Is Scientology a force for good?
Rooting for the underdog
Going by the popularity of Stallone’s “Rocky movies” it is clear that there is a wide tendency in society to root for The Underdog. In a world utterly dominated by the tree Abrahamic religions, followed closely by the huge oriental siblings Buddhism and Hindu, Scientology may seem that underdog to many. During my youth in which I was still expecting to eventually become a theist of sorts, I’ve many times thought that a new religion like Scientology, with ‘Science’ and ‘Logos’ in the name would have a higher chance of providing me with any convincing answers. Certainly there is a certain charm or ‘freshness’ to a ‘newly invented’ religion in that it tends to integrate the ‘modernity’ of science in with the spiritual level. Scientology-scripture will not claim, for instance, that the earth is flat, that salt and sweat water don’t mix or that the planet is a mere 6000 years old. This, for many of us, is a breath of fresh air compared to the lunacy that is Ken Ham and his Creation Museum.
From its introductory pamphlet (which I downloaded in Dutch but is, I suspect, itself a flawed translation from English) Scientology is a religion because:
- “It accepts a higher reality either God, Supreme Being, or some conviction that man can surpass his physical being and reach a spiritual level or a divine one.
- It holds religious practices to enable the contact between man and the divine level
- It organizes as a congregation of believers in search of this divine level.”
Later in the same pamphlet it is stated that “in contract with the Abrahamic religion Scientology does not force a God-dogma upon its members”. I guess if one is a Deist, someone open to the concept of a god, without accepting specific human knowledge regarding god, that Scientology must seem very attractive and open. Scientology claims to be open to all occupations and all religions and to hold freedom as its highest achievement. This freedom, they say, is attainable through a practical course to personal revelation. One would be hard-pressed to find this level of non-denominational commitment, emphasis on freedom and individualism in any other religion I think. “Like other religions”, it says, Scientology tries to make a better world but in contrast she does it through a practical and logic application of principles. These principles are taught to you through training. The personal revelation is achieved through auditing which is a “precise type of spiritual guidance” “meant for the person to discover the truths of his own existence”.
Quoting from its website:
Scientology is the study and handling of the spirit in relationship to itself, universes and other life. Based upon the tradition of fifty thousand years of thinking men, Scientology beliefs are built upon the fundamental truths of life. From these principles, exact methods by which one can improve conditions were derived.”
Some of this wording seems positively ‘Christian’: ‘spiritual salvation’, ‘spirit’, ‘immortality’. But astonishingly enough none of this can only be interpreted in non-secular terms. An explicit mention of ‘God’ or an ‘afterlife’ are markedly absent and ‘salvation’ and ‘immortality’ can have meanings on this side of death as much as in a supposed afterlife. The fact the very meaning of the word ‘religion’ must be understood ‘in the most profound sense of the word’ kind of suggest that Scientology is perhaps not a religion at all but instead more of a movement of sorts. In case you were wondering, yes, Scientology is also open to atheists, which perhaps is not the worst idea since, based on first introductions they don’t actually really seem to believe in anything!
In sharp contrast any short visit you make to the websites of Catholic, Muslim or Buddhist organisations does not postpone to inform you about which part of ‘their reality’ you will need to take on faith. These sites will be clear, and rather demanding, about what you must come to accept ‘as a Christian’ or what ‘being a Muslim means’ and that these ‘principles’ are utterly incompatible properties with competing belief-systems.
However murky its self-definition, Scientology’s practical commitment to “making a better world” is thrust upon the casual passer-by in very clear terms. Scientology supports a drug free world, advocates for human rights, speaks out for world literacy and high personal moral values, it emphasises study and self-improvement and is has a sub-organisation of volunteers that show up at disaster scenes. It therefore seems that the question ‘is Scientology a force for good in the world?’ would be rather a simple, almost self-evident one to answer; Even for an atheist!
Except that it totally is not!
What is Scientology?
Anyone entering Scientology would be excused from thinking that it completely lacked the concept of a ‘God’. Instead it seems that, L. Ron Hubbard, the Science Fiction -writer that founded it in the 1950’s, (lovingly shortened to LRH, ‘ELLARRAICH’, or just ‘Ron’) was the actual Messiah. It is noteworthy that in Scientology’s pamphlet the short biography of LRH is situated on page 8 well before the ‘Convictions of Scientology’ starts at page 10 and that for its ‘scripture’ Scientology refers to any medium ‘Ron’ ever recorded and to just about any paper LRH ever toughed, stopping just short of his toilet-paper.
