Scientology: A Religion, but a Threat to Mental Health?

by: Peter Jukes

Wed Jan 23, 2013 at 11:26:02 AM EST

Hope the Moose don't mind if I share the English language version of an article for the Polish weekly magazine Krytyka Polityczyna about Scientology. The story of my father is the subject of my next book for Unbound, which should go live in the next two weeks. This is a more impersonal take the religious claims of Scientology which will also form the basis for a talk I have to give in May. Comments therefore very much welcome, both for that and the forthcoming book

Crossposted at Daily Kos

Though it claims to be one of the world's fasting growing religions, and now holds over $1 billion in liquid assets, last year wasn't great for the Church of Scientology.  The news that its most famous public adherent and advocate, Tom Cruise, was divorcing fellow actor Katie Holmes brought with it a rash of renewed criticisms of the futuristic religion, including a tweet from the media mogul Rupert Murdoch that it was "creepy - maybe evil'.  This year started out even worse with the publication of a major expose into the practices of the religion. Lawrence Wright, who won the Pulitzer prize in 2007 for his analysis of Al Qaeda, The Looming Towers, has just released his next big opus: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. The book isn't available in the UK thanks to our draconian libel laws, but Wright's damaging allegations about bullying, mismanagement and intimidation have been widely reviewed and publicised. Rarely, in its 60 year history, has Scientology's reputation in its American heartland and homeland been at such a low.

Nonetheless, a greater threat to the new age church may not lie in US free speech but in European legislation. A month ago, after five years of investigation, Belgian prosecutors announced they were charging the church as a 'criminal organisation' on the basis it practiced extortion, "pseudo-medicine" and the keeping of records that contravene privacy laws. Though there are only a five hundred Scientologist s in Belgium, Brussels houses the church's European HQ, and the legal case could be crippling to the group in Europe.

Peter Jukes :: Scientology: A Religion, but a Threat to Mental Health?

Scientology has been controversial ever since it was founded in the early fifties when science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard wrote Dianetics - a mixture of self-help, technobabble and psychotherapy. For decades the main complaint about the faith and its organisation was that it was a 'cult' rather than a religion. Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Mexico, Russia, the United Kingdom have all refused to recognise Scientology as a religious movement and accord it charitable status.  But from 1983, when the Australian senate ruled that 'charlatanism' wasn't enough to deny it religious exemptions, to  1993, when U.S tax authorities recognized it as an "organization operated exclusively for religious and charitable purposes" Scientology has gone from strength to strength  -  accorded full religious protection in the US, New Zealand, Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Italy.

Germany has been a key battleground. In 1997 an interior ministry investigation labelled the organisation 'totalitarian' with "objectives that are fundamentally and permanently directed at abolishing the free democratic basic order." But the federal inquiry backfired.  Many Germans found the government intervention in the matter of personal faith troubling.  An open letter to Chancellor Helmut Kohl  in 1996, signed by luminaries such as Oliver Stone, Gore Vidal, Dustin  Hoffman and Mario Puzo, made the parallels with previous "religious discrimination" explicit.

"In the 1930s, it was the Jews", said the letter. "Today it is the Scientologists."

This 'persecution defence" has been a very effective  strategy for the wannabe church ever since. When, in 2007, the British TV reporter John Sweeney tried to make an investigation of Scientology for the BBC's flagship current affairs programme, Panorama, the church's main spokesman Tommy Davis (son of the Hollywood actress Ann Archer) consistently called Sweeney a 'bigot'.  Davis deployed this 'Wickerman ' strategy ( straw man argument combined with incendiary claims of martyrdom) so brilliantly that the reporter completely lost it, and exploded on camera. Sweeney has just published an account of the trolling and harassment that led up to his outburst in The Church of Fear: Inside the Weird World of Scientology but it was still a PR disaster.

So questioning the religious status of Scientology over the decades has not only failed - it's backfired, A cursory comparison of the movement with other accepted and protection religions quickly explains why.  In essence, there is no theological or philosophical criticism of Scientology which couldn't be levelled at most forms of religious faith.

First, the bizarre backstory and cosmology; Scientology claims to free the human spirit through a process of 'auditing' until you receive L Ron Hubbard's ultimate mind-bending insight into the human condition at 'Operating Thetan Level Three'. All our troubles are due to an 'incident' 75 million years ago when an intergalactic tyrant called Xenu  punished the free-spirited Thetans by transporting them to Earth, sealing them in volcanoes, and then blowing them up with hydrogen bombs.

There's really nothing in this science fiction epic which could not be found in Babylonian myth, the Vedas, or the punishments of Prometheus or Lucifer. Add to that a spattering of Eastern mysticism - Hindu reincarnation and Buddhist detachment - and you have a perfect synthetic 20th Century religion. There's no God, only self-improvement.  The apocalypse isn't some moral revelation but a physical cosmic battle. Paradise Lost, remade as a Hollywood B movie. Bizarre it may be: original it is not.

