I’ve followed some of the doings of the Scientology cult, and it wasn’t that long ago that criticizing the Religion That Elron Built would win you a lifetime supply of harrassment; they have long memories. Back in our naive youth, my brother and I made the mistake of taking one of their “tests” when we were on a stroll in Seattle, and that earned my brother years of obnoxious junk mail offering him their path to perfection.
So I was a little surprised that Rolling Stone is willing to wrestle with the brutal beast and has published an article by Janet Reitman on the religion.
It’s not bad. It’s not as hardhitting as the stuff you’ll find on the Operation Clambake site, but heck, it’s in a major publication. I suspect there are lawyers growling in the darkness of Clearwater, FL.
I’ve been (informally) following the saga of Scientology for quite some time…and like you, I’m shocked at what people are suddenly getting away with. It wasn’t too long ago that the Daily Show was explicitly forbidden to even mention Scientology on air!
I think what we’re seeing right now is the result of both the growth of the internet and Scientology’s long-standing desire to “mainstream” itself. The last major media-wide Scientology flareup was over ten years ago, coinciding with the Behar article in Time and the series of NYT/LATimes articles surrounding that expose. During that period, the internet wasn’t around, and Scientology’s “new” management was only around five years old. Mini flare-ups certainly happened between then and now–the Lisa McP death, etc.–but nothing on the scale of what happened when Tom Cruise took to the airwaves last summer.
What can Scientology do? In the past, it would’ve used intimidation, threats of litigation, and so forth to defend the secrecy of its institutions. But what strength can it rally against a veritable hoarde of internet journalists converging on OTIII at once? Instead of dead-agenting its critics with the frequency of the past, Scientology has chosen to pursue its mainstream agenda, harping on its “positive” qualities (I put “positive” in quotes because many so-called Scientology wins–Narconon, etc.–are of fairly dubious authenticity). Thus, you see spectacles that should be anachronisms: critics like Tory Christman on CNN, constant Comedy Central derision, and articles in Rolling Stone.
As odious as the main Church of Scientology remains, I like to think that its era of critic harassment and over-litigiousness on the scale of Operation Freakout is finally over. It’s been claiming for years that “we don’t do that anymore;” it’s time to finally put truth to that assertion.
Matt McIrvin says
I noticed that around the time that Tom Cruise had his series of on-air freakouts. It seemed as if suddenly it was OK to ridicule Scientology to an extent that hadn’t been done before. I figured that that was itself the tipping point; Cruise was just so manifestly deranged that it was hard to say he was expressing a legitimate point of view, unlike, say, John Travolta when he went on talk shows and always remained very cool.
Henry Holland says
Damn those Body Thetans! Making Tom dance on couches!
I too got ensnared in their “receive huge packets of mail forever” thing. I signed a sheet with my address for “my free copy of Dianetics” at their Hollywood center and that was that. It took my dad threatening violence for them to stop.
I was kind of disappointed to read that the singer/songwriter Beck had totally drank the Elron kool-aid. I try hard not to let the personal life of performers affect how I listen to their music, but it was tough in his case because he lied so much about his upbringing in interviews.
John C. Randolph says
Maybe the editors at RS figured that the “religion” angle isn’t as much of a shield as it once was. Between the Tom Cruise debacle, and the bad name that radical pseudo-muslims are giving to religion in general, we may be seeing a new chapter in the story of “religion” versus the press.
You can’t really blame Beck too much since he seems to have been raised as a Scientologist. It’s tough to get out and stay out of a cult in a situation like that.
Bored Huge Krill says
You know, now that you mention it, that scenario sounds awfully familiar…
I agree that it began around the time of the infamous “couch-jumping,” although it’s more properly traceable to that hideous Matt Lauer thing.
