Posts Tagged ‘Scientology’


by Chaz Bufe, author of The American Heretic’s Dictionary

Religious fundamentalists  — all of them, Christian, Muslim, Mormon, Jewish, Hindu — are a threat to our freedoms, our families, our economic well-being, their own children, the environment, and human survival.

I’m not exaggerating.

This threat is not the result of particular religious beliefs; it results from the very nature of fundamentalism.

Virtually all fundamentalists have the following in common:

  • They place faith (belief without evidence) above reason (which along with observation forms the basis of science). As Martin Luther put it in his “Table Talk”: “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has . . .”
  • They place their faith in ancient (Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Muslim) or modern (Mormon, Scientology) “holy” books and the cynical or simply delusional men who wrote them; they then place their faith in the founders’ interpreters and successors. Why? Because the books, their writers, and those who follow tell them the books and prophets are true.
  • They systemically engage in childhood religious indoctrination — an insidious form of child abuse — to spread their delusions to their children, who in turn will indoctrinate their children, who in turn . . . . . This results in generation after generation who disrespect and disregard rationality and evidence, and consider belief without evidence the highest virtue.
  • They place faith above family.
  • One of the primary, perhaps the primary, tenet of fundamentalists is that they must obey unconditionally, without question, the commands of their religion’s holy books and holy men. This makes fundamentalists very easy prey for manipulators, and very dangerous. They abdicate their decision-making responsibility and instead blindly follow orders, no matter how crazy or vicious.
  • They regard doubt as unholy, sinful, and, quite often, regard doubters as being in the grip of Satan.
  • They regard themselves as “the chosen,” “the elect,” “God’s people,” who by virtue of their shared delusions are better than the rest of us.
  • Worse, virtually all fundamentalists believe that they have the right, indeed the duty, to impose their religious beliefs on nonbelievers, through violence if necessary. And they’ll feel righteous while doing so.

Evidence of all these things is abundant. A few examples, from a near infinite number:

  • American “faith healer” cultists routinely allow their children to suffer horribly and, in some cases, die unnecessarily rather than allow medical science to save them. (For information on this problem see the site of Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty [CHILD] and this article on them.)
  • One of the most horrible examples of childhood religious indoctrination is provided by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (and other groups of fundamentalist, polygamous Mormons), whose members follow the divine injunction to forcibly “marry” young girls (as young as 13 or 14) to much older men, who then rape them.  (See John Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven for sickening details, or just google FLDS.) The great majority of girls, who do not escape this nightmarish abuse, then give birth to broods who continue this unutterably vile, “divinely ordained,” form of indoctrination/sexual abuse, which not incidentally also involves widespread incest.
  • “Disconnection” from “apostates” is common among fundamentalist families. It’s widespread among Mormons, Muslims, the Ultra Orthodox, and it seems to be the rule among Scientologists.
  • Fundamentalists are easy prey for manipulators, for transparent charlatans. There are millions of American fundamentalists who send massive amounts of money to televangelists, including “prosperity gospel” hustlers who tell their viewers to send “seed money” to them, which will then return to them tenfold or a hundredfold.
  • This proneness to manipulation — this lack of a bullshit filter — has real-world consequences for the rest of us. Donald Trump, as transparent and grotesque a con man as has ever appeared on the American scene, received the votes of 81% of American fundamentalists in the 2016 election. Why? Why would they vote for this grossly immoral–by their own standards–disgrace to humanity? Because he told them what they wanted to hear.
  • Fundamentalists seem especially prone to persecuting nonbelievers. This takes its current most flagrant form in areas controlled by Islamic fundamentalists, with their floggings, torture, and beheadings of atheists and other infidels. This occurs not only in areas controlled by ISIS and Al-Qaeda, but also in countries controlled by Islamic fundamentalists, notably Iran and Saudi Arabia. Here in the West, there were anti-blasphemy laws (and resulting imprisonment) well up into the 19th and 20th centuries.
  • Fundamentalists also want to control the most intimate aspect of daily life, and the punishments they inflict on those who don’t comply with their moral dictates are often barbarous, not only in Islamic countries, but also in Christian fundamentalist countries — e.g., Uganda’s “kill the gays” law, inspired directly by American fundamentalists. Here in the U.S., fundamentalists (and conservative Catholics and Mormons) are the driving force behind attempts to restrict reproductive rights, and those same forces are in many states denying people the right to end their own lives, even when in intolerable pain.

