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Jesus Land vs. The Master

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How we pursue power over others


I watched The Master because I was interested in Scientology. I’m not sure how much I learned about Scientology from The Master, but I did see an able portrayal of glib salesmanship and a nifty, nimble made-up religion. And I did see one writer who found a way to sell lots of books, despite the ethical chasm of painting fiction as reality. I did see people who bought in because it fit the way they wanted to see the world. It’s a dark picture and moody. And depressing.

I also just finished Jesus Land, by Julia Scheeres which shows a similar nifty, nimble made-up religion (this one a sad, dark aberration from Christianity). Scheeres’ memoir chronicles growing up in the 70s with abusive, hypocritical parents and power-mad religionists.

There’s nothing like seeing things through the eyes of the resident teenager to unfurl the hypocrisy in a family. You want to hate the parents for their push for outward form even as they undermined their kid’s confidence and ability with ridiculous rules and expectations. And beatings. And micromanagement. And withholding of affection.

As someone who knows that dark side of Christianity is truly an aberration and not at all the entire story, I am so sorry Ms. Scheeres and others had that experience. And I am equally sorry those experiences sent them running the other way. I certainly understand why.

9781619020658_p0_v1_s260x420-03042013Many of my friends and likely many reading this will disagree, but I encourage anyone to read through Scheeres’ portrayal of a life where texts and disciplines are wrenched out of context and used as dark and potent weapons. The book is useful if for nothing else than to examine our own habits of turning powerful positive messages to gain power over others.

Both Jesus Land and The Master revolve around made-up religions that are nimble in that they change to suit whatever the leader needs to accomplish. In The Master, Lancaster Dodd is literally writing his new religion as we watch and changing it as he goes. People notice this. He doesn’t care. But his principles are both abusive and entirely without moorings. In Jesus Land, the parents and leaders pick and choose quotes from the Bible to make their point and exert power over the teens. Again—they are blind to having lost the integrity of the message and the ancient moorings that would help them. I can think of half a dozen organizations started in the 70’s that cherry picked Bible passages to make their own aberration of Christianity. At the time, few of us thought to say, “Hey. Stop that.”

Some reading this will say: “But isn’t that the whole point of religion: to make up a set of rules so as to gain power over others?” I appreciate this perceptive comment and it does seem to be true, except that those ancient moorings and understandings can serve to curb the excesses of our current “isms” (whether fundamentalism, evangelicalism, Christian nationalism or whatever). There remains something much, much deeper to explore.

Jesus Land is worth reading, though not at all easy. The Master left me wishing for less.


Image credit: un-gif-dans-ta-gueule via 2headedsnake

Written by kirkistan

March 4, 2013 at 8:54 am

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