In The Church of Scientology, one of only a handful of academic treatments of the subject, Hugh Urban is less interested in the experiences of Scientologists than in the legal processes and semantic twists through which a set of beliefs becomes a religion. A professor of religious studies at Ohio State, Urban is interested in secrecy in religion, and in this book he chronicles the way Hubbard reacted to legal and political challenges to his authority by attempting (largely successfully) to conceal his theories from the public. Had he stuck with his original conception of Dianetics, his practices could have been investigated and judged according to scientific standards. A religion, on the other hand, can turn self-help platitudes into a scarce and privileged resource; criticism can be dismissed as intolerance, or persecution.
I was in a synagogue last weekend for a book sale, and listened with great amusement as a couple of Jewish volunteers, pitching their voices so as to be heard by anyone within earshot, used a copy of Dianetics as an opportunity to scorn Scientology as an “invented” religion.
Spread your arms wide. Breathe deeply. Feel the irony in all its glorious weight, like a heavy mist that slowly penetrates and saturates your clothing.