Your blogger just got finished with several hours of reading Lawrence Wright’s article on the Church of Scientology in the New Yorker, told mainly through the experiences of recent apostate Paul Haggis. (Note to self: trying to read a piece of that length all in one go just shows how pathetic my attention span really is. Where’s that online Adderall I keep hearing about?)
This is my favorite part:
I asked Haggis why he had aligned himself with a religion that so many have disparaged. “I identify with the underdog,” he said. “I have a perverse pride in being a member of a group that people shun.” For Haggis, who likes to see himself as a man of the people, his affiliation with Scientology felt like a way of standing with the marginalized and the oppressed. The church itself often hits this note, making frequent statements in support of human rights and religious freedom. Haggis’s experience in Scientology, though, was hardly egalitarian: he accepted the privileges of the Celebrity Centre, which offers notables a private entrance, a V.I.P. lounge, separate facilities for auditing, and other perks. Indeed, much of the appeal of Scientology is the overt élitism that it promotes among its members, especially celebrities. Haggis was struck by another paradox: “Here I was in this very structured organization, but I always thought of myself as a freethinker and an iconoclast.”
Church of Scientology, the underdog?
We could sit around in our armchairs and talk until we’re all blue in the face over whether Scientology’s belief system is more absurd than that of any older, more accepted religion. I am not interested in having that conversation. What I will point out is that one of Scientology’s most effective strategies—perhaps the organization’s central act of genius—is that it is so happy to be the new religion of the rich and famous. If we want to talk about its adherents being marginalized and oppressed, we can surely look at Sea Org volunteers, who are systematically controlled, abused and enslaved by the Church of Scientology. I’ll give y’all a hint: you don’t get to be the religion of the marginalized and oppressed when it’s the leadership of the Church that’s doing the marginalizing and oppressing.
Being a Scientologist in Los Angeles doesn’t make you an underdog. It just makes you another one of Those Assholes.
What I find most entertaining (and by entertaining I mean frightening) about the history of a group like this (see also: Mormonism) is that it takes so little substance to create a new religion. No miracles, no good works, no ancient relics, just come up with a weird story, put it out there, and wait for folks to start latching on. Once you get a critical mass of followers, they take care of the hard work of recruitment, indoctrination, and enforcement. It’s a perpetual feedback loop; a brilliant system. If I published Charlinder’s Walk as anything other than fiction, how many people would think I was a Prophet, and how would they determine who would be among the select few to survive the coming pandemic and start the world over again?