United States of Religion

Religion and Science: A Clash Between Faith and Reason

United States of Religion
Religion and Science: A Clash Between Faith and Reason

Opinion, Victoria Britton

The United States has long championed freedom of religion for all people. This advocacy, central to the American experience today, has historical roots dating back to the country’s foundation.

It began in Virginia during the American Revolution. In 1777, Thomas Jefferson, then a state General Assembly member, penned the landmark “Virginia Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom.” Enacted in 1786, it declares religious freedom a “natural right” and asserts the rights of Virginians to choose their faith without coercion. Firmly believing that “religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God,” Jefferson feared that without religious freedom and a strict separation of church and state in the new republic, “kings, nobles, and priests” threatened to create a dangerous aristocracy. Jefferson’s statute became the forerunner to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which stipulates “that Congress make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise.” (As to what exactly constitutes a religion, of course, the First Amendment is silent.)

Thanks to Jefferson’s authorship of the “Virginia Statute”—an accomplishment he considered one of his three greatest—he became known as the father of religious liberty in the United States. Interestingly, Thomas Jefferson was also one of the founding fathers of American science. Of his many interests, he called science his “passion.” Over the course of his busy lifetime, despite devoting over thirty years to public service, Jefferson made serious contributions to botany, meteorology, entomology, ethnology, archaeology, paleontology, and comparative anatomy. His first book, Notes on the State of Virginia, is considered the most important American scientific work published in the eighteenth century.

As head of the American Philosophical Society—the country’s most prominent science organization—Jefferson popularized the pursuit of science as an American ideal. And he was the most scientifically minded president this nation has ever known, dispatching several expeditions out into the Louisiana Territory to map it and to list and categorize its flora and fauna.

Freedom of religion and the pursuit of scientific knowledge were both paramount to Thomas Jefferson. Fundamentally incompatible, religion and science disagree profoundly on how we obtain knowledge of the surrounding world. Science is rooted in observation and reasoning. “Religion,” wrote physics professor Victor J. Stenger, “assumes that human beings can access a deeper level of information that is not available by either observation or reason.” Based on constant analysis, questioning, and critiquing, science continually evolves and grows, whereas religion—with its supernatural entities—is not usually modified in the face of conflicting evidence.

We know Jefferson understood the conflict between faith and reason. Writing in 1820 regarding the strong opposition to his founding of the University of Virginia, a secular institution, he noted: “The most restive is that of the priests of the different religious sects, who dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of day-light; and scowl on it the fatal harbinger announcing the subversion of the duperies on which they live.”

In the over two hundred years since Jefferson’s “Virginia Statute”—and the subsequent First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—literally dozens of strange “religions” have sprung up in the United States. Would Jefferson have seen this as an abuse of his idea of religious liberty?

The Church of Scientology was founded in 1954 by science-fiction author L. Ron Hubbard. Although “science” is in its name, it is a belief system with no basis in any recognized science. Quite to the contrary, Scientologists—parroting a theme that runs throughout their literature and doctrine—firmly believe that they are warring against a well-respected social science—psychiatry. According to the Church, psychiatry has a long history of providing improper and abusive care (a point of view that has been disputed, criticized, and condemned by experts in the medical and scientific communities.)

In 2005, the Church of Scientology—and one of its front groups, the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (the CCHR)—opened a controversial museum called “Psychiatry: An Industry of Death.” Located in Los Angeles, the museum is free and open seven days a week. The museum’s presentations highlight the alleged destruction wrought by psychiatrists in every corner of our society. Psychiatry, according to the CCHR, is responsible for 9/11, school shootings, mass murders, and the deaths of countless celebrities. They claim that psychiatry-related deaths total around 1.1 million and that psychiatrists are the most criminal of all professions; and the least fit to treat mental health. “There is not one institutional psychiatrist alive,” wrote Hubbard, “who … could not be arraigned and convicted of extortion, mayhem and murder.” As the museum delves into the history of medicine and psychiatry, it becomes increasingly conspiratorial, attempting to do the very thing they criticize: psychologically manipulate individuals.

Naturally, the Church of Scientology’s beliefs on life and death are just as bizarre. Scientologists call the human soul a person’s immortal spiritual being, a “thetan.” According to Hubbard (as wrote Joel Shappell for the Tampa Bay Times in 1990), “when a person dies, his or her thetan goes to a ‘landing station’ on Venus, where it is programmed with lies about both its past and its next life. The lies include a promise that it will be returned to Earth by being lovingly shunted into the body of a newborn baby.” What really happens, said Hubbard, is “you’re simply capsuled and dumped in the Gulf of Lower California. Splash. The hell with ya. And you’re on your own, man. If you can get out of that, and through that, and wander around through the cities and find some girl who looks like she is going to get married or have a baby or something like that, you’re all set. And if you can find the maternity ward to a hospital or something, you’re OK.” Eventually, he said you “just pick up a baby.”

