5 Biggest Lies in Scientology's 2-Minute TV Ad
We keep seeing Twitter reactions as people are stunned to see a 2-minute ad for Scientology show up on network television. We've written earlier about the negative reactions the ad is getting as it appeared during NFL playoff games, the Miss America pageant, the Golden Globes, and during such weekly series as Glee and American Idol.
But we haven't written yet about what's actually in the ad, which appears to be the latest slick production from Scientology's Golden Era Productions that makes use of swooshing text. (For a previous example, look for the "Define Better" video in this story about Scientology's in-house rapper, Chill EB).
Golden Era knows how to put out a slick ad. But how much of it is true? Turns out, not a lot. We've selected the ad's five biggest whoppers, taking them in the order that they appear...
#1. Scientology is "knowing God"
This rather jarring statement occurs as Scientology's ad goes for a moment of fuzzy warmth and good feelings...
"Scientology is the study of KNOWLEDGE," it says. "It's knowing YOURSELF."
The word "yourself" then makes way for a series of words, speeding up as they replace each other: "FAMILY, FRIENDS, the world, life, the universe, the spirit..."
Gives you goosebumps, doesn't it? Scientology appears to be giving you the promise of a better knowledge of God, perhaps an attractive prospect for youngsters who might be feeling that more mainstream organized religion leaves them cold.
But hang on a minute. What "god" do Scientologists believe in?
"L. Ron Hubbard's idea of god is not like the god that Christians worship. We don't worship god, we are god," says Chuck Beatty, a longtime former Scientologist and member of its hardcore Sea Org. Beatty is an expert on Hubbard's "technology" -- the intricacies of Scientology belief. [For some basics on the church, read our primer, "What is Scientology?"]
"The Scientology concept of god is that we are all fallen gods from our own home universes. We all had our own home universes, and those home universes collided, creating the physical universe that we all agree on," Beatty says.
Often, however, we hear from Scientology -- particularly its celebrity members -- that it's OK to be both a Christian and a practicing Scientologist, that you don't have to give up your previous belief in the God of the Bible. So, perhaps that's what the ad is referring to...
But Beatty reminds me that Hubbard wasn't very kind to Jesus or the Christian God in his writings.
According to Hubbard, in fact, Jesus is merely an implant that was brainwashed into the minds of our ancient spirits -- thetans -- 76 million years ago by the evil galactic dictator, Xenu.
In an audiotaped 1968 lecture describing this incident, you can clearly hear Hubbard say, "There was no Christ."
Funny, but the ad really doesn't seem to give a sense that you'll eventually (after several years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in services) learn that Jesus and the Christian God are figments of the imagination, and that YOU are a god -- and can regain your godlike powers after only a few more years and hundreds of thousands in services more!
#2. Scientology is "the study of truth, drawing on 50,000 years of wisdom, mathematics, and nuclear physics"
This one is almost too easy. In fact, it's really somewhat incredible that Scientology's advertising department would dare to include that bit about nuclear physics, since it only takes a few keystrokes on Google to learn that although Hubbard loved to tell people he was one of only a handful of nuclear physicists in the 1930s, the truth is that in 1932 he took only a single class in nuclear physics at George Washington University and failed it.
Here, look for yourself. Here's the pertinent line from his transcript:
He also failed Differential Calculus and Plane Analytic Geometry, and got D's in Chemistry, Integral Calculus, and Electricity and Magnetism. He left the school without a degree. But that didn't stop Hubbard from claiming that he was an expert in all sorts of sciences.
It's actually more interesting to see the claim that Scientology is "drawing on 50,000 years of wisdom."
Since the advent of writing -- and as a result, human history -- only began about 6,000 years ago, what could they be talking about here?
"Actually, they're selling Hubbard short," Chuck Beatty says, and of course he's right. Scientology believes that we are thetans -- spirits -- and that we have lived countless lifetimes before today. Part of the allure of Scientology is exploring those past lives and their traumas, and trying to repair your "whole track" of existence.
But how far back does that whole track go? A lot farther than 50,000 years. In fact, Hubbard and Scientologists talk about the age of the universe on completely different terms than boring scientists, who will tell you that the Big Bang happened only about 15 billion years ago or so.
Hubbard, Scientologists believe, went much farther back than that on his "researches" of the whole track.
In fact, Beatty says, he can't think of a newspaper that's ever really dived into just how far back in time Hubbard was able to research.
He's referring to a stunning moment that occurs in a video recorded in January, 1986. Hubbard had just "left his body" after his 74 years of life on Earth, and the news was being delivered by David Miscavige and Pat Broeker, who would then fight over control of the church. (Miscavige won and is still, today, Scientology's supreme leader.)
