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Et Tu, Xenu?

I began to think about something after watching this documentary about my church:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OnrUWd_XLQI&feature=player_embedded

This was the subject of a previous blog post, where I took issue with the host’s hostile approach to my faith. But watching Mr. Sweeney’s previous video about Scientology gave me a little bit of perspective. In that instance, Mr. Sweeney was repeatedly harrassed and followed by Scientologists, which finally led to Sweeney losing his cool and shrieking at the Scientology spokesman at the top of his lungs.

There’s no justification for that kind of an outburst, but if you watch the entire piece, you can see just how mightily Sweeney was provoked, even being forced, at one point, to hide with his camera crew in a bathroom to avoid being harrassed.

So I suppose I could write a whole bunch about how nasty the Church of Scientology is, but that’s not my point. The interesting dynamic here, to me, is how people of my faith respond to questions about sacred things vs. how the Scientologists do the same.

In his Mormon piece, John Sweeney grills Elder Jeffrey R. Holland about the endowment ceremony that takes place in Latter-Day Saint temples. In the world at large, this is understandably the subject of much curiosity, since temples are not open to the general public. That curiosity is piqued even further by the fact that those who participate in such things are generally unwilling to discuss details.

It should be noted, however, that, contrary to conventional wisdom, most reticence to talk about what happens in the temple is not the product of oaths of secrecy. There are things in the temple ceremony that worshipers promise not to disclose, but those things are very specific and limited, and they constitute a rather small portion of the overall temple ceremony. In most cases, the reticence comes from a place of reverence and respect. The temple matters to us, and, like most people who have experienced it firsthand, I find it painful to see people treat it flippantly.

Watching this video, it’s clear that Elder Holland feels the same way. Yet when confronted on a topic he doesn’t want to discuss, he never takes offense or gets angry. He patiently responds as reasonably as possible, even about things upon which he’s not willing to elaborate. Contrast that with Tommy Davis, the Scientology spokesman, who goes on a tirade every time Sweeney says anything he dislikes.

Davis is especially irrational every time the Xenu story is mentioned.

If you don’t know the story of Xenu – alternate spelling “Xemu” – then perhaps you ought to take a moment to hear Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard describe the event he calls “Incident II.”

If you haven’t got the patience for the video above, I can sum it up thusly: Hubbard claims that, 74 million years ago, an evil galactic emperor named Xenu gathered up hundreds of billions of people from planets throughout the galaxy and blew them up in Hawaiian volcanoes. Their souls – or “body thetans” in Scientology-speak – still wander the earth today and attach themselves parasitically to humans, thus providing the source for a great deal of our personal miseries.

Now there are plenty of people willing to mock this story on its face, although many of the same people go to great lengths to mock the more unconventional aspects of Mormon theology, too, so perhaps people in glass battlestars shouldn’t throw stones. What’s remarkable to me, then, isn’t so much that the story is weird. After all, take out the technobabble and replace the name “Xenu” with “Satan” and the term “body thetan” with “demon,” and you have a story about a leader who falls from heaven and uses his voluminous evil minions to torture people on earth. That tale doesn’t raise many eyebrows in mainstream Christian circles.

No, what’s remarkable is that the Church of Scientology goes to unbelievable lengths to pretend the Xenu story does not exist and is not a part of their theology.

In other words, they lie.

They don’t handle awkward questions with the kind of patience Elder Holland displayed. They don’t just say “that’s something I’m not comfortable talking about, because I consider it sacred.” They say, “That’s not true,” and they blow up at you for even bringing it up. They sue people who publish materials in Hubbard’s own handwriting that confirm the tale’s veracity. (I won’t post them, because I don’t want to be sued. But the materials are easily available online. I’ve seen them, and you can, too, if you so choose. Some of them appear in the video clips in this post. They’re written in a distinctive script that is undeniably Hubbard’s. And, of course, you can hear Hubbard’s own voice in the previous YouTube clip.)

In the age of the Internet, keeping something like this confidential is essentially impossible. Pretending it doesn’t exist is a bit like pretending the sun isn’t shining.

Now, granted, the story of Xenu is only officially taught after a Scientologist has spent years in the organization and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars taking classes to learn this stuff. So when a lower level Scientologist tells you they’ve never heard Xenu mentioned in church materials, they’re probably telling the truth. In addition, Hubbard himself taught that the story contained an “implant” that would cause someone who was not spiritually prepared to hear it to get pneumonia and die. So I hope everyone who watched the infamous South Park episode that recounts the story in detail has had all of their shots.

So with those caveats, I can understand why your run-of-the-mill Scientologist can keep a straight face when they tell you there’s no such thing as Xenu and body thetans. But Tommy Davis, Scientology spokesman? Come on.

On CNN, Davis calls the story “silly” and “unrecognizable.” When ABC’s Nightline mentions Xenu, Davis dismisses it as ridiculous and offensive before he stands up and walks out.

Yet a local reporter in Palm Springs gets Davis to admit that he’s “familiar with the materials,” and that it comes from “the confidential scriptures of the church” before he excoriates the interviewer for bringing it up.

What gives?

Tom Cruise, the world’s most famous Scientologist, has responded similarly to references to the Xenu story, angrily insisting that it isn’t true. In John Sweeney’s BBC Scientology piece linked above, Sweeney interviews prominent Scientologist actresses Kirstie Alley, Ann Archer (Tommy Davis’ mother), and Juliette Lewis, all of whom are far enough along in their Scientology training to have been taught the Xenu story, and all of them insist that there is no such thing.

Seriously, what gives?

A website called “ExScientologyKids.com” puts it this way:

To be honest, we’re not totally sure why upper-level Scientologists insist on publicly denying the fact that the OT materials have anything to do with Xenu. I mean, c’mon guys. The cat is so totally out of the bag. I mean, the cat has been out of the bag so long that if you asked the cat about the bag, the cat would be like, “Oh, the BAG? That was forever ago.”

I’m all for freedom to believe in anything, however weird it may seem to others. What bugs me is dishonesty. I’m of the opinion that if the Church of Scientology wants to be taken seriously as a religion, it needs to find a better way to deal with facts it doesn’t like.

But what do I know? After all, I read the Xenu materials without paying the Scientologists any money, so death-by-pneumonia is just around the corner.

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