AI: Scientology and other Odd Beliefs

I am fascinated with Scientology.

I live in Hollywood and so I am constantly forced to interact with the members of this elite group (of anyone) on the street on a daily basis. The members stand on the sidewalk in front of the Scientology buildings and try to find new people who aren’t familiar with the groups teachings. They have to find people unfamiliar with their teachings which is probably getting difficult since most of us have seen the South Park episode.

Still, members try to sell you, Dianetics and they hand out invitations to events such as Scientology run plays based on the Sci Fi writings of L. Ron Hubbard and other propaganda related to their church. They promote their relationship to ensnared Hollywood stars and search for emotionally damaged wanderers along the boulevard of broken dreams.When they approach me I say, “No, I don’t want to take a free personality test.” And, “I’m sorry but I think modern psychiatry has actually done a lot of good for people and unfortunately, I’m not really a fan of John Travolta, Tom Cruise or Kirstie Alley. Oh, and btw I’m happy already and I’d rather spend my money on pizza and you know… books that *make sense.”

Most of the time I just consider Scientology a mild and somewhat comical interruption to a stroll down Hollywood Blvd. I mean come on, have you ever seen an E-meter? It is a ‘tool’ that is very similar to a lie detector test from the 1950’s only repackaged to look super-duper high tech. Members of Scientology believe the machine can read your thoughts and “Thetan levels” if you hold on to the handles. And by paying a lot of money to use one along with the help of a member you can become “clear” which is the ultimate goal. I took this photo of one the other day during my stroll.emeter

Scientology was mostly just something for me to giggle about but recently more and more information on what appears to be some truly nasty behavior by the church is leaking out. To many this isn’t news but it is information that now has some credible voices attached to it. This 30 page report in the New Yorker Magazine was recently published on the church of Scientology and its relationship with the writer/director Paul Haggis. It has all the broken relationships, success and failures, lies and deceit, death and straight up violence of a mob movie! And now allegations of human trafficking! Fascinating and downright SCARY stuff.

My question to you is, ZOMG have YOU read that New Yorker article? What do you think about it? Are there any pseudosciences or strange religious beliefs that you find fascinating? Who should play Tom Cruise in the movie that YOU just KNOW they will eventually make about Scientology?

*I did actually read most of Dianetics so if anyone wants to argue that I just don’t know because I haven’t read it, well, you can save that sales pitch for someone else. And trust me “most of” is MORE than enough of that crap.

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. About the same time I started looking into organized skepticism and atheism, I came across information about Scientology. I thought it was just a scam before, but the more I’ve read stories about people like Lisa McPherson, or former members like Tory Christman, or “Operation Freakout” in 1976 on Paulette Cooper, or just the chilling stories of how they attained their tax-exempt status from the IRS, I’m firmly convinced that it is a criminal enterprise run by a violent, megalomaniac. I could be wrong, but I don’t think so:

    Honestly, I think there have been some credible voices denouncing them for quite some time…only now it seems that their PR machine seems to be vulnerable (the Internets likely).

  2. I was introduced to scientology by a Brazilian soap opera some 15 (?) years ago and I found it just as fascinating. They made one of the most unpleasant supporting characters discover scientology about half way through (and this soap opera was about a 10 month run), and she became outright ridiculous from that point on. She was forever voicing such pearls of wisdom as telling her estranged husband (estranged because of scientology) that the aliens were coming to take her to Sirius where all is beautiful, happiness really does exist, and nothing ever fails to go her own way. It was always the same, with a few variations to fit what was going on at the time, and the producers did a thorough job of making her sound like a sort of Borg, with not a thought of her own, a will of her own, or any ability to recognize or listen to reason. Every time I hear the word scientology, it is that character that comes to mind first.

    Once I learned more of their methods, it seemed to me like this was a recipe for blackmail. I have since heard the stories, but it is such an obvious set up that it always amazed me that so many celebrities would fall for it. I have not read the article you refer to.

    I have always found religion in general fascinating. How is it that otherwise intelligent people manage to so thoroughly hand control of their lives to someone simply because they claim to speak for god? Even assuming that there was such a thing as a god, why should I accept that anyone on earth can speak for him/her/them and act on his/her/their authority?

