My Opinion of Scientology

by Luke Muehlhauser on February 5, 2010 in Scientology

what is scientologyLast year I wanted to join the best Toastmasters group in my area, which happens to be a group of Scientologists. So I took two Scientology courses and then signed up for the Toastmasters group. It’s been lots of fun.

But there’s a problem. Scientologists label critics of their religion as “suppressive persons,” a term originally reserved for anti-social people like “the Adolf Hitlers and the Genghis Khans, the unrepentant murderers and the drug lords.”1 Scientologists are encouraged to break off contact with such people.

Well, I’m not a Scientologist. And if you press me, there is plenty I can say that is critical of Scientology.

So maybe one day I’ll get kicked out of the Toastmasters group because I’m critical of Scientology.

I don’t speak against Scientology when I’m with Scientologists. That’s not going to help anything.

And I’m not dishonest, either. In my Scientology courses I wrote essays explaining that I’m an atheist and a naturalist. And in my first speech at this Toastmasters club I explained my journey to atheism and naturalism. I’ve told Scientologists that though I learned a few things from their classes, I don’t identify as a Scientologist.

Anyway, here’s what I think of Scientology.

The Bad

  1. Scientology declares that founder L. Ron Hubbard answered all the Big Questions of life, and all we need to do is study his research and apply it. I asked my instructor about this, and she confirmed it. I think that’s wrong. We still have a lot more work to do, and many authors have written more clearly and more profoundly on these subjects than L. Ron Hubbard.
  2. Scientology promotes faith and loyalty and discourages attempts to improve on Hubbard’s doctrines. People who modify original doctrine are called “squirrels,” and others are encouraged to cut off contact with them. Likewise for those “suppressive persons” who have anything critical to say of Scientology. It is well known as an “attack the attacker” religion, not a “turn the other cheek” religion. This is cult-like behavior. A worldview that really is true should be able to withstand criticism confidently, not run from it.
  3. Scientology, like most organized religions, has its share of criminal allegations, member mistreatment, and other abuses.
  4. There are many reasons to suspect that L. Ron Hubbard himself was a complete charlatan who launched the religion as a bullshit way to enrich himself.
  5. Scientology really does preach, at the higher levels, the whole Xenu saga. That’s nonsense.
  6. Scientology tells lies. Its promotional videos exaggerate Scientology’s positive statistics. And though there are many critical things I can say about psychiatry, Scientology often misrepresents that discipline.

The Good

  1. Scientology classes contain some useful material (amongst plenty of questionable material, of course).
  2. Scientology, though it may be run as a business scam from the top (as are many Christian organizations), is not a scam as practiced by hundreds of thousands of people like you and me. Scientologists want success in life just like everybody else, and they came to believe that Scientology had the answers. In many cases, the skills taught by Scientology did improve their lives. All of the Scientologists I have come to know well are skilled, loving, and genuine people.
  3. Scientology ethics are pretty unobjectionable. The basic message is to maximize flourishing across all the “dynamics” – one’s personal life, one’s family, one’s community, one’s race, one’s planet, and one’s universe. There’s also a strong emphasis on human rights. Remember, Scientology is a religion formed in the 20th century, so it’s not left with any racist, sexist, barbaric, homophobic hangovers from millennia ago. Scientologists want to make the world a better place, and they often make great sacrifices to do so.
  4. Scientology is called a “practical religion.” It offers some skills training and says, “Here, use this. It worked for me, and I think it will work for you.” So Scientologists generally don’t care what you believe. I told my Celebrity Centre tour guide I was an atheist who didn’t believe in free will and she said, “Yeah, that’s fine.” It’s a pretty inclusive religion.
  5. Scientology encourages you to test its ideas for yourself. The Hubbard quote “If it’s true for you, it’s true” is not an endorsement of relativism, but rather a rejection of authoritarianism. He wanted people to test claims of knowledge for themselves, not accept them on faith.

Frankly, I would guess that even if Scientology got bigger, it would not be as harmful as Christianity or especially Islam. It’s a 20th century religion, after all. Scientology would still be pointlessly enriching the people at the top of the organization, but it wouldn’t be condemning condoms or encouraging human rights violations.

That’s my opinion of Scientology, anyway.

  1. L. Ron Hubbard, quoted in The Church of Scientology, page 177. []

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Sabio Lantz February 5, 2010 at 6:28 am

Thanks for sharing. That inside, sympathetic atheist analysis was very valuable.

