Draw near, infidels, for these are dark days for the Knights of Hubbard. Do not despair entirely – the Church of Scientology remains insanely rich, has excellent and rapacious lawyers, and according to the International Scientology News, “every minute of every hour, someone reaches for L Ron Hubbard technology … simply because they know Tom Cruise is a Scientologist”.
So unless the world’s supply of troubled fools is melting away quicker than the Arctic ice cap, they can probably hold off trying to lure disaffected Kabbalists into their cultish communion, after the fashion of Pope Benedict and the Anglicans. And yet, all things considered, it has not been the best of weeks for our operating thetans.
In France, Scientology was found guilty of defrauding its followers after a judge effectively debunked the idea of the church’s trusty e-meter, a crude polygraph whose readings are used to encourage Scientologists to purchase everything from books to extreme sauna courses. In Los Angeles, the Oscar-winning (even if it was only for the abysmal Crash) director Paul Haggis cut his ties with Scientology in protest at what he branded their tolerance of homophobia, adding for good measure that the church’s claim that they do not tell people to “disconnect” from unsupportive family members was untrue – his own wife had been ordered to do so. Meanwhile, Scientology’s chief spokesman Tommy Davis stormed out of a television interview with Martin Bashir, after the latter pressed him on what we might delicately term “certain articles of faith”. The alien stuff, basically.
What has caused these synchronous events? Naturally, one’s initial assumption is that the everlasting battery which provides the force field which holds the intergalactic tyrant Xenu captive in an unspecified mountain here on Earth is not as everlasting as billed, or was perhaps commandeered when the battery went in some vast cosmic remote control. In humanoid households, of course, a TV remote is the appliance for which all other batteries must be yielded up – including those in the smoke alarm – and the same hierarchy holds true on a galactic scale.
And yet, despite this seeming the most convincing answer, the truth is rather more prosaic. It is the internet wot dun it. Did I lose you on the intergalactic tyrant stuff? Then Google it immediately, as you are fortunate enough to be able to do these days. During his lifetime, the religion’s inventor L Ron Hubbard deemed the chief enemies of Scientology to be tax inspectors and psychiatrists (it is not desperately difficult to figure out why). Even a sixth-rate science fiction writer such as himself would not have been able to predict that it would be the web that would pose the gravest threat to his church since his inception, facilitating everything from the circulation of whistleblower accounts and cult-busting advice to videos of Tom Cruise chuckling maniacally while repeating “KSW! Keep Scientology Working!” Strangely, there are times when “Lol!!” – normally the seal-honk of the internet’s least self-aware halfwits – really is the most eloquent dismissal on earth.
Similarly, if you haven’t seen the Bashir interview, you can do so on YouTube. Challenged on the old Xenu chestnut, Davis knows how utterly loony tunes it sounds, and walking out evidently seems less damaging than even having the discussion. And so with the French court case. How could the Scientologists possibly have argued that the readings from their Fisher Price-style Play’n’Polygraph machine justified a penny in the collection tin, let alone hundreds of euros worth of books?
Yet there is the rub. In France, Scientology is deemed a sect as opposed to a religion, which is why they are required to produce evidence for their claims, where recognised religious leaders are not. For those of us who believe that all religions are full of tall tales, this might seem slightly unfair. Admittedly, it costs more financially to be lied to by Scientology than it does to be taken on an equally evidence-free journey by other faiths, and we should not for a moment gloss over the cruel and repulsive way in which the church has hounded their critics.
But when I think of Mel Gibson building his $42m church compound in Malibu, blithely telling interviewers at the time of the Passion of the Christ’s release that his then wife would unfortunately be going to hell, because she was Church of England … well, I can’t find it in myself to find him any less barking than Tom Cruise.
Clearly, Scientologists should be forced to justify their doctrinal lunacies – the only sadness is that other religions are apparently exempt from having to do the same. Imagine for a moment a Bashir-type interviewing some senior cardinal. “So,” he might inquire, “you’re saying that by some magic the communion wafer actually becomes the flesh of a man who died 2,000 years ago, a man who – and I don’t want to put words into your mouth here – we might categorise as an imaginary friend who can hear the things you’re thinking in your head? And when you’ve done that, do you mind going over the birth control stuff?”
What a shame that we see rather fewer of these exchanges, however amusing and useful a sideshow Scientology may be.
Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist. She currently writes three columns a week for the paper: one general comment, one on sport and one on celebrity. Oh, yeah, and she’s a real babe!