Russia Still Going About Things All Wrong, and More in our Scientology Stats Roundup
Back in October, we reported that Russian law enforcement agents had raided a Church of Scientology in Moscow, breaking down doors to get into store rooms (see the photo at right).
A court there had found L. Ron Hubbard's literature to be "extremist," and called for a ban on his books in Russia. Yesterday, we learned that a regional court has upheld that decision.
Can someone please explain to me, why are the Russians so stupid?
There are only a very tiny number of Scientologists in the world -- our best estimate is about 40,000 actual participating, active church members planetwide -- and the vast, vast majority of human beings will never be tempted by L. Ron Hubbard's siren song.
Why is that? Well, as Vice magazine's Blake Butler pointed out this week, even a cursory glance through Hubbard's masterwork, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, will always leave most people running for the hills...
Here are some example sentences culled from Hubbard's Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health (which he originally thought about calling The Dark Sword, Excalibur), pretty much the cornerstone of the whole religion, published in 1950, and all of which could serve as more effective teaching tools than...oh, I don't know, take your pick:
1. There are many demon circuits which snarl up thinking, but these particular "dub-in" demons mean that the operator is going to get a most awful cargo of what the auditors colloquially call "garbage."
OK, what the fuck? Dude, "demon circuits"? "'Dub-in' demons"? I love the idea of a hyper-accessed realm inside a person, their "awful cargo" that masks them from the people who would come to "audit." There's a logic here that flexes in the sentence in a way that uses both sound and terminology to provide a kind of wall that makes the subject mysterious, destructured. People seem to often want language to either be plain or screwy. This satisfies both. Fill me with the garbage and let the demons in. That's pretty much all I want of art...
2. "I am a jub-jub bird," "I can't whistle Dixie," "The world is all against me," "I hate policemen," "I am the ugliest person in the world," "You haven't any feet," "The Lord is going to punish me," "I always have to play with my thing," may be very interesting to the patient and even amusing to the auditor and may have caused a considerable amount of trouble in the patient's life...
3. FIGHT CHAIN. 1st incident embryo. 38 succeeding incidents. Three falls, loud voices, no beating...
I have at least two dozen books of poetry that I could copy this line into the middle of and you'd never notice the difference...
4. This is a coitus experience. It has, as its somatic, varying pressure. It is not painful and, by the way, no matter how painful these engrams may be in present time when restimulated, no matter how forceful, when they are actually contacted, their reexperienced pain is very mild, no matter what it was when received. So this is a shaking up of the unborn child, that is all. But it says, "Oh, darling, I'm afraid you'll come in me. I'll just die if you come in me. Oh please don't come in me!"
Well, you get the idea. If the Russians really wanted to scare people away from Scientology, the last thing they should do is ban these books. Instead, they should be promoting them. At least the way we promote the church's good works here at Runnin' Scared, with the full truth and none of the church's vague, self-serving PR.
Thursday's Stats: Upstat or Downstat? Each week, Scientologists race to turn in their statistics on Thursday by 2 pm. We like to do the same by summing up how the church fared in the press. In this case, it's a mixed bag. The story from Russia should make civil libertarians wince, and the church will receive a little upstat as a result. We hope Russia gets a clue soon.
Story #2: MSNBC Swings, Misses
We've already made it known that we're getting pretty sick of "power" lists that everyone seems to come up with, and that have no real definition of "power" except for "most famous" or "most likely to get us web traffic." The upshot is that people who already get plenty of attention for being rich or famous end up getting stroked all over again in these lists. (We even came up with our own "powerless" list as a sort of protest.)
Now, generally we're really thrilled to see any news organization join us in the sheer pleasure of Scientology watching, and it's particularly encouraging to see a big outfit like MSNBC join the fray. But in this case, we can't think of a more pointless exercise as the network's recent "List of Powerful Scientologists." I mean, where do we begin.
Of the ten people who were mentioned, half were either out of Scientology (Paul Haggis, James Packer), were only saying they were in for the publicity (Peaches Geldof), are on the way out (Lisa Marie Presley), or are dead (Sonny Bono).
But the thing that made us wince the most was this bit of unchecked boneheadedness about Paul Haggis:
The Oscar-winning screen writer left the church after 34 years, and in 2011, Haggis wrote a scathing New Yorker profile replete with the church's alleged dirty secrets.
"Replete?" Yeah, well that sentence is replete with bullshit. A 24,000-word profile of Haggis did appear in the New Yorker last year, but it was written by Lawrence Wright, not the director himself.