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Bill Maher February 5, 2010 at 7:18 am

Christopher Hitchens once commented on the Nation of Islam getting young black men off of drugs. He said he does not doubt it, but it does not change the fact that it is a crackpot racist cult.

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Haukur February 5, 2010 at 8:28 am

Very interesting! I’d love to hear specifics on the useful material. When I read critical reports on Scientology I’ve often suspected that the com course (and some of the other stuff) does have some useful content and isn’t just harmful brainwashing like the ex-Scientologists usually present it. Presumably the com course is one of the two courses you’ve taken? Any thoughts on it?

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tdd February 5, 2010 at 8:42 am

I am not sure how you square these two statements:

Scientology promotes faith and loyalty and discourages attempts to improve on Hubbard’s doctrines. People who modify original doctrine are called “squirrels,” and others are encouraged to cut off contact with them. Likewise for those “suppressive persons” who have anything critical to say of Scientology. It is well known as an “attack the attacker” religion, not a “turn the other cheek” religion. This is cult-like behavior. A worldview that really is true should be able to withstand criticism confidently, not run from it.

and

Frankly, I would guess that even if Scientology got bigger, it would not be as harmful as Christianity or especially Islam. It’s a 20th century religion, after all. Scientology would still be pointlessly enriching the people at the top of the organization, but it wouldn’t be condemning condoms or encouraging human rights violations.

While it is clear that Scientology does not have the same sexual hangups as other religions, it still has the same fundamental flaws.

Attacks on critics are attacks on freedom of thought and expression. Two of the most important principles in western civilization. If you think as Scientology gets more powerful, they won’t use that power, then you are being foolish. History suggests otherwise.

Discouraging people from getting proper mental health guidances is just as dangerous as discouraging condom use. While psychiatry is not perfect, it is much better than the lies that the scientologists are selling.

When I read what you wrote it looks like you are rationalizing your involvement with them. You say you value truth, but you are willing to stay mum about it, if you benefit personally from their propagation of lies.

Could you classify your involvement with the organization as a moral act?

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lukeprog February 5, 2010 at 8:50 am

The communication course was shocking at first, but also one of the most fun because there’s so much interaction. For example, in some drills you have to keep a straight face while people do all kinds of weird and hilarious things to make you crack up. It’s like Kindergarten training or something.

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Hermes February 5, 2010 at 9:09 am

Do they still promote the book Dynanetics?

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Haukur February 5, 2010 at 9:13 am

tdd: You say you value truth, but you are willing to stay mum about it, if you benefit personally from their propagation of lies.

Could you classify your involvement with the organization as a moral act?

Give the guy a break. He’s doing Toastmasters with some Scientologists – it’s quite a stretch to call that benefitting personally from the propagation of lies. I’ve participated in peace marches orchestrated by religious organizations whose views I don’t share. Do I stand condemned for that?

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Hermes February 5, 2010 at 9:24 am

Related;

Christianity is More Dangerous than Scientology

A blog post cited in the above post from about a year ago;

Christianity is Wackier than Scientology

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lukeprog February 5, 2010 at 10:13 am

Dianetics, yup. Still sold widely.

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Hermes February 5, 2010 at 10:21 am

I read it before finding out anything about Scientology. It’s good sleeping material. Shows how LRH fully understood that he was getting ‘paid by the word’. The whole book could be condensed down to a few pages.

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Mark February 5, 2010 at 11:51 am

It seems to me that they have done what most religions do — incorporated material that people find helpful but that isn’t really connected with the central points of the religion. That does color people’s opinions of the religion itself, although it probably shouldn’t.

Years ago, out of sheer curiosity, I read a library copy of Dianetics. I assumed that this was the CoS putting its best foot forward. There was nothing in that book that made a speck of sense. It’s full of crazy assertions back up by no evidence or data at all, although you’re assured throughout that such data exists.

My point is that you can’t give them a pass because they mix the positive with the negative, because the positive is peripheral to what they believe, while the negative is CENTRAL.

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lukeprog February 5, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Mark,

Agreed. I say much the same thing in my outdated reviews of self-help gurus.

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DangerousTalk February 5, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Great article. I recently posted an article on why Christianity is more dangerous than Scientology. I hope you’ll check it out.

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TK February 5, 2010 at 2:02 pm

I’m appreciative of the fact that you didn’t push the “Xenu saga is nonsense” angle too strongly. Of course it is, but so are the central teachings of every other major religion. If there’s anything particularly bad about Scientology, it has nothing to do with the wackiness of its mythology.

