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The Side Effect of Going Clear

In the interests of honesty this post comes is inspired by the hosts of the podcast “The Scathing Atheists” who made a good point on a recent episode in their review of the HBO documentary “Going Clear.”

I’ve been hitting the movie up for the last couple weeks for inspiration as it was so well done and really got in my head as far as how I view religion, cults, and belief, yet their point brought up something I hadn’t even considered. Just to recap the important points. The movie was an exposition on the church of Scientology. It gave an overview of the life of its founder, science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, its development from a pop-psychology book in the 50s and 60s, and then its transition into a religion. From there the movie delved into its modern practices under leader David Miscavige as well as how the religion treats apostasy, criticism, and its own adherents.

The average person is probably aware of the religion as something a bunch of Hollywood individuals are into and much like Gwyneth Paltrow’s vaginal steaming (which you should absolutely not do) they probably think it’s a bit crazy. After seeing this movie however they probably have a feeling that it’s a lot crazy and that something ought to be done about it. I’m not saying that people who have come across this movie think the religion ought to be banned by some legal measure but perhaps they think that people should be educated against this organization so that they don’t fall into its traps. I’m not sure but I know that I had a gut reaction bordering on moral indignation at the existence of this group–and I knew about them before I saw the movie.

I’m about to write a sentence that I never before thought that I would ever write so here it goes (deep breath): this isn’t fair to the Scientologists.

Let me qualify that sentence, as far as I know everything in the movie is true. It lines up perfectly with the information that I had before I saw the movie, so my issue is not that I think the movie was unfair in that falsely portrayed the group. The movie is unfair because while it portrays the religion has having crazy beliefs that cause us to ask, “how could anyone buy into this?” those beliefs aren’t significantly different than any other religion that exists. The distance one has to leap over their own logical faculty is just as far as any other, and that’s why it’s unfair. For religious people who are not Scientologists to cluck their tongues at this religion is ironic.

It’s a religion that was founded by a criminal who was kicked out of every country that he came across. Ok, how is that different than Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism who died in a gunfight while trying to escape prison wherein he was incarcerated for instigating an attack on a newspaper that was critical of him?

While the life of Hubbard is very strange, his death, according to the organization is described even stranger. They say that he shed his body to continue his research without it. He didn’t die, but merely learned to live without it. That is not fundamentally very different from the Catholic belief that Mary didn’t die but merely was assumed into heaven, a belief that was only instructed as being dogma in 1950. In order to complete their work both individuals overcame death by not dying.

Scientology is not the only religion that relentlessly pursues those who have left the church with harassment and isolation. Members of the LDS and Mormons who have left the church also leave their families who are instructed to never contact them again. We can also see this in the Amish communities and their practice of shunning those who have strayed from the path.

As far as harassment of critics of the religion we need look no further than what Islamic fundamentalists do to critics of their religion who draw cartoons or write shitty fiction novels that even hint that their religion might have problems. While that certainly is an extreme example (as Scientologists have yet to target to a newspaper for assassination) we can also show the almost universal rallying of members of other religions who blamed the shooting victims under the guise that one shouldn’t insult another’s religious belief.

Sure, Scientology is a “pay to play” group in which your dedication is measured by how much you have “donated” and even require members to work for the organization for slave wages. How their donation is substantially different from the tithing necessary in all of the religions is a mystery to me. Further, in my experience, the church and religious schools I attended both made “volunteering” mandatory with the only compensation being that I was allowed to continue being a “good Catholic.”

Do they attempt to force their political beliefs on their members by helping defeat gay rights laws? Sure, at least they did so in California but so did many other churches. Liberty University, a far right conservative Christian college, made mandatory that the students attended Ted Cruz’s presidential announcement (a stark violation of the IRS regulation on both schools and churches for tax exempt status) lest the students pay a ten dollar fine.

Is the church accused of a systematic cover up of physical and psychological abuse? They are, but look at the Catholic Church again and we’ll see the same thing.

It should be clear that I’m not defending Scientology from the accusations in the documentary. What I am doing is making the claim that for every crazy or morally objectionable thing the movie presented about the group can easily be found in the other religions. The sense of superiority that some people will get from watching it is ill founded. They are different in their behavior and beliefs in only the specific details of both. The larger issue is part of the definition of “religion.”

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