The second charge levelled at the Church of Scientology - that it's secretive and arcane - is hardly exceptional either. Sweeney uses this line of attack when he declares that "Xenu is a logic bomb inside the Church of Scientology's claim to be treated just like any other religion..." Sweeney writes that "A 'religion' that hides its core belief from the world is not a religion because a true religion must be open about itself to all." But where is the evidence that 'true religion' has to be open about itself?

For centuries the Bible was only comprehensible to scholars who read Latin, and the Qu'ran to those who understood classical Arabic. Despite the populistic claims of Mohammed towards his Ummah, or Jesus of Nazareth to his congregation, secret sects and Sufi-style mystical insights abound in Abrahamic religions.  Indeed, one of the key characteristics of most religious practices from the 'mysteries' of Osiris to Free Masonry has been exclusive access to the inner holy of holies and decoding of scripture. Indeed, one could define most organised religion by its hieratic secret practice:  you can't blame scientology for copying that trick.

The last major charge against Scientology as a cult rather than a religion it financial imperatives
and this has a painful personal resonance for me because my father was a Scientologist from the late fifties to mid-seventies  by which time he'd suffered a second bankruptcy, leaving his family homeless The church charges for its auditing sessions - up to 100,000 Euros to  become an Operating Thetan Level Three- and the pressure on recruits to get discounts on the cost of the services by recruiting new members of the church has often been described as form of spiritual 'pyramid selling.'

However, even this fails to distinguish Hubbard's movement from mainstream religion. As anyone who have has the collection box or plate jingled at them in a recent church wedding or funeral will know, pecuniary motives go hand in hand with the most sacred occasions. 'Tithes' and other forms of parishioner income tax have built most the places of worship in the world The parallel 'materialist' idea, that members of a religious group get financial or career benefits through a 'network effect', is surely one the attractions of faith groups. The trust within them explains the historic global networks in high value goods created by Hasidic Jews, Zoroastrians, Armenian Christians or Confucian Chinese. If this works with diamonds, gold  and silk, why should we resent Hollywood actors bringing some religious trust to their high stakes but lucrative industry?

It's obvious therefore that the 'cult not a religion' attack was flawed from the outset, partly because our definitions of religion are so broad, opaque and opportunistic.  It gives the smart lawyers an easy target to knock down. As Lawrence Wright told The Chicago Tribune: "  hey can bring in a Franciscan monk who lacerates himself on Fridays in imitation of the suffering of Jesus on the cross and who has no belongings at all. Well, that's a religious manifestation, and it's very difficult to be against such a thing in this country." `

Secularism means freedom OF religion, as well as freedom from religion and this spirit of tolerance is cleverly exploited in the Helmut Kohl letter.  To criticise Scientology is, in a sense, to criticise all religious faith and - no matter how delusional we may consider them -  no society can patrol private beliefs without resorting to a form of absolutism or - as Queen Elizabeth 1st put it during her attempt to reconcile Protestantism and Catholicism in 16th Century England - making 'windows into men's souls'.

That's what is so effective about the Belgian prosecutors new move. They have bypassed the tired arguments about whether Scientology is a cult or religion, which bogged own Time Warner for nearly 10 years in costly litigation with church, and closed down the Cult Awareness Network. Instead of the private beliefs they have targeted Scientology's public affairs - especially when it comes to the privacy of its members and claims for medical cures.

The church will have a hard time defending itself against this. Often central to the Scientology's message is the claim it can improve health and defeat disease. In 2009 Scientology was convicted of fraud in France for "[pressuring] members into paying large sums for questionable remedies": that conviction was upheld in a French appeals court in February last year. One the church's most hailed charitable public activities is anti-drugs programme called Narconon, which has dozens of facilities in several countries. However, there's no scientific evidence to suggest the "Hubbard Sauna Detox" can really counter hard drug dependency, and there have been several investigations into unexplained deaths at the flagship Narconon Arowhead rehab centre in Oklahoma.

Drug addiction is only the tip of the iceberg : Scientology 's medical claims include a  much wider desire to replace the current mental health establishment.  Various biographies describe L. Ron Hubbard as having disturbed episodes, and in a post mortem in 1986 his body was found to contain a high dosage of a prescription anti-anxiety drug hydroxyzine hydrochloride. Yet Hubbard reserved his greatest contempt for psychiatrists. Indeed, the exhibition that made John Sweeney fly off in uncontrollable rage in 2007, is a Scientology exhibit called 'The Industry of Death' which argues that modern psychiatry is a Nazi pseudoscience, and responsible for the ultimate horrors of the holocaust. Interviewed by Ted Koppel on ABC 20 years ago, Hubbard's successor as leader, David Miscavige, explained the church's battle with the shrinks in even more cosmic terms: "There are a group of people on this planet who find us to be a threat to their existence, and they will do everything in their power to stop us. And that is the mental health field. I didn't pick a war with them."  The casualties of this imaginary war include my father who, having been discharged as a manic depressive from his high flying army career, never once sought proper psychiatric help but instead sought solace in Scientology's pseudo-science and mumbo jumbo.

