Scientology represents itself publicly as a dedicated group of people trying to do something effective to improve the world. It may seem to be just another self-help or community action group, or perhaps just another bunch of nuts. None of these images is accurate.
Scientology is an unusual and dangerous kind of money-making machine. It represents L. Ron Hubbard's best efforts to find a social niche where his machine's uniquely predatory activities could be hidden from public view. That is why this money-making enterprise was set up as a "religion." Scientology has also tried to elude governmental jurisdictions by operating at sea and more recently on an Indian reservation in Oklahoma. The operation is divided into compartments so that even loyal members will not know the nature of activities carried out elsewhere in the organization. Much that was revealed in the June, 1990 Los Angeles Times, for example, was a shock to many Scientologists who truly knew nothing about the deceptive, coercive and illegal activities which are and always have been an integral part of their "church."
For whatever reasons, many people in our world are desperate to believe in something. Common sense can easily take a back seat to hopeful desire and wishful thinking; there is nothing new about a fool and his money being parted. That is not news.
What is new, is the emergence of large-scale organizations, using modern social science and business management methods, at least partially hidden from public accountability, designed to systematically exploit the weaknesses of troubled people and profit from them financially.
The prevalence of psychics, "channeling," and countless other "New Age" scams suggests that Americans have a large budget for fraud and are quite willing to spend money on unrequited hope. So this is not just a question of money. The problem, rather, is that Scientology is actively harmful to its participants, their families, and to the society at large.
To achieve large-scale recruitment and exploitation, and to enable continuance of such activity, the cult must avoid a public outcry. The victims must be silenced. The new wholesale-exploitation organizations accomplish this by manipulating their victims (with what has been called "mind control") so they acquire complicity in their own exploitation and become supportive of the exploiter.
At first glance this may sound unlikely or outrageous. But recall that battered women are notoriously loyal to their abusers, and often cling desperately to the hope that everything will change and come out for the best. A primary task of battered woman shelters and support groups is to break through this denial and help the woman face the fact that the abuser is in fact doing what he is doing. From there, recovery is possible.
The same psychological mechanisms that create loyalty in a battered woman, deliberately instilled, can make a cult victim loyal to the cult. Psychological manipulation at that level has evolved in recent decades, based on postWar research in social psychology, communist experiments in coercive "re-education," plus America's good old "Elmer Gantry" tradition. Your typical college freshman hasn't got a chance. With the victim thus made into a smiling captive, his exploitation can continue indefinitely.
The result of this transformation is a person psychologically unable to face basic facts of his or her own life. To evade unwanted truth, the person must seek refuge ever more deeply and exclusively in the exploitive group -- the only place where the shared lies and actual degradation will go unquestioned.
To preserve this vampirish relationship, fortunes are squandered, careers destroyed, educations abandoned, families torn apart, medical or psychological help neglected -- and the person deprived of the true rewards of life which are his or her just due.
There is no automatic or foolproof way out of this trap. The diverse life experience which ordinarily leads us from one situation to another is shut off or devalued in the one-dimensional cult environment.
"Psychological kidnapping" is not yet recognized as a crime by our legal system; it is instead the desperate parent who spirits away an adult child who may be judged guilty of a crime. The person imprisoned by "psychological kidnapping" -- like the battered woman -- may remain imprisoned for life.
This is harmful.
Not a familiar situation to most Americans -- like AIDS or child abuse, it is not pleasant to look at. We would rather not see such things or admit that our peaceful world contains them. But today, Scientology is running ads (for Dianetics) on nationwide TV and full-page public relations ads in USA Today. Derivative front groups such as Sterling Management are recruiting for Scientology with a nationwide "management training" come-on. Another Scientology front, called "Narconon," nearly got state accreditation to operate a "drug rehabilitation" facility in Oklahoma -- until exposed by the Cult Awareness Network, the National Commission Against Health Fraud, the Newkirk Herald Journal, and others.
Drug rehab is big business. If the Narconon facility had slipped through and received government funding, it might have become a major source of money for the cult and a nucleus for further growth based on the "legitimacy" of state accreditation. The fate of its victims would remain concealed behind cult-induced self-deception, as already occurs in Scientology "processing."
