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Wednesday, April 10th, 2013 | ISSN 1556-5696

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Tyler Keillor

Tyler Keillor

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SKEPTICALITY EPISODE 205

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Scientology (modified detail of Skeptic magazine cover volume 17, number 1)

About this week’s eSkeptic

In this week’s eSkeptic, Jim Lippard reviews three books: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013), The Church of Fear: Inside The Weird World of Scientology by John Sweeney (Silvertail Books, 2013), and Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill with Lisa Pulitzer (William Morrow, 2013).
Read Jim Lippard’s bio at the end of this article.

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Scientology Exposed

book reviews by Jim Lippard

Times are tough for the Church of Scientology. Since Skeptic’s Scientology cover issue went to press near the end of 2011, the Church of Scientology has faced increasing media attention on revelations from high-ranking defectors as well as internal criticism over its strategy of continual fundraising to build “Ideal Orgs” (or, as some wags have dubbed them, “Idle Morgues”). The latter spilled over into public view as the result of an email sent to thousands of Scientologists on December 31, 2011 which argued that this fundraising violates L. Ron Hubbard’s policies, citing and quoting chapter and verse. The sender was (at the time) a Scientologist in good standing who was well known to members of the Church—Debbie Cook, former Flag Service Organization captain known as the “face of the Sea Org” for her appearances in Sea Org recruiting videos. The Church of Scientology sued her in January, but was embarrassed by her testimony in an open court hearing in February about the abuses she witnessed at Scientology’s “Int Base,” where executives were kept in prison-like conditions in a pair of double-wide trailers known as “The Hole.” The case was quickly settled in April, and Cook moved to the Caribbean and then to Mexico.

2013 is shaping up to be even worse for the Church. In just the first six weeks of the year three major critical books have been published and an hour-long critical documentary aired on cable television. On January 7, BBC journalist John Sweeney’s The Church of Fear: Inside The Weird World of Scientology, was published. On January 16, a documentary of Nancy Many’s My Billion-Year Contract, about her time in the Sea Org including her time in Scientology’s dirty tricks organization—the Guardian Office—aired on the new Investigation Discovery channel. January 17 saw the publication of Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, a book that grew out of his February 14, 2011 New Yorker story, “The Apostate,” a profile of Oscar-winning film director Paul Haggis’s noisy departure from Scientology. And last but not least, a memoir from the niece of the head of the Church of Scientology, Jenna Miscavige Hill’s Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape, was published on February 5.

Timed to distract from the Many documentary and Wright book, the Church of Scientology paid $50,000 for an “advertorial” on the website of The Atlantic magazine on January 15. The piece, titled “David Miscavige Leads Scientology to Milestone Year,” argued that Scientology is growing like never before, citing the opening of numerous “Ideal Orgs.” The Atlantic’s “sponsored content” prompted such a backlash that the article was pulled from the website before the day was over. On February 3, perhaps in an attempt to garner some distracting publicity from Jenna Miscavige Hill’s book, Scientology purchased television advertising in several local markets during the Super Bowl’s half time to air an advertisement, titled “Knowledge,” which it had already released on YouTube on December 18.

Each of these books recounts a different slice of life experience with Scientology. Sweeney’s book reports the experience of a critical journalist as Scientology’s power to intimidate is beginning to decline, Hill’s book is about growing up as a third-generation Scientologist and family relation of the head of the Church, and Wright’s book focuses on Scientology as seen by its senior executive clergy and celebrities.

Wright’s book, Going Clear, is a carefully researched, detailed, and entertaining story that follows the life story of Paul Haggis from his youth in London, Ontario where he was first recruited into Scientology, to his successful career in Hollywood as a writer and director, with side trips into the life of L. Ron Hubbard, current head of the church David Miscavige, and other celebrities like Tom Cruise and John Travolta. In the process, Wright explains much of Scientology doctrine and history, often uncovering new facts not reported in previous books.

Wright begins with Haggis’ adoption of Scientology after being handed a copy of L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics and being told, “You have a mind. This is the owner’s manual. Give me two dollars” (p. 3). Haggis becomes a representative of the typical public (and subsequently celebrity) Scientologist for Wright, who notes in the book’s introduction that “Few Scientologists have had a conversion experience—a sudden, radical reorientation of one’s life; more common is a gradual, wholehearted acceptance of propositions that might have been regarded as unacceptable or absurd at the outset, as well as the incremental surrender of will on the part of people who have been promised enhanced power and authority” (pp. xii–xiii). Haggis moved to Hollywood, became “Clear” #5925, and then established himself as a successful writer. Although he recognized that parts of Scientology seemed absurd—including in particular Scientology’s origin myth about Xenu the galactic warrior—Haggis has “no doubt…that he had gained some practical benefits from his several years of auditing and that his communication skills had improved” (p. 17). Because he was immersed in a community where Scientology was prevalent, with his wife, sister, and circle of friends as adherents, he came “to understand implicitly that those relationships would be jeopardized if he chose to leave the church” (pp. 17–18). These become some of the bars of the “Prison of Belief” of the book’s subtitle.

