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Monday, November 12, 2012

285

Scientology and Me, Part Two: What Scientologists Actually Believe

[image from my personal collection – I couldn’t find one with the OT t-shirt!]

Previously: Part One, Growing Up in the Church.

As a child of two Scientologist parents, a child born into a room quieted in preparation for the return of a reincarnated thetan, I grew up fluent in the Church's specialized vocabulary. As a toddler I accompanied my mother during her training at the Flag Land base in Clearwater, Florida, and at the Los Angeles center, wearing a t-shirt that read “future OT,” a bit of gobbledygook that any Scientologist worth their salt could immediately translate as indicating that I was destined to rid myself of my ‘reactive mind’ and go ‘clear’ before ascending the ‘bridge to total freedom’ to reach the level of ‘OT’ (operating thetan). Had I chosen this life of intensive Scientology study and training, I might only be in slightly more debt than student loans have left me, but the choice was never mine to make: I was too young to have actually taken Scientology courses before my mother left the Church, and when my father later urged it, I was not allowed to on account of my mother’s enemy status.

Growing up surrounded by the language and ideas of Scientology, I developed the capacity for linguistic register-switching: the ability to rapidly, even unconsciously, shift my language when I moved among different social domains. To this day it’s like a door opens in my brain when I’m with my parents, allowing the use of those specialized terms, and closes again when I’m with friends, preventing me from throwing out an embarrassing engram reference by accident. But I still sometimes get confused. One day not too many years ago I had to ask my mother if “enturbulate,” a term that suggests being so agitated you are unable to do something, was a real word or a Scientology word and damn it, I was enturbulated when she told me it wasn’t. I heard and used the term so frequently growing up that it had come to be linked with an actual and specific psychological state that I felt and experienced as enturbulation. If it wasn’t a real word, did that mean other people didn’t feel it? How could I explain it to them without these shared terms?

Of course I can explain that state without resorting to the specialized language of the church — I just did. In reality much of the basic terminology that Scientologists use is easy to understand for those of us raised in the Euro-American tradition. The founder of Scientology, and its predecessor, Dianetics, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard (or LRH, as I knew him growing up), while famously a marginally successful writer of science fiction before he turned to creating a new ‘science of the mind,’ was more broadly an American of the 20th century. Hubbard neatly fused Western psychology and Eastern religion, drawing on (which sometimes looked a lot like stealing from) numerous traditions to create a ‘scientific religion’ that appealed to the quintessentially American obsession with the self, a current that connects Emersonian self-reliance to Oprah-ian self-fulfillment. Like any religion, it gets more complicated and esoteric the deeper and higher you go, but the fundamental principles are quite simple. There is nothing in them so mind-boggling as the Buddhist imperative that you purge yourself of the desire to even desire to stop desiring or even the Christian requirement to accept a three-pronged god. 

When people find out I was raised in Scientology they are almost uniformly intrigued; over the years I’ve developed a simple spiel to explain what it is that Scientologists actually believe. Scientologists believe, first and foremost, in an essential, reincarnating self, called a thetan, which is basically a soul, and in an animalistic, base, and impulse-driven ‘reactive mind,’ which is essentially the unconscious. By storing up all the bad things that have happened to you in your life, the reactive mind dictates your actions according to a system of stimulus-response, bypassing your conscious analytical mind. Scientologists believe that when you have become free of your reactive mind, you achieve the state of ‘clear’ and become an ‘operating thetan’ (OT). In the earliest formulation of Dianetics, clear was the highest level one could achieve. (Later, Hubbard 'discovered' additional OT levels, including the infamous intergalactic-overlord-heavy OT-3.)

Dianetic auditing, a form of regressive therapy that employs an E-meter to measure physiological responses (as discussed in part one), is the process through which a person becomes free of his or her reactive mind. According to the theory of Dianetics, the mind consists of images based on past experiences that we use to draw conclusions and make decisions about current situations. The images in the reactive mind are called engrams, and they're seen as the source of maladies from migraine headaches to bad taste in boyfriends. An engram is a term without an easy English equivalent but basically refers to a stored, unconscious image that continues to influence us. These images are typically traumatic or injurious and work something like what most people would call a phobia or simply a bad association. For years I used an example drawn from this book I got for Christmas in 1986 to explain an engram, but given the Church’s decreasing but still intense affection for litigation I’ll make up another drawn from my life.

Let’s say you grew up near the ocean and one warm day you were dangling your feet in the water and saw (or thought you saw – it really doesn’t matter) an eel slither past your toes, and your blood ran cold. You were young when it happened so you don’t really remember it, but for years afterward you're terrified of any non-transparent water, not just of being in it yourself, but the very idea of it. This is your engram. As you continue to go about your life this basic engram will probably accumulate ‘secondary,’ ‘lock,’ and ‘chain,’ images related to the original engram, for instance your fear of water might keep you from swimming at summer camp, and the teasing you endure from friends will be added to the pain you associate with the basic engram.

In a session, an auditor tries to access, identify, and eliminate the unconscious images stored in the reactive mind. As the E-meter cans feed information about your emotional responses to the auditor (based on the electricity in your body), he will ask you questions, starting, perhaps, with the information collected from your free personality test or perhaps with just a chat about your day. “What did you do yesterday?” he might ask, and as you narrate the day’s events your auditor might note a frenzied movement of the needle as you mention a conversation with your friend Anna and follow up with “what did you talk about with Anna?” As you relate your conversation, the auditor notices movement on the E-meter when you mention a planned stay at a lake cabin and he starts prodding – “have you been to this cabin? Do you like vacations? Do you plan to swim?” You get the idea. On and on this goes until you trace the engram back to its formation, even into past lives, in this way neutralizing it.

