Data! About secularism! »« Shermer’s false equivalencies

Scientological syncretism

Nobody will be surprised by this at all: L. Ron Hubbard cobbled together Scientology from various bits of old pseudoscience, as well as by inventing things out of thin air.

The source calls them “lies”. This is an ongoing problem: we don’t have a good word for what these people (scientologists, creationists, Christians, Muslims, whatever) are doing. They are making stuff up, they are telling things about the nature of the world that are not only false but contrary to all the available evidence, yet they often fervently believe it all; even the scam artists have to half-convince themselves that they’re doing good. And if we call it lies, some pedant will start complaining that it lacks the element of intent.

So what’s a good word for malicious mind-fuckery backed by devout good intentions? I struggle with this all the time.

Comments

  1. says

    I have actually always thought Hubbard was largely inspired by Joseph Smith. There are similarities in Scientology and Mormon cosmology, and he had the example of the highly successful Mormon scam right in front of him.

  2. Ogvorbis says

    So what’s a good word for malicious mind-fuckery backed by devout good intentions?

    How about “mythbegetting”?

  3. scottrobson says

    Lying without “intent” to lie is really just stupidity, but it is often willful stupidity. So maybe it should just be called willful stupidity. This is not much different to willful ignorance.

  4. says

    The Hubbard Is Bare by Jeff Jacobsen from 1995 goes through pretty much everything in Scientology, identifying its sources.

    The Internet critics of Scientology are largely forgotten now (making my life somewhat quieter), but we did manage to damage this cult quite badly.

  5. tank2vich says

    “So what’s a good word for malicious mind-fuckery backed by devout good intentions?”

    Statistics?

  6. alkisvonidas says

    So what’s a good word for malicious mind-fuckery backed by devout good intentions?

    Faith.

  7. madtom1999 says

    Is it now well known that Hubbard said the way to make money is to start a religion and then did so or is that another part of the abject mythtake?

  8. David Wilford says

    “So what’s a good word for malicious mind-fuckery backed by devout good intentions?”

    I think ‘cult’ pretty much sums it up, since cults intentionally suppress doubt to protect their beliefs.

  9. peterh says

    I would submit the old-fashioned “liars” would suffice, perhaps expanded to “delusional liars.”

  10. Rob Grigjanis says

    “So what’s a good word for malicious mind-fuckery backed by devout good intentions?”

    Straussism.

  11. says

    I’ll second Ogvobis on “mythbegetting”.

    Myths deem to clarify the arcane and the complexities of nature. They may do this in the form of a story. This story need not be true, but merely appears to explain in a generally coherent fashion.

  12. cubist says

    There is a term in Xtianity which strikes me as pretty darn close to ideal for this purpose: “bearing false witness”. If they’re going to hand us a rhetorical weapon, I see no reason to avoid using it against them.

  13. Azuma Hazuki says

    Given all the mix-and-matching done, how about myth-cegenation? It’s an ugly word with ugly undertones…which means it matches these people perfectly.

  14. says

    I’ve always liked “mythconstruct.” It works as is (constructing myths) and it is a cute pun. Or if you want a fancy word, it translated correctly into Latin as “confabulate” (literally, “pull stories together”) with is already a nice 50 cent word.

  15. cuervodecuero says

    “Authoritarianism”.

    Since the point of the mind fuckery is to reward a few with ruling dominion via the majority’s submissive obedience to the few’s dictates.

    Looked at from the outside a lot of these claims come off as the Underpants Gnomes (tm South Park) theory of Business Plans.

    1. Steal underpants.
    2. ????*
    3. Profit!

    And yet it *works*. Because somehow, someone makes underpants magical. ( I cannot imagine who South Park might have been targeting)

    There is a nice pithy latin phrase for “lying to advance the power of the desired authority”.

    Pia Fraus

    It and its fellow travellers like “the noble lie” covers weeping statues that get atheists chased out of countries, and economics bushwah that destroys national stability, and political movements that ‘create their own paradigms’, sometimes using words like ‘radfem’.

    *Sunk costs and embarrassed inability to admit error?

  16. =8)-DX says

    Depending on the themes, these kinds of made up statements fall under either “science-fiction” or “fantasy”. It’s just like with the psychics.. they’re magicians practicing tricks, but either too self deluded or deceptive to admit it. If what you make up contains beginning an adventure naked in the company of a beautiful woman in a lush garden with a talking snake, talking burning bushes, healing hands and other magic, it’s either fantasy or mythology. If it contains a mass-murdering hydrogen-bomb-weilding ancient space-alien, it’s science-fiction.

