Sunday, January 20, 2008

Tom Cruise Scientology Weirdness

There are a few videos floating around the net recently, of Tom Cruise doing his Scientology preaching. They're all pretty bizarre, but for the ultimate, go to the Tom Cruise Freedom Medal Award Ceremony page and check out video #4, the one where he's wearing a medal. What do you think? Sometimes reality is weirder than any satire you can imagine.

I've pondered this video for a few days. I can't pinpoint what Cruise says that makes it so creepy. It's less about the words than his overall manner, how it projects such absolute certainty in his righteousness.

I personally try to keep a questioning mind, including the big question: "What am I?" Sincere questioning leads to an honest Don't-Know: I don't know who I am, why I'm here, or what the meaning or purpose of it all is. That Don't-Know is my guide.

The opposite of questioning is absolute faith in one's ideas, opinions, beliefs. It's that blind belief that I see in the eyes of Cruise and the Scientology crowd. People who adopt a belief-system have to fool themselves, by pretending that they know what the meaning and purpose of life is.

A cousin of mine went to UC Berkeley during the social/political turmoil of the 60s. She protested for various causes, probably good ones. Decades later, she'd tell me how wonderful it was to know that she was "on the side of the angels." I'm creeped out by this level of certainty in one's beliefs. People who are certain that they're "on the side of the angels" cause so much suffering. When people think that their ideals are the Ultimate Good... it's a short slide to justifying violence and deception to advance those ideals. We attach too much importance to the belief-system, and not enough to simple, moment-to-moment kindness and decency.

It doesn't matter whether the belief-system is political or religious or whatever. The Scientology people appear so caught up in certainty: that their Truth is supreme, that their group is on the side of the angels. It's literally part of Scientology dogma that anyone who gets in their way is "fair game" to attack.

The precepts of religions and ethical systems tell us to refrain from lying, stealing, and doing violence. We can't take these rules as absolutes. Sometimes we may have to lie or steal to save someone's life; sometimes we may have to kill in order to prevent greater harm.

But precepts such as "don't lie" still have value. Whenever we find ourselves bumping up against the precepts, that's a good occasion to question our motives. If we find ourselves being aggressive or deceitful in service of some Greater Good... it's time to wonder: maybe we've lost our questioning mind, and fallen into the certainty of belief.

Don't-Know is 10,000 times better than belief. Better to try to help people in small, moment-to-moment ways... rather than clinging to grandiose ideas that God and his angels are on your side.

[added 1/28/08: I just found this half-hour BBC program that investigated Scientology last year. The most revealing thing about the show is the paranoid reaction of the Scientology spokesman to any hint of questioning his "religion."]


Doug said...


- Doug

gezeena said...

Hi from across the Atlantic - liked your remarks at where an errant "Cruise missile" had dropped me among the lively discussion - overall very inspiring comments, but yours was about closest to my own thoughts and feelings - which landed me here to read in context...

And yes - I agree, a healthy bit of doubt - or, more precisely, admitting to uncertainty about "THE Truth", being ready to question even ones own pet beliefs and unconfirmed suppositions etc. - this is almost THE prerequesite for authentic individual learning and growth (learning as in experience and practical competence to act, even to "help" as in Cruise lingo - not as in boasting of trivia, schooled rhetorics or ready-made wise-cracks replacing empathy or openness or multiperspectival perceptiveness).

To sum it up - the infamous and to the authorities most suspiciously free-thinking old unwise-cracker Sokrates said all about the benefit of the "Don't know" in his famously misunderstood declaration of ignorance: "I know that I know nothing..." That is directly from the German version, I am not now aware of the canonical words in English, but never mind, I could look it up to ease my ignorance. ;) Anyhow - people have tended to neglect the ultimate drift of Sokrates' statement, which becomes clear from his supposed continuation: "...which makes me a lot more knowledgeable than those who [merely] think they know..."

I may be carrying "Owls to Athens" (or rather, to California, or else, most precisely, to your virtual thinking space aka blog) with this statement - and yet, I cannot NOT salute the constructively agnostic, and/or pragmatically pragmaticist practice demonstrated and advocated in your statement - thank you, and sincerely so!

(spelling anglicized ;) )

Stuart said...

Hi, gezeena, thanks for your comment. My Zen teacher used to talk about the Socrates quote you mention. I can't vouch for his historical accuracy, but here's how Zen Master Seung Sahn told the story:

Socrates used to go around Athens saying, ‘You must know yourself.’ Once a student of his asked him, ‘Do you know yourself?’ Socrates said, ‘I don’t know, but I understand this don’t-know.’

This quote is from a collection of ZMSS' teaching letters at this link. The reference to Socrates is at the bottom of page 6 of the pdf file.

Stephen said...

