Scientology's recent travails, splattered like so much bad scrambled eggs in the mainstream press, has me thinking about that day way back when the Reverend Al Buttnor, the Church's high priest of PR, took me on a personal tour of Scientology's Yonge Street headquarters.
Freaky, mostly. And surprisingly empty. A few curiosity seekers on one floor hooked up to Scientology's famous E-meter, getting stress tested, presumably. But clearly searching for something else. Themselves? Salvation?
On another floor, a shrine to late Church founder L. Ron Hubbard - an office, with book opened on a desk, pen nearby and chair set up to look like L. Ron had just stepped out for a minute, and would soon be returning.
Some in the Church may still be waiting for the former sci-fi writer turned cult of personality to magically re-appear, perhaps as Xenu, the inter-galactic emperor of Scientology lore.
Yes, the Church pushes some spacey ideas.
Last week, high-profile adherent Paul Haggis, famous screenwriter and director, announced he's leaving the Church over its public support of Proposition 8, which eliminated the right of gay couples to marry in California.
In France, Church leaders were convicted of organized fraud Tuesday, for manipulating one member into draining her life savings for Scientology courses.
Then there was that embarrassing incident on ABC's Nightline, when Church spokesperson Tommy Davis walked out on an interview with Martin Bashir, apparently upset by the line of questioning. Xenu again.
Davis appeared on the show to deny allegations by four former members that Church leader David Miscavige has a bad habit of striking underlings.
Is the Church surviving on borrowed time? Most of its more suspect teachings and practices, some of which verge on the tactics employed by spy agencies, have been there in plain sight for all to see on the the internet sites of critics and former members.
For all the recent bad publicity in the mainstream media, the truth is Scientology has never been far from controversy. The rest of the world may finally be waking up.
Investigations into the Church's activities have been held in half a dozen countries, including in this very province. A raid of the Church's headquarters here led to a celebrated court case that uncovered government documents in the Church's possession.
How Scientology won official Church status in Ontario is still a question of some contention. A mistake or simple oversight, depending on whom you talk to. The org is more self-improvement empire than religion. Its materials are trademarked.
Arguably, the Church has thrived on the attention, negative as it may be over the years, used attacks by its critics and former members to cast itself as the victim of anti-religious sentiment, hatred even.
The Church likes to compare the slings it receives from some quarters to the persecution felt by another church when it first started, oh, 2000 years ago or so.
Not quite. That Church doesn't require believers to spend thousands of dollars on "technology" in the pursuit of spiritual fulfillment. But that's another story.
What power does the Church hold over its members? Perhaps it's the secrets they know about them. Followers are required to divulge deeply personal information about themselves to the Church as they make their way up each step to the top of the Scientology pyramid, that elusive state of mind known as Clear.
The Church claims millions of disciples around the world. Its popularity, at least on the face of it, doesn't seem to be waning, especially not in its base in the U.S., where the self-improvement industry is big business. There, Scientology has the added draw of stars Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
Cruise is still a vocal supporter, but Travolta seems to have stepped back from his very public promotion of the Church since the death of his son from a seizure. Scientologists shun conventional medical treatments. Does Travolta blame the Church for his son's death? Will his departure be next?
Hard to say. But rumours of the Church's imminent demise after this recent flurry of bad PR may be exaggerated. As long as there are people searching for some higher purpose on earth, there'll be orgs like Scientology claiming to know the way. Beam me up, Scottie. [rssbreak]