Scientology: It's the McDonald's of Religions
Scientology is the true religion of America's capitalist soul. "To me," says Louis Theroux, "Scientology is selling spiritual hamburgers."
Louis Theroux is a BBC television presenter best known for making documentaries that investigate fascinating worlds and lifestyles. His latest work is a feature documentary on the Church of Scientology, My Scientology Movie, released in the US in March 2017.
Over more than 15 years, using a gentle questioning style and an informal approach, he has shone light on some of the world’s most intriguing beliefs, behaviors, and institutions by getting to know the people at the heart of them – from the officers and inmates at San Quentin prison to the extreme believers of the Westboro Baptist Church; the male porn performers of the San Fernando Valley to the medical regime in one of America’s leading centers of mental health for kids. Recently he made a two-part series on Miami county jail and a special on America’s private menageries of exotic animals.
In the course of his career, Louis has scored a number of journalistic scoops. His series of celebrity profiles, When Louis Met…, took viewers inside the world of the charity fund-raising eccentric Sir Jimmy Savile; the media guru Max Clifford and his client Simon Cowell; and most famously Neil and Christine Hamilton, who found themselves the subject of rape allegations during filming and allowed Louis and his director to continue to stay with them and document the ensuing media onslaught.
Louis graduated from Oxford in 1991 and started out as a print journalist the following year, working for Metro weekly in San Jose and then in New York for Spy magazine. He got his television break from Michael Moore, who hired him as a writer and correspondent for his ground-breaking satirical show, TV Nation.
In 1995 the BBC signed Louis to a development deal. He came up with an idea for a documentary series that would follow him as he immersed himself in off-beat lifestyle, called Weird Weekends.
Over the years, Louis has kept true to a way of working that is uniquely his own: by charming his subjects, he’s able to offer rounded portraits of some of the world’s most psychologically gripping issues, while always resisting easy judgements. Louis has won two BAFTAs, an RTS award, and a Bulldog award, not to mention numerous nominations.
Louis also continues to write for print publications. In 2005 he published a travel book about a few of his adventures, The Call of the Weird.
Louis Theroux: I remember first to hearing about it from my uncle Peter who lives in Long Beach, and when I visited him in L.A. for the first time he told me about this religion that had been created by a sci-fi writer called L. Ron Hubbard, and that it was beloved of actors and celebrities, and that they used hard sales tactics. (These were all his allegations; I mean I'm sure Scientology would deny it.) And that they were very secret, no one really knew what was going on inside.
And in fact he told me—I remember him saying, “You can go down and look at their base; they've got walls around it with spikes on, but the spikes don't face outward…the spikes face inward.” And I thought all of this was sort of really appealing. I mean my own sense of both the absurd but also the macabre was massively piqued.
Scientology to me seems to be a kind of junction of so many quintessentially American qualities. You've got the celebrity dimension; you've got the fact that it's in Hollywood; you've got its sort of relation to the business world and its swash-buckling form of capitalism that we have in the U.S. where you find a need and you market to it, and if the need doesn't exist then you create the need.
To me it's always very telling when you realize that basically McDonald's and Scientology came into existence at almost exactly the same time. Around about 1950 Dianetics was published and the first McDonald's was established. And actually as business models they're rather similar in they both work using a franchise system. And to me Scientology is selling the spiritual hamburgers, if you like.
But it’s this piquancy that's added to it because of the strangeness and humor that's wrapped around it, you know, the bizarreness of the language and the ritual. The packaging is to me quite funny.
At the heart of Scientology is a kind of contradiction, which is that they want to spread the good news about Scientology and Dianetics, that it’s a life-changing, life-saving system that allows you to be your best, and in fact more than that is our last, best hope for saving the planet from war, insanity, crime, intolerance, and so forth.
But they also don't want to give up those secrets too easily either, because they would say you have to go through a certain path, and that takes a “Bridge to Total Freedom,” as they call it.
