Saturday, April 15, 2006

What can we tolerate?

I want to understand belief. What is it to say that there is a God when you have never seen him or her? What is it to say you are an X and do not trust the many other faith systems there are? What is it to say that you were an X but are now a Y? How do we come to decide what the truth is in circumstances where it is not obvious?
Belief makes us do odd things, like pray, or not eat certain foods, or disregard certain common practices. It can also cause us to act in a way that others might find contrary to their own standards. There is a lot of antagonism between all the different belief systems, theological and non-theological. It is hard to know how to condemn an action when it sprung out of another's deeply held religious convictions about the truth of the universe. Maybe it is best to tolerate such things, and to allow them to go on - for we should not mess with their faith and subdue their thinking.

My previous article attempted to examine this problem, albeit in a way that was practical and trying to find an actual real-life answer to this antagonism. And my previous article, to do with Scientology, is overlong, under-researched, and therefore half-baked. I admit this, and reckon that although my conclusion is somewhat valid, there is much more to be done. In an analysis of the interplay between what I simplistically term the 'anti-cult movement' and the 'religious tolerance' movement, I essentially stated that the latter has more popularity, and that to attack a movement like Scientology will have to entail dropping the seemingly unprovable distinctions of cult and brainwashing, and instead ask Scientology to act like a mainstream religion, asking it to limit its observable negative practices.
So, why am I still thinking about the subject and pondering on it? Because there is still much more to cover. Because we must examine, philosophically, the terms behind public debate and private thought and, I reckon, attempt to threaten with wholesale change. I actually personally think that what Scientology does is as close to brainwashing as you can get. I personally think that Scientology acts like a cult. Cults attempt to get people to believe things that are not widely considered to be true, or even scientifically false. They purposefully limit criticism. They often ask for people to believe things that lead to harmful practices, such as swapping psychiatry for ideas of mental images having weight, or that sin can be absolved through fasting. They convert people to their cause and use them in some way, sometimes to find other to convert, sometimes to make money, sometimes to dedicate time and effort to some 'spiritual' endeavour. People leave these cults on various terms, some happy about the experience, some with misgivings, others feeling that their lives have been decimated.
The essential problem is that you could label so many movements, systems, or religions as cults or cultic. The pope attempts to control the truth of Christian teachings by limiting the validity of the 'gospel according to Judas'. Religion always entails prioritizing a certain viewpoint against competing viewpoints for reasons that are not always ones of general human or spiritual interest. Religions are not just belief systems, but ways of changing the world socially and politically through a widespread acceptance of their importance. They can be dangerous - and is this dangerousness not what we find so appalling in cults?
What about ritual crucifixions in the Philippines? Can this be seen as legitimate religion? Ruben Enaje has opted, of his own free will, to have nails driven through his hands for the 20th time. It is a matter of personal argument and opinion as to whether you think this can or should be part of any religion.
In some ways, even McDonalds can be seen as a cult. They proselytise, they limit criticism, they are one thing and attempt to convert people to believe another.
In an article on faith schools, Polly Toynbee points out that:
"This is indeed a clash of civilisations, not between Islam and Christendom but between reason and superstition. The wake-up call came with a BBC/Mori poll showing that, even in this least churchgoing nation, science is on the run: 48% believe in evolution, against 39% who believe in creationism/"intelligent design". If even scientists aren't believed then here is fertile territory for any mad and dangerous theories to take hold.
But instead of standing up for reason, our government is handing education over to the world of faith. It's the same government that went to war in Iraq to install the likes of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani into positions of great power. The man George Bush and Tony Blair see as the best hope for promoting stability and "freedom" in Iraq has just issued a fatwa calling for the killing of all sodomites and lesbians. See "Q. What is the judgment for sodomy and lesbianism? A. Forbidden. Punished. The people involved should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing." The exiled Iraqi gay campaigner Ali Hili reports that these orders are now being obeyed, with an upsurge in beatings and slaughter of gays in Iraq by religious cadres who have declared all unmarried men over 35 "under surveillance".
The Pope may not call for murder, but the Vatican is directly responsible for millions of Aids deaths by refusing to sanction condoms even in parts of Africa where half the population is infected with HIV, putting out deliberate lies that condoms are useless against the virus anyway. Yet here is the Labour government encouraging religions to take over as many schools as they can, promoting the humbug that values and morality only come with the "ethos" of faith."

All these articles come from today's newspaper, apart from Polly Toynbee's, published yesterday. Events of such a nature that they should give us reason to reconsider our 'commonsense' notions of religion and cult happen all the time. What does this mean - does it mean that we should accept cults because they only do what religions do, but without an aura of history and legitimacy; or does it mean that we should question religions for having similar aspects to cults?

Arguments for religious tolerance often stress that people have free will, and that they legitimately choose to believe in a certain system of thought. This makes that system a religion, as to label it as a cult is to attempt to limit the choice of the believers and forcibly change their beliefs. It is a way of saying, 'you believe wrongly', and we should not do that. We should respect the choice of the individual, and therefore the movement chosen.
This leads us into odd arguments. Just because people freely decide that believes to accept a certain religion, one that that stresses that blood transfusions or psychiatry or condoms other ways of helping people and saving lives are wrong, we should accept this. But is religious belief more important than human life? Is tolerance of a belief system more pressing than intolerance of harm?

What do we find important? We need to be questioning what belief is and should be. We should be setting parameters as to what is legitimate and what is not. We need to decide what to tolerate, and why. I do not believe that, just because something is a 'religion', it should necessarily be tolerated. We should even question what a 'religion' is.
I am free to choose to disagree with all belief systems that cause pain and suffering. I am also free to choose to join a faith and cause pain and suffering in the name of what I think is truth. We should not imagine that, just because someone is free to make a decision, it means that they have come to a decision that we should tolerate. We need another standard for deciding what is right or what is wrong.

Remember, many arguments against suicide bombers stress that it is not a legitimate part of Islam, it is not condoned in the Koran etc. But, even if it was, would that mean we would not be able to criticise it? Just because an action is done out of a firmly held belief in a religious truth, by someone who is 'freely choosing' to be in that religion, does not make it tolerable. And what scale can we use to decide when a religious act becomes intolerable? Perhaps when it only affects the believers we should accept it. So, if Jehovah's Witnesses were to die because they did not accept a blood transfusion, would that be OK? What if the child of JW parents died? What if a JW nurse or doctor refused to give a blood transfusion and a Buddhist died? At what point do we stop tolerating it?
And should we even allow JW's to believe in something that is inherently so dangerous, and publicise their deep-seated, religious concern that blood transfusions are wrong as the Bible asks us to "abstain from blood"?

My intended message: tolerate only what is tolerable, for good reason, and do not be afraid to ask for change. And if we find that we cannot find all that much difference between cult and religion, then criticise both, don't accept both.
There is good reason for why some people would describe my thoughts as religiously intolerant. I would say, however, that there is good reason to not tolerate harm, no matter if someone commits it because they have a certain faith-based understanding of the universe and of how to act.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Why chanting 'cult!' won't work: Understanding and Critiquing Scientology as a 'New Religious Movement'

Scientology has always perturbed me. Called a cult, accused of brainwashing, and with a set of unbelievable beliefs and unpleasant practices, it is still allowed to exist. The anti-cult message is not working and, for some reason, Scientology is still allowed to operate. In this essay, I have attempted to begin to answer the question of 'how can this happen in our society?' Along the way I have had to challenge my own beliefs. I am trying to offer a way to accept Scientology and give it the religious tolerance some ask for, but at the same time use this to critique it more effectively.
  Anti-cult activists call Scientology a cult, and accuse it of brainwashing, taking money from their victims, and various illegal activities. However, arguments based on cult brainwashing are, I believe, not going to have popular impact. Scientology has adopted the image of a religion and calls for religious tolerance. This has the negative implication of cutting off dissent based on cult allegations. However, it also opens up new avenues of attack, as in order to be tolerated as a mainstream religion it will have to change in many fundamental ways. I ask the anti-cult movement to embrace this change and find new ways to criticise Scientology that will not be labeled as 'religious intolerance' and ignored.
  I argue that Scientology is indeed a religion, in the 'positive' respect that it has similar good effects to a religion of spiritual guidance, and in the 'negative' respect that all religions contain elements of conformity and control - although in Scientology it is much stronger. I offer three basic areas in which a religion of Scientology will not be protected by the aura of religious tolerance - its practices as a business, as a science, and as non-tolerant itself of other religions and certain social groups.
  I am aware that at many points I will cite websites, authors, researchers, academics etc. that are labeled 'cult apologists'. However, I am also aware that the anti-cult movement is not without controversy. I am not intending to support any cult, but neither am I intending to support any anti-cult movement. What I am trying to do is find a new anti-Scientology message that drops the use of concepts such as 'cult' and 'brainwashing', as I do not believe they will be widely acceptable in a 'religiously tolerant' environment, and as I do not believe that they are true, based on the evidence. This is a highly-charged field, for good reason, and I want to try to combine the best of the tolerance message with the anti-cult message.
  Please leave comments. I will be more amenable to charges of not being harsh enough on Scientology, as I think I am being as fair as possible to the movement. Areas in which I am sure that I am biased are in my general negative opinion of religion as whole, which may explain why I believe Scientology is a religion also, and my stance on brainwashing not being possible (I believe the research, as a psychologist myself, shows that conformity is the culprit).