What is disappointing in this whole scenario is that few are willing to debunk lots of the obvious hokum in Scientology and its organizations. Even the aforementioned Rolling Stone article plays it safe to a certain degree. Fact: Hubbard’s “official” biography (which is still put forth by the Church) is total bunkum. Why don’t you ever see *that* come up during interviews with Tom Cruise? Similarly, Cruise said quite a few things about the mental health field which were patently false, and which were in fact “corrected” a few days later. Why does nobody confront him at the time? The Der Spiegal interview with Cruise and Spielberg is shocking for precisely that reason: the interviewer actually has the gall to call Tom on Narconon’s phony stats (which seems to elicit a mini breakdown from Cruise).
Again, I’m glad we’ve hit the stage where reporters can mention Scientology without being implicated in fake bomb threats. But there’s a whole level of critical scrutiny here that often goes ignored.
(Hell, ronthemusicmaker.org is in and of itself an indictment of the entire movement. Seriously. Browse around a bit. See the celebrities rave about what a PERFECT MUSICAL GENIUS Ron is. Actually listen to the music. Puke. Read some of his writings. Puke more)
Yeah, well, just keep your eyes peeled for a program called “Narconon” or some kind of Newspeak-ish bullshit like that. It’s an anti-drug program that’s run by the Scientologists, only they don’t tell the school boards that they’re Scientologists. The next thing you know, someone even more whacked out than Tom Cruise is teaching a classroom full of children about why drugs are bad, but from a Scientologist standpoint. I hear the sessions begin and end by having the students Channel Their Energy To Source (only they don’t tell you that they’re having the kids do that either since, to us normal folks, it just looks like they’re giving L. Ron Hubbard a standing ovation).
Somehow, stealth-Scientology creeps me out more than stealth-Creationism. Probably because the latter is more pervasive in our culture than the former. Anyway, if Narconon comes-a-courtin’, blow the whistle and send them packing.
Was anyone else reminded of 1984 and the way the government of Oceania was changing the English language for its purposes?
I remember three dictionaries from which as many words were cut out as possible. Dictionary A was for conversation, B something else, and C for technical writing. The point was to cripple the language and make it impossible to express discontent with words.
Now we learn scientology has its own dictionaries and its own meanings for words.
Martin Rundkvist says
I recently blogged about a rather mind-bending case of Scientology’s involvement in/against psychiatry.
Scary. I’ve heard ads for Narconon on the radio. I assumed it was a spin-off of Narcotics Anonymous, like Al-Anon is for AA. Yikes.
Jaime Headden says
I love the misinformation some people get when their source of data appears to be from outsiders, interviewers, and comments of news events. Tom Cruise is an idiot no longer in charge of his own life, and such actions would, psychologically, very a very interesting study of behavior, just as others’, such as Travolta’s “coolness” would seem a contrast. Perhaps many commenters would have a better understanding of these issues, including the retarded, if seriously funny, Clambake take on the Scientology origin story. I see more here about jokes on the Xenu thing than I do about the original sin concept, finding Eden, or the search for Noah’s ark.
It might actually be better to investigate these issues more openly, but the arguments come with the preface of a cult, and the lack of any attempt to try to understand why and how these people think they do. And why should I care? My sister is a Scientologist, my mother, and my father is a part of some splinter group of Scientology. I have had to deal with this issue perhaps more than anyone here who has “followed it for a long time”, and I find myself amazed at the lack of knowledge and the length to which preconceptions are drawn about these things. Anything for a sick joke.
The truth of things is that Scientology, while fake and destructive, has been misconstrued just as much as TRUE Kabbalist philosophies, Daoism, and even Zoroastrianism. Any mainstream enforced group of pseudoreligious people deciding to get money will find people willing to exploit for money, and they will even get their true beleivers. Most religion “supergroups” (that is, branches of religion family trees, such as the Hindu-Zoroastrian-Buddhist branch, the Daoist-Shinto branch, the naturalism-pagan-wiccan-druidism branch, the Judeo-Islamo-Christian branch, all completely arbitrary lumpings of related philosophies) I know of have their own branches of “cults”, and the current crop of “Kabbalah” is one such, not neccessarily the interpretations Rabbis study (and by study, I mean STUDY, not get taught). Scientology is a real hodgepodge, has its basis in cultic mysticism wrapped up with some faint Zoroastrian and even Buddhist philosphies, and even some heavy Christian arguments. Hell, the book Dianetics even considered itself a philosophy for any religion or not, and that religions in the sense I used above (the organized sense) were all products of human ills. This was before L. Ron Hubbard went ahead and turned it into a religion. Then the True Beleivers started to appear. Every religion has them, and nothing can shake True Faith. Nothing. (Well, except the person’s own understanding and will.)