The event that ultimately led to Haggis’ departure from the church was the apparent sponsorship of California’s Proposition 8 by the Church of Scientology of San Diego. Tommy Davis, then still a spokesman for the church, said that it wasn’t actually the San Diego church that had adopted a position on the proposition, but “one guy who somehow got it in his head it would be a neat idea [to] put Church of Scientology San Diego on the list.” Davis got the church removed from the list (p. 310). Haggis, however, insisted that the Church of Scientology should issue a public statement disclaiming responsibility, while Davis declined, saying that a public statement would simply give undeserved attention to the issue. While Davis thought the issue was resolved since he heard nothing more from Haggis, Haggis began investigating criticisms of Scientology on the Internet. In the process, he came across a YouTube video in which Davis, acting as public spokesman for the church, falsely denied the existence of the practice of “disconnection” from family members or friends who are critical of the church. Haggis developed more reasons to leave, culminating in writing and sending a letter of resignation to Davis that used the church’s stance on homosexuality as the primary reason for his departure. Davis tried to bring Haggis back in to the church, but when Haggis gave permission for former #2 in the church, ex-member Marty Rathbun, to post the resignation letter on his blog, Haggis became a lost cause.

Wright’s book is an excellent introduction to the Church of Scientology, its history, and its doctrines, with a focus on the celebrity experience from recruitment to disillusion, and on what keeps current celebrity members involved. The odd experiences of Tom Cruise, who drifted away from the church only to be pulled back in, illustrate life at the very top of Scientology. David Miscavige, “chairman of the board” (“COB”) of the Religious Technology Center, who runs the church, lives a lavish lifestyle which Wright describes in detail, including his eating habits (dinner is a five-course meal, with a choice from two prepared entrees), sleeping habits (he regularly starts his day at noon, and ends at 3 or 4 a.m.), travel habits (he flies by Boeing business jet, accompanied by his hairdresser and chiropractor) and his acquisitions (he collects guns, motorcycles, automobiles, and expensive clothing) (pp. 271–272). Meanwhile, many Scientology staff work long hours for sub-minimum wage and dine on beans and rice.

The book is another damning critique of the Church of Scientology’s corruption, deception, and extraction of money from its members to build its “Super Power” building in Clearwater and its “Ideal Orgs.” Wright estimates that it has $1 billion in liquid assets and 12 million square feet of real estate worldwide, including 26 properties in Hollywood worth $400 million. There’s a stark discrepancy between Scientology’s claims and reality, which was presaged by Hubbard’s tall tales in his youth. While members think that Scientology was the product of scientific research by Hubbard, Wright’s re-examination of Hubbard’s life shows, once again, that Hubbard mixed his own tall tales and subjective experience with things he picked up from others—Korzybski, Parsons, Crowley, the U.S. Navy, and so on—to create the policies and doctrines of Scientology.

Wright’s book, though lacking the daring escape stories or depth of reporting on the Lisa McPherson case that are strengths in Janet Reitman’s Inside Scientology, seems to me to more comprehensively describe Scientology doctrine and history than her account. Scientology has responded to his book similar as it did to hers, by denying its accuracy (resulting in numerous humorous footnotes in the book reporting Scientology’s absurd denials of reports by multiple witnesses). The only error I’ve seen noted in the book is his mistaken dating of Hubbard’s “tomato auditing” photo to 1968 (instead of 1959 or 1960), an error which is widespread apparently due to Life magazine’s attribution of the photo to the Evening Standard, January 1, 1968.

Wright closes his book with a comparison to other religions—Islam, Christianity, Amish and Mennonite communities, Christian Science, and especially Mormonism, a religion whose early history seems to have many parallels with Scientology. As Wright puts it, “Joseph Smith was plainly a liar” (p. 355). But such observations are unlikely to get through to the prisoner of belief, as Haggis found when he tried to persuade his friends in Scientology to read material critical of Scientology in the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times), only to be told by composer Mark Isham that “it was like reading Mein Kampf if you wanted to know something about the Jewish religion” (p. 328). If a reputable newspaper criticizes your religion, it must be equivalent to Nazi propaganda and therefore not worth reading. But for those who do read the material, even if they first rationalize it away as the false complaints of unethical apostates, as Scientology encourages its members to believe, they often accumulate personal experiences confirming what they’ve read, which helps them find their way out. I hope that Wright’s book will help.

