Scientology 451: Commenters of the Week!
We used the news from Russia this week as an excuse to mix up a shaker of vodka martinis. After quite a few glasses garnished with olives, we got a bit lightheaded, but we never felt the desire to ban L. Ron Hubbard's books.
"I hear you have a copy of Dianetics."
This was a strange week of Scientology news around the world, but we kept plodding along getting it all down into the blog and watched your reactions with wonder and glee.
On Saturday afternoon -- which happened to be St. Patrick's Day -- we had a report from Ireland, the only country in the world that forces Scientology to open its books. We also had an interview with Pete Griffiths, a former Scientologist who helps others leave the church in Dublin.
Then, the next day, one of the best Sunday Funnies ever: we broke the news of the latest book scam -- er, fundraising opportunity -- no, that's not it -- an unparalleled achievement in the history of publishing, RON the Biographical Encyclopedia!
On Monday, we posted the week's big investigative story: we revealed stunning new details about the FBI's plans to raid Scientology's California headquarters in the summer of 2010, and how the federal investigation subsequently fell apart.
Tuesday, we marked the third anniversary of "Infinite Complacency" by interviewing its author, Europe's premier Scientology blogger, Jonny Jacobsen.
The next day, something silly on Canadian television had us waxing nostalgic for the 2000 opening of Battlefield Earth, and we unveiled our own movie, an interview with the John Travolta action figure.
Thursday, we expressed our dismay that Russian authorities are still pursuing the extremely unwise and counterproductive measure of banning L. Ron Hubbard's books in that country. No one loves to play the martyr like Scientology leader David Miscavige, and he will milk this opportunity for everything it is worth.
And yesterday, we returned to the high seas to learn that L. Ron Hubbard was also an expert on dog health. Or something.
So let's get to the awards!
On St. Patrick's Day, we looked at the unique situation in Ireland, the only country in the world that requires Scientology to report its revenues -- and those records show a sharp and continuing drop since the Anonymous movement started up in 2008. That prompted this response from MarkStark...
It shows how stuck they are, that in the one country that records their remarkable nosedive in membership, they don't bother having Cruise, Cartwright or an anonymous rich Scilon dump some millions on the Dublin "Org" to prop it up. They probably can't do that because it would be an admission to that member that they aren't exploding in membership all over. Protest works. People are using the Internet as a source of information about EVERYTHING more each year.
That story also featured an interview with ex-Scientologist Pete Griffiths, who donned an appropriate (and hilarious) costume for the occasion, resulting in this comment by Xique...
I get a kick out of Pete's get up, his picture really made me smile. I've been in Pete's shoes, and I know that same feeling of realizing your worst fear, discovering you've been conned and feeling utterly floored. It's been a year of clarity for me and I love that, and yet this residual ill feeling I have , at the moment, is a bit of sadness. It's a total and complete disappointment in myself for having allowed this to happen to me. Ever onward!
In our Sunday Funnies feature, we brought you an announcement of the mighty new biographical L. Ron Hubbard encyclopedia, made up of sixteen volumes! But MissCabbage was nonplussed...
Most likely the only truth in these books is his name.
We were fairly stunned to learn that one volume in the series is about Ron's facility with plants, in particular his giant tomatoes. And of course, we couldn't help thinking of the legendary photo of him using an e-meter to test (audit? communicate with?) a tomato after he'd stuck a nail in it. But BroekerBroekerBroeker made it all clear for us...
The problem is that the tomato did so well on TR 0 -- flunking only once for movement -- that Ron tried to rocket it up the bridge. That's a Grade VIII auditor tomato self-auditing, there. Ron's just C/Sing. What Ron later discovered was that tomatoes ALWAYS breeze through TR 0, due to their high level of confront. Or that they're not sentient. Either one.
I tell you, that one brought us tears, BBB. If the lingo is holding you back from seeing the hilarity of this joke, please don't hesitate to send me an e-mail. I'll be glad to translate.
But we're also grateful that Jefferson Hawkins helped us put these volumes in some perspective...