But actually arguably it's because it's their business model to sell secrets. So the contradiction is, well how do you market a secret? And unlike other religions that I can think of, Christianity—you can get a Bible, in any hotel room you'll find one in the top drawer of your bedside table. And Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, all the major religions as far as I'm aware, their sacred texts are freely available, and there aren’t a whole bunch of secrets, you know, origin stories or mysterious myths, that you have to pay to learn. “Well what's inside the box? What could it be?”
And they also regard outsiders, and particularly journalists, as enemies. To me, it's actually both a problem in as much as they're not giving access, but it's also massively appealing and tantalizing to be aggressively confronted and then turned away.
Unlike most religions that you think of as being sort of welcoming, and ethical, and in the normal way where they sort of invite you—“Come on in, film with us, we'll tell you what we do”—Scientology is constantly, it seems to me, kind of pushing you away and telling you that they don't want your coverage. That nothing you can say about them is going to be the truth.
What is the most quintessentially American religion? It would need to have celebrities, a Hollywood setting, big money, and a confusing swirl of innocence and the macabre. That's Scientology defined, says documentarian Louis Theroux. The church was founded by sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard around the same time that the first McDonald's opened, and there are enormous parallels in the business models of these two operations. Scientology is the embodiment of America's capitalist soul, with two seemingly at-odd goals: to spread the good word of Dianetics (Scientology's sacred text) as far as possible, but to only give its wisdom to those who are willing to pay for it. The top level of Scientology's ideology ladder is called the "Bridge to Total Freedom" — however it's anything but free, costing an individual a minimum of $250,000 to access. It begs the question: Do you want salvation with that? Louis Theroux's latest documentary is My Scientology Movie.
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Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"
- A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
- Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
- Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Beards and perceptions of masculinity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkxMjM3N30.cH-GqNwP5GVqvstgJWAhBPn1B_lYpVEAI0I7iax7EQw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1900%2C0%2C849&height=700" id="caae6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cb0a355a4e8e1899789bc45f3f7aef56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Wikimedia<p>The study used 919 American (mostly white) women ages 18-70 who rated 30 pictures of men they were shown with various stages of facial hair growth. The photographs depicted men with faces that had been digitally altered to look more feminine or more masculine, with a beard and without a beard. The women rated the men according to perceived attractiveness for long-term and short-term relationships. The study found that the more facial hair the men had, the higher the men were rated on their attractiveness, particularly for their suitability for a long-term relationship.</p><p>Part of this might be attributed to facial masculinity — i.e. protruding brow ridge, wide cheekbones, thick jawline, and deeply set narrow eyes — which conveys information to a woman about a man's underlying health and formidability. Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength and social assertiveness. It can also indicate a man with a superior immune response. The researchers suggested that their findings favoring bearded men could be due to the fact that facial hair enhances the masculine facial features on a man's face, like creating the illusion of a thicker jaw line. This could communicate direct benefits to women like resources and protection that would enhance survival among mothers and their infants. In other words, while a beard doesn't mean superior genetics in and of itself, it might be a primitive, ornamental way of saying, "Hey girl, I'm a testosterone-fueled lean, mean, pathogen fighting machine." <br></p><p>It could also be that a beard becomes its own destiny. The researchers in this study cite prior research that found that by growing a beard, men felt more masculine and had higher levels of serum testosterone, which was linked to a higher level of social dominance. They also tended to subscribe to more old-school beliefs about gender roles in their relationships with women as compared to men with clean-shaven faces.<span></span><br></p>
