February 16th, 2008

jesus (by sabotabby)

Scientology, Religious Freedom and Anonymous

So, even though I haven't been spending much time on the Internets, I've heard about Anonymous and their efforts against Scientology.

There's a really well-done video that someone did about the story so far that's been put on YouTube (in two parts, due to time limitations) here and here.

I've been watching this battle from a distance for some time, probably ever since I read an article in Wired magazine about the battle between the "Church" of Scientology and the Usenet group alt.religion.scientology.

The fact that I put "Church" in quotes should pretty much tell you where I stand on the issue. But I've been pondering it for a while and the one thing that bugs me the most about this is this:

Scientology is not a religion.

Scientology is an organization that claims to be a religion in order to reap the legal benefits of religious organizations, from tax exemption, to the ability to deny someone medical treatment, to the ability to claim "religious persecution" when they are called on their horrific behavior.

Now, of course, defining what makes a religion is a tricky enough business as it is. The dictionary definition is forced to be especially vague because of the diversity of religious belief. The one on dictionary.reference.com, for example, reads a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

This definition seems a bit flawed to me, because one can, in fact, have a set of beliefs and even perform rituals about those beliefs, without belonging to any particular religion. Indeed, you could define atheism as a religion by that standard, if you concede that "especially", "usually" and "often" mean "but not always".

I submit this definition--a religion is an organized structure designed to teach and practice the tenets of a spiritual path. Granted, such organized structures have an unfortunate habit of becoming corrupted to the point that they end up subverting or even contradicting the spiritual path that they set out to propagate, but at the heart of them, there is a core of spirituality, the surrender of the ego to the infinite.

This is why you find folks who are "spiritual, but not religious" -- they prefer to walk the path of spirit by their own means, instead of through religious structures. I personally draw a certain distinction between my religion (Roman Catholic) and my spiritual path (which includes a larger notion of the universal, but finds a certain comfort and clarity in the rites and rituals of the faith I was raised in.)

So what the heck does all this have to do with Scientology? Precisely my point. Scientology is indeed an organized structure, but it lacks the sweet, creamy center of a spiritual path. There is no there there. There are purportedly rites and rituals, but there is no sign of a soul at the heart of it, no embrace of the sacred, the holy, the infinite.

It is common knowledge that Scientology was created not for the purpose of enlightenment, but because L. Ron Hubbard got it in his head that if a man really wanted to make money, he needed to start his own religion. This is a fraud and a travesty and an insult to the First Amendment and the hard-won freedoms that religions in America have.

This is why I want everybody to stop treating Scientology as if it's just another religion with some odd notions. It is not a religion. It never was. And as long as it continues in the way it has, it never will be. Even "cult" is too kind a word for it--that still implies a level of spirituality that it does not possess. It is a tax dodge and a fraud and should be treated as such.
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