The religion of Battlefield Earth has suffered a big defeat in Battlefield France. Earlier this week a French court fined the Church of Scientology some 600,000 euros for fraud, claiming that the organization’s operations in France pressured members into paying exorbitant fees and used “commercial harassment” against recruits. The decision wasn’t quite as harsh as it might have been—the prosecutors called for the complete dissolution of Scientology in France—but the PR blemish is a big hurdle for a group that prefers to sweep its problems under the rug.
It was a rough week for Scientology in the U.S., too. Screenwriter Paul Haggis, a thirty-five-year veteran of the Church, left due to its regressive attitude toward gay rights. Haggis describes the church as “an organisation where gay-bashing [is] tolerated.” The Church puts a lot of stock in its celebrity members. One of the group’s biggest operations is the Los Angeles-based Celebrity Center, the main purpose of which is to pamper famous members. The very public defection of an Academy Award winner isn’t as big a defeat as the French fraud case, but it seems likely that some heads will roll over the loss of this million dollar baby. Haggis’ letter of resignation from the Church can be read here.
On top of all of that, the protest campaign of the Internet-based non-group Anonymous is still going strong after nearly two years. RD reported on Anonymous’s activities last summer, finding that the protests perched on the border between pranksterism and more sober “awareness raising.” Last month Wired published its own overview of Anonymous’s activities, arguing that the application of internet troll tactics to principled protest could prove to be the movement’s downfall. Pulling outrageous stunts at “raids” on Scientology’s offices is central to Anonymous’s existence— but is coating oneself in vaseline and pubic hair before running through a Scientology building trashing office supplies going to win points in the arena of public opinion? Wired’s article expertly explores Anonymous’s internal struggle between order and chaos, principle and anarchy, moral duty and the lulz.
Religious fraud is one of the most ancient pitfalls of faith. The Didache, one of the earliest ecclesiastical texts, warns the first Christian communities against itinerant prophets who demand money in the name of the Holy Spirit. The Church of Scientology has built a business and a religion on that kind entrepreneurial charlatanism. But their business model requires good PR, and good PR requires a tight lock on secrets. At the moment, Scientology doesn’t have many secrets left, and it’s beginning to feel the impact of that liberated information.