Hey everyone, we are picking back up on our reading and deconstruction of this book, Scientology, edited by James R. Lewis and featuring essays from a number of different academics and religious scholars on the subject of Scientology. We’ve covered the first 10 chapters and so far it’s been a slugfest of Scientology apologetics to one degree or another, with these scholars almost one-for-one refusing to take a critical view of the subject and many of them simply repeating the content of Scientology’s own promotional materials or Hubbard’s words verbatim and calling it religious scholarship. But this week, we finally have something new.
Andreas Grunschloss is the author on deck. He is a German scholar and according to Wikipedia, is the current Professor of Religious Studies at Gottingen University in Germany. He is an ordained Protestant pastor, has written three books and is the co-editor of the Marburg Journal of Religion, an English language peer-reviewed academic internet journal.
I was impressed in reading about some of his other works as how he manages to maintain what looks to me like an actually objective view of the subjects he studies, yet does drill down into their details to get at what is really going on in the heads of the believers. This is not as easy as it sounds. Not to stereotype Grunschloss, but perhaps because he is German, it was easier for him to maintain neutrality towards Scientology. Germany has had a long and epic history with Scientology because the government there never bought into the idea that Scientology was a religion and in fact, has had its eyes on them for quite some time. This is more due to the fact that the German government is not at all interested in anything like the Nazi Party rising again than they are in suppressing freedom of religion and it’s telling that they view Scientology with such potential. Given its rapacious appetite for money at the cost of broken lives and broken families, hardsell sales tactics, seemly inexhaustible legal fund and the anti-government sentiments Hubbard espoused over the years, it’s not hard to see why Germany would have reason for concern.
Alright, let’s get started. Chapter 11 is called “Scientology, a ‘New Age’ Religion?” and Grunschloss starts with some introductory remarks about the term “New Age”:
“In the German context, the term New Age has almost vanished completely from the discourses in society as well as in academics. This is due to the fact that the New Age label has been replaced by a broader use of the term esotericism (Esoterik), and even in academia the term is used only in a narrow sense nowadays, with reference to the ‘historical’ and formative phase of a movement or ‘discourse’ in the 1970s and ’80s. Accordingly, and different from the usage of the term in Anglophone contexts, contemporary people with alternative or esoteric religious orientations would not refer to themselves as ‘New Agers’ in Germany at all, as it would still be possible in, for example, Great Britain. Accordingly, the title of this essay refers to the wider and unspecific notion of ‘New Age’ as it is still established in the Anglophone context.” (p. 225)
Anglophone, of course, means English speaking. Leave it to an academic to choose a difficult and rarely used English word to describe English speakers. He’s certainly got a point though. Some of the terms that get thrown around, especially to describe religious movements or eras, are difficult to pin down with precision as to what time period they are referring to or what they even mean. If you look up “New Age” in an encyclopedia or online, you get all sorts of different ideas. Even amongst people who would claim to be involved in a New Age group, they won’t call what they are involved in a religion so much as a spiritual quest. Grunschloss goes on:
“Scientology has often been questioned with regard to its ‘religious’ nature, and several scholars in the new religious movements area have even refrained from a closer study of Scientology. If Scientology is viewed as a religion at all – an issue that is again and again debated both in academic religious studies as well as in the quarrels about the legal status of this organization in various countries – it is mainly perceived as a candidate that might fit into this ‘alternative’ realm of modern religiosity denoted by such labels like New Age or Esotericism.” (p. 225)
It’s refreshing to see a religious scholar actually acknowledge that there is some question as to Scientology’s status as an actual religion. So far in this book, it seems that most of the authors have simply taken that as a given and then proceeded to write their papers from that assumption. I of course contest that because as a former member, I know exactly how Scientologists actually think and how most of them know that claiming Scientology is a religion is simply something they are doing for tax-exemption purposes, not something they consider a religion in the same sense a Christian or Muslim would think of their religious faith. Grunschloss makes it clear he is not making such assumptions:
“Following its formal beginning in the 1950s, the ‘Church of Scientology’ has gradually surfaced as the most hotly debated movement during the second half of the twentieth century, and it continued to stimulate ongoing discussions up to the present. For a differentiated and unbiased answer to the question concerning the religious ‘nature’ or ‘function’ of Scientology, it is therefore necessary to recapitulate the historical formation of Scientology, its basic anthropological, soteriological, and cosmological convictions, as well as its rituals and institutions, and to relate these findings to the wider realm of contemporary, or older, religious movements – a task that obviously exceeds the scope of this chapter. Certainly, several aspects of Scientology don’t fit easily into ‘traditional’ concepts of religion, whereas others appear definitely ‘religious’ again. The question of this chapter therefore is whether Scientology could be perceived as a typical esoteric or ‘New Age’ version of religion and ‘Weltanschauung’ within the context of our postmodern industrial society.” (p. 226)
Weltanschauung is a German word, obviously, which literally means world view. It’s a fundamental concept in German philosophy and expresses the idea of how one views the world, encompassing every way that the individual or group member does so – ethics, knowledge, emotions, values, etc. It is also used as a word to describe a group which has its own unique world view such as a religion.
