And The Band Played Believe It If You Like

Source: Herald
Date: October 29, 1998

Critic's choice

Back in the good old rationalist days of the 1970s, when American Scientologists were regularly greeted by Special Branch officers at Heathrow and returned toot-sweet to from whence they came, it would have been impossible to imagine Lafayette Ron Hubbard's bunco-booth cult getting as easy a ride from an allegedly sceptical journalist as Jon Ronson gives it in the first instalment of For The Love Of . . . Faith (C4, 12.25am), his new series of informal gabfests with adherents of various, mostly unconventional, religions.

Surrounded by a roomful of true believers, he seems to fall under the spell of all those Midwich Cuckoo eyes, those spiritually scrubbed faces radiating smugness and enlightenment. Obvious but potentially unwelcome questions - about arrant guff like engrams (suppressed memories of bad stuff that happened to you from the age of six hours onwards), E-meters (a couple of electrodes and a dial rigged up to demonstrate how screwed up you are and how much you need some expensive Scientology courses), the belief in reincarnation, and the dubious history of that self-invented charlatan and snake-oil salesman L Ron Hubbard - go unasked as Ronson drowns in a gush of sweetness and light.

Critical viewers, however, will not need to know much about the childishly well-guarded details of what Scientologists believe to get the straight dope on this racket. Just look and see how naturally the believers on show divide into stoats and rabbits in proportion to their seniority in the Scientological hierarchy (when it comes to hierarchy, Scientology makes Hinduism look positively egalitarian); hear how often the novitiates talk about how Scientology filled some sort of spiritual hole in their lives; boggle at how GP Edward Hamlyn's Scientologist wife saved his life when he had a heart attack (by slapping his face and saying Get back in that body!) - and this pseudo-scientific pseudo-religion's essential nature will become, in the words Scientologists use to describe their pinnacle of psychological perfection, totally clear.

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