I was able to contribute to a presentation about the dangers of Scientology which I’d like to share here.
There’s a bit of back-story about this which starts with studies on the subject of cognitive dissonance. This is a psychological term which is often used to describe what Scientologists and many other members of mass movements do when confronted with opposing information about their beliefs. Cognitive dissonance simply means “the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.” (Leon Festinger from A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance)
It’s very difficult to hold contradictory beliefs. People want consistency in how they understand the world. They want things to make sense. When someone has a closely cherished belief which is suddenly threatened by a new piece of information, that person has to figure out what to do with that new information. It takes mental effort to digest the new information. If the person does not want to change their existing beliefs, they have to either ignore, invalidate or change this new information so they have internal consistency. The stress or discomfort a person experiences when doing this is called cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance happens every day with each of us as we go through life. It’s not just something cult members experience. We all have to adjust our beliefs or re-think things when we get new information. However, some people refuse to accept new information no matter how factual or true it might be, simply because it would mean they’d have to change their old beliefs. This is illogical and unreasonable, but that’s never really stopped anyone in the past from doing all sorts of nasty things simply because they thought God wanted them to, or because they were so sure that they were right.
It’s not necessarily in our nature to always reject new information, though. This is why the subject is such an interesting study. Why is it that some people will be able to change their minds easily, while others are like rocks and won’t change no matter what you say or what they see? Trying to find the answer to that is why psychologists have been looking into this since the 1950s.
The fact that people can change their beliefs and can question authority is why Scientologists (and members of almost any other kinds of cult) are forbidden from ever looking at or reading information that is critical or contradictory to their beliefs, whether on the Internet or from any other sources. Yes, this is censorship and thought control and it happens every day in these groups.
Scientologists actually get into a great deal of trouble with their fellow members for daring to look at anything critical of Scientology, because by doing so it threatens their fragile and illogical belief systems. The real irony is that Scientologists claim to be free thinking, more intelligent and wiser than any one else in the world, and immune to thought control and hypnotism. Yet just try to show one of them something critical of Scientology or get them to talk to someone who can argue with them about Scientology’s practices and watch them run away in abject terror.
Andy Robinson, a student at Adler Graduate School, put together a formal work on cognitive dissonance and belief systems in December, 2013 (here). It’s no easy read, as it’s meant for fellow psychology students and professors, but if you are interested in knowing more about this, it’s a good place to start.
Using the information from this paper and related sources, a good friend of mine from the Anonymous camp put together a graphic presentation in multiple parts called “Waking Up from Scientology” on Prezi. She was a using a “robo-voice” which detracted from the quality of the presentation and its content. I thought that it would be helpful to get this presentation out to as many people as possible. I’ve always wanted to do voice-overs and this seemed like a good time to offer to try it out. This first part of the presentation covers not only what cognitive dissonance is and how it works but also how Scientologists specifically are affected by it. I found it to be fascinating.
And if I do say so myself, with the new voice overs I think the end result came out great. To watch it, click on the screen below, then click the play arrow in the bottom left corner and it will cycle through the presentation like a slide show.