When investigative journalist John Sweeney set out to make a segment of the BBC documentary series Panorama about Scientology in 2007, he had some idea of the risks involved, but was unable to prepare sufficiently to avoid famously losing his temper in response to prodding from Church of Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis. The YouTube video of that outburst was picked up by the mass media and seen by millions.

This book, the first of three major books about Scientology published in the first six weeks of 2013, is narrowly focused on a specific set of events in 2007, when Sweeney conducted his investigation and interviews for what became Panorama’s “Scientology and Me.” What makes this book remarkable is that it doesn’t just include Sweeney’s perspective, it includes a Church of Scientology viewpoint, as revealed from recent leaks of internal documents and interviews with high-level defectors who coordinated the response to Sweeney’s investigation and who have now been speaking out. They were monitoring his activities, having him followed, and periodically confronting him, sometimes while he was in the middle of interviews with Scientology critics and defectors. The inside information shows how the Church, at a turning point in its history, dealt with a perceived threat.

While Sweeney received much less harassment than investigators of prior decades (notably Paulette Cooper, Joel Sappell and Robert Welkos of the Los Angeles Times, Richard Behar of Time magazine, and Richard Leiby of the Washington Post), it was apparently much more focused attention than recent investigators such as Janet Reitman and Lawrence Wright (so far as we know to date, anyway). Then-church media spokesman Tommy Davis and head of the Office of Special Affairs Mike Rinder were the key players against Sweeney, along with a “Communicator” apparently being told what to say by David Miscavige (like a Stanley Milgram “Cyranoid”). Though Rinder was nominally the senior, Sweeney perceived him at the time to be of lesser status—confirmed by the fact that Rinder had only been spending time in “The Hole,” a sort of prison for out-of-favor senior executives, but had been released to work against Sweeney. Rinder and Davis have now both left Scientology, though only Rinder is speaking out publicly.

Also noteworthy in Sweeney’s book is the record he establishes of Scientologists who have reached Operating Thetan III, yet are perfectly willing to lie by issuing false denials of familiarity with the story of the evil Galactic overlord Xenu found in that level of Scientology. Sweeney states: “A ‘religion’ that hides its core belief from the world is not a religion because a true religion must be open about itself to all.” But this is a tendentious definition of “true religion” (Sweeney attributes it to the Charity Commission in the UK) that excludes esoteric and occult traditions, as well as the Druze faith. It is in fact not uncommon for religious traditions to excuse both secrecy and lying to non-members about the secrets.

The book is somewhat marred by a number of errors including repeated misspellings of the names of Kirstie Alley, Kendrick Moxon, and the Kia Sedona minivan. More significant mistakes include an assertion that Hubbard was a friend of Aleister Crowley (they never met, though Hubbard lived with Crowley follower John Parsons in 1945–46 and borrowed elements of Scientology from Crowley’s work), and a claim that in 1993 the “Inland [sic: Internal] Revenue Service reversed its previous position and declared the Church a religion” (the IRS doesn’t determine what counts as a religion).

Sweeney’s book doesn’t cover the broad ground of books like Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear and Janet Reitman’s Inside Scientology, but it is an entertaining and revealing look at the experiences of a journalist investigating Scientology at a turning point in its history.

Jenna Miscavige Hill was a third-generation Scientologist. Her maternal grandmother, Janna Blythe, started with Hubbard’s science fiction in the 1950s, was an advocate of Dianetics by 1957, and joined Scientology in 1969. Blythe and her husband and their nine children all joined the Sea Org on the ship Excalibur, but most returned to being “public” Scientologists after only a few months. Jenna’s mother, Elizabeth or “Bitty,” refused to leave the ship even though she was still a minor. On her father’s side, her grandfather, Ronald Miscavige Sr., also brought his whole family into Scientology when he joined in the 1970s. His two sons, Ron Jr. and David, both joined the Sea Org as teenagers. Jenna’s parents had been Scientologists for 15 years by the time she was born, though they both left the Sea Org beforehand. But just before she was two, they decided to rejoin the Sea Org, at about the same time her uncle David was taking control of the entire Church of Scientology.

