I’ve always manifested a prejudice against Tom Cruise. While my teenage friends swooned over him in our youth, all I saw was a dead-eyed pretty boy and, later, the source of an excruciating evening at college when I was forced by my then-boyfriend to sit through Vanilla Sky in its entirety. To be fair, Cruise was excellent in Magnolia, even though the film itself was the Emperor’s Clothes choice for pretentious arts students of my generation.
So I admit that my first reaction to the news that his current missus has issued a “Welcome to Dumpsville. Population: you” writ, was to let off a mental cheer. Obviously a lot of the coverage has been over how far Cruise’s long-term involvement with Scientology influenced Katie Holmes’ decision to run for the hills, and I found myself getting quite fascinated by the organisation.
You see, I get that one man’s religion is another’s cult. That one man’s faith is another’s blind stupidity. And, yes, I read the Acceptable Dinner Party Statements Memo issued by the Guardian that holds that all religions are cults of some sort.
But the difference is that antecedents of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and similar are ill-defined shapes obscured by the mists of time, whereas Scientology was founded by a chap who is on the record saying that in order to earn serious wedge, you have to make up a religion. And then did.
At least the evidence suggests that L Ron Hubbard’s spiritual predecessor – the 20th century English “magician” Aleister Crowley – may have actually believed he was being spoken to by the goddess Isis or the devil or David Icke or whoever.
Hubbard actually said: “I plan to remove as much cash from rich chumps as I can”, and proceeded to do so. I suppose it proves that old adage that a fool and his money are soon parted, if nothing else.
A colleague of mine – who is jaded and cynical beyond his tender years – said that all faith is a sign of weakness. Faith in God, in relationships, in friends, he contended, was all symptomatic of the human frailty that leads us to seek approval in the eyes of others.
Outlandish beliefs in spite of all the evidence is simply a manifestation of allowing ourselves to be brainwashed into faith, because facing the truth is too difficult. We’ve all had this experience with at least one ex-boyfriend, eh ladies?
So, I was wondering: is this one of the reasons why the public loathe traditional political parties and revere independents? It’s an interesting thought. That our hatred of the “on message” politicians like the unfortunate Chloe Smith, wheeled out to defend the actions of the collective of which they are a part, is an outward manifestation for the contempt we secretly feel for ourselves?
In spite of all of us thinking that we are independent-minded, there are plenty of us who put up with crap relationships or still pick up the phone to the friend who always puts you down, or spend nights whiling away the darkness in pubs with people we don’t really like.
Facing the truth is hard. Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman may be independent as he has no collective to protect; he can criticise a policy he called for yesterday and argue that he is simply playing “devil’s advocate”, an intellectually disingenuous position in my view.
In a same way the Beliebers of the Twittersphere, militant Dawkins-ites, can scoff at all the contradictions inherent in religion because they do not belong to any. And the public can laugh at poor Ms Smith because they don’t belong to political parties.
But we all have at least one affiliation – be it a political party, a religion, or even how we dress – which we hang onto in spite of everything because we need them to define us in our own eyes, as much as they need us to allow them to continue to operate.
On the upside, our “weakness” gives rise to strength in the form of collective bargaining. Revered as he was, the independent MP Martin Bell was always going to make less of a mark on the footnotes of history than the administration he was independent of.
But the distrust of collective bodies is, I think, a manifestation of the inner-acknowledgement that far from creating ourselves in our own image, we weakly accept that we exist only as far as the minds of others perceive us.
Scientology is proof of how far humans can be blinded by the need to belong.