Religions reserve their strongest invective for their greatest competitors, and Scientology's antipathy to psychiatry and psychotherapy suggests a huge hidden dependence. The core practice of the church is the 'auditing session' -  a quasi-therapeutic interview where the subject is wired up to a primitive skin conductivity  detector (the 'e meter') and asked probing  questions by an auditor about his or her sex life, traumas, anxieties, nightmares.  Signs of stress, measured by fluctuations in skin conductivity, are noted as 'floating needles' and pursued vigorously during sessions. This is effectively psychoanalysis with a lie detector. But the 'tech' doesn't end there.

These auditing sessions have traditionally been recorded, and in the latest auditing suites such as the Scientology global HQ in Clearwater, Florida, the interrogations are filmed using hidden cameras, amounting to a form of psychic surveillance.

Other confessional environments, such as the therapist's  couch or the priests confessional box, have long  established rules of confidentiality and legal privilege.  The growing literature on Scientology records dozens of occasions when the secrecy of auditing sessions have been breached, and the personal revelations there used to manipulate or blackmail. Vanity Fair allege that the secrets of the scientology confessional were broken in the case of Nazanin Boniadi, and Iranian-British actress who was groomed to be a bride of Tom Cruise before Katy Holmes.  But though a scientologist, Nazanin was going out with another scientologist. "According to a knowledgeable source"  Vanity Fair reported "she was shown confidential auditing files of her boyfriend to expedite a breakup". Lawrence Wright claims the current leader of Scientology, David Miscavige, threatened to expose the sexuality of their former poster boy, John Travolta: "He's a faggot - we're going to out him."

I still shudder to think how my mentally unbalanced father would have responded to these apparent manipulative abuses of psychiatry, but he disappeared in 1996, and we discovered only recently he was buried in 2008 near the British scientology HQ in East Grinstead. However, evidence of allegations of privacy breach, extortion and potential blackmail will be tested in the Belgian courts, rather than unprovable claims about past lives, and Scientology will finally have to publicly account for its behaviour.

Peter Jukes is a journalist, author and screenwriter. His book on the hacking scandal Fall of the House of Murdoch was published last year. His next book Son of Scientology: Dad, L Ron and Me will be published later this year. He lives in London

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We'd never had the chance to fully discuss the issue (2.00 / 31)
of cults, unfortunately. But I would like to draw attention, strong attention, to something I have not seen widely disseminated on the Left blogosphere despite the fact that the Left has been used as a vector to disperse these Scientology-views: there are a number of fairly common and fairly benign medications which have been increasingly legislated in the U.S. and U.K.

This has specifically been due to the efforts of Scientologists. They have introduced anti-Psychiatry driven legislation through a number of front groups, including the CCHR. The CCHR is a worldwide organization with incredibly strong Scientology interests. It is biased toward anti-Science, and it is only one of many groups like it. These groups help pass legislation, help "re-educate" doctors with Scientology-slanted medical information, help "inform" the public about these ideas through Left-wing news blogs and sites where those who are concerned with "natural health" often then accidentally join into some ideological grouping with the Scientologists' extremist views on pseudo-psychiatry.

I am concerned by this. Gravely.

We are being legislated by a cult, worldwide, regarding the matter of mental health, and issues of stigma, access, treatment, social views, and even what some medications can -- and cannot -- do; I have recently heard medical doctors parrot Scientology talking-points to me. Twice now. In a matter of months. One gave me a manual of information and studied which I took home, researched in depth, and found originated with a fairly witless Progressive-Leftist sort of CCHR/Scientology "vector" in the UK.

What's happening is terrifying, IMHO.

I ought to add that the information was buried (2.00 / 22)
and if I didn't do an extremely thorough trace-back on it, I wouldn't have understood it. There is no available, pre-existent research on this yet that I've seen. Thus my consternation.

[ Parent ]
This sounds serious and given my dad's tragic experience.... (2.00 / 24)
...could pose a grave danger for others. You've decided me. I wasn't going to post this on another blog, but what you're telling me is incredibly important. I've now read abotu Szazc and the effective holocaust denialism of the CCHR. I will cross post, despite the inevitable flames and nastiness this will attract.  

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
I think it does present a grave danger (2.00 / 21)
to some people.

I will try to write something coherent with specifics at some point. I'm sensitive to talk about it because it's so personal. But yes, Szasz is a BFD, and so is Breggin, but also, the way Scientologists have glommed onto the Natural Health Movement is truly scary AND also, the CCHR connections with pushing for drug legislation also may have seen some successes in the U.S.

My goal is to finish my current research and give this ample development. I have a very strong line that I can follow which is potentially harmful to the mental health of many. That line first started in the UK and was imported to the US. I'm still working on the geneology of it. It reminds me a little of the Family or something.

[ Parent ]
I think it does present a grave danger (2.00 / 11)
to some people.

I will try to write something coherent with specifics at some point. I'm sensitive to talk about it because it's so personal. But yes, Szasz is a BFD, and so is Breggin, but also, the way Scientologists have glommed onto the Natural Health Movement is truly scary AND also, the CCHR connections with pushing for drug legislation also may have seen some successes in the U.S.

