Sunday, June 26, 2005

Cruisin' for Religious Freedom

(Please forgive me if this post didn't make sense. I had a really good post going but Blogger lost it, so I'm recovering it from memory.) Who really cares about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes gettin' it on? Maybe Tom does and Katie does. Maybe Nicole does, finding she's in essence been traded in for a younger, cuter model (Stepford Wives, anyone?). But the rest of us? I care about Holmes' role in Batman Begins. I care about Cruise's upcoming role in War of the Worlds. I do not spend my nights lying awake thinking about just how big Holmes' brand-spankin'-new engagement ring is. Well, all last week, it seems America proved that it cares. All last week we couldn't get enough about Cruise and Holmes' new engagement and public displays of affection, with media commentators loudly wondering whether it was all a publicity stunt. But of course, this innocent crucifixion of Cruise and Holmes' relationship took an ugly (or uglier, I suppose) turn for the worse when attention turned to Holmes' sudden and "disturbing" conversion from the socially acceptable Catholicism to the deviant Church of Scientology. CNN ran no less than three specials (in the span of two days) on exactly what the Church of Scientology was, sending no-name reporters into Scientology headquarters as secret, undercover infiltrators, helmets clutched close about their ears like Dr. Sanjay Gupta reporting live and terrified amidst the dropping bombshells of the Iraq War. America seemed determined to obsess over and debunk the sinister beliefs of Scientology. Cruise went on the Today show and, though he was supposed to be spending the time talking about a) War of the Worlds or b) his undying love for Holmes, he strayed from his prepared talking points when Matt Lauer subtly suggested that Cruise was demanding Holmes' conversion to Scientology and asked a question almost akin to that posed to Dukakis in '88 ("But Tom, if [Brooke Shields] said that [antidepressants] helped her feel better... isn't that enough?"). Cruise went on the defensive and what was supposed to be a candycorn fluff piece on Cruise's upcoming movie turned into delightful Scientology fodder for the masses. No longer was Cruise the innocent, doe-eyed 80's heartthrob, nor was he the doting husband of Hollywood's decade-old power couple, the turn of the millennium seems to have remade him into the new Jim Jones, spiking Katie's Koolaid with his cynaide-laced proselytization. Now, don't get me wrong, Cruise is crazy (as well as extremely inarticulate -- I groaned my way through the Today show transcript). It is irresponsible for anyone to suggest that all the mentally ill patients in the world only require exercise and health foods rather than medication and psychiatry to cure them of their ailments. But what this entire episode reminds me of is not the plight of the mentally ill in this country, but of the plight of the religious minority. The past week has been nothing less than a concrete example of the institutional religious bias within this country. Like it or not, Scientology is a religion, as valid as any in this country, and, like any system of faith, assailable by critical logic. And yet, when Billy Graham uses his pulpit to target gays, his God is never questioned, the power of his faith never subject to late-night talk show jokes and early morning show mockery. Occasionally, a person like Graham might be criticized by the mainstream media, but only as a flawed believer, never as the follower of a flawed belief. Put it another way, Judeo-Christian beliefs in this country are considered "normal", and the religious Other is "abnormal". When Holmes converted to Scientology, the symbolism was a tantalizing recount of Persephone and the pomegranate. Holmes' pristine, youthful beliefs had been deflowered by Cruise's older, lustful, and sinfully paganistic member, and the unseen ejaculating of his seed had caused her to stray from the flock. Holmes' conversion had suggested that Catholicism was somehow not as good as Scientology, and the insulted and infuriated Catholics clapped back, reasserting that they are indeed "the norm" with this public humiliation of Cruise's beliefs. Like fat jokes, America felt no qualms in mocking this abnormality. Yet, you can bet that if Holmes had converted from Scientology to Catholicism, Cruise would be depicted as a saviour. Now, I think it's great that America has a stated dedication to religious freedom, but freedom of choice requires that there be no choice that is "normal". Free choice can only exist when there is meaningful choice, and meaningful choice can only be attained through educated, free-flowing debate in which there is no universally right or universally wrong decision. With a diversity of culture, thought and beliefs, a person can only make a meaningful choice when they realize there is no right answer, that no matter what they choose, they will be subject to criticism and are prepared to respond accordingly; after all, for every person who chooses Scientology believing they have done what is "correct", there will be an equal number who chooses Taoism, Hinduism, or Catholicism. If everyone believes themself to be "right", a system of freedom requires that no one is. Yet, we don't see this in modern America. While the religious minority must know a little bit about Judeo-Christian tenets, understand Judeo-Christian beliefs, and respect Judeo-Christian faith (after all, we are so completely inundated with their preaching -- Revelations, anyone?), the same cannot be said in reverse. For us to achieve the kind of religious freedom set forth by the founding fathers, we as a society need to come to a realization that might does not necessarily make right, and that numbers don't equal correctness. Though the vast majority of America is Judeo-Christian, we still hinder our progression towards a freedom of religion state. Instead, there must be a mindset shift. If we want real debate and discussion regarding religion leading to real choice, for every Cruise that gets publicly crucified, there must be an equal treatment of Graham and his beliefs. And if you don't want to hear about the pros and cons of Islam, Taoism, Buddhism or even Satanism, then you need to get out of my face about the grace of your God. Update: Wizard weighs in on his blog. And, in related news, the Supreme Court decides that a Texas monument that says "I am the Lord, thy God", erected at the capitol building, does not condone a state-sanctioned religion.


Blogger William said...

Nice post, Jenn. There wasn't enough room to comment here, so I actually commented over on my site.

6/27/2005 03:18:00 AM  
Blogger Karlos said...

Religion = Foma

If you understand this, you rock.

If you want to understand, read Kurt Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle."

