Why does Australia sponsor the dangerous cult of Scientology?
JACK THE INSIDER
Sept 23, 2016
Journalist Steve Cannane has just released a book called Fair Game: The Untold Story of Scientology in Australia.
Steve’s a mate of mine. He has been working on the book for some time. I haven’t read it as yet but Steve and I chatted a number of times while he was doing the research and writing.
The release of the book got me to thinking about religion in Australia and its legal framework or the lack thereof. I’ve been keeping an eye on Scientology and various other cults in Australian for a long time. Their theological tenets, such as they are, are often laughably incoherent and fantastically structured. Scientology is no different.
brainwashing techniques that effectively break down the self
This, in a nutshell, is what Scientologists believe:
Around 75 million years ago, a dictator of the Galactic Confederacy, Xenu brought billions of aliens to Earth in a spaceship that oddly looked a lot like a DC-8, then stacked them around volcanoes and blew them up with hydrogen bombs. Their souls clustered together and stuck to the bodies of the living known as Thetans and continue to create chaos and havoc today.
We are all Thetans, according to Scientology but as you might expect, some are more Thetan than others. There exists a hierarchy of thetanhood — we all start as a Level I but only when we buy a lot of Scientology approved science fiction can we climb up the ladder.
Level XIII Thetans like Tom Cruise apparently develop powers of psychokinesis — the ability to move inanimate objects about by the force of one’s mind. This would make tidying up the garage an effortless ten second job but in the wrong hands it could affect the outcome of an AFL Grand Final (“Hey, did any one see those goalposts just moved?”)
Back when I was a lad Scientologists used to hang around the Melbourne CBD looking for young people who looked a little bit lost or had a bit of time on their hands. After swiftly accosting them, they would urge them to come inside Scientology HQ for a personality assessment. On occasions this involved strapping them to something the Scientologists call an e-metre, a device which looks a little bit like the love child of a polygraph and a breathalyser.
The Scientologists would regard the results with furrowed brows and afterwards recommend these impressionable kiddies buy lots of books. Not just any books, mind. Only books written by L. Ron Hubbard.
How do I know this? Because it happened to me. As an awkward, impressionable kiddie wandering around the Melbourne CBD, I was confronted by two well-dressed, young cultists who persuaded me to come inside to Scientology’s Melbourne HQ where I was given a multiple choice personality questionnaire. Afterwards, there was a hard sell of a collection of books with L. Ron Hubbard’s name emblazoned on the front covers. Predictably all of the books cost a pretty penny and claiming poverty, I was permitted to leave without making a purchase.
For obvious reasons the cultists declined to mention L. Ron Hubbard was a convicted fraudster who, as the story goes, had his head cryogenically frozen and presumably was bobbing up and down in a large Esky in Clearwater, Florida awaiting a time when medical technology had reached a point where it could thaw him out, cure his cancer, sociopathy and pathological lying.
About a week later, a letter arrived addressed to me from the Church of Scientology. My father, a Roman Catholic, looked suspiciously at the envelope with the cult’s name and logo in the left hand corner and summoned me forthwith.
“What the hell have you been up to, lad?”
A precocious child, I determined I would take a stand on the grounds of religious freedom and argue my case in theology.
“Well, coming from someone who believes in transubstantiation,” I told my old man. “Scientology, the evil Xenu and the whole hydrogen bomb thing seem like high science and logic.”
For those who haven’t come across it, transubstantiation is a little understood piece of Roman Catholic mysticism that contends the eating of a thin colourless wafer and a sip of communion wine is the consumption of the body of Christ — not symbolically or metaphorically but actually chowing down on Jesus.
My father was a tolerant man who held his faith dear but declined to thrust it upon others, including his own children. He studiously avoided discussion on the relative merits of one religion over another. He was far too smart to fall for my ruse.
“I’m not paying for any of their bloody books,” he said and walked away.
Unable to attract the sort of parental apoplexy I had hoped for, my brief relationship with the cult of Scientology was over.
Why does any of this matter? Well, it matters because this cult and many others flourish in Australia without taxation liabilities. The Church of Scientology (it calls itself a church now) pays no company tax, no payroll tax, not a cracker to the states or commonwealth.
My one regret in my brief excursion to thetanhood was that I was never strapped to the e-meter. The reason the e-meter was kept locked up in the Scientology cupboard was it had been banned.
Not so long ago, Australia had a proud history of keeping cults at bay. The oft-maligned Bolte Government in Victoria took a dim view of the Xenu brigade fronting impressionable youth like me in Russell Street and anywhere else for that matter and put the kibosh on it.
Thereafter followed a protracted dispute between the Victorian Government and Scientology. The Victorian Government continued to levy state taxes on the cult as they would any public company and the Scientologists refused to pay them.
Long story short, the fight came to a conclusion in the High Court in 1983 where the full bench determined it was not for them to decide what is and isn’t a religion.
The net effect of the judgment was that any organisation that regarded itself as a religion was one and could enjoy all the tax free goodies into the bargain.
On one hand the judgment was a wise one. It really isn’t for the judiciary to define what’s in and what’s out when it comes to individual spirituality.
The fact that Scientology was founded by a charlatan does not discount it either.
“Charlatanism is a necessary price of religious freedom,” Justices Brennan and Mason declared in their ruling and it makes perfect sense.
At the same time, the judgment unleashed a legal legitimacy on all cults past, present and future in Australia. There are hundreds of cults active in Australia right now, enjoying the benefits of tax free status while engaging in conduct that Australians would regard as a long way from moral, ethical or even legal.
The experience of Scientology in countries like the UK, Germany and France where cults have not been granted tax exempt status is the cult quickly packs up and leaves and has little or no ongoing presence.
It is said cults practice brainwashing techniques that effectively break down the self, leaving an individual reliant on the cult not just for spiritual comfort but for all practical aspects of existence. It could be argued established religions engage in similar practices.
But ultimately what defines a cult and separates it from a legitimate religion is the practice of exclusion. When a person joins a cult, he or she is denied access to their families, to their children, to their spouses, to their brothers and sisters. The reverse is commonplace in cults too. When someone is cast out they are denied contact with family members who remain in the cult.
It is particularly cruel and utterly repugnant. The notion taxpayers should be putting their hands in their pockets in support of the practice is absurd.
Exclusion and separation give our politicians a point of definition that enables them to determine what is a genuine religion and what is a cult. If a religious organisation practices exclusion and separation, it’s a cult and off the tax exempt list. It’s simple enough.
We can laugh at the crazy Scientology faux theology but there’s no doubting it is dangerous. The really crazy thing is Scientology has been sponsored by taxpayers for a very long time.
I don’t think there’d be too many sensible people in Australia who would argue that it should stop at once.
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