Media mockery of religion is not new, but some religions seem to be bigger targets than others.
It’s very hard to find anyone sending up Islam, for instance, but spoofs of Scientology are thick on the ground. This might owe to elements of science fiction within the theology, including hydrogen bombs in volcanos, evil galactic overlords and interstellar DC-10s.
The great thing about the First Amendment, however, is that it protects the freedom to practice any religion, even those that some consider weird.
Couple that with the fact is that most, if not all, religions can sound weird to those who stand outside.
If a visitor from another planet were to come down and find vast swaths of people worshiping a man who died and came back to life 2,000 years ago, and that adherents commemorate the event by eating bread and wine that either represents or is transubstantiated into his body and blood, they might think that the various flavors of Christian world to be odd, to say the very least.
Considering ‘Scientology and the Aftermath’
What matters about A&E’s ongoing series “Scientology and the Aftermath” is that it isn’t interested in poking fun at the stranger elements of the doctrine of Scientology. Doctrine doesn’t get discussed much at all. Instead, the focus is on abuses within the church that have been swept under the rug, and which make the personal stories both relevant and necessary.
Rank-and-file Scientologists are less likely to suffer abuse than members of the Sea Org, the Scientology clergy. Those who join sign a billion-year contract to participate, where they assert they will return to Sea Org service every time they are reincarnated.
People join the Sea Org at a very young age, and every aspect of their lives is managed by the Church and not their families. Its members are effectively cut off from the world at large.
This can lead to serious problems when there are cases of allegations of sexual abuse.
Sea Org members are forbidden to take any problems to the police, so such cases are to be handled internally, without legal intervention. In its second season, “Scientology and the Aftermath” shows former Sea Org members telling their stories of being shamed into silence or blamed for the abuse they suffered.
Free exercise of religion, and freedom of speech
The Church of Scientology has responded to the series by launching a series of online attacks against its host, actress and former Scientologist Leah Remini, plus web sites that harshly criticize the accusers.
Remini will frequently interrupt the show to read aloud the church’s criticism, as well as to provide on-screen replies from the Church about how awful she is. She also provides the terse notes that the church writes in response to the accusations from those who appear on the show.
Remini and her crew would be out of bounds if their purpose was merely to ridicule the Scientology belief system.
But as the Catholic Church and others have discovered over the years, the free exercise of religion is not an effective shield in cases of physical or sexual abuse. And that’s why there is merit in celebrating both the free exercise of religion and the freedom of speech that allows critics to sheds light on cultures of secrecy and darkness.
(Photo of former senior executive of the Church of Scientology International and the Sea Organization, Mike Rinder, actor/producer Leah Remini, SVP, Development & Programming, A&E, Amy Savitsky, and VP, Non Fiction & Alternative Programming, A&E, Devon Graham Hammonds accept the award for ‘Outstanding Achievement in Reality Programming’ for ‘Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath’ onstage at the 33rd Annual Television Critics Association Awards during the 2017 Summer TCA Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 5, 2017, in Beverly Hills, California, by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images.)