They feel proud of all this; they feel virtuous about it; and they’re intent on forcing their perverted beliefs on the rest of us.

As Clay Fulks said nearly a century ago:

Having fundamentalists in a nation is like having congenital imbeciles in a family–it’s a calamity. Allow their mountebank, swindling leaders enough control over society and though religious faith would flourish fantastically, society would revert to the sheep-and-goat stage of culture . . . Wherefore it is perfectly irrelevant whether your fundamentalist is honest or utterly hypocritical in his religious beliefs . . . It just doesn’t matter. The question of his intellectual integrity will have to wait until he grows an intellect. In the meantime, however, what the forces of reaction are doing with him constitutes a continuing calamity.”

Christianity, A Continuing Calamity

 


“The core belief of Scientology is that you are a spiritual being. L. Ron Hubbard had reached, obviously, the highest level of Scientology there was to reach, promoting this idea that there’s an afterlife, and he found the answer to it by deciding to discard this body to go explore new OT [Operating Thetan] levels. All of this is bullshit. L. Ron Hubbard died of a stroke.”

–Former Scientologist Leah Remini quoted by Jethro Nededog on Business Insider



Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? front cover
(This is a slightly revised version of material from Chapter 9 of Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? )

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23. Violence, Coercion, and Harassment.  Coercion is routine in cults. Many cults, such as the People’s Temple and Synanon maintain(ed) goon squads to control their own members; and many, including Synanon, The Peoples Temple, and the Church of the Blood of the Lamb of God, have employed violence and even killings to intimidate and silence critics.  The most famous example of such violence was the 1978 rattlesnake attack on attorney Paul Morantz by members of Synanon’s goon squad. (They placed a rattler with it’s tail cut off in Morantz’s mailbox; it bit him, but he survived.)

Other cults, such as Scientology, utilize legal and (wtihin the law) physical harassment.  The within-the-law physical harassment the Church of Scientology employs involves sending private investigators to follow high profile critics, and members with video cameras to film them. Such harassment is sometimes a 24-hours-a-day affair. But in at least one case, that church has gone beyond lawsuits and within-the-law harassment.  In that case, Church of Scientology members, including very high ranking memvers of the church’s hierarchy, attempted to frame a critic, journalist Paulette Cooper, on felony bomb charges and very nearly succeeded. According to L. Ron Hubbard, Jr. and Bent Corydon (in L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah or Madman?), a Scientology agent who “befriended” Cooper during her ordeal reported to his superiors: “She can’t sleep again . . . she’s talking suicide. Wouldn’t this be great for Scientology!” (p. 170) Fortunately, Cooper escaped the Scientologists’ plot–after years of torment–and several of those responsible for the conspiracy against her were eventually sentenced to prison terms.

But the use of violence against nonbelievers is hardly a new phenomenon. Well over 100 years ago, John Doyle Lee, the Mormon elder who was scapegoated in 1877 for the 1857 massacre of 120 settlers (including many women and children) at Mountain Meadows, Utah, stated, in “Being the Confession of John Doyle Lee,” shortly before his execution:

[T]he people in Utah who professed the Mormon religion were at and for some time before the Mountain Meadows massacre full of wildfire and zeal, anxious to do something to build up the Kingdom of God on earth and waste the enemies of the Mormon religion . . . The killing of Gentiles [non-Mormons] was means of grace and a virtuous deed . . .

The Mormons believed in blood atonement. It is taught by the leaders, and believed by the people, that the Priesthood are inspired and cannot give a wrong order. It is the belief of all that I ever heard talk of these things . . . that the authority that orders is the only responsible party and the Danite [member of the Sons of Dan, the Mormon equivalent of the KGB] who does the killing only an instrument, and commits no wrong . . .

An even older example of the bloodthirstiness of some cults was provided by theologian and papal agent at the Beziers massacre of Albigensian heretics in 1209: “Kill them all. God will easily recognize his own.”

