Revoke “Scientology Rule”

Six weeks ago, a post appeared on By Common Consent proposing a “Scientology Rule” by which Latter-day Saint bloggers and, presumably, even non-blogger Latter-day Saints could measure themselves to determine whether they are appearing cultish to outside observers:

If your religious behaviours are such that if practiced by a Scientologist and observed by you would seem cultish, reevaluate them pronto! The best way to imagine this is to place our behaviours in the context of Scientology.

I have felt uncomfortable about this formulation and rule since the first day it was posted at BCC.

This week, the rule has reemerged over at BCC in the context of discussions of Andrew Sullivan’s insensitive and ridiculing posting of pictures of underwear worn by Latter-day Saints in his bid to discredit Mitt Romney’s potential ambitions to run for President of the United States. Again, reading references to the “Scientology Rule” made me cringe.

The “Scientology Rule” depends on ridiculing Scientologists’ beliefs. More precisely, it depends on setting up beliefs held by and the practices of Scientologists as the standard of what is ridiculous in order to evaluate what Latter-day Saints should avoid in constructing their own world view. If LDS beliefs look as ridiculous to the outside observer as Scientologist beliefs do, then Latter-day Saints should “reevaluate them pronto”.

I am as uncomfortable ridiculing Scientologists’ beliefs as I am in seeing Sullivan and ex- or anti-Mormons around the internet ridiculing the deeply held religious convictions of Latter-day Saints. I would hope that the Bloggernacle does not adopt the Scientology Rule into its daily vernacular. Rather, LDS bloggers should reject the Scientology Rule and the logic behind it. It doesn’t matter if an individual thinks that the “doctrines” or beliefs of Scientology are silly; those beliefs are held by real people with real feelings who don’t need to be made a baseline of ridicule.

Also, the reasoning behind the Scientology Rule is flawed. It doesn’t actually matter what our beliefs and practices look like to outsiders. We are not performing for outsiders. Rather, we are following our conscience to do what we believe is God’s will and that which is pleasing to God in our worship and behaviors. If Andrew Sullivan finds it as weird as he finds Scientologists, then so be it. Nothing definitive actually establishes that either Scientologists or Latter-day Saints really are weird at all except as defined by people who hold to their own arguably bizarre and ridiculous beliefs. Why ridicule anyone‘s deeply held convictions?

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14 Responses to Revoke “Scientology Rule”

  1. Ronan says:

    As the one who formulated the Scientology Rule, let me defend/amend it:

    The Rolling Stone article on Scientology blew my mind. It wasn’t so much the strange Xenu beliefs, it was the cultish mind control factor. I don’t give two hoots whether you believe in angels, DC-8 spaceships, flying horses, or gold plates. Strange beliefs are par for the course in all religions.

    Here’s the point (as of right now): Mormons on the blogs have often made fun of Scientology, which is a ridiculous thing to do as you have pointed out. That’s rule number one: Mormons have no right to make fun of other religions.

    Rule number two is all about practice. Clearly religious practice can get out of control. You can go from believing an Arab prophet flew on a horse to Jerusalem (no weirder than Moroni or Jesus walking on water) to believing that if you blow yourself up and murder people you will be greeted by 70 virgins in heaven. That’s not just weird, it’s dangerous.

    Now, this is not about Scientologists or Mormons doing crazy stuff like that (and if anyone thinks I am making that link then I will call down the jinns upon you). It’s just that something so transparently awful as the kind of officially-sanctioned shunning that goes on in Scientology is probably not all that apparent to its most loyal adherents. So, sometimes it’s useful to step outside of yourself just to check if you’re in danger of becoming a fanatic. Fanatics rarely think they are fanatics. That’s my fear.

    But really, I don’t lose much sleep about it.

  2. john f. says:

    Okay, that is a great clarification. And it does seem to alter the original Scientology rule which, at least in passing comments, seemed to ridicule the DC-10s and Xenu of Scientology. Although I personally don’t believe in Xenu, I don’t begrudge Scientologists their choice to believe in that and don’t want to ridicule it. They are free to believe that.

    But criticizing extreme methods of shunning seems like a valid endeavor. It’s just that this angle was not really apparent in the original formulation of the rule, which really did seem to focus on belief.

  3. john f. says:

    Still, I would be more comfortable not using Scientologists or any other religion as the baseline by which we determine how we should or should not behave.

