Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Say it ain't so, Chef!

No amount of higher education could take away the fact that I sometimes behave like a juvenile teenage boy. Hence, my reverence for the animated South Park series. I've often visited the real place, the windswept high mountain valley town of Fairplay, Colorado, and the surrounding area that played host to miles of trail running and several lab outings for hikes and rafting down the Arkansas River. The real South Park isn't actually a town but rather a geographical region where the mountains give way to a huge, sprawling, high-altitude grassland. If you're taking Spring Break to ski in Breckenridge and are tiring of the great food and mass of people, you can drive 25-30 miles south over Hoosier Pass to the far less commercial real Colorado.

Co-creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, are some of the most controversial figures to come out of the University of Colorado system until Ward Churchill. But they have always been even-handed in ridiculing virtually every religion, racial and ethnic group, and boastful celebrity - and if you pay attention, there is usually a moment of clarity in each episode where some real truth about our culture is revealed, most often by Stan or Kyle.

So why, after ten years and 150 episodes does singer Isaac Hayes leave the show on religious grounds? He was somehow able to reconcile his 40 years of work as a civil rights activist and collect paychecks from shows poking fun at all manner of minorities and religions.

Well, as Reuters reported yesterday, they made fun of his religion, the Church of Scientology.

The only reason I make this point on this blog is that Scientology is well-known for avoiding the use of drugs, particularly psychiatric medications. Tom Cruise's famous admonition of Today Show's, Matt Lauer, "You don't know the history of psychiatry. I do," reveals just one frightful aspect of this group's unusual concoction of pseudoscience and religion.

Those of us associated with health care spend a tremendous amount of time trying to erase the stigma associated with mental illness and get diagnosis and proper treatment, that sometimes includes drugs, to the people who can best benefit. To me, depression and psychoses are as life-threatening as hypertension or cancer and are a result of clear biochemical disturbances in neurotransmitters and neurosteroids. Scientology would have it otherwise, as they do not believe in chemical imbalances or altered physiology in the brain. But they will sell you on various sessions to rid you of what's in your mind...and your wallet.

I still take Rolling Stone magazine in an attempt to stay updated on music and cultural trends among the younger folks - last week's issue had one of the most extensive recent reports on the Church of Scientology. Cult expert, Rick Ross, has a nice review of the article if you can't get through the entire 13,000-word text.

As for Mr. Hayes, I can only wish him well out of respect for his musical career, civil rights work, and ten years of hilarious satire. But, for me, a return to his roots as a Southern Baptist would be far more palatable than his embracing of $cientology.

ADDENDUM: If you got here via Paige's Page, just another reminder that I'm the next host for The Skeptics' Circle. Please send entries for The 31st Meeting of the Skeptics' Circle to me here by 11 PM EST on Wed 29 March 2006 and put "Skeptics' Circle 31" in the subject line. Many thanks!


At Tue Mar 14, 10:38:00 AM EST, Anonymous Rosey said...

As a mental health professional who's spent countless hours educating patients about depression and its treatments, I can only hope that the backlash against Cruise's inane comments resulted in greater public awareness and understanding of the disease.

A while back, Peter Kramer was interviewed on NPR about his book "Against Depression." Its worth a listen :


At Wed Mar 15, 04:15:00 PM EST, Anonymous jre said...

As an aside, let me mention that High Creek Fen, near Fairplay, is a hidden jewel. It's home to an amazing variety of rare plant species, with nary a Southern Baptist or Scientologist to be seen! Take in the South Park Museum while you're there.

This comment not endorsed or approved by the Fairplay Chamber of Commerce. Void where prohibited by Jehovah. Your e-meter may vary.

At Thu Mar 16, 10:12:00 AM EST, Blogger Abel PharmBoy said...

Rosey: Here, here! Thanks for your work. I'll have to get to Kramer's NPR segment b/c I enjoyed his first Prozac book back when I taught CNS pharmacology.

Jim: Thanks for the High Creek Fen lead - lived there 10 yrs and never was. BTW, have you also been to the Bristlecone Pine ridge between Fairplay and Leadville? Not sure if it's a state park, but it's another truly unique area.

At Thu Mar 16, 04:51:00 PM EST, Blogger Shelley said...

The popularity of Scientology in the celeb-osphere is just another example that just because they're pretty doesn't mean the know jack about anything, including science! IMHO, both Tom Cruise and Issac Hayes could benefit from a hearty dose of both reality and Lithium.

At Fri Mar 17, 02:47:00 PM EST, Anonymous jre said...

Abel -
Great tip re/ the bristlecones!
I climbed to the flat top of "L'Aiguille du Bross" two years ago with my Mom & Bro, but we had no idea that some of the earth's oldest residents were just a short distance away.
Now we will have to make a trip to South Park just to say howdy.
Re/ Scientology: My Dad was a science fiction fan and had an interest in Dianetics during the early '50s sparked by the advocacy of John W. Campbell. Pop eventually decided that the whole thing was hooey, but not before acquiring a few of L. Ron Hubbard's books for his library. I still remember pulling Science of Survival off the shelf, reading a few chapters and thinking that it was the dumbest thing I'd ever read. Of course, I didn't have a whole lot to compare it to back then (I was ten), but my view has not changed in the ensuing years.
In my opinion, the funniest thing ever written about Scientology by a contemporary of Hubbard and Campbell is Alfred Bester's account of a meeting with Campbell in which the revered editor reveals that L. Ron is the path to Truth, and tries to resolve some of Bester's fetal engrams on the spot. I bought a used copy of Hell's Cartographers recently just so I could read it again; it is every bit as hilarious as I'd remembered. Now I think I need to do a post on it.

At Mon Mar 20, 08:21:00 PM EST, Blogger Abel PharmBoy said...

Jim, sounds like we need to get out for a hike next time I'm in the Front Range.

Yes, I started reading Dianetics as a teenager after I saw it advertised during Saturday Night Live episodes. I couldn't even finish it because it was so full of malarcky. Only later did I learn that they are serious about the space alien thing.


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