While some atheists advocate to drop the distinction between a sect and a religion I believe it can be useful here. For instance the close dependency Scientology has with its charismatic founder is more in line with a sect than a religion. Then again Scientology has survived the passing of its founder and is now on its second generation, a transition which sects usually don’t survive. Another aspect of sects that holds true for Scientology is that most of its members are not born into it. As atheists, I think, we would applaud the concept of a religion that does not exist purely on the assimilation of children. Children who haven’t been exposed to any alternative. But the truth is that a lack of such a persistent stream of income often encourages cults to ugly methods on their way to becoming a ‘world-dominating religion’. Given the number of countries and international organisations Scientology is present in, it would be hard to make the argument that Scientology lacks those ambitions.
‘Sect or religion’ is not the only ambivalence that underscores Scientology. ‘Religion or Self-help program’ is another. After the initial vagueness about what it actually is that Scientology believes, the prospecting ‘preclear’ is introduced to ‘information’ about how Scientology can help him/her. A personality test (which you can even do online) that is available for free (just about the only thing that is). This test never fails to highlight all the different areas where the ‘raw meat’ is in shockingly urgent need of some “releases”. Fortunately for the ‘preclear’ Scientology can help you unlock those thetan-blockages to “Total Freedom” during subsequent auditing sessions. These are not free.
The one thing that Scientology certainly has in common with other religions is its value- and truth- conservatism. Scientology doesn’t claim the world is flat or less than 6000 years old because, when it was founded in 1954, humanity already knew better. However we do already start to see a slight discord between the 1950-values of Hubbard and those of our present times. The sad thing is: Scientology believes these values are still the high-moral selling points they were in 1954. LHR claimed that homosexuality was an abomination that (fortunately) his dianetics would easily cure. During interrogations members are still questioned for connections with ‘communists’ or about having interracial sexual relationships. Elements that clearly date the religion to its founding time in the ’50s.
From these 1950’s values derive the ‘Pastoral Works’ from Scientology. These ongoing projects are strongly ‘fronted’ by the religion. I will argue that their advocacy and support for these ‘good works’ are a means to an end, a way to shape a positive image and generate a steady flow of ‘personality-test-subjects’ aka ‘new-recruits’, rather than the result of their intent to do objectively good.
War on drugs
Scientology commits many of its resources to fight an information-war on drugs. This seems a very worthy cause and I’m sure many of us were brought up with the warnings to steer clear of drugs. But when you think about it for a moment, Scientology’s stance and investment into the war-on-drugs is slightly bizarre. Governments around the world have literally poured billions of dollars into destroying the drug-pusher-infrastructure, incarcerating millions and have in some countries sometimes even executed drug-retailers; Schools across the globe conduct regular drug-prevention programs, informing youths about the dangers of substance-abuse and steering clear of ‘bad-friends’; Every major city in the western world has multiple rehab facilities and detox programs to help drug-victims back on track; and all this is done without any need for ‘Scientology making anyone aware that there is potentially a problem’. As there is no-one advocating that a shot of heroin is actually good for you, Scientology is plainly kicking in an open door. A reason for it could be that the war-on-drugs is an excellent bridge-head with parents, teachers and the broader public opinion around which contact can be organised with impressionable young people and recovering addicts in dire need of psychological support.
“We are organising an info-session on drugs, care to join? I’m sure you’ll meet some very interesting people. Hey, wanna do a personality test to see how good you’ll be in resisting drugs?”
One clear indicator of the ‘fronting’ function on Scientology’s war-on-drugs is that it has not evolved with the times. Scientology seems stuck talking about the dangers of marihuana, where large parts of the world no-longer see this as a ‘gateway’ drug and have legalized some use of it in many countries. Scientology’s view on drugs is very 1950’s one-dimensional, while in society during the last decade the realisation has grown that the war-on-drugs itself, the cure, has at least been as harmful for society as the illness has been. Like with 1920’s prohibition (but not entirely so) governments slowly seem to realise that a multi-facetted approach, including partial legalisation, control and guidance must replace the current system where often other criminals can’t be incarcerated because the prisons are full of non-violent drug-offenders. The fact that Scientology seems blind to the negative aspects of the linear policy they’re advocating is indicative of its policy being a means to an end, not an end in itself.
Scientology is also displaying tremendous efforts in the advocacy for Human Rights. This seems very legitimate and necessary since I doubt that there is one country in the developed world that hasn’t appeared on Amnesty International’s shit-list in the last three decades. (I know Belgium was when Semira Adamu was choked to death on a plane during a forced repatriation in 1998.)
‘So surely the efforts of Scientology on this front are warranted, right?’
Again something seems off when you look at what Scientology is actually saying:
- “All the while, a majority of the world’s population does not even know what human rights are and that they are entitled to them.”
- “With the support of the Church of Scientology, multimedia human rights materials educate and raise awareness, reaching more than 100 million individuals worldwide each year.”
