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.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cleopatra Syndrome

One of the peculiar irrationalities of the human mind is the so-called "Cleopatra Syndrome", where the bearer of bad news is blamed for the bad news itself. The receiver of the news is inclined to associate it with the person telling it; imagine if you will a woman who falls out with her best friend because she informed her of her husband's infidelity. The existence and prevalence of the syndrome leads to a slightly underhanded strategy in many organisations; to task other people, preferably your enemies, with breaking bad news. Do everything in your power to be the one to pass on good news.

Miscavige has, for years, been Mr Good News. It has been his face associated in the minds of public Scientologists with all the good the Church is allegedly doing around the world. It has been his image bound together with victories against psychiatry. But there's been a paucity of good news of late. They have been put under an unprecedented level of scrutiny, high profile defections, and an ever more vocal and growing number of ex-Scientologists. The good news, often little more than smoke and mirrors in itself, has been put to the test in a way Miscavige is not accustomed to. And, through no small coincidence, Miscavige seems to have gone to ground.

And who is left to answer for the Church's dubious practices? Tom Davis! Davis, son of actress and former Cruise-squeeze Anne Archer, is wheeled out whenever any fork-tongued public statement is required, often leaving him blinking bewildered in the headlamps of direct questions about his faith and his church. Ask the Scientologist's Just Bill points out that Davis was even left to run the New Year event - an annual backslap that the organisation puts on to sell the idea to its dwindling membership that the Church is genuinely doing something worthwhile. This has traditionally been a firm fixture for Miscavige, but his absence from both the public and private face of Scientology continued.

As much as the idea appeals to me that Miscavige has followed in Hubbard's footsteps and gone into hiding, jumping at shadows as he waits for his empire to fall, I suspect that instead he is quite calmly waiting out the present turbulence, putting as much distance between himself and the embarrassments of the last few months. He may even be planning on making a high-profile return to the spotlight, a wad of old/new research to peddle to base. In the meantime Davis, who surely must have done something pretty bad in the eyes of Miscavige to have deserved such treatment, will continue to take hits for the team. The only question that remains is where Davis will be headed once his master returns.