Beyond Belief tells Jenna Miscavige Hill’s story of life growing up not only in Scientology, but in the Sea Org as a close relative of the head of the church. While her name gave her some occasional benefits, her family’s lifestyle was not like that of her uncle (described in Lawrence Wright’s book). Her parents’ positions in the Sea Org meant that in her early years she lived in a small two-bedroom apartment with another family, the Rinders. She would go for months at a time without seeing her mother, and would often see her father only once a week. She thought that joining the Sea Org herself held the promise of seeing her parents more often, and she signed her own billion-year contract at the age of 7. But the promise was a false one, and she saw less of them rather than more. Her exposure to the world outside of Scientology was virtually nil, and once she was in the Sea Org, even the life of a public Scientologist became foreign to her.

As a child cadet in the Sea Org, Jenna lived at a Scientology boarding school known as “The Ranch” in the California desert, not far from Int Base at Gilman Hot Springs, where her father and uncle lived. Her days would begin at 6:30 a.m. with cleaning, followed by morning muster, roll call, and personal inspections at 7 a.m. This was followed by “Chinese school,” where students would repetitively and in unison read aloud L. Ron Hubbard quotations written on sheets of butcher paper. All cadets had assigned work positions in a formal organizational structure with children as commanding officers. Seven-year-old Jenna’s assigned post was Medical Liaison Officer responsible for treating sick children (p. 55) and providing vitamins to the healthy. While Scientology didn’t permit the use of medicine for the treatment of pain or fever (“touch assists” were prescribed for such ailments), it did allow for MMR vaccinations (p. 57). At 9:15 a.m. was second muster, followed by “deck work” or labor intensive projects, which lasted until 12:45 p.m. on weekdays and all day long on Saturdays. Projects included laundry, pool cleaning, weeding, planting trees, digging trenches, and hauling rocks. Hard labor in the “Heavy MEST [Scientology acronym for matter, energy, space, and time] Work Unit” was assigned as punishment for underperformers (p. 61). After deck work came lunch and cleanup, followed by academic course work from 1:45 p.m. to 6 p.m. Following Hubbard’s educational methods, there was no formal instruction, but only self-directed study under the watchful eye of a “course supervisor.” Dinner and more cleanup ran from 6–6:45 p.m., and the study of Scientology until 9 p.m. Hubbard policy applied to all aspects of life, and courses had to be taken and their prescriptions followed for everything—how to clean a room, how to make a bed, and how to ride a bicycle (p. 80).

While Jenna found this environment unpleasant, she was afraid to complain about it to her parents and instead decided to run away with another unhappy cadet, stealing fresh eggs from a chicken coop that were reserved for her uncle. They were quickly apprehended and assigned to “lower conditions” as punishment, which forced them to work their way back into the good graces of their fellow cadets. She notes that this was actually the second time she had stolen her uncle’s eggs, having previously taken some and put them into a dresser drawer hoping to hatch chicks. When she was caught at that, she was forced to write a letter of confession to David Miscavige. Rather than getting in trouble, he “wrote…back and explained that my drawer was probably not warm enough for the eggs, and that I would need an incubator if I wanted to succeed in hatching them” (pp. 83–84).

Several of Jenna’s early experiences with her uncle, described in the book, depict him as a normal, kindly relative, even as she started to accumulate evidence that her parents were hiding something from her. For example, while living with her mother, who was a senior Sea Org executive in Clearwater with a nice apartment to herself, she would occasionally visit her mother’s office. Her mother told her not to be in the office when her Uncle Dave was there. On one occasion she heard him coming down the hall and tried unsuccessfully to hide, which he subsequently joked about with her (pp. 139–140). Her father similarly escorted her out of a situation where Miscavige was about to berate some staff over a sound system problem at a Scientology event (p. 141).

After her mother got caught having an affair and was put on the Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF), Jenna started receiving “sec checks,” E-meter sessions that were intended to uncover evidence of wrongdoing rather than self-improvement (p. 185). Her brother was also put on the RPF, and ended up leaving the church. In 1997, she saw people protesting the death of Lisa McPherson at the Ft. Harrison Hotel building in downtown Clearwater. Some picket signs made reference to Xenu, the Galactic overlord of OT III, which Scientologists are not permitted to know about until they are properly trained. Sea Org members were no longer permitted to walk between buildings, but instead were shuttled in vans with contact paper over the windows to shield them from seeing the dangerous material (pp. 221–222). The only error I noted in the book was Hill’s statement that the Lisa McPherson Trust, which helped organize these protests, had “a staff of five, four of whom were former Scientologists, the fifth was [funder Bob] Minton” (p. 220); Jeff Jacobsen and Mark Bunker were two LMT staff members who were never Scientologists.

The book continues with her life through the reconciliation of her parents and their departure from the Church of Scientology, and her decision to stay even though she was still under 18. The church remained suspicious of her loyalties and controlling of her life, which caused further friction when her love life was involved. An assignment to Canberra, Australia with her new husband gave her a level of exposure to the world outside of Scientology and a chance to examine information critical of Scientology online. Ultimately, she departed the church, reunited with her family, and became a co-founder of exscientologykids.org.