These "volumes" are just the old "Ron Mags," in hard covers, part of the Church's longstanding practice of getting their captive flock to pay for the same materials over and over again. The backstory is this: There has been a longstanding project to write and publish Hubbard's biography. Most people know the early history of this - Gerry Armstrong was tasked with research, and Omar Garrison was supposed to write it. In fact, we presented this at the 1982 American Bookseller's Association Convention as one of Bridge Publications "upcoming titles." We had a cover mockup and everything. We were even taking orders. Then...nothing. I found out what has happened after I left Scientology. Gerry had, of course, found that much of the supposed history of Hubbard was out-and-out lies. The Garrison biography had to be suppressed, as Larry Brennan has written about elsewhere. Years later, the project was revived and a new writer assigned to it: Scientologist Dan Sherman. Sherman was brought to the Base in San Jacinto, set up with a nice house right next to the Base, and started working. Well, again, years go by and no bio. To fill in, he started writing a series of glossy magazines about various parts of Ron's life - "Ron the Photographer," "Ron the Master Mariner," "Ron the Horticulturalist," and so on. These magazines carefully cherry-picked factlets about Hubbard's life and strung them together in a narrative, adding in far-fetched connections and coincidences to show how he was a leader in this or that field and influenced all later thought. It was all the purest of invented spun-sugar PR. In fact, Danny's assistant at the time got into trouble for confessing, in one of those group confession sessions, that he had put lies in the Ron mags. He was shut up fast. Meanwhile Dan Sherman got increasingly involved in writing Miscavige's speeches, which is pretty much his full-time occupation these days. Miscavige likes his style - he can spin out virtually nothing into hours of high-sounding generalities and cliched platitudes. The biography? Never happened. And, in my opinion, never could happen. They can never tell the truth about Hubbard, so any "official" biography would have to be a string of lies and omissions about his military record, his supposed research, his marriages and so on - all easily fact-checked by anyone with a computer. Plus, most of the key players in early Scientology have become non-persons. So how would you write any sort of narrative without mentioning people like Otto Roos, Bill Robertson, David Mayo or, for that matter, Mary Sue Hubbard or Quentin Hubbard? Impossible. So there never will be an official biography. The solution - rehash all of those glossy puff-piece "Ron Mags" in hard covers and claim it's something new. And you can bet that the faithful will be pressured to "donate" for multiple sets.
On Monday, we revealed what we'd learned about the FBI investigation that was first made public in Lawrence Wright's monster profile of Paul Haggis in the New Yorker last year. We talked to informants who told us how close the FBI seemed to raiding the Int Base, but by October 2010 had scuttled the probe. Again, MarkStark jumped in with something we found interesting...
Even though Amy, Mike, Marty and the rest feel disappointed and frustrated that the FBI shut down or dropped the case, it's still important that they gave them the information they did. If Miscavige doesn't settle quickly, it's possible the Cook case will re-open the investigation as public concern and interest grows. The Wright book could have a similar effect. Human trafficking was a concern of Paul Haggis, and Wright may expose that it a way that alerts people to this serious problem in the cult.
This observation by NCSP also had us nodding...
While this is disappointing, just recall the last time Scientology was raided by the FBI. Embarrassing documents were uncovered, people (including Mary Sue) went to prison, and...the CoS continued to operate more-or-less unimpeded for the next 30-plus years. They got their tax exemption AFTER Snow White was uncovered. Even the GO continued under a new name. There is a limit to what federal law enforcement can do against an organization like Scientology. Don't get me wrong -- it would be an utter delight to see David Miscavige do a perp walk. But that is NOT what's going to bring down the CoS and end its abusive practices. It's going to be (and has been) a long, slow process of encouraging defection, exposing its activities to the light, and thereby drying up its potential pool of converts.
And then AlexM surprised many with the feeling in this response...
I've been out of the Church for almost 4 years. When I first left, I was able to do a video interview on YouTube and three TV interviews for German TV. Only one aired. I was pretty gung ho back then and thought that these interviews would mean that other reporters would be tearing down my door asking me for more interviews. My story is filled with human trafficking, illegal immigration, taking a large sum of money across an international border, earning slave wages, participating in forced labour, being unable to leave the job and disillusionment. However, I was being naive. The honest truth is that no one cares. By no one I mean the media and the government. I even spent months e-mailing my story to people in the media, local, national and international. I got very little responces from doing this. I thought that putting my story on the net would generate media attention also, but in the end, it generated the support and admiration I needed from the ex-Scientologist community. In retrospect, that's been more important to me.