In drug rehab, an actual result is expected, not just public relations hype and "success stories." Despite Scientology's desperate efforts to evade scrutiny -- including personal harassment of Newkirk citizens and state officials -- the Oklahoma Board of Mental Health spent a year evaluating the actual results of the $21,000-per-patient (for the initial three-month program) "LRH Tech" at Narconon Chilocco and reached this conclusion: "The Board determines that the Narconon Program is not effective in the treatment of chemical dependency.... The Board concludes that the program offered by Narconon-Chilocco is not medically safe.... Certification is denied."
On the other hand, there is nothing so threatening to Scientology as an obviously successful psychiatric procedure. The cult's self-serving war against the psychiatric profession led, in 1991, to a public smear campaign against the anti-depressant medication, Prozac. From the April 19, 1991 Wall Street Journal:
"The public's fear of Prozac as a result of this campaign has itself become a potentially serious public health problem as people stay away from treatment," says Jerold Rosenbaum, a Harvard psychiatry professor.
Prozac was determined to be safe and effective by the FDA.
In management training or self-improvement, the "tech" is still the same bag of tricks -- but there is no FDA or Oklahoma Board of Mental Health.
We rely on caveat emptor ("street smarts") and the courts to police fraud. But it is hard to prove fraud when nothing concrete was promised in the first place, when the only substance was hard sell and elusive social pressures. And it is virtually impossible to recover damages from a wealthy and litigious "religion" whose modus operandi is to sue at the drop of a hat, intimidate dissent, and "trick, sue, lie to and destroy" anyone who antagonizes them.
Individual Scientologists rarely intend harm. But harm occurs because the fate of victims, and their actual needs, literally have no meaning within the shell of group-think. The "raw meat" is getting "LRH Tech" and that is good and sufficient -- by definition, without question or thought.
The problem is not bad people, but a powerful and insane group environment which uses deceptive and manipulative methods to induce people to do and believe things which they otherwise would not do or believe.
There are groups specialized to prey upon your hope, courage, loyalty, and desire for betterment. They get your attention any way they can. They create a social milieu which gradually and covertly seduces good people into agreeing among themselves on self-deceptions, so they come to believe themselves an elite in unique possession of all the right answers. The real result is dependence on the group and vulnerability to its control and exploitation.
That is what we mean by "cult." Further information is available from numerous books and from groups such as the Cult Awareness Network. This subject, which was a mystery to many in the early 1970s, is no mystery today. Information is widely and publicly available.
Margery Wakefield's book provides a basic description of Scientology. I will add here some explicitly personal opinions and interpretations, based on my thirteen years in that cult.
Many persons reading this book will trying to make sense of strange and unfamiliar behavior by friends or family members. They may feel -- since they have been told so -- that they "don't understand" and that they are doing something wrong.
So let me begin with a reassurance. If you know someone who has become associated with Scientology, it is not your imagination if you think you are seeing incredibly unthinking, uncaring, uninformed, belligerent, arrogant behavior from people you have good reason to believe know better.
A convenient symbol for this problem, one that you may have seen, is bumperstickers with slogans such as "DON'T LET THEM DRUG YOUR CHILDREN" and "PSYCHIATRY KILLS." Psychiatry certainly is not beyond reproach, but this is uninformed follow-the-leader behavior, attacking a large and heterogeneous group of people (as if they were all the same) merely because many of them are in a position to knowledgeably expose the cult's false and inflated claims. The point of such obviously mindless display is to force group members to isolate themselves from ordinary discourse and commit to a highly visible and belligerent stand with the group. Its audience is the group member more than the public.
This is one example of how Scientologists come to accept and act out the thought process exemplified by L. Ron Hubbard in his instructions on how to handle persons or groups, particularly the media, who disagree with or do not buy Scientology's hype -- who, characteristically, are labelled "enemies" in Scientology's private language.
Hubbard's instructions include:
... find or manufacture enough threat against them to sue for peace.... Originate a black PR campaign to destroy the person's repute and discredit them.... Be very alert to sue for slander at the slightest chance so as to discourage.... The purpose of the suit is to harass and discourage rather than to win.... Don't ever defend. Always attack.... [Enemies] may be tricked, sued, lied to, or destroyed.... If possible, destroy them utterly....
The books, articles and court cases on Scientology are replete with examples of how this advice has been followed. That is not our subject here. But Scientology's response to critical examination always has been to distract attention away from the issues and instead to smear and discredit opponents.
