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Old 08-02-2007, 10:23 AM   #1
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Scientologists aren't any weirder than you are

[q]For the Love of Xenu

By Mark Oppenheimer

Scientology, the controversial religion whose adherents include John Travolta, Tom Cruise, and Jenna Elfman, can't seem to stay out of the news. Sometimes the church would rather not have the publicity, as when Germany, which considers Scientology a cult, recently refused to let Tom Cruise shoot scenes for his new movie in government buildings. Other times, Scientologists court the attention—as when the same Mr. Cruise brought his Scientology-influenced anti-psychiatry crusade to the Today show in 2005.

Some Americans may consider Scientology perhaps a cult, maybe a violent sect, and certainly very weird. And, like many, I find the Church of Scientology odd, to say the least. But Scientology is no more bizarre than other religions. And it's the similarities between Scientology and, say, Christianity and Judaism that make us so uncomfortable. We need to hate Scientology, lest we hate ourselves.

[...]

My podcast and article were not meant to attack Scientology. Not every article about a Catholic mentions the church's pederasty scandals or its suborning of fascism under Hitler and Franco. An article about Yom Kippur observance in Hackensack need not ask Jews for their views of illegal West Bank settlements. All religious groups have something to answer for, but religion writing would be quite tedious, not to mention unilluminating, if every article were reduced to the negative charges against some co-religionists.

But when it comes to Scientology, there's a hunger for the negative. I suspect that's because Scientology evinces an acute case of what Freud called the narcissism of small differences: We're made most uncomfortable by that which is most like us. And everything of which Scientology is accused is an exaggerated form of what more "normal" religions do. Does Scientology charge money for services? Yes—but the average Mormon, tithing 10 percent annually, pays more money to his church than all but the most committed Scientologists pay to theirs. Jews buying "tickets" to high-holiday services can easily part with thousands of dollars a year per family. Is Scientology authoritarian and cultlike? Yes—but mainly at the higher levels, which is true of many religions. There may be pressure for members of Scientology's elite "Sea Organization" not to drop out, but pressure is also placed on Catholics who may want to leave some cloistered orders. Does Scientology embrace pseudoscience? Absolutely—but its "engrams" and "E-meter" are no worse than what's propagated by your average Intelligent Design enthusiast. In fact, its very silliness makes it less pernicious.

And what about the "Xenu" creation myth anti-Scientologists are so fond of? Scientologists have promised me that it is simply not part of their theology—some say they learned about Xenu from South Park. Several ex-Scientologists have sworn the opposite. Given his frequent conflation of science fiction, theology, and incoherent musings, I think that Hubbard may have taught that eons ago, the galactic warlord Xenu dumped 13.5 trillion beings in volcanoes on Earth, blowing them up and scattering their souls. But I'm not sure that it is an important part of Scientology's teachings. And if Xenu is part of the church's theology, it's no stranger than what's in Genesis. It's just newer and so seems weirder.

Religions appear strange in inverse proportion to their age. Judaism and Catholicism seem normal—or at least not deviant. Mormonism, less than 200 years old, can seem a bit incredible. And Scientology, founded 50 years ago, sounds truly bizarre. To hear from a burning bush 3,000 years ago is not as strange as meeting the Angel Moroni two centuries ago, which is far less strange than having a hack sci-fi writer as your prophet.

That's not to say that all religions are "equal" or equally deserving of respect. I'm no more a Scientologist than I am a Swedenborgian or a member of the Nation of Islam, and I do have two criticisms of Scientology that one rarely hears from Xenu-obsessed detractors.

First, while the introductory Scientology costs are not outlandish (for example, a member may pay about $200 for a dozen sessions of "auditing," to start out), the fees increase as adherents gain new knowledge through advanced course work (going "up the bridge to total freedom," in Scientology-speak)—and it does make the religion resemble a pyramid or matrix scheme. More than one Scientologist explained to me that they don't have the financial resources of the Catholic Church that come from thousands of years of donations. They have to charge. Well, that's not the whole truth. The secrecy surrounding Scientology's higher levels of knowledge has no apparent analog in the Abrahamic faiths, and the steep financial outlay to get higher knowledge seems also unique. Catholicism doesn't charge people to become learned, nor does Judaism. In fact, the greatest scholars in those faiths are often revered paupers: penniless rabbis and voluntarily poor priests, monks, and nuns.

Poverty is not Scientology's style, to say the least. That leads me to my second criticism: bad aesthetics! I have never been less religiously moved by ostensibly religious spaces than in Scientology buildings. Whether the Celebrity Centre in Los Angeles, the New York church off Times Square, or the local branch down the street from my house, Scientology buildings are filled with garish colors, flat-screen TVs showing silly, dull videos, and glossy pamphlets recycling the legend of the overrated L. Ron Hubbard, whom Scientologists revere as a scientist, writer, and seer of the first rank. In my opinion, Hubbard's books are bad, the movies they inspire are bad, and the derivative futuro-techno look that Scientology loves is an affront to good taste on every level. It's a religion that screams nouveau–Star Trek–riche. For those of us who seek mystery, wonder, and beauty in our religions, Scientology is a nonstarter.

But good taste, as art critic Dave Hickey says, is just the residue of someone else's privilege. Catholicism has its Gothic cathedrals, Judaism its timeless Torah scrolls. Scientology is brand-new, but it has played an impressive game of catch-up. In its drive to be a major world religion, it will inevitably go through a period when its absurdities and missteps are glaringly apparent. But someday it will be old and prosaic, and there may still be Scientologists. And when some of those Scientologists embezzle, lie, and steal—as they surely will—they'll seem no worse than Christians, Jews, or Muslims who have done the same.

