Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Does Celebrity Religion Matter? Tom Cruise and the Way of Salvation

Today I viewed an interesting video making waves across internet surfers' paths. A Tom Cruise Scientology video surfaced on YouTube and other websites recently, before it was pulled down by Scientologists repeatedly. A few sites thought quickly and downloaded it for themselves to maintain its availability.
So, other than a passing, magazine-browsing interest, what does Tom Cruise's thoughts on religion and metaphysics have to do with anything? Is there a reason for celebrity beliefs to matter? If all celebrities were taken seriously, Shirley MacLaine could be taken as a wise sage rather than a punchline.
Cruise's "risky business" of going public so repeatedly with his religious beliefs should raise a few eyebrows: most celebrities stick to bland, generic spirituality, or politically savvy, trendy affiliations, like Madonna's obsession with Kabbalah, a gooey version of Judaism.
Scientology is not scientific, as in science. Nor is it accepted by Christianity as a legitimate religious belief. Other than universalists, who think all roads lead to heaven, Christians - and many others - classify scientology as a cult. While there's been no tainted Kool-Aid served (yet), scientology is rather new on the religious scene, a "new religious movement" in sociological or anthropological lingo. Where Judaism, Islam, Christianity, a few other major players, and folk religions have existed for millenia, scientology is a new kid on the block, a characteristic of cults - some new prophet, wise man, or alien finally "gets" the universe, or receives "new" knowledge or revelation.
Many books or articles expound on the specific beliefs of scientology. While I'm not expounding on the claims of the religious movement so vehemently loved by Tom Cruise and friends, I have a few observations about this video: take a few minutes to watch.
First of all, you'll notice that Cruise is actually quite generic in many of his statements. Also note that he uses several phrases unfamiliar to the layman (SPs, etc.). You may also see that Cruise heavily emphasizes the role of scientology for others - he repeatedly highlights the obligation of scientologists to use their knowledge to help others, for others' good. And, as one friend observed, Cruise takes the need to help others to an almost Messiah-complex level. By the end, I'm driven to imagine the "Mission Impossible" star in a superhero costume with "S" for Scientology on his cape and a noble, self-sacrificing look in his enlightened eye. Thank heavens for Tom Cruise, he's here to save us all.
Save us all. Besides a few weird beliefs, like the necessity for women not to scream during childbirth, what is really so wrong with the things he discusses on camera? Shouldn't we all help others? Shouldn't we all love and have compassion?
It struck me part way through the taped testimony that a lot of the words from Mr. Cruise could be edited into a fundamental Christian preacher's mouth - "you're either in or you're out," "there's no room for spectators," "I have what will help people." Those statements could all be switched into a pulpit - either you're in heaven or you're out, there's no room for casual Christians, and the preacher has the only thing that will save people - the Gospel. What, then, is the difference?
Besides the different claims Scientology and Christianity make about the universe, humanity, and metaphysics in general, observe this: the posterboy for Scientology looks to knowledge for salvation. If you have the knowledge he has of the way things really are in the world, then you can overcome. Repeatedly, the assertion that, "I have to help people," is made. If you know the truth, you will be helped, and then can share that with others. This, however, is not person-based truth, but special, recently revealed knowledge. What is the difference between knowing a fact and knowing a person?
The difference is Jesus Christ. Some religions claim you must know a certain something for ultimate happiness and fulfillment. Christianity's unique claim is that you must know a certain someone, who, as Divine and human, embodies truth and reveals knowledge of the Divine through his Incarnation in human flesh. Belief in Jesus transcends reason, but does not negate reason: that is to say, faith goes beyond what we understand, but God ultimately is the source of reason, logic, knowledge, and understanding, so that reason is never a liability for Christians, but a gift with which we may discover more about God. While Tom Cruise asserts that his possession of knowledge qualifies and obligates him to help others, Christians insist that only relationship with the fount of Wisdom - Jesus Christ - enables us to serve others and point them to the only source of salvation there is - not us, but Christ.
Knowing a fact that will help someone is not useless. But it will not save one's soul. Knowing a person - a Divine, human person, Jesus - will both save one here, and now, and in eternity. Christians need never fear knowing facts. What should be feared is not knowing God from whom truth springs.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Expertly written, Bitty- I've been discussing this topic with some coworkers and it's amazing how much power Tom Cruise has (or thinks he has) in this church.

"Help me, Tom Cruise! Save me with your witchcraft!"
-Talledega Nights