  3. I find most pseudoscientific and strange religious beliefs to be fascinating and have since I was a kid during the 1960s. Luckily at this point in my life, I’m thoroughly atheistic and deeply skeptical about them, and can appreciate them as I can appreciate the forms and behaviors of peculiar animals and other life forms. What is Scientology but an odd mutant child of a gang-bang of previously existing fringe beliefs, which somehow persists despite its absurd form and genetic flaws? I’ve had a persistent fascination with Scientology since the late 1970s, when as a young college graduate, broke, alienated from my family and frantically looking for something to attach myself to, I found myself a member of a young, small cult whose founder, an unlicensed psychotherapist, had spent much time experimenting on his clients using exercises he had absorbed from his reading of L Ron Hubbard’s books. I even was sent on an errand to a Scientology office to purchase more books for him, which resulted in my being on their mailing list for nearly 30 years; they apparently carefully tracked all my address changes over the years too.

    After I left this cult a few years later and found counseling resources for former cult members, I became aware of the real reputation of the COS and of its singularly aggressive actions against former followers and critics. Hubbard, other cult founders and successful promoters of weird beliefs are fascinating characters, if only because they can attract such followings and inspire such strong, even violent loyalty.

    I still grapple with understanding such people: are they charismatic psychopaths? malignant narcissists? paranoid schizophrenics with a random gift for spell-binding others? merely clever con-men and women with great acting and oratorical abilities? They truly do have a wizardly and dark demented gift, nothing paranormal or divine as those enchanted by them might think, and they demand skeptical understanding and analysis.

    I’m very glad that the article about Haggis was published, at very least because it inspires discussions like this.

  4. I’m with you Amy, Scientology is faaaascinating. For me it’s just hard to understand how people can believe in something like mole people or a lizard civilization on the dark side of the moon that is controlling our destiny. You’re not supposed to believe the sci-fi novels you read folks!! And that L Ron was bat shit crazy just adds another layer to the entertaining crazy cake that is Scientology. I looked at the first page of the New Yorker article and it references a series of stories in the St. Petersburg Times which I’ve read and found very informative. And I’m really looking forward to reading the New Yorker article this evening while folding laundry, looking in on FB, watching something fun on TV and starting my mother’s taxes. Xenu, grant me more time!!

  5. @James Fox: “And that L Ron was bat shit crazy just adds another layer to the entertaining crazy cake that is Scientology.”

    Let’s not forget racist and drug-addled.

  6. I read the article. Okay, I skimmed by parts of it, it’s way to detailed about the life of Paul Haggis in parts. But particularly the last part where one of the high up Scientologists gets to dig himself a fucking deep hole of lies is worth reading. It’s also worth reading due to the insight in how you can be a member of a bat shit crazy cult despite being rational enough to recognise there are some bat shit crazy elements due to normal cognitive biases. You don’t have to be stupid to be a scientologist just (willfully) ignorant of the facts.

    By the way I’m fairly sure it should be “Thetan levels” and “Are there any pseudosciencies…”.

  7. The article was a great read I spent my whole morning reading it when it was published, it was yet another proof of the craziness that is $cientology.

    I’ve read everything over at Operation Clambake, I’d like to believe that if more people read the information there there would be less willing to sign up. Then I remember what P.T. Barnum said about a sucker being born every minute.

    I’ve always been fascinated by the belief in transubstantiation, when people went apeshit over the two “highjacked” catholic crackers recently I was dumbfounded that people actually believed that they were the body of christ.

  8. Well, it’s usually how people can believe all this cock that I find fascinating. OK, maybe not so much fascinating as depressing.

    I think most of the stuff that comes under the umbrella heading of “Coaching” is pretty much the new Scientology now that most people seem to have grasped that Scientology is an extortionist cult.
    NLP, Enneagrams of Personality and what-have-you.

    A colleague of mine is taking a coaching course. I am, she claims, a “4” on the Enneagram. I assume a “4” means someone with the crirical thinking skills to casually dismiss the Enneagram as the repackaged numerology-nonsense that it is. Thus the numbers 1-3 and 5-9 will mean “rube ripe for scamming”.

