The Church of Scientology is one of those religious organizations whose name has been involved in many highly unreligious contexts. The controversies tainting the Scientology brand range from unethical practices to abusive tactics used against its critics and non-compliant members, to illegal activities.
Even so, the COS can still rely on a large number of supporters to protect and promote its views and most importantly, to bring in new members whose bank accounts are going to ensure the evergreen financial status of the organization.
But what exactly attracts members to the COS? Why would one want to become a Scientologist?
One of the easy answers to those questions could be linked to the projected member image that the COS’ PR teams have carefully crafted over the years: Scientology seems to be the place where the rich and famous get together to create better versions of themselves and the world. And since they also seem to act like they know something you do not, the possibility of gaining access to that kind of knowledge becomes the aspiring Scientologist’s intrinsically motivated goal. Point goes to the COS for exquisite marketing via psychological manipulation.
That is not the whole story though. Many organizations use exclusivity, status, and membership-based access to information to promote their views and entice potential members to sign-up for their services or buy their products. Not all of them succeed in doing so. What about its underlying principles makes people from all social, educational, and professional environments think that Scientology is the answer to their personal, social, and spiritual questions?
In this Skeptic’s Review, I will take a look at the official way in which the Church of Scientology presents its founding principles to potential members.
About SKEPTIC’s REVIEW
My goal for this website segment is to critically analyze the message of some of the people, businesses, and organizations that deal with controversial or pseudo-scientific content and claims and try to figure out the level of deception (if any), the type of manipulation involved (if any), the methods in which the manipulative tactics are being employed (if the case) and the level of potential harm the specific content poses for the target audience, in particular, and society as a whole, in general.
The underlying reason is not only to expose the deception, where it exists, but mainly to provide an alternative interpretation of the message being analyzed.
Scientific facts may not influence a believer’s choice to support a certain unscientific claim, but alternative interpretations may find their way into non-radical minds and who knows, maybe a different conclusion will follow.
Let’s see where it all leads.
|Note: This analysis is not meant as a personal attack on the individuals whose content or craft make the subject of the series. By no means do I intend to trigger through my content any type of aggressive (re)actions toward them, their collaborators or supporters. We are all entitled to our own beliefs, however foolish they may be considered by others, and we are also entitled to practice them, the only limit being, in my opinion, causing any type of harm to another being or to our common environment. I believe all of our activities could, in theory, be deconstructed and less than perfect characteristics may be revealed in the process, so nitpicking is not my aim. Some of these people and organizations may have good intentions, but may also deliver messages and provide services that can do more harm than good to individuals or social environments. This is what I want to reveal.
SKEPTIC’S REVIEW #2: Church of Scientology – Religious Organization Website
What is the Church of Scientology?
The Church of Scientology is an international network of organizations and corporate entities that promote and manage the practice of Scientology, a religion founded by L. Ron Hubbard (science-fiction and fantasy writer) in the 1950s.
- The material used for this analysis is part of the Church of Scientology official website.
- Since the COS website provides an extremely large amount of content on various aspects related to the theory and practice of Scientology, the present analysis only refers to the “What is Scientology” segment.
- The review applies exclusively to the content that was live on the website and on the connected online platforms at the date of writing this article.
- I will not post screenshots since the last kind of discussion I would be willing to have regarding this type of content is copyright-related. Commentary and criticism would most likely constitute fair use, but that can only be established after you go to court and win. I’ll spend my time in other ways.
- The article is not meant as a comprehensive commentary on the religion of Scientology or its techniques.
- This review is an opinion. Mostly grounded in critical thinking techniques and abilities (hopefully), but an opinion.
The “What is Scientology” segment on the Church of Scientology website is a comprehensive introduction into the main elements pertaining to both theory and practice of Scientology. Video and text materials cover subjects such as beliefs, practices, creed and codes, as well as basic principles of Scientology, testimonials, presentation of churches, an introduction to Dianetics, and an edited essay of L. Ron Hubbard called “Love and Hate: What is Greatness?”.
*Since the materials are rather dense, Part I of this SKEPTIC’s REVIEW will only address the Videos.
I will address the content of each of these videos and written informational materials and try to understand the main message through which the Church of Scientology hopes to increase the number of believers.