"Present time: the time which is now"

Scientology: Fact or fiction?, from Minneapolis Star Tribune, October 22 2005, by Herón Márquez [emphasis added]
  When driving, Cathy Brown says she can make red lights turn green. At home, she can make someone visit or call simply by thinking about them.
  But the Minnetonka woman's remarkable powers to control "matter, energy, space and time" don't end there, she said.
  "I can also go out of my body at will," said Brown, a private school administrator. "Although I'm not very good yet at seeing things while I'm outside."
  [...] "We don't expect mainstream religions to lie, to exploit people, to engage in illegal activity," said David Touretzky, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. "Scientology is not a true religion, because it does all of these things."
  But church members say Scientology, which focuses on rehabilitating the human mind and spirit, is the world's best hope for ending war, crime and various psychological maladies.
  "Every religion on the planet has come under attack at its beginning," said Audrey Steinbergs, 46.

  You have probably heard of Scientology, as it has been in the news recently. Tom Cruise allegedly wants to name his baby Hubbard, South Park lost Chef, and there has been a rather good article by Janet Reitman that serves as a good introduction to popular journalistic criticism of the movement. Reading this, and watching the controversies unfold, has spurred me on to writing this essay.
  It is effortless to write an opinion about Scientology. It is full of so many silly ideas that you can just dredge them up, laugh at them, and say something disparaging about the celebrities involved. Extra points for pointing out that the writings of the founder, L. Ron Hubbard, are tawdry science-fiction that, compared to the bible, shows that over the years religious writing has only worsened.
In fact, the first time I wrote this essay, it was something like this. However, through reading and thinking, I started to consider a new set of questions, and have fundamentally changed my outlook and my writing.

  I started in anger as, based on Reitman's article, on my previous study of Scientology and its critics online, and meeting Scientologists on the streets of Birmingham trying to get people to come to stress tests, I believed that Scientology was a cult, used brainwashing, and should therefore be stopped. If one assumes these two things, it is easy to argue for the eradication of Scientology.
  However, I realised that it was very hard to differentiate between a cult and a religion. I realised that, more and more, people are accepting Scientology as a religion and calling for it to be tolerated as such. Unhappily, I wondered whether the world was mad.
  What got me thinking is such defences as that used by Isaac Hayes when he pulled out of South Park. He said that: "There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry toward religious beliefs ... begins".
  It is hard to miss the point that Hayes believes that Scientology is a religion, and that it should be tolerated. (Whether he is hypocritical about not speaking out about the savage attacks on other religions by the cartoon is an interesting point, but it is not the point I wish to make). If you are to search google for the phrase 'the scientology religion' at the time of my writing you find about 76,200 results, which appear to me to be mostly official Scientology publications. However, there are still many non-Scientologists convinced that Scientology can be best described as a religion. If we accept that Scientology is a religion - or at least trying to become one - and not a cult, as I will be arguing, the real questions are, What does it mean to call Scientology a religion?, and What will change in Scientology as it attempts to become a religion? This is where I think there is much hope, as aspects of Scientology are not religion, and therefore not going to be tolerable in the same way, and I think that Scientology will be required to change to gain popular acceptance. The movement is still vulnerable to attack when it comes to its unpleasant practices, even if we afford it the protection of religion.

  An outline of my assumptions: As a psychologist, I am assuming in this essay that brainwashing does not exist, and that Scientology's power is due to the power of a social group to influence the individual through conformity, which is probably impossible to legislate against. I am assuming that Scientology is changing to become more like a religion (whereas, when it started, it certainly met my personal definition of a cult) and that society will not widely accept the attack of something that seems like a religion. And I am assuming that the defence that calls for 'religious tolerance' affords will not cover all aspects of Scientology as it, crucially, goes beyond being a religion in many ways.
  Firstly I will try to convince you in favour of my current assumptions and outline the religious tolerance movement. Then I will display how Scientology can still be critiqued, and as a consequence how I think Scientology's critics and current members of the church should act. And finally I will consider the questions that we must ask to ourselves, for example, if a science-fiction writer can start an evidently false belief system that, over 50 years, becomes a religion, what does that make of religion?

Theological criticism of Scientology: why it is still a religion even though it sounds like a space opera

  Scientology involves belief in some odd things. This is probably what first causes revulsion in those who encounter this movement, and what most people assume is bad about Scientology. Therefore it is what people attack. One of these odd things:
"Hubbard states that clam-like extraterrestrials called boohoos and weapers were tossed into the Earth's oceans millions of years ago, and evolved into humans. Contemporary humanity retains psychological problems due to the "enturbulation" these clams experienced by the agitation of ocean waves. The book also claims the Earth is much older than the five billion years or so that science describes."
Hubbard's History of Man

  I do not think that believing that clams are the evolutionary genesis of mankind makes Scientology a cult. All religions disagree with empirical observation, common-sense, rigorous and rational systems of knowledge such as philosophy and science, and each other. Scientologists are just as free to invent - or 'discover' - their own truths, for as long as they don't require everyone else to believe along with them, society usually accepts this.
  Any attempt to make Scientology look like a cult by referring to its beliefs is going to fail, because all religions have odd beliefs. Maybe it is even that those that draw up laws would be wary of creating the precedent of allowing a belief system to be ignored based on its odd beliefs, as it would open up all religions. Also, it is easy to appeal to general spiritual themes and make even the oddest beliefs seem sensible. One example of such an appeal can be found at this site, which we must note is written by a claimed ex-Scientologist who now regards the whole thing as a 'cultic illusion':
"You have probably read... how the core of Scientology belief is summarized by the Xenu incident in which a despot called "Xenu" supposedly clustered several human spirits together 75,000,000 years ago and threw them in physical bodies. This, however, is a completely misleading presentation on the part of critics. The core belief of Scientology is that Man gradually forgot his spiritual nature after a tumultuous history of past-lives incidents, and that Scientology has the "tech" to help him regain his full spiritual awareness and abilities. The Xenu incident, although an important one in the overall Scientology scheme, is just one of these past-lives incidents. A very simple reasoning will show that the Xenu incident can't be the core belief of Scientology.
  The Xenu incident was not known even to L. Ron Hubbard when he founded Scientology in 1953. Scientology existed as such for 14 years before the incident was discovered. When he added it on the "bridge", it did not fundamentally change anything to the basic process Scientologists followed and still follow. To this day, you could just abstract the Xenu incident and you would still have a relatively intact system referred to as "Scientology".
  Since the Xenu incident is only revealed at a very late stage of Scientology processing, the vast majority of Scientologists don't even know about it. Yet, they call themselves "Scientologists" and refer to what they do as "Scientology"."
  To summarize Scientology by the Xenu incident is thus completely false. The purpose of such action is to frighten newbies away and to ridicule Scientology beliefs. It shows that, contrary to what they claim, critics are not interested in honest presentation but in propaganda and proselytism.

  What this website is saying is that it can be seen as reasonable to imagine that Xenu seeded the planet with human bodies. It points us to the essential fact that we must re-attain our spiritual nature, and relates entirely to the basic religious and spiritual ideas that drive Scientology, ideas that other religions share. Therefore, like other religions, these ideas should be tolerated.   This is exactly how Scientology can be transformed from its cult origins into a religion.
  However, we must continue to criticise even these more moderate perspectives. The author alleges that the Xenu belief is not important. It is taught later on, and most Scientologists are not supposed to be aware of it. L. Ron Hubbard did not even 'discover' it until later on. I would contend that if it was 'discovered', and meant to be true, and you are meant to believe it, then, yes, it is important. If it is taught later, after you have paid a lot of money to reach the higher levels to learn this truth, then it is absolutely integral to the religion. It is special knowledge that you have invested time and money to reach.

  It can be seen how it is possible to understand Scientology as a religion but still critique it.   Is it intolerant to say, "This is what Scientologists believe, isn't it silly"? Evidently not - secular, Western civilisation is arguably built on such free and open criticism of religious belief.   The problem is that, to say that Scientology is a cult because it holds strange beliefs is not an effective argument. The Bible states that women come from a man's rib, just as odd an assertion.   Scientologists, on this level, have won - their beliefs, being part of a religion, deserve just as much tolerance. We cannot ban Scientology because it has stupid beliefs, and we must find other ways to criticise the movement.

  At this point, you may not be convinced that Scientology can or should be understood as a religion. It should take much thought to come to a conclusion as to whether Scientology is really a dangerous cult, or an allowable expression of religious faith. What you believe on this issue has implications for how you deal with Scientology, and how your criticisms will be dealt with. Part of my thought into the matter involved a simple attempt to define religion.
  Religion involves faith and belief. It has a communal aspect, and a tradition often passed down.   It has some sort of exalted originator. It tells of creation, of what we are, and of how we should act. Religion offers solace and wisdom.
  Sadly, I realised that all cults also offer these same aspects. Of course, the originator of the movement is more historically recent and more documented; the myths and faith odd and unusual; the communal aspect stronger and more centralised, partly due to there being fewer adherents. The worst thing is that the centralised nature allows for more control, and I will show how this has been explained away later. All this, put together, can be said to be nothing more threatening than a new religious movement, and, indeed, this is how Scientology defends itself. In essence, Scientology claims that any troubles are in the minds of attackers, because they blindly hate this new, unusual faith. I will look at how Scientology uses the discourse of religious tolerance to shield itself from criticism later - next I will look at why another strand of anti-cult critique is not working.

