Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Way to Cease and Desist

The Way To Happiness Foundation, an organisation that claims to be independent of the Church of Scientology but solely exists to distribute copies of L Ron Hubbard's 1981 common sense guide to happy living seems to be going through one cycle of behaviour rather a lot recently. As has been the case with other organisations claiming independence of Scientology, such as Narconon, the Foundation has been sniffing around after state endorsements, but whereas other organisations have been blinding police chiefs with glossy brochures and ill-founded claims of efficacy until such a time as the signature dries, the Foundation have been cutting out the middle man.

In both San Francisco and Texas, they have printed pamphlets promoting Hubbard's writings alongside letters of approval from mayors Newsom and Leppert. In the former instance the mayor's inclusion in the pamphlet caim to light when a box of 12 copies were sent to the mayor's office. Lance Miller, Scientologist and president of the Foundation, has claimed that the copies were a, in retropsect ill-thought-out, attempt to get the mayor to agree on his inclusion.

"Cities, churches and businesses around the country," he explains, "received similar customized copies of the booklets, and San Francisco just happened to be on the mailing list currently being used". Except the booklets printed weren't some automated "push a button and retire" product. They feature artwork specific to both San Francisco and the mayor so this statement from Miller is a little misleading. Further, his claims that it was a sales pitch is somewhat weakened by the fact that in Texas, pamphlets featureing Leppert were in actual distribution.

Incidentally, the Foundation website avoids all mention of Scientology, even in the FAQ section on Hubbard. It's one of the ongoing problems with Scientology-connected groups. They have the notion that if they divorce themselves from the Church itself, it will somehow absolve them of any problems that religious associations might bring (the separation of church and state often means that religious organisations are unable to get involved with state matters to the degree that they would wish). How far that is true is a matter for debate, but few can believe that an organisation furthering the teachings of Hubbard in any form cannot in some way be seen as a promotion of Scientology. The reason these organisations exist is so that people will read through the material and think to themselves "oh, this is interesting, I'll have to check out more from this Hubbard guy". That's why so much of the freely available material of Hubbard is of the "can't argue with that" flavour. That's why Scientologists like to lay out the "core beliefs" of Scientology to the naive and uninitiated - a world without crime and insanity? Sounds good to me. Just so long as it isn't based on a belief system riding on the back of deliberately engineered false memory syndrome and a mythology involving aliens.

What the Foundation does say about Hubbard, and forgive me my stray from the topic, is that he believed the upshot of the move away from religion (which, as we all know, happened in the 70s) was that the State failed in taking up the mantle of passing on a moral code to its country's citizens. He claims his Way to Happiness is a common sense moral code that could be used to replace what we've lost in turning our back on religion.

Only we don't get our moral code from religion; religion is just the means by which some of us confirm it (and it's great for supporting one's bigotry too!). Ironically, his seeking out of a moral code based on common sense is, in fact, exactly what did happen in the 70s, leading to what I assume he perceives as a moral decline (homosexuality, inter-racial marriages, etc.). People actually started looking at the meat of their morality, rather than thinking it was enough that it was all layed down in scripture. Morality based on scripture is, to coin a phrase, a house built on sand.

I know there are plenty of religious folk out there who distressingly believe that if someone lives without God there is nothing to stop them becoming homicidal maniacs, but it clearly isn't the case; I know plenty of atheists who have never killed anyone. This is in part because atheism tends to make people value life more, not less. If this is all we get, then we're best off making the most of it. If this is all everyone gets, then who am I to make someone else's life shorter or even just more difficult? Compare that to the offer of a life of misery in exchange for Brownie points in Heaven and I fail to see the contest.

What is disturbing about such claims that godlessness leads to mania is that it suggests the only thing stopping the religious folk making those claims from becoming homicidal maniacs is religion. Try not to be around the day they lose their faith! We have a moral compass; one that we are in part born with and in part learn. All scripture does is confirm the elements of that moral compass we wish to pursue, assuage our guilt when we transgress, and police our thoughts with the threat of supernatural intervention. What really irritates me in particular about Christians who routinely spout such nonsense is that it bears no relation to who Jesus was and what he did. Christ took the moral code of his day, tore it up and started again. That's why Tacitus described Christianity as a degraded sect. That and the lady deacons. So much of what remains of Jesus' teachings are about examining and re-examining our moral codes, not by living our lives out based on scripture alone. All the contemporary quoting of Leviticus and worse in the furthering of hatred and oppression must have Jesus turning in his grave.

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