  17. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    1. Steal underpants.
    2. ????*
    3. Profit!

    The Rev. BigDumbChimp version of this when describing religion is

    1. Steal underpants.
    2. ????*
    3. Prophet

  18. jeroenmetselaar says

    Lie is a perfectly good word. A lie does not change properties when channeled through a gullible mind. If I print a lie on trusting paper does it become something else?

    Those propagating falsehoods are still responsible for their own opinions and data. They may not be as wrong as those that lie to deceive but they are still wrong enough to be called upon it.

    Consider typhoid Mary: she didn’t create typhoid nor did she get infected by her own fault. Still, at some point she could (should!) have taken responsibility for what she was doing.

  19. says

    First of all, get rid of the idea that there are any good intentions associated with religious myth. No religion exists for the sake of it’s followers, there are too many layers of hierarchy built in for that to be true. They’re all just huge, well funded he-man woman haters clubs with outlets on every block. We’ll know that we have these ignorant assholes on the ropes when it becomes Judeo-Christian-Muslim values.

  20. Scr... Archivist says

    I was going to suggest “fabulism”, but I see that several other commenters have already suggested something similar.

    It’s a good word, encompassing both storytelling and conscious lying. I also like the hint of “fabrication”.

  21. Crip Dyke, MQ, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Fabulate = verb
    Fabulation = noun
    Fabulist = noun representing perpetrator of fabulations

  22. Crip Dyke, MQ, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Oh, and

    Fable = noun representing the outcome of syncretizing fabulations

  23. kantalope says

    Any myth based word won’t work – they (them too) don’t think of their stuff as myths. Accidentally refer to the ark myth and they go all apeshit.

    Fabulate is too close to fabulous
    Bullshit, too confrontational
    Delusional, too connotational

    But PZ is right – there needs to be a nice neutral term for it that can be used in friendly conversation

    quantum quasilocution? I just put quantum in there just because

  24. says

    So what’s a good word for malicious mind-fuckery backed by devout good intentions?

    “Scientology” is one word for it. “Politics” is another.

    Good intentions, though? He didn’t do it for the money? I don’t know either way, but I can’t think of why I’d assume good intentions.

    Of course there are various fairly neutral terms for BS, like “misrepresentation,” or “misleading.” “Ignorance” is often not taken as neutral, but it can be, especially when it’s clear that you’re excusing somebody.

    Glen Davidson

  25. David Marjanović says

    Founding statements of a belief system, rectally extracted?

    “Assioms.”

    Full of win.

    Fabulate is too close to fabulous

    Is it?

  26. F [nucular nyandrothol] says

    From Hubbard, they were lies. Not sure what you call them when people believe BS repeat/invent it.

  27. john says

    While it is hard to imagine Hubbard doing it for anything other than the money–not that he didn’t believe Scientology worked, just that he he developed it for purely selfish motives–there are thousands who believe the practice of Scientology to be a Good Thing. Many of those people have been kicked out of the organization over the years, as the Church of Scientology was set up by Hubbard to be an Evil Thing, and it is now run by a paranoid.

    Three cheers for Arnaldo Lerma for posting this. I haven’t spoken to him in years so I will now go say hello.

  28. hackerguitar says

    “Willfully delusional” is what comes to mind, but it is too connotative for some.

    “Obscurantist,” maybe?

  29. raven says

    So what’s a good word for malicious mind-fuckery backed by devout good intentions?

    Religion!!!

  30. Sastra says

    So what’s a good word for malicious mind-fuckery backed by devout good intentions? I struggle with this all the time.

    This particular semantic problem comes up all the time when dealing with so-called “alternative medicine.” People who are or want to think of themselves as “healers” usually DO believe in what they are doing, claiming to see positive results over and over again in the people they work with. Are all quacks liars? Is lying really lying if we first fool ourselves? How do we include honest sincerity into dishonest methods?

    The most common term is “self-delusion.”

    They’re self-deluded. Reiki Masters are self-deluded; creationists are self-deluded; Hubbard is self-deluded. They may even start out as con artists deluding others — but they eventually end up being drawn into the persuasive narrative they constructed. “The first rule is not to fool ourselves — and we are the easiest people to fool.”