The sociological and psychological criticism of Scientology: why charges of brainwashing fail

[I am using the website in some places. As it has been down for some time during my writing of this piece I will provide a Google cached link with every link, just in case.]

  As well as believing odd things, Scientologists seem to inhabit an old world. People sign up to the religion and become very involved, and unwilling to do things outside of it. They may start to separate from old family and friends, because they are not following the same system of belief.   And, understandably, the family will want them back. What is happening?
  The website Religious Tolerance, which I will be using more later, has an interesting page on brainwashing [cache] that I will summarise and quote from in this section.
Obviously, brainwashing is a simple way of understanding the phenomenon of people withdrawing from their normal life into something else. They have been 'conditioned', and are now acting differently. To speak broadly and over-simply, you may understand this sociologically (as a group, Scientology act differently, involving coercive practices and some form of influence that acts as 'control' that keeps people away from their previous life and within the cult), or psychologically (the individual acts differently to the extent they are unrecognisable, as if a 'pod person').   There exists an industry for trying to snatch these people back, sometimes involving actual kidnapping - you may have seen this in The Simpsons. Religious Tolerance explains why ideas of brainwashing have come about:
"Many individuals in the Anti-cult Movement (ACM) have attempted to raise public consciousness about what they perceive to be a major public threat, mainly to youth and young adults. They believe that many NRMs are profoundly evil. These groups, which they call "cults" are seen as:
  Recruiting large numbers of young people into their religious groups, by using deceptive techniques.
  Subjecting them to severe mind-control processes that were first developed in communist countries, and subsequently developed by NRMs to a much higher level of refinement.
  Destroying their followers' ability to think critically and to make independent decisions.
  Many in the ACM see NRMs as being particularly efficient in attracting normal, intelligent older teens and young adults, and convincing them to:
  Donate major amounts of time and effort to the group,
  Uncritically accept its teachings,
  Conform to their behavioral restrictions and
  Make a permanent commitment to remain in the NRM.

  Extensive confirmation for these beliefs has come from disillusioned former NRM members. A small minority of those psychologists who specialize in the mind-control field also support the ACM's conclusions."

  However, as the website goes on to explain, very few people now accept the idea of 'brainwashing' as some special way of altering another’s beliefs:
"The mental health and academic religious communities are approaching a consensus that this type of mind-control can not be achieved by psychological means. They see people as entering NRMs because of the emotional support and certainty of belief that the religious groups supply. Almost all later leave the group of their own volition, when their continued membership is no longer a positive experience. The average length of membership is probably less than 2 years."

  So, evidence that brainwashing is not out to get you is that most people end up leaving the movement disillusioned, when it is 'no longer a positive experience', for, on average, 2 years. I will be discussing whether this makes the practice of such religions reasonable later.
  The famous Zimbardo sums up his understand of the psychology of social influence here, on the same webpage, and I am inclined to agree:
Philip G Zimbardo, PhD wrote an article in the American Psychological Association Monitor titled: "What messages are behind today’s cults?":
  "Cult methods of recruiting, indoctrinating and influencing their members are not exotic forms of mind control, but only more intensely applied mundane tactics of social influence practiced daily by all compliance professionals and societal agents of influence."
  "...cult leaders offer simple solutions to the increasingly complex world problems we all face daily. They offer the simple path to happiness, to success, to salvation by following their simple rules, simple group regimentation and simple total lifestyle. Ultimately, each new member contributes to the power of the leader by trading his or her freedom for the illusion of security and reflected glory that group membership holds out."
  "Cult mind control is not different in kind from these everyday varieties, but in its greater intensity, persistence, duration, and scope."

  This is not to say that Zimbardo does not still use words like ‘cult’ or ‘brainwashing’, as shown in this article:
  It seems to me that at the heart of the controversy over the existence of mind control is a bias toward believing in the power of people to resist the power of situational forces, a belief in individual will power and faith to overcome all evil adversity. It is Jesus modeling resistance against the temptations of Satan, and not the vulnerability of Adam and Eve to deception. More recently, examples abound that challenge this person-power misattribution… [for example] More than 900 U.S. citizens committed suicide or murdered friends and family at the persuasive bidding of their Peoples Temple cult leader, Jim Jones…
  The power of social situations to induce "ego alien" behavior over even the best and brightest of people has been demonstrated in a variety of controlled experiments, among them, Stanley Milgram's obedience to authority studies, Albert Bandura's research on dehumanization, my Stanford Prison Experiment and others on deinviduation.
  Understanding the dynamics and pervasiveness of situational power is essential to learning how to resist it and to weaken the dominance of the many agents of mind control who ply their trade daily on all of us behind many faces and fronts.”

  From my understanding, as a psychology teacher who is actually teaching conformity right now, Zimbardo is still talking about conformity as the basis of mind control. He found, in his Stanford Prison Experiment, that the effects of conformity were extremely strong, causing young college students who were assessed as psychologically healthy to play up to a role of prisoner or guard that it caused psychological distress. He is not going against his previous assertion that “cult mind control is not different in kind from these everyday varieties, but in its greater intensity, persistence, duration, and scope”. But it is a strong warning for us that conformity is very powerful indeed.

  Remember, no critical journalist who enters Scientology to find out more is magically brainwashed and comes back out spouting Dianetics chapter and verse. Ex-Scientologists become dissatisfied and leave. This is obviously not brainwashing. One final piece of evidence that brainwashing is not occurring, from the same webpage:
"One good indicator of the non-existence of mind-control techniques is the ineffectiveness of NRM recruitment programs. 'Eileen Barker documents that out of 1000 people persuaded by the Moonies [Unification Church] to attend one of their overnight programs in 1979, 90% had no further involvement. Only 8% joined for more than one week...'"

  Evidently, rather than brainwashing, what happens in Scientology and other 'cults' is very strict conformity to the group norms, a far more mundane - although still powerful - form of influence and coercion. One explanation is that New Religious Movements, being smaller and centralised, have a more defined group structure. One can be a Christian; for example, by reading the bible and practicing in your own way and merely labeling yourself as one, or you can choose to join a number of churches or groups. There is no-one to whom you must make yourself known; some consider the religion as a decision made privately between the believer and Jesus.
In comparison to Christianity, to be a Scientologist is to be part of a very rigidly controlled organisation, with defined boundaries, hierarchy, standards, and procedures. This does not mean, though, that Christian belief does not involve odd practices that can seem cult-like. In an amusing study, noted on Religious Tolerance [cache] (emphasis added):
"Much of the confusion over new religious movements relates to a misunderstanding of the conformity and discipline which is often required of its members. Sociologists D. Bromley and A. Shupe once described the Tnevnoc Cult which recruited young women, required them to shave their heads, wear special uniforms, gave them new names in a foreign language, required them to give up their personal possessions and sleep on hard pallets. During their initial membership in the cult, they were isolated from family contacts. They were later required to ritually marry the dead founder of the cult.
  Bromley and Shupe received many inquiries about this abusive cult from sociologists and others concerned about psychological manipulation within cults. The latter did not realize that "Tnevnoc" spelled backwards is "Convent". The sociologists were referring to activity in a Roman Catholic convent. This same theme appeared in a paper delivered in 1989.
  Down through history, many religious groups (like convents, monasteries, intentional communities, etc.) have required their members to adhere to strict diets, schedules, repetitive praying, abstinence from sexual activities, isolation from former friends and their family or origin and other disciplines. To the casual outside observer, this might appear to be abusive. However, members accept the rules, enter and stay with the group because they find it a generally positive experience. If it becomes no longer positive, they leave and move on.
  One of the opportunities of living in a democracy is that people are free to believe what they wish and to enter into religious associations with other individuals. This sometimes leads to unpleasant experiences; in rare cases, it can cause death. But that is one of the risks of living in a society which has freedoms of religion, association and speech."

  Criticisms of Scientology based on the seeming 'brainwashing' of its members, or on the amount of coercion and influence within it, are bound to fail. The effects are due to the individual choosing to be part of the religion, just like any other religion. A degree (although certainly relatively harsh) of conformity is expected, just like any other religion. And, just like any other religion, these practices can seem strange. In a climate of religious tolerance, there will be no problem with this apparent brainwashing, as all religions involve conformity. This said, I do think that there are avenues through which to criticise Scientology's techniques for enforcing conformity, as the movement goes further than other mainstream religions in assuring peer pressure, and I personally do not agree with this. I will outline my thoughts on this later.
  Therefore, to claim that there is brainwashing will simply not work as a criticism of Scientology, as the phenomenon does not exist. This does not mean, however, that there are not other ways of bringing argument to bear on the religion - however, the measure of deriding researchers and academics that deny the possibility of brainwashing as 'cult apologists' is not a rational argument. Brainwashing does not seem to exist, and when an ex-member of a cult movement says they have been brainwashed, it is very evident that they have not. They were simply conforming and, thankfully, have had the choice of not conforming, which is why they are no longer members.

