Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Essay: Killing the Thetan

Someone just told me about a blog on religious issues called "Killing the Buddha." The first thing I read on it was an article called "Killing the Thetan," by J. C. Hallman about the recent New Yorker article on Paul Haggis and Scientology. The thing that interested me about "Killing the Thetan" is the emphasis on Hallman's process of analyzing the story, which is a nice example of a mind at work. Here's where this really hit me:

I realized there was a larger problem. When, as the writer of a piece about religion, you get too caught up in trying to color things one way or the other, when your allegiance to documented (and fact-checkable—this is The New Yorker, after all) facts takes precedence over everything else, you become blind to your own assumptions. A glaring surprise: “The Apostate” tosses around the world “cult” quite freely, and never even suggests what it might mean by the word. The piece relies on its own assumptions, and its readers’. In other words, there’s really no larger canvas that “The Apostate” seems to want to consider. It’s not going to tell us anything about cults, or religions, or, ultimately, people. It’s just a long news story.

Any time you say "I realized. . . ." there's a mind turning corners, tracking down a lead. And then there's a nice natural mystery set up (What?? What did you realize?) which creates built-in interest for the reader.

Some of the article is a bit messy and confusing, but I'd rather have a mess than a straightforward and unprobing piece.


  1. So you've read Arcadia, right? Best play ever.

  2. Hi there,

    Thanks for this nice take on this admittedly-hurried piece. You touch on something I find essential to essay-writing, though -- that it's not an argument in support of something you state as thesis at the start, but a depiction of consciousness, of the mind working, as you suggest, as it moves from nothing toward some kind of conclusion, some conclusion that might well sound thesis-like. The effect is one of greater honesty, I believe, and if it's also "messy and confusing" that's because -- honestly -- it's how our brains work.

    J.C. Hallman

  3. Thanks for the comment, J.C.! Well put.

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