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Church of Scientology

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The Church of Scientology is a religion founded in 1953 by American L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986), as an evolution of Dianetics. The Church claims a membership of eight million people, while critics say that it is dramatically less.[1] Among its members, Scientology has a number of celebrities and movie stars including Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, John Travolta, Chaka Khan and Isaac Hayes,[2] many recruited through Scientology's Celebrity Centre in Hollywood. Critics of the Church consider it a dangerous mind-control cult whose sole intentions are extracting the maximum amount of money from followers using a variety of psychological means.

Hubbard devised the word using "scientia" (knowledge), and the Greek λόγος "logos" (word), "the study of knowledge." He stated it to be a knowledge of life, and clarity of mind through training in, and counseling using, the principles of the subject; that Scientology empowers individuals by increasing their mental acuity, powers of observation, and reasoning ability in part by the removal of mental and spiritual blocks and in part through the knowledge of the subject itself.[3]

History

L. Ron Hubbard started his career writing science fiction novels and stories for magazines. In 1938, he wrote but never published about his metaphysical conception of the universe being dualistic - and a split existing between matter and spirit. A decade later in 1949, he first published an article entitled "Terra Incognita: The Mind" in the Explorers Club Journal, which was followed the next year by Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health published both as a book and an article in Amazing Science Fiction, a monthly periodical which Hubbard had written for, the editor of which, John Campbell, had become an early supporter of Dianetics[4]. Dianetics has become the foundational book for both the Dianetics movement and then later the Church of Scientology. The claims made in Dianetics have been criticised by scientists and psychologists, and been branded as pseudoscience. Dianetics introduced the idea of auditing, the counselling process that became foundational for the practice of Scientology. Although Hubbard and the Church loudly reject psychiatric practice and theory, Hubbard had read Freud and other works on psychoanalysis.

Soon afterwards, Dianetics organisations had started flourishing across the United States. In 1951, the Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation in Elizabeth, New Jersey, was investigated by the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners for teaching medicine without a licence. Hubbard ended up selling the rights to the name Dianetics in order to pay off debts that the Dianetics foundations had amassed.

In 1952, Hubbard wrote a sequel to Dianetics - Scientology: A religious philosophy. This supplemented the former and became a foundational text for the Church of Scientology, which he founded in 1953.

Having experienced rapid growth, Scientology set up churches and missions in most of the countries of the world and has translated many of its materials into many languages to accommodate non-English speaking adherents.

The Church derives its income mainly from donations for services, and secondarily, from the sale of books, course packs and insignia. In recent years, Scientology ministers have provided assistance at national and international disaster scenes.

Bainbridge and Stark (1980) note that by 1980 Scientology claimed to have raised over 16,000 members to a superhuman level of mental functioning known as "clear." They argue that "clear" has been transformed from a postulated objective state of being into a well-buttressed social status in the highly stratified social structure of the cult. Four strategies invented by the Hubbard encourage members to play the role associated with the "clear" status. The Scientology processes supposedly able to make people clear are examples of modern magic - mental and symbolic exercises undertaken to accomplish the impossible - and therefore are highly subject to empirical disconfirmation. Despite the momentary success of the cult's strategies to protect its magic, Bainbridge and Stark suggest that Scientology may be forced to promise supernatural rewards obtainable only in a world beyond the senses. These generalized opinions, however, are not based on actual observation of Scientologists or a proper study and understanding of the different levels attainable in the Church, as given in the Classification and Gradation Chart.

Beliefs

Scientology doctrines consist of a very large corpus, in excess of forty millions words, and practical applications derived therefrom. The pastoral counseling and the study of the materials are intended to guide individuals in a heuristic journey of increasing insights into the truth concerning the actual condition of mankind and its true potential, and to provide the skills to gradually bring about the latter. Scientologists see the religion as a way for individuals to increase understandings, abilities, and freedoms, and bring about predictable, subjective improvements in their life that increase their value to society.

Hubbard described the envisioned end result of Scientology: "A civilization without insanity, without criminals and without war, where the able can prosper and honest beings can have rights, and where man is free to rise to greater heights, are the aims of Scientology." [5]

Scientology does not descend directly from any of the major world religions, but acknowledges the common elements of other religions and has received endorsements from religious leaders. For instance, the current Holder of the Secrets of a council of thirteen Shinto Buddhist sects, some dating back over fourteen centuries, published a formal recognition of Scientology as a learned path[6] and the council has since encouraged Shinto monks to study Scientology. Scientology claims that it is compatible with existing religions, although most religious groups do not accept such claims of compatibility.