This is the fundamental teaching of the Church of Scientology, and most of the people who join the organization to take courses and get auditing find that it works for them, that it makes them feel more confident, capable, and in control. There is another side of the church, of course, the side where if the ‘tech’ doesn’t work for you, if you have problems that Scientology can’t fix, or god forbid you have any criticisms of the way the church operates, you're punished, ostracized, and made to feel you have no one but yourself to blame (you might even be, like my mother, a ‘suppressive’ person, someone who openly opposes Scientology). But if Scientology didn’t have a core of successful, and often very wealthy, practitioners, it never could have achieved its current prominence or weathered recent storms.

"But what about the aliens?" some people ask. This brings me to the part of the spiel addressed to those with a very cursory understanding of Scientology: ENOUGH ABOUT XENU ALREADY. Never heard of him? Here’s the skinny: in a galaxy far, far away the evil overlord Xenu decided to solve an overpopulation problem by sending millions of aliens to Earth, where they attached themselves to humans as body thetans, creating fear and disease in their hosts and requiring auditing for removal (yes, South Park got it right, almost). But what too few people fail to note when they start with the Xenu talk or fallaciously claim that it's a pillar of the Church is that the majority of practicing Scientologists don't know the Xenu story. The Xenu story doesn’t come until the ultra-secret OT 3, which comes well after you’ve gone clear, which requires tens of thousands of dollars of auditing and courses and can take decades. My father, who's been in the church for nearly 50 years, has never made it past OT 1.

I get deeply frustrated when I hear people say Scientologists must be either nuts or brainwashed because they believe in Xenu. The truth is they either haven’t learned about Xenu yet because they're too new (or don’t have the financial resources to move up “the bridge to total freedom”) or they have learned about Xenu after many years of training, tens of thousands of dollars spent on courses, and a transformed social and family circle now consisting primarily of other believers who would be forced to disconnect from them should they disavow ‘LRH Tech.’ Some of them swallow their disbelief and get down to the business of eliminating those pesky body thetans who are holding them back. Others simply liken the tale to other rather unbelievable religious stories and say it's not meant to be taken literally.

When I learned about OT 3 myself at 12 or 13 via a media exposé (this was pre-internet) I innocently approached my father, having difficulty accepting that he could believe such a thing. When he realized what I wanted to ask him about was OT 3 he became visibly nervous and told me he wasn’t ready for that information yet. This was because Scientologists believe that if you are exposed to higher levels of the church before you're sufficiently prepared, you'll become physically ill, an awfully convenient way to keep individuals who have not yet committed their lives and their finances to the church from bailing when they hear about the really crazy shit.

Scientology is far from the only religion that holds back esoteric knowledge from all but the most devoted and advanced practitioners. Judaism and Mormonism, for instance, as well as other strains of Christianity, all offer special knowledge only to men of a certain age or to the clergy. The story of Xenu is somewhat like the part of Tibetan Buddhism in which adherents must imagine themselves having [heteronormative] sexual intercourse with a deity to reach enlightenment; for the vast majority of practitioners who never reach the most advanced levels, the existence of those levels is meaningless (or even unknown).

I don’t think it’s fair to criticize a religion on a basis that has nothing to do with how most practitioners experience it. There are plenty of reasons to criticize the church based not on what Scientologists believe, but on how these believers are treated by the organization they've given so much to.

 

NEXT: Leaving the Church.

Stella Forstner is a pseudonym for a Hairpin reader who wishes to protect her family's anonymity.



285 Comments / Post A Comment

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

Hi Stella,
Surely Scientologists at lower OT levels know about Xenu, whether from South Park, or articles like this one, or what have you. How do they (how does your father) deal with that?

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

To be clear, because internet tone is challenging, I ask this question sincerely and out of genuine curiosity.

Stella Forstner

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll I agree that many Scientologists who have not made it to OT-3 have probably heard about Xenu but I also know they carefully avoid critical pieces on Scientology and I expect that if they encounter something accidentally they have their 'critical deflectors' in place, ready to dismiss anything that comes from 'enemies of the church.' If you read the stories of former church members I think you'll hear that the only time Scientologists seek out this kind of information is when they are contemplating leaving the church. I hope that helps to answer your question!

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@Stella Forstner
Wow. That is the most spot-on and easily-comprehensible answer I have ever received to any question I've posed on the internet. Thanks!

Briony Fields

@Stella Forstner WHOA. It's amazing how widespread this technique is. The mormon church does the same thing with its 'anti - mormon literature' schtick. Sounds nuts, but it is super damn effective at keeping church members within the flock.

D.T. Bell

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll There are some similarities between Scientology and Mormonism in this regard, but also some important differences. One isn't allowed into Mormon temples until one has been a member for a year and verifies that they comply with important Mormon teachings. And to be honest, there's nothing taught in the temple that you can't find in Mormon scripture. I think that's fairly different from Scientology, where Stella's Dad hasn't been exposed to OT3 in 50 years.

tioda

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Juegos22

@tioda Wow ahora estas personas se convierten en sicarios donde como la gente que se amotinaron en Kiev y mataron a los agentes de policía incendiaron edificios y utilizan bombas no eran hombres armados, pero los manifestantes pacíficos manera de ir cnn ... ¡Qué distorsión y visión sesgada que le están dando al mundo. ..Minecraft Cuenta Premium!

jamsbond

These images are typically traumatic or injurious and work something like what most people would call a phobia or simply a bad association

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allendaniel

Looks promising.@a

muddgirl

I think that 'auditing' is problematic enough without having to resort to worrying about Xenu. It is basically a technique for constructing memories, which is why many people have apparant success at 'remembering' past lives - they express an image, the auditor gives them validation for that image (based on a floating needle), and now that image is a "memory."

Judith Slutler

@muddgirl Ooh, good point.

bluebears

"Scientology is far from the only religion that holds back esoteric knowledge from all but the most devoted and advanced practitioners. Judaism and Mormonism, for instance, as well as other strains of Christianity, all offer special knowledge only to men of a certain age or to the clergy."

