Scientology: the newest faith

When I first learned, a while back, about the absurd “theology” of Scientology, I did a lot of reading about it, including biographies of L. Ron Hubbard and testimonies of defectors from that “faith”.  What I learned was horrifying, but also enlightening: people who are rootless, or having life problems, will often turn to anything—no matter how absurd—for solace.  So when I read Lawrence Wright’s new New Yorker article on Scientology, I didn’t learn much new beyond the history of screenwriter and director Paul Haggis.  Haggis, once, like Tom Cruise and John Travolta, an important celebrity Scientologist, defected noisily when the Church (I use that term loosely) refused to support gay marriage in California.  His story is the scaffold on which Wright constructs his exposé.

If you don’t know much about the operations of this nefarious organization, it’s well worth reading Wright’s piece.  There are the well-known revelations of how David Miscavige (the “Chairman of the Board” of Scientology) regularly and savagely beat his minions, how the “Sea Org” (a subgroup of the Church) got young people to sign billion-year contracts and worked them like dogs for virtually no pay, how members who screw up are held in Scientology “prison camps,” and brought back if they escape—all the stuff that has come out in the last decade.

And yet Scientology still enjoys its tax-exempt status as a church.  The US government has gone after them on this issue, but they launched a fusillade of lawsuits that simply wore the government out, and it capitulated.  Most of us probably consider Scientology a cult rather than a religion, but that’s only because it has relatively few followers compared to, say, Mormonism, and because its official dogma is so bizarre.

But is it?  As The Los Angeles Times reported, here’s the “theology” of Scientology, a theology that has been deeply hidden by the Church and emerged only during lawsuits:

“A major cause of mankind’s problems began 75 million years ago,” the Times wrote, when the planet Earth, then called Teegeeack, was part of a confederation of ninety planets under the leadership of a despotic ruler named Xenu. “Then, as now, the materials state, the chief problem was overpopulation.” Xenu decided “to take radical measures.” The documents explained that surplus beings were transported to volcanoes on Earth. “The documents state that H-bombs far more powerful than any in existence today were dropped on these volcanoes, destroying the people but freeing their spirits—called thetans—which attached themselves to one another in clusters.” Those spirits were “trapped in a compound of frozen alcohol and glycol,” then “implanted” with “the seed of aberrant behavior.” The Times account concluded, “When people die, these clusters attach to other humans and keep perpetuating themselves.”

Okay, that sound really crazy, but is it any crazier than the Christian myths (cue Ben Goren: talking snakes, zombies, sin forgiveness, fondled intestines. . )?  As actress Anne Archer (another celebrity Scientologist) points out in the article, one of the reasons Scientology is despised is simply because it’s new.  When we’re around to see how a faith is really formed—L. Ron Hubbard popping pills and writing science fiction, Joseph Smith pretending to find golden plates, Mary Baker Eddy’s recovery from a back injury—we see the chicanery, duplicity, and credulousness that attends the whole enterprise.  But as a faith ages, it gains more and more respectability, so we rarely think of how crazy theological doctrine really is. If Scientology survives another 200 years (and I’m not sure it will), it will be a respectable faith.

You’ve probably seen the YouTube video of Tom Cruise espousing the “theology” of Scientology.  (If you haven’t seen it, watch it immediately.  And note that, according to The New Yorker, this video, including the music, was produced by the Church itself!)  It’s scary, but this doctrine any scarier than if, say, a priest were to matter-of-factly lay out the doctrines of Catholicism?

But I find this 1986 video even scarier: it’s David Miscavige announcing to assembled Scientologists that L. Ron Hubbard had recently died (Miscavige doesn’t use that word; he says that Hubbard discarded a body that was no longer useful to him in his researches).  Miscavige, 25 at the time, is wearing official Scientology duds and is painfully earnest.  The video—only one version is online—has been satirically subcaptioned, which at first I found annoying, but in truth the captions are funny and often accurate.  L. Ron Hubbard’s lawyer makes a brief appearance at the end. (The “OT” mentioned by Miscavige refers to “operating thetan,” the eight highest levels of Scientology’s “spritual awareness.”  And when he says that LRH died in “A.D. 36,” that’s 36 years after his publication of Dianetics.)

If you’ve read the New Yorker piece, you’ll probably want to see photos of Gold Base, the Scientology headquarters near Riverside, California.  Note the razor wire and security cameras, and the track where, it is said, bad Scientologists are forced to run laps for hours:

I would love to see some liberal churches—Episcopalians, Methodists, and the like—denounce this particular religion.