Unfortunately, I became all too familiar with the hypocrisy of the Church of Scientology and its unsound and dangerous belief system. In the days leading up to my son Kyle’s death, I was contacted by two devout Scientologists: my ex-husband Tom Brennan, Kyle’s father, and Denise Miscavige Gentile, the twin sister of the head of the organization, David Miscavige. (Gentile, at the time, was serving as Brennan’s Scientology “auditor.”) They recommended sending Kyle to Narconon, a Scientology-connected drug rehabilitation facility because he was taking an antidepressant. Typical of their anti-science stance, Scientologists equate psychiatric medications with illegal street drugs. I scoffed at this suggestion. Gentile and Brennan lacked the medical background—and, of course, the sound judgment—to offer this kind of advice.

Brennan and Gentile subsequently lied and committed perjury to protect their Church. Brennan, under oath, admitted that he had lied to me about making certain Kyle had his psychiatrist-prescribed medication and was taking it. During the Clearwater, Florida, police investigation following Kyle’s suspicious death, the medication was found locked in the trunk of Brennan’s vehicle.

Scientologists “honestly believe,” wrote Mike Rinder (the former head of the Church’s Office of Special Affairs), that Scientology is the ONLY route to save every man, woman, and child on planet Earth. It is their belief that if Scientology is flourishing, then every person, every family, every group, mankind and even animals and the environment will flourish as a result…” What’s good for the Church of Scientology, therefore, is good for everyone and everything. This is the flawed reasoning that justifies not only lying but also actively harming people.

But what about religious beliefs that encourage “passive” immorality—instances where adherents simply do nothing? Perhaps they fail to undo an event that helps them but harms others. Perhaps, in following their faith, they fail to prevent an injustice or even a death. Historically, the American legal and judicial systems have been reluctant to pursue cases involving a “religion” that has crossed over into abuse, medical neglect, and even criminality.

Extreme religious movements existed in America long before Jefferson penned the Virginia Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom. Every November, for example, we celebrate the seventeenth-century Puritans who arrived on our shores seeking religious liberty. We tend to forget that the Puritans were not oppressed because of their faith; they were oppressed because they were fanatics.

Christian Science, founded in Boston in 1879 by Mary Baker Eddy, holds that because the material world is an illusion, disease is just a mental error (not a physical disorder). Sick congregants, therefore, can be healed by prayer and the laying on of hands. Though Christian Scientists are allowed to frequent doctors, their faith tells them that Christian Science healing is best practiced when not combined with medical science. This anti-science stance, over the years, has led to the deaths of numerous children. In a few cases, Christian Scientists have been convicted of neglect and manslaughter.

Founded during the same period by Joseph Franklin Rutherford, Jehovah’s Witnesses reject what they call the “unscriptural doctrines” of Christianity—Trinitarianism, hellfire, and the inherent immortality of the soul. They say theirs is the one true religion, and Christ’s Second Coming is near. They do not observe birthdays or, more significantly, Christian customs or holidays because of their pagan origins. They also refuse blood transfusions, which they see as a violation of God’s law. Much needless suffering has resulted.

Another Bostonian gift to the world is the Church of Euthanasia (or CoE), founded in 1992 by Chris Korda and Robert Kimberk. Calling itself “a non-profit educational foundation devoted to restoring the balance between Humans and the remaining species on Earth,” it promotes massive voluntary population reduction. “Save the Planet, Kill Yourself” is the slogan of the CoE, and here are the four pillars of its anti-human stance: suicide, abortion, sodomy, and cannibalism (only if the victim is already deceased).

What has been the cost? How much suffering and how many tragedies have occurred due to narcissistic, self-appointed, American-made Messiahs? I have no doubt the number would be staggering. How many misguided parents have prioritized their flawed and dangerous religion over the safety and well-being of their children? And what about the long-term emotional trauma created when those supposed to protect children—their parents—treat them instead with neglect and abuse? Why are there limited repercussions when devout individuals adhere to a destructive belief system that promotes poor parental care, emotional deprivation, and medical neglect? How can we urge American politicians and government agencies, who are reluctant to intervene, to take a firm stance against organizations that use religion as a cover for criminal activities?

Religious disputes shaped the world in which Thomas Jefferson grew up. He knew humans had been arguing about religion for a long time and would continue to do so far into the future. There is no short and straightforward solution to the problem. But we can agree there is a critical need to remove religious exemptions regarding health care and child neglect in religious organizations that view children and family members in need as an inconvenience.

Kyle’s final resting place is in a quiet cemetery off a winding country road leading to Monticello, the home and gravesite of Thomas Jefferson. Ironically, my son’s remains lie close to those of the founding father whose faith in religious liberty gave Scientology—as well as numerous other dangerous and ill-considered “religions”—a safe home in the United States.

Copyright © 2024 by Victoria Britton. Posted at Religion News Blog by permission.

About the Author

Victoria Britton is the mother of Kyle Brennan.

Kyle Brennan died from a gunshot wound to the head on the evening of February 16, 2007, at his Scientologist father’s Clearwater, Florida, apartment. Creative, talented, and ambitious, Kyle was not affiliated with the Church of Scientology and was only 20 years old. The circumstances surrounding his passing are highly suspicious and raise serious concerns that warrant further investigation.

At the time, Kyle’s devout father was connected to influential Scientologists, whose beliefs are famously anti-psychiatry and anti-psychotropic medications. After his death, Kyle’s prescribed medication was found locked in the trunk of his father’s vehicle.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday July 8, 2024.
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