Before I begin this post, I think it’s important to put something into perspective: Over the years, I have developed an affinity towards learning about different points of views from my own, specifically in the areas of philosophy and theology. I can remember reading for the first time a number of religious texts: the Qur’an, the Tao Te Ching, the Bhagavad Gita, the Dharmapada Sutra. I was raised Catholic, then Southern Baptist so doing this wasn’t something kindly looked upon. But what drove me was a curiosity to find out why people chose their faith. Yes, I understand family history is a big deal when it comes to that, but having been raised with the belief that Christianity was the one and only path to eternal salvation, it seemed only logical to me to question why people would turn their backs on the Truth, and instead embrace a faith that was obviously false.
Needless to say that after reading the texts and meeting people of those faiths, my mind opened up a bit. Yes, I still hold my own spiritual beliefs about what’s right and what’s wrong, but studying other faiths allowed me to do something no one else I’d ever met was able to do: see people as they see themselves, instead as what I’d been taught to see them as. (Whatever that may have been.)
Until recently, I thought that I had overcome my fear of learning about different (although not necessarily opposing) points of view on questions of theology. After all, I can now converse with people of other faiths without feeling the need to convert them or avoid them for the sake of my own soul. I can see the world — although a bit dimly, I must admit — through their eyes, or at least through the eyes of someone who understands their ethos.
But something happened a few weeks ago which put all this into question. As I walked around one of the malls in Tampa, I saw something I’d never really seen before: a booth dedicated to Scientology. There were three ladies around the booth talking to people about their beliefs, as well as a stack of Dianetics books. When I saw that I went pale. I was affraid they’d come up to me, just like countless Baptists in state fairs, and begin attacking me with a set of esoteric questions aimed at getting the responses they wanted to hear.
(I must admit, even mentioning the topic in this site makes me a bit uneasy, which speaks more of pre-concieved notions than anything else.)
A curious thing happened then: they didn’t.
They didn’t stop me. They didn’t try to convert me. Heck, they didn’t really pay any attention to me. (Even if they did, my pale look and rigid walk was probably a good indicator that I didn’t feel comfortable talking about the subject.) I was glad. My heart, which I felt racing in my chest, started to calm down, and I walked away without a second thought. At least then, that is.
For a few days I’d been thinking about that event. What did I have to fear? So what if I had stopped and listened to them, what’s the worst thing that could have happened? The answer to that depends on who you talk to. According to some of the rumors I’d heard, if I even so much as talked to them then I’d be on their watch list as some sort of “SP” (suppressive person), and I would then be hunted for the rest of my life for not joining their church. Thinking about it rationally however, I realized that the chances of that happening were pretty slim. Other fears swirled through my mind, about being tracked, about being attacked, about…
But again, these were unfounded. It was then that I decided I needed to confront this fear. I needed to learn about them, their faith and beliefs, good, bad and ugly. Regardless of whether I agreed with them or not, fearing them through a lack of understanding was the greatest form of hate crime I could have commited against them. That fear may have one day manifested itself as some sort of discrimination, bad mouthing, and even violence. This wasn’t something I could live with. Furthermore, I’ve never been the type to take someone’s second hand account for anything, unless they were already a trusted source on the matter. One of the things I learned while reporting was that “if your mother tells you ‘I love you,’ check her out.” In other words, show me all the evidence first hand and then let me make my own decission. Don’t show me someone else’s filtered opinion on the matter.
So one day, from my computer, I went on to Scientology.com and started reading. I figured this would be a good place to start, to at least have their side of the story before. I read a bit about their beliefs and what they had to say about themselves, but honestly it wasn’t all that useful. It helped me understand them a bit more, which is what I was looking for, but it I needed more.
NOTE: One thing I’ve learned over the years is not to do something as stupid as go to Google and type up “Whatever I’m Looking For” and base my “educated opinion” on whatever I find there. Google’s a great tool and all, but when it comes to comparative research — especially when it comes to a heated issue like Scientology — it’s worthless. Doing a random web search is as useful as getting political analysis from a bathroom stall. Of course, if you do get your political opinion from bathroom stalls then I’m sure you’re well aware that the Nazi party is about to take control of the White House, right? (sic)
Now, while I was reading this my heart was racing. What am I doing here? Why am I reading about this? Is this going to brainwash me? What if, what if, what if… Whatever. I put those fears, along with all my pre-concieved notions, aside and kept on reading. (This should tell you a bit of the reaction a lack of understanding stirs in people. This is why a lack of understanding leads to unfounded hate and suffering.)
