It's Pronounced XENUphon


There is no doubt that, as a people, Australians feel a great affection for the religious. We feel safe with people of faith, we feel we can trust them. Extensive polling has shown that when asked whether they would rather leave their children in the care of a Catholic priest or a primitive tribe of Papuan cannibals, almost 70 per cent of respondents choose the priest. Telling numbers indeed.

And yet, it is equally true that a lot depends on the kind of faith being espoused. Oh sure, we feel comfortable with Catholic priests and kindly nuns and gangly buzz-cut Mormons with unnerving eyes, but we feel less comfortable with Muslim suicide bombers, for example. We all love the Dalai Lama, but we are more suspicious of Fred Nile. And so forth.

This demonstrates, of course, the bigotry that is so very dear to the Australian people and a considerable source of national pride. Such behaviour does, however, run the risk of alienating certain religious maniacs and, even worse, of not alienating others.

In other words, when an independent senator like, say, Nick Xenophon, stands up in Parliament and launches a blistering attack on a religion like, say, Scientology, he presents two grave risks to the principles of equality and freedom. Firstly, he runs the risk of making Scientologists feel unloved and isolated and realise that everybody thinks they’re fools, and secondly, his behaviour raises the very real possibility that adherents of other religions will not feel unloved and isolated or realise that everybody thinks they’re fools.

And frankly, that would mean our democracy is not working.

I mean, what is Scientology, really? One can throw around emotive terms like "cult" and "evil" and "mind-control" and "physical intimidation and coerced abortions", but they’re just words, aren’t they? They don’t really tell us what Scientology is all about. I mean, they give us a pretty good idea, but to really get to the heart of Scientology, it is necessary to take an honest, objective, no-holds-barred look at the work of a mediocre dead science fiction writer.

That writer was Lafayette Ron Hubbard, a man who, after toiling away for years, was subject to a mighty revelation, and made the ultimate sacrifice: abandoning his unsuccessful sci-fi career to start a new religion that made him fabulously rich. And ever since, Scientology has stuck fast to this founding principle; to make others fabulously rich is the highest expression of the human spirit.

Hubbard’s religion was based on "Dianetics", a system for understanding mental health that seeks to rid a person of bad past experiences in order to eliminate the "reactive mind", thereby freeing oneself from psychosomatic illnesses and liberating large cash donations.

Of course, Scientology has grown and developed and today entails a far more sophisticated system of beliefs and practices, having added to the basic concepts of Dianetics by incorporating elements such as direct debit and Kate Ceberano.

And of course, Kate Ceberano is the whole problem, isn’t she? I don’t mean literally — I’m not suggesting that she should be singled out as the sole cause of religious friction in this country; although her cover albums undoubtedly contribute to the high rate of domestic violence. No, what I mean is that Kate Ceberano is a symbol of why Scientology is so reviled — people associate it with rich, bored celebrities who adopt a faddish religion merely as a distraction from their empty, shallow lives filled with sex-mad groupies and unusual pets.

But what this ignores is the many thousands of ordinary decent folk who take up Scientology out of nothing more than a passion for self-improvement, a love of their fellow human beings, and a deep and genuine belief in ancient tyrannical aliens who blow people up with hydrogen bombs causing modern-day humans to constantly struggle against the restless spirits inhabiting their bodily form.

These people truly are the salt of the earth, and it is unfair to smear them with the same brush used to smear decadent Hollywood perverts when all they’re trying to do is spread the word about how depressed and mentally unstable we all are. And you are, admit it: you need Scientology’s commonsense approach; you’re just too proud to put your faith in the Hubbard message. Your decision. Have fun being unhappy for the rest of your life.

Look, I’m not trying to harangue you here. I know the Scientology narrative can sound a little "wacky". I know that in comparison to, say, a man reading golden plates in a hat with magic spectacles, or an all-knowing being disguising himself as a human to protect mankind from the problems he caused in the first place, the consequences of which his omniscient mind failed to foresee, the Scientology mythos seems far-fetched. But to be honest, that’s just our narrow 21st-century minds at work, refusing to allow for the possibility of things unseen, of powers beyond our ken, of space monsters piling people up around volcanoes. Poor, prosaic us — missing out on the marvellous gifts of the universe simply because we’d rather stay in the "real world".

And that’s where Senator Nick Xenophon — a man who has suspiciously replaced the "u" in his name with an "o" to hide his own Scientology connections — has gone so far wrong. Xenophon would like us all to live in a dull, mundane, functional society, devoid of magic or wonder. Just look at his vicious attempts to rid Australia of poker machines. This man wants to deny elderly citizens the chance to be transported to a world of excitement and flashing lights. Xenophon has a long history of trying to crush the spirits of ordinary people and here he is, doing it again, calling for "investigations" into the Church of Scientology for no better reason than their desire to make money.

Is it a crime to make money? Is there any logical contradiction in being a person of faith AND making a profit? Is there any reason a man can’t aspire to become both an operating thetan and an obscenely wealthy pseudo-priest? Is there any reason to believe money will be more wisely spent if left in the pockets of the average citizen than if it is handed over to the heads of the Church of Scientology? Of course not. And if this wholly justifiable quest for fortune brings with it the odd bit of roughing up, the occasional involuntary abortion, that’s the price we pay for living in a religious society. Would you rather live in Stalinist Russia? Thought not. Check and mate.

And to think Xenophon wants to get this worthy sect to pay taxes. Pay taxes! Like some common Jim’s Gardening franchise! As if the weighty business of a Scientologist was of no more import than that of a Woolworths’ deli attendant, paying taxes all over the place.

You simply can not have religions paying taxes, Senator Xenophon. It would cripple their operations. Imagine if we taxed Christian churches. They would suddenly find their cash flow severely restricted. They might even have to cut back on their Patronising Roadside Sign budgets. And imagine if we taxed mosques. You don’t want to piss those guys off, am I right?

And so it is with Scientology. The C of S does so much good work in the community, including but not restricted to: hooking people up to weird machines; suing journalists; and stigmatising the mentally ill. All of these could fall by the wayside if the government decided to eat away at the modest earnings of the Church by levying taxes from no better motivations than jealousy, malice and a desire to avoid blatant corruption of the foundation of our societal systems.

Scientology is not perfect, I admit that. Perfection is found only in mathematics and Baha’ism. But for many unhappy, desperate people with nowhere else to turn for psychic solace, it is the only means they have of surrendering control of their lives to shadowy cultish puppetmasters for a large fee.

Senator Xenophon, do you want to be the man who took that away from them?

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.