So it’s clear that Grunschloss intends to take a non-assumptive look at Scientology and see if it fits in the New Age religion mold. Let’s see how he does this. I want to skip a lot of the academic jargon because Grunschloss unfortunately loves his verbiage and it is very difficult to read and even more difficult to understand. I’m going to endeavor to spare you some of the more grissly details but quote from his more understandable sections.
He starts off by stating that he’s going to apply a few heuristic methods to his analysis, meaning that while there is no perfect way to go about studying Scientology or any religion for that matter, one can adopt a few guidelines and rules of thumb which can help. In this case he says:
“…the hermeneutical principles of a religious studies approach are strongly rooted within the complementary enlightenment virtues of tolerance, criticism and distance.” (p. 226)
In other words, stay objective, be critical but also tolerant. We already said that the term “New Age” is a bit rough to exactly define, but it does have certain traits or characteristics and since this is the subject of Grunschloss’ paper, he first has to clarify what he means when he says “New Age”. He writes:
“Having become a catchphrase in the 1970s and ’80s, [New Age] implies the expectation of an imminent global change, in which certain anthropological, soteriological, and cosmological hopes merge: evolutionary optimism; a monistic cosmology and anthropology; a holistic view of life (including a merging of ‘science’ and ‘religion’); a striving for levels of higher consciousness with spiritual, paranormal, ecological and peaceful implications; a syncretistic openness to various traditional religious discourses and spiritual practices (from shamanism or Buddhist or Yogic meditation up to revitalizations and reinventions of ‘pagan’ elements); incorporation of therapeutic endeavors and insights; reenchanted forms of an ‘alternative’ technology and sometimes a strong emphasis on the higher, light, spiritual reign over against a lower, dark reign of matter (etc.). Transcending the closed systems of traditional Theosophy, ‘New Age’ is nevertheless a successor to this older esoteric stream of spiritual knowledge, traceable back through the works of Alice Bailey and down to the grand ‘Madame’ Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. So the question is, how does Scientology fit into this?” (p. 226)
I told you, he does love his verbiage. Deciphering this, he’s basically saying that some of the components of a New Age religion would be one of hope for evolution and positive change, that there is one universal truth, that science and religion should come together within the movement itself and that there should be some kind of therapeutic element to achieve these ends. And Grunschloss is the first and only scholar in this book to acknowledge that Scientology has roots in the tradition of “ascendent masters” espoused by Bailey and Madame Blavatsky. As far as I’m concerned, that fact alone earns him five stars because none of these other people have even bothered to look at this, yet it has everything to do with why Scientology is what it is and why Hubbard chose to select certain values and principles as more important than others. He goes on:
“Scientology itself is also far from being an easy, handy topic. When we talk about Scientology, we are faced with a multifaceted international organization that cannot be labeled easily within established categories of academic research or public discourse. To mention just a few attempts to identify Scientology, is it a profit-oriented ‘business’ operating according to hard-sell market principles? Or a bona fide ‘religion’ along traditional or modern esoteric lines? Is it primarily a therapeutic practice and attempt to create mental health or efficient attentiveness with only a little surplus of ‘Weltanschauung’? Or is it even a dangerous, antidemocratic and subversive transnational aiming at total power in the modern world?
“Scientology has been credited with positive aspects here and there, but more often it has been criticized and stigmatized. It certainly is the most hotly debated new religion or Weltanschauung today – though the discussion takes place in public media, Christian apologetics, hundreds of Internet sites, and many court trials, rather than in the academic discourses of religious studies. So we are faced with the paradox and problem that the most hotly debated movement of the last fifty years has provoked treatments here and there, but this has not led to an encompassing, thorough, and solid religious studies book that could be regarded as a valuable state-of-the-art and up-to-date reference work covering all aspects of and approaches to the movement. We do not have this at the moment, and that’s actually a scandal.” (p. 227)
Finally, a religious scholar who is calling for actual religious scholarly work to be done and an objective reference book to be put together on this group. Now done right, that would really be something. Lewis’ book is certainly not that, for the very reasons I’ve been deconstructing in this video series. As far as I know, it still hasn’t been done.