  31. Ogvorbis says

    So what’s a good word for malicious mind-fuckery backed by devout good intentions? I struggle with this all the time.

    Libertarianism?

  32. Rich Woods says

    Ogvorbis, I seriously doubt there are any good intentions in Libertarianism. Dog-eat-dog and winner-takes-all speaks for itself.

  33. Ogvorbis says

    Ogvorbis, I seriously doubt there are any good intentions in Libertarianism. Dog-eat-dog and winner-takes-all speaks for itself.

    Except that Libertarians seem to think (well, believe with a great deal of faith) that their way is the only way to make everything perfect.

    Well, for them and theirs, anyway.

    Good point.

  34. Rich Woods says

    Except that Libertarians seem to think (well, believe with a great deal of faith) that their way is the only way to make everything perfect.

    If only they would drop the ideal of social perfection and embrace true selfishness, they could abandon the need for faith!

  35. broboxley OT says

    So what’s a good word for malicious mind-fuckery backed by devout good intentions? I struggle with this all the time.

    asstroll-projection

  36. Rich Woods says

    asstroll-projection

    Fortunately I had a spare monitor to hand. Now to see if the cider-sprayed one will fit into the dishwasher…

  37. unclefrogy says

    I have been using superstition myself when I reference religion. It is a nice old and accurate word describing what religion is. Since Scientology is as much a religion as any other it is also superstition even if of recent origin.
    Could superstition also refer to libertarianism?

    uncle frogy

  38. ogremeister says

    So what’s a good word for malicious mind-fuckery backed by devout good intentions?

    Untruth. It indicates falsehood whether intentional or not.

  39. hatchetfish when it's not at home says

    Think I have to second “lies” when discussing L Ron utterances. I’ve never seen a convincing argument he was anything but a con artist, manipulative egocentrist, and bad writer. Otherwise though, I’m pretty fond of raven’s suggestion.

  40. markkernes says

    Several of my friends in science-fiction fandom knew Hubbard when he was just a science-fiction author, and he told several of them specifically that he thought religion was the best scam going, and that he planned to start one.

  41. frankensteinmonster says

    Is lying really lying if we first fool ourselves?

    .
    The answer is of course yes. The most proficient liars are those so skilled at doublethink that they can actually both sincerely believe in their own lies ( and their behavior, gestures, emotional responses, etc… is thus indistinguishable from someone who is telling the truth ), and being aware of ther falsehood at once.
    .

  42. demonax says

    L Ron got most of his ideas on the “”spiritual”” side from Aleister Crowley, with whom he cruised in the Med. Crowley had ten times the mental capacity of L Ron so perhaps he is the true founder of this fatatras.

  43. Elayne Riggs says

    How about “tradition”? That’s one of those words that is readily accepted as A Good Thing by its adherents (so it’s not needlessly confrontational… yeah, I know, but I pick my battles) and A Bad Thing by thinking people who understand that humans need to evolve socially.

  44. says

    No, Hubbard never cruised with Crowley, though he did crib from him substantially.

    Hubbard on Crowley: “My very good friend Aleister Crowley …”
    Crowley on Hubbard: “The idiocy of these louts makes me fairly frantic.”

  45. w4114c3 says

    I know this isn’t original but how about grifters for what they are and what they do? To be good at a grift/con you have to be very sincere.

  46. says

    Hmm. Bullshitting may be sincere or insincere. I coined the somewhat cumbersome ‘speculative dogmatics’ before looking at the comments. ‘Delusion’ does seem to be too connotational, though ‘self-delusion’ and ‘pious fraud’ are okay.

    I have to vote for ‘Fabulation’.

  47. paulirvine says

    Dimiquitous, iniquixotic, malignorant, maliscient, idylliot, malufacturer…my head hurts!

  48. says

    Harry Frankfurt’s ‘On Bullshit’ has some good insights on this topic. He defines a bullshitter as someone who doesn’t care about (or even understand) the idea of truth. Bullshitters are more concerned with truthiness. And there’s a lot of that about. Bullshitters are worse than liars. Liars at least have respect for truth.

  49. devnll says

    “So what’s a good word for malicious mind-fuckery backed by devout good intentions?”

    “contradiction in terms”. Its either malicious – as in, with malice _intended_ – or else its backed by good intentions. I don’t think you get to have both.

