I just finished reading the super-popular “Going Clear” by Lawrence Wright. It was a very meticulously researched exposé that delved into the history and origins of Scientology, a biography of L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology’s bizarre influence in Hollywood, and how belief systems can turn into prisons for its followers. It goes into detail about the abuse alleged by former members. While reading it, I was taken aback at how….fantastical and unbelievable everything seemed about this religion–just everything, from its teachings, to the alleged abuse, to its power. Of course, it is highly questionable whether it is a religion at all, rather than a philosophy, but the government has established it as such, so that is not up for debate today (for the record, I do not feel that it meets the definition because you have to pay to be a part of it). Wright does an excellent job showing how people succumb to the teachings and believe them whole-heartedly, whether they were damaged people that the religion “saved”, or whether they were born into it and raised behind its thick walls, or whether they were seemingly normal people just looking for answers or a place to belong. You honestly go back and forth from understanding to dismay while reading it and come away confused and unsettled–or at least I did.
My husband and I both like to learn about other faiths and cultures. Being pretty solid in our own Catholic faith, it doesn’t rattle us to understand and appreciate more the teachings of other faiths. For my husband, being a cradle Catholic, it is almost unfathomable to THINK about being anything else. For myself, a convert to the faith after being raised fundamentalist Baptist, it is less of a stretch. After reading Wright’s book, though, I really had to sit and think for several days about how people come to believe certain things, especially if people are raised in the same society and basic culture as you were.
People like my husband, who were raised a certain way and have never faltered in their faith enough to consider converting to anything else, no matter what faith or culture they were raised in, almost anyone can respect or at least understand. Even the radicals and terrorists, after a fashion– not that there is an excuse for the terror they unleash, but one can certainly find a reason they believe they way that they do, if one looks at it objectively. If you were raised in a society where almost everyone was a certain religion, and that religion influenced or WAS the law, how could anyone expect you to be anything but a follower and a believer, especially if there is no outside influence? This is how Islam has been for centuries in the Middle East and continues today and how Catholicism was in Europe for over a thousand years before the Reformation and countless other religions and faiths were and are throughout the history of the world. Scientology, although a very new religion, is old enough to have cradle believers of at least two generations. For those members of Scientology that do not lead the public or civilian life and are in the Sea Org, sometimes almost as soon as they can walk and talk, there is no outside influence. It is completely understandable that they believe as they do.
There are people like myself, who were damaged and broken by the faith in which they were raised or by a lack of faith in general. Perhaps, like myself, people that never took full stock in the faith and were always skeptical. These people, although they believe they are strong for resisting the sheep mindset of their origin, are actually vulnerable. People are social creatures and want to belong, so it is very natural to gravitate towards like minds. Sometimes, you don’t know where those like minds are or what they even believe, but you know them when you find them. These people are ripe for the picking, because as soon as there is a glimmer of truth to be found in a fundamental teaching, their perception is altered to look for other things that could be true in other teachings, or that fall in line and support the first truth that meant so much to them. Once these people have converted, you have your strongest fanatics. Their heart is on fire for the truth they have sought and found. Catholicism is that way for me. I truly believe that it is 100% true and neither principalities, powers, nor dominions could convince me otherwise at this point.
I am a rational person, however, and I can understand how others might find truth elsewhere (even if I don’t believe they have the truth). L. Ron Hubbard actually said something to the effect “What is true is what you have observed for yourself…nothing in Dianetics and Scientology is true for you unless you have observed it.” He is absolutely 100% right and wrong about that. Things are indeed true, whether you have observed them or not, whether you believe them or not, whether you KNOW about them or not. However, personal truth is exactly what you have observed. As a Catholic, I have observed things in my faith that people would find irrational, impossible, unbelievable…but I observed them, so they are absolutely true for me (and I believe true in general). There are many Scientologists who can say the same thing. No matter how ridiculous some things may sound to ME, I am taking them out of context and they are absolutely true for the Scientologist who observes them in context (although they would not be true in general, as far as I am concerned…but again, that is MY belief).
