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Meditation 624
Freedom of Religion: Germany vs. Scientology

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The problems encountered by Tom Cruise in making a movie are just the latest incident in a long-running dispute about the status of Scientology in Germany.

German authorities regard Scientology as a money-making enterprise rather than a religion, and also consider it a cult. Both these factors apparently disqualify it from being considered a religion.

I think they are right that Scientology is a money-making enterprise. It obtains money from its supporters to pay its employees and to finance its real estate. In return, it gives its followers empty promises. And the difference between that and the accepted traditional religions in Germany is...?

What about Scientology as a cult?

The line between a cult and a religion really is a matter of perspective. In general, I would suggest that a cult takes more steps to monitor and control the lives of its adherents than does a more traditional religion. A cult might get into areas such as regulating what its followers wear, what they eat, where they live, who their friends are, what contacts they might have with family, what employment they take, controlling personal finances, how frequently they observe religious ritual etc.

And yet, there are no steps in Germany to ban monasteries, nunneries or Opus Dei.

I think freedom of religion includes the freedom for the individual to determine whether or not her or his beliefs constitute a religion. What makes a religion cannot be determined by a set of bureaucratic rules. Religious belief is inherently irrational; there is no value in making a decision that some irrational beliefs are officially acceptable, and others officially forbidden. Determination of what constitutes a religion is an issue the German government (and many other governments) should opt out of.