Monday, March 23, 2009

CoS and the Limits of Religious Freedom

I was reminded, watching the full Tommy Davis KESQ interview, of a certain peculiarity of the Church of Scientology. It will be the first to stand up for religious freedom inasmuch as it so often paints itself the victim of oppression at the hands of its critics, but rarely is it forced to confront its own limits on that religious freedom.

Jonathan Barbera began a thread recently on ARS claiming he was being denied, notionally at least, his religion by the critics. I, perhaps glibly, responded that, as a critic, I did not seek to deny him his religion, but that the Church of Scientology did. Glib that response may have been, but truthful and honest too. At the heart of practiced Scientology lies the document Keeping Scientology Working. Hubbard, throughout his life, revised and updated policies, but naturally enough once the man had died, such revisions stopped and his words were etched in titanium. Whereas it was fine for Hubbard to revise his work, if anyone else did it, this would be considered treason. That's why whenever David Miscavige revises the scriptures he needs to frame it within the idea that he is correcting what had already been "squirreled" by those people working with Hubbard on the original texts who somehow managed to get their suppressive personalities past the sec checks. The reason given for such stern protection of the Church's copyrighted materials is supposedly to ensure that the texts are not altered in any way - as long as the church owns and controls the writings, then the religion too can be controlled; its policies suspended in amber from the mid-eighties on.

But here's the thing. In the world at large we have figures like Barbera and Schwarz who, while still true believers in their religion, were ousted by the Church they loved. In the eyes of the Church of Scientology they are not, and have never been, Scientologists. Yet Barbera states, as well he might, that he is "more of a Scientologist now than [he] was when [he] was in the church". So what happens now? People can practice their religion outside of the church, despite the church's insistence on its own monopoly. The faithful Scientologists of the Free Zone, many of whom believe not only that they count as proper Scientologists, but that the religion's texts should be freely available, clearly have as much right to their religion as do the "pay and obey" brigade.

This is why it's so vital, when COS is allying itself alongside conventional religions and claiming victimhood to such horrific crimes as having its logical inconsistencies and pseudoscience pointed out in public, when it is waving the religious freedom flag, one must look it straight in the eye and ask "does the same go for the Free Zone?"

The comedian Stewart Lee once said, in response to criticism of the religious content of Jerry Springer: the Opera, that Christians had to understand that they didn't own their stories. I think that in order for CoS to be taken seriously, it has to learn that lesson too. It cannot go on claiming religious persecution yet at the same time chooses to persecute, notionally or otherwise, Scientologists who have, following their own reasoning and believing what they have observed themselves, made the decision that their bridge to total freedom lies away from the Orgs.

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