In other words, the arrogance, belligerence, and disregard for evidence that you observe are part of what Scientology is. They are part of how the individual is isolated from his past and made captive to the group. Those are not accidental failings or errors of lone individuals.
Now, let's connect the dots. What kind thought process do you suppose is required of the followers of Tom Metzger and his White Aryan Resistance (WAR) group, for them to be able to believe the myths of white supremacy -- which are no more ridiculous than Hubbard's statement that:
Psychs ... have been on the track a long time and are the sole cause of decline in this universe....
-- HCOB 12 August 1982
As neo-Nazis stir up hate against jews and blacks, Scientology advertises:
Get the standard Tech on how you can help obliterate Psychiatry.
-- from an ad for a CCHR conference on board a Scientology-owned ship, March 5-11, 1992
In both cases we see group-think producing an arrogant and unthinking disregard for evidence and facts, a diminution of individual judgment and responsibility -- which makes the group's propensity for belligerent attack all the more dangerous.
In 1950, in Dianetics, Hubbard wrote:
Perhaps at some distant date only the unaberrated person [i.e., Scientologist] will be granted civil rights before law.
Since early 1974, Scientology has had "concentration camps" for its internal dissidents -- euphemistically called the "Rehabilitation Project Force" or "RPF." Thus far, fortunately, the cult has lacked sufficient political power to enforce its "ethics" on a larger scale.
The pathetic irrelevance of this cult does not adequately indicate the danger it represents; it is not sufficient just to mutter something about "a fool and his money," and then go our own way. Scientology is one manifestation of a much larger wave of irrationality and influenced judgment.
German society, in the immediate pre-Nazi period, was obsessed with the occult. A prominent general promoted the worship of Odin. Heinrich Himmler, founder of the SS, thought of that group as an elite "religious brotherhood" of racial Aryans, intent on regaining the occult powers (OT abilities) of their ancestors. Today we have psychics, "channeling," Scientology (and other derivatives of satanism), the White Aryan Resistance, etc. -- a wide spectrum of abdicated reason, a reservoir of adrift irrationality ready to be mobilized by the next Fuhrer.
Remember that the Nazis too thought they were being loyal to their friends and family, and were building a better world. They too built their philosophy on a pseudoscience which could not be questioned and which justified atrocities. They did not "fear to hurt another in a just cause."
Persons adrift, anchored only to the group and its irrationality, are the actual product of Scientology.
In growing to be an adult, one learns not to buy the Brooklyn Bridge. One acquires "street smarts" and at least a street version of the legal concept of "due diligence." "Due diligence" is a basic level of adult responsibility; it means not being a sucker -- i.e., that you have exercised at least the most basic means of finding out if what you intend to do will have a satisfactory outcome. Checking a babysitter's references is an example of "due diligence." Failing to do so, for example by leaving your kid with a stranger at the airport, could be considered "negligence."
Subjective perception is notoriously unreliable. We all know that witnesses to an automobile accident often have different stories. We have heard the phrase "mob psychology." Many of us are at least passingly familiar with studies of perception and the effects of group influence.
Because subjective perception is susceptible to a such a variety of influences, "due diligence" is especially important when one's life, fortune and sacred honor will be critically affected by decisions based on subjective perception.
But how many people have sold or mortgaged their homes to give money to Scientology? How many have "disconnected" or withdrawn from friends or family because the other person was not sufficiently dedicated to the group? How many children have been short-changed because "clearing the planet" was a higher priority?
What level of adult responsibility, what "due diligence," stood behind those critical life decisions?
If a "Clear" had total recall and other abilities claimed by the Dianetics book, that fact would not be hard to prove to any skeptical observer. Every Scientologist in the world has had to learn to ignore the vast discrepancy between results claimed and what we actually can observe. The group-think offers the rationalization that Scientology is beneficial, even if not as claimed. But the obvious discrepancies and the facile group-think rationalizations are prima facie evidence that the substance of Scientology consists largely of mere group influence rather than effective procedures. Those things are suspicious and all the more cause for extraordinary "due diligence."
Do we observe such diligence among Scientologists? Quite the reverse -- and the fanaticism with which Scientology discourages due diligence should raise further suspicion, in the conscientious person, of a fraudulent and predatory nature of that group.