Tuesday, we celebrated Paris blogger Jonny Jacobsen, and couldn't help enjoying this observation by anne...
Jonny Jacobsen makes me think of Clark Kent
You have that going for you, Jonny.
The next day, we indulged in a day of nostalgia for the spectacular failure of Battlefield Earth, which opened in 2000. And look who was first with a comment, our friend Paulette Cooper!
On the funny side, one newspaper (I think it was the Providence Journal) said the film had a strange yellow hue, as if someone had urinated on it. Then they added, "which, come to think of it, isn't a bad idea." On the serious side, the producer was Jonathan Krane who had been a highly respected figure in the film world and after that....
Mat Pesch once again brought his personal experiences to deepen our understanding...
There were Sea Org members on the set every day and they were being run by David Miscavige who had his fingers all over that film. Before the release Miscavige was bragging about how he had helped make the best film ever. When the film was released the Sea Org members were bused to the theaters where the "church" paid for us to watch it over and over. Sea Org members loved it because the theater was dark and cool and it allowed them to get hours and hours of sleep.... Battlefield Earth, only $10 for two hours of sleep. That movie was a Sea Org members dream...
And Jefferson Hawkins provided even more background...
Battlefield Earth was a typical David Miscavige fiasco writ large. He's so narcissistic that he believes he is far smarter and more talented than the peons he is surrounded by, so he micromanages everything. He is the only genius around, everyone else is just messing things up. Of course he micromanaged Battlefield Earth, going over every line of the script, making every decision, receiving daily rushes and making detailed critiques. I was one of the Sea Org Members who was rushed out to local theaters again and again to try to pad the opening week numbers. And, as Mat said, it was two hours of badly needed sleep in a dark theater. And of course when you got back to the Base you were supposed to say how much you liked it - anyone criticizing Dave's movie would have been rushed into Security Checking to find their crimes. Miscavige was crowing about "his" movie right up to the point where it bombed. Then of course, as with everything he does, it was someone else's fault. It was that SP Travolta. It was the SPs who produced it. And there was no further mention of the film within the Church. It was just dropped as a topic of conversation.
Patty Moher's experience may have been best of all...
I saw Battlefield Earth with another Scientologist and we were both speechless as to how bad it was. A week later I was sitting in the OSA offices on the 5th floor of the Boston Org where I did "volunteer" work. Mary Francis Newey, the Dir of Invest for OSA Boston told me that since I was OT III, I had permission to go onto certain internet sites that were discussing the movie and asked if I would please go and say something nice about the movie because the SP's were really attacking it. I clearly remember looking at her and saying " Are you fucking kidding me! That movie completely sucked and there is no way I could say anything nice about it". She laughed and said, "I know, but you can blame me for at least trying".
But it was this comment by Michael Leonard Tilse that I found most helpful. This was a great explanation for how the Scientology mindset works...
I remember seeing it and was appalled by how bad it was. Then my cognitive dissonance response kicked in and I searched for ways to explain it, to try to adjust my reaction to it to be positive. Because of course, nothing connected with Hubbard must ever be bad if you are a Scientologist. What I came up with was this: It's a cartoon! It's SUPPOSED to be over the top! People didn't understand! So, it could be bad, over-the-top, cartoonish, horrible production values and basalt-like acting, (wooden just does not describe it), and be a GOOD thing. You just have to look at it in the right way.... That is the internal Scientological response to conflicting ideas like "Scientology is good' and "Scientology movie is BAD", you adjust your internal values and viewpoint to reduce the conflict in some way. It's an ongoing, trained in and familiar process that starts at the very beginning of the Scientology experience and results in the self-censorship and seeming inability to see the horrors that are all too evident to the wogs. It takes a long time to turn it off. It is why you have a hard time getting a Scientologist to even perceive its problems.
On Thursday, we criticized Russian authorities for banning Hubbard's books. But many readers took issue with our stand, saying that they understood why that country would be sensitive about Scientology's methods. InTheNameOfXenu was one who understood where the Russians were coming from...
Tony, I am glad to see that the Russians are reacting to the destructive cult of Scientology without hesitation. Communism and Fascism is still fresh in the European mind. Scientology is another extension of those totalitarian systems. The GO and OSA did terrible things to many people and continue harrassing people to this day. The Russians are not about to let an extremist group like Scientology to get a foot-hold in Russian society. The cult is getting exactly what is deserves...no mercy. God bless the Russians for taking a stand against a totalitarian cult like Scientology.