Practices

The Church practices a form of counseling called auditing. This usually takes place between an experienced auditor and a subject (although higher level Scientologists practice self-auditing). In an auditing session, the subject is asked questions by the auditor while holding a metal can in each hand. These are hooked up to a device called a electropsychometer (or E-Meter for short). Scientology claims that the E-Meter allows the auditor to understand the mental state of the subject, see how that mental state changes when being asked or answering questions and to "locate areas of spiritual distress or travail"[7]. Critics and skeptics argue that the E-Meter is nothing more than a measure of galvanic skin response, and that the E-Meter is priced very highly - costing up to $3,380[8], while a device that is technically equivalent can be built for a fraction of the cost. Critics also decry the way that the Church has removed E-Meter auctions from eBay[9].

Auditing is used for the purpose of helping "another examine specific areas of their existence so they can rid themselves of unwanted spiritual conditions and increase awareness and ability" [10]. Progressing up 'The Bridge' requires frequent auditing sessions, and Scientology members also practice 'co-auditing', where a pair audits one another.

Sensitive material

A very small percentage of these works are unpublished, being tightly guarded from the general public by the Church's Religious Technology Centre and inaccessible to those who have not gone through extensive auditing[11].

The protection given to private and personal information revealed in Scientology auditing sessions is up for dispute. A counselling or therapy session with a psychiatrist or other medically-trained psychological expert is often protected by law in much the same way that doctor-patient or attorney-client privilege is, and it is often against the ethical code of those professions to reveal such information. Similarly, priest-penitent confidentiality is often considered absolute, although this is often stretched with criminal cases. Critics of Scientology have alleged that following deconversion from Scientology, material used during auditing has been used for blackmail or public shame as part of the "Fair Game" tactic of "Don't ever defend, always attack".

Legal status and actions

Scientology has been controversial throughout its existence and has attracted numerous legal actions in a variety of countries. In addition, the Church has started numerous lawsuits against critics. Most often, there are disputes around whether or not Scientology can be called a valid religion for the purpose of taxation and charitable status. Many countries do not recognise Scientology's status as a religious organization.

United States

In 1969, the Inland Revenue Service denied tax-exempt status to the Church because of the way that Hubbard used Church funds for his own ends. In 1984, this happened again. In 1993, the IRS reversed its decision and granted the Church section 501 (c) (3) religious tax-exempt status in what critics describe as a 'secret deal' between the IRS and Scientology which cost the IRS close to a billion dollars in written-off tax revenue[12]. The details of the 1993 deal were exposed by the Wall Street Journal in 1997[13].

There has been significant criticism levelled at the Church of Scientology over the allegations that it attempted to infiltrate US government departments, including the IRS, during the 1970s during a project known as Operation Snow White for which a large number of Scientologists were convicted and imprisoned.

Canada

Investigations also took place in Ontario, Canada, into similar actions against Canadian government bodies which led to a large fine and the imprisonment of seven Scientology members.

Germany

The German government has launched a major attack on Scientology. In late 2007, the interior ministers of Germany's 16 states announced plans to give the domestic intelligence agency the task of preparing the necessary information to ban the organization, which has been under observation for a decade on allegations that it "threatens the peaceful democratic order" and is "unconstitutional". Germany considers Scientology a commercial enterprise that takes advantage of vulnerable people. In 2007, it initially refused to allow the producers of a movie starring Scientology member Tom Cruise as Germany's most famous anti-Hitler plotter to film at the site where the hero was executed, although it did not expressly state Scientology as its reason. It later allowed the filming.[14]

The Church has about 6000 members in Germany and operates eighteen churches and missions there; it remains "under observation" (as it has been since 1997) by the federal and seven state Offices for the Protection of the Constitution (OPCs), out of concern that Scientology's teachings and practices are opposed to the democratic constitutional order or violate human rights. The states of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, and Hamburg are particularly involved. The federal OPC's 2006 annual report concluded that the original reasons for initiating observation of Scientology in 1997 remained valid, although it noted that Scientology had not been involved in any criminal activity. Scientologists contended that OPC observation was harmful to the Church's reputation and continued to seek redress through the German courts.

The Catholic Church in Germany and, especially, the Evangelical Church have been public opponents of Scientology. Evangelical "Commissioners for Religious and Ideological Issues" have been particularly active in this regard.

In 2001, the federal government prohibited firms bidding on government training contracts from using the "technology of L. Ron Hubbard" in executing contracts, and some states and private businesses adopted variations of this anti-Scientology policy. In 2005, Scientologists continued to complain of societal and official discrimination. Since March 2005, applicants for German citizenship in Bavaria have been required to fill out a questionnaire regarding their affiliation with organizations under observation by the state OPC, including Scientology. The Church documented two cases involving persons whose naturalization requests were denied, allegedly because of membership in the Church.

