aka Church of Scientology, Co$
Ever seen one of these, maybe slipped into your mailbox or tucked under a windshield wiper blade? It's a one-sheet, multiple-choice, 200-question exam. The quiz resembles an extremely watered-down version of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, which itself is fundamentally bogus. You are instructed to answer every question by checking one of three boxes (for yes, no, maybe). Then you are treated to 200 questions, such as:
Based on yes-no-maybe responses to incisive questions like these, it is possible to develop a detailed snapshot of your psychological makeup and take full stock of your crippling inadequacies. You're supposed to fill it out and send it back to a regional testing center (conveniently, it's even postage-paid). And then, a few days later, you'll receive a phone call inviting you to a local branch office to watch a videotape and go over your results.
When you come in for that face-to-face meeting, invariably the upshot is that you are a total mess. Your life peaked a long time ago, and it's been getting progressively worse. You need help... a lot of it, and fast. But don't despair -- the same group who scored your exam is perfectly happy to sit down with you and explain what you need to solve those problems and reach your full potential. Which is: join the Church of Scientology.
But so what? you think. Maybe these guys do have some answers. They sure seem professional and well-organized. Well, that's true. However, if you're expecting Scientology to impart wisdom of the ages, or spout a typical set of innocuous platitudes, you are sadly mistaken.
As a matter of fact, the Church of Scientology is widely believed to be a dangerous cult. In recent years, the group has been officially banned or restricted by the nations of Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, England, and Australia.
But don't let that stop you. As an American citizen, it's your constitutional right to surrender your brain to any damn cult you feel like. That's what we call religious freedom. So if you feel like joining Scientology, go for it. Stop reading this and march down to the local intake center. What are you waiting for?
strangenessLike all conspiracy freaks, Scientologists adhere to an all-encompassing worldview. Theirs is a particularly bizarre mixture of cosmology, metaphysics, and pseudoscience which purports to explain both the history of the universe and the nature of the immortal soul. But this stuff is pretty much the stock in trade for any religion, so that doesn't make them special.
But unlike most religions, Scientology maintains just a thin, half-hearted pretense of being concerned with spiritual matters. Theirs is suspiciously vague, and malleable to the needs of the prospective Scientologist. When recruiting, the church presents a remarkably inclusive stance toward pre-existing religious beliefs. Scientology is presented as just an adjunct to your present faith, perfectly compatible with practically every religion on Earth. So they don't mind it one bit if you continue to worship Allah or Buddha or Yahweh or Christ.
This unparalleled ecumenism is the official policy of the Church of Scientology; you can simultaneously belong to them and be a practicing member of any of the world's popular religions. In fact, you can be more than just a member. Scientology's founder himself asserted that "people of all major denominations are members of Scientology, including many priests, bishops, and other ordained church members of the major denominations."
(At least, that's what they tell you at first. In truth, you will be forbidden from engaging in "any rite, ceremony, practice, exercise, meditation, diet, food therapy or any similar occult, mystical, religious, naturopathic, homeopathic, chiropractic treatment or any other healing or mental therapy" without the express permission of three specific church elders. But you won't receive that revelation until you've already been a member for some time.)
Another key differentiator between Scientology and other self-described religious organizations is how they treat their holy texts. They consider the works which articulate the source of their belief system to be trade secrets, and the organization employs a battalion of attorneys to protect their copyrights on that intellectual property. Which is to say, they're not exactly generous with the big answers.
But why not? Wouldn't it be advantageous to open-source the contents of those sacred texts, and encourage religious studies majors to write papers on the greatest discovery in the history of mankind?
the scamWhich brings us to the heart of the matter. Scientology isn't really a religion. At least, not primarily one. A cover story in Time magazine characterized the group this way:
Scientology poses as a religion but really is a ruthless global scam.
Which is something of an overstatement. Who's to say that Scientology is a phony church but the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons are genuine? But Time was correct in this sense: whereas the dogma of most cults originates with some form of alleged divine revelation, the core beliefs of Scientology grew out of the business venture launched by a conniving bullshit artist.
