Finding Nonreligious Happiness at the RNC

One unexpected aspect of being in Tampa for the Republican National Convention is the visibility of the Church of Scientology, which is headquartered in nearby Clearwater. The drive from my hotel into downtown Tampa every day brings me by a Scientology billboard, the first I can remember seeing. And tonight, after I left a Rick Santorum rally and was heading into the secured perimeter around the convention center, someone handed me a booklet called The Way to Happiness: A Common Sense Guide to Better Living.

The rules in chapter one are indeed common sense: Get care when you are ill; Keep your body clean; Preserve your teeth; Eat properly; and Get Rest. Other rules caution against harmful drugs, excessive drinking, and sexual promiscuity. Two chapters are devoted to the Golden Rule, stated both positively and negatively (“Try not to do to things to others that you would not like them to do to you”). Some chapters are straightforward: Do Not Murder. Others get a bit more complicated. Chapter 9, “Don’t Do Anything Illegal,” warns that doing something illegal can open one to an attack by the state, which “can be an implacable enemy.” Besides, the chapter says, “[a]lmost  any worthwhile thing one is trying to accomplish often can be done in perfectly legal ways.” Almost? Often? Not quite the 10 Commandments.

A sticker on the back includes the address for the Church of Scientology of Tampa, but fine print on the back cover insists that the booklet’s content isn’t religious:

This may be the first nonreligious moral code based wholly on common sense. It was written by L. Ron Hubbard as an individual work and it not part of any religious doctrine. Any reprinting or individual distribution of it does not infer connection with or sponsorship of any religious organization. It is therefore admissible for government departments and employees to distribute it as a nonreligious activity. (Reprinting can be arranged with The Way to Happiness Foundation International.) 

Peter Montgomery, an associate editor for Religion Dispatches, is a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way Foundation where he was on staff for 15 years. Before that he was associate director of grassroots lobbying for Common Cause and wrote for Common Cause Magazine, an award-winning journal featuring investigative reporting about the federal government.