My goal is to finish my current research and give this ample development. I have a very strong line that I can follow which is potentially harmful to the mental health of many. That line first started in the UK and was imported to the US. I'm still working on the geneology of it. It reminds me a little of the Family or something.

[ Parent ]
I rec'd your diary on the GOS too (2.00 / 19)
and added a link to that conversation we'd had some time ago where some of this was put a bit more coherently, with links and such -- because now I am off to work.

For those on the GOS still, kindly give Peter's VERY IMPORTANT diary some love.

This is a ticking time bomb, all of it.

[ Parent ]
They are a world-wide front group (2.00 / 10)
for Scientologists who have a legislative agenda which has been successful at creating mental health reform. How frightening is that?

I'm on my lunch break and can't fully get in-depth here, but suffice it to say that they had ties to the GWB administration as well as to various other world politicians.

They've run an amazing campaign, quietly, to create material about "mental health care" for doctors, for public policy, for politiicans, and even for legislation (you can see some of this in that link, but others require looking to endorsements of various laws and also boards of directors of groups lobbying for mental health reforms, often working right with politicians -- worldwide, but particularly in the U.K. and U.S.). And the CCHR have done this with the full backing of the Church of Scientology, who believe that the human mind can "will" its way out of all mental illness -- that mental illness is just something to get over without medication.

They are no different than climate change deniers legislating carbon emissions and creating educational material and public policy discussions on the environment in this regard.

I view CCHR and Scientology as synonymous.

Oh, and they don't just do this from the Right Wing. They also do this through the Left Wing. I believe this is part of why they do conceal the source of their efforts so deeply.  

[ Parent ]
Scientology is scary. The Discovery ID channel had a one hour (2.00 / 22)
program last week about a woman who spent 24 years in its thrall.  What she went through was horrifying.  She and her husband were both sent to (I forget what it was called) what was essentially a re-education facility.  In this case it was a walled off portion of the parking garage in their office building.  They were not allowed to eat, only leftover scraps from the plates of others.  She was 7 months pregnant, compelled to live in darkness and exhaust fumes and forbidden to use the buildings restrooms.  She had to seek out restroom facilities in businesses outside the Center's building.  No explanation ever given for her treatment and as awful as it was, it took her many more years (and a psychotic breakdown) for her to finally break away.

"I base most of my fashion sense on whether or not it itches"  -- Gilda Radner

Whoa! I hope you post this every where. Be careful too. (2.00 / 18)
I knew Scientology was kooky, didn't know it was this heinous.

"Pin your money to your girdle and don't talk to strangers."  My Grandmom's advice when I went away to school.  I don't wear a girdle and have never met a stranger.  Sorry Grandmom!

Scientology has always fascinated me...for the wrong reasons (2.00 / 18)
I am sorry that it has hurt your life and it is nice to see the  Belgians going the Al Capone route and get him by way of one of the tangential routes.

Thanks for the write up, I look forward to your book and I pan on getting Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief soon.

I have an operational definition of cults. X is a cult if (2.00 / 15)
there are people who say of themselves, "I'm a recovering X-ist" By that definition Scientology is a cult. Scary stuff.

Excellent definition of a cult. (2.00 / 11)
If you can't just stop going to church or drop out, there is a real problem - a cult. This also smacks of the Moonies.

[ Parent ]
I know several people who call themselves Recovering Catholics n/t (2.00 / 9)

"Most people worry about their own bellies and other people's souls when we all ought to worry about our own souls and others' bellies" Israel Salanter

[ Parent ]
my standard explanation for not being a catholic anymore (2.00 / 6)
is that i gave it up for lent one year and that felt so good i decided to make it a permanent decision.  never looked back, don't consider myself as a "recovering" catholic.  i just jumped off of catholic and on to atheist with both feet and have never regretted it. :-)

Does the morgue wagon come with the job?

[ Parent ]
the scary thing (2.00 / 14)
i read your whole diary and thought "that's just like the lds church" and "this is just like the lds church".

the problem is not whether the lds church is a cult or not.  the problem is that millions of people give weekly charitable offerings, and this money is funneled into a business empire, including media.  the problem is that polygamy and child abuse is lightly tolerated.  and the problem is that people get bossed around and assigned to stuff they might never choose for themselves.  and if you don't toe the line, you are ostracized.  oh and the political influence disproportionate to the population.  

the preceding is problems i have with leadership of the LDS church, and not any indvidual members like my neighbors.  

I'm still not clear why Scientology is a religion. "Charitable," (2.00 / 15)
maybe (though people pay a bundle for its services), and so (marginally) a non-profit. But religious? There's no claims about god, about transcendence - it's a techno-psychology with a weird back story. Many Buddhists would also say that Buddhism is not a religion but a practice and a philosophy.

Unless I'm mistaken, it was started as a bet (2.00 / 13)
I forget with who, but supposedly L Ron Hubbard bet someone that he could start a religion and have it catch on, and it took off more than he expected. I never really paid attention to scientology, but my husband mentioned that to me once, and he's more involved in the sci-fi scene than I am, so didn't doubt or question it.  But I never hear that mentioned, and wouldn't know where to go to verify the veracity of it.