I have seen interviews with Tommy Davis, one the former spokespeople for Scientology and a current member of the religion still, on youtube. He is clearly a combative, hyper person, and very defensive of his faith. Much of what he says is semantic games and blather, but he does have some valid arguments here and there. He said in one interview something like “It is offensive for anyone to ask me to explain my beliefs to them. They are MINE!” It is true that no one should HAVE to explain WHY they believe something to be true as far as personal faith goes, but most people WANT to because their faith brings them so much joy. This is probably the main thing that I cannot understand about Scientology (that, and the fact you have to PAY to be a part of it and pay to have “truth” revealed to you). They are so secretive. The Catholic faith is out there for everyone. Any educated Catholic will tell you the workings of the faith, and any uneducated one will tell you basic things about it and why the faith means so much to them. I know the Vatican has a whole secret library and whatnot, and maybe it holds the answers to the mysteries of the universe, but I doubt it. The faith itself is out there for all to see and experience. The most you will get out of ANY Scientologist (at least from what I have watched and read, I haven’t met one in real life as far as I know) is just some basic principles, the fact that their faith has helped them achieve new levels of awareness, and walls of defense. Where is the brimming-over-with-joy, “Let me tell you the good news! Let me tell you all about Scientology”? As a Catholic, my ready answer to this would be, “There is none, because you don’t have THE truth, you have only a personal truth”, but as a respectful human being and an American who values the Constitutional right for the freedom of religion, should an evangelical Scientologist confront me, I would politely listen with an open mind and say, “Let’s hear it!” without having a crisis with my own faith.
This is because I can understand what it is to be persecuted and ridiculed for your faith. I haven’t, thank God, had to endure it personally, but I can empathize due to the collective memory of Christianity. Many people thought Jesus was a lunatic, liar, and a troublemaker. They crucified him for it, after all. Many people thought that the early Christians were mad and weird. Many Christians died due to this and certainly almost all of them suffered for it. Now, I do NOT think L. Ron Hubbard is like Jesus, neither do I think the ridiculed Scientologists are akin to our martyrs, but I can at least not join in with the rabble shouting “Crucify them!” effectively turning them into Jesus and martyrs in their own minds. It isn’t about who is right or wrong or crazy: it is about basic human dignity and upholding personal rights to believe however you want to, if you look at it objectively. Their spokespeople seem to be skilled in baiting traps, so it does no good to hash it out anyway.
I do not know for certain if the allegations of abuse are true, false, or exaggerated, though they do not appear to be without merit. There is NO excuse for abuse and shame on Scientology if this is true. However, I could, if I knew them, separate the core beliefs of the faith from the actions of its leaders. Members of the Catholic Church, along with members of many other and probably almost ALL other faiths, have been guilty of abusing and killing people in fanatical zeal. The Church does not teach this, but people are wicked and people in power are often more inclined to be so, especially when they do not truly hold the teachings in their hearts and distort them for their own purposes. Having not gone up the Bridge myself in Scientology, I couldn’t tell you if the true teachings condone such behavior, but I think not. I think it is more of an administrative issue, if it exists. There are many Scientologists who have left the official church but still practice the teachings, and certainly I do not think John Travolta or even Tom Cruise with all of his couch jumping, are that crazy. I do not think that the church would have attracted so many people if its core teachings were about abuse, but the founder himself seems to have allowed it in their culture.
I do not know for certain whether the religion is dangerous or not. Unlike a lot of the weird, cosmo-oriented cults that have popped up over the years, there doesn’t appear to be any mention of suicide or killing at all that is condoned or taught. Indeed, they believe that there is no real mental illness, but rather evil thetans inside the body cause a ruckus, and people that commit suicide are overcome by the wicked thetans inside and it is sad and shameful to them. They HAVE done some pretty crazy espionage and harassment tactics on small and grand scales, but that could be traced to administrative issues again, rather than core beliefs. Besides, many religions, especially Christianity, have waged religious warfare despite the core beliefs, so I don’t know that we are in a position to cast stones.
Having said all this, I don’t think the most effective way to win Scientologists back to the fold or to entice them to consider Christianity in the first place is to mock them or be disrespectful. After all, they really believe that what they observe to be true is truth. If we as Christians are rude, mean, or disrespectful, this becomes their truth. If we live by our faith principles, exactly as Jesus intended us to, we wouldn’t HAVE to convince anyone. They would observe our faith to be true and to be THE truth.