But Broeker that night, at the Palladium, did a remarkable thing. He wanted to show that Hubbard was researching to the very end -- that the Scientology founder was still seeing just how far back in time he could find incidents to investigate on his own whole track. Broeker wants to share with the audience something remarkable from Hubbard's papers -- a worksheet that Hubbard had been working on just a few months before he died. On the paper is a number. It represents the number of years back that Hubbard had found an incident in his own ancient history to "handle." Here's a screenshot of it:
Now, I did my best to read that fuzzy image, and to my eyes, that looks like the number "24" followed by a whole lot of other numbers, separated by commas. I counted ten sets of three digits across by 11 rows, plus five more sets on the top row. (In a number that large, all of the numbers after the first couple might as well be zeroes).
My count came to 24 followed by 345 zeroes. Which, I kid you not, can be expressed this way:
24 billion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion years.
(I checked this with a friend who is a radar systems engineer and telescope builder. He confirmed my method to come up with the number, but couldn't seem to stop laughing.)
Beatty was in the audience that night, and tells me that seeing that number thrilled the Scientologists in attendance. If Hubbard could go back that far into his own past, they would someday as well. (When you put it that way, $8,000 for 12.5 hours of counseling sounds positively cheap!)
#3. Scientology is "more than 10,000 churches, missions, and groups"
On Sunday, Marty Rathbun, formerly the second highest ranking executive in Scientology, posted something remarkable at his blog.
Scientology feeds this line about 10,000 churches not only to the general public, but also to its members. One of them, Ulf Olaffsen, knowing the number to be false, sent a letter debunking it to Scientology management. When he didn't get a satisfactory response, he fed his letter to Rathbun, who made it public. Coming on the heels of Debbie Cook's infamous New Year's Eve e-mail, in which the former top executive at Scientology's spiritual mecca in Florida blasted leader David Miscavige for the church's all-consuming focus on "extreme fundraising," this is becoming quite a season of disaffection in the church. Here's what Olaffsen had to say about Scientology's claims about its churches, missions and groups...
10,000 Churches, missions and affiliated groups is a datum very hard to explain. No new orgs -- and if I missed one or two, it still doesn't explain the numbers -- have been announced in almost a decade. Athens was one of the last, and maybe a Celebrity Center. The total number of orgs never exceeded somewhere around 160 from the time I was at Int, and from your events no new orgs have been announced since that time.
When I worked at Gold I routinely did A/V products tailor-made for the active missions and groups and I would get updated lists of ALL the missions in the world. The total never exceeded 600, and I got my lists directly from SMI Int, and the lists contained ALL registered missions with contact information. The numbers were roughly about 60 in Russia, less than 40 in Hungary, less than 100 in the rest of Eu, less than 10 in all of Asia, less than 40 in Africa, less than 10 in ANZO, less than 70 in all of South America and less than 200 in North America. In total the numbers were 500 - 600.
Yes, my information is not current, but these figures are not from the Ice Age either (2006.)
Olaffsen, who worked at Scientology's secretive desert compound in Southern California, known as "Int Base" or "Gold" by members, and received information about missions directly from their organizing body, Scientology Missions International. This is a guy, in other words, who had access to real information about the proliferation of Scientology. And his numbers aren't even of the same magnitude as what Scientology claims.
#4. Scientology is "welcoming over 4.4 million new people each year"
If there's anyone who knows about the size of the membership of Scientology, it's Jefferson Hawkins. As we've written before, it was Hawkins who marketed Dianetics as Scientology was undergoing its greatest expansion in the 1980s. His distinctive "volcano" television ads sold millions of books, and as the chief executive marketing the church, he had access to complete membership rolls. As we wrote earlier, based on several lines of evidence, but most importantly Hawkins and his knowledge of Scientology's internal membership data, there's good reason to believe that there are no more than 100,000 active Scientologists around the world -- and the actual number may be closer to only 40,000.
I asked Jeff to look at this ad and its claim that Scientology adds 4.4 million people every year.
This is laughable. I think what they do is take the number of books sold, the number of "The Way to Happiness" booklets handed out, the number of hits on their website, the number of people who saw their ads on TV, and add all that up and add a few zeros and they get "the number of new Scientologists." They basically just make these numbers up. I've seen the top executives of Scientology do this; they sit around and figure out everything they can possibly add in and then inflate that and get some astounding, and totally fictional, numbers.
I think most people know that Scientology simply invents these numbers out of whole cloth. If you actually look for their organizations and members and look at what is actually there, it tells a very different story. Anyone can fact-check their "expansion." Just go to the address given in your city and look at what is actually there.
#5. Scientology is "growing faster today than anytime in its history"
Again, I asked Jeff Hawkins for his view...
