Thursday, March 24, 2011

Should You be Afraid of Scientology?

Scientology, to me, like most religions, is a lot of gibberish.  But some folks have a paranoid fear of Scientology.  Why is this?

Religions are an interesting phenomenon.  Most of them are based on some sort of story, thought up by a guy long ago.  And for the most part, people seem to like to follow "old" religions, as if the age of a religion itself is an indicia of its worth.   When you start a new one, well, watch out, as folks won't take to that very kindly.

For example, ask the Mormons.  Today, the Mormon Church is an accepted part of the Christian religion.  But early on, the followers of the church, and indeed even the founder, were persecuted and murdered.

Religions don't like competition.

In the 1950's through the 1970's and even today, many new religions sprang up in American and around the world.  Why this is, I do not know.   Perhaps new religions are forming all the time, and we just noticed the start of "cults" (as old-line religions call any upstart newcomer) back then.  Maybe nuclear war and our modern era made religions based on what some guy said who wore a sheet, seem, well, antiquated.

For whatever reason, a lot of newer religions seem to have started during this time period, as well as new offshoots of older ones.  And one of these new religions was Scientology.

Scientology was started by this science fiction writer, L. Ron Hubbard.  I read a lot of science fiction back in high school - Heinlein, Clark, and the lot.  But I was never able to get into Hubbard, frankly.  Just my personal opinion, but I think his stories sucked.

But a lot of other people didn't think so, and he sold a lot of books.  He also wrote the Dianetics book, which is based on his insights on life.  I saw a copy in the library the other day and thumbed through it.  From what I could see, it had a lot of exclamation points!!! in it, and was a lot of gibberish.  Sorry, not interested.  Organized religion isn't my bag.

I don't care for Scientology, but then again, I don't hate it or feel threatened by it.  I just think it is another one of a long line of silly belief-systems for people who need weird stories to answer the unanswerable questions in life.  I'm content to not have the answers - as I will find them out in a few decades (God or Outer Thetans willing).  What's the rush to know now?  That's my perspective.

But a lot of people really, really hate Scientology, and want to call it "weird" or a "cult".  And some folks even feel threatened by it.  And perhaps they have good reason, perhaps not.

Many folks, including myself, compare Scientology to that of the Catholic Church.  If you look at the belief system of Catholics in the abstract, to a non-believer, it may seem weird or odd.  After all, things like the trinity and holy ghost might seem odd to a non-believer.

And the Bible, like Scientology texts, has a lot of really "out there" bizarre stories.  Outer Thetans are no weirder than Jonah and the Whale - or any one of a number of stores told in the Bible, often more than once, and inconsistently.

So attacking Scientology based on the belief system is futile.  Belief is based on faith not science or logic.  Attacking someone's faith on those sort of grounds is really pointless.  You might as well attack the faith of Christians by arguing that Jesus didn't exist (and some folks make that argument) or Jews on the grounds that Moses didn't exist (as Penn and Teller argue).  What's the point?  It's like telling a small child there is no Santa.  Not only are they not going to believe you, but you are just being a Grinch and ruining all the fun for them.

Other folks argue that Scientology exerts "mind control" on its members.  But again, ask anyone who has been in a convent or attended seminary school.  Or indeed, ask anyone who grew up "indoctrinated" in the Catholic faith - living in a strict Catholic household, attending mass multiple times a week, attending parochial school, etc. 

And I've met former Catholics (recovering Cath-olics) who are just as bitter and angry at their church as former Scientologists are at theirs.

But I've met many more Catholics who are happy with their faith and embrace it, even if many of its teachings are contrary to most of their modern lifestyle.

Now some folks also argue that Scientology requires its members to fork over a lot of money.  To me, of course, this just is a sure sign that it is a real religion as all religions basically require members to fork over a lot of money.

Don't believe me?  Many, if not most Christian religions ask for 10% of your pre-tax earnings, plus "gifts" which could be equivalent to 15-20% of your after-tax earnings.  This is a lot of dough, and likely more than your disposable income.  Over the years, even the most impoverished person would end up handing over tens of thousands of dollars of their income to a church if they tithed according to the Bible.  If you are middle class, this could easily be well over a hundred thousand dollars, in your lifetime.

So what's the ding on Scientology?  That they ask for thousands of dollars from their followers.  Sounds a lot like the other religions - what's the big deal?  A fool and his money are soon parted.

Others claim the organization is run by a charismatic leader and implies that this is somehow sinister.  But nearly all religions, organized ones, anyway, have some sort of charismatic leader.  So what was the point again?

And yet others claim that Scientology "persecutes" former followers.  This is harder to parse, as many former followers do seem a bit, well, paranoid, based on some of the rantings I have read online.  It is true that Scientology has used lawsuits and other legal actions aggressively.  But then again, most new religions tend to feel threatened early on, and perhaps lash out.  Compared to the Spanish Inquisition, the alleged excesses of Scientology seem, well, kind of small.  Claiming copyright in their silly stories might be a bit of a reach in some folks' minds, but it is their right to make such claims (and the cases backfired, as the documents in question were all entered into evidence, and thus are available for anyone to see now).

And if the folks at Scientology feel threatened by former members, perhaps they have a reason to be.  In the 1970's, it was popular to label any new religion a "cult" and parents would hire "cult deprogrammers" to kidnap their adult children to get them to renounce the "cult" and re-join mainstream materialist society and mainstream religion.  Scientology was not singled out in this regard, of course, but some Scientology members were actually kidnapped by their families and held hostage while people attempted to "deprogram" them.