I don't know if this is true? Or at least completely analogous. I can't speak to Mormonism but I'm pretty sure that although Judaism and Christianity have areas of study that are "reserved" to the religious scholars amongst their midsts, the material is available and you're not particularly discouraged from learning about it. I'm sure there's a lot of variation there. That's another fundamental difference Judaism and Christianity for the most part (Catholicism being a noted exception) are not top down organizations and there can be a lot of variety among sects.

ETA: But I'm certainly no expert.

muddgirl

@bluebears Disclaimer: I am not a Mormon, but many of my friends are/were. My understanding is that there isn't really 'esoteric knowledge' that is withheld only for elite Mormons. Rather, there are specific rituals that can only be performed by certain people. Rituals may be one form of passing knowledge. However, my understanding is that the meaning/theology behind the rituals isn't considered to be secret.

Mormonism is sort of similar to Scientology where there are certain aspects of Mormon history that aren't exactly flattering (a lot of 'divine revelations' that were later recanted, ect). It's not like learning about those will cause a Mormon to become an SP or explode or anything - it's just that they are actively ignored or denied by the Church. I don't think there's any particular part of Mormon theology that young Mormons are considered to be 'not ready for' the way that OT3 is treated. But again, this is an outsider's perspective on both Mormonism and Scientology.

solvingaproblemlikemaria

@bluebears As someone who was raised Mormon, I'll say that the first time I heard about getting my own planet was after I had left the church (at around 17 years of age.) I also had never heard anything about seer stones until I saw the Mormon episode of South Park, so there you go. I promise I wasn't skipping Sunday School, either!

muddgirl

@solvingaproblemlikemaria Well sure, when I was in Sunday School I never heard the story about Lot's daughter's raping him, or that after we die we cast off family relationships, or all those failed prophesies that we can reinterpret over and over. That doesn't mean it was privileged - it just means a kid had to do their own studying outside of Sunday School to find out. Is knowledge of the specific form of Mormon afterlife considered privileged (ie, access to those theological documents is restricted) or just sort of not mentioned?

(Edited to add: I don't think that this really makes any sort of difference in the 'validity' of scientology or Mormonism - as an atheist I have found all religions to be pretty similar when I start to dig down into philosophy and history.)

space opera

@bluebears In terms of Judaism, maybe she is referring to Kabbalah?

Lisa Frank

@bluebears There is a tradition in Judaism that Kabbalah should only be studied by men over 40. A professor in college explained to us that two Rabbis in medieval Spain were having an argument on some finer point, and the older of the two rabbis decreed that Kabbalah should only be studied by men over 40 to put an end to the argument. While this tactic can be used to keep people in line, I think there can also be less nefarious reasons for it. I don't think it's that different from how schools require pre-requisite courses before higher level classes. But I am troubled by how Scientology charges for this information.

solvingaproblemlikemaria

@muddgirl Not mentioned, for sure. I understood the different "levels" of Mormon afterlife, yes, but no one ever mentioned to me the possibility of owning my own planet. This wasn't part of the standard Sunday School curriculum, and much like other "privileges" (a patriarchal blessing, temple rituals, etc.) wasn't thoroughly discussed until you were deemed ready/acceptable to partake of them.

Beatrix Kiddo

@aleanbluezither I assumed she meant Kabbalah, too.

muddgirl

@solvingaproblemlikemaria Yeah, I think one thing glossed over in the mention of OT3 is that some OT-level documents are literally 'classified' by the Church of Scientology - they are considered to be physically hazardous for the unprepared and have to be physically secured to prevent their release (although some are on the internet nowadays, of course). It may be sort of like how the Pope has knowledge of some prophesies that are for His Eyes Only.

Again - I don't think this means Scientology is stranger than any other religion. But it's definitely a unique aspect that isn't really seen in a lot of other religions.

Lorelei@twitter

@muddgirl yeah, I think it is an important point that Scientology's sacred texts are actually copyrighted and the church leaders are quite aggressive about keeping them from being distributed, as opposed to just about any other high-profile religion, where I can go to the library and read for myself the same texts that people going "deeper and higher" are studying. Not in terms of judging ordinary members, but it makes a big difference in how I feel about the power structure of the church.

bluebears

@muddgirl Oh that's interesting. Thanks for sharing.

bluebears

@Lisa Frank Yes I've heard that about Kabballah as well but then again, like I say, attitudes on that can vary considerable depending on what group you're part of. ie. There's no "head" of anything forbidden people under 40 from studying.

Stella Forstner

@bluebears Lots of excellent points here! I'm not a religious scholar myself but I consulted with a friend who is and she helped me with comparisons. You're quite right that Scientology is unique in strenuously preventing access to certain religious knowledge. My point is merely that many well-established religions include specialist or esoteric knowledge that is not a part of daily practice for most believers.

bluebears

@Stella Forstner Ah. I see. Thanks for replying :)

BadWolf

@bluebears @Lisa Frank It's not just Kabbalah, in Judaism. There's also a traditional belief that prevails to this day in many Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox sects that women cannot study the Talmud (because their brains are weak and prone to silliness, which is unbefitting to the study of Jewish law). Talmud is not esoteric or mystical or dangerous; it's the compendium of halakhah as it was interpreted and codified by sages and meant to be practiced for posterity. Women are not supposed to read this, it is supposed to be distilled for them into the barest directives for maintaining a ritually-proper Jewish home by men, and if they have questions, they should take them to their husbands, who can take then go to their rabbis if they are stumped.

As people have pointed out re: Xenu and so on, this knowledge exists in the world, and can be accessed if one looks for it, but it is difficult---most of the Talmud is written in Aramaic, and a woman raised in an Ultra-Orthodox community and educational system will not have been taught to read or understand it. And of course, women in more liberal denominations study Talmud all the time. But for a significant population of Jews, not allowing women to study the laws they practice definitely contributes to keeping them under the control of the male community leadership---it comes into play a lot with issues of modesty, in my opinion, because extremist rabbis are constatnly coming out with new rules about what women are and are not allowed to wear and do, and if women are not permitted or able to look up the sources themselves, and be like, "Dude, that's a load of crap"...well, you end up with terrible problems.