Our Thursday press roundup also included an alarming bit of academic apologism from a Baylor university post-doc, Bernard Doherty, which appeared on an Australian website. That prompted this skillful comeback by Damian DeWitt, which we figured we'd reproduce in total...
While the week may have sucked for Scientology news your singling out of Bernard Doherty's gob-smacking apologia pro Scientologia is a great public service.
Our work is cut out for us. Still in March 2012 we have an academic plugging the hoary arguments. I feel embarrassed for Doherty, apparently he didn't get the memo from James Lewis and others that the party line is changing because scholars have realized that promoting it simply further beclowns academics and renders them laughable and irrelevant. Has a reputable reporter even bothered to seek comment from any of these academics in the last three years?
Doherty writes: . But before joining in a media or political witch hunt, we should at least try to get our facts straight and give due consideration to the other parties involved.
The one "party involved" neither Doherty nor the apologists ever mention are Victims of Scientology though we now have nearly 1800 first person accounts of abuse. On the plus side Doherty has apparently gotten the memo about dropping the academic libel that Scientology's victims are all bitter apostates whose accounts of abuse are not to be believed. He at least admits these accounts are "ever expanding and quite damning" without making anything of these facts.
One of the main questions if not the central question is whether the Church of Scientology s an inherently abusive organization. Doherty completely begs the question. He writes: "just as we should not judge all Catholics, laity or clergy, for the actions of a few child abusers and those who protect them, nor can we nor should we judge all Scientologists for the alleged abuses of the RPF (Rehabilitation Program Force) or in the Sea Org."
Catholics know quite well that child abuse is a ghastly sin as well as a civil crime and utterly contrary to the moral teachings of Catholicism. Some of us have relatives and friends among the victims and know the abuse is the work of individuals who are either sexual psychpaths or utterly depraved human beings.
The RPF was a prison system invented by Hubbard an essential feature of Scientology Ethics for the Sea Org. Its policies and procedures are laid down in fine detail and set in concrete in the unalterable Scientology "sacred scriptures." All of Scientology's abuses are systemic.
Doherty's curriculum vitae at the Baylor website reveals some interesting information. Doherty is not a specialist in New Religious Movements (NRM). His field is early Christianity and his speciality the late second-century Montanist heresy - a subject of irresistible fascination to at least a few of us.
He was born in 1984 and will turn 28 in October. He appears to be or have been a Catholic since he assisted a Roman Catholic Chaplaincy in a prison, volunteered with a Catholic refugee service organization, and taught at a Catholic girls school. He gives two Jesuit priests as references. He cites Ignatius of Loyola's great work, the Spiritual Exercises, and contributions Jesuits have made to Australian society.
He does not appear to be aware that the Vatican has condemned Scientology through the momentous statements of Cardinal Marc Ouellet in Canada and Archbishop Robert Rivas in St. Lucia.
Doherty fails to understand that Scientology is not a religion but a system of pseudo-psychotherapy for which the Church of Scientology denies any religious character in most of the countries in which it operates and in all the front groups which covertly disseminate 100% Scientology doctrine and practice.
Scientology is a totalitarian organization, and Doherty treads the time-worn paths of totalitarian apologist hacks everywhere: Mussolini made the trains run on time so Fascism isn't all bad.
It is of course precisely because Scientology is a totalitarian system delivering pseudo-psychotherapy services and training that it is an endemically abusive organization and a threat not only to individuals but society.
Any organization engaged in a war to destroy the mental health and social welfare professions and replace them with lethal quackery is a threat to society and particularly its children, whether it makes claims to religious legitimacy or not or makes every train in Australia run on time.
Doherty is young, and I hope savvy enough to see the handwriting on the wall and undergo conversion to a more critical "hermeneutics of suspicion" in regard to Scientology, to use Hugh Urban's phrase.
One hopes he will soon realize that he has shackled himself to the sinking ship of David Miscavige's Church of Scientology.
Things are only going to get worse for Doherty and the academic apologists. The rise of Independent Scientology as a high profile alternative to Miscavige appears to be the beginning of a permanent schism among Scientology believers.