Hi Stuart -- I went to Cruize Video 4 and figured I wasn't getting you fully. It took video 2 to make me aware of what I sense you were feeling. This on a day when, having written a book on Jim Jones in the aftermath of Jonestown, I had occasion to post the disturbing video of the final moments in Guyana on my blog.

More and more, I am using videos BTW. There is weird and valuable and crazy stuff out there.

Here is what I think. I think it is perfectly appropriate to have some values which you will go to the mat for, not with the ominous clenched-ness of Mr. Cruise and not with the assurance I will be "effective" -- which was the truly scary thing I took from the videos.

I have three subsidiary values -- tolerance, democracy in the sense of universal rights and right to a voice, and helpfulness in the sense of a non-paternalistic enabling sort of help.

None of these is my MAIN value. My main value, you will like I think. It is what I call non-idolatry. This is the refusal to grant anything at all a transcendent authority, not because I do not believe there is some power or purpose, but because all I can understand about that is what G-D said to Moses from the burning bush -- I am who am and I will be who I will be.

I think Jesus had the same sense. No one but G-d is good and no one has seen G-d.

Anyway this is the value I will go to the mat for.

Cruise will go to the mat to kill psychiatry, joining Thomas Saatz (sic) and others.

The older I get the less inclined am I to trust people who want to change society on my behalf. I can see being for a candidate in a hopefully fair election. But once you are Cruise -- surrounded by acolytes in a closed system based on LRH -- that is a different thing and hardly appetizing.

Scientology is of no interest to me since I am not in the market for a value system and mistrust anything that is "clean". I think I would be sick.

Once again, a good thing to be discussing.

All the best, S

gezeena said...

Hi, Stuart, I feel honoured by your answer, by your offering of so much more food for thought, which you do in pointing me to your Zen master's thoughts - I have only just begun dipping my nose (with adjacent mind) into the koans (they are koans?), but already I feel their refreshing impulses - as if you pointed me to a source of clear spring water when I was unwittingly thirsty...

Thank you for now and whatever will come of it - as I will always need water, I will always need food for thought... to nourish that healthy questioning attitude toward life!
In this sense I can also very much relate to Stephen's approach with regardi to claims of authority derived from "above", or wherever we cannot learn, but must (or rather: must not!) believe any of the self-styled know-alls... who at the same time cling to transcendent authority, presumably because they cannot face up to the idea of not knowing, of being vulnerable and of being a member in the community of life, no better than others, just different...

With very best wishes to you and best regards from Berlin (Germany),

Gesine aka gezeena

Stuart said...

Stephen said...
I think Jesus had the same sense. No one but G-d is good and no one has seen G-d.

I recall from my upbringing how religious Jews don't write out the lord's name (using "G-d" instead of "God"). Now I see how there could be some meaning in that practice. It could be a pointer, a reminder that Truth is beyond all our efforts to capture it with words, speech, and ideas.

More important than how we spell is how we keep our own thinking. Writing "G-d" could be a reminder to examine and question any ideas we may cling to about what "God" is.

Presidential candidate Huckabee recently said we should "amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards." I don't expect much from politicians philosophically... but I find this remark notable. How supremely arrogant to imply that he knows what God's standards are!

once you are Cruise -- surrounded by acolytes in a closed system based on LRH -- that is a different thing and hardly appetizing

I wonder about Cruise himself. I can hardly imagine what it's like to have that level of adoration. The videos on reveal that within Scientology, Cruise is presented as practically a divine figure. It'd be hard for anyone to walk away from a belief system that rewards you with so much status.

Jeez, it'd be cool if some day Cruise wakes up, and can perceive his doubts. He could go on Oprah and acknowledge that we're all human beings; none of us can rightfully claim superior knowledge of the great mystery.

It'd be like when Krishnamurti walked away from his guruhood. It's an interesting fantasy... but even though I'm a betting man, I wouldn't bet on that outcome.

Doug said...

That Krishnamurti speech you linked to is a great read. I'd never heard of him before.

Also, coincidentally, surfing around the rest of that site, the guy who put it up is a former scientologist.

That can't just be a coincidence... maybe I should go get audited! :-p

- Doug

hard at work in the lab said...

As something of an aside, call me a little crazy, but I have no doubt that either Scientology's "auditing" and "Clearing" process intended to turn Cruise into this pseudo-charismatic, or Cruise used Scientology's "tech" to do so. The type of extreme his public personality shows, at least in those clips--is the type of thing that I think is best attributed to some "brain change" techniques like what you'd get out of Western magick (which Scientology appropriates under a sci-fi aesthetic)--the problem here being that all the energy behind that "brain change" went into self-aggrandizement as opposed to looking at, e.g., "what is it" or "what am i". I've seen this type of thing before in people i know individually.

it's something of a cliche that people who are on a "spiritual" path are spacy, but the Cruisinator here is showing just what happens when instead of getting spaced out you get obsessed with absolute control. And if there's anything scientology is about, it's control--controlling the "reactive mind", controlling the intention, controlling memories you thought you didn't have, even controlling invisible entities that you don't know about that live in your body.