Lisa Frank

@BadWolf Very good points! I think in Ultra-Orthodox communities (and also in Amish and Mennonite communities) the religious authorities not only control the religious knowledge that people have access to, but also knowledge of the wider society. If they question received practice, they'll be ostracized with no place to go.

D.T. Bell

@solvingaproblemlikemaria To be honest, I'm not sure that is "doctrine." I know it's been taught by some Church leaders, but there's a lot of ambiguity surrounding that particular idea.

anderin

@solvingaproblemlikemaria I definitely had the same experience re: the planet stuff. But also, as a girl, I wouldn't have been eligible for my own planet, anyway.

I agree that there doesn't seem to be quite the same degree of secrecy in Mormonism as in Scientology, but members aren't usually encouraged to delve into the esoterica. My parents got into a lot of trouble while researching the role of women in the early church, the Heavenly Mother doctrine, etc. back in the eighties and nineties.

Slate recently had a pretty good piece on the suppression of Mormon intellectuals: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/faithbased/2012/11/d_michael_quinn_and_mormon_excommunication_the_complicated_life_of_a_mormon.html

Steve Stein@twitter

@bluebears As I understand it, Kaballah study is reserved for men who are "40, married and fat". Men, because Orthodox Judaism. "40, married and fat" because Kaballah is seductive, and could develop into a cultish false refuge for younger people who are less experienced in life lessons or desperate for spiritual solutions to their loneliness or poverty, leading them to ignore the world as it is.

RH
RH

@anderin, This is a minor point, but I think worth noting. Although there are undeniable problems with the Mormon church's relationship with women, lack of the Y chromosome does not prevent you from eventually owning a planet of your own. The idea of "owning planets", as far as I understand it, isn't really literal; it comes from the belief that people can eventually become gods themselves. Mormons believe that you can't become a full-fledged god alone: you have to be married (or, as we say, sealed) forever. Therefore, it's sort of true that women can't "own worlds" without men, but it's equally true that men can't "own worlds" without women. Equal-oportunity(ish), until you remember that some men have multiple eternal wives...but we're working on that. And if I die or something and my husband marries another wife, I'll just do without a world, thank you very much.

anderin

@RH Thanks for the clarification, RH! You're definitely right that the LDS language on planet-having requires the "companionship" between spouses. (But it also says that men will remain head of the household, since he holds the priesthood... so I'd agree that that the situation is "equal-opportunityISH.")

SarahP

I don’t think it’s fair to criticize a religion on a basis that has nothing to do with how most practitioners experience it.

I love this line. Thank you for it.

barefoot cuntessa

@SarahP I don't know that I agree. "I don't think its fair to criticize a *practicing individual* of a religion on a basis that has nothing to do with how that person experiences it" is much easier to swallow. I mean, the Xenu thing is nuts. So is the fact that priests still perform exorcisms! Both have nothing to do with how individuals experience their religion, but are pretty huge opportunities for criticism of the religion.

SarahP

@barefoot cuntessa There's a difference between criticizing a specific practice of a religion and criticizing an entire religion because of one practice (that, like she says, has nothing to do with how most practitioners experience it). Your example is actually a good illustration of this! You say it's nuts that some priests still perform exorcism--no arguments there! But if you were to say "All of Catholicicm is nuts [and therefore so are all Catholics] because some priests still perform exorcisms," I think that would be unfair.

Aysem

@SarahP Sizlerin internette daha iyi bir oyun oynaması için en iyi oyunların bir arada toplandığı kıral oyunlar sitesi sizleri güzel oyunlar beklemektedir.

DanAppleG
DanAppleG

@SarahP I thought Xenu was just a piece of software used to find broken links for sites like Injury Guide

SoBeana

Thank you for sharing this Stella, it is fascinating and I am looking forward to the next installment.

krisisisipoo

@SoBeana This is pretty much verbatim what I was going to say. Both of these have been super interesting reads.

leonstj

I really love this series - I was raised a devout (but liberal - liberation theology, vatican II, a priest in favor of gay and/or married priests), to the point where I wanted to become a priest.

In college, I rebelled pretty strongly against religion. I became kind of an asshole (think of one of the prominent premium cable TV hosts who rails on about it constantly - I mean, I'm better, as someone who actually studied stuff like this at university, at articulating my arguments than him, but the same tone carries).

I've learned to mellow out and be a nicer person about everything, and (and this is the point of my rambling on about myself here) articles like this, by people talking in an even, open way about their experiences within different religions were important to that. It's so easy for believers of any faith or non-believers to get caught up in defending ideas or dogma, attacking or criticising specific churches or doctrines - but we just end up denying ourselves of the chance to simply gain knowledge about how others live.

I love that you aren't forcing judgements of one sort or another, neither defensive nor prostelyzing. Thank you very much for your willingness to share so openly a topic that can be so fraught.

graffin

@leon s I followed pretty much the same path. After college I broke away from my Catholic religion and eventually became one of those loud mouthed Atheist dickheads. I joined relgious forums with the intent of continuing my smarter-than-thou proselytizing.

Eventually, it led to me having some good interactions with religious people which continues today.

I have a lot of religious friends that I love to engage in conversations. They don't try to convert me and I try not to minimize their beliefs.

This is much more fulfilling than being a swaggering Atheist bully.

lizard

@graffin did you wear fedoras during that horrible loud mouthed atheist time?

graffin

@lizard it was early 2000's, so it pre-dated the age of the fat Fedora'd Atheist.

nonvolleyball

this is such a great series. & love the tone it strikes--not defensive, not angry, not melodramatic, but also not sugar-coat-y.

Stella Forstner

@nonvolleyball Thank you so much!

cmcm

@nonvolleyball Agree! This is the first article about Scientology that made me think "okay, I get why people are into this". All the others I've read (and there have been lots) are either clear propaganda or "the church is fucking nuts and ruined my life".