Beyond Belief is one of the better books by an ex-member. While she suffered nothing like the abuses of members who were assigned to the Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF), physically beaten by senior executives, coerced to have abortions, and separated from their spouses, her book is unique in a number of respects. I believe it is the only book by a third-generation Scientologist that describes life as a child of parents in the Sea Org, and certainly is the only book by someone in such a position who is also a relative of the head of the Church of Scientology. Jenna Hill didn’t advance very far “up the Bridge,” during her time in the church—she didn’t even become clear, let alone achieve any of the OT levels, and, like most of the general public who has heard of Xenu, she learned about OT III from the animated television series South Park (p. 372). Her lack of progress in Scientology and the occasional preferential treatment she received will likely be used by Scientology as reasons why her book should be disregarded. But the contrary lesson is probably the better one—her story shows that even members of the head of the Church of Scientology’s own family get mistreated, which is why David Miscavige’s brother, his brother’s family, and his own father have left. END

About the Author

JIM LIPPARD is a long-time skeptic who works in the field of information security. He founded the Phoenix Skeptics in 1985, was its first executive director (1985–1988), and editor of the Arizona Skeptic (1991–1993). He was the first webmaster for the Skeptics Society (1994–1997), and president of the Internet Infidels (2003–2005). He co-founded one of the first Internet skeptical mailing lists with Toby Howard of the Manchester Skeptics in 1987, and the forteana mailing list in the mid-1990s. He occasionally blogs at the Lippard Blog and the Secular Outpost, and is actively skeptical on Twitter, Google+, and Facebook. He has written for Skeptic, the National Center for Science Education, Creation/Evolution, Philo, and Skeptical Briefs, among other periodicals, and contributed to Joe Nickell’s Psychic Sleuths, Gordon Stein’s Encyclopedia of the Paranormal, and Ed Babinski’s Leaving the Fold. He previously wrote about Scientology for Skeptic with Jeff Jacobsen in vol. 3, no. 3 (1995). He has an M.A. in philosophy from the University of Arizona, and is a Ph.D. student in Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology at Arizona State University.


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Adam Grant (photo by Michael Kamber)
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15 Comments »

15 Comments

  1. Dan says:

    It is a pleasure to read about Scientology’s recent exposures, and I’m sure it will help many to leave that religion. Having been raised Mormon and once been a hardcore believer, it took a lot of reading material like this relative to Mormonism to convince me to leave. When I was 19-22 I served a Mormon mission in Brazil and baptized a bunch of people. Thought I was bringing them to the kingdom of god.
    It wasn’t until 3 or 4 years after I returned that I first came across the discrepancies in Mormon history that caused me to question and eventually leave. And the great irony is that the source of that information was in a Mormon history class at Brigham Young University, as they say, the “Lord’s University”. ;) (“Why People Believe Weird Things” is a book I read on my way out the door, next to all the books about Mormon history) It took a couple years after becoming aware of the issues to finally take the HUGE step of leaving, which included getting a divorce. From family’s point of view, I was breaking my sacred covenants. From my point of view, I was angry like never before in my life about having been lied to in such a profound way. But at the same time, there was intense exhilaration at the start of a journey of intellectual and spiritual liberation.
    No matter how many years go by (almost ten since I officially left) I am still haunted by it, it was the core of my identity. In moments of fear and self-doubt, I am tempted by thoughts of “what if I was wrong”. In those moments I think maybe in some strange way that I can’t fathom, the Mormon church really is true and I’m lost for eternity while the rest of my family goes to the celestial kingdom, as they say. My mind does mental gymnastics on automatic, calling up scriptures I knew so well, and blending everything I now know about the world from my scientific worldview to come up with some perverse way the church could be true. Most of the time though, it is far from my conscious mind, and, when I see most clearly just how awfully wrong and manipulative the whole thing is, it is hard to be filled with the most vile hatred. It is a mindfuck, a soulrape. I can imagine Scientology must be very similar.

    • Julie says:

      Dan,

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience.

      I am fascinated by the Mormon missionaries we see here in Uruguay, as it seems that they would have to be very very convinced of what they are doing to have the gall to present themselves as being wizened “elders” when they are actually just inexperienced kids – not to mention putting up with the kind of things my husband is likely to say to them about how they are being lied to, their religion is a cult, and Joseph Smith was a con man. Does any of that get through – or are they so brainwashed and determined in their mission that they are impervious?