After Scientology.com, I decided to stop over by Beliefnet.org and check out what they had to say on the matter. (I’ve learned to trust Beliefnet for stuff like this. Although it’s not a place where you’ll get comprehensive research and understanding about a faith — ie. Don’t go do your Bible study there, Christians! — it is a forum where generally unbiased, independent information regarding faiths can be found, in addition to reader commentary which may be for or against the topic at hand.) After I landed on the site, I started reading everything I could find on the matter. My fears now waning, I could begin to study this information as it should be studied, with a clear and open mind. (I won’t go into what I found out about the religion here, lest I add to the confusion regarding the issue. But Scientology is a bit like Buddhism in that it’s not so much a “religion” as it is a “how-to theology.” Yes, it can be a religion all its own, but many of its principles can be applied to Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc. It is focused on helping the person understand more about themselves via a prescribed set of methods, or “techs,” as I think they call them. Whether or not I agree with how this is done, or even with the underlying beliefs is another matter. The point of this post is not to judge, but rather to relate an experience.)
My most valuable source of information was a set of letters printed in a site they linked to from Beliefnet in which a Scientologist (convert from some other faith) and an ex-Scientologist (someone whose parents were Scientologists and was born into the faith) conversed about the reasons the ex-Scientologist left the church. The letters were a real eye opener into both the possible problems with the church (though it may have been more a problem with the followers than the church itself, I honestly don’t know), and the good aspects of the church.
**(Yes, I just said “The good things about [Scientology].” I’m sure all you anti-Scientology hordes are going to flood my comment area with “Y00’ve been brainwershed by Xenu!!!!!11!!” comments. Be comforted in the fact that it was because of you good people that I first became curious about Scientology. (When only bad is being spoken about something, you have to realize that it probably isn’t really all bad, and it may just be up to you to find the good.) Just like the muslim-haters of America created for me a longing to understand the Qur’an, so do you peak my curiosity of Dianetics and Scientology. And the more you yell at me for it, the more you force me to defend it. I’m (now) a neutral party in this issue.)**
After all this, I decided to Google the term “Scientology”, because I could now begin to tell the difference between hate-mongering and actual, factual critique or praise. I read a few sites holding what I considered to be somewhat unbiassed information (since there looks to be no such thing outside of Beliefnet that’s not tilted one way or the other), but kept in mind that my point here was to research, not to judge. I think I did a pretty good job of that.
Most of this reading happened over the past week, with last night being the most informative night, since its when I did most of my unfiltered information gathering. I can’t tell you how scared I was at times that someone should actually find out that I was reading stuff about Scientology. What would they think of me?! Looking back at it now — I don’t care. What they think of me is none of my business, and I’d rather find out more about something than be left ignorant because of my fear of someone else’s worthless opinions.
My conclusion: Although now I have a much better understanding of the belief systems which make up Scientology, having shed my fear of the religion and its followers, I’d like to find out more. I’m in disagreement with some of the core beliefs that make up the religion, and I don’t think I’d ever become a Scientologist per-se, (the eight-fold path is good enough a methodology for me, thank you) but having an understanding of it makes me realize what foolish fears I have held within me. Personally, I think I’ll pick up a copy of Dianetics and read through it. Someday. Eventually. Although I don’t expect that I’ll agree with many of the ideas there, as my research proved, there are things that I can learn from it and about it, ideas which I can possibly even incorporate into my own belief system. (And no, I don’t care if L. R. Hubbard was a sci-fi writer.)
In the end, it all comes down to this: Before deciding what you’re going to believe about someone or something, find out the facts for yourself. I don’t care if it’s Scientology, Christianity, Islam, Linux, Hinduism, Bahai’i, or George W Bush. Discard useless claims which can’t be verified, discard pure opinions and speculations, and try to stick to reliable sources. In this case, if you can meet someone first hand and speak to them in an open-minded, honest manner, I think you’ll get far.
To quote The Matrix: Revolutions:
Neo: “After everything that has happened, how can you expect me to believe you?”
The Oracle: “I don’t. I expect what I always expected, for you to make up your own damn mind. Believe me or don’t.”
(Man, I love those movies!)
If you have any opinions regarding this or any other journey of discovery you’ve found yourself on, go on and tell me: I’d like to know. Also, if you’ve had some experiences with Scientology — good or bad — feel free to post them here. (I will not tolerate hate speech anymore than I’ll tolerate unadulterated proselytizing.)