If you're happy in your faith and think that other people ought to believe in the teachings of your religion, you probably don't want to understand.

6/27/2005 11:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Kaede said...

I am happy with my faith, but I am also happy to learn about other faiths. That doesn't mean I intend to join 'em, it just means I wanna learn about it to get a better understanding of how other ppl tick. I have friends of all (and no) faiths.

I make sure my son learns about other faiths. We talk about his friend at school who is Muslim and what it means to be Muslim. They learn about other religions at school. The only thing that bothers me is that I don't believe in religious education in schools and it comes perilously close in that all major events in the school occur at the local parish church. We are not Church of Scotland, thus I disagree with this approach. Learning about other religions is fine, just not actively encouraging their own (or the majority's) is not.

What bothers me about Cruise's outburst is the fact that those with mental issues are made out to be merely mentally lazy or whatever was his point (ie that there couldn't be anything medically/chemically wrong with them). (I couldn't really catch his point as he seemed to argue in really vague terminology.) It is also extremely biased for one whose religion is supposedly based on scientific views, rather than emotional/spiritual or whatever else. (at least this is how I understand it, having read L Ron Hubbard's books as a teen) If anyone knows otherwise, do let me know so I can correct whatever erroneous views I may have of Scientology.

Perhaps the main issue that most people have with Ms. Holmes' 'conversion' to Scientology was the fact that it seems like he is exercising undue influence over her, rather than it being her exclusive choice. It has been speculated that one of the sources of conflict between Cruise and Ms. Kidman was the fact that she refused to believe as he did and it made him even more determined not to make that mistake again.

I myself am in a similar position in that my husband does not share my beliefs and mocks me at every turn about it. It's very stressful, but I have NEVER said he had to be a 'good little' religious believer. If anything I tried to make sure he believed in it before he joined. I can understand Mr. Cruise's intentions but not his practice of it...if you understand what I mean.

I don't follow any particular 'star' just for this reason. I believe it is rude, disrespectful and unnecessary. There are people dying in the world and I have too much to do myself to worry about what some rock/movie star is doing today. I may admire people, fine, but I don't deliberately go out of my way to find out every last detail from the colour of their underwear, to whatever sexual position they prefer that day. I don't go to fan forums any more for this reason, as that is all it seems anyone is interested in at the end of the day and I am NOT. They have the same right to privacy that everyone else does, if not more so, by virtue of their jobs.

Anyway, to tie this all in with the blog posting, I don't agree with Mr. Cruise, his beliefs or his arguments (or lack thereof) but I do agree with his right to have them and talk about them.

6/27/2005 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger phillyjay said...

"Perhaps the main issue that most people have with Ms. Holmes' 'conversion' to Scientology was the fact that it seems like he is exercising undue influence over her, rather than it being her exclusive choice."

Bingo.Can't agree any more.

6/27/2005 01:35:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

What I don't understand is why anyone would care what influence Tom Cruise may or may not be exerting on Katie Holmes. She's legally an adult, and every if she still has that Dawson's Creek 'deer-in-headlights' stare going on, I don't see why it matters.

It almost suggests that Scientology is something less than a religion and more like a cult, and that Tom Cruise, as the group most famous current symbol, uses some counterculrute Scientology voodoo to bring the unwitting damsel into the fold.

Now, I don't mean to suggest that Kaede or PhillyJay mean my hyperbole with their statements, I'm just wondering why Cruise's religious background carries with it such odd cultish nuances. I know nothing about Scientology, btw.

6/27/2005 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

Jenn, I don't believe religious freedom can exist in a society that still has a definable mainstream. The Christian Right proports to speak with the voice of America's evanglical Christians, yet its membership and public face is eternally Caucasian. The most segregated hour in American life is still 11 AM on Sunday morning.

Given the observation that mainstream Christianity has its own demographic (not really based on religious belief), it can be argued that everyone falling outside of that is in some way deviant. As long as perceptions of deviance still exist in a religiously pluralistic society, religious freedom can't occur, because those considered 'normal' will perpetuate their ill-gotten normality through the exertion of political power against religious minorities. We already live in a minor theocracy; hence today's Supreme Court ruling on the Texas monument.

6/27/2005 01:55:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

james, i agree. the solution i propose is ethereal, not particularly realistic, vague, and sort of hippie sniff-the-flower-esque. how do you de-normalize one religion and bring deviant or paganistic religions into acceptibility?

more importantly, the freedom of religion issue becomes more problematic if you go about it this way: can you possibly believe in a religion and yet still not consider yourself completely "right", as I propose in this post? Obviously not -- religion and faith are based upon the unwavering (and often unsubstantiated) belief that you are right about the universe, even specifically because there is no evidence. How do we ask someone who subscribes to the Ten Commandments (there is no other god but God) and expect them also to be able to accept that their religion is no more "right" than that of a Branch Davidian?

Basically, can there still be religiousness in a freedom of religion society if the only way to have religion is to have no fringe beliefs?

6/27/2005 03:16:00 PM  
Anonymous hf said...

See here and here. The first deals with Scientology, the second with Tom Cruise.

6/28/2005 02:52:00 AM  
Blogger Karlos said...

Thanks for the links, hf. I read the first article, and I'm halfway through the second. Hubbard is a real-life Bokonon.

I wonder which other religions may have been started by people who were aware of their ridiculousness...

6/29/2005 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

hf, thanks for the articles. i've skimmed 'em but need to go back and read more closely.

either way, though, i think even if a religion is started surrounded worship of a mouldy teddy bear, we still have to find a way to work that into a freedom of religion society. i mean, to the outside observer, JudeoChristian may seem just as ridiculous.

6/29/2005 11:33:00 AM  

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