      You mention “soulrape” – I always feel that I am being verbally raped when these kids continue to talk to me after I politely reject their advances – they just won’t take “no” for an answer.

      • Dan says:

        Julie, not much of that gets through, no. I guess it depends on the missionary though. For those who are raised in it, like me, they are conditioned to think that anything you say in criticism of the church is proof that the church is “true”. The more evidence you can muster against it, the truer it must be since satan would try his damndest to destroy the true church. It is a 180degree phase shift of the evidence facilitated by the martyr/persecution complex they inherited since the time of Joseph Smith and being kicked out of multiple eastern and midwestern states.

        Most of them are not even on the wavelength to entertain intellectual analysis of the religion. The mindset is antithetical to that, instead being a mindset of faith, obedience to their leaders and god, being god’s chosen people, and prayerfulness. Intellectual critiques seem small and paltry compared to the feeling that they get when they “bear their testimony” or when they get the “burning in the bosom” to borrow a couple of the typical phrases. And in that context, if you try to tell them that, for example, you read that Joseph Smith married other men’s wives, they will dismiss what ever you read as being “anti-Mormon literature”–a label they’ve had since childhood to shut off their minds. If you, instead of talking Mormon history, talk philosophy with them, most of them will not have the mental maturity, because of their age, to even follow.
        I think all of this becomes even more fascinating when you start looking at religions and cults through the lens of mimetics, thinking in terms of memes and metamemes. The “anti-Mormon literature” meme and the 180degree evidence phase shift, for example, are adaptive traits of the organism that is Mormonism, giant metameme that it is. Every ex-Mormon wonders to what degree the “brethren” at the top (that is, the twelve apostles and the first presidency in Salt Lake City) know about the historical issues and are covering up. The best guess is that at any time in Mormon history there are a portion of the leadership “in the know” and a portion who sincerely believe it. The point about mimetics is that it doesn’t take malicious top-down intent for the organism to perpetuate itself with mind-numbing tactics.

        As to your comment about their persistence and soulrape… Everyone should know that these boys are really pent up, I mean really. Not to make light of this, but there is a phenomenon of intense sexual guilt in a lot of missionaries because they simply cannot live up to the impossible repressive demands. In my Freudian mind, I think there is an element of sublimation happening in the sense that instead of directing their normal biological assertiveness (which is peaking) to woo members of the opposite sex, it is directed toward wooing people into the church. Sexual dysfunction ensues. The “elders” who are charismatic, extraverted, and not bothered by masturbatory guilt rise to the top and become the leaders in the mission (zone president, district president, and other titles). The other ones suffer silently or constantly confess to their mission president, all the while believing their leaders are pure. And then they show up at your door, heeding the words of St. Paul who said something to the effect that a multitude of sins are forgiven when the sinner goes out and serves others and the lord. So I guess I’m saying have pity on them. The best way to win their minds, if you want, is to become their friends and never make it obvious that you are confronting their beliefs. Just drop subtle hints in a way that has plausible deniability about you being confrontational.

    • Julio A. says:

      Dan – it took years to brainwash you, so it will take years to reverse that. I too have a similar story, only I was raised Catholic. Despite having not believed in it for the last 20 years, there are still moments of “what if I was wrong?” Its that fear that keeps a majority of adherents from questioning their religion…and thus keeps religion alive. Thanks for sharing your story.

      • Dr. S says:

        without offering a claim of knowledge , support or opposition in this matter regarding other any organizations mentioned here :

        Catholicism has a stated teleology for humans of DOMINIONISM

        This means that the Government of earth will be ruled forever by
        the principles of their faith and the risen Christ.
        “Cujus regni non erat finis”

        The deal is that HUMANS will lbe on EARTH as Resurrected and perfected HUMAN BEINGS forever.

        Although Dominion is a sufficient reason for Caution in tolerance by “Liberal” religions such as Unitarianism ,

        I favor this to non-human teleologies.

        Bob Pease

        • Dan says:

          Can you give some examples of non-human teleologies so that I might better understand your comment?

          • bob pease says:

            easy!!!

            Mormons believe that the “saved” will become Gods with the power
            to create and “people” Planets
            No mention is made about the “humanness” of such beings

            Scientology is specific about becoming “Thetans” and shedding this “Meat Body”

            Actually Herbert Armstrong had the details of the Eternal Earth with Jesus as ruler.
            Sort of a 1850′s style without any use of fossil fuel.

            Consult “plain Truth Magazine from the ’70′s for a lot of detail about this

            Incidentally
            Pease’s Second Law says

            “Anything labelled “Truth” is more likely to contain bullshit than something labelled “Bullshit””

            Doc S.