- “The increasing interest of young people in learning their human rights generated by the What are Human Rights? booklet led to the creation of 30 educational. . . “
Clearly, according to Scientology, there is a striking lack of information regarding the treaty of 1948. Meanwhile, in reality, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights holds the Guinness-book record as most translated document in history. This tremendous translation effort BTW was not done (even in part) by Scientology. The platform for and the agreement over this document was so big they called it the UNIVERSAL declaration.
Unsurprisingly most of that declaration consist of things you would want and consider as ‘good’ whether you even knew there was such a declaration or not. The right not to be incarcerated or enslaved or beaten or discriminated against based on colour or religion; the right not to be convicted without a fair trial; the right to marry whom you like etc. The document is not about knowing what is right or wrong, it is about ENFORCING those rights from those who have signed to uphold them. Yet Scientology seems less concerned with finding violations of those rights and having breaches stopped than they are with your ability to reproduce the number of and the exact wording of each article the declaration holds.
There is a near-universal consensus about these rights and Scientology is making it seem like there is not. But the problem is not that we don’t agree these things to be correct, the problem is upholding them in each and every situation of real-life politics where granting them can be very costly and inconvenient. Scientology is not picketing Nord-Korea or China, it isn’t even questioning the validity of Guantanamo Bay military incarcerations (without trial). What they do instead is fund a Youth Organisation in which they recruit good natured youth volunteers to ‘spread the word on human rights’ and who AGAIN ‘meet very interesting people’ from Scientology.
“Hey, wanna take a personality test that will tell you if you have what it takes to rise in the organisation?”
These youth in turn go to summits at the U.N. and get access to the classrooms of all countries in the world; where this is neither necessary, warranted nor their prerogative; and spread there the literature that is printed by Scientology.
Just for your consideration: it is well known that female officers of Scientology’s Sea Org have a tendency for abortion well above any other population in the world, including the Chinese. Clearly abortion is not in violation with the principles of Scientology. I believe, along with many and along with Scientology that the right to have an abortion is fundamental to our society. But instead of advocating for something they believe to be good, the right for a woman to decide not to have a baby; a right that is disputed almost everywhere and has an impact on not only the women of the world but also on those children born to misery; Instead Scientology choses to advocate (but not more than advocate) for the awareness of the most universally accepted document in history. Again this seems more suited with a policy of recruitment than one that tries to improve the world.
Much as with the preceding causes Scientology has also taken it upon themselves to advocate against illiteracy. Again the core of the effort is more on advocating the principle than actually on supporting organisations that DO SOMETHING!, . . ANYTHING!
Again this gives them wide open access to the classrooms where, I would hope, the teacher already would be convinced of the necessity for literacy. This is just another example of Scientology religiously defending an uncontroversial point while riding its coattails to get to new potential recruits.
The Volunteer Ministers
Finally the last of Scientology’s Pastoral works, is possibly the most glaringly obvious way Scientology preys on the vulnerable. The Volunteer Minister organisation, consisting out of volunteers who have paid Scientology for an entire two weeks of training (today you can do this training online),
in anything relevant to disaster-aid, civil protection or EVEN first aid!
go into disaster zones (such as Haiti, or 2001 Ground Zero) where they spread pamphlets and ‘spiritual guidance’ among the wounded, mourning and the desperate. While the organisation is portraying itself as a bunch of young people carrying the wounded out of medevacs, what they actually are is the traffic jam which the other NGO’s need to navigate going to the scene. The Volunteer Ministry, although always at the ready for a photo-op, -a disaster relieve make- it does not!
If Scientology tries to make the world a better place,
it is clear it believes the only way to do that is to make the world a part of Scientology.
Nothing else in Scientology suggests that those inside pay much attention or even respect people outside of the religion very much. Non-scientologists are without exception called ‘WOG’s. Which is historically the derogatory manner in which colonial Great-Britain called non-white citizens. Additionally, Scientology members are routinely pressed to ‘disconnect’ from non-scientologists. I submit this is more indicative of a religion with an internal focus than an external one. I conclude therefore that whenever they turn to the outside this is almost exclusively for the purpose of recruiting under pretence of humanitarian interests.
In his 1997 paper ‘Scientology – is this a religion?’ Dr. Kent of the university of Alberta, correctly characterises Scientology as more than a religion, a “multifaceted transnational. . . organisation” with “secular dimensions relating to political aspirations, business operations, cultural productions, pseudo-medical practice, pseudo-psychiatric practice, social services (some of which are of dubious quality), and alternative family structures.”
The pastoral works of Scientology must be seen as one branch of the internationally spread, but tightly centralized cluster of organisations. Rather than a proof for Scientology’s benevolence they must be seen as tools for social infiltration and expressions of its international ambitions.