So where is Grunschloss going with this? He basically is saying that New Age is a rough term to describe and Scientology is not itself easily established as a religion, so how do we go about figuring this out? Here’s his idea:
“For my purpose here, it may suffice to start with the heuristic principle that Scientology becomes a legitimate subject of religious studies research if there are elements in Scientology that show ‘family resemblances’ to other – well-established or ‘unquestioned’ – religious traditions or elements thereof, or, in the language of empirical multivariant statistical research, it is legitimate to approach Scientology from the perspective of religious research if some of its elements do obviously ‘load’ on a religious ‘factor,’ so to say. I assume nobody would object to this ‘soft’ approach. Furthermore, Scientology seems to ‘function’ in a ‘religious’ manner for many of its adherents: They conceive of it as their community, their place of help and guidance through life, and the writings of Hubbard are taken as a sort of sacred scriptures disclosing the one and only relevant ‘religious technology’ for them, and so forth. This is also true in the case of the ‘free Scientologists’ who do not accept the leading role of the Church of Scientology today, but who operate through the networks of their independent ‘Free Zone.'” (p. 227)
Now I can’t really argue with any of this. Again, this is the first author in this book to not just assume that Scientology is a religion and then use that cognitive bias to make the rest of their case about whatever legitimacy they are trying to grant to Scientology. Grunschloss is not making any assumptions but is making factual observations and trying to figure out how can one go about objectively analyzing the subject. So far, so good. And this next point he makes is actually quite brilliant and the first time I’ve seen anyone say anything like this:
“One problem with the application of the label ‘religion’ to Scientology seems to be the misunderstanding that once the label is granted to Scientology, then somehow one has approved of its basic goodness. Scientology’s effort to collect all kinds of positive statements by more or less established scholars in favor of the religion issue is rooted in the idea that the bona fide status of religion implies goodness and acceptability. The religious studies view of religion is of a different sort: As we know, religion is far from being ‘nice’ all the time. It is, rather, a powerful force to create meaning in all dimensions, to motivate people, to safeguard them, to indoctrinate them, to liberate them, and to do harmful things to them and religious others. One does not need to turn to Mesoamerican ritual killings or to the events of September 11 to identify the dark side of religion: Religion is far from being simply pleasant or always ‘good,’ integrating or harmonizing social or personal life.
“If researchers in religious studies come to the conclusion that Scientology could rightly be perceived as a religion of sorts, this does not imply that all practices of Scientology are automatically promoted as harmless, nice, good, and humane. The religion label is not an official license. It is in the hands of the authorities what to do with an alternative (religious) movement if it violates the law – and in the eyes of many authorities Scientology has at least become very suspicious with its lengthy juridical record in many countries.” (p. 228)
I have to admit, he nailed it there. Just because we may grant that Scientology is a religion, we aren’t saying that it is any good or that it has any inherent holineess or validity. Another welcome break from the apologetics nonsense we’ve been seeing up until now.
The next section covers some history of Hubbard’s development of Dianetics and how that morphed and evolved into what became the philosophy and organization of the Church of Scientology by 1952. We don’t need to rehash any of that again, nor does Grunschloss take much time with it himself. Once Scientology was formed, what did Hubbard say and write that could be useful for analyzing it as a New Age philosophy? That’s what Grunschloss takes up in his next section called “Scientology: The Philosophy of a New Age?” and he starts with this:
“The first and, on the surface, strongest hint that there might be something to this topic can be found in Hubbard’s own writings. In a short text, published in late 1957 in Scientology’s Ability magazine, Hubbard himself used the term New Age with reference to his brainchild Scientology. This is quite early and still relatively close to Alice Bailey’s first usage of the term in her book Discipleship in the New Age (1950). Hubbard’s work thus appears as one of the rare and early instances in which reference to ‘New Age’ is used already in the original object language of an alternative spiritual movement or worldview…. Without doubt, Hubbard’s usage also influenced the name of Scientology’s main publishing company ‘New Era’ (‘Golden Era’ for audiovisual media). The notion and idea of a new age or new era is far more than a mere metaphoric usage for Hubbard and Scientology. The publication of Dianetics in 1950 marks Scientology’s new internal counting of eras, by which, for example, 1957 C.E. would be relabeled ‘AD7’ (i.e., seven years ‘after Dianetics’). This fact is already clear in Hubbard’s 1957 text ‘Scientology: The Philosophy of a New Age.'” (p. 229)
In case you have never heard, yes, Hubbard did re-do the calendar in Scientology so that years were counted from the year of publication of Dianetics and this is something every Scientologist is familiar with.
