With Tom Cruise drawing so much media attention to Scientology in recent weeks, it would be easy to jump on the Tom-bashing bandwagon and dismiss Scientology as a fringe, extremist cult. Like a friend’s coworker who recently referred to Cruise as an “atheist with no balls,” while watching him tear in to Matt Lower on the break-room television.
But, honestly, I don’t know the first thing about Scientology. Yes, the general consensus among the American public is that Scientologists are about as sane as Wacko Jacko. But this is the same American public that acquitted Michael Jackson, elected someone named George Bush three times, and bought millions of Britany Spears/Jessica Simpson albums.
So, I did what I always do when I want to learn something new, I went to Wikipedia. I wikilearned that Scientology’s central beliefs are that:
1. A person is an immortal spiritual being (termed a thetan) who possesses a mind and a body, accompanied by a lesser “genetic entity”;
2. The thetan has lived through many past lives, stored memories of which can cause problems in the present day;
3. And that a person is basically good, but is “aberrated” by the memories of past traumas.
That doesn’t sound too odd. It has combined bits and pieces from some of the major religions. Basically, like all religions, it’s a system of beliefs and ritual that help us deal with life, the universe, and everything. I could have learned a little more about the specifics of the religion, but I grew tired of reading the long Wikipedia entry, skimmed through the headings, and left in search of a shorter, more entertaining answer.
So, I went to the Scientology website, hoping to find a few answers there. After clicking the “What is Scientology?” link, I came to a page divided into 13 ways Scientology can improve your life. But when I clicked on these categories, instead of an explanation of what Scientology offered, I was asked to purchase a book or pamphlet by L. Ron Hubbard, the religion’s founder. Now, I’m not expert on the whole evangelizing thing, but it seems that charging people for information is a hard way to spread the word.
Not willing to shell out money to satisfy my curiosity, I Googled the subject and stumbled upon an anti-Scientology site, where I found this quote reportedly made by L. Ron Hubbard in the 1940’s:
“Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion”
Apparently, one of the biggest criticisms of Scientology is that it exploits its members in order to make money. The (very biased) site claims:
It practices a variety of mind-control techniques on people lured into its midst to gain control over their money and their lives…The results of applying their crackpot psychotherapy (called “auditing”) is to weaken the mind. The mind goes from a rational state to an irrational one as the delusional contents of the subconscious mind are brought to the surface and are assumed to be valid.
But isn’t this what all religions can be said to do, if you like at them cynically, from an outside perspective? Do churches not ask their members to empty their pockets every Sunday? And as far as “weakening the mind” and going from a “rational state to an irrational one”… this is the very nature of faith. Most religions, by their very nature, are irrational (strictly speaking). Even devout religious scholars will tell you that faith is inherently at odds with logic and reason. That’s why it’s called a “leap of faith.”
I’m currently reading Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer, a fascinating examination of the nature of religion and its control over its members. Krakauer explores how polygamy has survived in some fundamentalist sects of the Mormonism, and how deeply held religious beliefs have driven people to molest their own children and even murder in the name of God. His message seems to be that, while most of us view these fundamentalists as crazy nut-jobs, these people are simply taking to the extreme the same principles of faith, moralism, and obedience that are such an important part of most people’s religious experiences.
After all my web-surfing, my perception of Scientology hasn’t changed much. I think most people who view it as a crack-pot cult are simply reacting in defense of their own religious beliefs. Scientology is just another religion. Another founding individual, another hierarchical organization, that claims to have THE answer to the meaning of life, the univerise, and everything. Personally, I think this is a question without an answer, but there will always be people trying to answer it. And those who aren’t satisfied with the answers given by Christianity or one of the other major religions, will turn to Scientology, and years down the road, other religions will spring up claiming to posess the ultimate answer.
Yes, it’s none of Tom Cruise’s business what medicine Brooke Shields takes. But his outburst on national television doesn’t make him any crazier than a Jerry Falwell who tells a homosexual that his or her lifestyle is wrong. Both are acting on deeply held beliefs and sticking their noses in other people’s lives.
But, Tom is a celebrity, and this is a “Christian nation,” not a Scientologist one. So, I’ll leave you with our friend Bachem Macuno, who had a nice little satirical, fictional interview with Mr. Cruise about his views on modern medicine. Click here to read it.
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