Thursday's Stats: Upstat or Downstat? MSNBC, you have the power to reach a vast audience, and right now there are far-reaching events shaking apart the Church of Scientology. Isn't it time you took that seriously and didn't waste our time with puffery? I have to call this a slight upstat for the church, which always enjoys seeing its celebrities (living and dead) fawned over.
Story #3: The Glamorous Life
Is it just me, or is Scientology celebrity news approaching some kind of event horizon, a singularity of such concentrated stupidity that not even a ray of light can escape from its gravitational field of inanity?
Take the last couple of weeks. The National Enquirer has John Travolta and Kelly Preston facing yet another crisis in their marriage, this time because some masseur claims he was paid to rub down a certain part of JT's anatomy. Sigh. Not only do we not give a crap about Travolta's sex life or its orientation, alert readers might have noticed that we rarely give him a hard time at this blog (12-year-old comedy routines about Battlefield Earth notwithstanding). It's time for Travolta -- who has been through enough hell at the hands of Miscavige and Scientology -- to walk away from the church, and when he does he'll be welcomed with open arms at Runnin' Scared.
Meanwhile, the Scientologist poster girl of privilege, Elisabeth Moss, gave a bitchy interview about her totally awesome ex-husband, Fred Armisen, and Demi Moore is in a tailspin that her Scientology friends are trying to take advantage of to get her (back?) into the church.
All of which adds up to a big pile of nothing, and makes us wonder, how long before entertainment "reporters" start asking people like Moss and Moore about Debbie Cook?
Hey, why are you laughing?
Thursday's Stats: Upstate or Downstat? Another mixed bag. None of these stories really made the church look good, but increasingly, even Scientology's celebrities seem to have lost their luster as the church's reputation sours ever more rapidly. Let's call it a wash.
Story #4: Apologetics 101
From the same school that brought us Gordon Melton, another academic has stepped forward to defend Scientology as, gosh, no worse than any other religion after all. Bernard Doherty, a post-doc fellow at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion, has written a lengthy defense of Scientology for his native Australia's ABC network, which reads very much like the kind of apologist tripe we've seen by Melton and other religious studies types over the years. This stuff practically writes itself, but you'll see that all of the classics are there -- all religions ask for money, all religions have their own schools, all religions have ascetic societies that require a lot of dedication, the RPF is just a "stint" done voluntarily, other religions also run drug rehab centers, etc.
The sheer cynicism of this report is astonishing, but our readers are already well aware of why this kind of comparison to other religions breaks down extremely fast. No, other religions do not ask for $1,000 an hour for religious counseling; no, other religions do not run schools which are designed to feed organizations like the Sea Org; equating the Sea Org with medieval monastic orders does not, in fact, excuse it from the extreme hardships it visits upon people like Claire Headley, who was forced to have two abortions or give up her relationship with her husband; no, the RPF is not "voluntary," and it now lasts years and not months of cruel hardship and degredation; and does he really want to defend drug rehab centers that have no actual medical personnel and deliver dangerous processes on society's weakest?
Thursday's Stats: Upstat or Downstat? It's moments like this that you really learn to appreciate someone like Hugh Urban, a professor of religious studies at Ohio State University who, along with Stephen Kent at the University of Alberta, is starting to peel back some of the cover that apologists like Melton and this Doherty have afforded Scientology over the years. The church will consider Doherty's story an upstat, but it's so transparently badly done, ignoring all of the recent news not only breaking here but also in that country, I don't expect many Australians to be taken in. Overall, this week was mostly a wash, and, frankly, it sucked.
UPDATE: As I predicted, Australians are not taking Doherty's lazy apologist drivel sitting down. Perth attorney Gráinne O'Donovan posted this reply, and I think it's worth publishing here in its entirety...
Bernard, I don't understand how you can reduce Shane Kelsey's several years in the Sea Organisation's "Rehabilitation Project Force" (RPF) - from the age of 16 to almost 21 - to a voluntary "stint", and suggest it's comparable to the few weeks that some reality tv participants spent visiting an abbey under the watchful eyes of a television production crew.
I've met Shane. I sat with him for several hours and heard his story, told with not a single note of self-pity on his part, by the way. I was horrified. He saw a fellow RPF'er so hungry he was reduced to eating out of a dumpster. He spoke of having to empty and clean out that dumpster - big enough to contain five weeks' worth of the refuse of a couple of hundred people. He spoke of working 12 hour days until he reached the age of 15. Then the hours were longer.
Can a child genuinely volunteer for that, Bernard? Especially one who, as in Shane's case, believes they have nowhere to go outside.
You've made some unjustified comparisons between the RPF and other religious orders. It's not difficult for a person to leave a catholic or greek orthodox order. They join as adults. Their work hours are sane. They get paid. They get holidays. They get to see their families. They get weekends off. They are allowed to leave.