[ Parent ]
it started as a bet yes (2.00 / 10)
Hubbard regarded it an exercise on pointing up the ease of duping most humans.  it turned out to be much more than that once his son got hold of it.

Does the morgue wagon come with the job?

[ Parent ]
thanks for confirming (2.00 / 8)
And as far as I'm concerned, that alone should be reason enough to exclude it from any "religious" exemptions.

[ Parent ]
I read that the other party was Robert Heinlein whose Stranger in a Strange (2.00 / 8)
Land was his attempt a creating a church.

Only in the darkness can you see the stars - Martin Luther King, Jr

[ Parent ]
May you never thirst.... (0.00 / 0)
I think I would definitely prefer the Church of All Worlds to Scientology, although Heinlein was misogynistic at times.

[ Parent ]
Buddhism, though, is generally regarded as a religion (2.00 / 7)
as is Taoism, which also doesn't mention God.

I am less certain of the role of God in Confucianism and Shinto, but I don't think there is much.

"Most people worry about their own bellies and other people's souls when we all ought to worry about our own souls and others' bellies" Israel Salanter

[ Parent ]
That varies. I have certainly known Buddhists who do (2.00 / 8)
not consider it a religion. From the outside it can look like a religion because rituals and chanting are part of our religious practice, but a major part of Buddhist thought is that most concepts of "God" are misleading, at best and outright destructive at their worst.

[ Parent ]
It depends on how you define "religion" of course (2.00 / 9)
and that is notoriously difficult.  

"Most people worry about their own bellies and other people's souls when we all ought to worry about our own souls and others' bellies" Israel Salanter

[ Parent ]
i've always considered buddhism (2.00 / 7)
as a philosophy rather than a religion, but, i have no problem with it being according tax free "church" status.  its tenets are extremely decent judging by what christianity hawks around the planet.

Does the morgue wagon come with the job?

[ Parent ]
Buddhism is many things (2.00 / 8)
While I am a theist, I am also a practicing Buddhist, and I would still categorize my own practice less worship, than a philosophy in that practice. The exercises, the meditation, the practice is a way of honing one's mind and body to better understand the Universe, and our place within it.

That being said, Scientology was started as a bet. Hokum and snake oil is a better description of this immense sham, which allows a fair number of folks to profit from the gullibility of folks looking to better themselves. There are Buddhists who do very much the same; yes, Nichiren, I AM looking at you.

Does this invalidate the Eightfold Path?

The comparisons to the LDS are valid ones. The LDS has adherents who are hard working, decent folks. I am sure that there are indeed Scientologists who are decent folks, but in the end, you have to look at the leadership and organization, and deal not with the religious aspects of the teachings, but the behavior of those who are cashing the checks, and exactly what they are endorsing and doing. Actions speak, and in the case of the Nichiren, the LDS, and the leadership of Scientology, Westboro Baptists, and even the Catholic Bishopry, and judge the men and women involved, and look hard at where the money goes, and what the money accomplishes.

That some folks have found solace and comfort in the teachings of Scientology doesn't clear what men and women have done in those teachings name, any more than the destructive practices and deeds done in the name of the Nichiren, or within Mormon churches, or even within the Catholic Church. By cloaking their snake oil and hokum under the blanket of religion, Scientology has found an excellent dodge to tax free cash. In the same way that my ex-wife's uncle has transformed his "small church" into a lucrative tax dodge that allows him a million dollar home, new cars every other year, a designer wardrobe, and vacations. He "owns" very little, yet the church owns his home, his car, his very clothes, and he just administrates the funds, and his flock, they allow it, because he makes them feel good, and they give because they think it's their duty. Oddly enough, yes, he IS in California.

It is a hard thing to look to define such organizations for what they are. When you look at the teachings of the LDS, the very foundational story of Smith and the revelations of Moroni--which the hard nosed can certainly find interest not just in the very name of the angel incorporating Moron into the text right there in plain sight--and the incomprehensible language of the angel needing translation in the dark, it is easy to see, from the outside, the con that is being perpetrated. It is harder to convince those who were raised within, or have found solace in the teachings, that they have been duped, and for a decent chunk of change. The art of the con, is not just in extracting the cash, but getting the victim to do so joyfully, and with great hope of their own reward. In the case of bilking Gran'mas and the unwary into putting cash into scrub fields that will sprout condos, it is relatively easy to expose the fraud, but in the case of the religious dodge, it muddies the waters, deliberately, with the language of faith. Be that with tent revivals, or with Thetan Counts. Folks WANT to be saved, and they WANT a miraculous way to save and be saved. They are looking for solace, and when they find it, it is far harder to illustrate how they are being had.

