Saturday, February 12, 2011


Further opportunities for chuckly fun at the expense of idiots and/or arseholes can be found in the current amusing spat between the New Yorker magazine and the always-reliably-out-to-lunch Church of Scientology.

It all centres around a long and fascinating article published in the latest issue of the New Yorker, which is basically an extended interview with Hollywood screenwriter and high-profile Scientology defector Paul Haggis. It is remarkable, reading the article, how someone as seemingly level-headed and self-aware as Haggis could have got caught up in all this nonsense, but that is after all how cults work. As he himself says:
I was in a cult for thirty-four years. Everyone else could see it. I don’t know why I couldn’t.
The Church's riposte takes two separate tacks: the first is the usual smearing of anyone who has left the Church and chooses to speak out about it, like former members Marty Rathbun, Mike Rinder, Jason Beghe and Marc Headley. The second is to focus on the allegation in the original New Yorker article that the Church was the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation into human trafficking. That there once was such an investigation is not in dispute, whether it is still active is, to be fair, the subject of some disagreement even among non-maniacs. It seems highly unlikely to me, even though I suspect many of the stories are true, that any charges will ever be brought against cartoonish supervillain David Miscavige, but it's nice to keep shining a spotlight on the organisation anyway, just for a laugh.

More interesting to me are a couple of things that reveal the strange and pernicious hold that religious belief of any denomination has on people, and the weird erosion and shutting off of critical thinking skills that it causes. Firstly, both Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder made the huge, wrenching, life-changing decision to leave the Church, and have been the subject of vicious personal attacks and defamation from the church following their defection (mainly in the person of sharp-suited scary shouty mentalist Tommy Davis), and yet both continue to call themselves "independent Scientologists". Thus I assume they've managed to convince themselves that Miscavige's running of the Church, management of its people and general tyranny is the problem, rather than the whole thing being built on the bizarre dreamt-up space opera fantasy of a compulsive liar and conman. They've found a way to compartmentalise things so that the basic "teachings" (basically the bizarre pseudo-scientific gobbledygook of Dianetics, rather than the more outlandish Xenu business, for the probably 99% of the church's members who haven't yet handed over enough cash to be exposed to it) remain untouched, and the dispute is just over some administrative matters, and, you know, Miscavige beating people up and stuff.

Even more starkly revealing is the brief exchange between the New Yorker and the CoS over the subject of Hubbard's war record, something Hubbard lied about almost constantly, as indeed he did about just about everything else. As always it's fascinating to see how people whose entire lives are spent in an uncritical goldfish bowl where everyone agrees with each other and certain things are taken as, as it were, gospel and never questioned react when confronted with a bit of good old-fashioned real-world scepticism and fact-checking.

Basically Hubbard's story was that he'd ended the war a blind bed-ridden cripple and had quite literally invented the science of Dianetics while bed-ridden, used it to miraculously heal himself and then gone on to spread the word to the world. Trouble is, none of this is true; furthermore most of the medals Hubbard claimed to have won were entirely made up, and the military discharge document presented by the church was signed by a man who never existed.
At the meeting, Davis and I also discussed Hubbard’s war record. His voice filling with emotion, he said that, if it was true that Hubbard had not been injured, then “the injuries that he handled by the use of Dianetics procedures were never handled, because they were injuries that never existed; therefore, Dianetics is based on a lie; therefore, Scientology is based on a lie.” He concluded, “The fact of the matter is that Mr. Hubbard was a war hero.”
Oh, Tommy, you were so close. Come on, the Society For Putting Things On Top Of Other Things did the decent thing when confronted with the truth - surely you can do the same? The CoS's position with regard to the military's Hubbard documentation now seems to be: yeah, well that's the official story, but, you see, the thing is that Hubbard was under super-deep cover on some top-secret hush-hush super-spy mission and they covered it up so no-one would ever know. There! So I haven't wasted the last thirty years of my life and pissed away tens of thousands of dollars on a laughably obvious fantasy. Phew: that was a close one.

[The image of Hubbard hooking up an e-meter to a freakin' tomato, the nutter, is from here - the rest of the blog is worth a look too].

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