From the Wall Street Journal 24 Feb 98 pg A22.
REVIEW & OUTLOOK
The Secrets of the Universe
There's no particular reason for the world to worry about a smallish
cult that believes invisible 75 million-year-old thetans are floating
around our skulls. The search for the meaning of life in the vastness of
the universe preoccupies most people at some time or another, though
they usually find their way into houses of worship, therapeutic
counseling or the local liquor store.
When instead they come calling on the National Security Adviser, it may
be time for a reality check. Some of the weirdest conversations of the
day concern Sandy Berger's meeting with John Travolta, along with Tom
Cruise the chief ornaments of the Scientology movement. Scientology's
founder, L. Ron Hubbard, professed to believe the evil galactic overlord
Xenu shipped frozen thetans to Teegeack, better known as planet Earth,
dropping them down volcanoes and pulverizing them with hydrogen bombs
and setting their souls adrift. By now it seems you can't understand the
universe without plumbing thetan influence in the White House, the halls
of Congress, and the murky heart of the IRS.
Mr Travolta brought the cult to our attention again thanks to an article
in George magaxine describing hot the actor and the President of the
United States enjoyed an apparently mutually beneficial meeting last
spring at a volunteerism conference in Philadelphia. The actor was there
to deliver a speech about Scientology's educational materials. What
concerned the President, Mr. Travolta suggests, was the big screen
filling up with Jack Stanton, the Clintonesque President in "Primary
Colors" -the movie Mr. Travolta was just then making, having eaten
himself into a properly presidential profile. It's probably unlikely
that a film directed by Mike Nichols would ever treat Stanton/Clinton as
anything but a charming rogue and shrewd manipulator. But the prospect
of a wide screen valentine became ever more probable as Mr. Clinton took
the moment to feel Mr. Travolta's pain. And told him he would try to
make it go away.
Who is hurting Mr. Travolta? The German government, that's who. Like the
U.S. prior to a 1993 tax settlement mysteriously upgrading the cult to
the status of a tax-exempt religion, Germany considers Scientology a
business run by extremists and has put the church under surveillance.
Assisted by frightened escapees, the Germans make the case that
Scientology exploits the weaknesses of its members for profit that at
the very least should be taxed. This creates the worst kind of pain for
Scientology, which reaps millions from "auditing," cleaning a "preclear"
of repressed memories. With millions of years of memories, getting
cleared and achieving ever higher levels of purity can be a lengthy and
costly experience. It also yields intensely private information that is
carefully stored in files.
For some, the process has also been dangerous. Earlier this month,
German police searched five Munich locations of the sect after the
suspicious death of a cult member. In Clearwater, Florida, a young woman
mysteriously died after being held at a Scientology hotel. Maybe Mr.
Clinton could send down Janet Reno for an investigative weekend in her
But back to Mr. Berger, who found Presidential whim expanding his duties
to include stilling an actor's pain. Asked by "Meet the Press" about
his briefing of Mr. Travolta last September, the National Security
Adviser looked like he might eat his tie as he downplayed the meeting as
a normal response to reports of religious persecution by the German
government. His real goal, he said, was to get an autograph for one of
his kids; we note he didn't ask for educational materials
Mr. Berger is not the only official caught up in Scientology's web.
Senator Alfonse D'Amato, about whom no movie we know of is being made,
has scolded Germany at a hearing organized by the Commission on Security
and Cooperation in Europe. And by the time the House finally defeated a
resolution criticizing Germany late last year, a flabbergasted Madeleine
Albright had already endured several ludicrous discussions with
Germany's equally flabbergasted foreign mimister, Klaus Kinkel. A
federal immigration judge added to the surreal merriment by granting
asylum in November to a preposterous German woman who feared returning
home because she is a Scientologist.
But if that is all weird, it is nothing compared with the mysteries
surrounding the decision of the IRS to suddenly grant Scientology a
tax-exempt status after years of litigation. Our Elizabeth MacDonald
reported that in the secret settlement the IRS dropped its position that
"auditing" fees were not deductible, a position that had been upheld by
the U.S. Supreme Court. In return it got $12.5 million and a promise
that the cult would drop its numerous lawsuits against the IRS and its
agents. The IRS says it is investigating the leak.
Meanwhile, Scientology is litigating with everyone else in sight; why
not, after having intimidated the biggest gun on the block? The IRS has
lately announced its desire to turn itself into a friendly agency. How
about an auditing session? Leading off with this question: Is there
anyone at the IRS who seriously thinks that the unbelievable sums of
money Scientology spends on lawsuits meets the agency's requirement that
a charity spend its funds only on charitable purposes?