away with a lot more in the way of hate speech if one claims it is simply an expression of one’s religious beliefs. While I’m on record as being critical of Dawkins on a number of points, I actually agree with him that religious claims ought not to be viewed as off-limits from rational questions. Some religious believers regard the asking of such questions a form of persecution, but that is presumably because they haven’t thought about the issues and thus when they are asked, their heads hurt.If one is using poetic language, that is one thing. To respond to “My love is a red red rose” by saying “Prove it!” or “A comparison of the characteristics of this flower with the anatomy of your beloved shows that you are either mistaken or a liar” would be to mistake the kind of claim being made. But those who do make claims about history or science or anything else from a religious perspective are making claims about areas in which evidence matters, and cannot then sidestep around the fact if they don’t have the relevant evidence to support their claims.I wonder where the conversation will go from here. Should we talk about the first amendment, about sci-fi as religion, or about why anyone would mount a crusade against Barry Manilow? 🙂

  • BSM

    Barry Manilow is but one sign that the end draws nigh and I have proof, the Raelians told me so! As for how to define a religion, well, you can cut that one many different ways. This link does an adequate job in my opinion. As for Scientology, just replace belief in their space aliens with belief in the “supernatural” and it fits all of Cline’s characteristics. I also like Cline’s take on what a cult is. “Instead of using such a loaded word, it would perhaps be better to refer to “New Religious Movements.” These groups, normally called “cults,” are religious, they are movements, and they are generally new – and that’s why this term tends to be used in scholarly literature. Anti-cult prejudice is rampant in American society, and I’ll attempt to avoid it as much as possible. From my perspective, so-called “cults” are merely other religions, no better or worse than older, established religions.”As to where the conversation should go, well, maybe those of you who have the sheepskins should continue to examine new religions like “Scientology”?-B. Patterson