But all that is just idle speculation and tangential really.

Stuart said...

hard at work wrote...
if there's anything scientology is about, it's control

It's so easy to lose site of why we're trying to control anything. For what, for who?

For example, there are times I get frustrated at the office, and I feel like screaming like a baby. In general, it's a good thing that I control my impulses at such times.

Even then, I sometimes look into why I do that. To the extent that I'm trying to avoid making a chaotic environment for the other employees, maybe it's a good thing that I maintain a professional exterior. And I also see that part of my mind that puts on a calm exterior for the sake of keeping an impressive image of myself, and that may not be so good.

Zen style requires always examining whether my motivation is for all beings, or just for me. Without that questioning, keeping "control" can be a meaningless game.

Synchronistically... today I came across a this Google video (I've also added the link to my original Scientology posting). It's a half-hour BBC investigation into Scientology from a few months ago.

The Scientology spokesman who appears over and over in this BBC show demonstrates the out-of-control level of controling that you're speaking of. It's interesting how the mannerisms of the spokesman are similar to those of Cruise himself. As if they've both taken the same course in how they're supposed to act.

gezeena said...

Hi again, latest comments add more valuable ideas that tie right in with what I caught on German TV yesterday night: a Talk Show, where Andrew Morton was invited alongside several public experts and also a married couple, who managed to extract their lives from the control of "the organisation" (as they preferred to term it) after 12 years, and who are now trying to spread their insights to help others realize the psychological and financial mechanisms, which serve as means of controlling the "ordinary" members, those, who are not fitted out to be a shining star and ambassador of Scientology... It seems that the most recent movie with Cruise as anti-Nazi-hero Stauffenberg ("Operation Valkyrie", scheduled to be screened here in September or so) is widely regarded as not a coincidental project, but as a probable means to effectively create positive Sc.-propaganda aimed largely at sceptical Germany (...and thus to provide new tools of controlling...) via positive identification of German audiences with Cruise, cast in the role of the morally superior helper of German self-respect...

Whatever - I am grateful that thru the current surge of publicity as well as public discussion beyond the immediate factual news, all of this mind-bending stuff becomes tangible in its very materialistic set-up, goals and mechanisms, as they are discussed, put in context, and contrasted to other approaches, as for example happens here...

P.S.: In that talkshow one warning by invited politician Björn Engholm struck me as very sensible - not to demonize Scientology as a Cult, because this might also strengthen the lure of their imagery of power, whereas to uncover the mechanisms of control and the "tech" of their psychological manipulations along with the ultimate aims of financial gain, that is what might eventually dismantle their self-styled bubble of invulnerable righteousness...

Think idle or tangential thoughts,
create a space to register doubt -
famous first steps to finding out?!

Thoughtful regards - Gesine

hard at work in the lab said...

"It's so easy to lose site of why we're trying to control anything. For what, for who?... The Scientology spokesman who appears over and over in this BBC show demonstrates the out-of-control level of controling that you're speaking of. It's interesting how the mannerisms of the spokesman are similar to those of Cruise himself. As if they've both taken the same course in how they're supposed to act."

I agree about control--self control is tremendously useful but as you've pointed out it's the motive and intention and attention that matter.

I think the similarity of behavior stems largely from the practices and intention in Scientology. Its founder was a certified bonkers paranoid megalomaniac who appropriated the spiritual techniques of Western magick for what is largely a psychiatric means, with the ends of those means being somehow tied into a sci-fi space opera about alien overlords like Xenu disguised as a money-grab. That's not what the Western tradition is about, but if you chose to use the practices for those ends, well, you're going to get some "magickal results" like what you see with those videos: a consistently power-mad but oddly uniform group of people. It's analogous to using meditation solely to cultivate bliss-states rather than "ultimate" insight into self--you could very easily end up trapped in a synthetic heaven, and in the case of Scientology, part of that heaven involves hefty doses of paranoia and power.

To some extent any spiritual practice is going to have all sorts of freak-outs, because life has bumpy parts so why should that be any different--the point being that if you solidify those freak-outs, even the seemingly positive ones, you've lost the thread that questioning might have provided. some training in ethical conduct might help smooth out the rough parts, too.

Stephen said...

Now imagine if Jesus had felt exactly as Krishnamurti when he got to the point off renouncing anything save the freeing of persons, and that all of the elements in the New Testament and Church Fathers that suggests different is what I call a creedal messianic overlay. That's really what I think. Loved the reminder. Cheers, S