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Must-Read: New Yorker Investigation of Church of Scientology

posted by Nicole Neroulias

Updated to add Rolling Stone link.

Scientology has come under a lot of fire in the past year, as the St. Petersburgh Times, CNN and other media outlets — helped along by Anonymous, a kind of WikiLeaks of the organization — have investigated shocking allegations of physical, mental, emotional and financial abuse claims made by former members.

Now there’s a stunning cover story in The New Yorker – quite long, but worth reading — about Scientology, prompted by the public defection of Oscar winner Paul Haggis from the church/cult (depends on whom you ask).

The Apostate: Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology

This story is making global news. (After all, as actress and devoted church member Anne Archer claims in the New Yorker piece, the church is in 165 countries.) Here are some related links:

Rolling Stone magazine has republished its 2006 article on Scientology – a reminder that this stuff is not entirely new information.

My two cents: On the one hand, Scientologists are correct in noting that any young faith tends to be misunderstood and labeled a cult.

On the other hand, the organization’s convenient emphasis on gradual revelation (you don’t get to find out the central teachings until you’ve invested a fortune in time and money — at which point, most people won’t suddenly cut and run), its uneducated and isolated workforce, the practice of encouraging members to cut off ties with doubting parents, etc. — paints a disturbing picture.

To paraphrase Haggis in the New Yorker expose: if only a fraction of these allegations are true, isn’t that indefensible?

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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MH

posted February 8, 2011 at 1:19 pm


There are a lot of red flags about the COS. Their secrecy, inability to handle criticism, and their idiosyncratic founder. So I am suspicious of that organization. This is even before you encounter their belief system.
An interesting phenomena is that when the COS is criticized on the web. The forum usually gets hit by spammers who claim any criticism is out of bounds.



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jestrfyl

posted February 8, 2011 at 3:24 pm


The “Ch” of Sc. has as much breadth and depth and credibilty as the groups that promote Klingon or Jedi culture. They have simply expanded beyond the reasonable bounds of a science fiction novel. What amazes me is the number of people who fund this organization. That they are here in Florida simply compounds the image that this is the landing site for all manner of wacknuts and flim-flam. If anything, Florida is so wonderfully looney that it is almost assured NOT to be the location of an inter-galactic invasion. No one would take inter-stellar aliens seriously because they would fit in so seamlessly. I think aliens are actually targetting Indiana or Missouri or maybe North Dakota (South D already has its own pack of pre-Floridian nutsies) – places where they may actually stick out.



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Jester

posted February 8, 2011 at 7:05 pm


Yep. Any religion that won’t freely say up-front what it’s about 100% makes me run for the hills.



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nnmns

posted February 9, 2011 at 6:42 am


What can I say? It’s a religion. Religions lie and hurt people and claw to survive and then thrive and make a few people rich. It’s probably been going on since we formed social groups.
Is their theology false? It’s just as likely to be true as Christian or Muslim theology. Is any of it useful? Like many religions, probably a little bit of it.
When a group tells you you have to cut off your parents or friends, run. When any person or group prevents you from acquiring the skills that would allow you to support yourself, run. When someone tells you to accept tales of faith, run.



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jestrfyl

posted February 9, 2011 at 11:22 am


Not that there is any science in “scientology”…
Nicole,
What do you have on The Clergy letter Project and Evolution Weekend. I have signed onto this project for several years, and this weekes sermon will focus on Evolution, Science and Religion. Are there any vibrations on the Web or tidbits in the news? I think we have beaten “Ch of Sc” to a pulp for now – more when the IRS and ICE and FBI and anyone else gets involved. So how about Apes, Dinosaurs and Prophets? What can you tell us?



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nnmns

posted February 9, 2011 at 11:36 am


Nicole I agree that article is a must-read. At this time Scientology is a particularly dangerous religion in that it physically captures young people, as well as mentally capturing them like other religions.
It’s shocking that there aren’t laws that prevent the kinds of things described, or that those laws aren’t enforced.
And I’m a little surprised this site isn’t inundated by supporters.



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jestrfyl

posted February 9, 2011 at 12:09 pm


nnmns
The saving grace for this generation is their cynicism. They are not the ones trying to recreate Pandora (from “Avatar”) or donning lightsabers or phasers. They appreciate the joy of fantasy and sci fi, but are not working hard at making it “real”. At best there is a great interest in Quidditch teams on college campuses – but they know they cannot fly on brooms. What is dangerous is the older “adults” who are blowing the family fortunes on this sort of over lacquered goofiness. It is their children who will not have an inheritence because what little there was is sitting in a “ch of sc” bank account in the Caymans or Switzerland.
I expect supporters of “ch of sc” do not read this site. Unless you agree with them they are not interested in you. At this point I don’t think L Ron would be accepted in the beast of his own creating (but then even the Franciscan authorities realized that Francis was a bit of an embarassment before he died).
The places where ‘ch of sc” has its significant locations are places where the legal authorities are less likely to be interested in what they do (hey, it’s Florida — if you want to appreciate the sense of the place read any of Tim Dorsey’s books with Serge Storms). Wacky is what we do best.



