The Church of Scientology has been convicted of fraud and fined nearly $900,000 in Europe. According to the NYT, “the case was brought by two former members who said they were pushed into paying large sums of money in the 1990s, pressed to sign up for expensive “purification courses” and harassed to buy a variety of vitamins and other forms of pharmaceuticals, plus electronic tests to measure spiritual progress. One woman said she had been pressed into spending more than $30,000.” Meanwhile, in Florida, “the longtime head of Scientology, David Miscavige,” has been investigated for ruling “the church through a ‘culture of intimidation and violence,’ including physical assaults on his aides.”
These cases raise or demonstrate two lapses to which religion has been susceptable. In particular, there has been a tendency to blur the line between marketing and the profit-motive and proffering an alternative vision to the world in which we live. The source of this temptation could be the typical presumption that religion is an institutional phenomenon. Worship is assumed to be corporate, or communal, and some sort of organization of offices or titles typically ensues. Such artifacts are all too human, and, I submit, unnecessary and even counter-productive to the achievement of religious experience.
The second, related, issue is the tendency to vaunt religious functionaries. This proclivity provides those persons with the temptation to infringe on other people’s personal boundaries. Behind the excessive praise is the tacit assumption that people differ significantly in a religious sense with respect to God. That is, coming to view one person as a savior of sorts assumes that he or she has a stronger religiosity such that following him or her could lead one to God. This assumption runs up against another view–namely, that as human beings, we are all in the same boat as finite beings. In this alternative view, no one (or several) of us has a monopoly on religious truth. For one person to seek to authoritatively announce religious truth to another is dogmatic (as well as highly presumptuous). In other words, among human beings, we can only differentiate ourselves so much with respect to any “inside track” to God. We all see dimly, with different shades being a far cry from any black and white distinction. In other words, the distance between Ghandi and a sociopath is dwarfed by the abyss between humanity and God. Nothing against Ghandi; I’m simply stating that it might be wise to put our hero-worship in some kind of broader, more encompassing, perspective.