What with Tom Cruise's rather erratic behavior lately, I thought this a great opportunity to highlight this 1991 Time cover article about the cult of Scientology. (Via Kevin Drum.)
I think it is important to be respectful and polite about others' religions, but I also think it's important to call a spade a spade from time to time and to dispel superstition and myth whenever possible, and especially whenever harmful. Some belief systems have acquired the aura of respectability simply becasue they have existed for 1000, 2000 years, but that doesn't make them any more factual or truthful. However, as this article reminds us, not only is Scientology a spring chicken as far as religions go, it's also a ruthless and almost maniacally greedy and controlling cult.
I had my own run-in with Scientologists as a teenager in my hometown of Perth, Australia, when a Scientologist approached me and my friend and began harassing us, trying to convince us to come into his church (or "center," or whatever term they use) and take some personality tests. They can be quite evangelical. Even your average manic street preacher isn't trying to drag you into his church on the spot for a battery of tests!
Avoid at all costs. And I agree with Kevin, it wouldn't hurt for the media to do a better job of challenging people like Cruise, as their beliefs won't hold up under scrutiny. It can be done politely, but insistently and I firmly believe it should be the job of the media to shine an honest and evaluative light on some of these indefensible and manipulative systems.
Update: Saheli directs us to this speech by the Time reporter, Richard Behar, responsible for the article. He explain how Scientologists wouldn't speak to him while he prepared the article, but began a campaign of harrassment after him when he published it. As he says, "How can reporters NOT cover it?"
Also, in the comments over at Political Animal, Praedor Atrebates details his own horrific run in with Scientologist thugs.
I don't know if all high-level Scientologist operate in this beastly fashion, but considering Cruise's own aggressive, combative behavior, maybe it's characteristic of their training.