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Will France Ban Scientology? - Page 1 - The Daily Beast.

Cruise If Scientologists commit fraud, then let those individuals be convicted and punished. If that discredits a particularly loopy religion (in a hotly-contested field) then so be it. To ban the religion itself, however, would be a mistake. Religion thrives on oppression. When I first moved to Poland, church attendance was incredibly high. Throughout the Communist era, the church was the only public voice of opposition. Poles credited Pope John Paul II (with the help of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher) with the fall of Communism. By the time I left, 11 years later, attendances were falling to "normal" levels and (though Polish national identity is closely tied up with Catholicism) educated young people were becoming as anti-clerical as other modern Europeans.

Scientology itself is no more a "fraud" than Catholicism. Indeed, by comparison to the immensely wealthy Catholic Church, Scientology is a raw beginner at the delicate art of parting the credulous from their cash. If there is no God, then asking believers for money to support the infrastructure of any church and to keep the priesthood in parasitic existence on the gullible is "fraud". I mention Catholicism in particular both because this story is about France and because it is a church with a long record of strong opposition to competitors. Banning an heretical sect is quite mild by Catholicism's historical standards.

When believers in old religions mock followers of the new ones, they remind me of smokers and drinkers decrying more modern drugs. Cigarettes and booze are the same thing; they are simply hallowed by age and convention. The first followers of Jesus of Nazareth, the Buddha and the Prophet Mohammed were probably regarded with just as much derision as those of L. Ron Hubbard today. Viewed dispassionately, the tenets of the old faiths are no more plausible - and certainly no more verifiable - than Scientology's ludicrous, lucrative tales of space aliens.

Indeed, it seems to be a feature, not a bug, of religions to test "faith" (i.e. the ability to believe without proof) with crazy stories. Having crossed the desert with a caravan of camels, and experienced the hallucinations typically brought on by thirst, starvation and heat, Lawrence of Arabia observed it was no coincidence that the Middle East was where so many religions were founded. Mr Hubbard may have raised the bar on the faith test, but not much.

Ban one religion and, logically, you should ban all. Ironically, since any religion requires that all others be seen as fraud, you would have the support of most religious people if you did it one by one. There would be no point however. If neither the Inquisition nor the KGB could suppress one or all modes of religious belief, then no milder force is likely to succeed. Religious believers simply see repression as yet another test of their faith.

People are entitled to believe, and to persuade others to believe, what they wish. They are entitled to solicit donations or charge fees for religious rites, just as others are entitled to refuse with a laugh or a curse. In the end, the problem with accusing entire religions of "fraud" is that, while some followers may know (or suspect) they are living a lie, most don't. While the cynical may say that all victims of fraud are betrayed by their desire to believe something too good to be true (consider Socialists, for example) it's important that the "victims" here are willing. They could, if we are honest, easily be any of us.

France is making a mistake about Scientology. Her politicians and courts are in danger of accidentally playing the part of Pontius Pilate in converting a cult into a religion. No church that has Tom Cruise and John Travolta as respected "Elders" should be taken so seriously. It is below the dignity of the 
nation of Voltaire and Diderot to do so.


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You are a civilised man to accept the word disputable, but I have to press you to accept unverifiable too. If your faith was capable of verification, it would not be faith. Certain historical facts are undisputed. There was a Jesus Christ, for example and he said what he said. But there was an L. Ron Hubbard too. He is simply more recent. When Christ was as recent as Hubbard is now, was his word less true? The only test Christianity has really passed is survival for 2000 years. If Scientology survives so long, will it be more respectable? Ideas do not get better (or at least truer) with age.

I don't dispute the influence of Catholicism on European history, nor that of the Christian religion generally. I linked to an old post, "Credo", in which I acknowledged that much of what I am, is informed by the Christianity of my ancestors and that part of me envies the religious their faith. I am not particularly anti-clerical or anti-religion. I just don't believe and - absent such belief - they really are just equally implausible collections of impossible ideas.

I joke that every atheist is an atheist from a particular God. In my case, the God I don't believe in is the Christian God (if that makes sense). I don't need to repudiate Allah or Buddha, because my society already repudiated them. "Our" God is the only one I have to deal with.

