What Scientology Tells Us About How Religions Begin

Lawrence Wright’s recent book on the history of Scientology is an immensely important document for studying how religions begin. While much of it fills the reader with the amusement or horror of a colossal fraud—and a fraud which consciously sought out the money and influence of celebrities—Wright is also honest enough to include sections like the following, where he summarizes […]

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A Twelfth Century Love Letter: Heloise Remembers Abelard

An amazing passage from a letter of Heloise to Abelard, those twelfth-century lovers who ended up in a nunnery and a monastery after their affair was discovered. Strip away the contemporary details (their religiosity and its attendant guilt, etc.), and Heloise might be writing a blog today: In my case, the pleasures of lovers which we shared have been too […]

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Silence in London

Just back from London, where the hugeness of space and history were hard to ignore. But the experience was always deepest in the smallest space, where something sacred, or just something simply old, could be apprehended intimately, in silence. So that it was not Westminster Abbey, despite its beauty as a space and the unnerving realization that one is walking by the actual tombs of early kings and queens, including Elizabeth I. It was not this, but Westminster’s cloister: And it was Westminster’s Chapter House, with its original 13th-century tile, 14th-century paintings on the wall, and nearby the oldest door in England, supposedly used by Edward the Confessor, c. 1050:   And it was, most of all, Westminster’s Pyx Chamber, also dating to shortly after 1066. It is hard to say why this room struck me, but I could have stayed there for days: It was also not the Tower of London, the only time where the idea of royalty truly stank of excess and arrogance and blood, especially at the exhibit of the crown jewels. It was not here, but nearby, at the church of All Hallows by the Tower, a place gutted during the Blitz, the damage revealing a c. 775 Saxon Arch from the earliest version of the church, as well as c. 200 Roman pavement in the crypt below, and of course, crypt chapels for silence: And it wasn’t even London, really, so much as it was a side-trip to Salisbury, […]

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