The Message Or The Messenger?
Last week, I covered the Carnaval Baranquilla Colombia.
Aside from the colourful costumes and legions of dancers, I couldn’t help but notice a little booklet that kept appearing. The book was called El Camino de la Felicidad (The Way To Happiness).
I couldn’t read the book itself (since it was in Spanish) but something about it seemed…odd. It definitely had the air of a religious text, that much was clear. But even more bizarre was when I realized the books were being handed out to the crowd by the soldiers.
Why would the theoretically neutral army agree to hand out religious texts at the Carnaval?
I asked a Spanish speaking friend to call one of the soldiers aside and ask why he was handing them out. He said they were told to. My friend asked if he knew what the book was about. He shook his head, though said “Something about how to live better?”
A large truck drove by, loaded to the brim with boxes upon boxes of this handbook. Children clutched the book in their fingers as their moms flipped through the pages of their own copy.
A group of performers walked up to the barricade near me and offered me the book. I held up the copy I was already studying – they nodded and continued on.
I had to get to the bottom of this mystery. I searched the book for any more clues as to the origin.
Finally, on the copyright page, one name struck me: L. Ron Hubbard Publications.
I couldn’t believe it. It was Scientology. Somehow, they’d managed to convince the Colombian army to hand out their “non-religious” booklets as if it were an official document, sanctioned by the state.
On the last page, a website was listed: The Way To Happiness.
Visiting the page for the first time now at home, I’m confronted with an extremely slick presentation of short video PSA’s illustrating the key concepts of this new “moral code.”
Here’s the dilemma.
The PSA’s are very good. The messages contained therein, as far as I can tell, are timely and important.
I have nothing personally against Scientology. I even took their guided tour while in LA last year. But the method of distribution for these booklets, under the facade of being “non-religious”, feels shady.
Then again, like anyone outside the Scientology, I’ve been jaded by Tom Cruise’s antics and Hubbard’s rumoured quote “The way to make a million dollars is to start a religion.”
So what’s more important: the message or the messenger?