And this leads me to the ridiculous tripe that is “body thetans.” Do you even understand what this concept refers to? The closest metaphysical concept is not “spirits causing things” but SOULS. The prinicple is just another word for a spirit or soul inhabiting flesh. According to Scientology doctrine, it is these spirits (one per organism) that inhabit life and it is their “psychological programming” that causes ills in human minds and psyches. I have no idea how this concept got mangled into what Clambake put forward (however humorously) or what South Park showed off (no doubt inspired by misunderstandings like that). But mangled it did. And the rest was crap— I mean, history. Scientology’s fight with the psychiatric establishment started because of the psychiatric movement to declare religion and faith aspects of deranged and diseased minds, however misbegotten the principles they used were, often nothing so much as arbitrary rejection of religious people by atheists. Psychiatry fought back, and began exposing them, and voila, the cult vs. reason movement, during the era of flower-children, Moonies, etc., resulted in the great Scientology Hate. It hasn’t ended.
Please, think and reason (i.e., REASON in an Aristotelian sense).
Jeff Jorgensen says
It’s not a religion. Never ever forget that.
“Scientology’s fight with the psychiatric establishment started because of the psychiatric movement to declare religion and faith aspects of deranged and diseased minds, however misbegotten the principles they used were, often nothing so much as arbitrary rejection of religious people by atheists.”
Uhhuh. Right. It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that Elron got all pissy when the psychiatric community called bullshit on Dianetics.
“And this leads me to the ridiculous tripe that is “body thetans.” Do you even understand what this concept refers to?”
Well, it refers to the disembodied “souls” of individuals from millions of years ago that Xenu threw in volcanoes, from whence they emerged looking for bodies to inhabit and control; the whole process of “clearing” is meant to get rid of them.
But nice attempt at redirect. The word “souls” doesn’t seem to have any more cachet around here than does “body thetans.” Quite rightly too.
Melanie Reap says
Blame Canada…uh, South Park? How many average schmoes saw that show and thought “jeeze, whatta bunch a crap!” I think John Doe and John Doe provided ample ammunition for regular folks to “take on” the cult.
Ummm, this IS a religion.
It isn’t even any worse than many of the others. Due to its location in history, Scientology hasn’t even gotten to torture its opponents or burn them alive (I’m looking at you, Catholicism).
It’s just that this is a religion that you haven’t been socially conditioned to politely accept. Yet.
John Emerson says
PZ’s clam brain is speaking. He only pretends to be a higher mollusc.
“It isn’t even any worse than many of the others. Due to its location in history, Scientology hasn’t even gotten to torture its opponents or burn them alive (I’m looking at you, Catholicism).
It’s just that this is a religion that you haven’t been socially conditioned to politely accept. Yet.”
Posted by: Caledonian
OTOH, imagine if Scientology was in the political position where they could torture (excuse me, ‘clear’) and kill people.
I’m thinking that that was several paragraphs of self-contradictory nonsense and I am dumber for having read it. I award you no points and Xenu have mercy on your soil.
Dan D says
When you accuse Clambake of “getting it wrong” and whatnot, you have to back your assertions up. Xenu.net is extensive and he includes actual scientology secret documents that have been leaked or made available in countries with different copyright laws that allow him to publish them. He also publishes accounts from ex members of the COS. He isn’t pulling this stuff out of his ass, and I doubt there are many more knowledgable experts on scientology outside of its own upper echelon (where I assume they know the scam for what it is and are just cynically exploiting it, rather than being true believers).
