University Philosophical Society of Trinity College Dublin, 27th October 2011
'This House Believes That Scientology Is As Legitimate As Any Other Religion,' a debate
Transcript of http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vim8ysPewIw
Entitled The Phil's Scientology Debate (3) - 2nd Prop - Mike Rinder
(with assistance from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWc5WWEbTzQ
entitled Mike Rinder speaking at Trinity College Dublin)
Now I invite the aforementioned Mike Rinder to take the podium.
Thank you so much and thank you all for inviting me. I feel a little like the sacrificial lamb here but I will see if I can overcome some of these arguments being made. And Matthew I really appreciate your words because effectively you have made my argument on the proposition that Scientology is as legitimate as any other religion. Because this debate hinges on one thing: what is the definition of religion?
But before we get to that let’s just begin with a proposition. Religion is not the same as ‘church.’ The beliefs, the philosophical principles and practices are not the same as the people or the buildings. And to put this in some context for you I do not believe that the current Church of Scientology behaves in a religious fashion nor should it be treated as such. But I fervently believe the principles of Scientology are indisputably religious. Jihadists act in the name of religion, they do not define Islam; the abuses of zealots in the Church of Scientology no more defines the religion of Scientology.
So how does one define religion? Well the word sometimes used interchangeably with the word ‘faith’ but religion differs from private belief in that it has a public aspect. A person’s individual belief does not make it a religion. Many efforts to define the term are based on personal religious heritage and experience. But it is an almost universal truth that adherents of each religion will define religion to include themselves but no-one else.
Traditionally Western thinkers have approached the subject from the perspective of Judeo-Christian religion. This approach revolves around two fundamental but related doctrinal concepts. A belief that there is a personal creator God, separate and distinct from man, and that man’s highest activity is the worship, supplication, and veneration of this God. If a set of beliefs did not manifest these doctrines it was not regarded as a religion. Yet I doubt that anybody here would disagree with Zen Buddhism is a valid religion, though they view doctrine at best as ancillary to spiritual advancement. Theravada Buddhism and Jainism have no supreme being. A number of Hindu sects recognize many gods. Taoism, Confucianism, and all the Eastern religions do not fall within this definition.
So how does one define religion?
Scholars agree that the test must be objective. There is a general consensus that three factors reflect the essential, common features of religions.
1. A belief that deals with the supernatural, some ultimate reality that transcends the physical world.
This ultimate reality may be a god, gods, or Supreme Being, or it may simply be some supernatural principle such as the belief in the transmigration of one’s spirit. Scientology has a fundamental principle that one of the eight parts of existence is god, or the infinite, though there is no dogma as to the form of god. A goal of Scientology is to raise one’s spiritual awareness to attain a full understanding of the infinite.
2. Religions include practices that enable man to contact, understand, attain a union, or commune with this ultimate reality.
In simple terms the central religious practices of Scientology, that is, the study of the teachings and the personal counseling called auditing, are designed specifically to help achieve understanding of and commune with the ultimate reality.
A religion consists of a community of believers who join together in pursuing this ultimate reality.
Sir, do you want to answer any of the previous speaker’s points on how you’re talking about a religion that asks people to remove themselves from their family members for their own monetary interest?
I address that in the beginning. I make a very clear distinction between the Church, the practices of individuals in the Church, and the religion. And I do not believe that the practices of the Church of Scientology under David Miscavige, the current leader of the Church, fall within the subject of religion. I believe that they are operating as a business.
Let me just finish here.
Thirdly, a religion consists of a community of believers who join together in pursuing this ultimate reality.
There are communities of Scientology believers around the world, including a large and growing community of independent Scientologists like myself, who practice the faith outside of the formally organized Church.
Further there are a number of agreed upon indicia that are common amongst recognized religions, from traditional folk religions to Eastern religions, Islam, and Judeo-Christian religions. Here too Scientology meets these criteria.