What does disgust have to do with beard preference?<p>Obviously, not all women dig beards. The researchers were particularly interested in what traits make a women prefer bearded men over clean-shaven faces. They looked into several factors including a woman's disgust levels on various concepts, her desire to become pregnant, and her exposure to facial hair in her personal life. </p><p>According to the study, women who were not into facial hair were turned-off by potential parasites or other critters they imagined could be in the hair or skin. Women ranking high on this "ectoparasite disgust" scale might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming habits. However, women who ranked higher in levels of "pathogen" did find the bearded men to be desirable, possibly because they perceived beards as a signal of good health and immune function. An intriguing discovery in the study was links to morality. Women who displayed higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, were more likely to prefer hairy faces. The authors opined that this could reflect a link between beardedness, politically conservative outlooks, and traditional views regarding performances of masculinity in heterosexual relationships.</p>
Additional findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg1My9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDI1NjUyOX0.P9B8WbmJR0q4nfzYZKbuNSA-2SAigVWJgrQE-_Gxlds/img.gif?width=980" id="49143" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ed3b1d6f20fc170bf2974646e565e8d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Giphy<p>The correlations that existed between married and single women's rating on the attractiveness of beards were not particularly clear, although the researchers noted that single and married women who wanted children tended to find beards more attractive than the women who didn't want children. They also found that women with bearded husbands found beards to be more attractive, which might indicate that social exposure to beards influences how desirable they are perceived of as being. Or it could be that men with wives who like beards grow beards.</p><p>It's important to note that culture plays a huge role in how attractive women perceive certain male characteristics as being. This study looked at a small, culturally specific group of American women, so no big, universal claims should be made about masculinity, facial hair, and male desirability to women. However, research like this is important in highlighting how human grooming decisions are driven by much more than fashion trends. Sociobiological, economic, and ecological factors all play a part in the way we choose to present ourselves.</p>
Yet 80 percent of respondents want to reduce their risk of dementia.
- A new MDVIP/Ipsos survey found that only 35 percent of Americans know the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.
- Eighty percent of respondents said they want to reduce their risks.
- An estimated 7.1 million Americans over the age of 65 will suffer from Alzheimer's by 2025.
Credit: logika600 / Shutterstock<p>Remaining healthy requires regular screenings. Here again we see a disassociation between risk reduction and proactivity. Seventy-seven percent of respondents don't talk to their doctors about lifestyle habits that support brain health; 51 percent have never been screened for depression; 44 percent have never had a neurological exam; and 32 percent have never been screened for hearing problems. </p><p>Common early warning signs of dementia, <a href="https://news.yahoo.com/americans-worry-alzheimers-disease-survey-140644803.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to</a> Dr. Jason Karlawish, co-director of the Penn Memory Center, include repetitive questions and stories, difficulties with complex daily tasks, and trouble with orientation. </p><p>In terms of intervention, <a href="https://bigthink.com/21st-century-spirituality/does-lack-of-exercise-lead-to-dementia" target="_self">exercise</a>, <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/obesity-dementia" target="_self">diet</a>, building a <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/brain-reserve" target="_self">brain reserve</a>, and challenging your brain (such as learning a new language or musical instrument) are all proven methods for staving off the ravages of Alzheimer's. Oxytocin has also <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/alzheimers-oxytocin" target="_self">showed promise</a> in brain-addled mice, while researchers found positive results for a <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/intermittent-fasting" target="_self">group of intermittent fasters</a> in promoting neurogenesis. </p><p>Epidemiologist Bryan James says that dementia is <a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2013/04/15/176920391/how-exercise-and-other-activities-beat-back-dementia" target="_blank">not an inevitable result</a> of aging. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It's simply not pre-destined for all human beings. Lots of people live into their 90s and even 100s with no symptoms of dementia." </p><p>Professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, Andrew Budson, <a href="https://news.yahoo.com/americans-worry-alzheimers-disease-survey-140644803.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends</a> aerobic exercise and the Mediterranean diet. As has long been known, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, and healthy fasts like nuts and olive oil seem to have brain-boosting properties. </p><p>To learn more, take the <a href="https://www.mdvip.com/brain-health-iq-quiz" target="_blank">Brain Health IQ quiz</a>.</p><p><span></span>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>