It was in 1953, after profits began declining from his Dianetics franchise, that science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard slapped a veneer of spirituality on his self-help racket. It was a cynical effort which allowed him both to exert monopoly control over his invention, as well as limit the government's ability to tax and regulate him.
In composing sources of enlightenment for his oh-so-secular church, Hubbard generated 500,000 pages of text, 3,000 recorded lectures, and more than 100 films. These materials, produced over a span of decades, comprise the scriptures establishing the Scientology faith. Devout members shell out cold cash to cover the fixed donations required for the privilege of receiving these revelations, which are doled out in sequential installments. Members are required to consume the materials incrementally, and only under the supervision of a church elder.
It works like this. Members join the church, begin following the procedures outlined in Dianetics and other introductory coursework, and eventually purge themselves of what they term the "Reactive Mind." This is the self-defeating portion of your psyche, which springs into action at inopportune moments, triggered by traumatic memories. This feat is accomplished through an interactive process called "auditing." which is a strange mixture of psychotherapy and confessional. The subject is compelled to re-live painful and embarrassing episodes, which are duly taken down by an "auditor" and included in the subject's permanent record. The record is maintained and stored by the church. Therefore, the church collects extensive files containing accounts of its members' most shameful moments, things a person would go to great lengths to avoid being made publicly known. For instance, any and all homosexual encounters (defined as "deviant" behavior, and determined to be correctable).
The auditing process is accomplished through the use of a specialized electronic gizmo exclusively manufactured by and for the church. The device is called an "electropsychometer" or E-Meter for short. The E-Meter measures galvanic skin response -- fluctuations in electrical resistance on the surface of the skin -- and is pressed into service as a crude lie detector of sorts. (A genuine polygraph machine measures blood pressure and rate of breathing, in addition to changes in skin resistance.) Before he transformed his business into a religious organization, Hubbard marketed the E-Meter as a bona fide piece of medical equipment. He claimed it could be used to cure a variety of diseases, until the Food and Drug Administration cracked down on his quackery in 1963. Nowadays, E-Meters carry the following disclaimer, engraved on a little plaque on the underside of each unit:
By itself, this meter does nothing. It is solely for the guide of Ministers of the Church in Confessionals and pastoral counselling. The Electro-meter is not medically or scientifically capable of improving the health or bodily function of anyone and is for religious use by students and Ministers of the Church of Scientology only.
Using the E-Meter, Scientologists unburden themselves of the Reactive Mind. Once you have successfully accomplished this feat, you are declared "Clear." After becoming a Clear, you now possess a genius IQ, as well as a perfect memory, ideal physical health, and an inability to cause accidents. At which point, you are enticed to progress beyond Clear, into the advanced levels ascribed to Operating Thetans. Hence, the first stage is called OT I, the second OT II, and so on up to OT IX. The spiritual path is called "The Bridge to Total Freedom." At each step of The Bridge, you will accumulate increasingly powerful and extraordinary gifts, including the power to fly, turn invisible, perform astral projection, control matter and energy with only your mind, telepathy, ESP, etc.
In other words, Operating Thetans are capable of violating physical laws of the universe. In ecclesiastical terms, they can work miracles just like Jesus Christ. In fact, according to Hubbard, Jesus was simply an ordinary mortal who had somehow managed to bring himself "a shade above Clear." So Scientologists are in good company. (Of course, LRH also claimed the King of Kings was a boy fucker. Maybe not such good company after all.)
And all of this is available for just the low-low price of $380,000. That's the estimated cumulative cost of all the course materials and the many hours of auditing sessions required to reach the spiritual level known as OT IX. But $380k is a small price to pay for invisibility, right?
oppressionWhile you are working on your advanced coursework, you are required to adhere unfailingly to the instructions laid down by Hubbard, no matter how petty or bizarre, at risk of substantial penalties including excommunication. What's more, you are even enjoined from discussing the materials with other members. To do so would imperil your spiritual well-being, and theirs as well. Additionally, you are strictly forbidden from investigating the validity of the scriptures using unofficial sources, such as books not authorized by the church, or Internet sites.
