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Belief Beat

Scientologists get the non-Hollywood treatment

Scientology has suddenly made lots of news lately — without the usual focus on Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and the religion’s other celebrity adherents. Last month, newsrooms were buzzing about the church hiring three investigative reporters, including a Pulitzer Prize winner, to critique the St. Petersburg Times’ coverage of the Florida-based church. A few days ago, the Sunday New York Times ran a front-page story reporting on ex-Scientologists who accuse church leaders of abusing the staff psychologically, physically and financially.


As a GetReligion blogger points out, coverage of Scientology isn’t necessarily balanced, focusing more on the faith’s science fiction roots (aliens are involved) than any positive contributions its members have made. But as a religion reporter, I can vouch for the fact that this church just doesn’t provide the kind of access that journalists routinely get from other faiths. (Undercover reporting has its place – check out this NYT piece from November for a peek inside the church’s Manhattan center – but it’s not a great way to cultivate a beat.) Basically, Scientology hits all three categories that make religions wary of the press: it’s tiny, it’s young, and it’s secretive. This recent surge in stories may simply reflect that the group has now been around long enough to have defectors, and to become more media-savvy.


What do you think?

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posted March 9, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Now it’s interesting – US media tends to cover what is titillating or flashy, thus the Tom Cruise coverage and the Xenu story. However, covering the Xenu story was compelling over and above the tee-hee factor, because it’s a secret, that you have to pay to learn, and that Hubbard told his followers would give them pneumonia and possibly die if they read it before they were ready. So exposing that doctrine publicly, something that has consumed millions in court costs and thousands of hours, was a big deal.
And now we get to the next step, which is dealing with the human cost. It’s not been easy for American media to come to terms with defying Scientology to do so, and the few outlets who have persevered deserve huge credit for their courage.
As many exes who have come forward will say, they took courage to do so by strength in numbers. A lot of that camaraderie came from the internet. Also, the flood of exes speaking out surged dramatically with the creation of ExScientolgist Message Board, ExScientology Kids, and the protests of “Anonymous.” This was truly a group effort to get the story out to where it now belongs, in the hands of some of the finest US journalists.

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posted March 9, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Any religion that is as secretive and covert as $cientolgoy, and that also requires an unrealistic and burdensome financial payout by its own ‘followers’ in order to ‘learn’ about the religion, should be CONSTANTLY investigated and uncovered by our media. There is NOTHING legitimate about this so-called religion, that is really nothing more than an extortion racket.

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posted March 9, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Would a legitimate religion reveal their parishioners confessional material?
Scientology does.
Would a legitimate religion have 50 beatings among their top staff, and do nothing about it?
Scientology admits this happened.
Would a legitimate religion hire private investigators to ‘noisily investigate’ critics?
Scientology does.
Is it proper and right to use tax exempt money for these nefarious activites?
Scientology does.

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posted March 9, 2010 at 9:48 pm

“This recent surge in stories may simply reflect that the group has now been around long enough to have defectors, and to become more media-savvy.”
Not quite – there have long been documented defectors from Scientology. But they have, in the main, kept quiet for fear of church-sanctioned retribution and ruination. Rather, it has been the media-savvy actions of Anonymous that have given the defectors a platform from which to be heard.

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posted March 10, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Secretive activities like Scientology have something to hide.
The more they have to hide & try to suppress the more something else pops up to expose them.
Scientology requires totalatarian controls so that they may successfully hide what they don’t want revealed withour recourse.
This is the reason activities like Scientology should continue been investigated & exposed where necessary.

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Charles Cosimano

posted March 10, 2010 at 11:55 pm

Scientology has survived the death of its founder and continues to grow. Its doctrines, while totally irrational, are certainly no more irrational than the notion of dead people rising and virgins giving birth.
The scarey truth is that the Church of Scientology is positioned to become a major world religion in a short bit of historic time, maybe a hundred years or so. After all, in 65 AD, who would have bet on the survival of Christianity, a small, secretive, highly controlled sect that everyone hated because it was, as Tacitus wrote, “noted for its abominations.”

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posted March 11, 2010 at 4:37 pm

I think it’s fair to point out that a lot of the negative press and complaints about Scientology are directed at abuses by current church leadership, not toward the actual technology and belief system. There are many Scientologists who use those outside of the Church of Scientology, including the woman interviewed by the New York Times. Many are former members who believe that the current church leadership is perpetuating the abuses, but a growing number are new people who have discovered that they get gains from L Ron Hubbard’s teachings and auditing outside of traditional orgs. The independent Scientologists are much more open about talking about their beliefs than many within the current church, and you will likely see them get more coverage as they show it’s possible to be a Scientologist by LRH’s definition of the word.

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posted April 4, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Scientiology has all the depth and purpose of Elvish, Klingon or Jedi groups. It is based on a Sci Fi novel and attracts people whose egos need more soothing than their spirit needs strengthening. It simply has the support of fools whose money they are quite willing to burn ina wide variety of ways.

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