In Scientology, as in other cults, group pressures overwhelm the individual's desire and ability to exercise due diligence. Not only will cult members not explore the group's references and bona fides, but they will shut out and refuse to listen to information that is prepared and presented to them. Very few Scientologists know any of the books or other materials about Scientology that have appeared over the past two decades.
Scientology brands dissenting material with the generic label "entheta" which means, in reality, "something you will have to confess that you read" (on a security check in auditing). That can lead to lengthy and expensive corrective actions and loss of status in the group. To avoid such discomforts, one learns habits of self-censorship -- and that is the end of "due diligence."
When "entheta" is encountered, in newspapers, magazines, or in conversation, the group member learns mechanisms for shutting it out by myriad tricks of looking elsewhere or blanking the mind -- for example, by discrediting the source of information because "they don't have the tech," i.e., they don't know the fairy-tale "secrets of the universe" that are taught on OT III.
My personal favorite definition of a Scientologist is "someone who can no longer tell the difference," i.e., a person comfortably habituated to the lies, whose personal defenses against non-group ideas are in order, who can sell the cult line with a straight face.
Let me say this differently: a Scientologist is one who has learned to be negligent (an acquired ignorance) in his or her application of due diligence as regards the group affiliation.
The result is families, fortunes and lives squandered "negligently" by people who should know better.
I remember a time not long before I graduated from high school, in the days when I was reading The Organization Man, Theory of the Leisure Class, The True Believers and such books. I remember writing myself a note, sort of a "time capsule," to check at intervals throughout my life. The intention was that I identify and compare the changing social influences in my life, and assess how their influence had changed since the last "checkpoint." The idea was to stay aware of my position vis-a-vis such influences, and not unconsciously drift away from my own values and purposes.
Of course that paper has long since vanished. I remember it, though, as an early and valid expression of a central value in my life: to see clearly. My attitude was and is that our challenge is to gain the greatest possible understanding of life's situation in the time available and that delusion does not further this goal.
In other words, I am not temperamentally suited to be a cult member. It took an extraordinary situation in my life to get me attached to Scientology in the first place, and there was no way I could survive as myself for very long in that sea of hype and false promises. Within the cult, there is no way to see clearly. It is not possible. The noise level (suggestions, evaluations, flattery, hard sell, etc.) deliberately make it impossible because one who sees clearly would not remain captive to the group.
I am trying to describe a kind of religious experience or desire. I have never described this before and I am not good at it. Words such as "centered" hint at it. It requires quiet. The best description I know comes from a quite different context.
In the 1930s, James Agee, a New York intellectual, and photographer Walker Evans, were sent to do a magazine story on sharecroppers in the south. Agee went to Alabama and was totally out of place. He seemed not to know where he was or why. The resulting book, called Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, became a somewhat self-conscious and tedious examination of his process of observing where he was and why.
But Agee was a writer, and the book contains this remarkable description of something that occurred along the way. He was staying in a sharecropper's dirt-floor shack, it was late at night and he couldn't sleep. He got up and sat at the bare-board table.
- The light in this room is of a lamp. Its flame in the glass is of the dry, silent and famished delicateness of the latest lateness of the night, and of such ultimate, such holiness of silence and peace that all on earth and within extremest remembrance seems suspended upon it in perfection as upon reflective water: and I feel that if I can by utter quietness succeed in not disturbing this silence, in not so much as touching this plain of water, I can tell you anything within realm of God, whatsoever it my be, that I wish to tell you, and that what so ever it may be, you will not be able to help but understand it.
- -- Houghton Mifflin paperback edition, 1980, p. 51
That is what Scientology prevents.
Whatever spiritual growth may mean, Scientology distracts from it and misdirects the person's aspirations into unknowing complicity with its own predatory and satanic purposes -- which perhaps are best described in Hubbard's own "affirmations": "Men are your slaves," and "You can be merciless whenever your will is crossed and you have the right to be merciless."
Scientologists were to be Hubbard's golem. A term more often used today is "Rondroid."