  4. Ronan says:

    John,
    My formulations are always works in progress. I’m a common law philosopher…!

  5. danithew says:

    I’m more inclined to think it’s okay to ridicule the beliefs of Scientologists. As I understand it, this religion was a fairly transparent move by a science fiction writer to create a religion. That just doesn’t sit well with me.

  6. Naiah says:

    I’ve actually been studying Scientology (my latest geekout; it’s pretty fascinating), and my opinion of LRH’s theories aside, the fact is that it is a real and moving religious experience for those who experience it, and I’d no sooner have fellow Latter-day Saints put forth a rule that demeans Scientologiests as I would the Quakers craft a similar ‘Mormon’ rule.

    C’mon guys. It’s only bullies who have to ush others down to give themselves a semblance of exaltation.

    Ronan, I do not mean to imply that you intended to bully, but I would call your attention to the fact that you are.

    I suggets as an alternate, “if it would make Bonewits tweak, then re-examine it.” ;)

  7. Ronan says:

    For the record, I don’t think I have ever advocated ridiculing their beliefs. The Scientology Rule was only about asking Mormons and religionists in general to self-reflect. Religious excess is easy to detect in others but nigh on impossible to notice in oneself.

  8. Peter says:

    John,

    I like the new look of the blog. And your “uplifting quotes” :)

  9. Doc says:

    Even as a reflective rule I think this is misguided. It seems to be saying that if we do anything “wierd” from anothers perspective, it should be discarded. Talk about being blown by every wind of doctrine. I understand, (now with Ronan’s clarification) that he is talking more about coercive faith measures. I can get aboard with that to some extent. This aspect really wasn’t clear in either the original post or the general ridicule of scientology that followed.

  10. Bridgette says:

    The rule is worded such that it can be interpreted in many ways. My first impression was the same as John’s. It sounds like a call to reject or at least seriously question beliefs that happen to appear strange to others. On the contrary, I wouldn’t find a religion believable if it all made perfect sense to a mortal mind. I would think we had made it up. If a religion is true, there ought to be a few things I think, “That’s strange. Well, I guess I am going to have to ask God about that doctrine,” or even, “Maybe in twenty years I’ll figure that out.” I think of it as spiritual room to grow, kind of like the sweater that your mother bought you that was too big. “Don’t worry, you’ll grow into it.” If our religion fits us “just right,” today, what you have in a hundred years is a religion that is too small.

  11. It’s odd when anyone with religious beliefs, particularly those with roots in Abraham, calls believers of something different weirdos or controlling.

    Non-believers might consider it quite weird to imagine a God who sees if someone will sacrifice their child as a test or believe that someone could supernaturally take on all the sin and grief in the world.

    The bible is blunt on the whole “no man come to the father but by me” thing. Non-believers might consider that one path and one path alone approach controlling, And then there’s the mainstream Christian view of “believe or burn in hell” concept which may strike some as controlling.

    The point is, all reigion is weird, so to speak, and as such, requires faith. It helps when people can take a step back and realize they themselves may seem weird to others. Maybe then they’ll have a little more compassion and a little less me = pot and you = kettle.

  12. john f. says:

    CBG:

    I get your comment and generally agree but it seems to “travel”, so to speak. At the beginning, it seems that you are on board in rejecting the Scientology rule. But by the end of the comment, you seem to be endorsing it. Any clarification?

  13. Sure. It is hypocritical to use another religion as a gauge to see if yours (not you personally) is weird. It is easy to find things that are weird in most if not all religions. I am not in favor of comparing one’s own religion to that of another.

    If people are concerned about how their religion looks to those outside of it, they don’t need to ask “If the Scientologists did this, would it seem weird?” The better question is “If anyone did this or believed in this would it seem weird?” You have to step outside of yourself to do that objectively. Something that doesn’t come easy.

    And yet an even better question to ask yourself is “Why do I care what other people think?” Basically, I side with your last paragraph of the post.

    The Scientologists cannot disprove Kolob exists nor can the prove the story of Xenu is true. The Mormons cannot disprove engrams nor prove Jesus visited the Americas. Ultimately, religions are rooted in faith. If you believe it and it works for you, great. There’s obviously a lot of successful Mormons and Scientologists (and Jews, Buddhists, Pagans, etc.). So something in their respective beliefs is working for them as a resource for handling life. That deserves a modicum of respect, no matter how weird others see it as. Faith isn’t about how others see you. It’s how you see yourself.

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