You got an ology?
May 20, 2008
The bizarrely cosy relationship between the “Church” of “Scientology” and the London police is something I blogged about at CiF last year, and it is only getting more peculiar. Now comes the news that a teenager has been served a summons by City of London police for participating in a peaceful demonstration outside the shiny new £24-million London HQ of “Scientology” with a placard that called the organization a “cult”:
[T]the teenager facing court said: “I brought a sign to the May 10th protest that said: ‘Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult’.”
“‘Within five minutes of arriving I was told by a member of the police that I was not allowed to use that word, and that the final decision would be made by the inspector.”
A policewoman later read him section five of the Public Order Act and “strongly advised” him to remove the sign. Section five of the Public Order Act prohibits signs which have representations or words which are threatening, abusive or insulting.
The teenager refused to back down quoting a 1984 high court ruling from Mr Justice Latey, in which he described the Church of Scientology as a “cult” which was “corrupt, sinister and dangerous”.
Quite. If you live in France, you can call “Scientology” a cult or secte with impunity, because that is how it is defined in law. And as a point of fact, the “Church” of “Scientology” is not a religion under UK law either.
If it’s inaccurate, then, to call “Scientology” a religion, is it nonetheless correct, as the police claim, that to call it a “cult” is “threatening, abusive or insulting”? The OED actually offers a perfectly neutral usage not yet marked as obsolete:
2. a. A particular form or system of religious worship; esp. in reference to its external rites and ceremonies.
However, it must be admitted that these days, the word “cult” does usually signal disapprobation, as the draft additions of May 2004 to the OED entry record:
A relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.
Perhaps this definition helps us out even so. For it can hardly be denied, even by a “Scientologist”, that some “others” regard the organization as strange or sinister. In which case, to call it a cult is merely to acknowledge that some people hold a low opinion of it. And indeed, the existence of such benighted folk would seem to be required by the organization’s own “philosophy”. It is only natural, after all, that people outside “Scientology” should think bad things about it, because they are still infected by the ghosts of dead aliens.
What would you call “Scientology”, readers?