By Damian Thompson - We can take it for granted that Tom Cruise – whose divorce proceedings are already such a catastrophe for Scientology – will never talk in public about Xenu. The existence of this intergalactic emperor, who flourished c 75,000,000 BC, was top secret until the Church’s enemies took to the internet. Advice to journalists: if you ask Cruise about Xenu, the doors of Hollywood (where the Church wields immense influence) will slam in your face.
On the other hand, it’s safe to ask any Scientologist about Kolob. This is the star, or possibly planet, that is closest to the throne of God. Astronomers haven’t found it – yet – but it served as the inspiration for the planet Kobol in Battlestar Galactica.
Why is it safe to ask Cruise about Kolob? Because it’s Mormon, not Scientologist: it appears in The Book of Abraham, “translated” from Egyptian papyri by Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism. I use inverted commas because Smith couldn’t read Egyptian. The papyri were funerary texts.
The person you mustn’t ask about Kolob is Mitt Romney. The teaching isn’t a secret, but Latter-day Saints aren’t keen to discuss it. These days they stress their similarity with Christianity, and there’s no Kolob in the Gospels.
Admittedly, from a secular point of view, eating bread in the belief that it’s the body of a carpenter-turned-preacher who rose from the dead is as bizarre as hooking yourself up to an E-meter, like Scientologists, or baptising the dead, like Mormons. Yet there are striking similarities between the sects founded by Joseph Smith and L Ron Hubbard. These brilliant mavericks used popular culture to produce cosmologies that they marketed aggressively, though reserving some esoteric details for senior initiates.
Smith invented a journey by ancient Hebrews to America – a typical fantasy of the time – and dabbled in the occult. Hubbard mined the seam of mid-20th-century American science fiction, and also devised a brain-cleansing technique called Dianetics that was supposed to produce perfect recall. It failed hilariously.
Critics accused Smith and Hubbard of telling porkies. The former’s interpretation of the Egyptian papyri, which he encountered in a travelling mummy exhibition, is plain embarrassing. As for Hubbard, his war service was a work of the imagination to rival the science fiction he wrote before he discovered religion and its tax-exempt status. Both organisations are extremely interested in money, and very good at acquiring it.
The two prophets were heartily interested in the opposite sex: Smith acquired some 33 wives, while Hubbard encouraged teenage girl “officers” to wear hot pants.
Also, both religions went down the paramilitary route. We’ve read this week about the “Sea Org” that Katie Holmes allegedly feared her little daughter would be forced to join (a claim denied by the Church). But that’s nothing compared with the Mormon militia which fought in the Mexican-American war. Later, Mormon “avenging angels” were implicated in blood-curdling murders after they moved to Utah.
The Latter-day Saints cleaned up their act. But they were the Scientologists of their day – and they’re still evasive enough for the public to make the subliminal connection.
That’s why Mitt Romney, who dresses like a Mormon but flashes a Scientologist’s smile, must be worried by the Cruise-Holmes divorce. This year of all years, he doesn’t want the word “cult” splashed all over the front pages.
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