White Rabbit

@cmcm To be fair, "the church is fucking nuts and ruined my life" is an accurate statement for many ex-Scientologists.

I've only avoided that fate because I keep my opinions about the church to myself (when not hiding behind an Internet avatar, anyway). If I formally stopped being a Scientologist, rather than just distancing myself the way that I have, they would "declare" me a "suppressive person," and all of my Scientologist relatives and friends would *literally* never speak to me again.

mammamia

@White Rabbit While I do agree with your first statement. I think the life you have post-scientology is determined in great part on how much you gave up (in terms of money, years, relationships, opportunities) while involved. Those who gave up most, have the greatest resentment. Also, those (like yourself it appears) who are able to incorporate any useful bits into their new lives without rejecting it 100%, are healthier, as they do not have to look back at that time as completely wasted. I think a good way to help a friend or relative in Scientology, is to try to keep them balanced, and involved in other aspects of their life.

queenofbithynia

Scientology is far from the only religion that holds back esoteric knowledge from all but the most devoted and advanced practitioners. Judaism and Mormonism, for instance, as well as other strains of Christianity, all offer special knowledge only to men of a certain age or to the clergy

Sexist, patriarchal, coercive or deceitful practices of these and other religions are in fact discussed, critiqued and frequently mocked all the time and this is a really good and positive thing.

queenofbithynia

@queenofbithynia eeps I let the edit window pass me by. What I meant to address was the idea that criticism of religious dogma can be countered by pointing to other religions that are just as bad, as though they aren't subject to scrutiny too, or as though applying criticism selectively somehow invalidates the truth or relevance of whatever is being alleged.

I am sensitive to the phenomenon of minority religions taking more than their share of ignorant abuse or atheist derision or whatever; I notice it most with Judaism because that's the one I know most about. but in the case of accurate insults, I don't think 'Christians' (or whoever) 'do it too' is ever a particularly good defense of a practice, if it needs defending.

meetapossum

@queenofbithynia I agree. I also think the criticism of such practices in other religions has made important changes for the better (i.e., Protestantism arising from, in part, the belief that the Bible should be accessible to believers and not interpreted solely by a priest).

Ophelia

@queenofbithynia I agree, but I think her point was more along the lines of "mainstream religions criticize Scientology for doing something that they also do, or have done in the past." Doesn't make it right, but it does highlight the fact that there are similar issues in a lot of different cases.

Stella Forstner

@Ophelia oh how I love you hairpin commenters! Let me make clear that I'm not saying you shouldn't criticize Scientology or any other religion. My position is that the focus on Xenu is less criticism than mockery and that if your purpose is to challenge the church (which has done undeniably evil things) you should condemn its practices rather than insulting its believers.

all the bacon and eggs

Wow, this is super interesting, and now it makes much more sense to me why some famous Scientologists are such vocal critics of psychiatry/psychiatric medicaton.

notfromvenus

@all the bacon and eggs Well the whole church kind of is. I got curious in high school and went to the local Church of Scientology. After a brief tour and an audit, they showed me a film about how if you ever feel down and you go to a psychiatrist, they'll give you a lobotomy and put you in a mental institution forever, so that's why you should be a Scientologist instead. I found that part pretty off-putting, ahaha.

MoxyCrimeFighter

@all the bacon and eggs I think it's really interesting considering that Dianetics sounds a lot like therapy. Not to be too down on Scientology, but I mean, developing your own form of therapy that isn't subject to scientific scrutiny because it's framed in religious terms, that allows you to ask the practitioners to divert their money from professional psychiatry to the Church - pretty good set-up, there.

phlox

@MoxyCrimeFighter Yeah, I briefly went out with a guy who was a Scientologist - I only discovered this when we went to his place and he had an entire shelf of L. Ron Hubbard books - and during our "I have to break up with you now, because you are a Scientologist and wacky religion is a deal breaker for me" conversation he talked about how it has worked in his life and I said that it sounded like you could get the same thing from actual scientifically-based therapy.

White Rabbit

@phlox As someone who was a Scientologist from the time I was about 11 until my mid-20's, I bristled at your comment. While I can understand having that knee-jerk reaction, I'm still haunted by this kind of attitude now in my 30's. When men I'm dating find out that I *USED* to be a Scientologist, many of them don't even bother trying to be polite, they just look at me like I've sprouted a second head and I know it's over. I REALLY wish people wouldn't treat each other that way. The few guys who haven't bolted got to hear about how the church preyed on me because I was an abused child who was traumatized and seeking any help I could find, and that as I grew older, I realized there was a LOT wrong with the church and stopped participating in it. I still have a few books that I find helpful, but by and large, it's behind me.

Also, had a person articulated their concerns to me when I was younger, rather than bolting, I might have figured it out even sooner, but I realize that's not anyone else's responsibility.

Stella Forstner

@White Rabbit I agree with you completely. As I write elsewhere in the piece one of the biggest reasons I wanted to write this was that I realized how incredibly difficult it must have been for my mother to start her life over (and go on dates!) when faced with people who had negative assumptions about Scientology that dominated their assessments of her. She is so much more than an ex-Scientologist and I'm sure you are too. Thanks for weighing in!

frigwiggin

I'm going to admit something here: for a long, looooong time, I thought his name was Elrond Hubbard.

Lucienne

@frigwiggin Now I'm sad to have missed out on this experience. :(

Ophelia

@frigwiggin Same, except I thought it was Elron.

Stella Forstner

@frigwiggin I'm glad you found a safe place to make that admission. I also think Elron Hubbard would make an excellent name for a cat.

jollieoldtime

@frigwiggin Since this is a safe space, I definitely thought the same thing. Also, I have no idea what Mr. Hubbard actually looks like, so in my mind he's Hugo Weaving as Elrond, complete with flowing robes and braids.