It’s simply ludicrous to compare the contemporary crimes of scientology to the historical ones of catholicism or any other religion. Some sense of the relative morals of the day must be taken into account. Burning witches is terrible when you understand there are no witches (in the sense of what catholics believed witches were, I’m not talking about mere wiccans here), but at that time, this was legal and accepted. What scientology does is illegal and we know it be wrong. “Fair game” is mob territory. Also, judge the organizations based on what they are today, and what they represent today.
I’m no fan of religion, especially organized ones but Scientology is objectively worse. “Cult” is not just a term for an unpopular or new religion. You can be a catholic without it destroying (or taking over) your life. Try that trick as a scientologist.
Cults actively exploit their members. Religions believe scientifically irrational things. Those things are not necessarily destructive to the members, nor necessarily for the benefit of the leaders of the religion at cost to the members. There is a difference there and it isn’t just a question of degree, it’s a question of intent.
Of course there are some grey areas, where intent is not as clear, or the exploitive aspects are not proven while the beliefs are just merely bizzarre (I would point to Mormons and Falun Gong here). I suppose something could be a cult and a religion simultaneously.
Lya Kahlo says
“Uhhuh. Right. It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that Elron got all pissy when the psychiatric community called bullshit on Dianetics.”
Perhaps. But I’ve seen Elron quoted as saying that he set out to show how easy it would be to duped people with a fake religion and then did just that.
If the history of religions is any guide, by the end of the century Scientology will have done some combination of:
1) Fizzled out.
2) Splintered half-a-dozen ways.
3) Become mainstream.
You can’t keep an authoritarian structure like that together indefinitely (not in this day and age, at least), especially after the founding generation has died off. Compare it to the evolution of Mormonism, which I think is now roughly as old as Scientology will be in 2100.
Lya: “Perhaps. But I’ve seen Elron quoted as saying that he set out to show how easy it would be to duped people with a fake religion and then did just that.”
That explains why he made Scientology, but in and of itself it doesn’t quite explain why Scientology has it in for the psychiatric community. The hatred of psychiatrists is built right into Scientology’s doctrine.
Psychiatrists, I think, would be in a unique position to deprogram Scientology’s victims. Small wonder the cult warns against them.
Did anyone else have kind of an “A Ha!” moment when reading that homosexuality is considered antithetical to, and curable by, Scientology?
Also, they’re against race mixing? Lovely.
Scary. I’ve heard ads for Narconon on the radio. I assumed it was a spin-off of Narcotics Anonymous, like Al-Anon is for AA. Yikes.
I wonder, do they hide their statistics and have a 95% drop-out/failure rate, like NA, AA, etc. too? One of Penn & Teller’s Bullshit episodes covered the AA twelve step versions:
Step 1 – Declare yourself too stupid to solve your own problems.
Step 2 – Suddenly discover that you don’t have to think, as long as you listen to God, via the “priest” running the program.
Step 3 to 12 – Have step 1 and 2 pounded into you, over and over again, until you retreat in disgust, like 95% of those that attend, or you become one of the 5% that trades addiction to what ever the program is for, with addiction to Christianity.
And its very scientific… At least if you think an internal memo that says, “We estimate 95% leave the program before completion, but don’t know why, or plan to change anything to fix it.”, constitutes scientific. lol Now maybe its just me, but if it was science or psychology, I would want to ask, “why does it fail so often?”, especially when other statistics seem to indicate that 5% of people that simply quit are successful too. Guess God isn’t any better at curing addiction than people are without him. lol
The irony here is, if scientology actually has even slightly better results, it might actually be “better” than most existing programs. lol And sadly there are too few secular ones that try to find and deal with the “real” causes.
Don’t knock AA, it worked for me.