Since the 1990s, four of the major political parties- the Christian Democratic Union, the Christian Social Union, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), and the Free Democratic Party (FDP)-have banned Scientologists from party membership. Scientologists have unsuccessfully challenged these bans in courts. The U.S. State Department has pointed to the danger of suppressiong the religious rights of the Scientologists.[15]

Belgium

In Belgium in September 2007, a state prosecutor recommended that the Church stand trial for fraud and extortion, following a 10- year investigation that concluded the group should be labeled a criminal organization. A Belgian parliamentary committee report in 1997 labeled Scientology a sect and investigations were launched into the group's finances and practices, such as the personality tests conducted on new members. Investigators have studied how far Scientology went in recruiting converts after numerous complaints were filed with police by ex-members alleging they'd been the victims of intimidation and extortion.[16]

The United Kingdom

L. Ron Hubbard first visited the UK in September 1952, and set up a Scientology office in London briefly afterwards. Before that, readers of Dianetics had set up an organisation named the Dianetic Federation of Great Britain, which was supplanted by Hubbard setting up the Church. Hubbard's right to remain in the UK expired, and he then returned in 1955. In 1956, after a negative review by a University of London professor psychiatry, Hubbard was expelled by the government - Sir John Charles of the Ministry of Health stated of Hubbard:

It seems quite clear that this man is a charlatan and that neither he nor his association are likely to be of any benefit to this country.[17]

Hubbard eventually setup in 1959 in Saint Hill Manor in East Grinstead, West Sussex. During the 1960s and 70s, the UK Government worked to prevent Scientologists from entering the UK[18], which led to an important European court decision, United Kingdom v. Van Gend en Loos. In 1980, the policy banning Scientologists from entering the UK was rescinded.

In 1967, the House of Commons debated Scientology at the request of two MPs: Peter Hordern and Geoffrey Johnson Smith. The Minister of Health at the time stated that he believed Scientology to be "totally valueless in promoting health and, in particular, that people seeking help with problems of mental health can gain nothing from the attentions of this organization"[19].

As well as Parliamentary discussion, Scientology came under public scrutiny in the late 1960s - World in Action broadcast a critical film about Scientology in 1967. When the Church sought planning permission in 1968 to expand their buildings in East Grinstead, the planning meetings became a subject of interest for journalists after opponents of Scientology's plans read from a document by Hubbard detailing the 'fair game' policy regarding critics:

"We are not a law enforcement agency, but we will become interested in the crimes of people who seek to stop us. If you oppose scientology we promptly look up - and will find and expose - your crimes... those who oppose us have crimes to hide. It is perhaps merely lucky that this is true, but it is true. And we handle opposition well only when we use it."

This was used to argue that the proposed educational use of the building was nothing of the sort[20].

The Charities Commission in the UK does not recognize Scientology as a religious body under the charities law. There is an active campaign in the UK to rescind the Church of Scientology's exemption from value-added tax (VAT, a 17.5% sales tax on many products) which it currently has on its books, courses and materials.[21][22]

France

In October 2009, the Paris Correctional Court convicted the Church of Scientology of organized fraud and fined a number of senior members of the Church €400,000 each, as well as giving suspended prison sentences. Eric Roux, the representative for Scientology in France, described the proceedings as a "modern Inquisition" that have been brought by "a clique of anti-religious extremists that are making a lot of noise"[23].

The rest of Europe

The Church of Scientology has been recognized as a religion in the following European countries: Sweden, Portugal, Spain, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and Albania; and recognized as a religion through administrative and judicial decisions, including decisions by the highest court in: Italy, Denmark, Austria, Germany, UK and Norway. Courts have determined that Scientology must be treated the same as other religions throughout Europe, including decisions concerning Scientology rendered by the European Court of Human Rights and the European Commission on Human Rights which establish binding precedent in all 46 European countries that have signed and ratified the European Convention on Human Rights. In addition to the European Court of Human Rights and the European Commission on Human Rights decisions, Scientology has also been recognized as a religion through numerous judicial and administrative rulings in many European countries.[24]

Controversy and criticism

L. Ron Hubbard, the Church of Scientology and its beliefs, policy and practices have been subject of a great deal of criticism and controversy, often leading to court cases, official inquiries and media coverage, as well as splinter groups such as the Freezone movement which has the beliefs and practices of Scientology, while rejecting the policies and administration of the Church. The Church of Scientology alleges that critics of Scientology are part of an organized conspiracy, sometimes with connections to the psychiatric profession, and many are attacking Scientology to hide their own criminal actions.