And yes, kidnapping people is illegal, and many of the "cult deprogrammers" ended up in serious legal trouble - and some came from sketchy backgrounds.  I don't know about you, but I have this weird idea that once I turned 18, I could do what I wanted to with my own life, and no one could kidnap me and tell me what to think.  The excesses of so-called "deprogrammers" are far worse than any alleged excesses of Scientology.  As far as I know, Scientology has never been in the kidnapping business.

And yes, there are a lot of weak thinkers in this world, who will follow whatever circus comes to town.  But should we, as a nation, try to tell people which belief systems are "correct" or not?  And when it comes right down to it, don't all religions rely on a form of gentle coercion and "brainwashing" to bring in new members?  If you are going to call Scientology a "brainwashing cult" then you'd better shut down all the End Times Theology shops that have sprung up, as well as most of the "New" Christian churches and mega-churches.  And you know, the Catholic Church as well - they brainwash their members in the cradle!

The media likes to write scary articles about Scientology, and my Brother read one to me when I was growing up.  This was back in the 1970's, and after reading it, he was convinced that not only was Scientology a load of Bullshit, but dangerous as well.  At the time, I had a great respect for what my older Brother thought and said, but as I got older, my opinion changed.  And today, well, I try not to base my opinions based on one magazine article in the media.

Articles like that, as well as TeeVee shows are a form of Baiting behavior, designed to get you all riled up and hating someone, based on little more than one person's opinion or one side of the story.  And let's face it, scare stories sell newspapers and TV ad space.  So an "expose" about a "cult" is a sure winner, and if it is a small, unpopular religion, you don't have to worry about viewers getting upset.

And often the person's opinion is the former joiner of the cult the TeeVee show or article is about.  That person is all pissed off for one reason or another.  But let's face it, these are people who are weak thinkers and got suckered into a religion.  I'm supposed to feel sorry for them because they didn't see through it right away?  Their problem, not mine.

The other dig that some people have on Scientology is that the people who follow it are weird.   If you are a weird Presbyterian, you are just weird.  But if you are a weird Scientologist, they will be sure to mention your religion when pointing out your weirdness.

Yea, Tom Cruise is weird.  So is Mel Gibson.  Is Mel Gibson a "weird Catholic"?  Perhaps.  What about Charley Sheen?  OK, he's weird, too.  Beats me what his religion is, though.  For some reason, we want to label people's odd behavior with their religion - when we want to label their religion.

Scientology is also attacked on the grounds that the members consider people who do not believe to be "clams" and that people who attack the religion are enemies of it.  Again, this is probably a sure sign that it is a religion as most other religions have the same policies.  Born-again Christians put smug bumper stickers on their cars saying "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven!".  Jews consider themselves to be "the chosen people".  And fanatic Islamists consider anyone who doesn't believe to be an "infidel" and worthy of only death.  Even atheists (who make a religion out of Darwin) consider themselves superior to believers, because of their belief in non-belief.   Asserting your moral superiority based on your belief system is just another form of Status-Seeking behavior, which is all-too-typical among humans.   Scientology hardly has cornered the market in this regard.

But to me, they are all the same.  Religions that is.  Same old stuff, just with different silly stories.  And no, I don't have a lot of "respect" for most organized religions - if any.  But I respect your right to believe whatever silly story you want to believe in.  Picking one as "correct" and saying the others are bad, seems to me to be the major cause of trouble in this world.  So saying Scientology is "bad" is just as wrong as choosing sides in the Sunni/Shia rift.  It's all nonsense, to the non-believer.

In Yann Martel's Life of Pi, he tells the story of an Indian lad who enjoys all religions, and earns the wrath of the local Imam, Priest, and Pandit, as he attends services at all three houses of worship.  The book is a an allegory about faith and the stories that are told with regard to faith.  The conclusion that Pi reaches is that "It doesn't matter whether the story is true or not, it only matters whether you believe it is true" - which sounds like a load of nonsense, until you think about it.

The stories in any religion are not necessarily to be taken at face value, and yet are to be believed.  This seems like an internal contradiction, at first.  Belief is an act of faith, not an act of science.  And some people need belief - they need faith - in order to survive and in order to function.

So ridiculing people's beliefs - the silly stories they tell themselves and one another - really isn't worthwhile.

So if Tom Cruise wants to believe in Outer Thetans and give all his money to a church that fixed up an old hotel, that's his business.   If you don't like Scientology, don't join it.  And that's the whole thing right there in a nutshell.  Most of the criticisms of the religion are from former members who feel somehow cheated by it.  No one forced them to join, and perhaps they need to look internally for the reasons they felt they had to join - and to quit - and take responsibility for their own actions, instead of externalizing them to the organization.

Because it is just more of the same old weak-thinking deal - avoiding responsibility for your own actions in life by claiming some great social injustice or blaming your problems on President Bush, President Obama, or the "Wall-Street Fat Cats."

Myself, I don't need silly stories to comfort me.  It is enough comfort to me to know that in 20-30 years (God willing) all of the answers in life will be apparent to me, even if the answers are "there are no answers".  Mystery is more appealing to me than some pat story that tries to explain everything.  And if I am going to join some religious organization, I could only do so as Pope or Head Thetan - so I could score all the real dough.  Why be a pledging plebe, handing over the cash, when you can wear all the cool robes and rake it in?  Seems like a no-brainer to me!