Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Op-Ed: Highway to the Xenu Zone

Exploring Scientology

By Najva Solemani

The holiday season is upon us, which means that people everywhere are going to shop, celebrate their religious traditions, and occasionally make fun of others'. The scapegoat of the minute is Scientology, which could be why I found myself watching A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant at the New York Theatre Workshop on Wednesday the 6th.

Before the pageant, I expected to find alien stories and lots of tasteless jokes about Tom Cruise. Of course, I was right. But what I didn't expect was the children's balanced and hilarious portrayal of L. Ron Hubbard's life story.

Unfortunately, most of the media isn't as fair as Les Freres Corbusier, who produced the pageant. The media has a consistently negative approach to Scientology, causing the average person to view it more as a bad joke than a valid system of beliefs.

Admittedly, Scientology has its issues. As the daughter of a loosely practicing Scientologist, and therefore, a Scientologist-by-association, it feels a bit like my duty to straighten out some of these misconceptions. Please don't throw down your paper in mock-disgust of my defense.

Let me start by saying that if you judge Scientology by Tom Cruise, it's like judging modern day rock music by Fall Out Boy. It is uninformed to judge a group by its most prominent member—both Fall Out Boy and Tom Cruise are terrible examples of what they supposedly represent. Most Scientologists I've met are normal, intelligent people. They have families, college degrees, and middle class homes. They aren't celebrities, or depressed misfits who end up estranged from their families, declaring bankruptcy, and committing suicide.

People can be bat-shit nuts in any religion, but, for the most part, Scientologists are rational. They also happen to be non-judgmental and generous. That's probably due to the religion's focus on health—meaning Scientologists sleep well, eat well and abstain from drugs.

Scientology is similar to Confucianism; it's a lifestyle. There are no gods to pray to or idols to worship. There are classes and sessions you pay for to learn the teachings, as well as books by L. Ron Hubbard that support the teachings.

Shockingly, after having taken a few of these classes, I realized that they do teach useful things. The elementary courses cover topics such as how to study and how to communicate, both of which I highly recommend. I've also done a bit of auditing, which is like getting hooked up to a baby lie detector. An auditor asks you questions about the past, or yourself, and sees what areas of your life bother you based on the readings. You talk through any area of stress and unhappiness until you reach a point where your needle floats an indication that you're no longer stressed about it. That's all. Still sound like they were brainwashing me?

The organization as a whole is engaged in the community, doing charity work trying to keep kids off of A.D.D. meds that are proven to be addictive. They're not, as critics allege, just out to prey on the lost and weak.

I've also heard criticism that claims Scientologists are "cut off from family members and loved ones" that don't support them. Most Scientologists I've met certainly don't ignore me because I'm not "rah-rah L. Ron." Maybe as you get deeper that happens, but it's comparable to a devout Christian struggling with being best friends with an Atheist. There's just a clash of beliefs.

Lastly, there's the Aliens-took-over-the-earth, super-secret story of the world that people love to point and laugh at. I get it. It's really weird. But are aliens any crazier than the mystical creation of Adam and Eve, burning bushes or turning water into wine?

Let's just give them a break on that one. Every religion needs its crazy creation story. L. Ron Hubbard may have been a bit crooked, financially as well as mentally, and he might've gone a bit too far. However, that doesn't mean the religion's basic principals are inherently flawed.

So this holiday season, when you're tempted to make your family laugh with another below-the-belt crack at crazy Scientologists, remember: it's just Tom Cruise.

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