- VIDEO 1: What is Scientology?
This is a short promo presenting the main meaning of Scientology and the global environment of the religious movement.
The viewer first learns about the origins of the term Scientology – “scio” (Latin) and “logos” (Greek), translated to “study of knowledge” in the large sense, and “study of truth” in the specific sense promoted by the church.
Then they tell you that the results of this study of knowledge draw on 50 thousand years of wisdom (a reference to the modern human’s history, I assume). It’s interesting to note that when they list the various fields that helped build the Scientology knowledge-base they lead your attention to “math” and “nuclear physics” as they appear on the screen. I am rather curious as to what nuclear physics may have to do with a religion. Until I’ll get more data, I will just assume this is the ol’ habit of pseudoscience to include references to well-established, evidence-based fields and results, in an attempt to validate their own views.
Scientology is further presented as “a new religion”, but they also mention that this particular religion is “not just something to believe in, but something you do”.
And then they go into something that resembles a full personal development program promo.
The list of advantages and promises that they seem to want associated with the practice of Scientology includes: “Not just questions, but answers”, “practical solutions to real-life problems”, and “helping people to understand each other and themselves”. This part resembles the overview of most personal development programs.
Then they move powerfully into the social proof part. And here they win big. They share that the Church of Scientology involves more than 11,000 churches, missions, and groups across 184 nations. They estimate the number of people they welcome to 4.4 million people each year. They do not say followers or members. I think they count every little instance when someone interacted with them, even if it only meant asking for information. More data follows: the Scientological worldwide community cumulatively speaks 193 languages, involves 3200 professions, and adds up to 28.1 million hours of volunteered hours to the community.
Basically, they say “we’re many, from all walks of life, and we’re everywhere”. And “we work for free for our community and mission”. I think it is very important that they prime you for free work in the advantage of the COS.
The future of Scientology seems to be bright if you are to consider their claims: “grassroots groups starting every 24 hours”, “new churches and missions opening on 6 continents”, “growing faster today than anytime in history”. Well, a rather short history (less than 70 years), compared to other main religions.
The video ends with an invitation to “Find out for yourself” what Scientology is all about.
A promo video that only offers high-level data about its main subject is something that I would expect from a business and an actual teaser or commercial, but for a religious organization, not mentioning the main beliefs that guide you strikes me as odd. Especially if you want to keep your tax exemption status.
- VIDEO 2: What Scientologists Say about Scientology
Stop. Social proof time.
This video is what you would expect… and then some.
Opinions from various people (increased “relatability” factor) mention the great changes Scientology brought into their lives. And in this segment they do not go for vagueness.
Apparently, being a Scientologist can change your grades from B’s to A’s. 🙄
And forget about learning any magic tricks since everyone you know will simply be amazed by your new Scientology-powered skills.
Being a Scientologist is also about helping others because according to them, “It’s just doing the right thing, basically”. The “right thing” element is both subtle manipulation (Wouldn’t you also like to do the right thing?) and an example of dichotomous thinking (cognitive distortion) since the things that are not right must be wrong.
This part goes on for a while. You find out that “at every natural disaster, there are Scientologists who are helping”. And they name 9/11 and the tsunami contexts as examples. I do not recall seeing other religions bragging about having helped in times of natural disasters.
A really interesting segment follows. They say that part of being a Scientologist is “being responsible for the world around you”. “You feel obligated”, “you have to” and “[it’s] one of the most rewarding things”. This may sound great at first but upon closer examination, one can spot the introjections (or should statements) and the underlying aggressive thread. Us being all responsible for the world around us is one thing, but their examples often cover interfering in the lives of others to save them. This involves the idea that others cannot save themselves, likely because they do not possess the amazing skills of a Scientologist. This superiority stance can be linked to aggressive attitudes. The obligation that one is expected to feel regarding helping others is once again, in my opinion, just priming, since they expect the members to volunteer a lot of their time (and money) to the Church. I expect they would use this type of reasoning to convince followers to join certain activities, and potential members to enroll. They present a higher purpose than simply being a member of a religious organization. Cults do that a lot.