69 thoughts on “Scientology: the newest faith

  1. Okay, that sound really crazy, but is it any crazier than the Christian myths (cue Ben Goren: talking snakes, zombies, sin forgiveness, fondled intestines. . )?

    Thank you. I made a very similar comment over at Pharyngula recently, and I was frankly surprised by how many people disputed it. Xenu and all that rubbish with the volcanoes is not quantitatively nuttier than virgin births or resurrections, and if anyone thinks it is, I’d like them to explain why.

    I’ll say this for the Scientologists–they at least acknowledge that the earth is very old.

    1. Just yesterday on one of the major American TV networks, during prime-time, a very innocuous (seemingly innocuous) ad ran for scientology, offering help for those seeking knowledge or those struggling to cope with everyday life. No mention of the weird or supernatural core values of that organization.

    2. I’m not prepared to say that it’s quantitatively nuttier, but I do think it’s a different kind of nuttiness. Christian mythology has a, well, mythic flavor to it, like the stories of Greek gods and heroes. Scientology dogma, in contrast, has the flavor of bad 50s sci-fi (not surprisingly, considering its origins). It’s not larger-than-life; it’s just cheesy.

        1. Exactly–cheese tastes so much better when it’s been well aged…

          This just makes me think of Julia Sweeney in Letting Go Of God (10:00 to 13:00 bit). That part where she’s listening to the Mormon boys go on and on about the Nephites and the Lamanites and the gold plates buried near Palmyra, New York, and Joseph Smith translating them from Reformed Egyptian into English… “…at this point I just wanted to give them some advice about their *pitch*…even the Scientologists know to start off with the personality test…” And how weird Christian mythology was, but she was just so *used* to that story… 😉

      1. “Bad 50s sci-fi” You took the words off my fingertips. “Xenu”? “Teegeeack”? H-bombs? Shades of A.E. van Vogt and Robert Heinlein.

        One thing this lacks that the others, even the nuttiest, have: any semblance of provenance. Mary Baker Eddy claimed to be divinely inspired, Joseph Smith had (well, he says he had) his plates and his stones, the Millerites had their calculations. But Hubbard just made this stuff up and never seems to pretend he did anything else!

        1. It also lacks a protagonist. There’s no hero to the Xenu story, just billions of nameless victims. (Unless we’re supposed to believe LRH is the hero.)

    3. I would judge it quantitatively less nutty: volcanoes and nuclear weapons actually exist, aliens are plausible, and other religions (e.g. Christianity) also include the idea of spirits or souls that survive death, as well as the idea of demons possessing people and causing mental illnesses, and which can be cast out by church authorities.
      I remember Sam Harris once saying that Mormonism is objectively less likely to be true than Christianity because it requires that Christianity be true, plus some other unlikely claims. Similarly, Christianity requires similar supernatural claims to Scientology, plus some other unlikely claims.

  2. One of the more ungodly (heh) things about Scientology is how viciously retaliatory they are, and how incredibly willing they are to use their ill gotten financial gains to pursue through the courts anyone or thing who tries to expose them. So in that regard, it would not surprise me if Dr. Coyne hears from their lawyers. Oh, and that’s another thing that make Scientology evil: that they instill, even in reasonable people, paranoia.

  3. “but [is]this doctrine any scarier than if, say, a priest were to matter-of-factly lay out the doctrines of Catholicism?”

    No, especially when you consider that the Catholic church believes that Canon Law supercedes civil law.

    1. South Park is even better when combined the recorded audio of L Ron Hubbard explaining the exact doctrine and with Scientology spokesperson Tommy Davis denying the same. Comedy Gold.

  4. About a year ago, I was walking through a mall when I came across a guy at a scientology booth. He started to approach me with the sales pitch, but apparently I rolled a Nat 20 on Intimidate or something, because I’ve never seen anyone back away from me so quickly before.

  5. When people die, these clusters attach to other humans

    Theeerrrreees…

    Klingons on the starboard bow
    Starboard bow
    Starboard bow
    There’s Klingons on the starboard bow

    Scrape ’em off, Jim!

  6. In some ways, I find the predominant mythology of the Abrahamic monotheistic religions substantially less plausible than Scientology.

    While both “traditions” (I use the term loosely in the case of Scientology) contain their fair share of vague, poorly defined and badly articulated woo, in the case of Scientology at least it seems to me that the woo is largely relegated to the domain of Science Fiction. Believing in Xenu is obviously pretty silly, but if you take the legend on its own terms, it is at least reasonably internally consistent.