To prevent Scientologists from inadvertently defying this order, they are encouraged to install filtering software on their personal computers, which contains a long list of excluded keywords chosen by church leadership. In addition to the names of church critics and websites objectionable to Scientology, for some reason this 1995 list also contained (and presumably still contains) hundreds of items, including the following:
a-hole, art student, asshole, blow job, bogus, bugger, dicks, fucker, ghost, lunacy, moaned, mother f-ker, mother fucker, motherfucker, murder, quadrillions, Satan, Satanic, screw, screwed, squeal like a pig, trillions, vagina
If, for some reason, a Scientologist breaks this rule and begins conducting unauthorized research into the history of the organization or its founder, they will be punished. If they are a member of the Sea Organization -- individuals who work full-time for the church, under billion-year employment contracts -- they can be assigned to the Rehabilitation Project Force. They are the ones given all the messy jobs and hard labor.
If that doesn't work, or if the member opts to quit the group, they can wind up excommunicated from the church. This is accomplished through a formal document declaring the former member to be a "Suppressive Person" -- an enemy of Scientology. And according to a memo written by Hubbard in October 1967, Suppressive Persons are to be considered "Fair Game," which he defined as:
May be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.
The next year, Hubbard decided that the term Fair Game sounded too malevolent, so he banned the phrase from correspondence and documents. But he did not ban the methods it represented. In fact, during a court trial in 1984, the church actually defended the practice of Fair Game, claiming it to be a "core practice of Scientology" which was constitutionally-protected "religious expression."
handling criticsBut Fair Game doesn't just apply to their own members; the Church of Scientology has a long and storied history of antagonizing external critics using smear campaigns, physical threats, and overwhelming litigation. For historical reasons, Scientology's holds longstanding grudges against:
Also, the Co$ has over the years established a pattern of outright hostility toward government institutions, members of the press, and skeptics of every stripe. In a legal suit, the appellate court noted that the church even made a point of attacking judges:
Declarations of former members and officials of the Church, Gerald Armstrong and Vicki Aznaran, revealed the practices and policies of the Church, including its "fair game" doctrine and employment of litigation practices designed "to bludgeon the opposition into submission," as well as attacks against judges who rule against it. The declaration of an attorney who had represented the Church (Joseph A. Yanny), submitted in an action brought by the Church against him and others, related aspects of the Church's "fair game" doctrine, including copies of exhibits to demonstrate "the Cult, according to written policy, will use any means legal or illegal to subvert and frustrate judicial process against them, and will willingly and knowingly abuse judicial process in order to attack perceived 'enemies.'"
So if you speak out publicly against the Co$, or even just sit behind the bench listening to a court case against them, you run the risk of winding up like past Scientology critics. Your car's tires may be slashed. Friends might start telling you that somebody's been asking about your prior indiscretions. Anonymous flyers may appear in all the mailboxes in your neighborhood, accusing you of being a closet Nazi, or even a pederast.
After millionaire Bob Minton began financially supporting Scientology whistleblowers, his life got messy. When flyers appeared in his neighborhood, they called Minton a wifebeating Klansman. The church denied any involvement with the smear campaign, but later sent picketers to his house. And during an interview with Dateline, Scientology official Mike Rinder laid it on pretty thick:
you wouldn't say that about the JewsBy far their favorite tactic is to tar critics with the "religious bigot" brush. That is, anybody with the audacity to call Scientology a "cult" or mock its preposterous ideology is automatically accused of denying the church its First Amendment rights.
In doing so, Scientologists appear to operate under an expectation that all religions are to be afforded an equal degree of respect by the general public. This is made evident in their favorite debate tactic: label your opponent the equivalent of a Jew-hater. That is, challenge their opponent to justify his position if it were about Judaism instead of Scientology. This Jedi mind trick is remarkably effective -- partly because a sane person avoids even the specter of anti-semitism, but also because most people have only a vague notion of the parameters of religious freedom.