    Though I think I see what you’re getting at; Hubbard – presumably – was deliberately screwing with people’s heads with falsehoods designed – he thought, delusionally – to do them good. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I think I’d call it “Poloniusing” after Hamlet’s speech about Polonius in which he says:

    “I must be cruel only to be kind.”

    I particularly like the reference because:

    a) Polonius was a tedious old windbag, and therefore reminds me of the sorts of people I need this term for,

    b) Said speech begins with the lines: “but heaven hath pleas’d it so
    To punish me with this, and this with me” which so brings to mind the image of people being punished by their own heavens,

    c) Said speech ends with the lines “Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.” So even Shakespeare knew how badly this whole plan was going to work out..

  50. devnll says

    No… I like the reference, but the term is too obscure. I’ve changed my mind; I think I’ll go with “cruel kindness” for the lie, and “kindly-cruel” to describe the liar.

    This only applies, by the way, to people deliberately telling what they know to be lies, with the intention of helping people (like Hubbard, to the best of my knowledge.) People who themselves believe lies are simply “delusional”, and what they are doing is “being wrong.”

  51. says

    … They may even start out as con artists deluding others — but they eventually end up being drawn into the persuasive narrative they constructed.

    This phenomenon is so pervasive and significant, I think it should probably have its own very specific label, if it doesn’t already.

    And I’d say confabulation is an intimately related phenomenon, but possibly a little too general a term for what’s happening, here. Or, more precisely, doesn’t quite tell the whole story…

    As in: very probably the end result–in which the con believes his own yarn–essentially arises from the same pressures as does a lot of other confabulation. But confabulation really just refers to an inaccurate picture of the world which is essentially believed; the nature of the process of construction isn’t really specified, and can happen a lot of different ways. A confabulation, taken as an ‘honest lie’, in which the mythmaker really does believe (or is just now just sufficiently confused about the whole story that they think their current account is ‘fair enough’–for instance, imagine they begin to think, okay, y’know, maybe I really did hear the god talking back then, notwithstanding I thought the time I was just writing a wild fiction about the same to draw some attention to myself) might be a good description of what you get at the end of the process, but there’s probably quite frequently something of a gradient, here, as they gradually talk themselves into it.

    Casting about for a term, what do they have in common? They’re usually pretty self-aggrandizing stories, about how they’re a conduit for the god’s thoughts, and/or the insight they’ve had will cure all the world’s ills if sufficiently believed. They generally seem crafted to draw flattering attention, as if the ‘prophet’ really is looking for admiration from their followers, in addition, of course, to material rewards…

    The ones we know about, people generally are impressed by the ‘seer’s charisma, but of course, that may just be because less charismatic figures attempting the same thing get nowhere…

    I dunno. I’m thinking the term that fits works that stuff in there, all the same. Initial deception that feeds into long-term confabulation, these being rich with self-aggrandizement, and largely successful because of the perpetrator’s evident charisma. That’s the complex, and that’s how you get religions–probably pretty much the same deal with the lot of those whose names come down to us, the various ‘gurus’ and ‘prophets’

  52. says

    In some cases I think it’s a warped perception of how reality works, a kind of hybrid philosophy between relativism and objectivism. They believe in one absolute reality that exists indepenantly from consciousness, and yet they expect that reality to conform to their beliefs, instead of conforming their beliefs to reality.

    But sorry, I don’t know of a word for that either, and neither does wikipedia to extent of my search.

  53. dgrasett says

    I was around. L. Ron Hubbard and Mr. Campbell were involved in SF – as editors/writers. There was an editorial by one of them stating clearly that the best, fastest and most foolproof system for getting rich, very rich, was to create a new religon.
    Then they did it – or L Ron Hubbard did.
    There was veniality. There was deliberate intent to deceive and ensnare. This is EVIL. Complete and without redeeming characteristics. It wasn’t a joke, or a test. It was intentional. It was studied and created.
    We recognize the evil in Christianity, in Islam, in all the others. But only in this century could someone actually state it as an intention, proceed to do it, and get away with it.
    We only jail the creators of ponzi schemes, where our money is stolen. But where our reason, our very being is stolen (or actually, that of others) there is . . .

  54. Emu Sam says

    Falsehoods with intent to deceive, where the consciousness of the intent is measured on a scale from aggravated ignorance to lying.

  55. anchor says

    Nothing generates nonsense more effectively than a simple-minded and ignorant allegiance to certainty and stasis. Its lying to yourself.

