Sunday, July 17, 2005

Of Fem-Bots and Flim-Flams

[[R E L I G I O N]] * Far be it from me to spread disparaging words about any particular religion (I prefer to spread disparaging words about all religions), but Scientology sure seems to have come in for a real knee-capping of late. First, you had Dr. Tom Cruise lecturing Brooke Shields about her willingness to take an anti-depressant in order to cope with post-natal depression. Then there’s the latest issue of W magazine, in which Cruise’s younger inamorata, the lovely and formerly articulate actress Katie Holmes, shows herself to have morphed into a Stepford girlfriend, spouting lines that would make even a soap-opera scriptwriter cringe (“He’s the man of my dreams”) and taking message cues from her new “Scientologist chaperone,” Jessica Rodriguez. As Salon remarked recently, concerning the former Dawson’s Creek star’s transformation into a “fem-bot,” “It’s profoundly sad that Holmes seems not just to have drunk the Kool-Aid, but to be wearing the pitcher it was stirred in over her head.”

Now comes Slate magazine with its retrospective on the entertaining life of L. Ron Hubbard, the science-fiction author who founded the Church of Scientology in 1954. Let me just save true believers the bother of actually reading Michael Crowley’s piece before they start forming their opinions, by offering up this excerpt:
To hear his disciples tell it, Hubbard, who died in 1986, was the subject of “universal acclaim” and one of the greatest men who ever lived. Not only did he devise the church’s founding theory of Dianetics, which promises to free mankind of psychological trauma, he was a source of wisdom about everything from jazz music to nuclear physics. ...

To those not in his thrall, Hubbard might be better described as a pulp science-fiction writer who combined delusions of grandeur with a cynical hucksterism. Yet he turned an oddball theory about human consciousness--which originally appeared in a 25-cent sci-fi magazine--into a far-reaching and powerful multimillion-dollar empire. The church now claims about 8 million members in more than 100 countries. The slow creep of Scientology’s anti-drug programs into public schools, the presumably tens of millions of dollars the church keeps with the help of its tax-exempt status, and the accusations that the church has convinced people to hand over their life savings, make Hubbard’s bizarro legacy seem less like tragicomedy and more like a scandal. Comparable crackpots-in-chief like Lyndon LaRouche and Sun Myung Moon have had almost no detectable national influence.
Crowley’s bottom line: “Hubbard’s ultimate success lay in convincing millions of people he was something other than a nut.” Ouch!

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