Their implicit argument is that treating Scientology any different from more established faiths (eg. Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam) in and of itself somehow constitutes unfair discrimination. This is total bullshit. Just because the government has to observe strict impartiality toward a citizen's cherished mythology doesn't mean the rest of the general public does too. Nowhere in the Constitution does it say anything about it being illegal to ridicule or deride someone's lameass religious beliefs.
In America, it is your undeniable prerogative to practice religious freedom -- meaning, you can join any spiritual faith you like, no matter how ludicrous its theology or venal its leadership. For that matter, you are free to declare yourself an atheist, or even start a new religion. This fundamental right was enshrined in the Bill of Rights because the Founders knew all too well the gruesome history of religious persecution in the colonies (not to mention mother England).
Members of the Church of Scientology apparently fail to grasp that those other religious groups have developed their reputations as more-or-less benign organizations over centuries of good works. On the other hand, Scientology has instead demonstrated itself to be a paranoid institution obsessed with quashing dissent and establishing world hegemony.
To repeat: the Church of Scientology is certainly entitled to proselytize and share their nutball theology with everyone. For that matter, anybody who feels like surrendering themselves to the cult are free to do so. But no American -- not one -- is obliged to show them the tiniest modicum of respect, except insofar as the law requires (fair housing, equal employment, etc). And if they don't like their image, maybe they should stop acting like such thin-skinned, vicious assholes all the time.
star powerSo if Scientology is such an obviously shitty come-on, then why does anybody fall for it? Good question.
One reason is probably famous people. L. Ron Hubbard decreed that the church establish an institution (called "Celebrity Centre") to attract prominent sports figures, media personalities, government leaders, and business executives from all industries. A church memo from August 1974 put it this way:
The exact purpose of Celebrity Centre is:
These powerful and/or glamorous members have special standing within the church, and therefore receive the most deferential treatment. The strategy definitely works; Scientology manages to attract their fair share of recognizable names. Testimonials from actors with high Q ratings tend to generate positive media coverage, which helps the church's image and recruitment efforts.
People have theorized that Lisa Marie Presley's 18-month marriage to Michael Jackson was arranged or abetted by the Church of Scientology, in hopes of recruiting the King of Pop. If that's true, then it evidently failed. Perhaps Presley wasn't the best bait.
Ironically, Lisa Marie's father came to hate Scientology. According to a longtime member of his entourage:
One day, in L.A., we got in the limousine and went down to the Scientology center on Sunset, and Elvis went in and talked to them. We waited in the car, but apparently they started doing all these charts and crap for him. Elvis came out and said "Fuck those people! There's no way I'll ever get involved with that son-of-a-bitchin' group. All they want is my money."
Of course, both his ex-wife Priscilla and their daughter wound up members of the cult. In September 2002, Priscilla lamented that Elvis hadn't joined: "I wish that he knew what Scientology was before he died." She added that it could have "helped Elvis a lot" with his drug problem. Maybe yes, maybe no.
the futureThe Church of Scientology doesn't release specific or reliable membership figures, just fake estimates. So although they like to claim that there are 8 million Scientologists walking the Earth, this figure necessarily includes anyone who has ever taken a single Scientology course or subscribed to one of their magazines.
According to outside estimates, the church seems to be shrinking in popularity. Today there are probably only about 100,000 practicing Scientologists worldwide. But this doesn't mean that they're about to dry up and blow away.
Yes, their cult leader is dead and they have a reputation worse than Heaven's Gate. But they're well-financed and in it for the long haul. It may take several decades, but Scientology will eventually drop into the background and become an everyday feature of the world's religious scene.
Don't believe it? Consider about the Church of Christ, Scientists. Their beliefs are roughly as weird as Scientology's and their founder just as crazy. But nobody even blinks when you bring up the Christian Scientists. Same thing with the Church of Jesus Christ, Latter-Day Saints. They seem like humdrum eccentrics, despite their outrageously nutball theology.
Face it, Scientology is here to stay. They're a permanent fixture. And twenty or thirty years from now, no one will pay them any more attention than the Lutherans.