Christopher Hitchens, in one of his finer moments, once said, “The secular state is the guarantee of religious pluralism. This apparent paradox, again, is the simplest and most elegant of political truths.” Certainly, he was likely leveling the statement at the three biggest offenders, the Abrahamic religions—Christianity, Judaism and Islam. However, sub-textually, he meant all religions.
And the paradox could hardly be any more ripe than when one considers Scientology. Here is a “religion” that managed to classify itself as a “church” in order to reap the benefits that tax-exempt religions had already enjoyed, as well as to insulate itself from being called a cult, or dismantled for being a fraud.
Minted, as it were, by the U.S. government, the Church of Scientology is free to extort unwitting and ignorant people as long as it sticks to the law. The government won’t tolerate any of that Operation Snow White shit, but Tom Cruise is free to redistribute his wealth to Scientology clerics. Hell, maybe even some of that money from the lower rungs makes its way into Cruise and John Travolta’s pockets, but we’d never get close enough to know the truth.
Thomas Paine was also well-acquainted with the idea of people seeking salvation through indulgences, or any individual contributing money to a religious institution for good of his soul, stating in “The Age of Reason”:
The doctrine of redemption is founded on a mere pecuniary idea corresponding to that of a debt which another person might pay; and as this pecuniary idea corresponds again with the system of second redemption, obtained through the means of money given to the Church for pardons, the probability is that the same persons fabricated both the one and the other of those theories; and that, in truth there is no such thing as redemption — that it is fabulous, and that man stands in the same relative condition with his Maker as he ever did stand since man existed, and that it is his greatest consolation to think so.
Paine would have been truly baffled at how the creation and existence of Scientology was enabled by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. Whether he would have taken to the “church” the way the Europeans have is another matter.
According to the Associated Press, yesterday a French appeals court upheld a 2009 fraud conviction involving the Church of Scientology, in which it forced members into paying money for questionable Scientology remedies. Sounds rather like Catholic indulgences; however, the case bears closer resemblance to buying self-help materials found in a late night infomercial.
The case began with a legal complaint by a young woman who said she took out loans and spent the equivalent of euro21,000 ($28,000) on books, courses and “purification packages” after being recruited in 1998. When she sought reimbursement and to leave the group, its leadership refused to allow either. She was among three eventual plaintiffs.
Karin Pouw, the Los Angeles Scientology spokesperson, has said that the church will appeal to the Court of Cassation, but also plans to bring a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights. Well, the case should do well in these venues, naturally, because it is no doubt a human right to charge others to become more complete Thetans and then refuse reimbursement once a displeased Thetan attempts to leave the fold.
Why could we not then apply this logic to all religious institutions—one joins, gives money away, and one leaves without much improvement and without the cash. It’s a poker game that any believer is destined to lose.
Indeed, the simple fact of the matter is that all religions make promises—”remedies” let’s call them—that they cannot possibly keep. They may not offer the cures that Scientology offers, but in the final analysis, the three Abrahamic religions offer salvation for mortal souls subjected to the realities of being a biological being here on Earth.
Then again, like the woman in this Scientology case they are simply a legion of suckers, so perhaps we should not take pity on them.