  I offer this from Janet Reitman’s article. Does it show brainwashing, or does it show that it is hard for anyone to leave a religion when their family would disagree with that choice?
One particularly frantic e-mail arrived shortly before this story was published. It came from a young Scientologist with whom I had corresponded several times in the course of three or four months. When we first met, she spoke passionately and angrily about the impact of the church on herself and those close to her.
  "Please forgive me," she wrote. "The huge majority of things I told you were lies. Perhaps I don't like Scientology. True. But what I do know is that I was born with the family I was born with, and I love them. Don't ask me to tear down the foundation of their lives." … "I'm so sorry," she concluded. "I hope you understand that everyone I love is terribly important to me, and I am willing to look beyond their beliefs in order to keep them around. I will explain in further detail, perhaps, some other day."

The defence of Scientology as a religion: calling it a cult is countered with the label of 'intolerance'

The website Religious Tolerance [cache] has a very laudable statement of intent:
Our site mandate:
  "To promote religious tolerance and freedom. To describe religious faiths in all their diversity.
To describe controversial topics from all points of view."

  The front page also notes that: "Whenever someone deviates from reality, others usually get hurt." You might want to hold this in mind for later.
What does this site, a cry for tolerance, have to say about Scientology [cache]?
The Scientology religion is an expanding new religion, founded by American author and humanitarian L. Ron Hubbard. The word Scientology means the “study of knowledge or truth” and addresses the rehabilitation and salvation of the human spirit.

  If you were to browse this site for Scientology, you would be impressed that it was a religion.   You might also be convinced that there is nothing wrong with it, considering its 'controversies' page [cache]. "Like many other new emerging faith groups, Scientology has been accused of ethics violations, brainwashing techniques, swindling people, etc..." The page is not exactly exhaustive in supplying the controversies that dog Scientology. Scientology, according to its critics, is involved in an immense number of scandals, from harassment of ex-members to full-blown murder, although it is hard to make many of these claims stick (it is easy to see why it is not hard to refute these claims and why the anti-Scientology movement is seen as troublesome). You could read the Religious Tolerance page and be left with the idea that there are a few troublemakers and no real reason to dislike Scientology, and that it is just a new religion struggling to find its feet, being attacked by the intolerant. This is, of course, an excellent image to foster. Scientology is generally very adamant it is a religion, with many articles allegedly written by recognised scholars attesting to this fact. Let us look at one quote.
  Regis Dericquebourg writes on another Scientology site about its legitimacy as a religion: "Scientology has the characteristics of a religion. It has a theology, a set of exercises making it possible to reach the spiritual part in every human being, a “very bureaucratized” church structure, and religious rites. Several authors before us, even the most critical, have not doubted of its religious nature..."

  This is not to say that it is impossible to criticise these sources of information. Here is a quick summary of such criticisms. Allegedly, Scientology has not earned the right to be a religion in America, it has forced it through blackmail. And, just to make sure you understand my position, I would be very pleased if the American Government were to define Scientology as not a religion and take away its legitimacy and privilege. I just do not believe it will happen.
  Scientology, as a religion, has the defence of being a legitimate set of beliefs and practices. Therefore, calling it a cult will not work. It currently acts like a religion, various countries have decided that it is a religion (even if under duress!), and I am sure it will maintain the defence of being a religion, as it suffered too much criticism in its secretive past.   If one was to assess its beliefs and the feelings of most of its followers, it would seem in many ways much like any other religion. And, in this light, the people fighting against it look very misguided indeed, as explained by Dena S. Davis in the essay "Joining a 'Cult': Religious Choice or Psychological Aberration?":
New religions which demand a high degree of commitment from adherents are bound to be disturbing to outsiders, especially to family members of those who join. The existence of a dramatic "threat" to middle-class families inevitably evokes responses from psychologists, therapists (both licensed and self-proclaimed), legislators, and mainstream clergy. Some of these responses are undoubtedly sincere, others are clearly self-serving. Most of these responses (e.g., deprogramming, conservatorship laws) rely for their logic on a stance of delegitimizing [sic] the "cult" as a religion which can command the respect and protection afforded to mainstream beliefs. By the same token, the conversion experience is explained, not in terms of religious belief, but in terms of "brainwashing" and mental illness. This allows the cult member to be identified, not as a maverick family member who has chosen a different path, but as the victim of coercive persuasion in need of rescue.
  As this paper has shown, none of these contentions can survive scrutiny. It is impossible, on both theoretical and empirical grounds, to draw a bright line between "real" religions and "destructive cults," or between sincere conversion to a religious belief and being the object of "coercive persuasion." Nor is it possible to identify cult membership with mental illness. Therefore, courts ought not to accept arguments, e.g. in the context of claims for unlawful imprisonment, that adults who join "cults" are to be treated any differently than those who choose to join other high-demand groups, such as Roman Catholic convents or the U.S. Army.

  The problem is that all religious movements can seem unpleasant to those on the outside, both new and established. They all induce a change in the believer, a drastic change of faith in the way that the universe works. They can all lead to altered behaviour and family resentment or withdrawal. Scientology leads to, like any religion, crippling doubt, the wasting of time in a false beliefs system (according to those who don't believe and ex-members), and disagreement with acquaintances who do not believe.
  Scientology is not a religion just because some country or other has decided that it is.   It is one because it, at its core, acts like one, and has appropriated religious language and techniques. It is a religion because those inside the movement say it is, and those who run the movement say it is, and more and more people generally consider it to be. It is a religion because claims from the anti-cult movement do not stick - brainwashing does not exist, the followers really believe in it, and they are allowed to leave when they choose.
  When people choose to believe in a religious system, no matter how stupid, that makes it a religion, even if it is new and questionable. This is due to how we currently practice Western freedoms.

  Now, let us step back for a minute. What is it that Scientology does that really is not like other accepted religions?. Next I will be charging Scientology with the crimes of peddling, for cash, its own way of healing mental and physical problems, and of intolerance of other beliefs and of certain groups in society. Yet, if you consider the situation seriously, we allow all sorts of faiths to operate with silly healing practices that allow medical problems to continue rather than cure them, from religious to faiths to faiths such as homeopathy. All religions have hard edges of intolerance, from Christians that will not accept gays to ideas of holy wars and that people not of your faith might in some way be lesser. Most faiths seem to involve money somewhere, it is always good to donate. Most (all?) faiths involve devotion to the faith over and above other concerns being in some way beneficial.
  In a 'positive' sense, Scientology is a religion because it has similar good points to other religions. It was invented as a belief system and, over the years, altered to become more like a mainstream religion. It offers to its followers a system of spiritual care, as well as mental and physical. It does not use any special mechanisms to control its followers other than a ruthless demand for conformity, and the followers are making 'their own choice' in remaining in the church.
  In a 'negative' sense Scientology is a religion because it has similar bad point to other religions. Ruthlessly, it is tying intolerance, cash, and conformity together to gain the most out of its members, in terms of devotion and money - Scientology is a religion because all religions are viewable in such a negative sense. Historically, religions can be criticised for using their spiritual power and influence to gain political and social and economic power too. We can accept the awful practices and scandals of Scientology because that is religion. No wonder many people are non-believers, or are spiritual but critical of organised religion!
  If Scientology is exploitative, it is exploitative in the way that all belief systems can possibly be, and in a way that most of the biggest systems have been in times past and sometimes still are in other countries. If Scientology offers something, it offers a similar mix of obviously untrue beliefs and conformity to a social structure that other religions do. In this way, Scientology is a religion, and is benefiting from our climate of religious tolerance.

Why a religion of Scientology is good: three main areas in which it must change

  It is, by now, mostly impossible to argue against Scientology as a cult. We cannot claim brainwashing, it will not be believed. We cannot argue against its beliefs, for unbelievablity and the necessity of faith is inherent in all religions. It is being accorded the status of religion by popular decree and due to our freedoms of speech, organisation, and belief. Scientology is a religion according to how we understand the term at this historical time and will be tolerated as such.
  This is what you should be asking yourself: How is Scientology allowed to get away with all this? How could L. Ron Hubbard invent a sci-fi religion, make people pay for it, and generate tonnes of cash? How can Scientology act so unpleasantly and still be a religion?
  The good news is that the tolerance is going to have to be two-way, and that Scientology will have to alter to claim its place as a mainstream religion. In fact, Scientology is already going through this process, and will only continue to change. It is having to become less secretive. It is entering the public eye more and more. And it will be exposed to more criticism as it 'goes mainstream'. It started as a cult, gained followers, and under pressure has adopted the stance of religion - there are many stories relating to LRH deciding to make it into a religion. And this stance will have consequences.
  There are three main ways in which Scientology can (and must) be questioned, even as a religion being protected by a discourse of religious tolerance, as adopting a set of unpleasant business practices, as lacking in the tolerance which it requests from others, and taking on the appearance of science.

