I should have finished writing about Scientology yesterday but there are still two major aspects of that organization left that deserve mention. I don’t think they are that important for ISKCON as a religious society but documentary makers gave them a lot of attention and that’s what ordinary people would probably remember first about Scientology anyway.
First is the fact that Scientology is a religion.
Creating a religion was Hubbard’s raison d’etre – he didn’t want to pay taxes and only religious organizations were completely exempt. I’m not an expert on US tax code but it was important, somehow simply being registered as a non-profit wasn’t enough. When Scientology was small it didn’t matter much but in the 70s it got on government radar, as I mentioned a couple of days ago, and Hubbard thought the only permanent protection from government harassment was First Amendment. He, however, couldn’t do anything about it himself but it all changed after David Miscavige took over.
The documentary presents it as a struggle about money but I think it’s much more than that. They say there are only two certain things in life – death and taxes. LHR taught Scientologists how to beat death by discarding his body to freely explore the universe but there are obviously disagreements over that particular interpretation of his departure. There are no disagreements over taxes, though, they are either paid or not.
Levying taxes is the modern standard by which to qualify as an empire. In the olden days empires collected tributes from their vassal states and didn’t hesitate to use force to assert this right, these days empires collect taxes. Within empire’s domain no one can refuse paying tax and no matter how many people try to avoid it the mere fact of acceptance of tax authority is proof of allegiance.
Empire might be a big word but I mean it in a sense of a power pyramid with central authority at the top with layers of subordinate authorities gradually spreading geographical reach of the “kingdom”.
It’s very simple – to pay taxes means to accept states’ dominion over one’s life. Religions, therefore, should not pay taxes to anyone but God. Most, however, accept the authority of secular governments and that is one of the reasons Islamic State claims to be a caliphate – it answers to no one but God, not UN, not Arab League, not Red Cross, only Allah and Koran.
That’s why I think money was only a side effect in Scientology’s struggle for recognition as a religion. Through the First Amendment the US government tacitly acknowledges that it has no authority over God’s domain and I think it was one of the reasons why Scientology needed this status.
And so Miscavige declared a war on IRS. Turned out IRS was the only meaningful state agency that had the power to decide whether some organization qualified as a religion or not. Others might agree or disagree, or call it a cult, or have whatever view they want, but, as far as US government is concerned, only IRS opinion really matters.
Declaring a war on IRS sounds crazy but for true Scientologists nothing is impossible, they have all their alleged powers on their side and therefore they had absolutely nothing to be afraid of. Amazingly, it worked.
Scientology decided to drown IRS in costly litigation. They had filed fifty lawsuits and were busy collecting personal data on key IRS personnel. IRS is a powerful agency but it operates on a budget. It didn’t really matter if it could win all the lawsuits, it couldn’t afford to fight them. So, after two years of harassment, Miscavige had a sit down with the IRS chief and he negotiated recognition of Scientology as a religion in exchange for dropping all the lawsuits.
That was a unique and unqualified victory that cemented Miscavige’s position as ācārya for life.
What has it got to do with us? What can we learn from it? Not much. We pay taxes when necessary but we see even secular authorities as blessed by the Lord to perform their duties, and when we see the state in this light taxes don’t look like a total loss. We might not value modern governments spiritually but materially we respect their position regardless.
Second, and the best known feature of Scientology is celebrities, even though most people would stop on Tom Cruise and John Travolta. LRH started Project Celebrity as early as 1955 and the church has half a dozen centers to specifically provide support to the VIPs. Personally, I thought that the list of their celebrities would be more impressive but Scientology makes a lot of money from them and their admirers so it works.
The documentary detailed Scientology’s dealings with John Travolta and Tom Cruise and these two are very good case studies.
“Auditing” is the main spiritual practice in the church and one of the best things about it is that auditors get to hear people’s most intimate secrets. All auditing sessions are recorded and so the church has an enormous amount of dirt on all its members. According to the documentary, that’s how they keep John Travolta on the leash. He tried to escape videotaping his auditing sessions but the church installed hidden cameras in the hotel room he did them anyway.
To be honest, I don’t know how much weight this blackmailing has on Travolta’s decision to stay with Scientology, he seems to be very satisfied with his progress there anyway. I’m sure it’s a factor but it might be overestimated.
Tom Cruise, otoh, seems to be clean and a genuine believer who needs only ego massages, not threats. They train literally everybody who ever comes in contact with Cruise what to say and how to behave, even the background “extras”. It is everybody’s job to keep Cruise happy, no one is excused.
The church is ready to go any length to keep Cruise on the hook. His first wife introduced him to Scientology. His second wife, Nicole Kidman, couldn’t be converted so the church gradually poisoned their relationship and then tried to offer a substitute after the divorce. They profiled a young actress, trained her, gave her a makeover, and arranged for her “casual” meeting with Cruise. Initially, it worked but after a month they broke up. The girl left Scientology and made a career of her own. Cruises next marriage was allegedly arranged by the church, too, but it ended up with a divorce on the grounds that his wife didn’t want the church to influence their daughter.
Does this celebrity chasing pay off? Scientology obviously thinks it does but our goals are different. All we need celebrities for is to set up examples for ordinary people to follow. Scientology needs money, both from celebrities and their fans. We want to see people chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, they want people to pay up, so criteria for success are obviously different. It’s not that we would refuse donations, ie Bhaktivedanta Manor, but we remember people like Boy George for singing Hare Kṛṣṇa rather than for whatever financial contributions he had made.
I wish I had a solid conclusion to this Scientology series but I also like to see this discussion open-ended. It’s easy to recognize our common traits and it’s also easy to see the differences. I just hope that by looking at how Scientology works we can better separate spiritual and mundane drivers in our own activities and policies.
I also have another idea how we could use Scientology story but it’s not yet clear to me and I might revisit this topic when I figure out the details.