I could have accepted your criticism of failing to distinguish between the independent courts of France and the robustly secular French state. But then you came to my defence by pointing out the Catholic Church is at the heart of "European identity" (and therefore that of France). Catholic values inform the thinking of French judges, politicians and thinkers (even the atheists and those of other faiths). For the most part that's good, but perhaps not when it comes to issues of religious tolerance.


The glove has been thrown to the ground, hasn't it!

I am not sure which of the several points are most worthy to debate - the liberty of individuals to worship as they see fit; the liberty of a society to determine their common heritage and identity and to set boundaries for those within that community to adhere to them (which is decidedly not libertarian, and not something in this instance I would support, but I would in others); the essential element of defining Europe's identity and the Church at the heart of this; a comparative debate about religions and how they differ from cults (admittedly a wide discussion....).

I think where I find this most lazy is to render the Church and Scientology fundamentally equivalent. Accepting your position as an atheist (with sorrow!), I think even on a rational basis (and trying to leave the religion out of it) you must be able to distinguish between the Church that has been at the heart of the development of the European peoples, progress, civilisation and identity, and a cult invented in the last century that no link to any community or history, that targets (as it did me once) the young and disaffected, is effectively a secret society. and has at its core a message that so bizarre that it is not permitted to be disclosed outside the sect - although it did to its credit give South Park the material for one of their better episodes...

But several of your points are lazy: to say that both are equally unverifiable is a lazy statement (disputable perhaps in relation to the Christian faiths, but not unverifiable); it was the French judiciary which made this judgement, not the Catholic Church, and the government of France is robustly secular. Further, the Catholic faith has co-existed, and shares a common heritage with other faiths, in particular Judaism (although admittedly not always an easy relationship).

Catholics will of course resist (or should) any other religion, as the basic tenant of our faith is that ours is the one true faith, etc. etc. That should be open to criticism, and we should be prepared to defend it. But I think you have implied that an act of a state was an act of an act of another faith, and further sought to assert that the core religion of Europe is the same as what is essentially a Hollywood sect.

I think you could have made your point, again, with which I broadly agree, in a much more coherent and reasoned manner?


I realised I risked offending my valued friends of the Catholic faith, but the proposed ban emanates from a Catholic country, not a Buddhist or Muslim one. Your name in particular crossed my mind as I hit "publish" this morning, but I smiled and reasoned your spirited response would be a bonus for my readers. So who's the lazy one? Give me both barrels and let's enjoy the debate.

I am particularly surprised that you would add large insult to my small injury by writing "the Church of Europe". Doesn't "catholic" mean "universal" or "all-embracing?" If there is a God he made the whole Universe. I can't believe He would open a branch office on one self-important continent.


That's all fine, but I am more afraid of my protectors than the evils they are supposed to protect me from. Quis custodet...?


Mogsey doen't have a clue.
Mr Paine, I only comment because I care that your arguements do not shelter behind fine wine and comfortable living.
There are people who suffer miserably at the hands of those on hard drugs and hard religion. Allow into your home these cults and they will eventually take over the higher echelons, as Churchianity did for the Romans and the succeeding Dark Ages and the cult of Homosexuality is doing today with the noble paedophile rings sitting in the highest offices.
To believe society needs no protection when those that were successful did have those checks and balances, is the Liberatarian ideal of a child of the 1960's.


Mr Paine, you would not expect me to agree with this post, but I am disappointed in the laziness of this argument. I will respond in kind by not wasting my time in responding to the shallow and unmeritorious attacks, on this, All Souls' Day.

I can only note that you could have made your point (with which I agree) without attacking the Church of Europe.


As I hit "publish", it struck me yours might be the first comment, Kinderling. Moggsy beat you to it, but I was almost right. Not to worry. I have been called worse than "dhimmi" and endured. Thanks for commenting.


There's the Libertarian back: all religions are equal.
There are hard drugs and soft drugs, violent and cruel religions and happpy clappy ones.
Is the War against drugs futile as many Libertarians think? So to ban a toxic religions will just make more addicts, so all are welcome.
Allah Akbar, we have a dhimmi.


I guess you are probably right.

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