Which brings us back to the Nichiren, to the LDS, to Scientology, to my former Uncle-in-law's California church that sells dietary supplements to the faithful, to the myriad ways that folks manipulate desire to find a better path, and cloak pure profit motive under the veneer of faith. Because it chances exposing even legitimate churches and faiths, and their own leadership to charges that what they do in the name of their faith, can be seen in that same light. Exposing fraud has to be handled as exposing exactly that: fraud. Explicit and exact. When you mix faith into things, it gets...prickly. Because folks don't want to admit that they've been duped. That they were seekers into that fraud, and were willing and proud in their bilking. When you have agendas attached to maintain appearances, when you demand the faithful endanger themselves, and willingly so, it is even more important.

We can take lessons from just about any book handed us, and apply them. Be it Starship Troopers, be that The Prince of Tides, be that Chicken Soup For the Soul and find solace within. When folks look to monetize that solace, then we have to be careful. That goes for just about anything though. The urge to elevate folks as grand teachers though is there. We are, after all, social apes. We like leaders. We like to have things made simple for us.  What we have to do, is take moments to examine what we are basing our practices on though. Be that in education and Alcott's teachings, or an elevation of the Goddess, or demiurge, or whatever divine that you may or may not believe in. In the end, we have look at what we invest, and what we invest our time and effort into, and the very real consequences of that investiture. Siddhartha understood the potential, and in his own teachings gave stern instructions to not elevate teachers too highly--something that often fell on deaf ears.

I am perplexed at how folks can be duped by obvious charletons, but I can understand it, in terms of the con, because folks have to want to be led. To be illuminated. To be special. There are teachers who help you realize your potential, and then there are those who will see you as a cash depository that hasn't been tapped yet. We need, as a society and a people, to understand the urges, and examine them closely.  And we need to look at what drives folks, beyond just the trappings of faith. "Follow the money" is as good a start as any, in any exercise where cash is given to another, to any organization.  

[ Parent ]
Can't the English just order from Amazon's US site? (2.00 / 5)
Or one of the many other online booksellers? (I Like Powells, myself)

"Most people worry about their own bellies and other people's souls when we all ought to worry about our own souls and others' bellies" Israel Salanter

i order from the UK amazon site all the time (2.00 / 5)
i can't see why it wouldn't work the other direction.  it would be cheaper for the Brits to order from a US site wouldn't it?  i mean not counting postage.  

it's more expensive for me buying from a UK site because pounds are always worth more than dollars.

Does the morgue wagon come with the job?

[ Parent ]
They can when there's no legal restriction (2.00 / 6)
I'm pretty sure the rights issue stops me buying a copy to import to the UK, with a UK credit card

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
i'd be willing to buy the book and send it to you (2.00 / 6)
would that be an option?  or is there a law against sending a legally restricted book to the UK?  i'm not familiar with that.

Does the morgue wagon come with the job?

[ Parent ]
You're very kind (2.00 / 6)
I think someone else on Kos is going to mail me the book, but if that fails, I may well take you up on that offer.  

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
you may call on me anytime for that service. (2.00 / 6)
if you can't get it there i can get it here, i'm happy to oblige.

Does the morgue wagon come with the job?

[ Parent ]
Secrecy in the Abrahamic religions.... (2.00 / 7)
What about Judaism?

As far as I know, the Jews have never prohibited translation of the old testament into the vernacular, and have, indeed, encouraged Jews to learn Hebrew.  

"Most people worry about their own bellies and other people's souls when we all ought to worry about our own souls and others' bellies" Israel Salanter

Ah but the Kabbalah (2.00 / 6)

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
True, the Kabbalah is secret (2.00 / 6)
but it is surely not the core of Judaism (except according to its devotees), nor is that sort of thing unique to the Jews: Isaac Newton was a believer, or look at books like "Bible Code".  

"Most people worry about their own bellies and other people's souls when we all ought to worry about our own souls and others' bellies" Israel Salanter

[ Parent ]
I'd say the hieratic element of religion... (2.00 / 7)
...revolves around exclusive access (i.e. secrecy). But then again, especially with monotheisms, there's an open democratic impulse that seeks universal access.

But it would be hard, either in legal or philosophical grounds, to exclude a set of beliefs from 'religion' merely because they had limited access to the core credo. To a certain extent, the core credo of Scientology ('clearing' the demons of the past) is very public and unsecret.  

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
elements of Kabbalistic study and practice have been circumscribed (2.00 / 2)
as esoteric in some communities.  But its principles have always been intertwined with popular religion.

So yes, many communities have excluded those who aren't male, are under 40, are unmarried, and who have a permanent physical impairment from studying the Zohar.  But its general teachings and ideas have been transmitted through popular media of sermons, liturgical poetry, hymns, and story telling.

The future is unwritten

[ Parent ]
Religious angle (2.00 / 6)
In essence, there is no theological or philosophical criticism of Scientology which couldn't be levelled at most forms of religious faith.

I dispute this assertion and point to the French court case where much of Scientology's "scripture" formed the basis for the legal decision there. In short, the French courts found that in the carrying out of its essential functions, Scientology was, in fact, committing fraud.

