Monday, January 9, 2012

Cult of Personality Disorders

Religions no questionsDealing with the holidays has left me a little behind on my reading, but today I finished Inside Scientology by Janet Reitman. Wow.

Reitman does a fantastic job of detailing the history of the “religion” (please make exaggerated finger quotes there) and of L. Ron Hubbard, as well as delving into policies and practices. I found the personal stories of those who had been abused by Scientology the most poignant; I got choked up over the tale of one couple who, after years of separation, were able to escape together, and the abuse and death of Lisa McPherson was heartbreaking to read.

I’m not entirely sure where to start here, because my mind is so boggled that anyone would fall for this bullshit, but I’ll try. L. Ron Hubbard was a pretty damn good snake oil salesman, and quite capable of reading the social atmosphere of the times and giving the people what they wanted. I have to give him credit for that: he knew how to market. But the guy was a science fiction writer, for pete’s sake! (I actually read one of his scifi books years ago, and thought it wasn’t too bad.) I found myself shaking my head at the stories about the evil Xenu, body thetans, the Galactic Confederation, and other such assorted gobbledygood. And people actually
believe this stuff?! It it weren’t so pathetic, it would be funny.

Then there is the bizarre military branch of Scientology, the Sea Org, in which people sign a billion year contract--yes, that’s billion with a B--because their thetans will eventually inhabit many other physical bodies. The people in the Sea Org have to undergo intense training, and can’t marry any non-Sea Org member, but I guess it’s worth it because they get special perks like wearing super cool uniforms.

I was also struck by the constant use of Capitalized Organizations which could be abbreviated as convenient acronyms (Potential Trouble Source, Operating Thetans, Golden Age of Tech, Introspection Rundown, False Purpose Rundown, Religious Technology Center, Rehabilitation Project Force, Estates Project Force, Pacific Area Command Base, Planetary Dissemination Meter...make your own acronyms, kids!), always a sure sign of an entity seeking to make itself sound more official and serious. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both the government and the military use acronyms a lot. (Speaking of military acronyms, It seems to me that Scientology is both SNAFU and FUBAR.)

Sea OrgAfter Hubbard died, Scientology was taken over by David Miscavige, who comes across as dictator-like in his need for power and influence. He’s the one who really embraced Hubbard’s idea of going after celebrities, so that they could be used as emissaries for the “religion.” He also followed in Hubbard’s footsteps by really raking in the dough from all these poor, lost saps who buy into this idiocy and fork over money in order to cross the Bridge to Total Freedom. ::eye roll::

Did I take away any positive messages that Scientology might offer? Not really, although I think being self-confident is a good thing; it’s no secret that those who possess and project confidence are more persuasive and likely to get others to go along with them. But do people really need to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to an organization like Scientology in order to figure that out? If so, pay me. I’ll tell you all about it.

While reading this book, I was reminded of my ex-husband, who, at a later age, became enamored with the pentecostal religion (some might say that he “found Jesus”). I’m someone who was raised in a church, but as I got older and read more and experienced more things and people with different backgrounds, I moved away from organized religion. I often wondered what was missing in my ex’s life that he felt the need for something like that. In some of the followers I read about in this book, I recognized his level of fanaticism; some might make the argument that all religions prey upon people, but I’m not here to do that. I’m writing only about this book and this particular “religion.” But I really couldn’t help but be reminded of what I experienced years ago.

PenaltiesMany people say that Scientology is a cult. I would have to agree with that assessment. You don’t place people into isolation, punish them, and isolate them from their friends and family unless you’re a cult (click picture at left to embiggen, to see some of the punishments). You don’t force women to have abortions unless you’re a cult, and you don’t withhold medical treatment from mentally ill individuals unless you’re a cult. Unfortunately, the government has recognized them as a religion, so they get all kinds of tax breaks and deductions. Yet another reason why I think that tax exemptions for all churches should be eliminated, but that’s an entry for another day.

You know, I honestly feel sorry (well, mingled with a little bit of exasperation and incredulity) for the people who fall for this. There is obviously something missing in their lives, and I would hope that they could find it through other means. If it were just harmless ideas, I don’t know that it would be cause for concern. But people sink thousands of dollars into this crap, and some are severely psychologically damaged. It does harm to people, and anyone who falls prey to this is obviously weak-minded and in need of the initial sense of community that Scientology gives them. It’s a shame that they’re so blind as to what they’re really all about (hint: $$$). What a great gig for the higher-ups in the organization, but not so great for the drones working 20-hour days and getting paid $50 a week.

A very good read, but also very disturbing.


  1. Makes you wonder how intelligent, talented people fall for this crap. It boggles the mind.

  2. First, I have to disagree with Debra about the 'intelligence and talent' of those 'stars' who follow Scientology, primarily the former...

    As much of Ayn Rand's dogma as I disagree with, I do like her framing of religious leaders as 'witch doctors' and the purpose of religion not being something that was conferred on a few to lead, but as a creation to help the weak cope and eventually position, if not supplant, those who by virtue of their virtues, were making things happen.

    The irrationality of religion is only superseded in dysfunction by psychotic breaks. Most of the major religions are filled with stories about their major characters, including the central deity, that were they human, they'd be declared mentally incompetent.

    I objective the faithful... that is how I make sense of them in the world view... but subjectively, religion does not have a place in my life and never has. I judge people character by how much they reflect their faith... and if they do a good job at that, then they are nothing more than the human being we all are meant to be... no more, and no less...

  3. I think this must have been excerpted somewhere, for I know I've read much of it. Think I'll check out the Kindle version.

    L. Ron was the modern version of Joseph Smith. I remember when Scientology was really taking off among the Flower Children of the late sixties and early seventies. Everybody had to read Ayn Rand; everybody had to read Dianetics. Everybody had to blow their minds and suspend logic and common sense.

    I suppose that, in an age when most of us were thumbing our noses at authority and everybody was secretly scared of a world without certainty, we were harboring hopes that we would hit on a bigger truth that would "explain everything." Everybody wanted to "know the Knowledge."

    Somewhere in there, the courts got involved in Scientology's status as a church and music celebrities like the Incredible String Band and Dylan started jammin' the e-meters. It was a crazy time. The idea of being in on The Big Secret has huge appeal for celebrities who don't really understand the arc of their fame; they begin to think they really, really ARE special and begin to search for "special" reasons for it. Throw in enough hallucinatory experiences and L. Ron's your uncle.

    Gah. Humans.

  4. If I had time and the space I could tell you a few "stories" about this cult. At least let me say I have know a few people with the smarts not to fall into it's web of conspiracy and deceit. I had the chance to play with the original "E" meter during the sixties and it was a laugh.
    I can't believe some of our major celebrities have totally "bought" into this crap.

  5. Yay! You read it. As I was reading it, I kept thinking,"Beth so has to read this book." It just seemed filled with all kinds of crazy. Along the way you keep thinking,"Can it possibly get worse?"

    Took a class on EU law back in 1991 during summer school in England. Professor had a lot to say about Scientology. Did you know that being a Scientologist can have one barred from entry to some European countries?

    Yep, totally a cult. And I am completely pissed off that the IRS gave them tax exempt status.

  6. Scientology is huge in Boston. Downtown Boston alone, you will find Scientoloy peddlers selling their books and other junk. I'd had dealing with too many and it is so sad. Some the smartest people I knew, now enslaved to this cult that has robbed them of their lives as well as their money.


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