Controversial religion not a cult, Lee insists
The controversial belief system that counts movie stars Tom Cruise and John Travolta as devotees is winning support from a Liberal member of Parliament.
Toronto-area MP Derek Lee appears in a recruiting video used by the Church of Scientology to attract new members in the United States.
Some critics have denounced Scientology as a brainwashing cult that harasses its opponents and exploits the vulnerable for financial gain. But Mr. Lee says he supports some of the group’s programs and is particularly impressed by its approach to rehabilitating drug addicts.
“I’m way past the point of viewing them as just a cult,” said Mr. Lee, who is Roman Catholic and not a member of the Church of Scientology. “My judgment is there are just too many good people in that faith doing too many good things.”
Mr. Lee said he first met Scientologists through a coalition of groups lobbying for more faith-based programming on Canadian television. He occasionally speaks to Scientology gatherings, including one earlier this year in Toronto, as part of his advocacy for greater religious freedom. About five years ago, he recorded a videotape with them at a downtown Ottawa office.
“It’s partly an interview and partly my own personal remarks. I was happy to say yes.”
Mr. Lee says he was particularly impressed by a pilot project that used Scientology techniques to help inmates in a Mexican prison overcome drug addictions and wanted to bring the system to Canadian prisons.
It emphasizes self-improvement and rejects psychiatry and psychotherapy as inhumane pseudoscience. Believers hold that mental well-being can be achieved though “auditing” — a process of discussing harmful unconscious memories of past trauma, including those in previous lives.
Today, the church has supporters who pay thousands of dollars to study at its secretive Upper Levels, as Mr. Cruise has done.
The church was in the news recently with the announcement that Mr. Cruise and his fiancee, actress Katie Holmes, would observe the Scientology custom of delivering their baby in a silent birth, without any audible expressions of pain from the mother.
Mr. Lee says he hasn’t got involved in the church’s attempts to win charitable status from the Canada Revenue Agency as a religious organization, but he says he would probably help out if asked.
“They’re not whiners. They just go out and do it. At some point, I anticipate they’ll be successful.”
He says he has lent his support to other unconventional religious groups, including followers of Sri Chinmoy.
Scientology is also the only religious group ever to be criminally convicted in Canada. It was found guilty on two counts of breach of the public trust related to a 1982 conspiracy to break into government offices. The criminal charges lead to a precedent-setting defamation case, known as Hill vs. Church of Scientology of Toronto, brought by a Crown prosecutor whom the church’s lawyer had accused of criminal contempt. The Supreme Court in 1995 upheld the finding against the church, which became the largest libel award in Canadian history.
Mr. Lee concedes that Scientology has had a rocky history in Canada, but says that most religions go through difficult periods.
“I know there were some very difficult times 20 years. The Roman Catholic church had some difficult times back during the Inquisition — and even now. I have assessed them as definitely a modern religious faith, for sure.”
Mr. Lee, who once considered becoming a priest, says he is not particularly interested in the church’s teachings, however.
“I have done some cursory reading. I’m not personally drawn to it, but I have to say that about many religious faiths.”
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