Posted on September 13th, 2012 | Filed under Interfaith, Intra-Faith, Leadership, Learning, News, Philosophy, Popular Culture, Social Issues, Theology
Tagged with #Catholic, Aquinas, Brotherhood, Christianity, Cinema, Controversy, Cult, culture, Film, freedom, Krishnamurti, love, New Age, Origen, Scientology, Theosophy, truth, unity, World Teacher
I vividly remember my first time seeing There Will be Blood. It was late Fall in 2007 at the Uptown Theatre in Minneapolis. A nicer, warmer day than is usual at that time. I walked up the street and joined my friends at the theater. It being the first evening showing of the film in our city, there was a marketing crew there asking for people to respond to some questions before and after the screening. Basically they wanted to know what we knew going in, what we expected out of it, and after the movie, if it had matched our expectations and whether we would recommend the movie beyond our viewing.
The film stars Daniel Day-Lewis as an oil tycoon named Daniel Plainview and Paul Dano as a church minister named Paul/Eli Sunday. Without getting into the particulars of the plot, it sets Plainview against Sunday as community rivals with the tagline, "When Ambition Meets Faith... There Will be Blood."
Director P. T. Anderson has a new movie coming out this weekend called The Master. It is another character study, this time looking at a pair named Lancaster Dodd, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Freddie Quell, played by Joaquin Phoenix. I do not know exactly what it is about, outside of the brief plot descriptions and the trailers available. But like There Will be Blood being loosely compared to the life of John Rockefeller, The Master is supposedly a parallel of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.
The idea of The Master seems to be asking the question of what constitutes true authority in the religious environment. The concept of a "Master" in the theological sense seems to imply some sort of heightened spiritual evolution, or, at minimum, the strength to lead another towards that goal. In history, the concept of a yogi, a guru, or anything else like this has been treated with high esteem and rightfully so. Many people feel that these characters are helpful on their spiritual quest.
The Church of Scientology is, among other things, frequently called a cult. Seen by some as an "abusive business" pretending to be a religion, there is an initiative to ban it in Germany. Whether the allegation is true or false is not a matter of import at the moment, but it is important to the idea of a Master. The movie deals largely, it would seem, with the idea that the religious system in the movie, the theological framework that Lancaster Dodd has brought forth, is in fact a creation of his own imagination. Reportedly, the relationship with Hubbard, and this particular characteristic of Dodd, has caused some problems with the Church of Scientology, or at least some Scientologists. But why?
The problem from their perspective is not that it falsifies their beliefs, but that it falsifies the system they have been given by their Master. If the system that Dodd, and by extension Hubbard, has given us is actually a creation of the human imagination, and a particular human imagination at that, then it may not hold the same sort of metaphysical weight to non-believers. If this is so, conversion or proselytizing may be significantly more difficult. If it is just a Myth it may be hard to convince as being Truth.
I am not concerned whether Scientology is true or whether Hubbard did indeed invent his religion. I for one find much to appreciate about Scientology and its theological system. What I am concerned about is the idea of one man making broad theological claims without allowing for dissenting views or information. As it is said in the trailer, "that is the basis of a cult."
People often feel strongly about their conviction to an ideal, a system, or a Master. Even I do. I feel strongly towards the ideals of Love or Freedom, I feel strongly towards the system of Origen or Aquinas, but when it comes to a Master I am lost. I have no Master and, for better or worse, it shows. My theology is wild and so are my beliefs about statements of faith. One to another, it may seem inconsistent to someone who has hardly gotten to know me. But my point is that even if we do not have a particularly strong identity to a person, we may indeed still relate to other things.
Hubbard died in 1986, leaving behind a large organized body and one of the fastest growing religions in reputation and size. With interesting recruiting tactics as a strong public presence, it was bound to catch the attention of not just the obscurities of spiritual seekers.
That same year, another Master died, only this one was not the leader of an organized body, but in fact a self-inflicted exile of one. Jiddu Krishnamurti, the would-be World Teacher of a New Age movement, passed on from our world around the same time. Krishnamurti is a complicated character, like Hubbard, because he was also met with extreme loyalty by his adherents, but unlike Hubbard, he felt uncomfortable accepting his position.
Picked at a young age as the vessel for the World Teacher, Krishnamurti was raised with the intention of bestowing Light upon the Darkened world. He was given a strong education but raised within the confines of his tradition. At one point, he was given a castle by a Netherlander noble so that he would have a base for his operations. But just as he was to begin his quest to teach the World all they needed to know, he dissolved his order saying:
I maintain that truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or coerce people along a particular path. ... This is no magnificent deed, because I do not want followers, and I mean this. The moment you follow someone you cease to follow Truth. I am not concerned whether you pay attention to what I say or not. I want to do a certain thing in the world and I am going to do it with unwavering concentration. I am concerning myself with only one essential thing: to set man free. I desire to free him from all cages, from all fears, and not to found religions, new sects, nor to establish new theories and new philosophies.
The problem, in Krishnamurti's mind, is that the very concept of a Master is the antithesis of the spiritual quest. That is not to say we cannot move together, learn together, and live together, but that when, as he said, you follow someone else you cease to follow Truth.
Now comparing Krishnamurti to Hubbard is not particularly fruitful, in that their lives are significantly different. But the point remains. A strong attachment to a Master may in fact lead you down the wrong path. One encumbered and not free.
The movie coming out this week should be exploring some of these same basic ideas. I hope, and with considerably high expectations, this will be a very good film. I think often on the themes played out in Anderson's movies and I think this one will maintain the same premise of the last one, "When Ambition Meets Faith... There Will be Blood."
The very idea that the ambition of a single man can be melded with the devotion which arises in Faith and statements or beliefs around it can be incredibly dangerous. Throughout time we have seen many examples of this being true.
Like I said before, I have no Master. Though Krishnamurti argues you should not have one at all, I am not totally convinced. I have seen many people grow by their relationship with a spiritual significant, especially if that person is in a position beyond the student. That said, I think it is important to approach this relationship with extreme prejudice and utmost caution. If you open yourself up too far, it could be dangerous for you.
I often think about the coming of a new Master. One like Gandhi, or Martin, or Teresa, or maybe even like Krishnamurti and Hubbard, provided they actually were. I have no doubt this will happen in time. When it does, what will they be like? If they are, how will we know? And once declared, how might we serve them?
A Master is Coming. Let the Right One In.
Image via Wikimedia Commons.