    Judeo/Christian mythology, OTOH, postulates everyday commonly known experiences that are universally acknowledged to be outright impossible in every single human context other than religion (virgin births, bushes that burn but are not consumed, a horse bearing its rider to the heavens, etc. etc.). Even worse, it gets its adherents to swallow notions that are meaningless at best, and flat-out contradictions at worst (the concept of the Trinity springs to mind, or the notion of God’s perpetrating Blood Revenge on his son/himself as an expression of “love”).

    Maybe it’s just me, but I tend to find SF, even bad SF, more “plausible” than meaningless gibberish and claims of fact that are contravened by everything we know and understand about our world an our experience therein.

    1. But weren’t Xenu and the other aliens supposed to travel around the galaxy in B-52s? Pretty implausible to me.

      BTW, this article is loooong. Not much about the weird core claims, mainly personality conflicts of the hollywood members.

      And didn’t Hubbard once bet another sci-fi writer that he could invent a religion? I hope he collected on that bet.

        1. $cientology was founded 1952, 737 first flew 1967.

          Scote’s SP movie have LR Hubbard himself say DC8, which first flew 1958. Slightly more timely for £RH to catch up on.

          1. But you assumed LRH had made up all of Scientology, including Xenu and the 737s, when he launched it.

            Wasn’t it Dianetics “the new science of mental health” that he launched in 1952, and it morphed into Scientology – basically as a tax break – later?

    2. Scientologist mythology is probably no more internally consistent than an organically grown religion like Christianity. It’s just that people have neither ready access to the complete corpus of Elron’s myths, nor a great deal of motivation to pore over the writings picking out the inconsistencies.

      1. To what extent are religions like Christianity more “organically grown”?

        We know that Mohammed (IHL – if he lived) wrote^h^h^hdictacted the Qu’ran pretty much by himself, then a relatively small number of followers remembe^h^h^h^h^hmade up the ahadith within a generation or so. Paul put together the central myth of Christianity in a few years, while others were writing^h^h^hconcocting lives of Jesus about the same time.

        I guess the evolution into species/sects is organic. What are the chances of that happening to Scientology?

        1. Only real difference is the timeframe involved. Scientology hasn’t been around as long as the others.

    3. Some of that might be due to its (lack of) age and the fact it was created in the 20th century, where texts can be quickly and accurately copied even by small groups. As a result, you only have Hubbard’s plot holes, rather than centuries of interpretations, justifications and copy mistakes. Heck, even Mormonism* has had more time to not match the world as we know it today. Though I suppose Mormonism has the benefit of working from existing branches of Christianity, so you have that mythic fantasy feel, rather than working from ‘Science! (Fiction)’ + New Age-y psychic stuff.

      * As a control for a religion that’s relatively tight-knit and recent.

  7. What ever happened to Hare Krishnas?

    They were big back in the 70s and 80s, I think. One doesn’t see much of them anymore.

    I think the visibility of Tom Cruise, John Travolta and other celebs as $cientologists contributes to its “credibility”.

    I certainly agree that religion in general preys on the weak and vulnerable. But it isn’t just $cientology that takes advantage. They just appear to be a level or two creepier and more overtly cynical than the others.

    Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and every other proselytizing religion follows the exact same page of the playbook. Prey on the weakest.

    As does every single “prosperity gospel” evangelist on TV, who tell the gullible that god wants to give them immense riches, but first they have to “plant a seed” by sending in their rent money for the preacher to use.

      1. Damn, I used to love that comic, and I distinctly remember that one. I still say “Hairy Fishnuts” when people wish me a Merry Christmas.

      2. The Mooneies come to mind as well….

        Exactly what came to my mind. Funny how few people realize the second coming of Christ publishes the Washington Times

  8. If you accept the premise that religion began as a sort of wealth or status display (“I’m so secure in my ability to obtain food and shelter, that I can afford to expend effort on things with no survival function”), then it’s clear that not only are religions irrational, in order to function and thrive at all, they must be irrational.

    In order for religion to fulfill its status function, it needs to exact a cost. It’s a signaling function, like the peacock’s tail.

    No one ever founded a religion based on believing things that are self-evidently true. It’s not surprising that Scientologists believe ridiculous things. It would be surprising if they didn’t.

  9. Scientology IS worse than the Abrahamic religions. With the Abrahamic religions, one at least gets a sense that the primitives who wrote it were at least serious about their intent, however ugly and misguided.

    But with Scientology, it seems impossible not to appreciate it as the drunken sarcastic satire of a misanthropic crappy science-fiction writer who dashed something off on a bet, only to be astonished at how much money he was making off of it.

    And that is exactly what Scientology is – a fraudulent money-making scheme run by and for cynical profiteers who despise the sheep they fleece.