All Posts in this Series

  • Characteristics of Cults (part 1)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 2)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 3)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 4)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 5)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 6)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 7)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 8)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 9)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 10)

 

 



Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? front cover
(This is a slightly revised version of material from Chapter 9 of Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? )

* * *

 

20. Possessiveness. For financial and other reasons, cults will often go to great, sometimes illegal, lengths to retain members. The most extreme example of this tendency was provided by the People’s Temple Jonestown gulag, where members were physically prevented from leaving by Jim Jones’ heavily armed good squad.

Less sinister examples are provided by the Mormons and Scientologists. When a Mormon leaves the fold, the LDS Church never gives up its attempts to recover its lost sheep. It will trakc the apostate for decades, and it’s not unusual for LDS representatives to contact former members 30  or 40 years after they left the church in an effort to talk them into rejoining.

Similarly, the Church of Scientology apparently tracks its former members for decades and barrages them with promotional/recruitment materials. One former administrator at the Celebrity Center (who has never gone public) told me that more than three decades and moving ten times after she “blew,”  the Scientologists still inundate her mailbox with glossy church promo materials.

21. A Closed, All-Encompassing Environment. Again, the classic example of this is Jonestown. A more current example are the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) settlements in the geographically very isolated cities of Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah. These nearly 100% FLDS settlements, whose “prophet” is imprisoned child rapist Warren Jeffs,  sit across the Arizona/Utah border from each other, and church elders routinely follow any “gentiles” driving through the towns and  go to lengths to “shield” members from the “corrupting” influence of television and the Internet.

But there’s nothing unusual in all this. Almost  all cults attempt to provide a closed environment for at least some of their key members, and some attempt to provide it for all of their members. The less contact that members have with external reality, the more natural the hothouse atmosphere of the cult seems, the more natural the the very peculiar beliefs of the cult seem, and the more natural it seems that everyone should follow the orders of the charismatic leader or the controlling hierarchy. A closed all-encompassing environment also makes members totally dependent upon the cult for social support, economic support, and a sense of identity; and this tends to make leaving the cult a terrifying prospect. To put it another way, cults are like anaerobic bacteria–they thrive in the absence of cleansing breezes.

22. Millenarianism. Many cults, especially Christian fundamentalist cults, prophesy that the world is coming to an end. One of the most prominent millenarian cults, the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), is, however, secular in nature. Rather than prophesying a biblical Armageddon, the RCP in the 1980s and 1990s prophesied a nuclear Armageddon unless, of course, it achieved power. And at least they had the good sense, unlike the Jehovah’s Witnesses, not to  announce a doomsday date. (Of late, they seem to have toned down their rhetoric a bit; a brief perusal of their web site revealed no apocalyptic predictions, just an exhortation to readers to join the RCP and become “emancipators of humanity.”)

Millenarianism also provides a powerful insight into the hold of cults over their followers. As mentioned above, some cults, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, have had the bad judgment to prophesy the date of doomsday, yet almost all such cults have managed to retain a majority of their blindly believing followers despite their failed predictions.  The Witnesses had predicted in the 1980s  that doomsday would arrive with the new millennium. But, having been burned many times by their false predictions, they backed away from that particular one.  So, Witness faithful no longer have a year-specified doomsday to look forward to. They simply have the assurance that doomsday is coming soon.

 

All Posts in this Series

  • Characteristics of Cults (part 1)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 2)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 3)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 4)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 5)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 6)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 7)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 8)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 9)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 10)

 

 



Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? front cover
(This is a slightly revised version of material from Chapter 9 of Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure?)

* * *

 

18. Economic Exploitation. Cults not only exploit their own members, but, when they can manage it, nonmembers as well. Some, such as the LaRouchites, Synanon, and the People’s Temple, have extensively targeted nonmembers.

Cults which target nonmembers solicit money by presenting themselves–or their front groups–as doing good works, such as fighting drug addiction, when in fact virtually all of the money that they raise is spent on their own operations and, often, on enriching their leaders. Synanon fundraisers, for example, routinely represented Synanon as a drug rehabilitation program for years after it had effectively abandoned working with drug abusers. The LaRouchites have gone further and have engaged in criminal fraud–under the guise of fighting drugs and other good works–on a massive scale. A a result, many of the top members of the cult, including founder Lyndon LaRouche, Jr., were sentenced to lengthy prison terms in the late 1980s. Drug addiction programs remain a fundraising/recruiting tool with cults today, and the Church of Scientology’s Narconon program is currently engulfed in a sea of lawsuits filed by former clients and public agencies.