Once I was convinced that someone might try to make me go to one of those meetings if I didn’t quit drinking, I quit cold.
george cauldron says
L.Ron is good for all kinds of little quotes. I believe somewhere he came up with the bon mot “If you ever want to enslave someone, offer them total freedom”.
george cauldron says
Apparently, circa 1968 one Charles Manson was pronounced ‘theta clear’ by the Scientology headquarters in Los Angeles. Meaning that he was well adjusted, healthy, and didn’t have any psychological problems. :-)
….doesn’t quite explain why Scientology has it in for the psychiatric community.
Because they’re the competition — Hubbard originally formulated Dianetics specifically as his own (crackpot) theory of psychology. Scientology is founded on the claim that what we think of as standard, legitimate mental health practice has it all wrong. The internal logic of the faith requires that it oppose psychiatry for the same reason as faith healers (eg. Christian Science and many of the Pentecostal types) have to oppose antibiotics, insulin therapy, etc, etc.
Martin Gardner’s classic Fads & Fallacies (published before Scientology as such was started) has a chapter that dissects Dianetics simply as a psych theory — without any reference to all this mystical/sci-fi thetan nonsense (presumably Gardner had never heard of it, because LRH hadn’t gotten around to making up that part yet).
Scientology is founded on the claim that what we think of as standard, legitimate mental health practice has it all wrong. The internal logic of the faith requires that it oppose psychiatry for the same reason as faith healers (eg. Christian Science and many of the Pentecostal types) have to oppose antibiotics, insulin therapy, etc, etc.
Now if only psychiatry had one hundredth of the success of actual medicine…
Scientology certainly presents some interesting issues. I was particularly struck by the comments in the article that Scientology adherents live in a Hubbardian “bubble”.
There’s a project going on over at Wikipedia to improve its coverage of Scientology-related issues (see Wikipedia:WikiProject Scientology – anyone’s welcome to participate).
Unfortunately and no doubt predictably, this is running into problems with a couple of Scientologists who seem to be more interested in propagandizing than anything else. It’s really struck me, particularly in dealing with the issue of pseudoscience and Scientology’s predecessor Dianetics, how little they seem to know of life outside of the Scientology bubble. We’ve seen arguments such as “Dianetics [the book] has sold millions of copies and the Church of Scientology owns millions of dollars of property” being advanced in support of the proposition that Dianetics is actually a bona fide science. (See the relevant discussion page.) It’s very hard to discuss science with someone who not only doesn’t know what it is, but appears not to want to know…
“Now if only psychiatry had one hundredth of the success of actual medicine…”
How… artful… you are. Most educated people consider psychiatry to be a medical field. While I’m sure it feels good to be sarcastic about it as a “soft” science, the fact is that psychiatry does successfully address and treat real diseases, and Scientology does not even admit the existence of diseases.
Jaime Headden says
My comments about Clambake getting anything wrong has solely to do with the “body thetans” bit. If I was confusing wheh I discussed this, I appologize. However, I have no reason to doubt the issues with Xenu. Good lord do I wish I never heard this as a child. I was raised in this church, don’t forget, there in the heart of LA. For some reason, my family practiced the principles of Aristotelian Reason at least so far as to help me look things up, question, investigate. This, however, allowed me to critically analyze the Church. I am fortunate my brothers have done the same, largely in reaction to my family’s treatment of me. Fine, that pleases me no less.
I’ve heard of the Xenu story since I was very little, without names for the most part, and the “implanting” of psychiatric programming into “souls” which were then dispersed over the nascent Earth, while these programs were used to force evolution into its current state, to make slaves. They usually leave this bit out of the documents, I think. But its there. It’s those slave “souls” that are “body thetans,” versus free thetans, which are disembodied or noncorporeal beings.
This is used to explain ghosts, spirits, and other phenomena (thetans that are not deprogrammed enough to abandon the idea of living in bodies or fixed states). When I brought up Zoroastrianism, I meant it when I said that there were several parallels, and this is the biggest one.