  9. Having previously lived in Hollywood, (now in Burbank, which is much more sane…) I also came across the Scientology folk quite a bit. I also read the first half of the New Yorker essay. It was a little long winded so perhaps I’ll get back to the second half later. I just don’t understand these grown people in fake Navy uniforms wandering the streets. It’s super-odd.

  10. I used to live in the Clearwater/St.Pete area of Florida, which is one of the home bases of Scientology (or so I thought), so I learned fast what to avoid. The well groomed men and women with their clipboards and inquisitive looks never failed to inspire me to cross the street. No, sir, I do NOT want to take a personality test, thank you.

    I am always surprised at the depth to which people will deceive themselves all in the name of… what? Security and a sense of community? Tax shelter? Alien abduction and lobotomy? The jury is still out.

  11. Also, what’s with the way so many people buy into anything that “‘they’ don’t want you to know about”? Seriously, whatever it is. I just saw the same tired old line being used in an ad for car insurance, and it suddenly hit me that it’s everywhere. I hear that so often it’s not even funny.

  12. Scientology is a horrible nasty cult that needs to be wiped off the face of the earth. Unlike nearly every other religion, it has been intelligently designed to subjugate and replicate across it’s human hosts. We owe it no more respect than any disease and should only have sympathy for it’s victims. I do not feel this way about other religions.

  13. Read the article. I went through a brief Jesus Freak phase as a sad, searching teenager at age 16 and so I kind of understand how one might be capable of putting on blinders and want to believe. However, I find it very surprising that Paul Haggis took so long see Scientology clearly for what it really is…That being said, I am grateful that he has allowed his story to be told publicly. I wonder if it will reach the vulnerable who need it. PS I think Ben Stiller would be a(n) hilarious Tom Cruise.

  14. @Laika: I thought it was interesting that Paul Haggis stated that a lot of what opened his eyes about Scientology was what he discovered on the internet so yes, I think/hope his story will help others as well.

    Yes! Ben Stiller as Tom Cruise would be HILARIOUS!

  15. Given Scientology’s roots in SF (Ray Palmer’s Amazing Stories & Fate magazines, where most of the Richard Shaver material first appeared; John W. Campbell and his fascination with psionics) I am still amused that the rich & famous are suckered in by it. If nothing else, L. Ron invented what is possibly the world’s greatest combination joke/hoax/long con/religion ever; even more amazing is that all his source material for his ‘religion’ is available wherever old pulp magazines are sold.

  16. @Rei Malebario: Are Enneagrams a scientology spin-off? Or just another form of woo?

    I recently attended the annual meeting of a “Friends of” group for a local park. There were 8 people at my table. One of them turned out to be the author of “An Idiots Guide to Enneagrams”, which I had never heard of before. The woman sitting next to me at one point brought up astrology and got an enthusiastic response from the author and two other people at the table. The guy sitting on the other side of me (who had previously mentioned in passing that he was a retired scientist, but I don’t know what his field was) and his wife just rolled their eyes at each other, and didn’t say much. The 8th person clearly thought astrology was ludicrous but stayed out of the conversation. So it was 4 on 1, and after letting them talk a while, I told them I didn’t believe a word of it, and talked a bit about blinded experiments, lack of correlations, cold reading, the fact that you could randomize horoscopes and the subjects could not pick out their own at better than chance levels, etc. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any reliable resources at hand to refute anything specific (it was dinner and a meeting, no wifi or computer or library available), but I did get the woman who brought it up to admit that there was really no evidence at all that it worked, though she did still maintain that it was fun, harmless, and could lead to useful personal insights. The Enneagrams guy seemed pretty hopeless. Feh! But maybe I opened a crack for a wedge and next time they’ll think of me as the skeptic guy to ask if they have any doubts about something, we’ll see. (I was careful not to be a dick, so I think they’ll still be willing to talk to me in the future.)

