At the risk of boring you with the obvious, let’s review a few facts. 75 million years ago, an evil galactic ruler named Xenu deposited trillions of paralyzed alien bodies on earth and then destroyed them with H-bombs. The souls of these creatures, known as "thetans," inhabit the bodies of present day humans. The only way to mental health is to clear your consciousness of these thetans.
Those are just some of the remarkable things members of the Church of Scientology believe. (Adapted from a good post on Kevin Drum’s site). Tom Cruise is gallivanting about doing himself no favors by Scientologizing to anyone who cares to listen, and many who don’t. Cruise’s dumb Scientology-based attacks on psychiatry have gotten a particularly chilly reception in the U.S.
He’s going to get an even chillier reception if he comes to Germany, where Scientology is wildly controversial.
There’s a cultural difference at work here. Americans tend to view Scientology as a faintly ridiculous scam. If believing in Xenu floats your boat, and if you really want to spend thousands of dollars on unintentionally hilarious for-profit spiritual "treatments" that Scientology offers, go for it.
The consensus of Germany’s mainstream media, though, is that Scientology is quite dangerous. One group called it a "criminal and totalitarian" organization, to quote an anti-Scientology letter that became the subject of a constitutional case (German) before the Federal Constitutional Court. In that case, an inaccurate accusation of membership in Scientology was affirmed as a serious invasion of the plaintiff’s honor.
The German government takes the threat seriously. Here (German), is a 15-point "catalog of measures" the state of Bavaria has taken against Scientology. Among them are surveillance by the constitutional protection service, prohibition of street advertisement and "sidewalk counseling," special measures to make sure public servants who have links to Scientology aren’t diong anything suspect, and research into Scientology’s "psychological and social techniques," government-sponsored anti-Scientology
propaganda "public enlightenment" measures, and government-run Scientology "crisis counseling" centers.
The constitutional protection service of Bavaria claimed that its study of Scientology materials showed that Scientologists oppose a "free democratic order" because they favored replacing our current society with a theocracy in which the Scientologist "leaders of tomorrow" would "manage" all who had not yet converted. To quote from a government warning brochure translated into weirdly stilted English:
Our society has hardly taken note of the risks that an unbridled cybernetic technologizing of our social life sources (cybersociety) might imply, especially, however of the methods of Scientific Management – in the shape of cybernetic corporate organization and control – that are applied in a part of our economic life. Scientology is an extremist representative of this trend towards increasing technologizing. Even if the Scientology organization has been under surveillance by the Office for Protection of the Constitution as an anti-constitutional movement, and even if numerous member of the organization have left it as a result of the government’s educational campaign, there can be no relaxing of vigilance.
You know, I’m all in favor of people protecting our "social life sources," but I can’t help the feeling that Germany’s tax dollars could probably be better spent than by producing endless reams of such reports and employing hundreds of people to monitor the Hubbard-followers (and trust me, that’s no exaggeration). I personally don’t know what is more disquieting: this oddball religion with its iffy and coercive proselytizing, or the fact that the German state has singled it out for deep and intrusive surveillance.
Whenever I see a German politician or activist warning of the terrifying dangers of Scientology, I wonder why Germans get so incredibly worked up about it. My guess is there are two possible explanations: one fairly legit, and one less so. The legit explanation is that Germany is especially sensitive to any kind of organization that seems to aspire to create a glorious new society or control the lives of its members (see: Socialism, National). That I can understand. The other explanation I propose derives from undertones you hear in many German critiques of Scientology: that it’s (1) American; (2) makes a lot of money; and (3) was founded by a guy who had absolutely no academic degrees or titles of any kind!
What does everyone else think?