Actually, Scientology was growing until 1991, and then started a long, long decline. I've seen the actual statistics. I left the Church in 2005, so I haven't seen the last seven years of statistics, but from all indications, it's still in trouble. People who have visited their organizations report that they are largely empty. They still hold their events at the same venues they did 20 years ago (Shrine Auditorium in LA, which holds about 6,000 at best, Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater which holds about 1,200 -- and those are the two largest Scientology centers in the world). So their event attendance hasn't changed in 20 or 25 years. The main thing they point to as "proof" of their expansion is their new real estate holdings. They do not show actual statistics ever. If you go looking for their "Missions" (smaller starter organizations) you usually find an empty building or someone's living room.
As Hawkins points out, Scientology is opening new facilities in a decade-long push for new "Ideal Orgs." But for the most part, these are lavish new buildings that are replacing orgs that weren't out of room to begin with, and are largely sitting empty or are waiting for more fundraising to finish renovations. While David Miscavige can be found presiding over hyped-up grand openings of these new orgs, there's really no evidence that Scientology is gaining more people, and not just new buildings.
So if this ad is so full of fibs, you may be wondering, why is Scientology playing it in some of the most expensive slots of network television prime time?
Make no mistake about it -- this is a church in crisis. As we've been documenting over the last year, Scientology is literally splitting apart as loyal, longtime members get fed up with constant pleas for big donations, and with the church's extreme measures of control, including the splitting up of families through "disconnection." For more on what ails Scientology, follow our links on subjects such as Debbie Cook, the Super Power Building, stories of disconnection, a decade of spying on Tom Cruise, and other subjects listed in our links below.
Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he's been writing about Scientology at several publications.
Keep up on all of our New York news coverage at this blog, Runnin' Scared
SCIENTOLOGY IN THE VILLAGE VOICE
[All recent stories] | [What is Scientology?] | [Top 25 People Crippling Scientology] [Commenters of the Week] | [Thursday 2pm Stats!] | [Scientology vs. South Park] [This Week Aboard the Apollo] | [Sunday Funnies]
[Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis secretly recorded discussing "disconnection"] [Benjamin Ring, LA deputy sheriff, wants you to spend your 401K on Scientology] [Scientologists: How many of them are there, anyway?] [Scientology hates clean ice: The "Fair Game" operation that should turn your stomach] [Scientology hates clean ice, part 2: Another target, and the web as weapon] [Paulette Cooper, Scientology's original and worst nightmare: a Thanksgiving tribute]
THE TOP 25 PEOPLE CRIPPLING SCIENTOLOGY
1. L. Ron Hubbard | 2. David Miscavige | 3. Marty Rathbun | 4. Tom Cruise | 5. Joe Childs and Tom Tobin | 6. Anonymous | 7. Mark Bunker | 8. Mike Rinder | 9. Jason Beghe | 10. Lisa McPherson | 11. Nick Xenophon | 12. Tommy Davis | 13. Janet Reitman | 14. Tory Christman | 15. Andreas Heldal-Lund | 16. Marc and Claire Headley | 17. Jefferson Hawkins | 18. Amy Scobee | 19. The Squirrel Busters | 20. Trey Parker and Matt Stone | 21. Kendrick Moxon | 22. Jamie DeWolf | 23. Ken Dandar | 24. Dave Touretzky | 25. Xenu
HELD ABOARD THE FREEWINDS: TALES OF THE SEA ORG
[Valeska Paris, held against her will from 1996 to 2007 on Scientology's cruise ship] [Ramana Dienes-Browning, marriage at 16, sexual interrogation, life in the engine room] [Melissa Paris, Valeska's sister: forced to marry at 16]
SCIENTOLOGY VS. SOUTH PARK: INVESTIGATION AS RETALIATION
[Scientology targeted South Park's Parker and Stone in an investigation] [More documents in the South Park probe: instructions to send in a young mole] [Scientology responds in typical fashion] | [Lloyd Kaufman confirms the probe] [Mark Ebner also investigated after South Park involvement] [Mark Chauppetta, private eye, explains what Scientology operatives look for]
MARTY RATHBUN AND THE SIEGE OF SOUTH TEXAS
