Saturday, February 19, 2011

Scientology and Confession

The recent article in the New Yorker on Scientology and Paul Haggis is fascinating.  Paul Haggis is director of  the Academy award winning films Crash and Million Dollar Baby as well as the recent James Bond remake of Casino Royale. One of the most fascinating aspects to me is why he stayed so long in what I find to be a truly bizarre and increbile (as in not credible) belief system. Even he admits that he found aspects of Scientology to be beyond belief, even when he was an active member:
Privately, he told me, he remained troubled by the church’s theology, which struck him as “intergalactic spirituality.” He was grateful, however, to have an auditor who was “really smart, sweet, thoughtful. I could always go to talk to him.” The confessionals were helpful. “It just felt better to get things off my chest.” Even after his incredulous reaction to O.T. III, he continued to “move up” the Bridge. He saw so many intelligent people on the path, and expected that his concerns would be addressed in future levels.
What struck me about this quote is that Haggis reveals not only how he found the "theology" or cosmology of Scientology unbelievable, he also reveals what kept him in, what he found rewarding about Scientology - "it just felt better to get things off my chest." Confession.

Reading this article, I realized that confession is one thing that Scientology incoporates that we all need.  It is a central part of Christianity:

James 5:16 "Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed  The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working."

From the Lord's Prayer: "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us."  Confessing our sins is not the end in itself, although even this alone can bring people relief as they feel the acceptance or fogiveness of others.  In Jesus we have the great comfort of forgiveness through Jesus death on the cross - our sins placed on Him and forgiven, and His righteousness accounted to us - this is true confession which brings forgiveness.  This is the missing element from Scientology - and rather than receiving the free grace and fogiveness given by Christ, Scientology ascribes religious works that must be completed (and paid for - ka-ching!) through a procedure called auditing and other purification techniques involving saunas and high doses of vitamins.

Confession is incorporated into the liturgy of both Lutheran and some Reformed/Calvinst Churches. Here is a public congregational confessional from the Lutheran liturgy:
"I confess to God Almighty, before the whole company of heaven and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned in thought, word, and deed by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault; wherefore I pray God Almighty to have mercy on me, forgive me all my sins, and bring me to everlasting life. Amen."
The pastor then announces the forgivness of sins of which the repentant sinner can be assured:
"The alimighty and merciful Lord grant you pardon, fogiveness, and remission of all your sins."
The Lutheran Church also still practices (in some congregations) private confession, something that is sorely lacking in most Protestant Churches - although this gap has been filled by support groups; however, the announcement of forgiveness is key.  We are forgiven - we are not fixing ourselves, and therapeutic groups often lack this perspective, but rather focus the sinner on himself.  The works you must perform may be different, but you can end up on a treadmill of activities all too similar to the endless auditing of the Scientologists. We receive our forgiveness from Jesus - something endless works can never attain. 

Here is a link to a radio program telling a real life story of confession and absolution.  It really gives you an idea of how confession and forgiveness is meant to be:

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