The product of Scientology is disruption of quiet and replacement of the person's "center" with group pressure and a babble of hype designed to go in endless circles that lead only back into the group. There is no "tech." There are only acceptable and salable concepts, such as looking up words in a dictionary, which are given a false source and made to be part of the trap. Life is captured and sold back to the person as an expensive group-sponsored imitation of life. For example, the reality of shared emotion is misdirected by cult definition to give an illusion of substance to a group-owned imitation of spiritual growth. The real thing is thereby displaced and prevented. (The subject of "imitation" is also discussed by Robert Kaufman elsewhere in this volume.)
Loss of one's "center," of one's life, of real personal growth, is the most intimate personal cost of cult servitude, more so even than the trashed families and other costs which are easier to identify and describe.
Former Scientologist Roxanne Friend, though diagnosed with a terminal cancer which went untreated while in Scientology, said on the Sally Jessy Raphael show:
I can honestly tell you my life is happier now. I feel more joy. I have a life now, and I did not have a life for thirteen years.
One of the most painful moments in my life was watching a person I knew well, and cared for, dissected and manipulated by a team of Scientology registrars (salesmen trained in "hard sell").
It was a pretty easy sell, no particular challenge for the registrars. My friend was not in a very stable position, unresolved personal issues having been evaded for several years by flight into Scientology with its promised "way out" and convenient excuses for avoiding actual confrontation of mental health issues.
My own position was untenable, no angel myself, with personal and family connections binding me to the hope that Scientology would provide common ground for communication. I was still willing to try and therefore not positioned to make an clean break. I was easy to neutralize.
The encounter began with routine discussion of various topics during which the registrars assessed the situation and reached the conclusions I just described. (I say they reached those conclusions because they acted on them.) Clearly, my friend was the target, not me. I just had to be kept out of the way.
They used the most obvious tricks: gross flattery, "love bombing," unsubstantiated assertions and asserted agreements -- which my friend could not question without upsetting the flattery-relation. It was like watching an automobile accident in slow motion, each detail so clear and seemingly so inevitable. She offered no resistance; in retrospect the event suggests a battered woman's loyalty to the perpetrator of violence or a kidnap victim's desperate identification with the power figure. This was the first time I had witnessed such blatant contempt for another person's integrity; the registrars flaunted their control of my friend, with little sneers to indicate they understood my helplessness.
I do not understand how one human being can take such crass and blatant advantage of another, but then I've led a sheltered life. The performance was without shame except my own. I was ashamed that anyone would see my friend in such a degraded condition, much more exposed and helpless than if she were naked. I was ashamed to have witnessed it myself. I was ashamed to be in any way associated with people who would do such a thing. I was witnessing a rape, with my friend as captive, smiling, robotic "participant," helpfully insisting that everything was her own free decision. I do not know what depth of past pain made this seem an acceptable alternative in her life. I could do or say nothing; she was responding to each ploy predictably and obediently as though programmed in advance. I had watched the programming.
And that was only the beginning.
I was not yet sufficiently neutralized. There remained a possibility that I might later disrupt this corruption of a human person which the registrars had accomplished. They would not stay to defend their handiwork so she would have to do it for them.
The solution was simply to get my friend so closely identified with the evening's events that I could not challenge those events without seeming to attack my friend -- a typical Scientology misdirection, seemingly second nature to the registrars, who showed no hesitation. Also, there were Scientology "reinforcements" available locally to attack me directly if I stepped out of line.
Here's how it was done. My friend had wanted to do something for me, so the registrars told her what "I needed." Without questioning their assertions, she heroically rose to the challenge of accomplishing what "I needed." That commitment bound her to the event. The registrars told her over and over how heroic and noble she was for doing this wonderful thing "for me."
The situation was designed to shut me up. I could do nothing but agree without inviting retribution and casting myself in the role of ungrateful cad. That would have accomplished nothing. There was no way she could have listened.
Now in fact, my friend had known me for years. The lack of benefit from any previous Scientology actions, and my increasing discomfort, were there for anyone to see. No one who knew me well could be unaware that Scientology and I were a marriage made in Hell. What I desperately needed was help getting out of the cult and back in touch with my own life. At a much later time this same friend observed, but without understanding the cause, that I was "dead." And she was right. My inability to face the truth and act effectively, on that occasion, was a personal failure of major proportion which left a deep guilt that I carried for years. I was near to being able to face the truth, but not quite; I did not understand the tricks of mind control.