      • Dan says:

        Julio, you hit the nail on the head. It is fear. And it’s not just fear of being wrong by leaving the church. It is also fear of what you might do without the church to govern your life. This is probably the most common expression by Mormon loved ones when someone says they are going to leave the church: “But what will you do? You’ll end up an alcoholic or something.” And indeed, so many who leave the church swing to an opposite extreme when they leave. This is confirmation to the believers who stayed behind that they were right all along, and it really is sinister because you’ve been set up to fail. Part of the swing upon leaving is making up for lost time, but much of it is the natural result of the atrophy of the moral muscles. When you’ve been told from on high your entire life what is wrong and right, you never develop a coherent, logical morality based on actual cause and effect and empathy.
        Also, along those lines, if you’ve ever been the recipient of a Mormon service project you may have noticed that it wasn’t really about serving you but about duty and earning points. You don’t feel seen. Just like you don’t feel seen or heard if the missionaries come knocking. They have a weekly goal of numbers of contacts and converts and can count you.

    • Gil says:

      Stay strong Dan. I have come to know many Mormons and developed strong friendships with some. I see in them your struggles and attempt, as gently as possible, to support them in their path. Many have come to doubt their teachings and often, they share with me their experience of “what if.”

      • Dan says:

        Thanks Gil. It really helps people who are on their way out to have friends that will listen and be supportive.

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      Wow, Dan, a Mormon missionary in Brasil? Talk about coincidence.

      Let me share how I cope with my moving away from Mormonism… the best place to start is an anecdote when a colleague (in my field of science), after finding out about my LDS past, inappropriately commented something along the lines of: Well, you maybe see it is nonsense now, but it is _interesting_ that you once bought into it. (the emphasis on _interesting_ made it clear that this called into question my judgement, etc).

      I didn’t bother to explain to anyone who was more interested in ‘scoring off of me’ than understanding but I thought “So what? Yes, as I child I believed in Mormonism, the Joseph Smith stories, etc. I also believed in Santa Claus and that the United States was the best Country in the World. When you are very young you tend to buy whatever adults sell you. You tend to pick up all sorts of other crazy ideas, too.”

      Well all hold faulty notions. The real trick is as you grow older to identify faulty notions and replace them with less fault ones (e.g. The United States certainly has many things to be proud of but every country is the Best in the World to someone.) A person who is willing & able to re-examine strongly held views and then adjust/replace/discard as necessary is in no way inferior to a person who never held those particular views. We all hold faulty notions. We do.

      I went through a phase when I resented the manipulation and propaganda of the Mormon Church that got me to do this for the Church’s benefit and at my expense. I felt ill-used … and in a sense, I was. But, then as I finished grad school I saw than academia kinda does the same thing (just ask any grad student who was recruited with the promise of ‘rewards in the after-school life’ only to find tenured jobs as scarce as bonafide golden tablets). Our politicians do this to us. Marketters, salesmen & advertisers do this to us too. Really, it is hard any facet of humanity that does not try to manipulate and propagandize people.

      But the thing about Mormons (and as I discovered later, most religious folks) most manipulators and propagandists buy into it, too. Sure, there are some exceptions and hypocrites but most of the tongue-clucking little old women who chastise people for impropriety are sincere – they generally walk the walk as well as talk the talk. I grew to have less resentment to these people who weren’t doing anything worse to me than they were to themselves. I am utterly convinced that some of the most ardent manipulators & propagandists were doing this out of a love for me. At least in my experience, many of these people who wanted me to obey X commandment were willing to spend their time & money to help me do so. [Yeah. There were a number of assholes who would practice 'seagull redemption' and fly in shit all over me for my sins and fly away. They were as influential on me as regular seagulls.]

      After years I came to be much more tolerant of these people (I realize that this may cause Sam Harris to fly in – because I am enabling them to massacre wagons trains and such… I’ll just put up my beach umbrella ;). They are misguided and they try to get me to follow them down their misguided path – but they are not like the scammers, used-car salesmen and Wall Street bankers who intentionally manipulate people for illicit profit. I do not agree with all the dogma (not by a long stretch) but there are many good moral values to be found in most religions. I choose to focus on these.

      I even have managed to hold civil conversations with some True Believer Mormons by saying I interpret many Bible and Book of Mormon stories as parables. Jonah? Parable. Job? Parable. Noah’s Flood? Parable. Lehi, Nephi, etc? Parable. Joseph Smith’s first vision? Parable. They don’t like it but the have to admit that Jesus himself taught in parables so maybe Joseph Smith, did too. This gives me to luxury of acception the good values taught by Mormons and dismissing the crazy, whacky ‘historical’ claims.

