There's no particular reason for the world to worry about a smallish cult that believes invisible 75 million-year-old thetans are floating around our skulls. The search for the meaning of life in the vastness of the universe preoccupies most people at some time or another, though they usually find their way into houses of worship, therapeutic counseling or the local liquor store.
When instead they come calling on the National Security Adviser, it may be time for a reality check. Some of the weirdest conversations of the day concern Sandy Berger's meeting with John Travolta, along with Tom Cruise the chief ornaments of the Scientology movement. Scientology's founder, L. Ron Hubbard, professed to believe the evil galactic overlord Xenu shipped frozen thetans to Teegeack, better known as planet Earth, dropping them down volcanoes and pulverizing them with hydrogen bombs and setting their souls adrift. By now it seems you can't understand the universe without plumbing thetan influence in the White House, the halls of Congress, and the murky heart of the IRS.
Mr Travolta brought the cult to our attention again thanks to an article in George magazine describing how the actor and the President of the United States enjoyed an apparently mutually beneficial meeting last spring at a volunteerism conference in Philadelphia. The actor was there to deliver a speech about Scientology's "educational" materials. What concerned the President, Mr. Travolta suggests, was the big screen filling up with Jack Stanton, the Clintonesque President in "Primary Colors" --- the movie Mr. Travolta was just then making, having eaten himself into a properly presidential profile. It's probably unlikely that a film directed by Mike Nichols would ever treat Stanton / Clinton as anything but a charming rogue and shrewd manipulator. But the prospect of a wide screen valentine became ever more probable as Mr. Clinton took the moment to feel Mr. Travolta's pain. And told him he would try to make it go away.
Who is hurting Mr. Travolta? The German government, that's who. Like the U.S. prior to a 1993 tax settlement mysteriously upgrading the cult to the status of a tax-exempt "religion," Germany considers Scientology a business run by extremists and has put the church under surveillance. Assisted by frightened escapees, the Germans make the case that Scientology exploits the weaknesses of its members for profit that at the very least should be taxed. This creates the worst kind of pain for Scientology, which reaps millions from "auditing," cleaning a "preclear" of repressed memories. With millions of years of memories, getting cleared and achieving ever higher levels of purity can be a lengthy and costly experience. It also yields intensely private information that is carefully stored in files.
For some, the process has also been dangerous. Earlier this month, German police searched five Munich locations of the sect after the suspicious death of a cult member. In Clearwater, Florida, a young woman mysteriously died after being held at a Scientology hotel. Maybe Mr. Clinton could send down Janet Reno for an investigative weekend in her old neighborhood.
But back to Mr. Berger, who found Presidential whim expanding his duties to include stilling an actor's pain. Asked by "Meet the Press" about his briefing of Mr. Travolta last September, the National Security Adviser looked like he might eat his tie as he downplayed the meeting as a normal response to reports of "religious persecution" by the German government. His real goal, he said, was to get an autograph for one of his kids; we note he didn't ask for "educational" materials.
Mr. Berger is not the only official caught up in Scientology's web. Senator Alfonse D'Amato, about whom no movie we know of is being made, has scolded Germany at a hearing organized by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. And by the time the House finally defeated a resolution criticizing Germany late last year, a flabbergasted Madeleine Albright had already endured several ludicrous discussions with Germany's equally flabbergasted foreign mimister, Klaus Kinkel. A federal immigration judge added to the surreal merriment by granting asylum in November to a preposterous German woman who feared returning home because she is a Scientologist.
But if that is all weird, it is nothing compared with the mysteries surrounding the decision of the IRS to suddenly grant Scientology a tax-exempt status after years of litigation. Our Elizabeth MacDonald reported that in the secret settlement the IRS dropped its position that "auditing" fees were not deductible, a position that had been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. In return it got $12.5 million and a promise that the cult would drop its numerous lawsuits against the IRS and its agents. The IRS says it is investigating the leak.
Meanwhile, Scientology is litigating with everyone else in sight; why not, after having intimidated the biggest gun on the block? The IRS has lately announced its desire to turn itself into a friendly agency. How about an auditing session? Leading off with this question: Is there anyone at the IRS who seriously thinks that the unbelievable sums of money Scientology spends on lawsuits meets the agency's requirement that a charity spend its funds only on charitable purposes?