  As a business: it is no secret that Scientology costs money. This article, from the LA Times, explains some of the business practices. "'I'm trying to recover my mortgaged home,' says Culloden, who spent 20 years in Scientology and obtained three mortgages totaling more than $80,000 to buy courses." Of course, there is a defence against these stories: "Church leaders will not discuss Scientology's gross income or net worth. But they contend that Scientologists who pay for spiritual programs are no different from, say, Mormons who tithe 10% of their income..."
  Of course, there is a large difference. Tithing 10% of your income is different to paying a certain amount of money for the books, materials, training, auditing, and other services. 10% of your income is never going to be too much, it would rarely lead to you needing to get three mortgages. The Mormon tithe does not discriminate against poor people, it is in a way charitable, as you are only required to give a percentage of what you have. (This is not to say, though, that there is not pressure to donate more and more in the church. Such is greed, both of a church for money and its followers for gaining praise for pennies.)
Another defence, from the same article: "'The fact of the matter is that the parishioners of the Church of Scientology have felt and continue to feel that they get full value for their donations,' said Scientology lawyer Earle C. Cooley." So, what happens if you do not feel you have had full value? From the same article comes the story of Larry Wollersheim who, in 1980:
"filed a Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit, accusing the church of subjecting him to psychologically damaging practices and of driving him to the brink of insanity and financial ruin after he had a falling out with the group. Three years ago, a jury awarded him $30 million. The award was recently reduced to $2.5 million.
  During the litigation, Wollersheim filed a 200-page affidavit in which he offered this analysis of what keeps Scientologists hooked:
  'Fear and hope are totally indoctrinated into the cult (Scientology) member. He hopes that he will receive the miraculous and ridiculous claims made directly, indirectly and by rumor by the sect and its members.
  'He is afraid of the peer pressure for not proceeding up the prescribed program. He is intimidated and afraid of being accused of being a dilettante. He is afraid that if he doesn't do it now before the world ends or collapses he may never get the chance. He is afraid if he doesn't claim he received gains and write a success testimonial he will be shunned....
  'How many people could stand up to that kind of pressure and stand before a group of applauding people and say: 'Hey, it really wasn't good'?'
  Wollersheim said that the courses provide only a temporary euphoria.
  'Then you're sold the next mystery and the next solution.... I've seen people sell their homes, stocks, inheritances and everything they own chasing their hopes for a fleeting, subjective euphoria. I have never witnessed a greater preying on the hopes and fears of others that has been carefully engineered by the cult's leader.'"

  The pressure to spend money on Scientology can apparently get so high that you are left without a home. In a very famous article, The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power, the loss of money of a 73 year-old widow was explored:
Harriet Baker learned the hard way about Scientology's business of selling religion. When Baker, 73, lost her husband to cancer, a Scientologist turned up at her Los Angeles home peddling a $1,300 auditing package to cure her grief. Some $15,000 later, the Scientologists discovered that her house was debt free. They arranged a $45,000 mortgage, which they pressured her to tap for more auditing until Baker's children helped their mother snap out of her daze. Last June, Baker demanded a $27,000 refund for unused services, prompting two cult members to show up at her door unannounced with an E-meter to interrogate her. Baker never got the money and, financially strapped, was forced to sell her house in September.
  [...] Shortly after Hubbard's death the church retained Trout & Ries, a respected, Connecticut-based firm of marketing consultants, to help boost its public image. "We were brutally honest," says Jack Trout. "We advised them to clean up their act, stop with the controversy and even to stop being a church. They didn't want to hear that."

  It is hard to find an answer as to whether Scientology is a religion, or a business. In another recent report, Scientology: A religion unmasked, which summarises some earlier journalism, the workers conditions are explained:
Only a small pool of members in the religion’s upper echelons have completed The Bridge [the whole programme of courses you are trained in]. Due to the quickly increasing cost of the courses, members are often encouraged to join the Church’s workforce as a means of earning enough to make payments. Those who decide to join the Church’s workforce sign "covenants" — contracts that commit employees to work for the Church from two to five years.
  In 1990, a multi-part L.A. Times article analyzed a number of aspects of the Church. Included are first-hand accounts of the workers’ conditions. Employees of the Church — who work in areas ranging from promotion, to finance, to fundraising — become isolated due to the Church’s pervasiveness. The Church comes to dominate their social circle, and due to long hours, workers are often exhausted and unable to spend any time away from Church life. Contracts stipulate that workers must repay the Church for their courses if they choose to leave.
  Vicki Aznaran—who appeared in the Time article—also spoke to the L.A. Times about the experience of isolation in the Church:
  "You finally are to the point where you do not examine, logically, Scientology... you are cut off from anything that might give you another viewpoint…"
  According to the L.A. Times piece, in 1984 Canadian authorities described working conditions as "slave labor". The article also quotes a 1964 directive of Hubbard’s concerning sick leave that serves to reinforce that claim:
  "If a staff member’s breath can be detected on a mirror, he or she can do his or her job."
  The piece also quotes Hubbard’s words from a Church bulletin, encouraging workers to bring in revenue:
  "Make sure that lots of bodies move through the shop … Make money. Make more money. Make others produce so as to make money ... However you get them in or why, just do it."

  As a religion, which expects tolerance, Scientology must be more tolerant itself. It is no secret that Hubbard was racist and anti-homosexual. Nor is it a secret that these tendencies are found in his writings for Scientology. And, also, many people allege that Scientology is misogynistic, for example in its emphasis on birth being the cause of mental problems (known as engrams). On opposition to homosexuality, The dangerous science of religion:
There is one segment of the "Gay Ivy" that Scientology might not "help," exactly: homosexual students. "I have gay friends," says Don, "but they're not Scientologists." Homosexuals are classified as an "outness on the second dynamic," Rachel explains gently. Ask her what she means and she'll define "Dynamic two" as sexuality, and "outness," as a problem, a deviation (all of this is in their bible, Dianetics). This seems to be the core of Scientologists' belief. Whereas many religions embrace difference and celebrate it, Scientology professes to embrace difference and then eradicate it. "That's just a part of the person's case," Rachel says, speaking still of the rhetorical possibility of a homosexual. "And it would be able to be audited."

  And, black people in Hubbard's own words from a prominent website to do with racism and Scientology:
"Just as individuals can be seen, by observing nations, so we see the African tribesman, with his complete contempt for truth and his emphasis on brutality and savagery for others but not for himself, is a no-civilization."
  -- L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology: The Fundamentals of Thought, Bridge Publications: Los Angeles, 1997.

  When it comes to other religions, Scientology has a conflict in its public appearance, and in its more private goings-on. From Wikipedia:
"Scientology teaches that it is fully compatible with all existing major religions. The Church of Scientology has publicly stated:
  'Scientology respects all religions. Scientology does not conflict with other religions or other religious practices.' (What is Scientology? 1992, p.544)
  In its application for tax exempt status in the United States, the Church of Scientology International states:
  'Although there is no policy or Scriptural mandate expressly requiring Scientologists to renounce other religious beliefs or membership in other churches, as a practical matter Scientologists are expected to and do become fully devoted to Scientology to the exclusion of other faiths. As Scientologists, they are required to look only to Scientology Scriptures for the answers to the fundamental questions of their existence and to seek enlightenment only from Scientology.' (Response to Final Series of IRS Questions Prior to Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(c)(3) As a Church, October 1, 1993)
  In some of the teachings Hubbard had intended only for this select group, he claimed that Jesus had never existed, but was implanted in humanity's collective memory by Xenu 75 million years ago, and that Christianity was an "entheta [evil] operation" mounted by beings called Targs (Hubbard, "Electropsychometric Scouting: Battle of the Universes", April 1952).

  Religions must publicly and privately accept the legitimacy of other religions to exist and to practice in our society. Although, of course, Christianity may claim it is the best, grudgingly religions should not attempt to, in any way, stir up intolerance for other religions. It is not surprising that we expect Scientology to do this also. And, linked to this, religions must be tolerant of criticism. Consider how important religious criticism is to our culture, with Lutheranism having providing a whole new concept of Christianity to Catholicism, the Enlightenment having fostered such writes as Voltaire, and members of all religions being able to consider for themselves what spirituality is, and having the freedom to follow it.
  Scientology, however, has always acted to reduce criticism, both outside its ranks, and within them. This article goes over the interesting Scientology concepts of 'dead agenting' and 'fair game', and an 'attack the attacker' policy. Let us look at this policy first:
"Don't ever tamely submit to an investigation of us. Make it rough, rough on attackers all the way. You can get "reasonable about it" and lose. Sure we break no laws. Sure we have nothing to hide. BUT attackers are simply an anti-Scientology propaganda agency so far as we are concerned. They have proven they want no facts and will only lie no matter what they discover. So BANISH all ideas that any fair hearing is intended and start our attack with their first breath..." -- Attacks on Scientology, "Hubbard Communications Office Policy Letter," 25 February 1966

  If Scientology wants to be a legitimate religion, it will have to accept legitimate criticism.   Attacking the attacker in this way is not a reasonable course of action, and society (hopefully) will not accept any religion doing this.
  Again quoting the previous article, let us look quickly at this idea of 'fair game'. "Hubbard detailed his rules for attacking critics in a number of policy letters, including one often quoted by critics as "the Fair Game policy." This allowed that those who had been declared enemies of the Church, called "suppressive persons" or simply "SP," "May be deprived of property or injured by any means... May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed."
  Intriguing. This is, of course, an extension of 'attack the attacker'. Furthermore: "Scientologists sometimes claim that Hubbard canceled the Fair Game policy in 1968. Its critics claim that only the term but not the practice was removed. What the "HCO Policy Letter of 21 October 1968" actually says is "The practice of declaring people FAIR GAME will cease. FAIR GAME may not appear on any Ethics Order. It causes bad public relations. This P/L does not cancel any policy on the treatment or handling of an SP."
  While Scientologists might continue to claim that they have actually really stopped using this unfair concept of 'Fair Game', it turns out that: "In separate cases in 1979 and 1984, attorneys for Scientology argued that the Fair Game policy was in fact a core belief of Scientology and as such deserved protection as religious expression."
  If a religion wishes to express itself by declaring war on its enemies then, I would say, society cannot allow that religion to operate. If Scientology wishes to be a legitimate and tolerated religion, I stress that it must itself be a tolerant religion.