Among the many aspects of Scientology "theology" considered by the court is the philisophical statement: "MAKE MONEY. MAKE MORE MONEY. MAKE OTHER PEOPLE PRODUCE SO AS TO MAKE MORE MONEY" (caps in original) which comes from a 1972 Policy Letter. Other material considered was the "Dissemination Manual" which talks about the use of "acceptable truths" (i.e., lying) and the "Hard Sell" pack which details how to use information gleaned from "auditing" to leverage the extraction of cash for more Scientology services. Special mention of the "Hard Sell" package was made in the French judgement when Judge Ch√Ęteau said it was "beyond fanciful" (plus que fantaisiste) that Scientology's defence of that "scripture" was "taking care of people". And then there's the hideously dangerous "Purification Rundown" material . . . and so it goes on; many Scientology "teachings", much judicial scorn.

Yes, there was some success in defending the cult from a "religious persecution" perspective back in the 1990s when people like Tom Cruise were lobbying the US state department and President Clinton, but that mendacious manipulation is now being seen through by authorities. As you mention, Belgium, has charged the cult with fraud and extortion in December last year. Much of the basis for its charges stems from the teachings of L Ron Hubbard, including several tracts of "scripture" which provide explicit instructions on how to use personal information gathered in "auditing" sessions.

Its frustrating that much of this information was already on record with previous Court decisions. In 1984, for example, Justice Latey in the UK said in his judgement (Re B & G (Minors) [1985] FLR 134 and 493:

. . . Contrary to the assurance of confidentiality, all auditing" files are available to Scientology's intelligence and enforcement bureau [the Office of Special Affairs] and are used, if necessary, to control and extort obedience from the person who was audited. If a person seeks to escape from Scientology his auditing files are taken by the intelligence bureau and used, if wished, to pressure him into silence. They are often so used and uncontraverted evidence of this has been given at this hearing . . .

I suggest that Governments are (once again) catching up with the public in viewing Scientology not as a religion, nor as a kooky but harmless UFO cult, but as it actually is: an ongoing criminal conspiracy to defraud; something it has been since 1950 when L Ron Hubbard said he used Dianetics to cure war injuries. As Scientology's international spokesman Tommy Davis famously said to Lawrence Wright: if it was true that L Ron Hubbard had not been injured (in WWII), then "the injuries that he handled by the use of Dianetics procedures were never handled, because they were injuries that never existed; therefore, Dianetics is based on a lie; therefore, Scientology is based on a lie."

IMHO, your defence of Scientology in that it is, basically, "just like any other religious faith" is a nonsense borne of indolent research and it is particularly unhelpful when it comes to dismantling the cult and ending its abuses.  

Thanks for joining the Moose and your comment (2.00 / 9)
I hope you stay around and make plenty more.

But I don't think you can construe my argument as a defence of Scientology, just an observation that the 'cult not religion' attack has left the CoS with the 'persecution/religious freedom' defence.

What your rightly point out is that there's plenty of documentation to back up the 'extortion' blackmail charges, and you haven't touched upon the dangerous medical claims.

These, I argue, both represent the harm done by Scientology, and completely swerve the misty arguments about religion/cult.

For example: you point about texts talking about making money or lying. Are they any worse than Deuteronomy which calls for the stoning to death homosexuals, men who wear pigskin, or women who menstruate in the temple?

The theological arguments have led nowhere, and CoS has grown and grown. My suggestion is that these civil and criminal wrongs of blackmail, pseudoscience and extortion, are more effective that debating theology.  

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
Agree here (2.00 / 1)
We have a right and a responsibility to police behavior and protect the public (and the individuals who comprise it).  We cannot and should not do so with beliefs.  Obviously, excessive policing of behavior is repressive as well.

I think the interesting thing here is the fuzzy area in between.  We often judge the ethics and acceptability of a religion according to the level of agency its adherents exercise.  Violation of agency in the transmission of belief is where a religion becomes coercive and exploitative.  And there are places where violation is as clear as can be.  The sexual abuse of children is a clear case where religious leaders have abused their authority in ways that clearly violate agency and for exploitative ends of physical pleasure and unhealthy emotional gratification.  But most cases are more difficult to discern.  When do charismatic teachers and preachers cross the line between education and manipulative coercion?  Do we judge based on the sincerity?  Obviously, if they are teaching a 'truth' that they themselves consider false and are doing so to enhance their own power there's a problem.  But what if someone sincerely believes that if you don't join them, which entails commitments of time and money, you will miss out on one of the few remaining slots for eternal life?  Isn't that coercive, even if sincere and ultimately well meaning?  

If David Miscavige doesn't believe his own stuff, then Scientology is a fraud.  But if its leaders are sincere, how are they different from LDS or Jehovah's witnesses?  In the end, we must expose and police abusive behavior, not weird beliefs.  Sometimes, even coercive beliefs must be tolerated.  And sometimes, people choose paths that are harmful to them.  Some of these paths are religious.  One has a right to believe that auditing is a better approach to depression than medication and therapy, unless one can show that they are being manipulated to believe this for economic and political interests.  Not everything harmful can be illegal.  We need clear criteria to establish if someone's agency is being violated by sincere persuasion to choose something that is outside social norms and in our view harmful.  It's not always easy to do so.

