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Richard Ingrams' Week [opinion column]

The Independent, 19 May 2007

[This is the third item in the column. The other items have not been included here.]

I was sent a free DVD earlier this week with the compliments of an organisation called Freedom TV of which I had not previously heard. Only the address (St Hill Road, East Grinstead, West Sussex) at the foot of the accompanying letter contained a clue - East Grinstead being well known as hosting the imposing headquarters of the "Church" of Scientology, above.

Cults like scientology have long been in the habit of changing their name from time to time in the hope of attracting the gullible. But Freedom TV is particularly rich coming from an organisation that has been accused over the years of enslaving its converts and separating them from their families with disastrous results.

Referring to the "Church" of Scientology I put the word church in inverted commas because this is another slightly more serious misuse of language with intent to mislead the public.

Whatever it is, scientology is very definitely not a church. It has no God, no churches, no priests or bishops, no form of worship, no prayers. Yet by the simple dodge of calling it a church, the founder of scientology the notorious conman, L Ron Hubbard, and his successors have managed to persuade a great many important people, including the American government, that it is a bona fide religion deserving the status of a charity. (Hubbard even incorporated a cross in the logo of the "church" hoping, presumably, to give the impression that there was some kind of link with Christianity which there is not and never has been.)

The Freedom DVD I should say was an attack on Monday's Panorama programme on which reporter John Sweeney blew his top when continually provoked by some especially obnoxious American scientologist. Sweeney's rage was perfectly understandable and it was just a pity that with its new dumbed-down 30-minute formula, Panorama was unable to deal with this story at greater length.

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