Mark Oppenheimer, a senior book critic for the Forward, is writing a book about American oratory. He is coordinator of the Yale Journalism Initiative and hosts a podcast for the New Haven Independent.[/q]
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Old 08-02-2007, 10:34 AM   #2
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Hey, I've long thought all religious types are whacked!
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Old 08-02-2007, 10:56 AM   #3
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That was fascination, particularly with the older the religion is the more acceptibility, respectibility it gains. (Kind of like when people say Kwanzaa is a made up holiday, forgetting that Christmas was too) Scientology is in the (for it) unfortunate position of most of the people being more or less familiar with its inspirations if not its concepts (ie a science fiction writer fundametally created a religion, the perfect baby boomer religion) and we have the luxury of saying, "You've got to be joking, right?"
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Old 08-02-2007, 11:17 AM   #4
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I've never assumed Scientologists in general are 'weirder than I am.' Tom Cruise, from what (very little) I know about him, does seem to be an odd character, but then I tend to imagine he was always like that. Lots of people organize their lives and priorities in ways that are puzzling to me.

The author of that piece is a religious Jew BTW.
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Old 08-02-2007, 11:32 AM   #5
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Good article. I've always found it bizarre when people think I'm loony for believing in reincarnation when Christians believe in a virgin birth and talking burning bushes and many things that sound like fairy tales to me.

I really don't have much problem with Scientology. I, too, have been put off by the garish buildings and the focus on wealth, but then there's the Crystal Cathedral and the scary Robert Schuller (who I actually met once through my work years ago and man oh man, what a seriously creepy individual), not to mention the Pope's Prada shoes. And I do find the few Scientologists I've come into contact with to be arrogant but I could say that about people from many different beliefs and religions, including my own.

Scientology simply doesn't affect me or my life and to each his own. And I do find it amusing when (especially) Christians call it a cult because I see most religions as cultish.
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Old 08-02-2007, 11:32 AM   #6
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I say cult...the newness of it makes it a cult, not to mention the paying your way up the ladder thing, and it being just randomly made up by some dude.

Now if it 1000 years there's as many Scientologists as there are Christians, Muslims, Jews or whatever...well then it's moved into the mainstream and escaped the "cult" label. But until then...cult all the way.
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Old 08-02-2007, 11:49 AM   #7
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You don't think that other religions were "made up by some dude?"
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Old 08-02-2007, 01:21 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally posted by phillyfan26
You don't think that other religions were "made up by some dude?"
I think the main difference in this situation is how blatantly obvious and nearly irrefutable it is, having quotes from L. Ron Hubbard himself talking about how the easiest way to make money would be to start a religion. Christians and Jews don't have that kind of blatantly obvious evidence staring them in the face all of the time, so it's easier for them to pretend that their beliefs have more basis in fact (well that and the whole time issue).
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Old 08-02-2007, 02:16 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally posted by phillyfan26
You don't think that other religions were "made up by some dude?"
Oh I do...that's why I think if Scientology grows as widespread as the "major" religions it loses it's cult status, and becomes just like the other religions.
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Old 08-02-2007, 02:34 PM   #10
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Scientology sounds like a bad parody of what a real religion would look like.
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Old 08-02-2007, 04:09 PM   #11
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Scientology is a real religion and it should be treated as such, the coercion tactics utilised by the group as well as the anti-medication doctrine towards mental health are definitely deserving of scorn. The smear campaigns and legal methods used to attack critics are also great reasons to have a big problem with this religion.

One can't label it a sham religion simply because it goes against all the evidence and makes stupid claims.
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Old 08-02-2007, 04:18 PM   #12
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I'm ok w all religions that help their fellow man become better ppl,and acknowledge there is a divine creator, in which Scientology does, therefore I'm ok w them.

There were 2 good articles on Scienetology -lately one on MSN and Rolling Stone, one of these which Irvine posted I think.

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Old 08-02-2007, 08:27 PM   #13
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I guess what makes Scientology come across as a cult started back when Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise first became an item. With Tom's ranting on the Today show ("You don't know the history of psychology; I do"), and Katie's interview with W magazine where she sounded like a robot describing her excitement over Tom, I know a lot of people got the idea of Scientology being a cult.

I've only met one Scientologist, so I can't form opinions on the religion based on that one person.

I don't know much about Scientology, but what I find "looney" about them is their rejection of psychology and psychiatric drugs. I've known people who have gone through therapy and were on medication, and it changed their lives. So how could Scientologists be so against something that people can benefit from?
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Old 08-02-2007, 08:34 PM   #14
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I would class Scientology as approximately as creepy as Opus Dei (which makes it pretty creepy).

Someone tried to recruit me into Opus Dei when I was at college, even at the time as a practising Catholic I thought they were odd fish, and turned them down flat.
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Old 08-02-2007, 09:00 PM   #15
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Actually even if one takes the 'religion is all nonsense' tack, there is a distinct difference. As others have pointed out, a science fiction writer in the 1950s basically wrote his own religion for a lark.

The long-standing world religions have evolved with and through human culture over millenia. Even if not scientifically 'true' (hardly the point), there is a lot more to them than a guy just makin' shit up.

Religions, interestingly, evolve organically. how ironic. But true. There would have been no Christianity if there had not first been Judaism. And its spiritual precursors. Yeah, just not the same as L. Ron Hubbard writing a religion for fun and profit.

I think Scientology has at least as much in common with multi-level marketing as it does with 'religion'.
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