A website with much critical material and internal Scientology documents is Operation Clambake.

L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, has been criticized for the exaggeration of his personal accomplishments. Hubbard claimed to have been a war hero in World War II for his service as a Lietenant in the U.S. Navy. He was relieved of his command numerous times, and at one point ordered his vessel to start firing at some Mexican islands, a particular navigational and tactical feat for a war against the Japanese. He was awarded four medals for his military service, although he claims to have been awarded twenty six. He claims to have met with members of the Blackfoot Indian tribe and been inducted into their group - this again is disputed. The Church has claimed that he was a pioneer in the field of nuclear physics, and Hubbard did write a book titled All About Radiation. He did study the field as an undergraduate at George Washington University, but certainly did not do well enough at it to be considered any kind of expert or pioneer. Ronald DeWolf, Hubbard's son, testified in the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts in the case of La Venda Van Schiack et al. v. Church of Scientology of California et al. that his father had made false claims regarding his personal, military and academic achievements.

Russell Miller, author of Bare-Faced Messiah, a critical biography of Hubbard, interviewed Frank Gruber, a pulp fiction author who was friends with Hubbard during the 1930s. Miller describes a conversation Gruber had with Hubbard where Hubbard recounted many of his experiences and Gruber expressed some skepticism:

One evening [in 1934], Frank Gruber [a friend of Hubbard and fellow pulp fiction writer], sat through a long account of his experiences in the Marine Corps, his exploration of the upper Amazon and his years as a white hunter in Africa. At the end of it he asked with obvious sarcasm: 'Ron, you're eighty-four years old aren't you?' 'What the hell are you talking about?' Ron snapped. Gruber waved a notebook in which he had been jotting figures. 'Well,' he said, 'you were in the Marines seven years, you were a civil engineer for six years, you spent four years in Brazil, three in Africa, you barnstormed with your own flying circus for six years... I've just added up all the years you did this and that and it comes to eighty-four.' Ron was furious that his escapades should be openly doubted. 'He blew his tack,' said Gruber. He would react in the same way at the [American Fiction] Guild lunches if someone raised an eyebrow when he was in full flow. Most of the other members expected their yarns to be taken with a pinch of salt, but not Ron. It was almost as if he believed his own stories.[25]

The Church is criticized for its attitude towards ex-Scientologists, which internal Scientology policy labelled as Fair Game. The Fair Game policy states that those who the Church considers suppressive "[m]ay be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed"[26]. The Church argues that the Fair Game policy has been rescinded, but many critics of Scientology argue that it is still in effect - pointing to the treatment of BBC journalist John Sweeney and others.

Critics of Scientology argue that the Church is responsible for mistreating adherents including Lisa McPherson, whose 1995 death they allege is due to Scientology members not seeking treatment for Lisa's psychiatric problems and malfeasance in coping with her subsequent physical injuries. The website Why Are They Dead? lists a number of other people who have died in suspicious circumstances at Scientology's Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater, Florida. Critics also allege a process of disconnection happens, where Scientology tries to get its adherents to stop communicating with their families and friends[27][28].

Former Scientologist Bob Penny claims that Scientology is based on the use of shared self-deception and social pressure which produces a form of self-validating groupthink:

[E]ven if there was any validity to the claims made, this hothouse of social pressure would be the last place to expect any kind of objective perception, evaluation, understanding, or verification of results. What kind of science can work only within the confines of a closed group that actively suppresses nonconforming viewpoints while demanding and rewarding gung ho agreement?[29]

Penny goes on to explain that this is done through a number of mechanisms: redefinition of commonly understood words, an ingroup-outgroup dynamic (with the description of non-Scientologists as "wogs"[30]), a requirement for constant busy-ness which prevents calm reflection, the promotion of the idea that Scientology is constantly "under attack" and thus needs defending, and attacks on any practice - however harmless - that is not part of Scientology (Penny gives the example of a program to teach young children to read which became popular with Scientologists, but which was banned by the Church simply because it wasn't from them.

The Church has also been charged with conducting a plot named Operation Freakout in order to frame Paulette Cooper, author of the book The Scandal of Scientology. After trying to implicate her in a threat against the New York branch of the Church of Scientology, the Church's Guardian Office planned to impersonate Cooper and threaten either the Arab embassy or then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Similar threats have been made towards other journalists - John Sweeney was followed during filming of the BBC documentary, and interviews with critics of Scientology were disrupted. Anti-cult campaigners like Rick Ross have had large dossiers put together about them on the Internet, stating that Scientology delves far into their personal lives and backgrounds to dig up often irrelevant dirt. This is often described in terms of "crimes", following a belief that the only people who might have any reason to criticise Scientology are those who have committed crimes - either actual criminal offences or immoral acts which they are trying to cover up. Many of those protesting against Scientology are often confronted with groups of Scientologists shouting at them "What are your crimes?".