Cat named Virtute

@frigwiggin Meeeeee tooooo (late to the party--missed you, Hairpin!). And then I referred to Elrond Hubbard books (I work in a bookstore and would get asked about his books periodically, though we didn't usually have them, so I hadn't seen his name in print) in an email to a guy I liked, and he replied "...do you mean L. Ron Hubbard?" and I wanted to die.

meetapossum

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cory dodt@twitter

How Scientology treats its believers and detractors, and what it believes at the highest echelons, are not separable. If you are going to criticize for the former, it makes perfect sense to mention the latter.

Scientology attempts to supress both criticism and information about its own workings, including its beliefs. This extends, by your own words, even to the members of the church itself. It doesn't want people to know about Xenu. There are at least two plausible reasons for that:

1) if you know about Xenu, you might lose faith with the church as a whole, because of how ridiculous it seems.

2) if you know about Xenu, you might not pay to learn more about Xenu.

There are lots of religions (some would say all of them) that believe crazy things, but by and large they are phlegmatic about other people knowing those beliefs. They don't attack people because of their *own* beliefs.

Scientology does. So to fight Scientology, one must also bring up Xenu, as much as possible.

Stella Forstner

@cory dodt@twitter Clearly we disagree. Do you really believe that hearing from an outsider why your religion is wrong would encourage you to leave? I don't see that happening among Scientologists or anyone else -- all that I've seen shows that people who feel attacked by outsiders cleave all the more strongly to their group.

Argyle

@Stella Forstner Your response is very generalized - "I don't see that happening/all that I've seen." It's certainly plausible that people who belong to religious groups cling more to their beliefs when they feel threatened, but it's also plausible that people research criticisms of their religion, take them into consideration, and perhaps leave their church based on their own conclusions. Cleaving more strongly to their group is certainly not the only outcome.

Stella Forstner

@Argyle You're right, I'm being general. I'm a social scientist by training and if this was an academic work I would provide evidence for an assertion like this. But because this is merely my story and my sample is composed entirely of people I know and a few dozen stories I've read I can only say what I've seen and experienced. I'm certainly open to other plausible explanations. Thanks for reading.

darklingplain

This series is so interesting! And I really appreciate how nuanced a description/defense/criticism it is. But I don't know if it's fair to compare Judaism to Scientology in terms of esoteric knowledge kept from the general community (I can't really speak to Christianity).

First, while it's true that there's a tradition against young people studying Kabbalah, that's a prohibition against the kind of devoted, intense study traditional Jews engage in, not a prohibition against telling people about the conclusions. That is, as a youngish woman I wouldn't be supposed to spend hours studying and interpreting the Torah in a mystical way, but there's no problem with a rabbi telling me about the belief that Pinchas was temporarily inhabited by the souls of the sons of Aaron, and that's what gave him the strength to kill the Israelite who was publicly sleeping with a Midanite, etc. etc.

And second, I am free to roll my eyes at that interpretation because Judaism isn't a particularly dogmatic religion and Kabbalah isn't really important or doctrinal. Even plenty of Orthodox Jews don't buy/care about mysticism in general, and that doesn't pose any problem to their religion.

AuntAgatha

"I don’t think it’s fair to criticize a religion on a basis that has nothing to do with how most practitioners experience it."

I think it isn't OK to criticise the believers for something that has nothing to do with how they practise their religion, but I think it's fair game to criticise the religion itself for it. Xenu is still part of the religious doctrine of Scientology.

Similarly, even if many Christians don't believe that most of what was said in the Old Testament still applies, it's still valid to criticise Christianity on the basis of the Old Testament.

And thanks, Stella, for this excellent series!

PatatasBravas

@AuntAgatha I agree! My worldview is one of constant, in good faith inquiry and criticism. I don't make stupid Xenu jokes. That said, I think it is definitely worth wondering why any religion would hold back information from practitioners, and why donating money is necessary to become more spiritually 'good'. This is why I want to have conversations about why women can't be priests/bishops/pope, and the having to throw cash around to get to Xenu.

This series is so, so interesting to me and I really love Stella's writing. I look forward to every installment.

Miss Maszkerádi

@PatatasBravas "...donating money is necessary to become more spiritually 'good'"

Jan Hus and Martin Luther preserve us, we STILL have to deal with this concept on Planet Earth?!?!? ARGH! (*bangs head ninety-five times against cathedral door*)

@AuntAgatha "Similarly, even if many Christians don't believe that most of what was said in the Old Testament still applies, it's still valid to criticise Christianity on the basis of the Old Testament." Little confused by this, and pardon the slight exaggeration when I ask, do you mean it's valid to criticise a religion on the basis of something that only a handful of its adherents believe? (Like, say a minority of Christians believe the OT to be still valid - I don't know the numbers, but for the sake of argument - does one criticize the larger umbrella-church of Christianity itself, or only the particular sects/subgroups that hold that view? I'm not snarking, I'm asking for clarification) (and maybe trying to start a debate because I enjoy theological nitpicking probably more than is healthy, normal, or acceptable.)

AuntAgatha

@Countess Maritza Well as I understand it, most Christians don't think that the Old Testament is completely invalid. Most Christians believe that some of the more obviously unethical things in it (slavery is A-OK, rape victims should be stoned, etc.) should be overlooked because Jesus said in the New Testament that the most important thing is to love thy neighbour, but I think the vast majority of Christians accept that the Old Testament forms part of Christian doctrine.

If there is some sect of Christianity that rejects the Old Testament wholesale and says that it forms no part of its religion and its religion is based entirely on the New Testament then that's fine, I wouldn't hold the Old Testament against them. (Though of course there's still plenty in the New Testament to object to anyway.) Even then the Old Testament might still be relevant in shaping the religious tradition of that sect in some way so it might be worthwhile not to ignore it entirely in criticising the sect.