  56. amitxjoshi says

    So, something evidently false, but which I believe? Isn’t that the dictionary definition of a delusion??

  57. says

    “There was an editorial by one of them stating clearly that the best, fastest and most foolproof system for getting rich, very rich, was to create a new religon.”

    Not quite – per Don Lindsay’s “Start A Religion” FAQ, it was something Hubbard said talking to others, and said quite a few times.

  58. anchor says

    #33Scr… Archivits mentions, storytelling and fabrication in favor of ‘fabulation’, but I rather like ‘storyteller’ or ‘fabricator’. They may not have the teeth of a liar but while there are ‘good and bad’ stories, so can fictions be. The criterion for truthful yarn-spinning in the pursuit of conceptual model-making consistent with what is known of the real world is accuracy. The rest are tall tales – some of it practically illuminating and entertaining as in fiction or allegory, some relatively benign as in myth in literature, and others are, whether by design or ignorance, just downright deceitful.

    The science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon once wrote, “90% of science fiction is crud. That’s because 90% of everything is crud”. Common experience seems to confirm the plausibility of that conjecture, which has come to be known as ‘Sturgeon’s Law’. If one were to conduct a survey of conceptual models of reality that exist in the general population and compare them to the knowledge thus far revealed of the real world by science for their accuracy, few here would doubt that maxim to be far off target. But if we were to survey conceptual models of reality held by individuals in the scientific community, ‘Sturgeon’s Law’ would likely be violated, probably very strongly so if we confine the comparison to specialists associated with their specific field.

    Expertise in accurate model building accrues from a mastery of detailed knowledge. Yet ignorance emboldens people to make assertions they have little or no talent for making, as if their lack of knowledge or expertise gives them a free pass or even an obligation to offer their ‘view’. Ignorance also fosters illigitimate certitude. Junk model-making is ubiquitous in a population obsessed with the ‘right’ to be heard; most people think their views are right and accurate; they have a voice and will make themselves heard, often loudly. Whether or not they know what they’re actually talking about is the issue, but that’s for the audience to judge. Whether an intent is present or not in the telling, a false story deceives. A person doesn’t need to be liable in terms of conscious intent to spread deception. A false story is still a lie, and passing it on, however innocently, makes that person a ‘liar’, one who promulgates lies. Knowing how to sing doesn’t ensure the song doesn’t suck.

  59. rthur2013 says

    Lies are lies, regardless of intent. When those lies are as evil and ubiquitous as those of religion – when they become two millennia of institutionalised hate speech, embodied in systems of thought that have caused unimaginable suffering across the world – they are something close to a crime against humanity.

  60. hexidecima says

    The argument that “there is no lie if there is no intent” has become largely worthless since we live in a world of very much information and very easy access to it. I find that willful ignorance is purely intentional and I have no problem calling most, if not all theists, intentional liars. The only ones who would get a pass are those who have no access to information through no fault of their own.

  61. rthur2013 says

    Even the good theists I know (there are many of them, believe it or not) lie to themselves constantly. I know a lovely and very devout woman who constantly offers up prayers of thanks to Jesus even as her son descends into suicidal depression and forces her to spend months at a time fearing for his life. For the promulgators of religion, the lies are cruel and intentional; for the unfortunate people who thy brainwash, the lies simply become second nature.

  62. says

    Once upon a time, I wrote a blog entry suggesting a new word for exactly what you’re describing: faceit (pronounced like deceit). Sort of a portmanteau of fact and deceit, with the added benefit of sounding like the noun version of “facetious.” A faceit is is an item of incorrect knowledge held to be fact in spite of a consensus of verifiable evidence to the contrary, thought by the believer to be a well-supported position not merely held on faith. Actually, that’s a somewhat clearer definition than the one in my original entry… Oh well. http://bit.ly/Uqe0B9

  63. loopyj says

    Howzabout Faithkery, as a combination of Faith and Fakery.

    Someone who practices Faithkery is a Faithker. Someone who tells you about the religious beliefs they genuinely hold and aren’t intentionally telling you falsehoods can be said to be “faithking things up”, not be confused with those who fake faith, those who are genuinely scamming you by intentionally lying about their belief in things that they know aren’t true but would like very much for you to believe (granted, it is hard to tell the difference, particularly where there is tithing and cash contributions to be collected).