The first indicia is salvation. Every religion promises salvation. Scientology is no different. It promises eternal salvation to its adherents. Scientologists believe that man is an immortal spiritual being who lives beyond a single lifetime. And the goal of Scientology is achieving spiritual peace or salvation. Scientology also offers a more pragmatic salvation in the here and now. The overcoming of barriers to happiness and life’s problems are features that one finds in every religion whether it be prayer, meditation, or confession.
The second is every religion sets forth a cosmology, the nature of the physical universe, including time and space, the world we live in, and man’s place in it. Much is made of Scientology and so-called space aliens. This is not the cosmology of Scientology or even its creation theory. Those are found in a writing entitled The Factors and they begin with this:
“Before the beginning was a cause and the entire purpose of the cause was the creation of effect. In the beginning and forever is the decision and the decision is ‘to be’.”
The third common feature that you will find in almost every religion is preservation of orthodoxy. Catholicism obviously has the Jesuits. Scientology is often criticized for being too concerned about the preservation of orthodoxy. Certainly it is not a disqualifying factor when it comes to Scientology.
Another factor is establishment of ethical and moral codes, guidelines governing behaviour and right conduct. Again criticism of Scientology often centers around the ethics codes and while I personally criticize how some of those practices are employed, there is no doubt that Scientology meets this test.
Can I just quote the actual definition of ethics from the Policy Letter which is:
“The purpose of ethics is to remove counter intentions from the environment. And having achieved this the purpose becomes to remove other intentionness from the environment.”
I.e.: Ethics is to stamp out non-Scientology stuff.
That’s a misinterpretation of what the subject of the ethical codes of Scientology are. But I don’t want to spend a lot of time on that Matthew because it’s really not that important to the overall point that I’m trying to make.
Every religion also finds a way to help people resolve their personal problems. And again this is another element that is very strong in Scientology and is sometimes, Scientology is, or Scientologists are criticized for this because they offer help with your personal relationships or things that sound very secular. And so, that then gets put outside the subject of religion as if that isn’t religious.
But all of those scholars conclude with these objective tests, there is also legal definitions. And probably the most compelling of them comes from the High Court of Australia which was a decision concerning the Church of Scientology. And that Court set forth four indicia for what constitutes a religion.
1. A belief in something supernatural, some reality beyond that which can be conceived by the senses.
2. That the belief in question relates to man’s nature and place in the universe and his relationship to things supernatural.
3. As a result of this belief adherents are required or encouraged to observe particular codes of conduct or engage in particular practices that have supernatural significance.
4. The adherents comprise one or more identifiable groups.
That decision in 1983 which dealt directly with the subject of Scientology concluded that Scientology is, in fact, a religion.
Numerous scholars have also offered opinions on the subject. I will just refer to one, Dr. Brian Wilson from Oxford University. I have the distinct pleasure of meeting with Dr. Wilson on a number of occasions. I’ll just take one of his quotes, he said “after twenty years of studying the subject it is clear to me that Scientology is a bone fide religion and should be considered as such.”
But what about all those who would second guess these scholars and claim that Scientology is not a religion because there’s writings of L. Ron Hubbard that don’t sound religious. To those you can point to writings in any religion that, when taken out of context of the body of the work, hardly sound religious in tone or content.
And what about those who dismiss Scientology by claiming that L. Ron Hubbard is not worthy to found a religion? Well to begin Scientologists don’t aspire to live the life of our founder, unlike other faiths who try and emulate Jesus, or Mohammed, or Buddha. And Scientology is not based on divine revelation unlike Mormonism and Joseph Smith. Scientology is a 20th century religion and for someone to appear on this earth today claiming to be perfect in every regard, a divine figure sent by god to save the world, they’d be locked in a mental hospital. So, there, if there is to be a new religion on earth it cannot be judged based on the standards of the founders of older religions.
In conclusion, perhaps there is a simpler and more humane test. If I tell you that the practice of Scientology provides me spiritual comfort, guideposts for leading a moral life, helps me solve the difficulties of day-to-day existence, gives me an understanding of God, and puts me at peace with what happens when I die, can anyone else judge that not to be true?
And if others share in these beliefs and form some community of like-minded believers can anyone with good conscience say “that is not your religion?”