The last part of the video introduces the idea that “you believe what you believe” and that one can choose to believe “what makes sense and helps you in your life”. A lot of freedom in this religious context, apparently.
And then they reinforce the normality of being a Scientologist by presenting people who explain how learning Scientology is something that you can conveniently fit into your regular schedule. This conveys the idea that it won’t be overwhelming, nor unlike any of the other activities that you decide to participate in.
The pride of being a Scientologist is something that accompanies all the testimonials. And why wouldn’t they be proud since they are bringing “a change in the world” (their words)?
The main idea of this video seems to be “We’re the good guys, we’re cool, and we’re doing this for everyone, you included”.
Update April 20, 2019: I guess they forgot to include the What Ex-Scientologists Say about Scientology segment in their presentation. Read actress Carmen Llywelyn’s testimonial Why I Left Scientology to learn more about that perspective.
- VIDEO 3: “The Creed of the Church of Scientology”
What would a religion be without a creed? So, Scientologists have one as well.
The video is a mash-up of images of people reciting the creed. It starts and ends with a female minister figure.
“We of the Church believe” is the beginning and most of the creed refers to equal, inalienable rights of human beings. Among them, the right to their own religious practices and their performance, to their own lives, to their sanity, their own defense, to “conceive, choose, assist or support their own organizations, churches, and governments”, to think and talk freely, to write freely their own opinion and “counter or utter or write upon the opinions of others”, and to the creation of their own kind.
They only seem to list basic human rights. It’s good to know they too agree upon them. However, you do not have to be a Scientologist to have or exercise these rights, nor do you have to be a member of a church to respect them when they’re being exercised by others.
But here’s where the spiritual/religious part kicks in.
“The souls of men have the rights of men“. O-kay. I guess one cannot escape governments even when in spirit form.
A first stab at evidence-based mental health frameworks follows. One of the many. The COS is known for going against the traditional aspects of assistance when it comes to one’s mental health and psychological well-being.
“The study of the mind and the healing of the mentally caused ills should not be alienated from religion or condoned in nonreligious fields.“
Ahem. Interesting perspective. Irrational, too. I can think of many contexts in which religious belief itself triggered or maintained mental distress. So, placing the study of the mind in the hands of a highly irrational context may not be the best way to go about it. In fact, it would be the worst way to go about it. Beliefs are non-scientific. By definition, you do not need evidence to believe. Studies reveal evidence. Very likely, not of a religious nature. Borrowing concepts might be fun for pseudoscientific minds, but the borrowed items will not lend themselves to the new framework as well as they fit in the scientific environment.
“No agency less than God has the power to suspend or set aside these rights, overtly or covertly.“
How is God going to convey said suspension, just in case? I have a feeling that church leaders may become vessels for this communication.
Then the creed states that “Man is basically good“. This may sound OK, unless it implies the dismissal and/or suppression of basic human emotions and behaviors that may end up being deemed as “bad” or “unfit”. Also, this view seems to be in contrast with Christianity’s “you were born in sin” perspective. In Christianity, one starts with a deficit, in Scientology man is being held in higher regard. At least in theory.
The goal of man, as seen by the COS, is to survive (good call). Man’s survival is dependent upon himself, his fellows and his “brotherhood with the Universe”. Personal agency, collaboration, and understanding the bigger picture. I like this bit.
In Scientology, laws of God forbid man to destroy his own kind, the sanity of another, enslave another soul, or “reduce the survival of one’s companions or one’s group”. They do not specifically mention the “others” group, but I am going to assume that that was covered by the “his own kind” part.
The creed also mentions that the soul can be saved and that the “spirit alone may save or heal the body”.
- VIDEO 4: “Inside a Church of Scientology”
This would be a very posh church. And a very generous promotional video.
In this segment, they present the first COS, built in 1954 in Los Angeles. And they are not shy at all about showcasing it as a modern, friendly place where all the cool kids gather. A “state of the art church”, in their own words.
“We are part of the scenery of Hollywood, everybody knows the church“.
The role of the church? To help you discover your own truth, instead of being told what that truth is. They say you can simply walk into any of the churches of Scientology and get information via their multimedia facilities, books, and from the available guides.
