Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The cult of Freedom

It's my personal observation that the average Englishman has a better vocabulary than the average American, but it's not a point I want to argue. That the British are just as full of self-righteous idiocy as anyone is an argument more to my liking, and I have evidence. According to The Guardian, a London teenager has fallen into the hands of the Linquistic Inquisition and is facing prosecution for having publicly used the world "cult" to describe the cult of Elron Hubbard, known as Scientology.

The crusade to rid language of any words that might somehow be construed to be offensive, is raging on both sides of the Atlantic. Such things thrive in inarticulate America, but apparently the Brits ( it seems to be allowed to call them that but don't call the Japanese Japs) are just as bad.

Why isn't Scientology a cult, and whether it is or whether it isn't, why is that a bad word? My casual readings in Archaeology frequently contain mentions of the cult of Isis or Venus or the Magdalene or the Virgin Mary. It derives from the Latin word for worship, but apparently, what's good for one Scholar is bad for another - we must consult the oracle.

The very American Merriam Webster dictionary defines cult as:
  • formal religious veneration
  • a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also : its body of adherents
  • a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious
  • a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator
  • great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work.

The veddy British Oxford dictionary adds that the word sometimes describes a religion that exercises excessive control over its adherents, but then all of these definitions can apply and have at times applied rightly and honestly to any religion at all. In fact these are all definitions of religion and that includes the fact that every religion is unorthodox to other religions.

Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult" read the confiscated placard peacefully displayed at a peaceful demonstration in front of the opulent London Headquarters of the Church of Scientology. Would it have been less "offensive" if it read: "Scientology is not a cult, it is a dangerous religion?" Who can tell, because either statement is, in my reading, equivalent. Someone is telling us however. Someone, some authority not derived from the will of the governed has an arcane system by which their dark stars favor a word on one day or denounce it on another and it sure as hell works in mysterious ways. By mysterious, I mean stupid.

If any speech offensive to someone looking for offense is actionable, then do I have the right to have the Gospel of John confiscated and half the works of Martin Luther banned for vicious condemnation of the Jews? Should the finally deceased Jerry Fallwell have been arrested for saying God Didn't listen to Jews or that the AntiChrist was a Jew? Forgive me for being confused. If Christianity or Islam or the cult of Refafu claims that whatever religion I might have is dangerous to any soul I might have, then Christians or Sufis or any other cultists anxious to discuss the error of my ways should be silenced and prosecuted along with anyone standing at any pulpit, who describes anyone else as a sinner, apostate, heretic, gentile or reprobate. The wages of sin is death? as a member of the Church of Sin and a committed sinner, I'm offended. Call the police! Call my lawyer!

Of course, in the interest of preserving my own freedom of speech I'm not hoping to see any such thing, but I am hoping that whatever mysterious and invisible entity there is that decides what I may or may not say -- and whatever dangerous cult surrounds it -- will reveal itself unto me so that I can dedicate myself to offending it.


Buffalo said...

I don't know what to say, but I wanted you to know I stopped by to read.

Capt. Fogg said...

I rarely know what to say - but that doesn't always stop me from saying it.

Georg said...

Bonjour Cpt. Fogg,

The effort to weed out "offensive" words and to replace them by something innocuous, tepid and correct exists in French, too.

Thus "Scientology" is not a religion but a sect. In former times, a sect was a religion with only a few members, like Jesus Christ, his 12 apostles plus family.

Nowadays, a sect is defined as evil and troublemaking.

Maybe the idea behind this is that we don't need new religions or cults because we have already enough.


Intellectual Insurgent said...

I'm keeping track.

Insults against Christianity and Islam are considered courageous acts of freedom of expression.

Even a whisper that mentions Scientology or Judaism is bigotry of the highest order.

We aren't cleansing language. We're programming people like Pavlov's dogs.

Capt. Fogg said...

Yes, you can stereotype certain people but not others: it's all about money and power. Apparently America is not alone in this game as George points out; but words are only a small part of the problem of bigotry and changing names of things never really changes bigots. Euphemisms only allow them to state their prejudice in code while hiding behind protections against "hate speech."

If you think there are no repercussions for criticizing various forms of Christianity though, I have to disagree and there are repercussions for not denouncing Islam sufficiently too, particularly in the Red States. I know this from experience.

I can't tell you how many Catholic and Protestant sermons laden with libels against "the Jews" I've endured. What is my recourse? Not much. I'm well aware of the hysterical and ignorant attitudes toward Islam, but at least the curse of God against them is not written into the canon of the dominant religion - unless you consider the dominant religion to be stupidity, and it's not hard to make a case for that!

But, getting back to my main point, I think it's just fine for any group to counter defamations of any kind, and to promote their beliefs, but while defamation of an individual may be actionable, an idea, a belief, a dogma is not an individual and has no rights; certainly no rights that trump free speech.

Let the Scientologists argue back, if they can, but let's not give them the power to silence criticism. The last thing we need is another inquisition.

d.K. said...

Off topic, but the Scientologists seem to be doing very well; I stayed in a hotel in San Francisco last year across from their local offices, which are housed in a beautiful old building the heart of that city's vibrant financial area.

On a visit to Amsterdam in my youth, I also spent an afternoon in their offices there, where a friend of mine and I took a "free" personality test. The test "revealed" that my friend and I were obviously mal-adjusted and even hyper-critical of others. We both agreed that yes, we probably were. When the Scientologists asked if we wanted to change those negative characteristics about ourselves, before I could say anything, my friend said, "oh, absolutely not." I still laugh out loud when I think of that experience...

P.S. Thanks for reminding me of Refafu again... I'd almost forgotten about Him, LOL.

Capt. Fogg said...

They are doing fantastically well in a financial sense. It seems to be a very American religion in that salvation or enlightenment or whatever their equivalent is, costs money.

Hey - Refafu rules!