    Later I googled enneagrams. Couldn’t really find much about its validity. It just seemed to be a way of sorting people into personality types, but whether the types are replicable, useful, correlate with other measures such as the MMPI, or anything else, I couldn’t find. Is it just more woo, or is there some kernel of validity there?

  17. Enneagrams are just (as far as I know) a different sort of woo that just happens to make me think of Scientology. Like the Big S, its adherents tend to throw around vaguely sciency-sounding terms.
    The types are exactly as useful as zodiac signs or numerological types. But not as colorful as the former.

  18. Scientology scares the crap out of me. My parents live in that area and the reach of the COS is truly frightening.

  19. May I urge a word of caution here?
    These people are not your usual, run-of-the-mill fundies: if you take a look at their history against opponents on the net, you’ll see that they are really not someone you want to mess with. A lot worse than anti-vaxers…

  20. That’s what I’m referring to in a way, Luciano. COS is the scary kind of crazy. Think “live rattlesnakes in your mailbox” crazy.

  21. I didn’t read the article, but I just recieved a Kindle as a gift. Listen among the “free” books are L.Ron Hubbard novels. eeekkkkk!

    I’m tempted. After all it’s free and I can delete it.

    The weird part is I find them less scarey than the fundies that go to school board meetings and fight for ID in school. Scientology is weird enough that if they want to fight for alien masters to be taught in school that’s ok by me.

  22. @kittynh: That’s overall scary, but on a personal level, they have been known to be harassing (opponents often find their entire neighborhood littered with flyers calling them “bigots” and against the “freedom of religion”), litigious (they sued the Cult Awareness Network into bankruptcy and took it over…but they kept the name in a completely unethical move) and criminal (they attempted to have critic Paulette Cooper thrown in jail or committed to a mental institution by making false bomb threats in her name and vigorously harrassing her).

    So while Xtian fundies are pretty bad, don’t underestimate the COS…they’ve already started infiltrating schools with educational front groups that don’t mention Scientology and prisons with groups like Criminon and Narconon. They won’t teach the alien masters story to kids btw…that’s a secret until you’ve been hooked and pay your way through enough levels.

  23. I can’t believe the level of dismissiveness and whimsy people are showing in these comments, btw. Christians who let their kids die because they think prayer is the only medicine they need get far more vitriol, but they’re population is small (maybe even smaller) than the entirety of the CoS. And the CoS is definitely responsible for lives lost in their despite for psychology and medical science in place of their “tech”.

  24. While searching for an old acquaintance I suspected might be involved in CoS, I came across this page which might be useful in the event they throw lawyers at you. It’s a little old, but has a list of resources.

  25. Yep, I read the New Yorker article. From what I have read previously and the ex-Scientologists I’ve spoken with, it seems to be a pretty fair account of the organization. Kudos to you on the Dianetics read. I tried, but it was such a contradictory, jumbled mess that I couldn’t stick with it. When I asked a Scientologist why this was, he told me there was a fire the day before the book was to go to printing and the original manuscript was lost, so L. Ron had to quickly rewrite it all to meet his deadline. At least he didn’t disagree with me.

    The Scientologists are up to something. They’ve started running commercials on TV. And recently, they’ve started housing many of their disciples in my apt. complex. They stay for a few months in apts. set up like sterile barracks and then a new group comes in. I often see them coming home in their black Scientology jackets late at night when I’m walking my dog. I suspect they have signed the billion year contract. One of them was standing alone in the middle of our narrow hallway with a large cordless power drill the other night when I came home. Perhaps she was taking a break from performing lobotomies.

    They’re a creepy bunch. And not in a good way. Before launching into their spiel, their new tactic is asking what you do for a living. I don’t know what comes after that because they walk off when I tell them I am a psychiatric RN.

    If anyone else in Hollywood has noticed a ramping up of activity, I’d love to hear about it. I also find them fascinating.

    Paul Thomas Anderson has been trying to get financing for a movie about the beginnings of Scientology for awhile now. The working title is “The Master”. There’s lots of info on IMDB.

  26. @scribe999:
    I’ve also given blood transfusions, I educate people about living wills, support assisted suicide and am pro-choice.

    Yeah, I’m pretty much evil incarnate.

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