Surely, having researched the history of scientology, you would know that the church has embarked upon programs of engaging religious scholars, showing them a sanitised version of the RPF and paying them to write papers, then publishing only those that suit their purposes and legitimise the RPF, but which do so based on false premises. Surely, you know to question the superficial parallels such experts might draw between the RPF and other religious practices.
The Sea Organisation takes in children, who grow up believing they have only one future. You don't sign your life over to the catholic church as a child. Yet Scientology will hold a person to a contract signed as a child, which signs over not only this life but, as they believe, every future life for a billion years.
I've met people who were physically restrained from leaving the Sea Organisation. I've met people who were questioned for days, weeks or months before being allowed to leave. Who believed that if they didn't comply with the process they would be prevented from being in relationship with their family members. I've met Marc Headley, who was chased as he rode away on his motorbike, eventually being run off the road by Scientology guards in an SUV, and who got away only after Sheriff's officers intervened and escorted him to safety. I've met a person in Australia who had to make a run for it and who was chased by Scientology guards trying to stop him leaving.
I've met Claire Headley, who was pressured twice into having an abortion - once without being allowed even to speak with her husband first. Claire and her husband also joined the Sea Org as children. Claire was directed to divorce her husband because, although he worked on the same Californian scientology base, he worked for a "lower" organisation. And when Marc left, Claire was put under 24 hour watch to stop her leaving too. Claire had to make a plan to escape and, even then, she was pursued by scientologists trying to "recover her".
Of course not all scientologists are abusive! Many would not even be aware, but for the recent media stories, that such abuses are going on. Many are decent people who have the right to believe in and practise their religion in peace.
I know Nick Xenophon thinks the same. I know he would like to see independent scientologists, people who practise scientology outside the corporate structures, free to do so without harassment and persecution from the church of scientology.
This is an important discussion to be had, but it should be had based on reality, not rhetoric.
Some of us have attempted to shine a light on the abusive practices of the church. That is the focus. This is not a "moral panic". It's about real people who have been very badly abused. It's about an organisation that denies every single allegation made, almost without exception, and which has yet to demonstrate a capacity for self-correction. I've met too many people whose stories are consistent, though they occurred in RPF's in different continents and in different decades. Their evidence is cogent. The abuses are real.
In your zeal to bring scientologists in from the cold, your minimisation of the church's abuses runs the risk of enabling the church to continue. The church of scientology's survivors deserve better.
2nd UPDATE: Bryan Seymour is also not going to take Doherty's dismissive slam of his work lying down. He's just posted this reply, which we're reproducing here in full...
Thank you Bernard for a thought-provoking and well-intentioned piece of work. I am writing to correct an error, an unintentional error I expect, about the reporting in Australia about the Church of Scientology.
I am the Today Tonight journalist you indirectly refer to in this article.
I have filed more stories on Scientology, over 50 and counting, than any other broadcast journalist in the world. It was never my intention to do so and I have gone to some trouble to make clear my work is not about criticising the religious beliefs of Scientologists - many of whom have thanked me for my work.
You might have missed the 4 Corners story on Scientology aired last year? It was nominated for a Walkley Award and closely resembled my work.
Perhaps you can personally discuss their "sensational accusations" with the Executive Producer there? While you're at it, seek out the staff at Lateline.
You must also have missed the numerous stories on Lateline filed by Steve Cannane - one of which made similar claims about the "gulag in the suburban Sydney suburb of Dundas".
I am reticent to think poorly of anyone - however you do, in this article at least, appear to be guilty of the very prejudice of which you wrongly accuse me.
Perhaps we can meet in person and reach a greater understanding.
Over the many years I have covered Scientology, I have found that travelling and meeting the people I am reporting on has proved invaluable in discovering the truth and separating fact from supposition.
Some examples of this include my visits to the Scientology Celebrity Centre in Los Angeles and other centres in that city, including the factory floor of Bridge publications, and a tour of Scientology world Headquarters, the Flag Land Base in Clearwater Floorwater.
To learn more about my work - you can go to Youtube and type in the following search "Today Tonight Scientology". It is my hope that you will be surprised and informed by what you see.
I should also add that I have chased only one Scientologist down a street - she was an Operating Thetan Level 8, the highest order in Scientology, who had been assigned to secretly photograph me as I reported on the, supposedly, secular Scientology school that had received substantial government funds then mortgaged the property to raise $1m... which they handed to Scientology to help build the new Ideal Org in Melbourne. That must be the story you were referring to in your article?
Kind Regards, Bryan
********** 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.
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