“…The church of Scientology is arguably the most persistently controversial of all contemporary new religious movements” (Lewis, 133)
The National Post recently published the article “Five Things We know About Going Clear, Sundance’s Bombshell Scientology Film” (http://bit.ly/1wPkd8I), written by Rebecca Tucker. This article provides insight into the societal struggles and criticisms that face new religious movements (NRMs), such as Scientology. The central issue of this article surrounds the recently debuted Scientology documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. Although public reception of the film was positive at its premier at the recent Sundance Film Festival, there has been much backlash and disapproval expressed by the church itself. Public popularity of this film is unsurprising, as society has been expressing concern about these radically different new religious movements since the 1960s and the 1970s, when many NRMs started to emerge (Hammer and Rothstein, 2).
The majority of the film focuses on Ron Hubbard, a science-fiction writer and the founder of Scientology. The documentary highlights many negativities of Scientology, such as its alleged abuses, harassment, neglect, torture and manipulation. The theme of this documentary can be related to many previous claims, as discussed in lecture, that the New Religious Movement of Scientology is not a real religion as it engages in the “mental manipulation” of its members.
However, no matter how controversial this documentary may be, and no matter what my personal feelings regarding Scientology are, it must be considered a real religion. This determination can be made as Scientology meets the criteria stated by multiple philosophers and theologians, such as, Fred Welbourn, Paul Tillich and Ninian Smart. As discussed in lecture, the ideas of these individuals encompass the beliefs that religion requires commitment, it must be something that is the most important in the followers lives, and it must be a set of institutionalized rituals with an organizational backing. The fact that Scientology incorporates all of these aspects means that as controversial as it may be, it must still be considered a religion.
The controversy of Going Clear and on Scientology can be further understood when we consider Hammer and Rothstein’s consideration that all past and present religions have faced interpretive difficulties and challenges in their young stages. Even ancient religions such as Christianity, Islam and Buddhism all faced conflicting experiences in their early stages. This is important to keep in mind when analyzing the trials and tribulations facing the new religious movement of Scientology. (3)
For further related articles and interviews on the controversial documentary Going Clear, check out these informing sources!
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Olav Hammer and Mikael Rothstein, eds., Cambridge Companion to New Religious Movements