  When it comes to toleration of criticism from within the ranks, Scientology also has work to do on this. To go back to Janet Reitman's article, it must be noted that at one point she is asked to sign a form when signing up for the basic training. "The document absolves Scientology of liability if I am not wholly satisfied with its services, and also requires me to pledge that neither I nor my family has ever sued, attacked or publicly criticized Scientology. It also asks me to pledge that I will never sue the church myself." I am sure that the Church defends this measure as a necessary tactic due to 'bigotry and hatred against our religion', or somesuch. What the document actually does is stifle criticism from within its ranks and protect against being liable for its own mistakes. A religion must be accountable to its followers.
  This is also from Reitman's article, and I believe it speaks for itself:
Now twenty-three, Jeffrey lives in a small mountain town more than four hours from Los Angeles. Since his "escape," as he calls it, from the Sea Org, he has not returned to the church. He has never spoken out about his experiences, which he still insists "weren't all that bad." But because he left the Sea Org without permission, he has been declared suppressive. Soon, he believes, his family still in the church will have nothing more to do with him.
  The order of disconnection, called a "declare," is issued on a piece of gold-colored parchment known as a "golden rod." This document proclaims the suppressive person's name, as well as his or her "crime." According to one friend of Jeffrey's mother who has read his declare, Jeffrey's crimes are vague, but every Scientologist who sees it will understand its point.
  "This declare is a warning to Jeffrey's friends in the Sea Org," this woman, who is still a member of the church, explains. "It's saying to them, 'See this kid, he left without permission. This is what happened to him. Don't you make the same mistake.'"

  Finally, in an attempt to replace elements of the scientific world, Scientology makes some grand claims. Scientology, due to its foundational book, Dianetics, is a system of mental health as well as a religion - building up its business by selling this system, and then tacking on a spiritual aspect too. It attempts to take status as the 'only viable option' for mental - and physical - health by claiming, on the Opposing Scientology site, that "Psychiatry as we know it today is more priesthood than science. Its conglomeration of half-baked theories is handed down by an arbitrary elite - authorities who have attained such status through who they know and who can sweet-talk the government into parting with yet more grant money."
  Wouldn't it be terrible if a priesthood pretended to be a science, and handed down half-baked theories, I am noting sarcastically. The Scientology Religion site, however, has an answer to the cruelties of psychiatry, offering "Scientology effective solutions". This language, of course, is a sad and unpleasant mix of business terminology with scientific claim, which when attached to a religion becomes even more unpleasant. What sort of solutions might it mean? One of the key aspects of Scientology is 'auditing', which is remarkably similar to regular talking therapies, although of course it is not because such things are evil. It does use an e-meter which, as it measures galvanic skin response is sort of cool and unusual, but then again psychologists have been using it too, so it is not all that unusual. From Wikipedia again:
"Scientologists have claimed benefits from auditing including improved IQ, improved ability to communicate, enhanced memory, alleviated dyslexia and attention deficit problems, and improved relaxation; however, no scientific studies have verified these claims. Indeed, an Australian report stated that auditing involved a kind of command hypnosis that could lead to potentially damaging delusional dissociative states. Licensed psychotherapists have alleged that the Church's auditing sessions amount to mental health treatment without a license, but the Church vehemently disputes these allegations, and claims to have established in courts of law that its practice leads to spiritual relief. So, according to the Church, the psychotherapist treats mental health and the Church treats the spiritual being. A 1971 ruling of the United States District Court, District of Columbia (333 F. Supp. 357), specifically stated, "the E-meter has no proven usefulness in the diagnosis, treatment or prevention of any disease, nor is it medically or scientifically capable of improving any bodily function." As a result of this ruling, Scientology now publishes disclaimers in its books and publications declaring that the E-meter "does nothing," and that it is used specifically for spiritual purposes.

Entertainingly, Hubbard thought that mass is condensed energy, and that holding mental images can increase your mass. Is this religious belief, or is it an attempt to become science? Can we allow such religious belief when it contests science? Consider that Scientology has claimed that auditing cure cancer. Consider that it runs a rehab programme for drugs users called Narconon, which claims 70% success rates, but one study has found only 6.6%. Consider that it runs a prisoner rehabilitation programme, called Criminon.
  Finally, consider that Hubbard wanted to replace psychiatry with his own ideas that remain entirely unproven, totally unscientific, and have no legal status as cures of any kind. What sort of problems might this cause, if someone is within the religion, needs help, and is given only useless therapies based on the idea of engrams, thoughts with mass, and so on?

  Scientology can protect its religious beliefs and practices by using its status as a New Religious Movement, but it cannot defend its business, scientific, or own non-tolerant practices in the same way. This is why it is a good thing that Scientology seeks to become a religion.
  Conventional anti-cult argument based on accusations of brainwashing is not going to be accepted anymore. A new argument based on what a religion is and should be doing will, however, have great effects in changing Scientology. We will not be able to eradicate the belief, even though I wish we could, as people are always ready to fall for some grand system of lies. What we will be able to do is agitate for the movement to be altered and get rid of the most objectionable areas.

What those against, and those for, Scientology should do

  Well, then, what must we do? At this point I am going to bring in the perspective of one website that is critical of the religion and of anti-cult tactics, say what is good and bad about it, and form my own conclusions. The site, run by an ex-scientologist who stresses his/her balance as a critical ex-member who disagrees with the religion and also anti-cult critics, is Another Look at Scientology. The basic position of this site is outline on its 'basic tenets' page. First, the author refers to indoctrination rather than mind control, as:
"this does not resort to esoteric, superstitious, unproven, and dangerous explanations of hypnosis or demonic-like possession that overrides the person's will. The persons always retains his will, but is simply convinced that the black and white view of the cult is right through constant repetition, fear, appeal to authority, faith leap, positioning, and others means. Likewise, after years of study, mainstream psychologists and sociologists have not retained anti-cultists explanations and describe instead the lure cults hold for some people by the fact that groups like Scientology provide a feeling of belonging, a sense of membership in an elite group, and more.

  The author of the site also holds, somewhat reasonably, that Scientology is not a scam because those higher up in the organisation believe in it just as much as the followers, and are running the show out of spiritual necessity, a little bit like the Pope. Returning to the 'basic tenets', this means that intervention into the religion is unfair discrimination, and that the state should act as a 'referee' rather than attempting to control what the movement is doing.
  The most important tenet held by this author, at least in the terms of what I am trying to do in this essay, is that to wish to 'take back' a 'cult victim', through force if necessary, disregards that person's rights. As a member of a religion they and the religion they believe in have the 'right to be tolerated':
  "I oppose the idea that cult members are mindless robots. The fact that the cultic mindset is a form of illusion does not prevent the beliefs of cult members to be as genuine as the ones of any other believers. For that matter, I don't view the cultic mindset as being the exclusivity of cults. Members of any religion, or anybody for that matter, can very well be the victim of it as well. To claim that cult members should not have the same rights as any other persons is a very serious attack on the most basic rights, and one of the most de-humanizing things there can be. It is, however, the kind of things the anti-cult theory directly leads to. To deprive someone of such right, one would need an extraordinary reason, and the mind-control claim of anti-cultists on which this is based, is at best unproven, and at worst totally false. Religious movements, however, are not above criticism, and nothing is lost by recognizing the religious nature of cults."

  I believe that this is an intelligent, if not perfect, way of viewing the problem of Scientology.   Let me sum up my argument.
  Anti-cult organisations oppose Scientology on many levels. They deny Scientology being a religion, call it a cult, and accuse it of brainwashing.
  This is entirely understandable. Scientologists believe, and do, odd things.
  There is, however, no support for brainwashing. Scientology, like any religious belief system, requires conformity to a group.
  Scientology is a religion in many respects, both in a 'positive' way that it provides benefits, and in a 'negative' way that it can be criticised as bad (altering the behaviour of the follower etc.) as can all religions.
  Scientology deserves religious tolerance, as it is a religious belief system, requiring faith, offering hope and salvation and 'truth'. Like any religion, everyone in the hierarchy will profess that they are acting out of a desire to improve the world - through the religion's techniques - even (and especially) if they are personally benefiting, in terms of money and power, from being in the movement.
  The followers of Scientology are not brainwashed. They are still human. And they have made a choice to be in the religion or, in the case of those whose parents raised them within it, to stay.   We cannot attempt to ‘pervert their free’ will by telling them they are wrong and trying to .
  However, this does not mean Scientology, in its present form, is acceptable. It is not merely a religion. It also operates as a business and a science. We can directly challenge these aspects, as they are not covered by any degree of religious tolerance. Also, Scientology itself shows a marked lack of tolerance. We must give, with one hand, the status of religion and, with the other, take away its past as a secretive cult that could largely get away with what it wanted to, that indulged in privacy, that silenced critics with unpleasant policies.