You can even take a free personality test to help you “pinpoint exactly what areas of your life are holding you back”. I’m actually interested in this! 😀 I may want to take that test. I do not know of any psychological test that would claim to pinpoint exactly what holds me back in my life, so I’m definitely curious about this one. (*Actually, I decided against this, read at the end of the article)
You can also take various courses. Someone says “There isn’t any issue or problem that I’ve had in my life that I couldn’t find some piece of technique that could help me with it”. They have everything! Oh boy!
Their seminars supposedly offer, just like many other personal development programs, “immediate practical knowledge that you can apply to everyday life”. Vague, but we all say it, simply because it is true for many training programs. Then we usually list the objective benefits or skills gained through that program. Let’s see if they do the same.
They kind of do. The video introduces “Dianetics”, a practice you may want to go through if you “want to know about the mind”. In a Church of Scientology, you can learn how to conduct something that it’s called auditing (more on this a bit later).
Their courses include subjects such as Personal Efficiency and a Purification Program.
The Personal Efficiency course is where they say you can learn how to handle confusions, how to be more confident, more successful in life, in your job, and how to handle exhaustion.
The Purification Program is a first real gem in their presentation (real treats for me when writing SKEPTIC’s REVIEWS). Brace yourself. The COS claims that “L. Ron Hubbard discovered that drugs, toxic residues, pesticides that you’ve been exposed to, are to a certain degree still in your body and can prevent your spiritual development and enhancement”. WOW! 💎🤗”Imagine clearing all of that out of your body”. Yeah, imagine! ‘Cause it ain’t real. I see chemtrail conspiracies in their future. 🔮
Then they say that by clearing all of that you will be better equipped to try and achieve your goals. “You can go back to when you could do more” (assuming one could actually do more to begin with, I guess) and you can “unlock your full capabilities”.
And now back to auditing, the miracle method. “Auditing is Scientology’s spiritual counseling”. Mic drop.💎#2 😀 Now, this has to be awesome.
Auditing can help you “handle all kinds of unwanted emotions” and “habits that maybe you don’t like about yourself”. Oh, just like psychotherapy, you say? Speaking of which…
Stab #2 at evidence-based mental health professions and environments. “No one at the end of the day is going to tell you what’s wrong with you. You don’t have a guy giving you a list of questions and saying “Well, this is what I think is wrong with you. No, you decide for yourself”. Could this be a projection? Is this what happened to Hubbard that made him want to build his own mental health managing platform that says he’s mentally fine? Just asking.
On the other hand, letting people figure out what’s mentally problematic about them may be a rather dangerous thing since, you know, acknowledgment of mental issues is not very common especially when it comes to severe disorders. Processes such as denial, poor introspection abilities, and a generally precarious grasp of reality can interfere with a person’s ability to recognize their own problems… but well, what do I know? Moving on…
“Auditing helps bridge the divide between who you are and who you want to be”. Cool. How?
Apparently through an instrument called E-Meter. Great. What does it do?
It “helps locate areas of trauma or painful emotion that you wouldn’t necessarily be aware of”, “shows the source of your troubles”. [Insert squinting face frowning emoji here. I couldn’t find one.] Uhm. Okay. How?
Then they say you can find it in any church of Scientology… and they move on. So much for the miracle instrument.
The COS is then described as a “hub of activity”. How very org of them.
They host their own events and they also invite members of the extended community to speak at these meetings. Among them, they list police officers, teachers, and local council representatives. You know, the stuff that makes authority bias grow in the mind of the audience.
The COS is also involved in humanitarian campaigns that deal with drug education, human rights, and runs something called Criminon, a program that “rehabilitates criminals”. Small suggestion: maybe a big part of rehabilitation would be not to call these people criminals. Labeling is not that great of a technique when trying to make people feel accepted and included. End of small suggestion.
They also mention the volunteering ministers that are active around the world and engage with people from various religious backgrounds.
At the end of the video they say that if you have questions, you can simply walk into a COS and find out for yourself. [Oh, oh, I have questions!]
And, of course, “what’s true for you is what’s true for you”. 😐
- VIDEO 5: “The Parts of Man”
I found this one to be hilarious.
