Jett Travolta is dead

Many media outlets are reporting on this, most under their "entertainment" sections, and this being the case, you may wonder, if you're not already in the know, why I'm writing about it, on the homepage of a self-confessed atheist, geek, climber, curmudgeon. How can this possibly tie back to the topic this blog is ostensibly based on?

Well, if you'll allow me to elaborate, this ties back to potential harm caused by religious dogma. Come with me on a journey into dogma unleashed.

You see, Jett Travolta, in addition to being a 16 year old kid prone to seizures and exhibiting symptoms some have tied with autism, was the teenage son of Scientology's #2 couple, John Travolta and Kelly Preston. And furthermore, some of the key tenets of Scientology include a belief that psychological and psychiatric illness, including things like epilepsy and seizures, do not really exist as we outside Scientology know them.

Witness, for instance, Tom Cruise lambasting Brooke Shields for her use of drugs to combat post-natal depression*, and his additional rants against psychiatry. Or, closer to home, read of Tim Brunero's meetings with local Scientology flack Cyrus Brooks. Aditionally there is plenty of documentary evidence of the cult business fully respectable church's stance on medication including anti-seizure medication, ranging from personal accounts to leaked documents to direct statements from spokespeople.

So, let's talk about established facts: what we have is a kid prone to seizures, cared for by parents whose professed belief system states that the medication for these seizures is, quite literally, a product of evil and someting to be avoided at any cost.

Can anyone see where I'm going with this?

Now, until autopsy results are revealed and investigations completed, tying Jett Travolta's tragic death to Scientology doctrine is complete speculation, but in my opinion such speculation is justified, indeed needed. If an investigation failed to explore this angle, heads really ought to roll, but again I'm prying into legal areas in which I have no standing, so back to the default stance we go. Any speculation on the Jett Travolta incident, at this time, is just that: speculation.

Still, until the facts are in, I'm using the high profile of this incident to highlight a wider problem

We already have ample documentary evidence that the doctrines of numerous "religions" cause clear medical harm. Deaths preventable by simple transfusion are recorded in great numbers from the Jehovah's Witnesses, and deaths from neglect of even simple ilnesses are recorded in surprising numbers in the case of Christian Science. Individual parents have been convicted of negligent manslaughter in numerous cases. This is not far-fetched. Once your dogma starts to make medical claims, death and illness are the inevitable result.

So far, I've been talking about preventable deaths from illnesses mankind already has the means to conquer. What about an even worse level of harm? What about death directly inflicted, rather than death through neglect? As with other cults/religions/groups, call them what you will, we also see murder, manslaughter and suicide manifest due to dogma, as in this scientology-related case right here in Sydney, or this honour killing in Jordan as just one example of an entire genre, and as a final dessert, the most famous mass suicide of them all, Jonestown**, and this is without even mentioning September 11th 2001, possibly the most spectacular case of dogma enabling mass murder on record.

All the world's religions have cases of death or harm directly inflicted by believers on others either justified post-hoc, or caused, by dogma.

So, again, does anyone want to question why I'm opposed to religion, unreason and dogma? Would anyone now like to stand up and tell the world that these deaths are justified because doctrine must be adhered to, and that the beliefs of those causing the harm must be respected at any cost?

I thought not.

To round out this post, which I'm sure is going to cause problems one way or another, I'd like to mention that harm of the sort I'm outlining here is not restricted to minority cults and fringe religions.  Death, ilness, bankruptcy and the sundering of human relationships are constant companions on the road away from reason, and for heartbreaking proof of this, please go and read  "What's The Harm", and weep.

Oh, and as a final parting note, The Church Of Scientology has a well deserved reputation for suppressing criticism. I agonised over whether to post this for over 24 hours, and I have taken care to outline exactly how this speculation hang together, but still I would not be surprised to see reaction in either official or "unofficial" forms from the organisation, and of course I will report on anything that does ensue.

*to our US cousins, post-partum depression
** Jonestown is worty of special mention. Most people who I've mentioned Jonestown to seem to believe it was some kind of fringe cult with strange beliefs not unlike  Heaven's Gate. In fact, The People's Temple was a Christian Gospel church with methodist and baptist influences, among others. It would be considered mainstream, moderate, even liberal, in the modern United States.

Religion, charity and the St Vincent De Paul Society

Those of you who know me well will be aware of my policy, held for quite a few years now, of not giving money or support to charities with strong religious affiliation. Some people have called this personal policy into question, pointing out that they're still charities, and surely they're still doing good things. Others have just shrugged and called me a curmudgeon.

I commend those people into the care of the Sydney Morning Herald, particularly this article on the St Vincent De Paul Society's real mission.

Finally the truth is out

"The primary function of the society," said St Vincent de Paul's lawyers, "is to inculcate the Catholic faith in its members."

What, really?

Oh, OK, I kid. I knew this all along, but it's very nice to see it in black and white, finally. An admission by a major Xtian charity that they don't do their work out of christian altruism, but as a means of increasing the stranglehold over their own flock and indoctrinating new members.

Is anyone really that surprised? Well, the people who've questioned my "no money to religious charities" policy might. And clearly the rather naive Linda Walsh, who the story focuses on due to the legal battle that's gone on for the last several years, was surprised enough when thrown out for not being catholic enough that she fought a case for several years.

On a personal note, someone quite close to us is a member of the Salvation Army, you know, the ones who take out adverts in New Scientist around mid december, looking all compassionate and caring, complete with battered wives and homeless children.

The main activity within this particular church (and yes, it is primarily a church and not primarily a charity) appears to be enforcing church morality, gossiping about other members, politicking about rank and rehearsing the choir. All these things are just like any other church, I'd guess, except this church generates literally millions of dollars from non-members through presenting a media image as some kind of guardian angel to the poor and needy, while actually their main focus is on keeping members entirely on-message with a secondary helping of proselytising to the people they help. The 'charitable arm' is quite large, but staffed by volunteers who are viewed as fresh meat for the church itself.

Religious groups like this are the pilot fish of the charitable world, dangling a brightly-glowing glimmer of charity and altruism to lure victims closer to the jaws of faith.

Count me out.

The only good thing to come from this blog post? I have another reference to point people to when they scowl at me for sending a religious charity on its merry way with empty pockets.

@stilgherrian gets the hat tip for the link, by way of twitter
Vaccination Saves Lives: Stop The Australian Vaccination Network
Say NO to the National School Chaplaincy Program