This is an historic event of the greatest significance that academics studying Scientology cannot ignore while laying claim to intellectual integrity. Of necessity it demands serious investigation of the experience of Scientology victims contained in the 1800 reports publicly available.
Things are also going to get worse for Doherty and his colleagues as teachers of undergraduate students. These kids are the age-peers of Anonymous and aren't easily fooled.
I challenge Brian Doherty to make it a requirement of any course he teaches touching on Scientology that students write to Tony Ortega and have him put them on his email list for alerts on new Scientology articles in the Village Voice.
I will end this with a shout out to Chuck Beatty. Among Scientology critics there are few who can match his profound respect and love for excellence in scholarship. Ever-believing that knowing truth leads to the light he has long engaged in a respectful and friendly dialogue with Scientology-apologists that is leading them into the paths of righteousness and common sense.
Fridays we return to the yacht Apollo with L. Ron Hubbard, and we're always on the lookout for fun anecdotes from the Commodore. This week, he related a story about healing the ship's dog, Vixie, with a "touch assist," that thing Scientologists do where they run their fingers over you and fill you with theta. That prompted this memory from our favorite Apollo crewmate, Kate Bornstein...
The myth on board was that Vixie could tell whenever you committed a crime. If she barked at you, people would investigate. I'M SERIOUS.
And since Hubbard mentioned that Vixie had "come up to growl tone," scnethics really stole the show by producing this Tone Scale for dogs...
Canine Tone Scale - 20 March 1970
0.0 - Road kill
0.5 - Whining
0.8 - Begging
1.1 - Chewing on your stuff when you are not around
1.5 - Chewing on you when you are around
2.0 - Growl
2.5 - Lazing
2.8 - Chewing or licking themselves...for a long time
3.5 - Wagging
4.0 - Freaking the fuck out when you get home
20.0 - Peeing somewhere...with a purpose
22.0 - Throw it again! Throw it again! THROW IT AGAIN!!!
40.0 - Belly full, on couch, in master's lap or head resting on master's leg, master is gently and rhythmically scratching just behind the ear. Serenity of dogginess.
And of course, there were many more great posts this week, with John P. once again going long with his deep analyses, some interesting fights (and some weirdness) showing up in the FBI piece, and a whole heck of a lot of great humor. If the news this week generally sucked, the comments were amazing.
Make sure you come back tomorrow morning for Sunday Funnies. Once again, we have something pretty great lined up.
Tony Ortega has been the editor in chief of the Village Voice since March, 2007. He started writing about Scientology in 1995. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you ask nicely he'll put you on his mailing list for notifications of new stories, which tend to come out each and every morning at 8 am, but can suddenly appear at any time of the day. You can also catch his alerts at Twitter (@VoiceTonyO), at his Facebook author page, on Pinterest, a Tumblr, and even this new Google Plus doohickey.
New readers might want to check out our primer, "What is Scientology?" Another good overview is our series from last summer, "Top 25 People Crippling Scientology." At the top of every story, you'll see the "Scientology" category which, if you click on it, will bring up all of our most recent stories. As for our regular features, on Thursdays we do a roundup of world press, on Fridays we visit L. Ron Hubbard on the yacht Apollo circa 1969-1971, on Saturdays we celebrate the week's best comments, and on Sundays we publish Scientology's wacky and tacky advertising mailers that people send us.
As for hot subjects we've covered here, you may have heard about Debbie Cook, the former church official who rebelled and is now being sued by Scientology. You might have also heard about the Super Power Building, Scientology's "Mecca," whose secrets were revealed here. We also reported how Scientology spied on its own most precious object, Tom Cruise. (We wrote Tom an open letter that he has yet to respond to.) Have you seen a Scientology ad on TV lately? We debunked some of the claims in that 2-minute commercial you might have seen while watching Glee or American Idol.
Other stories have looked at Scientology's policy of "disconnection" that is tearing families apart. You may also have heard something about the Sea Org experiences of the Paris sisters, Valeska and Melissa, and their friend Ramana Dienes-Browning. We've also featured Paulette Cooper, who wrote about Scientology back in the day, and Janet Reitman, Hugh Urban, and the team at the Tampa Bay Times, who write about it today. And there's plenty more coming.