When I was a kid, I wanted to read Dianetics so badly. Most 80’s kids will remember the commercial: The big animated volcano furiously exploding as the voice-of-god announcer came on and told us to read the book. Man, that was compelling stuff. Who doesn’t want to read a book as exciting as a volcano?
When reminiscing about the commercial with my bestie, she told me she always wanted to read Dianetics as a kid too, but that was the one book her mother ever refused to buy for her. In the wake of Leah Remini’s Scientology and the Aftermath documentary on A&E, we must ask the question: Was that a wise choice?
My first principle on religion is this: If it gets your spiritual groove on and doesn’t harm anyone else or infringe upon their rights, then have at it. Go. Do. Enjoy!
I approached Leah Remini’s show from this angle—skeptical and put off by the idea that one would seek to make a career on tearing down another’s religion. I wanted to give Scientology every benefit of the doubt. I wanted to be able to refute, philosophically, every negative thing the people on the show said. I wanted to defend Scientology as a valid religious expression. I wanted a lot of things I’m not sure I got.
To start, I was annoyed. I’m just going to lay this out there: Leah Remini is like sandpaper on a sunburn to me. I find her self-aggrandizing and overdramatic. Her reactions to people’s stories on the show, stories she must have already heard, were ridiculously overblown and disingenuous. She’s not a good enough actress to pull that kind of thing off.
I was also annoyed by the ominous graphics and horror-movie style music. It was obvious from the outset that the producers of this documentary had no interest in being fair and even-handed even though they went out of their way to plaster Church of Scientology disclaimers all over the place. They even did that in such a way as to suggest evil intent, (see Leah Remini’s eye-rolling readings of the Church of Scientology’s refutation letters at the the beginning of each episode).
I was so prepared to hate it. I did hate it. The one hiccup is, they had receipts.
Show after show, former members listed all kinds of shady practices and abusive behaviors. Show after show, they produced documents to support their claims. Show after show, all the Church of Scientology did was write a letter saying, “Oh yeah, well, that guy… That guy is a big fat liar and general doodie face.”
Scientology, defend yourself with facts, dammit.
By the end of the series though, I reached the conclusion that, while Scientology may be a little creepier than I thought it was, as a church, they do not violate any condition of worthiness for religious respect. While the behavior of certain individual members has been contemptible and abusive, the religion as a whole should not be damned.
Here’s the acid test:
Does Scientology help people get their spiritual grooves on? Obviously it does, and fiercely so.
Does it harm anyone or infringe upon their rights? Morally sticky, but ultimately no, or at least, no more than any other religion.
Here’s the deal: Every officially church-related thing that happens with Scientology members, from harsh work details, reprogramming sessions, and family disconnection is completely voluntary. Members’ guilt over their perceived “crimes” may keep them with a church that no longer serves them, but again, personal decisions based on personal feelings of guilt do not equate to compulsion by force. Also, we must remember that this guilt-entrapment is a feature of many major world religions. If you don’t do this or that, you make the Virgin Mary weep. If you don’t do this or that, your family won’t be with you in heaven. Etc. If it’s acceptable for one religion, then it must be acceptable for all. We cannot condemn one if we do not condemn them all. We must not be hypocrites.
Critics of Scientology might counter this by citing brainwashing and/or indoctrination. Again, the Church of Scientology is no more guilty of this than just about every religion in the world that teaches by scripture, orthopraxy, and/or a rigid set of moral standards. For those of us who have a religion or are even hardcore Dawkins-style atheists: aren’t we all brainwashed just a little? In my opinion, a bit of indoctrination isn’t a bad thing as long as you dig it and as long as you are free to walk away from it at any time.
Here’s my second principle on religion: Either all of it is bullshit or none of it is.
You can’t say that virgin births, talking bushes, golden plates, crystals/trees/herbs with magical properties, and/or the law of attraction are plausible then claim that Xenu is just too far out there. Well, you could, but then you’d be that dreaded hypocrite. As long as none of us have concrete proof, we all have the right to think we’re right, but we don’t have the right to insist anyone else is wrong. A chair is a chair. If you call it a cat I can prove you are incorrect. I believe a god is a god, but if you call it a chair, I have no means of proving you incorrect, nor do you have the means to prove you are correct.
Here’s my third principle on religion: In the end, we’re all going to be surprised.
Maybe, when we move on to the next life, we will all end up in the big TV volcano. Maybe we’ll end up in heaven. Maybe we’ll end up a worm. Maybe there won’t be anything at all. Because we don’t know, we must leave our hateful critiques of alternative religious beliefs behind.
Leah Remini’s show was interesting, and maybe it was cathartic for those disaffected members to get their stories out there, but did it prove Scientology is anything more evil and controlling than any other religion? It did not.
Scientologists: you do you, but quit suing everyone, wouldja?