In the case of Scientology, only a handful of people believe in Xenu because only a handful of them have paid enough money to learn about Xenu. It's not that most Scientologists heard about Xenu and decided to reject the concept. It's fundamentally a part of the Scientologist religious doctrine that Xenu exists, so it's definitely important to take it into account when critiquing Scientology.

kinbarichan

@AuntAgatha: I agree with what you're saying, but I think one of the differences between Christianity and Scientology is that our Xenu is right out front. I mean, maybe our sense of the weirdness has been blunted by a couple of thousand years of the same story, but, Jesus: born to a virgin, fully God, fully human,lived, preached, did miracles, was crucified and died, rose from the dead, bodily lifted up to heaven to live with God. That's, like, right out there - no spoiler alert needed. There is no deeper element of the faith; anything else any given Christian may learn or choose to believe may be important, but is not of the utmost importance. (YMMV, depending on denomination)But you never know - maybe there is an elite inner circle of mystics who know that Jesus is just a cover story for the real, true, super-secret actual force behind Christianity, which may or may not involve long-buried stone tablets in Northern Manitoba... (that last part was just whimsy, but now I've scared myself and thought up a foolproof moneymaking scheme at the same time)

saywhatnow?

Wow, does this bring back memories. I wish I would have known years ago that Xenu comes out in OT-3. My ex-boss was OT-8 (yes, she went on the Freewinds for the course) and is still practicing this "religion"... I think you hit the nail on the head about how they treat their supporters. We had a worker at our office who was basically an indentured servant to support her Scientology habit. She definitely hadn't made it to OT-3 yet and was barely scraping by, working days at our office and nights at the church. My boss and her husband were also running a seemingly successful business but lived like paupers. All $$$ went to getting to OT-8. Really sad, because some of the "tech" we incorporated into the business was actually quite helpful. It's a shame that they could not use any of it to see what they were really doing to themselves. This is a really good series and I am enjoying it!

White Rabbit

@saywhatnow? Ah, yes - the Admin Tech. That's a great example of an aspect of Scientology that is genuinely useful. I'm extremely successful in the business world despite lacking a college degree. I've explained to a few close friends that much of my success is the result of extensive training in Admin Tech, and they think that's nuts. Ah, well.

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aubrey!

One of the things I've never quite understood about Scientology was that although it is strongly against psychiatry, the auditing sessions sound very much like therapy (Although probably not how it's practiced today--it seems fairly Freudian.) Is it just that they believe Scientology is all you need, in terms of therapy?

Stella Forstner

@aubrey! That's part of it, but honestly I think much of their opposition to other kinds of therapy is economic -- it threatens their bottom line. While the antagonism has its roots in Hubbard's paranoia about psychiatry I think it remains because the church wants to retain control of its practitioners and prevent them from seeking other forms of therapy/healing.

karion

Once again, I feel the recesses of certain corners of my mind being gently pried open.

For the very first time, I think I have some understanding of what draws people to Scientology. In the most paradoxical way, it seems both logical and batshit. The goals? The clear mind and all that? I get it. The e-readers, not so much.

There is a form of therapy called Hakomi, and it seems to have many of the same aims of "auditing." But there are no e-readers, and the experience (as I understand it, having never done it myself) is incredibly supportive, healing, and nurturing.

But I get the quest for better living through a clearer mind, and until tonight, I never once thought that ordinary Scientologists were on that quest. I can now sort of understand how a person - who has benefited from deep introspection and logical examination of feelings and triggers and traumas - could feel gratified and enriched by the lifestyle. And why they would think it only gets better if you level up.

This is such an eye-opening series. Thanks so much for it.

whateverlolawants

@karion Yes, I am a former Christian, now atheist, and the auditing intrigued me! I don't want to do it, but I can see how someone would.

D.T. Bell

This is so great and interesting. I used to pass a Church of Scientology building (church?) every day on my way to work and I was always so intrigued by what was going on in there.

Andrea G.@twitter

This is fascinating. Thank you for writing this! I'm intrigued with how legit psychology is mixed with other things to create a cult, and the tactics used to bind people to it. We all know something's wrong with us, and we'd give a lot to fix it!

Christians - Protestants, anyway - don't have secret knowledge that I'm aware of. That runs counter to our belief that the Bible is the core of Christian knowledge, and that no aspect of Christianity should be hidden from the laity. For instance, even in churches where women can't be ordained, women aren't prevented from knowing everything about the ordination process. I can't speak for Orthodoxy or Catholicism, though.

Stella Forstner

@Andrea G.@twitter Thank you for the correction! My information related to clergy in the Catholic church, and not to Protestants. I apologize for not making that clear.

Derek Bloch@facebook

This is an interesting story, but were I to share mine it would be a much darker version than this.

This series, thus far has hardly covered the actual indoctrination techniques used to keep people in the church through shame and humiliation and the ones for people who are not yet in that effectively eliminate a person's critical thinking abilities.

It doesn't touch on the abusive nature of working on staff and in the Sea Org, where children as young as 13 (in my own personal experiences) and reportedly younger, are asked to sign a billion year contract to work for the organization for a little as $20 a week and averaging 100 hours a week, usually more.

It doesn't touch on the homophobic nature and racist nature of the religious doctrine. IT doesn't touch on the recruitment tactics used against children when they are expected to join the Sea Org. It doesn't talk about the confessionals that people are forced to do nor does it discuss the shame and blame game that Scientology uses on people. Children who are born with disabilities are thought to be "evil" and that they deserve those disabilities. Gays are the scum of society and seek to destroy anyone around them.

Granted your next section is about "leaving the church" which I am assuming is some kind of disconnection. I was disconnected from my family earlier this year. Meaning I had to leave the house and my family will not speak to me simply because I posted on a website called "Ex-Scientologist Message Board" and I wanted to share my story.

If you want to see the other side of Scientology, not the sweet story here that threatens to give me diabetes, here is a link to my story:

http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2012/05/scientology_and_6.php

Stella Forstner

@Derek Bloch@facebook I'm not sure what you find so sickly sweet about my story aside from the attempt I make to empathize with why people join the church.

Many people have suffered because of the church; you don't need to invalidate my story to legitimate your own.