The Church has been allegedly involved in trying to infiltrate government bodies in order to remove material they consider unfavorable - possibly involving theft of documents and wiretapping. Numerous Scientologists have been convicted in investigations of these infiltrations in both the United States and Canada, and seized internal documents have references to these plots to silence critics and infiltrate government agencies.

Recently, a lot of criticism has been made of the Church over its attitude to free speech and free expression. Critics allege that the Church has used intellectual property and other legal instruments to censor critics. A leaked internal video featuring Tom Cruise talking about Scientology was published on the Gawker weblog[31], which Scientology tried to remove from the Internet[32]. In response, a loose conglomerate of Internet users by the name of Anonymous organized world-wide anti-Scientology protests dubbed "Operation Chanology" where thousands of people in Guy Fawkes / V for Vendetta masks and black suits protested online censorship and other alleged abuses and wrongdoings by the Church[33][34][35].

References

  1. Operation Clambake: How many scientologists are there?
  2. Adherents.com: Famous Scientologists
  3. Organizations and Data, lecture of 10 March 1952, Scientology Milestone One Lecture #19
  4. Russell Miller, Bare-Faced Messiah, ch. 9
  5. Aims of Scientology
  6. [1]
  7. Church of Scientology (UK): The E-Meter
  8. Operation Clambake: Prices up to OT8 and beyond
  9. Slashdot Your Rights Online: eBay E-Meter Auctions Yanked
  10. Scientology.org: What is Scientology? The Auditing Session
  11. photograph of Scientology's doctrine
  12. FACTNet Did the cult Scientology bludgeon the IRS into a billion dollar tax revenue give-away?
  13. Elizabeth MacDonald, Scientologists and IRS settled for $12.5 million, Wall Street Journal, December 30, 1997, hosted on Chris Owen's Scientology versus the IRS website.
  14. See AP report, "Germany moves to ban Scientology," Dec. 7, 2007, at [2]; and AP, "German official seeks to ban Scientology; Interior minister says Church of Scientology is 'unconstitutional'" Dec 10 2007 at [3]
  15. see U.S. State Department, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, "International Religious Freedom Report 2006: Germany" at [4]
  16. See AP report, "Scientology Faces Criminal Charges" Sep 09, 2007 at [5]
  17. This and previous paragraph from Scientology in the United Kingdom by Chris Owen on alt.religion.scientology
  18. BBC News: UK officials feared church 'evil'
  19. "Commons to debate 'scientology'", The Times, Saturday, Feb 25, 1967; pg. 17; Issue 56875; col E. Online article identifier: CS286354521
  20. "Planning inquiry hears Scientology views on opponents' 'crimes'", The Times, Wednesday, Jul 17, 1968; pg. 4; Issue 57305; col E. Online article identifier: CS68513521.
  21. Chris Owen, Scientology in the UK: a status report, alt.religion.scientology
  22. Harry Wallop, Scientology tax victory could cost Revenue millions, The Telegraph
  23. CNN, French court convicts Church of Scientology of fraud
  24. downloadable booklet "Scientology Religious Recognition in Europe and Around the World"
  25. Russell Miller, Bare-Faced Messiah (1987) p. 67; taken from Operation Clambake "xenu.net" - "Don't ever defend. Always attack" - Scientology's attitude to criticism
  26. Xenu.net: The Fair Game policy
  27. Mike Gomez, Scientology disconnect policy destroying families
  28. Scientology Critical Information Directory Disconnection
  29. Bob Penny, Chapter 1: Shared Self-Deceptions, Social Control in Scientology, written in 1991 and distributed at the Cult Awareness Network conference in Oklahoma City
  30. In British English, "wog" is a racial epithet used to refer to non-whites, based on the blackface minstrel character "Golliwogg". In Scientology, just as in American English, the word has no racial implications.
  31. Gawker.com: The Cruise Indoctrination Video Scientology Tried To Suppress
  32. Gawker.com: Church of Scientology Claims Copyright Infringement
  33. BoingBoing.net: Anonymous vs. Scientology protest in LA today
  34. Religion News Blog: Scientology protest starts in Sydney
  35. Operation Clambake: Anonymous Pickets 2008
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