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Alicia

posted February 9, 2011 at 12:25 pm


I just finished reading this very lengthy article, and it definitely confirms my impression that Scientology is a cross between a cult and a con-game.
The mistreatment of members in the Sea Org, the attempts to force members to cut themselves off from their loved ones, the “re-education” programs, the attempt to isolate those who rebel, and the success in separating adherents from (according to reports) hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own money mark Scientology as one of the most successful cults ever created.
It’s quite understandable that people who have invested so much of their money and their reputation don’t want to admit to themselves that they’ve been taken in by an elaborate con-game. Thank Heavens for high profile defectors like Haggis. Scientology may claim to be a religion and may even have tax exempt status, but I’ve never heard of a religion that was able to get so many fools to part with so much money so quickly.



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nnmns

posted February 9, 2011 at 12:26 pm


Thanks j. Maybe I’ll get one of those books read before I venture to the Sunshine State.



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Nicole Neroulias

posted February 9, 2011 at 12:49 pm


I haven’t seen much on The Clergy letter Project and Evolution Weekend this year, jestrfyl. Maybe it’s considered old news at this point… I’ll keep an eye out for interesting headlines in the next few days, though.
FYI, I’ve updated this post with the link to Rolling Stone’s 2006 piece on Scientology — the magazine just reprinted it online, given the newfound interest in the subject. (And yes, I’m also surprised that we haven’t been spammed yet by the Scientologists cutting-and-pasting all over the Comments sections on other sites. Maybe they don’t read Beliefnet!)



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Your Name

posted February 9, 2011 at 2:14 pm


WWLRHD?



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Alicia

posted February 9, 2011 at 2:21 pm


Here’s a link to an excellent article in Esquire that suggests that the corruption in the Church of Scientology is small potatoes compared to that of the Catholic Church:
http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/scientology-vs-catholicism-5204435
Good quote from the above article about Scientology, though:
“Obviously, any religion that cultivates “celebrity centres” for its elite members deserves a good whacking in the press every once in a while. And frankly, it is Scientology’s A-list membership (as well as its state-of-the-art, police-state tactics for dealing with critics) that makes it an evergreen subject of fascination for the press. I understand this.”



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Jack West

posted February 9, 2011 at 5:39 pm


To add my two cents, I was in Scientology back in the early 70s and true to form, I left when they raised the price on my next treatment just as you wrote. According to their system, I could call myself a Scientologist, but I prefer to tell everyone I just dabbled.



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pagansister

posted February 9, 2011 at 5:50 pm


Any religion that tells you you can have no contact with family and friends is not a religion—it is a cult. Not my cup of tea.



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MH

posted February 9, 2011 at 9:20 pm


pagansister, Google religious shunning. It’s actually a fairly mainstream religious practice.



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Nicole Neroulias

posted February 10, 2011 at 1:58 am


Define “mainstream,” MH. I wouldn’t call that an accurate assessment, if you mean that it’s the norm in a majority of religious communities… Some families/groups may shun, to a varying degree, former members who marry outside the faith, or leave the faith, or are gay, etc. But, a system of telling converts to cut off ties with their families screams “cult” to me.



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MH

posted February 10, 2011 at 5:49 am


Nicole Neroulias, by mainstream I mean it is found in many religious groups, and those religious groups are generally not called cults.
Examples would include:
Jehovah’s Witnesses
Bahá’í
Amish and Mennonite Christians
Ultra-Orthodox and Chassidic Jews
Islam – If killing or trying to kill apostates is a form of shunning, some examples: Mahmoud Mohammed Taha, Rashad Khalifa, Ghorban Tourani, Necati Aydin, U?ur Yüksel, Abdul Rahman, and the Egyptian Nobel prize winner Najib Mahfouz.
Hinduism – This one is tricky as the shunning occurs in rural India and can either occur to Hinduism apostates or widows. The reason it is tricky is because the former is claimed to be political violence by the VJP, the latter cultural and not religious. Here’s a reference:
http://articles.cnn.com/2007-07-05/world/damon.india.widows_1_widows-vrindavan-india?_s=PM:WORLD



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Your Name

posted February 10, 2011 at 10:28 am


That Esquire piece is absolute drivel written by a deranged quack.



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Nicole Neroulias

posted February 10, 2011 at 11:03 am


Yes, that Esquire piece doesn’t pass the journalistic smell test. At all.
Worst part: “For all of the well-documented creepiness and horrible secrecy and paranoia and the forced detention and reeducation of wayward members and the cult-like imperative to deny even the most obvious truths about the religion, Scientology, compared to the “great” religions, statistically doesn’t even exist.”
Ahem. So, we shouldn’t investigate abuse in small groups because… they’re small?!



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Alicia

posted February 10, 2011 at 2:20 pm


Agreed, Nicole. We should investigate allegations of abuse and corruption regardless of the size of the institution against which the allegations have been made. And, while Scientology may be small in terms of membership, I would argue that its influence is out-sized, especially given its many high profile members and evident prosperity.
However, I think one of the things that makes Scientology in particular a target of so much criticism (justified, I believe) is that, if these allegations are to be believed, Scientology charges a truly exorbitant amount for its product, and there are plenty of ex-Scientologists out there who say the product wasn’t worth the price.
While there are lots of “New Age” religions, and their is an entire self help industry out there which may not help people all that much, most people might drop a few hundred dollars on self-help seminars, or on books. But I don’t think too many people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is the typical amount reported by Paul Haggis and others in the New Yorker piece. Leaving aside the allegations of other types of abuse, including possible human trafficking, this makes Scientology a very profitable enterprise indeed.



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