Derek Bloch@facebook

@Stella Forstner I'm not trying to invalidate your story, but while I understand your attempt at empathy (something which is discouraged, as well as sympathy in Scientology).

Scientology is abusive to anyone it comes in contact with, but especially children and especially those children that join the Sea Org. There is a lot more to a Scientology childhood than "touch assists" and "contact assists" and time out.

I had to confess my masturbation habits to my parents as young as 12 years old and that I had watched pornography, in the presence of both my parents and several other people. In the Sea Org I had to give detailed accounts of my mildly sexual relationship with a fellow Sea Org member in front of several people at age 17. I was humiliated and shamed and left on my dad's doorstep only to be humiliated and shamed some more. I spent years hoping that some day I would "fix" my homosexuality through Scientology counseling practices.

So while your story is interesting it also, to someone like me, seems rather sweet. The abuse is deeply ingrained in all of it's teachings; as much a part of it's teachings as Xenu. It's not about Xenu. It has never been about Xenu. It's about child abuse.

You may not be familiar with stories like mine, and I am not trying to allege that you are intentionally undermining the effort to expose the abuses of the Church. I am just trying to give the other side a breath of air here because your story is so mild compared to so many others.

This is probably your experience and the extent of your involvement in the church. I am so happy that you did not get pulled deeper than you did. You are lucky, and fortunate and for that I am grateful. You are someone who was a potential victim that did not become one.

At least from what I have seen thus far in your story.

Stella Forstner

@Derek Bloch@facebook Thanks Derek. I do know about stories like yours and I'm glad you've shared it here.

White Rabbit

@Derek Bloch@facebook Derek, I'm really sorry that that happened to you. Having been in the Sea Org briefly, I can relate to much of it, and so I know how painful and humiliating it can be. I'm glad that you're out and away from it now.

I agree that stories like yours also need to be heard, and I think having an intro such as Stella's story allows people to gain a better understanding of the fundamentals of what is going. That way, when they read a far more infuriating story like yours, they're better able to grasp the nuts and bolts of what's going on. So far, I've seen a lot of overly simplistic Scientology bashing online - "Those people are all crazy! Why would anyone get involved with something like that?!" etc. Meanwhile, being called "crazy," "stupid," and worse isn't exactly going to encourage a practicing Scientologist to want to listen to a critic, however right that critic may be in their critique. I think writing like Stella's will go a long way toward helping people figure out a way to appeal to practicing Scientologists that might actually cut through the fog - something that would be immensely valuable for their well-being. A few people here have already commented about how they can finally understand why the church might appeal to someone. That may not seem like a big deal, but it's a HUGE step forward toward moving from being horrified about it, to actually taking meaningful action to help people.

...I've likened the church's tactics to those used by domestic abusers, especially in regard to staff members, especially at the Sea Org level. In the worst cases, it's almost like the followers have a form of Stockholm Syndrome. They are yelled at, degraded, threatened, and punished repeatedly, and their response isn't to get angry and leave, but rather to try harder to please the church/abusers. It's really heartbreaking for the good people who get caught up in that cycle, and thinking about the perpetrators makes my blood boil. It's also similar in that it's difficult to get the followers to see/admit how bad their situation is. If you've ever tried to help a battered woman leave her abuser, there are many parallels. (I grew up with domestic violence and have studied it, and the parallels are striking.)

I need to ask: you mention above that children born with disabilities are considered "evil." I never personally encountered that mentality, but it's in keeping with the other bigoted and abusive attitudes that prevailed. I have Scientologist relatives with young children who have disabilities. Should I be worried about them?? I suspect that the parents are verbally/emotionally abusive. Have you heard of anything worse being perpetrated??

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this is great! it actually seems strange now that i haven't seen such a clear description of beliefs etc before. one thing i still don't get - you said a thetan is sort of like a soul, but then they are also these parasitic alien things? is that two different kinds of thetans or something?

Stella Forstner

@redshirtyellow Each person is/has a thetan, but if you get to OT-3 you learn about body thetans. Having developed from aliens who lost their material form body thetans are still independently minded creatures - you might liken it to being perpetually haunted by a team of ghosts.

Stella Forstner

@redshirtyellow Each person is/has a thetan, but if you get to OT-3 you learn about body thetans. Having developed from aliens who lost their material form body thetans are still independently minded creatures - you might liken it to being perpetually haunted by a team of ghosts.

Stella Forstner

@redshirtyellow Each person is/has a thetan, but if you get to OT-3 you learn about body thetans. Having developed from aliens who lost their material form body thetans are still independently minded creatures - you might liken it to being perpetually haunted by a team of ghosts.

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As a former Scientologist, I had to take a quick break from reading to say that this line made me LOL:

"ENOUGH ABOUT XENU ALREADY."

My sentiments exactly. :) Now back to reading...

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Sure, he contradicted himself throughout his whole life, with things like "what is true for you is true," so members would have that to fall back on when questioned about why they believe this or that baloney.

Scientology is a form of fascism, with the type of lies and control that must be confronted by outsiders by questioning and telling the truth. Clams do not know Hubbard lied about his war record. Tell them that! Tell them that a Pulizer Prize-winning author has investigated this. Tell the truth about Hubbard, the truth about the scam he created, and the truth about Xenu.

Learning about Xenu (before they reached that level) helped members like Astra Woodcraft wake up.

The Xenu story is reprehensible because clams are led to believe that they are removing engrams and then in this bait-n-switch scam, suddenly they have to spend hundreds of thousands to remove "body thetans" instead. I say, confront them with Xenu, whether they are family members, celebrities or clams you don't know. Maybe in the process of trying to explain it or figure it out (neither of which they are allowed to do), they'll wake up a little.

This person's story is very well written, enjoyable and informative. Years ago, people wouldn't confront clams with the Xenu story, because they didn't know about it themselves. Today it is all out in the open and time to discuss these things with clams -- especially the ones who are newly in.

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