Cutting Scientology Some Slack

Not long ago I attended a concert at the Celebrity Center, on the campus of Scientology headquarters, in the heart of Hollywood. Independent producers like to rent out the theater there because in addition to a good sound and light system, the Celebrity Center offers below-market rental rates in exchange for subjecting the audience to a brief spiel about the wondrous teachings of founder L. Ron Hubbard. 

Various Scientology DVDs and books are also readily available for purchase.

In the middle of the concert, approximately where a normal intermission might take place, a young, earnest, bespectacled lady came onstage and mentioned the names of prominent and wildly successful Scientologists, chief among them Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and Kirstie Alley. Then she screened an extraordinarily well-made promotional video that neatly illustrated some of Hubbard’s key maxims (“Be worthy of trust,” etc.). When it concluded, she mentioned that tours and more information were available to anyone interested in learning more about the way to happiness. And then the show continued.

Since this was a concert featuring Filipino performers, the audience was mostly Catholic, and, thus, not much interested in the presenter’s gentle plea for religious tolerance. Scientology, as most people assume, is a cult, not a religion, and therefore is exempt from the usual dignities we bestow upon minority belief systems, like Judaism, and Hinduism. But as I watched the trailer, which contained beautifully photographed imagery of people of myriad colors and garbs experiencing what looked like religious ecstasy, I was reminded that each of the world’s major religions had themselves begun as mistrusted cults and evolved into something more respectable through dogged persistence and effective marketing. Even Mormons, with their fantastical history of gold plates, angelic visitations, and polygamous unions, have managed to garner enough national acceptance to run for (and sometimes win) political office. Stick around long enough, and the most far-fetched story becomes…well, gospel.

I admit that I don’t know hardly anything about the sacraments of Scientology, other than they seem to be as interested in money as any other religion. They own gobs of real estate in Hollywood, they intensely dislike psychiatry, and they require their flock to pay a tithing — similar to many Christian sects. Their teachings come from a man who spent much of his life writing science fiction, and as with most religious cults, like, say, radical Islam, they’re most successful recruiting discontented youths harboring an intense disdain for the status quo. But in the pantheon of religious crimes against humanity — the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Balkan genocides — the Scientologists seem to me to rank near the bottom of the offenders. Then again, the Catholic Church has about a 2,000 year head start on them, so, to be fair, given enough time the Hubbardites could make up some ground.

In the meantime, members of established cults — i.e., religions — will continue to dismiss Scientology as dangerous, misguided, and evil, and its adherents will be pitied as brainwashed zombies too deluded to see the true way to everlasting peace. But at least the Scientologists make nice movie trailers, and they don’t predict eternal damnation for the benighted fools who refuse to sign up for their program.

Are they a clever cult who has figured out a great way to get rich? Probably. But in this regard they’ve got plenty of role models to look up to. And to date they haven’t killed a single person in the name of L. Ron Hubbard.

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