  We must accept that the anti-cult movement has lost some respect. A reliance on talking about cults and brainwashing, and in some instances on forceful intervention, have given supporters of Scientology a target which to hit. Also, the argument for religious tolerance is gaining ground.   We must learn to, within the boundaries of this new argument, still disagree with the unpleasant elements of Scientology.
  This is not to say that critics of the anti-cult movement are entirely correct. The Another Look at Scientology website is wrong in sp,e respects. Scientology probably did start off as a scam, as there is no evidence that Hubbard did believe in the belief system he created, and plenty of evidence to say he was attempting to gain power, money, and influence.   Although, presently, Scientology is a religion because its believers freely believe in it, and because it is striving to be a religion and defending itself as such, we cannot extend such sympathies back in time. Out of what I would personally call a cult came a religion!

  If you are for Scientology: do you want to be a religion? Then you must understand what makes a religion acceptable and tolerable. Any attempt to merely look like a religion while not actually changing will be continually noticed by your critics.
  If you are against Scientology: accept that Scientology is a religion. Accept that brainwashing does not exist. Accept that, sadly, people are manipulable through entirely mundane means. But do not accept Scientology. Do not accept the problems that Scientology causes. One fertile area - the religion sells a notion of 'truth' through its training, and also superhuman powers. Surely, when these do not become evident, you should get your money back? Evidently Scientology does its best to limit such attempts to sue, as shown in Reitman's article. Does that not mean that, legally, there should be a notice that, in the event that you do not get anything out of the training, you will not be able to get money back? Does that not mean there should be a massive campaign to stop people losing money on something that most people find has not helped them in the extent to which they were told it would?
  As a science, we must stop Scientology attacking legitimate areas of mental and physical healing, for they have nothing but pseudo-science to replace it with. Demand studies to show that Scientology's techniques work (previous studies have, unsurprisingly, shown that they do not). The possibility of people within the religion finding that their conditions become worse because their belief system stops them getting help is too high.
  I believe that a 'Scienonon' to rival Narconon and Criminon should be set up. Create a well-known database, online, of ex-Scientologists stories. Make sure everyone knows that, although people may leave the movement and therefore not be brainwashed, although they do not consider it a cult, they have wasted their time, money, and probably have had negative experiences to do with the emotional turmoil of doubt and 'blacklisting'. Remember that, although the website Religious Tolerance supports Scientology, it does say "Whenever someone deviates from reality, others usually get hurt". This is certainly true.   Scientology is a religion, yes, but a serious deviation from reality all the same.

  If we tell people, 'Scientology is a cult, it uses brainwashing', these are evidently untrue.   People may come to think, 'well it must not be that bad if its critics smear it so'. Tell the truth, and only the truth. Scientology is a religion, but very questionable. And those who used to be part of it, as I will discuss in my conclusion, are rarely happy that they joined.

  Let's try and generate a statistic, something simple, quotable, and as authoritative as possible:
??% of ex-Scientologists surveyed left the religion within 5 years. Of these, ??% would advise others to join.

Conclusion: questions we should be asking ourselves

  We live in a society in which some quarters call for religious tolerance. This has entailed the odd phenomenon of one man's invented belief system becoming a religion within 50 or so years.   Because people choose to join it, choose to stay in, and sincerely believe in Scientology, which in part is a collection of religious and spiritual beliefs requiring faith, it is a religion.
  What does that make religion? Could all of them have been similarly invented? It should make us ask serious questions. And who will be the next person to succeed in becoming rich and wealthy by imagining us a new spiritual past, present, and future? (Let's just hope it's not a fantasy writer, I do not want future generations looking to Harry Potter for spiritual guidance. J.K. Rowling is rich enough already).

  How can we allow a religion to exist, when we believe, as I explained above, that most people will drop out within a few years? We are saying that people are free to choose to spend their money on something they will realise is rubbish. We are saying that people are quite capable of wasting their life, time, and resources. Should society allow such irresponsibility? What is the price of being tolerant, not privileging one answer, and allowing people to provide their own answer for a cost?

  Just because Scientology is being seen as a religion does not mean that it will last forever.   Many religions, long forgotten, have dwindled out. They compete. For how long will Scientology survive?

  To what extent can we tolerate a social sub-group that asks for rigid conformity in values that oppose are own? Should any religion be allowed to convince us that it has cures for mental or physical ills without those cures being rigorously tested for efficacy? It is too possible that people might become worse, or even die, due to devotion to a certain type of religious healing rather than going for scientific medicine. This is not to say, though, that scientific medicine is always sure of its medicines or not also without group conformity effects.

  Why are people, without the useful excuse of brainwashing, so malleable and manipulable? Why are social situations so strong that they can convince someone of demonstrably untrue spiritual and physical facts? I believe we should be thinking not so much how to stop cults from arising again, and perhaps becoming annoying and manipulative religions, but looking at why people are so ready to accept a belief system, no matter how removed from observable reality. Is something lacking from society that makes people look for happiness?

  If you disagree with how Scientology 'works' in converting people into followers, convincing them to drop their old lives, conform to the group, and engage in proselytism themselves, do you disagree to some extent with all religions?

  Here are two excerpts from ex-Scientologists correspondence on the Another Look at Scientology site that act as a focus for more questions. First:
My experience left me with some significant questions regarding the Church - for example, why would the Church condone my closest friends and family disconnecting from me on the grounds that I was no longer a Scientologist? If this is misapplied use of the technology, why didn't the Church offer some avenue for recourse? I wish there were an easier way for me to go through the questioning I went through, but alas my closest friends disconnected from me, and I was left feeling that I had to leave. While the tech remains very useful in my world, I found no solace in the Church during this difficult time. Why?

  We presumably accept this treatment as legitimate religious practice, if we accept Scientology as a religion. All religions can cause pain if they 'excommunicate' members, and some groups within Christianity still use the cutting off of individuals from the church readily. But should we allow religions to hurt people? Just because people within a religion believe it is necessary to do this, and so mistreat a person, is that a legitimate religious belief?

From the same site comes a very interesting ex-Scientologist's experiences. Note how there is some sort of balance - there are good aspects to Scientology overwhelmed by bad, and the explanation of the control as simple conformity:
The astonishing experiences I had with auditing, although relatively few in number, served as the basis for my belief that there was something true about it and, therefore, it was possible my doubts and questions -- particularly about the rules and "mind control" aspects of Scientology -- were misguided. The implication being that if I kept going, I'd eventually come to see how it all made sense. And thus, I became immersed.
  I took Sasha to a Scientology school -- beginning with kindergarten -- fully believing he was getting the best possible education, my only friends were Scientologists, Sasha's only friends were Scientology kids, my job was with a company which employed only Scientologists, my accountant, car repairman, carpenter, painter, doctor, were all Scientologists. It was a community with shared aspirations, and -- for much of the time -- it was fun. But beneath the social veneer, I knew the sense of community -- and to some degree, the apparent success of the technology -- was based on mass agreement, rather than truth.
  I never totally believed Scientology was the "only road to truth" or the "road to total freedom". I believed it was a good road that might help people, including me. I believe it's still a good road for some people, at least for awhile. But for people like me, who prefer to think for themselves and rebel when they can't, the flaws in the community -- and the technology -- become more visible over time.
  [A]t the end of every night of study, the course supervisor would gather the students together for those who wanted to share their successes (aka "wins") and, once they'd had their say, the supervisor would lead the group in three cheers to L. Ron Hubbard (LRH): "hip hip hooray, hip hip hooray, hip hip hooray", as everyone stood to applaud an oversized picture of "Ron". The same was done at Scientology events, often attended by hundreds (occasionally thousands) of people. When you're surrounded by a large group, all of whom are doing the same thing, the ludicracy of what you're doing can escape you. But when you get an honest glimpse of what you're doing, you eventually come to realize that you need to deal with the questions and doubts you've had all along.
  I got that honest glimpse at a Scientology event, attendance to which was "mandatory". It turned out to be a sales pitch for a new auditing level -- coming soon to a Registrar near me. When it came time for the three cheers, I knew I was nearing the applause was pure pretense.
  When someone leaves Scientology, they become off limits to those who remain involved. You lose your friends, your job, your car mechanic, and the rest. The only way I could bring myself to lose all that was to accept the fact that the benefits of leaving outweighed the benefits of staying, and I reached that point before my son (and his father) had reached it. For several more years, I did my best to pretend I was a True Believer, because I wasn't willing to put Sasha in the position of having to decide between his mom and the only life he'd known.
  The best part of Scientology is leaving it! Shortly after gaining some distance from it, you rediscover your own thoughts and determination. You feel the freedom of no longer having to conform. You can study any subject that interests you, including philosophies NOT written by L. Ron Hubbard.

