There’s something fascinating floating around the internet right now, so if you haven’t seen it, you might want to check out the leaked Tom Cruise Scientology video. Nobody knows exactly where it came from, but it’s a pristine copy (i.e, not filmed from a cell phone) of the introductory video for his Best Scientologist Ever award in 2006. Incredibly magnetic. Creepy, sure, but once he gets going, you’ll either be mesmerized or be reminded of a family member who used to beat the shit out of you.
I’ve been something of a Scientology apologist, because I don’t think it gets a fair shake from intellectuals or theologians. As I’ve oft said, if you’re calling thetan auditing in Scientology “crazy”, then you’ve also got to explain transubstantiation in Catholicism, reformed Egyptian tablets in Mormonism, 83% of the Old Testament, and your lucky Atlanta Braves towel. Scientology’s real transgressions occur on the administrative level (the blackmailing, etc.) but as a belief system, I find it as believable as most others.
the Scientology cross(?)
But that’s for other entries to tackle. What fascinates me is Tom Cruise’s refrain of “you’re either in or you’re out!” and the perfervid look he gets in his eyes when he talks about being a part of the action, forcing himself to change, offering details about being unable to pass an accident because he – and you, fellow Thetans – are the only ones who can be responsible.
What is it about the Burning Intensity of the Personally Responsible that people find so easy to adore when searching for a spiritual belief system? Two things strike me about this video: the binary, nuance-free essence of being ALL IN – and the clarity offered by accepting TOTAL RESPONSIBILITY.
I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise, as most people looking for a way out of their addiction, depression or meaninglessness find a lot of help in letting go of the ego and taking responsibility for their actions. Hell, it’s almost the prime directive of AA, an organization for which I have incredible respect. But AA always seems to remain human, and they generally reject orthodoxy with a good dose of humor. Their phrase “one day at a time” has been lost to coffee kitty-cat cliché, but it’s subtly brilliant: they’re not saying you can NEVER DRINK AGAIN, they’re saying “just don’t drink today.”
Conversely, the Scientologists offer their way or the highway, which has got to be attractive to someone who has been strung out on the highway too long. But the constant emphasis on personal responsibility starts to sound a lot less like compunction and more like another drug. Scientology’s distant cousin, the Landmark Forum, dabbles in the same pool: I’ve seen friends emerge from Forum meetings awash in the revolutionary spirit of Taking Back Their Lives From Themselves, and for about three weeks, it’s a crazy ride.
To me, taking ferocious personal responsibility is just the flip side of shame, and not too far from the untreated addict behavior of someone like Mel Gibson or George Bush. Gibson flagellates (or, more accurately, gets off on) his demons by making grisly Bible porn like “Passion of the Christ”, while Bush (by my best guess) sublimates his alcoholism with bizarre bursts of evangelism and thousands of milligrams of antidepressants (which, in turn, makes him behave with wanton cruelty and robs him of the ability to admit – or care – about fault).
Even the most proletariat dime-store psychologist we’ve got going, Dr. Phil, has made millions telling people it’s all their fault. Audiences lap up his admonitions, and infantalize in the presence of his glowing pate. The problem is, self-recrimination may feel good, but like masturbation, its effects are temporary.
I think AA has it right. I sometimes wish there was an AA for non-alcoholics like me, but I swipe the stuff I like: the relief of the happy medium. Understand your faults, but also, make sure to tell yourself it’s okay to fail over and over. There’s nothing more invigorating than an epiphany that you adopt with fiery fervor, but what good is a revolution that doesn’t last the afternoon?