So … just to set this straight and keep some of you fromperpetuating some flagrant misunderstandings, and actually confront these people with accurate statements, note that the belief in “theta” (akin to Lucas’ Force and the Buddhist/Taoist Qi/Chi) and “thetans” (souls, spirits) and the principle of “investiment” or “embodiment” is the same as having a soul (1) inside a body (1), and never shall this principle be modified. Their theory states no more than one thetan can inhabit a body, ad should another attempt, it must “expell” the other original thetan. This is different from the Christian concept of possession, which states that demons can inhabit bodies and souls, while maintaining that body’s original “inhabitant”. Thus they also beleive bodies are organic “machines” for “piloting” by thetans who beleive they ARE bodies, not souls, and never want to leave, thanks to that handy-dandy programming.
Oh, and if anyone cares, no, I do not beleive this (I beleive in VERY little, actually). But I think it’s important for people to get some facts straight about this.
Jaime Headden says
“Well, it refers to the disembodied “souls” of individuals from millions of years ago that Xenu threw in volcanoes, from whence they emerged looking for bodies to inhabit and control; the whole process of “clearing” is meant to get rid of them.”
This is another misconception: “Clearing” is considered to be useful is removing bad PROGRAMMING of the thetans, so that the thetans themselves reject the bodies. It is does rid YOU of the thetans, since Scientology considers YOU to BE the thetan.
“It isn’t even any worse than many of the others. Due to its location in history, Scientology hasn’t even gotten to torture its opponents or burn them alive (I’m looking at you, Catholicism).”
Heh, burning in a physical or psychological sense? The whole of the church itself is burning itself. Including my sister. My mother has poured thousands into this church for nothing that truly helped her than simply getting out and meeting people wouldn’t do on its own. Easy tricks to brainwashing: isolation, deprivation, comdemnation, self-condemnation, self-rejection, restructuring. This system has been used to break, forge, and mould people for centuries. Go to bootcamp, only add in the issue of financial dependancy. The military allows you to leave, Scientology doesn’t.
“That explains why he made Scientology, but in and of itself it doesn’t quite explain why Scientology has it in for the psychiatric community. The hatred of psychiatrists is built right into Scientology’s doctrine.”
Unfortunately, while this is how it STARTED, this is not how the True Beleivers today consider it and advance it. Just as some historical “Jesus” was apparently intending to reform his own faith, and “fix” the Church and purge the Pharisees (I could care less what verse right now), and the later formulators of the church called themselves Jews, not Christians, it was the unified opposition to them (by Jews no less) that resulted in the splintering and the eventual formation of a Greek/Roman sect that was no longer Jewish; so too the original church’s intent is not the intent of the adherents today, those who beleive, mind, body and whatever that L. Ron’s way is THE WAY, that there is an enemy, a purpose, and there really is evil in the world, and guess who’s doing the good? If only we’d beleive.
(And just in case you’re wondering, darukaru, that last bit was sarcasm. Whatever help me — agnostic — anyone should reject my statement for their own beliefs.)
Most educated people consider psychiatry to be a medical field.
Oh, indeed, it is. That doesn’t mean it’s not scientific, or that it’s not a load of nonsense — it’s both. Even actual medicine is surprisingly slow to implement the scientific method. As for psychiatry, the most commonly-spouted explanations and definitions are known to be wrong, and they were known to be wrong fifty years ago.
* snicker *
I’m going to assume you meant GENUINE Kabbalist philosophies.
Jaime Headden says
Truth is subjective, in my opinion. Genuine, true, in this sense they might as well refer to the same thing, as far as Jewish Kabbalistic philosophies. The current mysticist movement is just that, a mysticist movement. When I said Kabbalist, I intended Kabbalist, as in study of the Kabbalah. One should wonder if Madonna can read Hebrew, or has it read to her? Before the widespread publication of the Vedas and Tantra, and the Bible, among other religious texts, one was TOLD what was said and done. Faith by hammer. So then, maybe I should just have said “TRUE Kabbalist study.”
Is this statement of your opinion an opinion, or a fact? That is, is it true that the quoted statement is your opinion, or is it just your opinion that it’s your opinion?
You weak-minded, suppurating twit.
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