For my friend to believe that what was being done was "for me" required eliminating any perception or understanding of who I was. That was understood quite well by the registrars, and accomplished with an authoritative, straight-in-the-eyes hypnotic command to my friend that the "real" me wanted what they said, and that whatever I said was not really me but just my "case." Once that shift of perception was implanted by Hard Sell, I became effectively invisible to my friend. In one sense, that was a murder, it made me into a non-person.
Such interrupted human contact is central to Scientology's mind control. Just as jews were "subhuman" to the Nazis, their human concerns invisible and irrelevant, so "case" served the same purpose here. The group's asserted reality replaced the actual human reality. The person to whom this was done (my friend) thereby became in fact unable to face the actual person (me) and -- the other side of the same coin -- unable to face what she actually had done. She then had nowhere to go but deeper into the group. She became all the more captive, forced to defend the mutual self-deceptions which maintained the cult relationship, as if her very identity depended on it -- which, of course, it did.
Although I did not know it then, that misdirection was effectively to end our friendship. Real human contact was impossible thereafter, in either direction.
This is the level on which Scientology's manipulation operates. It is not the sort of thing we like to talk about, and probably not very pleasant to read. The unspeakably personal pain of such events shields the cult from public exposure of its real nature and activity. No one wants to admit they've seen such things, much less talk about them.
But the shell of silence is crumbling. As with survivors of sexual abuse, a fast-growing number of people are becoming willing to speak out about Scientology, to tell what they have seen, making it more possible for these things to be known and understood. I am standing on the shoulders of many such people.
It is hard to imagine how Germans could have remained unaware of what was happening in their country in the 1930s, but familiarity with cult phenomena makes it more believable that they were, in fact, literally unaware. The necessary information was available -- but unseen. The cult model -- human reality made invisible, subordinate to the endless greed of an insane group -- shows clearly how the same sort of thing could happen again. But we can defend ourselves and those we love.
Attacking the neo-Nazis, Scientology, and other cults is not the answer -- though this can be greatly beneficial as an educational endeavor. An irrationality suppressed just goes underground and spreads. And our own freedoms require that the cults be unfettered, because we can not abridge their freedoms of speech and association without endangering our own.
What we can do is exercise our own freedom of speech. We can fight Scientology's attempts to use intimidation and harassment to silence us. We can expose their crimes and deceptions -- in the courts, in the media and in our communities.
But that is only the start of an answer, because Scientology is only a symptom of the problem. Why do people who would not buy the Brooklyn Bridge buy Scientology? Or any other cult? Or any of the white supremacist-neo-Nazi groups? Or the suicidal loyalties of street gangs? What is missing from our basic "street smarts?"
What is missing, is a basic understanding of the social world in which we live, its basic geography and survival skills. Cult recruitment should be as transparent to any streetwise high school kid as any other con game that seeks to manipulate his loyalty, to exploit his person, labor, or money.
We study "American Government" in high school, but we neglect social psychology, the role of groups in our lives, and their effects. We study "General Science," but how many of us acquired a good understanding of what science is, the scientific method, how to lie with statistics, or how to recognize nonsense? Perhaps the most important thing we can do is encourage and promote such education.
We can educate ourselves. What are cults? How do they operate? What else (such as the White Aryan Resistance) operates in a similar manner? How can "cognitive dissonance" affect our perceptions? What is wrong with anecdotal evidence, or "scientific discoveries" that can be known or applied only within the confines of a single group?
We can speak. Loudly. We can work with our schools and churches to strengthen our "street smarts" and bring about an awareness of these vital matters -- and to find better, more real, answers to the genuine human needs which cults exploit.
A moment ago I used a polemical phrase, "an insane group." That phrase does mean something; we have numerous examples. Some studies of management have made a start, but we really do not have yet, in the social sciences, a proper definition or theory to encompass this portion of the social reality that we experience. That work is yet to be done.
Most immediately, we must recognize the reality of "undue influence" or whatever you want to call it, and work within the legal system to find fair and humane ways to offer alternatives to those who are "stuck in a sticky group." It will not do just to blame the victim, saying that it was his fault or weakness or decision. People do not ask to be raped or choose to join destructive cults.
Let's not just let the rape go on, and later say that in ignorance we did not know what was happening.
Bob Penny was in Scientology for 13 years. He wrote Social Control in Scientology: A look at the methods of entrapment, which was published in the same volume with Margery Wakefield's The Road to Xenu.