Scientology: The People Are Not the Organization

Scientology: The People Are Not the Organization  

This week a documentary premièred on the subject of Scientology[1]; particularly, the film was a critical look at some of the controversies of the church with interviews by several former members explaining their experiences with Scientology. There is little doubt that the documentary is a very important piece of work and that it addresses some crucial reasons why the average person may be a bit wary of Scientology[2]. However, much of the popular narrative surrounding Scientology seeks to ridicule those who choose to join the church or claims that members have somehow been brainwashed or coerced into joining. This article by Alyssa Rosenberg (http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/act-four/wp/2015/03/30/why-its-so-hard-to-beat-scientology/) takes a very important perspective in the debate regarding Scientology in that it discusses the individual people who make up the church rather than the faceless, emotionless organization that represents the public face of the church. What Rosenberg attempts to convey with this piece is that there are many different reasons a person might join Scientology; from a desire for an alternative to traditional psychological and self-help methods, to a genuine urge to change the world. Rosenberg concludes that if one does truly believe Scientology to be a harmful group that needs to be dismantled, then mocking those who have chosen to join only further cuts them off from any potential support if they do eventually decide to leave the church (or strengthens their resolve to remain active in the church).

While Scientology is most often regarded as being a joke at best and a dangerous cult at worst, this article is a good example of one aspect that a critical conversation on Scientology is often missing. It is so easy to see the beliefs and behaviours of Scientology play out in public forums and to only respond with ridicule and contempt for those involved. This reaction from the general public is what has allowed the church of Scientology to continue to justify its existence as a misunderstood underdog in the eyes of its members and potential new recruits for so long. In order to actually make any progress towards dismantling Scientology it seems misguided to only respond with blanket aggression. As we have discussed over the course of the semester in regards to other New Religious Movements, aggressive tactics such as deprogramming are very rarely useful as people who join these movements usually do so by their own choice without the use of extensive brainwashing or coercion. In many ways, this is perhaps what scares non-believers most of all: that someone (even someone they know and love) could freely choose to believe in and support a ridiculous and/or dangerous religious movement. To be clear, this is not to say that those in higher up positions within the movement who are apparently abusing their power over low level members should not be criticized or investigated. They most definitely should be observed and any wrongdoings exposed and possibly punished. The main point of this article and something that bears repeating though, is that those at the very bottom of the Scientology hierarchy are often regular people merely looking for something to change some aspect of their lives and that they deserve empathy at the very least (a radical suggestion when it comes to Scientology).

-JRN

#uwreligions

[1]          . Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015) directed by Alex Gibney

[2]   The church of Scientology’s official response to the film can be found here: http://www.freedommag.org/hbo/ and is somewhat disturbing in its intensity.

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