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Rhys Wilkins February 5, 2010 at 7:23 pm

Great article Luke,

I never paused to consider what might be the positive aspects of Scientology until I read this article.

I have always been incredulous at these politicians whom think the cosmogonies of Genesis 1 ought to be revered as an article of faith and piety, yet they openly scoff and hand-wave the doctrines of Scientology. You can forgive their special pleading by simply remembering they are probably unawares of their double standard approach to religion. The farcical claims of the Bible initiated in an environment that massaged and catalyzed the spreading, multiplication and propagation of superstition. Now they are so infused into the bedrock assumptions of western society that people simply take them for granted.

Scientology did not enjoy this home field advantage. It got started after the age of enlightenment and was forced to contest with the hard empiricism and unforgiving skepticism of the scientific method. It only worsened things for itself by vigorously lambasting and challenging vigorously established psychiatry.

I mean the core claims of Christianity are just as absurd as anything that has come from Scientology.

Christianity – Magic-like being that can think and make decisions despite having no brain and no dimension of time to make any choices decides to create universe for people. Makes Earth, populated by some creatures and a naked chick and dude. Talking snake tells chick to eat an apple. Daddy gets mad and decides that everyone is fucked for what she did. Long time later, He changes his mind, knocks up some chick with God-sperm and becomes a Jewish carpenter. Tortures himself to change his own mind about decision he made in the first place. Decides everyone is fucked anyway unless they let Him rule their life.

Scientology – 75 million years ago Xenu brought billions of people to Earth in spacecraft, stacked them around volcanoes and detonated hydrogen bombs in the volcanoes. The thetans then clustered together, stuck to the bodies of the living, and continue to do this today.

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Sloobis February 5, 2010 at 8:29 pm

My mind is at ease, good Luke

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Hermes February 5, 2010 at 8:29 pm

Rhys Wilkins: Scientology did not enjoy this home field advantage. It got started after the age of enlightenment and was forced to contest with the hard empiricism and unforgiving skepticism of the scientific method.

Not according to the Scientologists. Myth-for-myth, they got there first — millions of years before the other contenders (baring the Hindus that simply out flank every other religion I’ve heard of). So, if they are just now gaining a full head of steam, that’s a problem for them to deal with as they can’t claim the new kid status at the same time as their religious dogmas.

Now, I will state that the claims of the Scientologists are total hooey just like those of the Abrahamic religions and the Hindus, but if a Scientologist enters the conversation then they bring with them the baggage and claims of their religion just like the other religions.

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Ben February 5, 2010 at 11:00 pm

I imagine that would likely be my review of Scientology as well, from what I currently know.

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Rhys Wilkins February 6, 2010 at 3:25 am

Hermes,

Yeah I agree with that. I wasn’t comparing the age differences of their cosmogonies, I was comparing the relative times in history each religion got introduced into society. In Christianity’s case, It integrated rather smoothly and propagated rapidly due to some lucky circumstances and a fostering superstitious environment to boot.

Like I said, Scientology raised it’s ugly head into a post-enlightenment world, making it about as welcome as a cottonmouth at a square-dance. Despite this it has managed to swim against the tide and use some unique tactics to get a fairly strong foothold.

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isom February 6, 2010 at 7:52 am

Good article.

I am curious as to how they can teach GOOD #5:
“He wanted people to test claims of knowledge for themselves, not accept them on faith.”

and BAD # 2:
“Scientology promotes faith and loyalty and discourages attempts to improve on Hubbard’s doctrines. People who modify original doctrine are called “squirrels,” and others are encouraged to cut off contact with them.”

Just for clarification, basically they are saying, “Test everything, except for Scientology”?

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TH February 6, 2010 at 7:55 am

Scientology shares with Christianity the view that the mind by default is corrupt and can not be trusted. Once you’re convinced that you can’t trust your own judgement, it’s a small step to handing over your bank account and credit cards; or giving your life to Jesus, for that matter.

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tdd February 6, 2010 at 8:35 am

Haukur:
Give the guy a break. He’s doing Toastmasters with some Scientologists – it’s quite a stretch to call that benefitting personally from the propagation of lies. I’ve participated in peace marches orchestrated by religious organizations whose views I don’t share. Do I stand condemned for that?  

You are right my criticism was too harsh.

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Hermes February 6, 2010 at 9:09 am

Rhys, I fully agree.

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James Gray July 6, 2010 at 1:53 am

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lukeprog July 6, 2010 at 6:26 am

James Gray,

Interesting. I haven’t encountered any homophobia among current practitioners.

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