It is where they explain what humans are from the perspective of the COS.
“You are not your body.” We agree, that would be reductive, but check out their explanation.
“If you have your appendix removed, your personality does not change”. No sh—. 😆
That is their argument. If you remove an organ with no major role for our bodies, your personality does not change. Food for thought. Unhealthy diet food for thought.
Anyway, we are not just our bodies. According to Scientology, bodies and minds are what we have and use, not who we are.
About our mind, they say that it is “far more accurate than any computer”. Beg to differ. I would not even try racing my computer when it comes to large number calculations. But I wouldn’t mind seeing some top Scientologists do it.
“It has a memory bank containing pictures”. Not accurate. Visual content is not everything we store in our minds. You do remember songs as well, don’t you? And smells, and emotions, and physical pain or pleasure, etc. Psych 101 Fail.
It includes “all the memories of everything that’s ever happened to you. [..] But if you can see these pictures even when your eyes are closed, then what is it that’s looking at the pictures? It’s you”. They must have a large budget for mics, because they drop them like crazy. Clearly, these people have absolutely no understanding of basic cognitive mechanisms, mental representations of information coming from all types of sensory input being one of these mechanisms.
“You are a being, an intelligence, a consciousness. That part of you that is aware of being aware”. Great, they went meta and isolated that instance to make into their main object of study and religious regard.
It gets better.
“In Scientology, we use the word THETAN.”
From the Greek “theta”, meaning thought or spirit. They say they use the term to differentiate their concept from those pertaining to other religions (soul, spirit, etc).
“You have a body, you have a mind, you are a THETAN.” 😐 I’ve been called worse.
“The subject of Scientology is you”. Scary thought.
Then they recommend L. Ron Hubbard’s book “Scientology: The Fundamentals of Thought”, and they sign off.
- VIDEO 6: “Dianetics: An Introduction”
Now that one knows what they are, a THETAN 🙄 , let’s see what that spiritual counseling is all about.
According to the COS, the subject of Dianetics is to establish why and to what degree do past painful experiences influence one’s present, as well as “what causes the mind to depart from rational thought or behavior”. I doubt they can clarify any of that after all I’ve read so far, but there’s no turning back now.
“Mind records everything”, they say, and those recordings create a timetrack (a timeline) that one uses for survival. Better decision-making, better chances for survival.
Most of the data, they explain further, is stored in one’s analytical mind, the one that “thinks, remembers, and calculates”. For the rest of us mind-studying noobs, thinking comprises processes such as recollection and mental calculations, but well…, I digress.
Then they say that it is a discovery of Dianetics that “painful experiences are stored in a previously unknown part of your mind”, called the reactive mind, which “throws those experiences back at you in an irrational attempt to avoid the same painful thing from happening to you again”. So they claim the discovery of the unconscious mind. Good one.
The pseudoscientific background of Scientology can be easily noticed in the way Hubbard gathered all the good bits from various well-established fields and rebranded them to create Scientology’s knowledge base. Buts since he did not seem to understand them fully, or at all in certain cases, everything got mashed-up with the fabrications of his own artistic (to say the least) mind. And then there’s also the manipulation.
Back to the reactive mind, they say it reacts “solely on a stimulus-response basis” and exemplify it with an easy to grasp situation: if you eat deviled eggs and feel seek afterward, you will recall the experience when you encounter them in future contexts and very likely, will decide to avoid them.
The painful experiences that build one’s reactive mind are considered by Scientologists to be the cause of one’s fears, insecurities, negative thoughts, unwanted emotions, and irrational behavior. They also claim that the most damaging of these experiences occurred before the person’s birth. Once again, they are very explicit about this and show a pregnant woman being hit in her belly by a piece of furniture by accident.
Dianetics is supposed to reveal the stored experiences and provide a “technology to free yourself from them”. My guess is that the technology is that E-Meter. Rational behavior, best possible decisions, and using one’s imagination and creativity to the fullest would emerge from that process, they say.
“You would be confident, more intelligent [ 😀 ], and productive, happier. You would be yourself”. Quite a promise there.
“Your mind would be clear. That is the goal of Dianetics”. Maybe it’s a pun, and by clear they mean empty, because I would totally believe that.
