Written by Scott Jacobsen and Benjamin David
The Oxford Dictionary (Second Edition) defines a ‘cult’ as the following:
1) i) a system of religious worship esp. as expressed in ritual. ii) a religious sect considered to be unorthodox or anti-social. iii) the members of such a sect.
2) i) devotion or homage to a person or thing (the cult of aestheticism). ii) popular fashion esp. followed by a specific section of society. iii) (attributive) denoting a person or thing popularized in this way (cult film; cult figure).
A remarkable thing about cult mind control is that it’s so ordinary in the tactics and strategies of social influence employed. They are variants of well-known social psychological principles of compliance, conformity, persuasion, dissonance, reactance, framing, emotional manipulation, and others that are used on all of us daily to entice us: to buy, to try, to donate, to vote, to join, to change, to believe, to love, to hate the enemy.
–Professor Philip G. Zimbardo, Stanford University
Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion.
-L. Ron Hubbard
Scientology is one of the more prominent cults, a cult founded on the beliefs of its founder, a man called L. Ron Hubbard. Although receiving moderate success as a science-fiction writer, most of the interest that the cult has amassed has largely been brought about in virtue of its status as the fashionable hollywood go-to cult – with famous members including former silent-screen star Gloria Swanson and actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta
To say that scientologists have offbeat beliefs would be an understatement. Let’s focus on them to provide a little bit of context. They believe that Xenu brought millions of people to Earth in a spacecraft some 75 million years ago. Xenu brought billions of people to Teegeeack (which we now know as Earth), stacked these thetans (an invisible part of a human being, similar to the concept of a soul or
spirit in other religions, that exists whether or not it is currently operating a human body) around volcanoes, then annihilated them with hydrogen bombs. These immortal spirits are believed by the faithful to often cling to present-day humans and cause them spiritual harm. However, Scientologists warn that reading Xenu-related documents without taking the prerequisite courses
could result in pneumonia.
Scientology pedals a rather uncouth – if not kooky and outright bat shit crazy– state of being for humans to ‘self-actualise’, some ideal and perfected state to be attained, of knowledge or character, for human beings. Through the “modern science of mental health” of Dianetics, and the processes involved with the indoctrination methodologies of Scientology, members would reach further and further towards this ideal by moving up the hierarchy in the cult. When, in fact, they lose more and more money, credibility, and contact with reality, and gain more and more gullibility, ignorance, and rationalisations.
If these two points weren’t grody enough to deserve the label ‘unorthodox’ – a key characteristic of a ‘cult’ – there is an unqualified devotion to a con man, as per the second of the opening quotes, which speaks volumes to the character of the divine leader or clever charlatan – perspectives differ. L. Ron Hubbard is the main figure of sanctification within the Church of Scientology because, of course, he’s the founder. Even deceased, as if in-corporeally mystifying the ratiocinative capacities of followers to this day, people continue to follow L. Ron Hubbard, his cult, and the ‘extra-curricular’ activities such as Dianetics and targeting of celebrities for recruitment. Celebrities have influence and money.
We think that the Church of Scientology fits the formal definitions provided at the preface to this article. That is, there is a system of religious worship as ritual, anti-social aspects, unorthodoxy (thetans, Xenu), members related to those sub-definitions, devotion to an individual, segmentation to a sufficient degree to separate from society (related to the “anti-social” terminology), and tends to denote a particular individual (L. Ron Hubbard) and thing (Dianetics, thetans, Xenu, and so on.) Need we say more? Of course, it’s needed. Truisms bear repetition.
More properly, the cult is entitled, not Scientology in full, but the Church of Scientology. It can have the misnomer of a ‘religion’. Professional investigator, skeptic, secular humanist, and atheist James Randi, of the James Randi Educational Foundation, wrote an article entitled Scientology-It’s Still Around, BUT…. The cult receives mixed legitimisation through the title of “religion” dependent on the country.
For example, in the aforementioned publication by James Randi, circa January 31, 2012, he said, “only Australia, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Kyrgyzstan, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, and the USA, grant Scientology the privileges of a legitimate religion, while other countries, notably Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, and the UK, refuse Scientology that status,” which implies a mixed legal narrative and status. This isn’t the only discrepancy.
Scientology conducts factious methods – often unmerciful in nature and purpose, which is to defame and dismiss critics through character assassination by any means necessary – to bulwark its religion against dissenters and critics. This is probably the most deplorable aspect of the cult. Its hyper-litigious activities against critics and ex-members is a reflection of this – if someone is bold enough to cast any aspersions against the cult, efforts will be made to indict, demonise, and smear them. (We’ll see. Maybe, we can make a ‘prophesy’ here.). Moral standards are thus set arbitrarily by the dictates of the cult, as cults do. Paulette Cooper is an example. Not only critics, merely forfeiting the religion can lead to a situation in which ‘apostates’ receive (and the doctrine of Scientology permits) harassment and smear campaigns against them.
Such factious methods have cruelly fostered a fortress within the religion – trapping people inside it and thus sustaining its number of adherents. It often succeeds in burgeoning its numbers by taking advantage of uncritical thought and, not forgetting, the ‘foot-in-the-door’ phenomena. People become involved in the organisation more and more, little bit by little. This can build into the encouragement of disconnection from family and relationships – hence why it’s coined a ‘cult’.
This forms the basis of the anti-social (and, frankly, abject) aspects of the cult. It is anti-social through its sophisticated, even mundane at root, methodologies to isolate prospective members, or full members, from family and friends. Better yet, they can involve the family members in the delusions and recruitment.
Another cause célèbre, of course, is its scientific views, which means non-scientific views about nearly everything under the Sun. They reject medication and psychiatry in favour of pseudo-scientific ideas such as the E-Meter and Dianetics. No Medication. No psychology. No psychiatry. Nothing remotely scientific. Everything targeted to the gullible, or insane. Physical and mental ailments caused by Thetans attaching themselves to humans. First of all, Thetans don’t exist. So, there’s no attaching. E-Meter Sessions are solutions. E-Meters, and by implication the practitioners and sessions, are bogus science. Well-financed, legally protected, non-sense, or the technical term: bullshit. Thus, many critics claim – and rightly – that Scientology’s ‘science’ is nothing more than pseudo-science, for it has no scientific basis.
Cults do not differ much in recruitment methodologies. The main thrust, by implication, is to befuddle and use people. For humanists, the anti-science and anti-human content and purpose of this cult is an affront to fundamental values. Thusly, it is of concern to all valuing people and real science. The main targets for many cults are those going through difficult emotional times in life, which means anyone at least at one or another point in their lifespan. Anyone can be victim. In sympathy, we repeat: anyone can be a victim. Victims don’t need critique. They need our help to transition back into the real world and away from these vicious collectives. Be aware, think critically, thankfully, most are capable of it to some capacity.