  Religion involves the dogmatic adherence to a faith and the consequence is that, in some amount, squash critical thought because they require the acceptance of truths that cannot be adequately verified. But, to be a Christian is, in most cases, to be a Christian within the context of the wider world, with plenty of opportunity to hear and tolerate criticism. What is most galling about Scientology is that, as a new religion, it is concentrated in certain pockets and can replace the social life of somebody entirely. To truly be a 'normal' religion, Scientology must mix in with the real world, and accept criticism as unavoidable.
  We have been assuming that people are free to choose a religion and free to stay. When are you not free? Are you free to choose to not be affected by group pressure and conformity? Are you free to choose from options you are being told you are not allowed to take by the people who you are assuming are wiser or more spiritual than you are? Religion, in all its forms, seems to limit freedom. Some people want this - they want to have certainty, to be able to be dedicated to something, to have some boundaries in terms of the morals to follow and possibilities of the future.   How can we be sure that someone, however, does not want this, but just cannot say?

  Understanding Scientology as a religion, as I have tried to argue is the case, is not just a matter of accepting Scientology. Nor is it a matter of finding ways to attack it even when it is being protected by a notion of religious tolerance. It should also lead to us asking questions about belief, and its role in our lives.

Note: Rick Ross has sent me this link, which follows along slightly similar lines to mine, but is better and shorter. It too explains that Scientology is more than just a religion, but concludes that this means that Scientology can not be a religion. My conclusion is that Scientology has to change to truly be a religion. I certainly think that this viewpoint has its merits too, and I am convinced by it, apart from my concern that it would not be a popular idea amongst those who are crying out for religious tolerance. I currently think that we have a better chance of altering Scientology and swaying more minds by acceding to these demands for religious tolerance than resisting them, but hopefully you are capable of deciding for yourself.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Over the hills and far away

The Republic, 369d-370c

'Well then, how will our state supply these needs? It will need a farmer, a builder, and a weaver, and also, I think, a shoemaker and one or two others to provide for our bodily needs.'
'So that the minimum state would consist of four or five men.'
'Then should each of these men contribute the product of his labour for common use? For instance, should the farmer provide enough food for all four of them, and devote enough time and labour to food production to provide for the needs of all four? Or, alternatively, should he disregard the others, and devote a quarter of his time to producing a quarter the amount of food, and the other three quarters one to building himself a house, one to making clothes, and another to making shoes? Should he, in other words, avoid the trouble of sharing with others and devote himself to provising for his own needs only?'
To which Adeimantus replied, 'The first alternative is perhaps the simpler.'
'Nor need that surprise us,' I rejoined. 'For as you were speaking, it occurred to me that, in the first place, no two of us are born exactly alike. We have different natural aptitudes, which fit us for different jobs.'
'We have indeed.'
'So do we so better to exercise one skill or to try to practise several?'
'To stick to one,' he said.
'And there is a further point. It is fatal in any job to miss the right moment for action.'
'The workman must be a profession at the call of his job; his job will not wait till he has leisure to spare for it.'
'That is inevitable.'
'Quantity and quality are therefore more easily produced when a man specializes appropriately on a single job for which he is naturally fitted, and neglects all others.'
'That's certainly true.'

We can imagine when this doesn't work. The shoemaker gets bored of making shoes, the farmer gets bored of growing food. Would this happen in Plato's mini-state? Why would one man stick to one job despite some boredom and lack of variety? Because the others depend upon him and value him - he is important both to them and, in extension, to the state that they have made together. Commitment to attaining good quality of work is also important (for Plato, a natural shoemaker would be disgruntled at not being able to farm very well, and at the fact that his natural talents are going to waste). We can imagine Plato's four men being pretty happy with their lot; it wouldn't be the case that they'd be bored before they die and break their little society. After a generation or two, the original contract between the men will become less and less important. But the principle of one man to one job will become inseperable from the lives of the people who succeed them: A farmer would think of becoming a jack of all trades perhaps like he would think of becoming a dog or a tree. It would in any case be hard to underestimate.

Imagine the situatedness of a people, should they be brought up from infancy into the professions of their parents (they would have to be taught that they have been brought up to be a farmer because it is their destiny or somesuch). The environments in which these people are brought up constitute the sum of the 'nurture' experience affords them - ask anyone brought up in a very specific lifestyle how hard it is even to understand people from other backgrounds. Plato's state would not of course be like this in many respects; as a meritocracy those who show aptitude and interest for particular fields will be assigned to them. To paraphrase a large part of The Republic, children will be brought up and evaluated for their various roles. The principle of one man one job will though be enforced as just through their education and myths that they will be indoctrinated into. The form is a little more religious and a little less working class Yorkshire, but the same specificity of life is assured (we should say 'once a Catholic always a Catholic').

So why can we imagine boredom as a factor? If we can see echoes in Plato's four man agreement of our present working practises, how do we deviate away from Plato? What is justice?

Plato's men have achieved in a sense certain economies of scale - Efficiency and productivity are assured through the principle of one man one job. Their's is also, of course, a social contract. We can draw these parallels along with others but they do us no good; They don't in fact translate to us at all. For example, one aspect of the social contract that we can highlight is the amount of imminent value there is in the performance of each job, each providing not just for himself but for the others. There is little of this feeling in our present day working situations, where it is likely that even thinking about what other departments in your company are doing takes some serious effort (unless it's thinking about how useless they are), let alone thinking about how your company functions in the world and whether it is beneficial. Considering how your work affects the world would require at least for you to see through the swathes of bullshit company ideology relentlessly informing you how aspirational and utterly creamily wonderful the company is. Alienation is a serious problem with capitalism, and I think the word fits when we describe our compartmentalised working practises - the holes around the input and the output are tightened, without a wisp of clean air, and we process and process.

Shouldn't we ask why? Isn't it the only healthy thing to do? In the fully constructed Republic, those who continually ask why will be fast-tracked to becoming Philosopher-Kings. It is this highest class of citizens that know the value of everything, who see when everything is in its place - when the state is just and when it is unjust. There is an incredible sense of loss with regard to the quality of our working lives; how we contribute to the lives of others and to society, to our children and to future generations. We have no sense of our value because we are harming rather than helping, and there is no way of getting away from this. Those who see in Plato's deductions about self-sufficiency the basis of a society like ours should look very closely indeed into how our society works and whether how we behave can be grounded in the principles that Plato identifies. Are we helping our fellow man and affirming what is just, what is right? In specialising our lives are we each providing a crucial and worthwhile output?

Plato knew that some virtues are better than others, but also that they cannot exist in isolation from each other. When we achieve an excellence in our ability to harm, is this really an excellence? Can we truly praise a murderer for murdering more people than another has? It is the seat of reason in the individual to keep everything in order; that the flow of virtue succeeds in its course in line with what is just. In the state it is the Philosopher-Kings that ensure justice. We today have, however, the media, assessing the state, and identity politics regulating the individual. Understanding just enough to control and manipulate does not help us identify if everything is in its proper place - what is right for us becomes simply what is intended, fiats of the powerful who maintain their power, and the sick who make sick. We dig ourselves down into the earth, into our industries, companies, departments, and/or our specialised fields, and in the darkness we cannot see what we are laying down behind us, nor measure how deep we have burrowed. So we go on digging, knowing that we are needed near the surface, where there is more light, where starving children, wars, and climate change await our return. Have we found anything to give them but a mud more slightly dense?

But this is not enough. The air higher up makes us dizzy. What we need is to do much less, to climb to the surface and see the ground potted with holes. We need to dip inside them and see what there is in each one. We need to stop working and start thinking, start considering what we are working for, and what we are going to achieve. But! From the first instance it is death that rears up in front of us, asking us how we can stop when we have to feed ourselves and continue to exist. It is not Churchill, it is not Queen Victoria, it is not any number of Popes or even a group of positivists that stand up to us. When we stop, lay down tools, and consider why we should pick them up again, it is not ideology, not some grand scheme or vision that we care about; it is not even the thought of being able to help others that demands our obedience. This is what is telling. The ultimate stands with finger pointing, giving an answer to the most feeble question, the question that is the last refuge of our self-humiliation, seeking to justify the unjustifiable through an entirely arbitrary cruelty. We cannot possibly think, it seems, that the grind does any good. There is nothing helpful to be gained from our graft, or there with our assent it would stand - quite as if that is all it ever did - by the water cooler where we drowned our mobile phones. Such an apparition is absent. And so it is that death mocks us. Isn't that quite out of character? Surely that, if anything, should inform us of the oblique and singular way in which we reproach ourselves, feining a serious show with an absurd puppet.

How does boredom enter our lives as a real force? Simply count the ways in which our lives differ from what is right. We can live with what is unavoidable but we can taste what is wrong. We teach ourselves that getting lost in our perversion of specialism is the only way we can be, and it gets stuck in our throats. Our way of life is not entailed by the principles of The Republic; our rationalisations are just dirty words, yet we bully ourselves with them all the same. The nihilistic potion of work we jam down our gullets with whatever soulless artifacts may come to hand, just to get it down - somehow - and we can taste it, this fascist juice. If Plato's Republic is seen by us as a totalitarian, narrow minded, artless and morally violent limbo, it is only because when we look for ourselves in it this is what is reflected back at us. For now this is justice enough.