Direct economic exploitation of members by their cults is often even less subtle. Many cults, such as the People’s Temple, strip their members of assets. In the People’s Temple, the technique was crude: members were pressured to “donate” their possessions to the church. The Scientologists have taken a more sophisticated approach–potential members are lured by street recruiters and advertisements to take a “free personality test,” which, of course, shows personality defects, for which help is available. “Raw meat,” those who bite, then take low cost introductory courses leading to much higher priced courses, with many expensive “auditing” sessions along the way. The total Scientologists pay to go up “The Bridge” (to total freedom) commonly costs up to and over one hundred thousand dollars.

Another way in which cults exploit their members is by having them work long, exhausting hourse for little or no pay. Cults which employ(ed) such tactics included Synanon, the People’s Temple, the Unification Church, the Church of Scientology, and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishnas).

Finally, lest we forget, a good majority of cults in the United States are religious organizations, and enjoy all of the many public benefits showered on religious groups.  One of these benefits is exemption from paying property taxes. So, in a very real sense, all other Americans–through the taxes they pay–are picking up part of the tab for the Church of Scientology, Moonies, FLDS, Church Universal and Triumphant, and other cults.

 

All Posts in this Series

  • Characteristics of Cults (part 1)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 2)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 3)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 4)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 5)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 6)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 7)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 8)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 9)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 10)

 

 



Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? front cover
(This is a slightly revised version of material from Chapter 9 of Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure?)

* * *

 

13. A Charismatic Leader. Present in almost all cults, the leader can be living (Revolutionary Communist Party, FLDS, Larouchites) or dead (Synanon, Scientology, Unification Church). In cases where the leader dies, the cult either fades away (The Source, Synanon), is taken over by a direct relation of the deceased charismatic leader (Unification Church), or is taken over by a member of a pre-existing hierarchy (Scientology).

14. A Hierarchical, Authoritarian Structure. While this is a very common feature of cults, it should be noted that relatively new cults often have little structure. But as time passes, hierarchy and bureaucracy usually arise, as is to be expected in authoritarian setups. If a hierarchy does not arise–this sometimes happens because of the charismatic leader’s fear of take-over attempts–the cult will probably disintegrate upon the leader’s death, unless a new charismatic leader quickly arises to take his or her place.

15. Submission of the Individual to the “Will of God” or to some other abstraction, such as the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” This means abandonment of individual decision making in favor of obeying the “will” of the abstraction as interpreted by the cult. In practice, this means obeying the orders of the charismatic leader or the hierarchy which controls the group.

One outward sign of individual submission to the charismatic leader is the infantilization of members. In many instances, the People’s Temple and Unification Church being examples, members very often refer to and address the leader as “Father.” (In the relatively few cults with charismatic female leaders, such as the Church Universal and Triumphant, members often refer to the cult leader as “Mother.”)

In many cults the submission of the individual is so complete that the charismatic leader and/or hierarchy make all significant life decisions for the individual, up to and including choice of sex and marriage partners. In Synanon, the control of its founder, Charles Dederich, was so complete that he forced all of the male members of his cult, save himself, to undergo vasectomies. He later forced all members to switch sex partners. The leader in “The Source” cult, “Father Yod” also assigned new sex partners to members. And in the Unification Church, the hierarchy picks the marriage partners of members. In that church, it’s common for brides and grooms to meet for the first time at their weddings.

But perhaps the ultimate expressions of the submission of the individual to the “will of God” (that is, the cult) are mass murder, mass suicide. and self-mutilation. The prime example of mass murder and suicide is, of course, Jonestown. The Order of the Solar Temple provided more recent, though smaller scale, examples of such murder and suicide.

As for self-mutilation, the most memorable example was provided by the Heaven’s Gate cult. In it, a majority of the male members of that severely anti-sexual religious group–in order to remove themselves from temptations of the flesh–“voluntarily” submitted to castration prior to the cult’s mass suicide in 1997, in order to somehow join the (of course nonexistent) UFO that cult leader Marshall Applewhite said was in Comet Hale-Bopp’s tail.

