Monday, April 14, 2014

Scientology and Apologetics

I just finished Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief on the history of and controversies surrounding Scientology.  Not a single dull page in the entire book.  Before reading the book, I had heard very little about the "religion," other than that Tom Cruise, Kirstie Alley, and John Travolta were Scientologists.  The organization did send me a huge box full of L. Ron Hubbard's books a few years ago out of the blue, but I never read any of them.  Having finished this book I now kind of regret selling so many of them for a pittance on Amazon.  Knowing what I now know about Hubbard, the set would've at least made for a cool decoration in the office or conversation piece!
So what did I learn?  I used to think that Scientology was a silly, fake religion that was pretty harmless.  I now think that Scientology is a scary cult straight out of the pit of hell. L. Ron Hubbard is a complex and fascinating character, to say the least.  Intelligent?  My impression is that he was certainly imaginative and clever but neither a philosopher nor sage.  Deeply twisted and evil?  Yes!  (His connection to Aleister Crowley is hair-raising).  What a liar!  He seems, though, like he came to believe his own lies and fictions, which perhaps isn't surprising since he did start a new religion and was viewed as more than human.  (Whether it is a religion is controversial, but so is what counts as a religion).

Here is something else I found interesting, though, after listening to an interview of the successor to Hubbard, David Miscavige, in his only TV interview ever which he granted to Nightline's, Ted Koppel.  When both Miscavige and Hubbard are asked to "sell" Scientology--when they are asked to give their apologetic case for Scientology--they present it like many Christians present their case for Christianity:

Koppel: I'd like to begin, Mr. Miscavige, with, I guess, the kind of broad question that perhaps folks at home may be asking themselves right now. But let me be the guinea pig for a moment. See if you can explain to me why I would want to be a Scientologist.

Miscavige: Because you care about yourself and life itself. Scientology, the word means study of life, study of knowledge, and that's where it is. It takes up all areas of life itself, things that are integral and maxims that are related to life and very existence. Let me give you an example. It's better if I take that, because it is such a broad-ranging subject covering so many different areas, the subject of communication. This is something that major breakthroughs exist in Scientology, being able to communicate in the world around you. And I think everybody would agree that this is an important subject. Well, there's an actual formula for communication which can be understood. You can drill on this formula of communication, and learn to drill, but moreover, take the person who has trouble communicating, has-- Well, for some reason he can't -- anxiety, whatever.
Koppel: I'll tell you what. Let's stick with me, okay? So far in life I haven't had a whole lot of trouble communicating. Now see if you can communicate to me what it is that you're going to be able to do for me that makes me a better communicator.
Miscavige: Well, I don't-- In Scientology you don't do anything for somebody else. Scientology is something that requires somebody's active participation.
Koppel: Then, fine, I--
Miscavige: It certainly-- Let me explain something--
Koppel: I want to participate, I want to be active completely. We are looking theoretically--
Miscavige: What in your life, Ted? What in your life do you not feel is right, that you would like help?
Koppel: I feel perfectly comfortable with my life. I like my job, I'm happy with my family, I love my wife, I'm healthy. I'm perfectly content, that's why I'm asking you what is it you can do for me.
Miscavige: Well-- Well, number one, I would never try to talk you into that Scientology's for you. You see, that's the funny thing about this, as if I'm now going to give a sales pitch to you on Scientology. Believe me, Scientology's valuable enough that it doesn't require any sales pitch. But let's look at it this way, then, what Scientology does. If you look out across the world today, you could say that if you take a person who's healthy, doing well, like yourself, you'd say that that person is normal, not a crazy, not somebody who's psychotic, you look at a wall and they call it an elephant. Would you agree with me on that?
Koppel: So far I've got no problem.
Now here's an example from Hubbard:

"For a Scientologist, the final test of any knowledge he has gained is, 'did the data and the use of it in life actually improve conditions or didn't it?'"

What's interesting to me is that both of the leaders of Scientology, when they make their pitch for it, appeal exclusively to meeting the perceived needs of the individual.  TRUTH drops COMPLETELY out of the picture!  But of course many Christians tend to do the same thing.  When asked why someone should believe in Jesus, most Christians appeal immediately to meeting some felt need of someone.  But what do you do when there's someone like Ted Koppel who has no felt needs?  What do you say?  Miscavige is clueless in his response.

Compare their approach with the main approach of the apostles.  Did they appeal to felt needs?  Well, yes, but in response to real needs.  They met needs, but when they were spreading the Good News they did so primarily on the basis that what they were saying was TRUE.  Of course, the truth of the Gospel should have an impact on one's life, but they weren't spreading the Gospel simply because it WORKS.  The apostles weren't philosophical pragmatists holding that the truth is simply what works (which is what Hubbard seems to hold). No, they were first and foremost excited about the truth of the matter, per se.  Scientology is much more like Gnosticism in this regard; the "mysteries" of the faith (about Xenu, alien ships, etc.) are hidden.  These doctrines are only for the deeply initiated (i.e. brainwashed-crazies who, if they later question anything about the religion are labeled "Suppressive Persons" and are sent to RPF or "rehabilitation").


  1. I'm a few chapters into this book, and yes, it is pretty crazy stuff. Ron Hubbard strikes me as being part huckster, part psychopath, and part Stewart Smalley from “Daily Affirmations” on SNL (portrayed by the US Senator from my adopted home state….hey, at least Jesse the Body is no longer governor).
    I think your point about the similar appeal to felt needs by both Scientologists and many Christians is a good one. I think this is more of a criticism of our culture than it is of Christians or Scientologists for that matter. In a culture of consumerism, there’s no need to talk about what is true. Just let me know what I’m going to gain.

  2. Tristan,

    Welcome! Nice point the culture of consumerism.

    Man, I forgot that Franken played Smalley!

  3. Stop being a Suppressive Person, Tully. Just stop.