Scientology And Me

January 16, 2008

Tom Cruise Scientology Video

Just a word on the recent media campaign about Tom Cruise and his Scientology membership: Yes, he is a member, a special person and celebrity, but a simple member of the Church of Scientology. And he talks about it, occasionally. So what’s the point? I think the Chicago Tribune puts it right:

‘De-sci-phering’ Tom Cruise video

“For me, it’s all about KSW.” So says actor and celebrity Scientologist Tom Cruise on a video allegedly circulated by a disgruntled former member of the church. What does that acronym mean? And why are people so suspicious about the Church of Scientology?

The video, which was aired in part on Wednesday morning shows, allegedly is used to promote the Church of Scientology belief system to newcomers and features Cruise speaking about his commitment to its tenets. Cruise joined the church in the 1980s, according to Andrew Morton’s new unauthorized biography of the star, and has emerged as a spokesman for Scientology in recent years.

KSW stands for Keeping Scientology Working, a policy letter written in 1965 by L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology’s founder. In the letter, Hubbard, a science fiction writer, outlined 10 steps to ensure survival of the movement. He commends members for carrying out the first part of the mission, but urges them to take it further and eradicate what he called “incorrect technology.”

“This point will, of course, be attacked as ‘unpopular,’ ‘egotistical’ and ‘undemocratic,’” Hubbard wrote in the letter. “It very well may be. But it is also a survival point. And I don’t see that popular measures, self-abnegation and democracy have done anything for Man but push him further into the mud.”

Messages left with the Church of Scientology International seeking clarification of the letter’s meaning have not yet been returned. But scholars of new religious movements (NRMs in academic parlance) say the letter posted on the Internet is authentic. They say the letter and terminology encourage members to take an aggressive approach against people who oppose tenets of the belief system.

Cruise said his life and mission was made clear when he re-read the letter.

“We are the authorities on getting people off drugs. We are the authorities on the mind. We are the authorities on improving conditions,” Cruise said. “Once you know these tools and you know that they work it’s not good enough to say I’m just doing OK. … Being a Scientologist people are turning to you, so you better know it and if you don’t go and learn it.”

This might help explain why Cruise in 2005 publicly criticized fellow actress Brooke Shields for taking anti-depressants for post-partum depression. It also might help explain why the church has earned a reputation for being so litigious when it encounters what it calls a PTS, a “potential trouble source,” or SP, “suppressive person.”

Scientology teaches that a life force called Theta exists within all of us. Through the church’s practices, adherents believe one can realize his or her true nature as an immortal spirit, or thetan. Their path to enlightenment is a step-by-step process of achieving greater awareness. The ultimate goal is to become an Operating Thetan.

“Scientology is kind of an amalgam of eastern Hindu mysticism, science fiction and self- help,” said Mathew Schmalz, an associate professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross. He compares the way the general public treats Scientology to the way Americans treated Catholics more than a century ago, and adds that Scientology is not a countercultural movement. “If you look at it in terms of other religious traditions it’s not really that strange,” he said. “What’s strange is it’s presented in a science fiction idiom.”

But there are plenty of sci-fi aspects to a number of religious traditions. So why does Tom Cruise make us so uncomfortable? Schmalz suggests that Scientologists’ frequent reluctance to answer specific questions about their faith doesn’t go over well with Americans. He suggests another reason too.

“It accepts traditional American ideas of success, which is one reason why it recruits celebrities so assiduously,” he said. “You could look at Scientology as a parody of American values and success. Reflected back on American society there are certain things we might be uncomfortable with.”

Watch the video. Does Tom Cruise make you feel uncomfortable? If he were evangelizing for a different faith, would you feel the same?

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