      [Note: I find it MUCH harder to deal with Mormonism's view on the role of women, and homosexuality than whether fourteen year old boys - with a history of telling tall tales - actually saw God. To me, the latter just doesn't matter. ]

      Hope this helps.

      • Dan says:

        Bad Boy Scientist,
        These are some excellent comments, obrigado:) In some ways I am grateful for having had the experience of being raised Mormon then awakening from it because really it was the building of my super duper bullshit detector. Now I can’t help but see the same manipulative and other patterns such as you speak of in all kinds of endeavors. Net gain.
        Your colleague’s one-up comment just demonstrated a lack of understanding. If someone is born into a crazy tradition, they have no point of comparison to actually see that it is crazy. It isn’t about intelligence so much as available comparative evidence. It is often very difficult to understand this from the outside looking in. Further, in coming to terms with how my father, a physicist, could also be a believing Mormon, I’ve come to the conclusion that often, it is that very intelligence that causes someone to remain a believer. The smarter you are, the more you are capable of doing the mental gymnastics necessary to remain a believer despite the evidence. All it takes is the emotional disposition, quite a different thing from intellect I think. On the other hand, at least in my father’s case, I think it is less the mental gymnastics and more the fruit of a mind attuned to social control. To people like him, it is less about whether the church is what it claims to be, and more a matter of it being the best system we have to control ourselves and be moral creatures. They don’t care whether it is ultimately true, just that it is supposed to keep our species in line. Conceding myth to be myth, this kind of believer will say Mormonism is the best model we have for moral behavior and then compare relativity to the old Newtonian model by analogy. Actually, my father was raised Baptist before he converted to Mormonism and once told me that living as a Mormon helps him to be a true Baptist–that the Mormons practice what the Baptists only preach.
        “Seagull redemption” :) Never heard that one. That’s great!
        What you said about re-interpreting scripture and even Mormon history as parables has been an important theme for me. When you start looking at scriptures the way you would look at a dream you had and interpret the symbols, things can get really interesting. Although I don’t go back and read those scriptures, over the years many symbolic meanings have come to me. For example, in depth psychology (Jung et al) the formation of a separate ego out of infantile unconscious wholeness requires an inflated act. This inflated act could be seen as Adam and Eve eating the fruit, although god told them not to. But then we were taught that, although he told them not to, it was really the only way for them to progress. The garden of eden story in this way becomes a metaphor for internal goings-on in the psyche of one person. But other interpretations can make it a metaphor for goings-on at the level of the collective. For instance, the garden of eden story has been seen by some as a metaphor for the beginning of agriculture and civilization. I find these kinds of symbolic inquiries to be fascinating. At times they have a deflating effect on the doctrines that grip my mind.
        Also interesting along these lines: The idea of original sin can be likened to our inherited brute Darwinian tendencies. There really are some tendencies we are born with that are morally unacceptable and need to be dealt with. Dawkins derides the doctrine of original sin, while at the same time describing essentially the same thing. The analogy can be pushed quite far, bringing in the symbols of Christ and salvation, baptism, apocalypse. To me, all these symbols have a corollary at the level of the individual and at the level of civilization. That isn’t to say I think the overall isomorph is healthy and right as to many particulars, such as the social issues you mentioned at the end of your post for example, but it is just fascinating to see the whole thing through that lens. Joseph Campbell had a lot to say in this vein.

  2. Suzana says:

    Anyone else here also see the eery similarities, in almost every aspect, to Jonestown and the People’s Temple? And we all know how that turned out.

  3. Geoff says:

    Is there much point in continually criticising Scientology when it is so obviously bunkum invented by a science fiction writer.
    Anyone who can believe this rubbish will be impossible to convert to sanity.
    The show business people who join are just posers interested only in publicity.
    Everyone else with any brain knows that L Ron Hubbard was a con man and a crook and the so called church is just a machine for making as much money as possible from the gullible.

  4. Jim Lippard says:

    Geoff: I couldn’t disagree with you more. While it may be obvious to an outsider steeped in secularism and skepticism that Scientology was nonsense made up by L. Ron Hubbard, it is simply false that only insane or irrational people can get sucked into it, or that those who are in it are hopelessly stuck in it. The idea that there is something defectively wrong about people who become attracted to and enmeshed in religions and cults (or taken by con artists) is an erroneous one, that is at odds with the empirical data and the social dynamics of how such things work in practice.

    I think one of the benefits of talking about Scientology is similar to one of the benefits of using the more absurd or extreme cases of pseudoscience and paranormal claims to learn about critical thinking–by understanding how people can come to believe these things (and how they can escape), we can better understand how the human mind works within social groups.

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