The future is unwritten

[ Parent ]
Brilliant stuff, strum (2.00 / 1)
And though I've yet to write the book, my hunch is - looking at my dad's criminal behaviours and bizarre beliefs - the former might rely on the other, but only the first is verifiable. And even then, I can't say that my dad was co-erced into any of this - more like a con man, conned. But we'll see if I feel the same in six months time. But your words will be ringing in my head as I write

In the end, we must expose and police abusive behavior, not weird beliefs.  Sometimes, even coercive beliefs must be tolerated.  And sometimes, people choose paths that are harmful to them.... Not everything harmful can be illegal

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
Yeah, I think it's the opposition to beliefs and narratives (2.00 / 1)
that raises our areopagite hackels.  The problem with trying to isolate behavior from beliefs is that they are indeed deeply intertwined.  And protection of the public is the same rationale that has been harnessed to justify religious and state violence, from inquisitions to purges.  And then determining whether abuse is occurring within an institution or whether the institution is inherently abusive is often challenging.  Is there simony within the church, or is the church itself a whore?

The future is unwritten

[ Parent ]
Chills, chills, chills. (2.00 / 8)
Charlatans with mafioso organizational power. Paul Haggis was on NBC last week talking about Scientology and its really scary.

"I spend my days and nights pondering the meaning of life, the state of the universe, and the Home Shopping Network." -- Donald Roller Wilson

As others have said, scary. (2.00 / 9)
I'm sorry for your father's experience. Sorry for the illness he was born with, and sorrier still that he did not seek help due to the ravings of religious extremists.

For myself, I will say this. If I had been a religious person and my religion had demonized and discouraged psychiatry/medication/counseling... I would have been dead right around my 21st birthday. I have zero doubt of this.

And I grieve for those who (due to religion or ignorance or stigma or any number of other external factors) never get the help they need.

Come to me in my dreams, and then
By day I shall be well again!
For so the night will more than pay
The hopeless longing of the day.

Thanks Sricki (2.00 / 6)
I really wanted to comment on you shame and social stigma diary too, but these days things whiz by on the Moose so quickly.

As my book will show, my father's story has a very dark twist in the end. I don't blame Scientology for what happened to him, but a failure of medical care was certainly part of it.

My mother trained as chemist, and kept the family afloat in the 50s when my dad was imprisoned for fraud. I know her concern about him led her to retrain as a psychiatric social worker - which was two blessings in disguise, because we managed to get hospital accommodation when he was bankrupted for the third time, otherwise we would have been homeless.

Her studies of Bowlby, Winnicott etc. led my mum to believe that Scientology was bad for my father because it increased his will to power, and his dissociation from reality.  

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
my personal take on scientology is (2.00 / 6)
that they are a dangerous cult with way more power than they should have.

i know of no religion that advances you according to the amount of money you give them.  all religions ask for money and promise heaven, but scientology, from what i know of it, promises nirvana through cash transactions.

it sounds more like a confidence scheme than anything else.  a dangerous one that can destroy lives as well as bankrupt members.

i don't even think L. Ron thought it should be run like this, i always felt he thought it was a giant con game, but a benign one.  his son, now, that's the guy that put it where it is now and is making a pile of cash tax free off of it.

heck any of us could do this, but not one of us would because we have a respect for basic social decency.

that's all i gotta say about this one.  

Does the morgue wagon come with the job?

But surely many of those charges could be levelled... (2.00 / 4) the Mormon church, but you wouldn't deny it's a religion

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
actually, i do deny mormonism as a religion (2.00 / 6)
for me, it's also a cult.  so's the catholic church (in which i grew up).  i have a very specific definition (personally) of what a cult is and isn't.  Jehovah's Witness, cult.  that's just my own opinion and i don't expect anyone to agree.  

Does the morgue wagon come with the job?

[ Parent ]
Fair enough - morally and emotionally.... (2.00 / 4)
I could well agree with you. But I'm sure you see the legal difficulties. If Catholicism is a cult then... But I'll certainly take into account views like yours in my forthcoming book, so I'd like to hear more....

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
having been raised catholic (2.00 / 6)
and, having studied many other religions, i'm very interested in your forthcoming book.  if there is anything i can help with regarding opinion or input, i'm happy to lend you my own take on the subject.  

in any case, i'll definitely obtain a copy of your book once published.

Does the morgue wagon come with the job?

The pitch will be launched in a couple of weeks (2.00 / 4)
...on the Unbound site, where I will be very much soliciting crowd sourced research, and people's personal insights into faith and religion in this context.

I ought to alert you to the fact that I wrote two radio drama series on a related theme, Bad Faith.

The p***artist formerly known as 'Brit'

[ Parent ]
thank you for the information peter (2.00 / 4)
i'll visit that site later today.  once things calm down around here.  just usual morning routine stuff, oh, and i may have to catch it on my tablet while at a doc appt.  i carry earphones for just this reason LOL.  i'll definitely seek out your site.

Does the morgue wagon come with the job?

[ Parent ]

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