[Scientology has Rathbun arrested] | [Rathbun and Mark Bunker reveal surprising ties] In Germany with Ursula Caberta: [Announcing plans] | [Press conference] | [Making news about Tom Cruise, Bill Clinton, and Tony Blair] | [Post-trip interview] The Squirrel Busters: [Goons with cameras on their heads] | [Rathbun's open letter to neighbors] | [Ingleside on the Bay, Texas rallies to Rathbun's cause] | [Squirrel Buster's claim to be making a "documentary"] | [VIDEO: "On a Boat"] | ["Anna" sent to creep out Monique Rathbun] | [Squirrel Busters go hillbilly] | [A videographer blows the whistle on the goon squad] | [Ed Bryan, OT VIII, shows the power of Scientology's highest levels]
SCIENTOLOGY SPYING AND "FAIR GAME"
[Secret Scientology documents spell out spying operation against Marc Headley] [Scientology's West U.S. spies list revealed] | [Scientology's enemies list: Are you on it?] Spy operation against Washington Post writer Richard Leiby: [Part 1] | [Part 2] [A Scientology spy comes clean: Paulien Lombard's remarkable public confession] [Scientology advertises for writers in Freedom magazine] [Accidental leak shows Scientology spy wing plans to "handle" the Voice] [Lori Hodgson and Disconnection: "No one's going to take my eternity away"]
SCIENTOLOGY AND CELEBRITIES
[Hey, Scientology Celebrity, Here's Your Media Training Checksheet!] [Tom Cruise and X Factor's Stacy Francis singing together on the Freewinds] [X Factor's Stacy Francis: Her first husband, Michael Sandlofer, answers abuse claims] [Tom Cruise and Baby Suri embarrassed by news item, so someone must pay] ["Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle"] | [Tom Cruise likes coconut cake] | [Tom Cruise has a sense of humor] | ["Tom Cruise not a kook!"] | [Paulette Cooper on Tom Cruise] [Paul Haggis, director of Crash, issues an ultimatum, leaves the church] [Character actor Jason Beghe defects noisily] | [Actor Michael Fairman reveals his "suppressive person" declaration] | [Michael Fairman talks to the Voice] [Giovanni Ribisi as David Koresh: Scientology-Branch Davidian link makes sense] [Russell Brand weds ex-Scientologists in wild ceremony] | [Skip Press on Haggis] [Placido Domingo Jr.: Scientology's retaliation is "scary and pathetic"] Grant Cardone, NatGeo's "Turnaround King": [Doing Scientology's dirty work?] | [Milton Katselas complained about Cardone's smear job] | [Cardone runs to Huffpo] [Philip Boyd, Saving Grace actor, rips "the business that is Scientology"]
JANET REITMAN'S INSIDE SCIENTOLOGY
[Our review of Inside Scientology] | [An interview with Janet Reitman] | [A report from Reitman's first book tour appearance] | [At the Half-King: Reitman not afraid] [Scientology doesn't like Inside Scientology] | [Q&A at Washington Post] [A roundup of Reitman's print reviews, and why isn't she on television more?]
HUGH URBAN'S THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY
EX-SCIENTOLOGISTS SPEAK OUT
["The Money Machine": another blockbuster St. Pete Times investigation] [Marc Headley: "Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle"] | [The Nancy Many interview] [Sympathy for the Devil: Tory Christman's Story] | [Jeff Hawkins' Counterfeit Dreams] [86 Million Thin Dimes: The Lawrence Wollersheim Saga] | [Mike Rinder on spying]
[Scientology in Israel: Arson, attempted murder, paranoia -- and a visit by the Voice!] [Scientology dodges a bullet in Australia] | [Scientology exec Jan Eastgate arrested] [All hell breaks loose in Israel] | [Scientology sees fundraising gold in the UK riots] [Aussie former rugby pro Chris Guider calls David Miscavige "toxic" and "violent"] [Stephen Cox, UK church newbie, pledges 20K pounds] | [Biggi Reichert: A German Lisa McPherson?] | [The Birmingham trove: 7,000 internal e-mails] [Australian farmer blamed for giving Tom Cruise a bad shrimp, loses her friends, family]
ODD VIDEOS AND ODDER NEWS
[Scientology chillin' with hip hop!] | [The curious career of Scientology rapper Chill EB] [Chill EB and me: the Voice interviews Scientology's in-house rapper] [Scientology singalong, "We Stand Tall"] | [Captain Bill Robertson and "Galactic Patrol"] [Scientology wins a major award!] | [Scientology wants your money: Meet Dede!] [Birmingham in the House! The "Ideal" dance mix] | [Scientology and the Nation of Islam] [When Scientology was hip] | [Sad: David Miscavige makes fun of his own fundraisers] [Freedom magazine parodies The New Yorker. Hilarity ensues.] [Scientology surf report: Anonymous parties outside the New York "org"]
THE VIEW INSIDE THE BUBBLE
[A scientologist's letter to the Voice and its readers] | [Scientology silent birth] [Tad Reeves: Scientology might listen to this guy] | [More Tad Reeves and family] [Scientology never forgets: A heartwarming telemarketing holiday miracle] [Desperate Scientology fundraising caught on video]
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.