Monday, June 9, 2008

An open letter to Scientology protesters

I was driving through Downtown Boston with my mother and grandparents this afternoon. while driving up Boylston Street, alongside the Boston Public Gardens, I caught site of something that gave me pause: The statue of Wendell Phillips, one of America's leading abolitionist leaders and arguably one of its greatest trailblazers for tolerance, adorned in a plastic V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes mask.

This incident led me to truly understand the miseducation and shortsightedness of this ridiculous anti-Scientology campaign.

I am no fan of Scientology. It appears to me that they're little more than a crazy cult propagated by overfunded zealots. Their belief system to me is no more stable than those who look at Star Trek or Lord of the Rings for spiritual guidance. They, like most religions, are deeply flawed self-congratulatory propagandists. But it is, quite simply, their right to be that misled.

The foundation of freedom of speech, and ultimately that of free thinking, is that basis that bad ideas will be weeded out under proper intellectual scrutiny. Questions, more than any banners or demonstrations, are the enemies of junk-thoughts. It is proper inquiry that so greatly discredits Holocaust deniers and religious zealots, while it is open hostility, violence, and mindless opposition that lends it the credibility it so obviously does not deserve.

It is the last of these, mindless opposition, that is the root of the anti-Scientology movement's problem. Invoking the symbol of Guy Fawkes is the initial folly. Guy Fawkes, for those who aren't familiar (who apparently include those who wear his face), was a pro-Catholic activist that, with a cabal of like-minded citizens, plotted to blow up England's Houses of Parliament in 1605 to protest the Anglican government's oppression of those who practiced an unpopular religion. To invoke the face of a man who died defending his faith (he was publicly hanged by the Empire) is an absolutely unforgivable oversight that quite frankly discredits the entire attempt to criticize your opponents.

Add to that oversight your defacement of Wendell Phillips in the park, and you produce an image of futile and childlike hostility that does nothing more than a school boy's protest that he shouldn't have to eat his greens simply because they don't taste good.

I am also no opponent of protest. I have been a part of protests against a wide range of subjects, from the war to various economic policies to the misbehavior of priests. Protesting is a healthy part of an open society. It, like questioning, should be fostered within a society as a necessary part of citizenship. But like questioning, it should be done in an educated way. Blindly lashing out against something, or using symbols for which you don't know the meaning, never leads to anything but oppression and can end in tyranny - by either a minority or a majority. The destruction of any and all ideological enemies comes not from hollow slogans or empty actions, but by informed opposition and expository inquiry. Anything less, and you're just as bad as them.