While the 'Church' of Scientology has thrived Stateside (every time I read a reference to its founder as a science FICTION writer, I still snigger at the number of idiots taking it all as gospel), its spread in Europe has been met with a few more reservations - backwards and alien-based ideology aside, the main point where the Sci-bots tend to trip up is their unfortunate tendency to drain the life savings of their members. For the greater good, of course.
Many people in staunchly secular France want to ban Scientology outright, leading to heated discussion on whether such a thing is even possible. Legal representatives today said they could not impose a ban as the organization would continue with or without legal permission and would be harder to monitor - it is already officially considered a sect there, and authorities had been keeping a close eye well before two women sparked this case having complained about being swindled out of between twenty- and fifty-thousand Euros each. Two years ago Gloria Lopez's family accused Paris-based Scientologists of brainwashing and intimidating their mother into spending hundreds of thousands of Euros to support their teachings, leading to the deterioration of her mental health and her eventual suicide in December 2006. Lopez was typical Scientology prey - recently divorced, vulnerable, lonely and looking for direction.
It might be a good thing that celebrity mania has brought Scientology to the attention of the public - while they, unlike Gloria Lopez, have the money to fritter, we can all hear their ramblings for what they are: nonsense. Incredible, bizarre, alien-descending, silent-birthing, tax-dodging nonsense. So why do people jump on the bandwagon? You don't stand to gain much, unless you count sci-fi fairytales, but you do stand to lose money, often in the thousands. The celeb quotient might be a clue; while many ultra-famous actors lose perspective and turn to hard drugs or liquor, some have found the same rush in immersing themselves in an alternative or strict faith (Kabbalah was the milder precursor to Scientology in this way). I think drugs actually might be the lesser of the two evils, as while Ozzy, Amy and Lindsay may spend their golden years slightly muddled but glad they got over the phase, where does it end for Tom Cruise and Will Smith? They will just spend more, preach more and refuse to hug their injured children (yes, really) with no real pressure on them to let go of the madness. At least your average celeb junkie has rehab.
There is a lot of darkness behind the humour when it comes to Scientology. This conviction of organized fraud betrays the business behind the religion - wanting to spread your word is one thing, actively targeting the vulnerable and those with more money than sense is no laughing matter. There is also a sinister level of silencing power and intimidation to their spin department - famous for crushing serious accusations and jovial satire with their endless legal funds, they even scared the ballsy South Park creators into crediting only 'John and Jane Smith' for their Scientology episode. They have since meekly agreed not to re-run it in America and it was never aired in the UK.
This financial blow to the Parisian branch of Scientology may simply make its leaders more careful; I can only hope they slip up enough for some serious regulation to be enforced. I think the decision to let them continue practicing in France is the right one, but there should be more information out there, and more warnings about the debt and psychological pressure suffered by many members. As Nick Griffin's appearance on Question Time last week proves, sometimes giving such people a platform only exposes their motives and the shaky foundations of their beliefs.