The Buck Should Not Stop Here?

I’ll begin by saying that I have neither love nor respect for the Church of Scientology and what it claims to teach or preach.  I believe it’s a load of hooey.  Tragically, it’s difficult to legislate against hooey – or we’d have a lot less hooey, and a lot fewer legislators as well, probably.

All that being said, I think an ominous note has been struck with the recent ruling in France against the Church of Scientology.  The charge is  “preying financially on followers”.  Although prosecutors had hoped to completely ban the Church of Scientology from France, that apparently was not deemed legal (or at least realistic), and so a $900,000 fine was levied against the French branch of the church instead.  Six leaders of the organization were convicted as well.  Two former ‘members’ brought the suit, complaining that they had been pressured into spending roughly  $60,000 on various church materials and programs.  Prosecutors cited an “obsession” with financial gain by the organization, as well as an emphasis on placing members in a position of “subjection”. 

There are several problems with this.  First off, how is ‘pressured’ being defined?  Is it the Church’s policy that all members have to purchase these products and spend this kind of money?  What sort of pressure is brought to bear in order to ensure compliance?  What are the ramifications of non-compliance?   What is the relationship between the State and citizens of the State, in terms of protecting citizens from poor decisions? 

All of these are important questions, and I’m not seeing a lot of answers just yet.  I understand that other people feel the same way that I do about Scientology.  I’m glad for that, frankly.  But when a State begins leveling fines against a religious organization simply because a few people were unhappy about their experience in it, I have very, very grave reservations. 

I can’t even begin to calculate how much money I’ve tithed to the various Christian churches I’ve been a part of during my income-producing portion of my life.  I used to get a kick out of the end-of-year giving statements my former congregation would send out.  After saying how much I had tithed, the bottom of the statement indicated that no goods or services were received for this donation, only an “intangible” religious benefit.  What if I changed my mind about it all next week?  What if I went back to these congregations and asked for my money back?  What if I felt cheated?  What if I felt lied to?  Could I sue them?  If I did, could the State side with me to say that these congregations had been obsessed with wealth (some of them have been!)?  Could the State determine that my role within the church was one of “subjection” (it should be – depending on how the word is defined!)? 

Many Christians and their churches are preoccupied with the financial stability and survival of their congregation.  Tragically, this all-too often drives focus inwards, stunts growth, and completely short-circuits one or both of the goals of a Christian congregation – sharing the Gospel so that the Holy Spirit will work faith in the hearts of people, and then helping those converts become disciples and followers of Christ.  But a dangerous precedent is set when a State determines whether or not a member of a church is getting the appropriate bang for their buck. 

I don’t think this conviction is going to stand, for these very reasons.  But it’s a trend to watch, because it could ultimately (and I think will ultimately) be a trend that affects Christians, and not just crazy cults. 

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