Sunday, June 26, 2005

Free Me Too

Half a million people have now logged on to, a website devoted to persuading Katie Holmes to extricate herself from the manic love of heartthrob Tom Cruise and the Scientology he has reportedly persuaded her to adopt.

Yes, friends, I only tackle the most substantive and cutting edge issues in this space and I am always searching far and wide for the deep stuff to bring to you.

But stick with me. A recent article in the Houston Chronicle (“The Stars Are Aligned Under Scientology”; Eileen McClelland, 6/22/05) notes the number of actors who have been drawn to Scientology because, in the words of Glenn Shuck, religion professor at Williams College, “they’re looking for a mental edge in a competitive world.” When a star like John Travolta credits Scientology with the success of his career, notes McClelland, other celebrities find that to be a powerful endorsement.

This is the point at which the investigative theological journalist in me perks up (notwithstanding the serious issue of Katie’s freedom). To wit: Should the value of a religious practice be assessed by what it promises to do for us?

There is no doubt that the Christian faith makes claims about the kind of life which followers of Jesus will experience when we live as His disciples. Jesus says in John 10:10, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” But seldom is Jesus or Christian teaching more specific than this about the “benefits”, as it were, of the Christian life (other than eternal life, about which it is very specific). In fact, nowhere does the New Testament or historical orthodox Christianity offer a “prosperity” gospel. It may be that we experience personal and/or professional “success” as Christians, and for that it is appropriate to thank God and be a good steward of those blessings, but to not experience it is not to say that our faith, or God, has not “worked.”

The problem with Scientology as a religious practice (as opposed to a sort of psychological methodology) is that there is no deity; it’s all about me and my self-actualization. I mention this not to bash Scientology (though I am disdainful of its religious pretensions) but to remind us (including myself) of the continuing human tendency to want our faith to “bear fruit” in worldly terms. When Jesus says “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 14:6), it seems to me that one of the things he is talking about is freedom from the tyranny of trying to perform in this life, by the world’s values, as if that is all there is. Jesus sets us free from the anxiety of deriving our self worth from our performance (God loves us unconditionally) and from the pressure of the time constraints of this life (He has prepared a place for us). “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). We are free to strive for accomplishment but not to be burdened by it.

Katie’s a big girl and can make her own decisions. As for me, I think I’ll continue to work on my own freedom. Care to join me? No website necessary. -- Matt Soper


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