I come from a large, affectionate family that includes grandparents, parents, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins. Looking back many years, when we were all much younger, family occasions would fill a house to the rafters with love, gossip and good food. Since then, many of us have moved around the country, far away from our New York roots. Others have passed away, their love filling our hearts even as they are gone.
I have been a Scientologist since the early 1970s. There were occasions when I brought up the subject of Scientology to a family member. The reactions were almost always the same. Perhaps a few questions, inevitably followed by no interest, and the conversation quickly died. I didn’t think too much about this and interpreted their reactions as simple courtesy and respect.
Several years ago, I received a mass family email, attaching an article critical of Scientology and mocking my religion. The author of the email mistakenly included me in the numerous cc’s. My first reaction was grief and then anger that after all these years, some in my family found it okay to attack my religion.
I picked up the phone and called the email originator, a cousin whom I dearly love. Thus began a highly illuminating conversation. Of course he was embarrassed and apologetic. I asked him to tell me what he had heard about Scientology. Turns out there was a hidden family conversation that had been going on for many years. It started in the ’70s when one of my immediate family members began to gossip to other family members that I had been brainwashed and joined a cult. I became the subject of family conversations and speculations stoked by harmful, misleading and often false reports in the media.
And here we were, 40 years later and these conversations behind my back still continued.
After an initial shocked silence, the room lit up and everyone began firing questions at me. “How did you get into Scientology?” “What is Scientology?” “Why does the news media bash your religion?”
I give my cousin a lot of credit. Not only did he apologize but he went out of his way during the next family gathering to recount, in front of everyone, the tale of when the gossip about me started. Criticizing my religious beliefs behind my back wasn’t right, he said. Further, he had learned some things about Scientology from me and now understood that what he had heard were malicious lies and rumors. After an initial shocked silence, the room lit up and everyone began firing questions at me. “How did you get into Scientology?” “What is Scientology?” “Why does the news media bash your religion?” And other questions, all easily answered.
It was a wonderful conversation, filled with mutual admiration and respect.
I imagine many friends, family and business associates of Scientologists secretly harbor misinformation about our religion. Out of courtesy, they would never mention it to us. But, outside our hearing they will at best remain silent when others malign our religion, at worst indulge in or spread hateful gossip.
I encourage anyone who knows a Scientologist to talk to them and ask about their religion. Don’t be afraid to ask about what you’ve heard. At the same time, do not judge or knock your friend for what you might think they believe. Most of us subscribe to the idea that everyone has a right to their own religious beliefs, even when they differ from our own.
There is a whole lot there you will never know if you don’t ask.
Chances are it will become clear to you that Scientology is a religion of help and its practitioners are deeply committed to improving conditions in this world.