The Supreme Court in the U.K has made a landmark ruling in a legal case brought by Louisa Hodkin, a scientologist seeking the right to get married at the Church of Scientology chapel in central London. The ruling means that Scientology, the belief that human bodies are occupied by the immortal spirit aliens called Thetans, is now officially recognised as a religion in the U.K.The cult was founded by the science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in the early nineteen-fifties following his promotion of a flawed but financially lucrative pseudo-psychological self-help program called Dianetics and has acquired, over the years, some very high profile celebrities as adherents. The ‘religion,’ as I suppose we must now call it, does not mandate a belief in a god or any higher power, which prior to this ruling was the touchstone for recognition as such in this country.
The situation raises a few interesting issues not least because several other European nations are explicit about the cult status of Scientology and Germany even monitors their activities as potentially subversive. However, in the U.S Scientology has long held religious status making it eligible for significant tax breaks on its buildings, operations and staff, a situation that to some extent may now obtain here.
One common objection to the religious status of Scientology is the obvious absurdity of the beliefs it espouses but actually I do not see this as a legitimate concern. For one thing Scientology is not really any more absurd than the mainstream religions, it’s just that ideas such as transubstantiation, resurrection and virgin birth are so culturally engrained that we are somewhat immune to them. Nor is it a particularly strong argument to say that Scientology is too recent an invention. Mormonism has only a slightly longer history (at least in comparison with Islam and Christianity) and an equally shady and disreputable founder but is accepted as a proper faith.
Personally I see no problem with Scientology being defined as a religion and confidently expect that since god belief is no longer a criterion for that status we can expect a flood of applications from Wiccans, Satanists, Pastafarians and others for similar recognition: they should get it. Hopefully the more the mainstream religions become associated with all the other unsupportable belief systems clamoring for attention the more they will be seen for the charlatans they are
Also I have a solution to the tax exemption problem. At the moment in the U.K buildings registered for public worship are eligible for Business Rate Relief which should every cult become a recognised church may impose an unsupportable burden on the taxpayer. So I propose that we withdraw this exemption entirely from all religions, including the Church of England, as it was never fair that these institutions should be supported by anyone other than their congregations in the first place.