Monday, November 15, 2010

Caveat Emptor

I had previously seen no problem allowing ads on my blog page until I checked it this afternoon and was appalled to see adds for the cult of Scientology on my page.  Adios adds!

Friends and neighbours, I will be the first person to say that any way one chooses to express their faith is their business and they are entitled to do that, however let me also point out a couple of facts which should be obvious to anyone with a pulse:

1. Any institution which charges a fee for spiritual enlightenment is not actually interested in your peace of mind.

2. Any institution which does not encourage its followers to continue in their academic education or to mingle with people who have different beliefs is afraid that the more informed people get, the less their beliefs will be able to stand up under the searchlight of rationality.

3. Any institution which professes to have the answers to all your questions is, in all likelihood, blatantly lying to you.

An add once came up on my Facebook page for a revolutionary new technique to learn guitar scales.  You`ve seen these prepackaged spiels before: "10 foods that burn off belly fat" and when you click on the add, you are treated to a scroll-down odyssey complete with a video of some woman wearing a convincing blue power suit, teaser clips of people looking frustratedly at their bathroom scales, before and after pics of two obviously different people and written testimonial from Chris in VA.

But back to the guitar scales  They were, of course, charging a hefty fee for said product.  Caveat emptor, so I Googled this product for reviews.  What I got was a series of comments from people who said that what they received was a book of scales and a schedule of practice times.  Reviews of the product were unanimously negative.  Many commented they could have gotten all the scales online for free, and that any moron with a piece of graph paper could have drawn up a practice schedule.

In reality, there was no revolutionary mnemonic trick to help you commit the scales to memory or to help you visualize them, or to help you integrate them into an actual song.

The reality is this: for many things, if there was a better way, it would actually be THE way.

There is no substitute for actually making an effort and doing the work, whether that be practicing scales, losing weight or plumbing the depths of our beings.

I am a huge fan of Joseph Campbell, and in his excellent series of interviews with Bill Moyers entitled The Power of Myth, he once said that religion was not a matter of communally finding answers to life, but that it was a communal search for an experience of life.  Taking this im my own Anglican context, I understood this to mean that church is not about actually finding definitive answers to life's great questions, but that it was more about gathering us together into a community where we can explore the questions together.

Based on my interpretetaion of what Campbell said, I once commented in a sermon that the church cannot provide answers, but that we can at least all be confused together.

I realize that might not be what people want to hear, but if you want answers, try Scientology.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. You've pricked my curiosity - to what context are you speaking of when you say the church cannot provide answers, but only comfort in confusion (excuse the paraphrase if it's too liberal). By this I mean to also ask, what do you mean by 'life's great questions', that the church is at a loss?

  3. Hi Athanasius,
    I guess what I was thinking of when I spoke about the church not being able to provide answers was churches and individuals who answer questions such as, "Why do bad things happen to me?" with "Because you did something to make God angry". By that "logic" we must therefore conclude that Mother Theresa, Haiti and babies born with HIV all did something to tick God off. Very Calvinist, but I don't think very productive or helpful.
    What I think has to be embraced by people of faith is that we deal essentially with mysteries. So for example, whereas at one time the church promoted a single explanation of what REALLY happens during the Holy Communion and set fire to anyone who disagreed, is faith really about knowing the answer to such a question?
    When I take or give communion, it is a variable experience. Sometimes, it makes me feel closer to God, sometimes it makes me feel closer to my fellows, sometimes it makes me feel closer to myself, as odd as that sounds.
    As for the ad for Scientology which sparked these thoughts, it was a scrolling of questions such as "Where did we come from?", "Where are we going?", "What's it all about?"...the big questions that everyone has pondered. It ended with the line "Find out the truth". Any group which lays claim to "the truth" generally ends badly because that is the route/root of fanaticism.
    I think that the best that any group or individual can offer is a collective forum in which we can live out the doubts and fears which must assail us from time to time, and to draw strength and support from the community around us.

  4. Well then, a nearly two month 'vacation' - blame 'school' (that institution which, in my perhaps naive opinion, masquerades as being able to 'educate' - Oh! How I yearn for a personal Socrates).

    I agree with your thoughts. Coincidentally, I was re-reading Timothy Keller's "The Reason for God" this morning, and he says essentially the same (but what follows are my own thoughts): people are funny creatures (or maybe it's just me); 'we' so easily go to an extreme because hey, I've discovered a little truth over there in the corner. Why have we become so concerned with answers? I'm positive that would be an interesting socio-historical survey!

    *But,* I've heard that you had an interesting experience at, I believe, the Gaspé airport. Is it as irritating as trips to the grocers, with all of those shopping carts (seemingly) randomly strewn across the aisles, whilst everyone talks, blocking the way? But to ease your mind, if you're 'weirded out' - you're "Facebook friends" with my wife, who is also a pastor in Gaspé.