Sunday, December 30, 2007

Christmas with the Scientologists

This year, like most years, Mrs. Wit and I spent Christmas Day at the home of some relations who happen to be Scientologists.

Growing up, I did not know much about Scientology, other than it was founded by a pulp-era sci-fi writer named L. Ron Hubbard and it had some side line called “Dianetics.” I never thought much about it until the early Nineties, when the church started pushing Dianetics through infomercials using washed-up celebrities (at the time it was some Whitesnake guitarist whose name I cannot remember) for testimonials. Just the red flags of “infomercial” and “celebrity testimonial” was enough to make me decide it was a scam and not worth paying any attention.

About ten years later I realized I was right about the former and ever so wrong about the latter.

I started dating the future Mrs. Wit and learned she had Scientologist relatives. The fact these relatives were in Scientology was a point of contention for a lot Mrs. Wit’s family members. I had met these relatives a few times and found them to be rather sweet, decent people, and wondered what the problem was. So I decided to investigate.

It wasn’t long before I found myself delving through the archives of Operation Clambake and learning things that troubled and disturbed me. I read “Bare Faced Massiah” and “A Piece of the Blue Sky” and began to wonder how much my future in-laws knew about this organization. I asked around and learned a few things.

For the most part, these relatives keep their involvement in the Church of Scientology rather low-key, as far as the rest of the family is concerned. Many years ago, one of them tried auditing my then-teenage brother-in-law for a mild basketball injury, which resulted in some terse words from my father-in-law. The subject of Scientology has been kept off the map since then, with one exception. A couple of years before I came on the scene, the Scientologists in the family distributed this book-and-CD combo titled “Can We Ever Be Friends?” It’s a direct appeal to the friends and relatives of Scientologists to accept L. Ron Hubbard’s organization as a “real religion” and perhaps even take a course or two. It also spends a good deal of time throwing down attacks against critics of Scientology. It’s pretty slick, from a marketing standpoint… but I was amused that any purported religion required anything like a marketing department to, well, justify itself.

In any case, holidays with the Scientologists tend to be quite normal: there’s a tree, decorations, ham, potatoes, etc. The only thing unusual is their house is completely lacking in books, save for several dozen leather-bound volumes authored by L. Ron Hubbard, prominantly displayed in their front room.

Here’s the thing: my Scientologist in-laws never seemed to behave like stereotypical Scientologists. They weren’t difficult to maintain conversations with. They weren’t anti-education (Scientology teaches you everything you need to know, supposedly, so why bother with college or beyond?), but rather quite for it; one of them wants to grow up to be a school teacher! They seem rather, well, normal, with the exception of once in a while trying to work L. Ron Hubbard into a conversation. I found myself starting to wonder if, well, Scientologists on the whole aren’t an all together bad bunch, they are just in the unfortunate position of belonging to a religious organization with questionable leadership and modus operandi. I mean, heck, you can say the same thing about Roman Catholics, right?

My opinion changed this past Easter. These same relatives hosted the holiday, and they invited some Scientology acquaintances of theirs to join us in the festivities.

Oh, my.

They were the real deal. Vacant stares as you talked to them. Loud questions regarding why many of my other in-laws were even bothering with college or grad school when they should be out there working. Children suffering from a complete lack of discipline (to the point where many of us were fearing for various breakables around the house). And worst of all, a complete inability to talk about anything other than the Church of Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard.

I realized that my in-laws are actually not stereotypical Scientologists. The kind of Scientologists that give them a bad name are certainly out there, however.

The moral of this story?

I just wanted to write something about Scientology. The Church of Scientology has a reputation for clamping down hard on anyone who says anything negative about it.
Let’s see if they bother with my measly little blog. If they are the nasty terror everyone and their brother says they are, I’ll be flooded with Pro-Scientology comments and/or litigious threats (or worse).

Or maybe I'm wrong and they won't react to this measly little one-horse blog at all.

We’ll see. Let the adventure begin.

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