 

All Posts in this Series

  • Characteristics of Cults (part 1)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 2)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 3)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 4)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 5)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 6)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 7)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 8)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 9)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 10)

 

 



Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? front cover
(This is a slightly revised version of material from Chapter 9 of Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure?)

* * *

11. Manipulation Through Guilt.  Many cults expertly manipulate their members through arousal of guilt feelings. Guilt is created, according to [Robert Jay] Lifton [in Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism], by the setting of impossible-to-meet “demand[s] for purity”:

By conducting an all-out war on impurity, the ideological totalists create a narrow world of guilt and shame. This is perpetuated by an ethos of continuous reform . . . Since each man’s impurities are deemed sinful and potentially harmful to himself and to others, he is, so to speak, expected to expect punishment . . . Similarly, when he fails to meet the prevailing standards in casting out such impurities, he is expected to expect humiliation and ostracisim. (p. 424)

As one might expect, in addition to proscribed actions, proscribed thoughts also give rise to guilt. Any attempt at individual assertion or resistance to the demands of the cult’s leader or hierarchy–including even the smallest reluctance to enthusiastically parrot every assertion in the group’s ideology–is attacked as selfishness and lack of devotion to The Cause.

So, guilt-tripping attacks are especially effective when made in public. They serve as powerful spurs to orthodoxy in thought and action, and also as powerful goads to members to “donate” their assets to the cult and so prove devotion through self-sacrifice.

But with truly successful indoctrination, guilt is internalized. The simple surfacing of proscribed thoughts–let alone the carrying out of proscribed actions is sufficient in itself to arouse intense guilg feelings in indoctrinated cult members. To make these feelings bearable, to preserve their self-images as good persons trying to live their lives in accord with revealed Truth, cult members [according to Lifton] “must also look upon their impurities as originating from outside influences, that is, from the ever-threatening world beyond the closed, totalist ken.” Thus cult members escape responsibility for their sinful thoughts and actions, at least in part. They’re just weak individuals dealing with powerful, insidious forces, which they can successfully resist only with the help of the cult.

12. The Cult of Confession. Lifrton explains the mechanism as follows:

It is first a vehicle for . . . personal purification . . . Second, it is an act of symbolic self-surrender, the expression of the merging of the individual and environment. Third, it is a means of maintaining an ethos of total exposure . . . The milieu has attainsed such a perfect state of enlightenment that any individual retention of ideas or emotions has become anachronistic . . . More than this, the sharing of confession enthusiasms can create an orgiastic sense of “oneness,” of the most intense intimacy with fellow confessors and of the dissolution of self into the great flow of the Movement. (pp. 425-426)

Thus confession serves the purpose of fostering identification as a member of the cult rather than as an individual human being. It also serves the purpose of alleviating guilt, thus making the confessor dependent on the cult for that alleviation.

A great many cults and religions–the lines are often blurry–have used confession, both individual and public, for these dual purposes. The Catholic Church is, of course, the prime example of an organization that uses individual confession to these ends. The Chinese Communists are the prime example of an organization that uses public confession to these ends.

As well, there is always the possibility that cults will use information revealed in confessions to threaten, manipulate and control their members. The Church of Scientology, for example, supposedly maintains extensive files on individuals’ “auditing” sessions–therapeutic/confessional sessions in which a great deal of potentially embarrassing information is often revealed; one former Scientologist told me that the Church of Scientology records and retains every minute of every auditing session. The ChChurch’s retention of the information disclosed in auditing sessions, and the possibility of its being publicly revealed, could well contribute to the reluctance of some disaffected ex-Scientologists to speak out against the Church of Scientology.

Far worse, the hold of some cults is so intense that they intimidate their members into making false confessions, which they then dangle over their members’ heads as a means of controlling them. Perhaps the worst example of this was provided by the People’s Temple, in which parents were routinely forced to sign false confessions stating that they had sexually molested their own children.

If confession is good for the soul, it’s even better for helping cults cement their control over their members.

 

 

All Posts in this Series

  • Characteristics of Cults (part 1)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 2)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 3)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 4)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 5)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 6)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 7)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 8)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 9)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 10)