Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful. – Seneca
While watching a recent piece on Scientology and all its alleged crimes, I was struck particularly by two things; firstly, how many parallels you can draw between what Scientology does and what other, older religions do, and secondly, the demeanour of Tommy Davis, who is the head of the Celebrity Centre in LA and is basically one of their major PR guys. The two are very closely related.
Scientology enforces a number of practices on its followers that people have taken issue with recently. This has been pretty well-canvassed in the media so I don’t need to repeat them all, but what interests me is how almost all of them seem to be found (usually in diluted form) in other, more accepted religions. The fact that Scientology essentially rips off its followers, demanding huge sums of money to progress in the church rankings and then branding it as the church being the beneficiary of “parishioners who choose to give back to their church and therefore their planet”, is an inflated copy of tithing within the Christian religion. Their Committees of Evidence, which take what amounts to hearsay from members and uses it to punish other members, without them being given the opportunity to defend themselves – pretty much a direct copy of what the Catholics did back in the Middle Ages (although ironically with less harsh consequences, considering that they don’t kill them at the end). The indoctrination of children is very much a copy of what every other religion does, and their medical claims (most notably their coercions to stop conventional medical treatment) are echoed in varying ways within other religions – everything from cancer-curing saints to Jehovah’s Witnesses refusing blood transfusions. Their beliefs on abortions are very different to that of the Christians superficially but are put forward on identical spiritual framework; although they accept (and allegedly coerce) women getting abortions, they say that it is alright at certain stages because there is no thetan present in the foetus, which brings to mind the Christians arguing that the soul enters the embryo at conception.
I could go on, but you get the picture – for a religion not related to the Abrahamic faiths it has an awful lot of similarities. And Hubbard knew it – and you can bet your ass that Tommy Davis knows it, too. He knows that all these things, and the aspects which are even worse (human trafficking, slave labour, torture) are all variations of things that exist (or existed) in mainstream religions, and that these religions get away with it because they are religions. Why? Although the sentiment is international it is rarely codified so clearly as it is in the US, so I’ll focus on their laws – it is a constitutional right for people not to be persecuted on the basis of their religion. Unfortunately, simpler (or more devious) men than the founding fathers have taken this to mean that people can do whatever the hell they want as long as they are holding up the banner of religion. What it really means (and this is a definition of religious freedom I can get on board with) is that people shouldn’t be discriminated against purely because of their religion, and that as long as their religion doesn’t harm anyone then it should be allowed. The scarcity with which you will find a religion that doesn’t harm anyone is a topic for another day, but under the current system of law, religions are essentially given a free reign. People are allowed to do any of a number of otherwise-illegal things (refuse to properly educate their children, refuse to serve in the military in times of conscription, perform painful rituals on children, etc) and churches are given tax-exempt status.
Davis and the other modern-day leaders know all of this – they know all the legal loopholes that they are afforded by calling themselves a church. They know precisely how to manipulate their followers and how to get away with it when people start asking questions. They know when to call ‘religious freedom’ – like a ten-year-old calling ‘birthday boy’ when his mother asks him to take out the bin – and they know when to simply play dumb, denying that events took place or saying that if it happened they had no knowledge of it. Make no mistake – this thing is not a church. There is definitely a plan in place, it’s just a question of how high up you need to get before you’re told, and what their endgame is. I don’t want to speculate that the rate with which they make money was designed to bring them into the same sphere of influence as mainstream religions in a fraction of the time (and not just for personal gain) but it has certainly had that effect.
People are finally starting to ask questions, and most of the time they’re met with “Well, other religions can do it, so why can’t we?” Under no circumstances do they answer with “Well, this is acceptable because it teaches X” as other religions tend to; it is always “Timmy’s allowed to stay up past 8, so why can’t I?” I wonder how long it will be before people start to think “Well, why can other religions do it?”
L Ron Hubbard has taken the untouchable, uncriticisable religion, the last great taboo, and extended it to proportions such that the world can see the problem. Charities should be given tax-exempt status, but whether they’re attached to churches is irrelevant. Children should be taken from parents who refuse their children medical care, no matter what archaic superstitions are behind it. Adoption agencies should be subject to anti-discrimination laws whether they cite religious reasons or not. These are quite obvious human rights issues that are staring people in the face but that they cannot see for the fog of religion.
Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and the like are forever prompting us, through intelligent and reasoned discussion, to remove the taboos so that we can discuss whether the practices of religion are socially acceptable without fear persecution by their followers. And their arguments are excellent ones, but they tend to only appeal to those who can already see such things – preaching to the choir, as it were. What Hubbard has done is shine a spotlight on the absurdity of religious practices that the masses, and particularly the religious masses, can see. Scientology isn’t ridiculous – it’s satirical.
He may have been a con artist, and have made huge sums of money for his trouble, but L Ron Hubbard could well be the greatest anti-religion crusader of all time. Let’s just hope that the people running the show now are of the same mind.