Scientology, or “the study of truth” (according to the Scientology website) is “the study and handling of the spirit in relationship to itself, others, and all of life. The Scientology religion comprises a body of knowledge extending from certain fundamental truths.” The main goal is true spiritual release and freedom. In short, it is a belief system for those who want a way of eliminating stress from their lives. They claim to focus on an aspect of their life and seek to repair it. With the advent of the internet came a flow of unsettling revaluations about the core beliefs of Scientology, and as a result Scientology has become the source of increasing controversy. In order to respond to the growing amount of scrutiny against their religion Scientology began to implement policies like “Attack the Attackers” and other such hostile actions toward anyone that criticizes their beliefs or organization in a public forum; church executives have proclaimed that it is “not a turn-the-other-cheek religion.” If they are under attack or see a potential threat, they will attack first to remove whatever threatens them. Because of these defensive policies the organization of Scientology has been able to deflect a number of potential scandals the largest of which involves the suspicious death of Scientology member Lisa McPherson.
Recent controversy erupted when an internal Church of Scientology video of Tom Cruise accepting an award was leaked to YouTube. Because of the video’s rambling, comically outlandish content, it became an internet phenomenon and within days, millions of internet viewers had seen and commented on the video. Feeling threatened by the attention, Scientology sent a cease and desist letter to YouTube demanding the removal of what Scientology considered to be their intellectual property. YouTube attempted to comply, but the internet community continued to post the video, making it impossible for YouTube to completely censor it from their site.
Days after this occurred, a video was posted onto YouTube by a group calling themselves Anonymous. Featuring an electronic voice and eerie music, the video declared that the goal of Anonymous is to destroy Scientology. Anonymous claims that they have decided to do this “for the good of [Scientology's] followers, for the good of mankind and for our own enjoyment. As such [they] shall expel [Scientology] from the internet and systematically dismantle the Church of Scientology in its present form.” This threat is compounded by the fact that Anonymous has already been successful at crashing websites belonging to Scientology and a few days ago, envelopes containing what was later determined to be harmless powder was sent to Church of Scientology location in Los Angeles. This threat prompted street closings and evacuations. All of these actions leads me to believe that Anonymous is not joking, they mean what they say and are actually working towards accomplishing what they said they will do.
Personal beliefs aside, these events lead us to ask the question: Is religious intolerance ever ok? Though Scientology has been demonized on the internet as a “cult set on world domination,” we as Jews we have been on the receiving end of sentiments similar to this thousands of years ago in Egypt, hundreds of years ago in Spain and seventy years ago in Germany. Granted that Scientology doesn’t have the greatest record and conducts itself with a secrecy that breeds suspicion, but who gets to decide that their right to exist and practice is any less than ours. Knowing that Jews are at the forefront of the ADL and the ACLU for the purpose of protecting people’s religious freedoms, no matter how eccentric they may be, can we stand idle while a “religion” faces defamation? If freelance groups can decide to take matters into their own hands, who is to say that no other group will try to do the same thing to other groups and religions? After all, the Nazis started as a small group who wished to correct what they perceived to be the problems facing Germany. If Anonymous is allowed to continue its campaign, where will the line be drawn to say that one group can act in this capacity and another cannot?
Perhaps it’s more a question of whether or not Anonymous’s actions are actually religious discrimination. In the United States, the first amendment allows for Scientology to act as a religion, but the right to act as a religion and actuality being a religion are two different things. Judaism is a religion that centers around the betterment of our community. To that end we have concepts that focus on an individual’s responsibility to his/her community, be it through charitable work or social welfare, and as a result of this, the religion of Judaism (in theory) gives more to the people than the people give to it. Scientology, on the other hand, though also based in social welfare, makes exorbitant fanatical demands of its members and focuses on the practitioner’s responsibility to the institution rather than the institution’s responsibility to its practitioners. It is at the expense of its practitioners that Scientology has become so powerful, and that is the behavior that Anonymous finds to be worthy of persecution.
There is a concept in Judaism of a Rodef. Though there is no exact translation, Rodef can best be described as someone who through manipulation and guile does harm to people and the community. A biblical example of this is Korach. The Torah states that it is actually a Mitzvah to see that these people are outcast so that their negative influences will not do further harm. That is the sentiment that Anonymous conveys with its message to Scientology. They wish to dismantle Scientology for the good of the community because Scientology has proven that they do more harm than good.
It is difficult to really understand what the motivations behind Anonymous’s actions may be. It’s always possible that these people are lying about their highfalutin’ altruism and are simply out to destroy a group they don’t like. On the other hand, there is just as good a chance that these people are as afraid of Scientology as many others are. While this country has a powerful tradition of tolerance and religious freedom, this country has just as strong a tradition of people knowing what has to be done, and even be willing to take the law into their own hands to do it. In the end, history will be a better judge than any of us.