    Haggis indeed confirms in his story that L.Ron Hubbard was nothing a despicable, egocentric, paranoid, money-grubbing megalomaniac whose underlings and organization mirror him exactly.

    1. They’re all about money making schemes. They all transform their message in order to make themselves into whatever is most palatable to the populace so that people will come in the door and give their money. And if you want to see some ugliness, sit in a church business meeting some time!!! I’ve sat in too many to not know what the bottom line is for ALL churches, make no mistake about it.

  10. Glad I’ve made such an impression!

    Scientology is some serious whacked-out shit. But, then again, that applies to pretty much all religions.

    Morons think Joe Smith discovered some solid gold tablets with writing in an unknown Egyptian script that detailed Jesus’s post-execution exploits in Hoboken.

    Muslims think Muhammad rode a flying horse into the sunset, and that his forced marriage to an eight-year-old-girl was an act of righteousness.

    Christians think Jesus enjoyed having his intestines fondled through his gaping chest wound.

    Jews think talking plants (on fire!) give magic wand lessons to reluctant heroes.

    Hindus think there’re these elephant-headed blue men with a dozen arms each running the show.

    Neopagans think the planet is a woman who talks to them telepathetically.

    How people are unable to recognize these as the scams they so unapologetically are is beyond me.

    I mean, really. Which is more likely: that a Nigerian prince has named you as his heir, and $10,000,000 is yours if only you’ll wire a modest 1% transaction fee to his barrister, or that an ancient zombie porn fantasy tale is literally true, and you’re guaranteed an eternity of bliss after you die if only you’ll pay a modest 10% of your pre-tax income to help con other marks?

    Barnum sure nailed it all right.

    Cheers,

    b&

    1. You’ll never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people. — P. T. Barnum

      I never said half the things I said. — Yogi Berra

    2. Neopagans think the planet is a woman who talks to them telepathetically

      Sure she is, who else could have been nagging me all day to hoover the living room?

  11. It’s worth noting that Wright’s New Yorker piece is a portion of an upcoming book from Knopf with “quite a bit of additional material”:

    from Publisher’s Lunch:

    Knopf Clarifies Lawrence Wright’s Upcoming Scientology Book

    Numerous media reports have created a wave of confusion over author Lawrence Wright’s work-in-progress on the Church of Scientology and director and high-profile Scientology defector Paul Haggis. In a telephone interview on Friday, Wright’s longtime editor at Knopf, Ann Close, clarified several key points.

    Knopf purchased North American rights to the book from agent Andrew Wylie at The Wylie Agency in early October, prior to Frankfurt. But that sale was too late to be included in the agency’s Frankfurt catalog–which was the source for a Gawker post earlier this month, which claimed the book proposal was still being shopped, and that misinformation was then cited elsewhere.

    The book, currently titled THE HERETIC OF HOLLYWOOD: Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology, will be an expansion of a profile of Haggis that Wright has written for the New Yorker, which has yet to run in the magazine. While Haggis “cooperated” with Wright on the article and was interviewed by him, he has no formal connection to the book (another media mistake). Haggis’s pr representative Ziggy Kozlowski told the LAT in a statement that “Haggis asserts that he has absolutely no involvement in the book” the statement and included a quote from Haggis saying, “I am a great admirer of Mr. Wright, but he has not asked me to cooperate with him on any book. I am certainly not collaborating with him on one.”

    Knopf does not have a publication date yet, with Close noting that “right now it’s an article and we want a book. It will take him a while to finish that.” Close confirms that Haggis is “definitely not a collaborator.” She explained, “He’ll be the spine of the book, the central story, but there will be quite a bit of additional material. There will be more on the general Church and background, as well as the social implications [of Scientology.]“

  12. Scientology is obviously a scam. Christianity, et al, are not so obvious because we were indoctrinated our entire lives to “respect” them. But they’re still scams.

  13. I like the statement in the article, “Moreover, Scientologists are taught to hande internal conficts within the church’e own justice system.” The system sounds much like the OMERTA of 16th century Scicily, the cosa nostra, mafia and Cannon Law of the Catholic Church, reinforced over the last 30 years by Ratzinger.

  14. We need a bit of perspective here people, when scientology starts stoning people to death, have suicide bombers and starts flying planes into building or hanging homosexuals along with being sexist then it moves to the top of my agenda until then it’s just lunacy and the vulnerable people that join it would just join another cult.

    1. People said the same about Aum Shinrikyou in Japan , until what happened happened, and the truth about what was being done, and had been done, to recalcitrant members in its ‘facilities’, as well as to critics outside becam known.