“People achieve this state every day, and so can you.” Where are all those clear-minded people?
- VIDEO 7: “Love and Hate: What is Greatness?” by L. Ron Hubbard
The last video in the “What is Scientology” gallery is a heavily edited essay written by L. Ron Hubbard. You can find the full version online.
“The hardest task one can have is to continue to love his fellows despite all reasons he should not.
And the true sign of sanity and greatness is to so continue.”
This is how the essay begins. Then he goes on to say that for those who can achieve this goal, there are only good things waiting for them in the future, unlike the situation for those who cannot, for whom “there is only sorrow, hatred and despair”. Once again, we can note the dichotomous perspective.
One is supposed/expected to remain great even when “bad actions” have been taken against him/her. Priming again, and should statements.
All people are in the same “trap”, according to Hubbard. Which is why one should love and understand others. I believe Scientologists are indeed in a trap, one created by Hubbard, but the rest of us, not so much. Rather anxiety-inducing perspective. Catastrophic thinking, too.
Some do not see the trap (I guess this is where I fit in), some have gone mad because of it, and some adopt the behavior of the person who wronged them. All according to the creator of Scientology.
An interesting edit occurs here. When Hubbard lists several examples of people who share the trap context, he wrote, according to the source I found, “the generals, the street sweepers, the presidents, the insane”. If the source is correct, the video version edited out “the presidents”.
The essay is basically praising the value of being able to love, seen as the “greatest secret in this universe” and the desired response to the “pressures of this universe” that we all have to deal with.
It was rather surprising for me to find this in the text: “Never desire revenge”. The COS has been involved in many scandals involving alleged abuses against their critics, their own members, and their families. Maybe they harassed those people out of love, in the name of greatness.
Conclusions to Part I
It is my definite opinion that Scientology is a cult. Not a religion, not a humanitarian organization, but a cult whose main tactics involve the psychological manipulation of their existing members and the extended audience (Read How To Recognize A Religious Cult – 31 Clues That You Are Dealing With One to get more information on why I think Scientology is a cult).
They seem to want the best of all worlds – religion, science, spirituality, personal development, mental health assistance, business, humanitarianism. There is an illusion of specificity and articulated views, but it’s all just a bunch of random concepts and practices pertaining to other fields amateurishly glued together by Hubbard. He might have been a skilled fiction writer, and the manipulation techniques that seem to be employed by the organization he created imply a high level of understanding of what triggers certain human emotions and behaviors, but the actual bone structure of Scientology is rather frail and easy to disassemble by those with minimum knowledge in the fields tackled by its theoretical context.
At this point, I can understand how the videos presented by the COS in the “What is Scientology” segment can trigger some curiosity in some, mesmerize others, and even create the premise for a motivation, action-prone inner environment, but I do not find any of the elements convincing enough to make a simple viewer want to join the organization and become a Scientologist.
I will see if the accompanying texts make a difference in this regard. See you in Part II.
* I was planning to take the personality test (called Oxford Capacity Analysis) promoted by the COS website. After reading their presentation and some other data, I decided against this step. Not only that I now think it would be a complete waste of time, but the method itself seems sketchy.
I understand it includes approx. 200 items. I’ve read some of them, they’re nonsensical since any answer you would give could render a bad assessment of that specific item and very likely, the trait cluster it pertains to. They allegedly test 10 main traits – Stability, Happiness, Composure, Certainty, Activeness, Aggressiveness, Responsible Behavior, Aptitude for Correct Estimation, Appreciation, and Communication Level. It is easy to see how the main cluster aims to assess one’s mental fitness more than general cognitive skills and emotional or social contexts. Six of them seem to target that specific type of result, and it would not be difficult to devise items that would give one no option but to pick the short straw for one or more of them.
They also require identifiable information before you even start the test – name, email address, as well as age, gender, and country. Sure, you can lie in this part and provide a new email address, hoping that they can never match your online behavior to your real identity, but that’s not my main concern. I’m concerned with the situation where one would actually be interested in them and would truthfully provide them all the data.
I would not feel safe giving them that. Therefore, since I would not be answering truthfully to the test, there is no point in me taking it at all.