This past week me and the protege crew spent a morning touring a Scientology center in, of all places, Hollywood. This has been on our "to-do" list for some time now and it was great to finally get to do it. Part of our reason for going had to do with our discussion about tribes, but the main goal was to experience what it felt like to be on the other side of high pressure evangelism. Unfortunately, they knew we were a group of Christians before we got there so I think we got the non-fat version.
Aside from a hilarious South Park episode (which they cited as an obnoxious headache), I really didn't know much about Scientology prior to my experience the other day. After our rather vague tour that primarily centered around what an amazingly swell guy L. Ron Hubbard was, I still feel there is a lot I don't know. The thing we were a part of
was more like a introductory 'first experience' type thing. Although we asked a lot of
questions, the answers we got were pretty vague and some actually contradicted things we had heard from those with friends deep into Scientology. It felt more like a PR session catered just for us, but I still learned some interesting things I thought I'd share.
Though you'd never guess it with their horrendous sci fi looking book covers, they
are really good at marketing. They know how to draw people in, connect with them, and get 'em 'hooked' without ever having to address the truth behind the truth.
And at least on the front end, I can totally see why Scientology has the kind of following it does. They boast about it being the
one major world religion started in the 20th century (a rather odd thing to boast about, if you ask me), and frankly, it is
exactly the type of religion you would expect to be birthed out of the
20th century. The things they champion are generally good: keeping
street drugs out of the hands of kids; helping people become better
leaders, better communicators, better human beings; encouraging personal health and success; making families
stronger and homes healthier environments for kids to be raised in. These are all good things that most of us can agree on.
Their focus is
intellectual and rational, they celebrate knowledge as progression (think "modern"), and interact a lot with popular psychology. They also
acknowledge that God exists (something the vast majority of people are willing to
agree with) and they will even go as far as to say that "if we miss God, we miss
everything." Interestingly, their worship services look just like a church. They have a pulpit, the attenders sit
in rows, they baptize babies, do weddings, worship
together, even have a leather bound bible (though not called that) written by L. Ron
Hubbard himself, filled with sermons for all different kinds of occasions.
They proudly admit to sampling from
every major religion and then, perhaps most importantly, they affirm people's personal beliefs while
giving themselves and everyone else permission to agree to disagree on
most everything spiritual. We hung out with a woman who is an ordained
minister and she outright said, "God is the most important thing there
is. And there is only one God. There is not a god of the Jews, and a god of the
Muslims, a god of the Mormons, etc. There is only one God…" (alright,
sounds good, I am tracking with this lady so far…then she
says,) "But what God is for me is probably very different than what God
is for you."
Bam. There it is. They have essentially taken the
things we can all affirm as 'good', championed those things and
invested their resources in helping people with them, and then
subtracted the one thing that every disillusioned Christian,
atheist, apostate, and postmodern thinker has a problem with: the idea that one belief is 'right' and
other beliefs are wrong. They have essentially created a community that both empowers personal development and acknowledges spirituality, without ever having to articulate what that spirituality is, allowing each person to define it for him or herself. From our brief introduction to Scientology last week, it almost seems to be the perfect man-made religion.