The Church of Scientology is taking a bit of a beating at the moment, what with claims of child forced labor, perverting the course of justice and false imprisonment. Several organizations, including Village Voice and the hacker group Anonymous are running campaigns against them, and it is perhaps not surprising that some members are looking for an alternative religion.
A church in Los Angeles has now put itself forward as a contender for this role. It is the Church of Screeniology, based on the teachings of actor and director L. Ron Howard.
As it is founded in ideals associated with US cinema and television, it is not surprising that it appeals to many high-profile Scientologists. Although the Church of Screeniology is what they themselves term 'a private society as opposed to a secret one', it is still notoriously difficult to find a senior member who is willing to speak with the press. However, their Chairman of Religiousness, Reverend Richard Cunningham, agreed to an interview.
Reverend Cunningham began by giving an overview of the church's views. He explained that believers in Screeniology had realized that life didn't have to be difficult and oppressive, and that we are in fact all capable of achieving a state of nirvana through the medium of movies and TV. He said the concept was explained fully in his book "The Way to Happy Days".
"Most people go through their life in a state of what can only be described as arrested development. What they should be doing is aspiring to a beautiful mind."
Reverend Cunningham went on to say that life was all about choices. "L Ron Howard says you have to know when to loan your '58 Chevy Impala to Toad, but when to refuse to pass on messages to gunslingers for John Wayne. If we make the right choices we can live in a safe and happy world like on the Andy Griffith Show or in a 1970's version of a 1950's diner. When faced with a dilemma I usually ask myself what would Arthur Fonzarelli do."
The Reverend explained that he had founded the church in early 2012, when he baptized himself and took the Cunningham name. "You have to listen to your inner voices, whether you are struggling to get back to earth in a damaged Apollo spacecraft, or you're a British comedy actor hoping to interview an impeached US president. Those voices tell you what to do."
He now has several thousand members, or Opies as they are known, and more Scientologists are defecting to his church every day. "Now that Scientology has jumped the shark, rich, open-minded Americans are looking for something new to cling to spiritually. Screeniologyism offers a lifeline founded in good solid Hollywood values, but avoids the tricky issues of ET-related life-forces and child labor camps. We believe that celebrities and other upwardly-mobile Americans need a true religion, a religion which offers exclusivity but without public alienation.
Reverend Cunningham concluded his interview by saying: "Above all we believe in freedom of expression. If a man should question his religion, he should not be imprisoned, tortured or sued by the organizers of that religion. L Ron Howard tells us he should, instead, be given the opportunity to travel the globe with a beautiful companion, unraveling a series of complex historical clues whilst pursued by a psychotic albino monk."
An attempt by us to contact Ron Howard elicited an e-mail from his staff stating "We are aware of Mr Cunningham, as he calls himself, and his organization, but cannot comment due to impending legal action."