I recently had the opportunity to watch the most excellent HBO documentary, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Fear, directed and written by Alex Gibney and based on the book of Lawrence Wright.
What I took from it was the realization that Scientology truly is a religion and not just because it has tax-exempt status.
Looking at Scientology rationally and comparing it to, say, Catholicism, one can't help but see glaring similarities:
• Both religions indoctrinate their followers (Scientology has Sea Org and other institutions; Catholicism has catechism class/bible study)
• Both religions have leaders who judge your actions (Scientology has auditors and interviews; Catholicism has priests and confessions)
• Both religions lean oppressively on members for donations (Scientology makes you pay for each level you achieve; Catholicism's tithing requests 10% of your income)
• Both religions have one supreme earthly ruler (Scientology has David Muscavige, the chairman of the board of the Religious Technology Center; Catholicism has the pope)
• Both religions experience legal trouble for their treatment of followers (Scientology has too many to list; Catholicism as WAY too many to list)
• And of course, both religions don't pay taxes in the United States. That is a crime for another post. I could go on, but the point is made.
The documentary was fairly thorough, and not really shocking to me. Why? For many reasons. First, I have broken free from indoctrination, so I am fully aware of some of the ridiculous things religions do. Plus, I live in the Tampa Bay area, home to one of the Scientology headquarters and I have heard/read of the many cruel and unusual practices of this church. So when one of the subjects talks about how Muscavige would literally beat certain followers into submission or imprison them for what he deemed unacceptable behavior, it doesn't surprise me at all.
I also worked as an editor for the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) for nearly 15 years, many of those spent in a heated battle with the church over the treatment of their followers, namely the late Lisa McPherson, who was a victim of negligent homicide at the hands of this church. The Times also played prominently in the documentary as its story of the church's former elders speaking out against the church was all part of this exposé. To say the least, I'm familiar with the evils of Scientology.
In fact, to see pretty much all that I had learned about this church over the years wasn't really shocking, but more like confirmation. Through my deconversion from Catholicism, I researched/studied many other religions, including a brief dabble into Scientology, because I felt I owed it to myself to see if there was something I was missing. When I learned of L. Ron Hubbard's scheme, the auditors, Xenu and thetans, I knew it was all bunk. The documentary only proved it.
But here's the thing: Only atheists can say it is bunk. Anyone who believes in any religion has no leg to stand on if they choose to poke fun at Scientology. Why is Scientology any less of a religion than Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or Judaism?
Perhaps their rationale would be that they knew LRH was merely a science-fiction writer who invented his religion as a money-making scheme that preyed on the gullible. (Doesn't that sound a tad familiar?) Maybe it's because we have actual pictures and footage of this monster that makes his story and knowledge more terrestrial and less divine? Is it because this religion basically started in our lifetime so it must be fake?
Does religion become more plausible if you weren't alive to witness any of its preposterous claims? How is having a galactic overlord as part of a creation myth any more strange than having a deity in the sky who sends a spirit to Earth to impregnate a virgin, who will then give birth to the very god that sent the spirit in the first place, only to have him"sacrifice" himself to himself to forgive us of our sins?
Religion, to quote Christopher Hitchens, poisons everything. This documentary exposed Scientology for what it is: poison.
Nice job, Alex.