The recent focus on the Church of Scientology has got me thinking.
Where has all this vitriol come from? There seems to be a perception that the Church of Scientology is somehow fundamentally (ahem) different from other religions and that unlike, say, Judaism, mocking them incessantly is perfectly acceptable.
I'm not defending Scientology in any way. As you know, dear reader, I'm no fan of any religion. But it seems that Scientologists attract a particularly brutal heaping of bile that mainstream religions do not.
And I genuinely don't understand why this is.
Is it that their beliefs are way out there, and clearly the work of a failed science fiction writer? Give me any one belief of the Church of Scientology and I can name five wackier ones belonging to mainstream faiths.
Is it because they require large cash donations to advance in their organisation? So do a lot of other churches. The only difference is that Scientologists publish their fees.
Is that that their practices result in the breakup of families? This is a regular story from people who've had friends or family members join groups like Hillsong. And I saw of a lot of this myself in my evangelical Christian upbringing.
Is it that they target the vulnerable with their 'stress tests'? Vulnerable people seeking guidance and support are the backbone of mainstream religions, and have been for years.
Is it because they influence politicians and try to enforce their moral code and beliefs on people who don't adhere to their faith? Actually, they don't do that at all. That's Hillsong again.
Is it because it's a 'cult'? I'll leave aside the fact that this word is not well-defined, and simply say that every definition of cult (and there are a lot) that might apply to Scientology, applies just as well to the Catholic Church.
Is it because they use strong-arm intimidation tactics in denouncing any opposition (as seen in the fascinating short documentary Scientology and Me)? This also happens at Hillsong, and similar allegations have been made against members of the Catholic church, particularly in the latter's tactics used to cover up child sex abuse cases.
Now I'm not disputing any of these accusations. I think the Church of Scientology is genuinely scary and weird and probably a cult (whatever that means).
I just don't see how it's that different from mainstream religions.
In fact, I find them significantly less obnoxious than the Westboro Baptists. I'd like to see a lot more column inches dedicated to denouncing them.
So what's actually going on here? Why are Scientologists being singled out as the freaks of the religious community?
Am I missing something?