In France last October, a court determined that the Church of Scientology guilty of fraud. It was only through a loophole, the BBC reported, that the organization didn’t get banned outright.
The case came after complaints from two women, one of whom said she was manipulated into paying more than 20,000 euros (£18,100) in the 1990s.
A Scientology spokesman told the BBC the verdict was “all bark and no bite”.
France regards Scientology as a sect, not a religion.
Prosecutors had asked for the group’s French operations to be dissolved and more heavily fined, but a legal loophole prevented any ban.
Instead, a Paris judge ordered the Church’s Celebrity Centre and a bookshop to pay a 600,000-euro fine. (BBC News)
It seems to me a little like suing a casino for fraud. Indeed, “fraud” charges could be leveled against most religions: all believers are able to interpret religion’s promises (its product) as they wish, and thus they are able to claim fraud.
The difference in Scientology and other religious groups is the payment system. Scientology requires payment before rendering its services: teaching followers how to deal with their engrams and eventually reach the clear state with its accompanying realization that they are Thetans. Most Christian denominations work on a different model. They provide the service and hope you’ll pay at the end. It seems to indicate traditional Christian churches have a greater confidence in their product.
This analogy doesn’t go very far, though, for while religions might have differences in their payment plans, there is one commonality: they all lack a money-back guarantee. But that’s simply because all organized religions are a gamble. Theists call that gamble “faith,” but it’s still essentially a bet: if I live my life in this way, constantly seeking advice from fellow travelers and ministers, I will get something for it in the end, or even in the present.
And so from that point of view, the ruling in France is ridiculous. All religions are open to claims of fraud, because all religions have disillusioned apostates.
All of this begs the question, though, of whether or not religion is a product. A commodity. Watch Benny Hinn and others warning about the dangers of necromancy, and it seems like they’re simply dealing with the competition, especially when you then watch Derren Brown do the ultimate cold reading. (Very much worth watching is Richard Dawkins’ interview with Brown, in which Brown explains exactly how to do a cold reading.)
What would be the nature of the product being sold? Security. We know what happens when you die, and with our help, you can control that. You don’t have to be caught in a cycle of never-ending rebirths; you don’t have to spend eternity writhing in agony: we can offer you a way out.
Religion is the ultimate, inverted COD: pay now, take delivery upon death. In that sense, it’s fraud-proof.