    2. seriously, you really don’t know much about this cult, do you?

      they have ruined countless lives and businesses already via vindictive use of lawyers alone.

      they are of immediate concern, hence why the German government actually attempted to ban them as an organization entirely a few years back.

      strangely, most rational people can keep an eye on BOTH kinds of religious insanity.

      the perspective that appears to be entirely lacking is within your own post!

      1. It’s not only the lawyers. Read and weep on their audit pricing. They suck you in, and they suck you dry, completely.

        I know that many mainstream religions and their splinter factions are not averse to absorbing money, but Scientology was from the beginning founded with a purpose and one purpose alone. I’m too lazy to search them now, but Hubbard has been quoted for cynical remarks on how the best way to become rich was to start a church.

    3. And I suggest having a look at that Tom Cruise video linked to above: the noxious mixture of incoherence, self-empowerment and baseless comfidence – coupled with those humourless and studied fits of laughter – is very disturbing, both in itself and in what it suggests about other less intelligent and weaker members of the cult.

    4. It’s not like anybody’s contaminating taking any extreme measures; just taking a firm philosophical stand against irrational thinking, the same we would do with germ theory deniers (which, by the way, they are).

    5. You don’t have to be recruited by them to be a victim of $cientology, though that absolutely guarantees that you will be.

      You’ll want to find out about ‘Operation Snow White’ where burglaries and thefts were carried out at many US government offices. LRH’s wife was among those convicted.

      Documents seized by the FBI resulted in an investigation and conviction of the organisation itself in Canadian courts for similar attacks against the RCMP, the Ontario Provincial Police and the Ontario Minstry of the Attorney General (equivalent to a State District Attorney).

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._v._Church_of_Scientology_of_Toronto

      Look up ‘Operation Freakout’, their response to criticism of the cult in a book by author Paulette Cooper. They went to great efforts to ruin her life and almost succeeded in killing her under the guise of a suicide. She was vindicated, after initially being falsely convicted, by documents also discovered during the FBI investigation

      Cult members assigned to their Sea Org are treated much like slaves, working under compulsion for perhaps as much as $75 per week, plus room and board; for 15 hour days.

      I would like to see them investigated for organised criminal activity, myself. In the States, this could be under the RICO act.

      http://www.xenu.net is a good repository of links and articles.

    6. Well it seems I was wrong here, I thought it was just some gullible actors club. I didn’t realize it was spread across the world.

  15. I was just in Clearwater, FL this weekend, and, as always, it was creepy seeing all the scientologists running around downtown.

  16. It’s all crazy. Trying to determine which religion is crazier than another seems a pretty useless task to me.

    OK – some might be more immediately dangerous than others, but they’re all driving us toward a new Dark Age.

  17. If you want to know more about Scientology, I recommend visiting the web site: “whatstheharm.net.” In addition to accounts of those who needed medical help but instead turned to this ideology/religion, you’ll find an excellent and detailed summary of the belief system itself (this is not pretty). Good to know in case you run into any of these folks at county fairs, etc.

  18. Is it just me or does Tom Cruise seem extremely ill at ease in this video? It doesn’t look to me like someone talking about something he really believes, more like someone saying what he’d like to be true but knows isn’t.

  19. A couple of years ago the library I work in got two boxes of the complete works of that idiot Hubbard – needless to say we chucked them.

    1. We got those, too, and continue to get volumes of Scientology works. Unlike your library, however, much of that material is on our shelves. Appalling, really.

      1. Why is that appalling? Aren’t we supposed to be the ones who believe in the free exchange of ideas? Imagine how appalled you’d be if Christian librarians took it on themselves to suppress books by Hitchens, Dawkins, et al.

        1. Jeepers. Settle down.

          The damn things are on the shelf, aren’t they? And yeah, it’s appalling. On our shelves, there is not one single book that debunks Scientology. Not ONE.

          As for librarians suppressing Dawkins or Hitch or Harris–none of our librarians get the chance. Our patrons suppress them.

    2. I used to work for an animal welfare lobbying group and we had a “resource library” that we let people borrow from ( mostly materials on things like humane slaughtering techniques, farm animal transportation practices, etc). We got the same box.

      My boss wanted to chuck them, but I asked if I could take them home instead. They now serve as a great conversation piece (and help keep the left side of my bed propped up)!

  20. Difference between Scientology qnd the other Religions is this:

    People didn’t know any better when the traditional faiths were established. There was no science.

    Scientology and its followers have NO EXCUSE for their beliefs.

Comments are closed.