September 13, 2013

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Learning the scientific way to establish a cult

Cynthia DewesIf you’re interested in reading about other religions, you might enjoy a book called Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Doubt by Lawrence Wright. Whether Scientology is a religion or a cult is debatable, and Wright makes that question very clear.

Wright is a staff member of the New Yorker magazine, author of several other books about religions, and a tireless researcher. The efforts he cited to find the facts about Scientology, its founder, its organization and its history, make his arguments persuasive.

According to Wright, L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, was an energetic, aggressive, narcissist who grew up believing he was destined for greatness. He didn’t bother preparing for this in the usual ways such as getting an education or working to gain life experience. Instead, he leapt from career to career, never quite mastering any of them.

One occupation in which he did persevere was writing pulp fiction novels full of heroic and unlikely adventure. He was a prolific writer, if not a particularly capable one, which suited the genre. He became well-known to pulp readers, and along the way befriended respectable authors like Robert Heinlein. At the same time, he was investigating obscure writings on spirituality and the occult.

Gradually, Hubbard developed the idea of creating his own religion, which would incorporate all the philosophical ideas he admired in other sources. It was to be based upon scientific facts, not what he considered the fanciful notions in established religions. Things like Mohammed being carried on a night journey to paradise to meet with the prophets from the Old and New Testaments, or like Jesus performing miracles.

Hubbard’s personal biography is interesting because parts of it are either bold-faced lies or egotistical exaggerations of truth. Imagine, this concerns a man who claims moral authority over everyone else.

For example, he claimed to have received several Navy medals for heroism in World War II, and also to be blinded and crippled as a result of his Navy service.

He also maintained that he’d been awarded several advanced academic degrees and professional licenses. The truth was, he not only was undistinguished in his Naval career, but also removed from several commands because of incompetence. And his supposedly service-related disabilities were recorded in military records as simple stomach problems and conjunctivitis. As to his academic record, he never even finished college.

There are other “scientific” aspects to Hubbard’s religion, including space travel and previous lives millions of years ago. Some of these are antithetical to current scientific findings and others are—well—fanciful.

All of us are made with innate longing for meaning in life, for cosmic answers, in fact for God. So it’s understandable that many people seek this in new religions, finding the established ones unfriendly or unbelievable or just uncomfortable. This is why I think that Catholics, like Scientologists or Pentecostals or Muslims, are called to be evangelists.

Christians must have the courage to share their faith with others, not just with fellow believers. They need to take advantage of opportunities to educate others about what the Church really teaches, not merely to defend the sins of wrongheaded Church officials or members.

I’ve always believed that the best evangelization, the best witness to faith is done by example. Living a joyful life of love and commitment to what is good is the best way to demonstrate the value of being Christian. And it sure beats haranguing unwilling strangers on street corners.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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