Now one thing about Scientology over the years is that Hubbard had a knack for keeping with the fads of his time and morphing Scientology’s outward appearance in an attemmpt to stay trendy and thus, gain more converts. An argument could certainly be made that by the late 1950s, he was seeing change in the wind from the more conservative 1940s and 1950s era of Dragnet and McCarthyism. Keeping his ear to the ground and being in tune with religious movements of the time, he certainly could have picked up on the rising popularity of the then-fresh New Age movement and started re-writing Scientology in its image. It would not be the first or last time he’d done such a thing. Grunschloss quotes from Hubbard’s work showing how in 1957 he started talking about Scientology in a New Age fashion but how Hubbard also linked in to popular UFO cults from that same time period:
“Hubbard declares Scientology as the ‘passport’ into and ‘answer’ to a dawning new age or era. ‘Survival,’ a basic category of Hubbard’s philosophy, can be granted only through Scientology – as well as the project to ‘clear’ humanity through Scientology processing (‘Project Clear’). What are the signs of the new age? Technological advances like atomic power and space flights. But Hubbard also talks of some dangerous ‘space opera’ re-entering this planet and of seventy-three trillion years of human history. These are direct hints to the strong undercurrent linking Scientology with the formation of UFO-related movements within the same historical U.S. context of the 1950s. Having published mainly as a writer in pulp fiction and science fiction genres, Hubbard appears as an interesting person who himself oscillated between the production of fantasy tales and the successful formation of a socially organized Weltanschauung incorporating science fiction – or, as Hubbard likes to call it, ‘space opera’ – tales as mythic core stories for its anthropology and cosmology.” (p. 230)
Grunschloss is not making any real conclusions here and that’s fine. He’s just following a trail of thought as to how Scientology relates to New Age philosophy, but he doesn’t hold back on critically analyzing what he sees. Kind of refreshing, huh? And it’s not over yet. The next section is called “Space Opera and Whole Track Memories” and here Grunschloss dives deep into what most every other academic has so far avoided like the plague. He writes:
“This appears already quite ‘New Agey,’ as we all know, because there have been many prophets of a dawning millennium during the last fifty years who claimed to bridge science and religion by a new revelation of space alien origin – or, at least, who posit themselves within a space-age scenario using many allusions to science fiction motifs. Hubbard’s ‘space opera’ includes a huge intergalactic conspiracy, in which the evil agents of old, the ‘Marcabians’ (or ‘Marcabian Confederacy’), try to enslave other beings. From within the perspective of Scientology it is ensured, however, that ‘space opera’ is indeed
“relating to time periods on the whole track millions of years ago which concerned activities in this and other galaxies. Space opera has space travel, spaceships, spacemen, intergalactic travel, wars, conflicts, other beings, civilizations and societies, and other planets and galaxies. It is not fiction and concerns actual incidents and things that occurred on the track.
“Also, when Hubbard speaks of ’73 trillion years’ of history in his ‘New Age’ text quoted above, it must be understood as a direct hint of the supposedly arcane mythic history related to the ‘whole track’ memories hidden in a person’s memory bank. The basic ‘historical’ framework, which Hubbard formulated as his ‘discovery’ as early as the 1950s, includes a nowadays famous – although arcane – story of an old incident by which earthly ‘thetans’ (i.e., the ‘soul’ unit of the person) have been brought into this sector of the universe by an evil galactic emperor. Thus, the memory banks of many people share certain elements of a ‘space opera’ core story. These ideas have become less prominent in the public statements of the Church of Scientology today, but they are still a major issue in the splinter groups of the ‘Free Zone,’ where it is maintained that the Church of Scientology has itself been taken over by these Marcabian forces of old, which are nowadays becoming active on earth (Hubbard’s ‘New Age’ text also alludes to such renewed space alien interventions).” (p. 231)
Now I’ve heard some wild conspiracy theories over the last few years about Scientology, but Grunschloss is the first I’ve heard say that there are Independent Scientologists who think that official Scientology was taken over by Marcabians. If any of you have heard of that, let me know about it in the comments section. That’s pretty rich.
Grunschloss notes that Hubbard claimed he came to these conclusions about the whole track and space opera through scientific research and investigation, not through paranormal means such as channeling or automatic writing. These were all supposed to have come from his own or others’ recalls of their past lives millions or even trillions of years in the past. However, Grunschloss then wisely relates this back to the popular UFO cults of the 1950s when he says this:
“The spirit or soul unit, called the ‘thetan’ according to Hubbard’s terminology, can be compared to similar soul conceptions that became famous during the formation of esoteric movements: The Western strands of Theosophy and Esotericism had already introduced Indian style, ‘atman’-like concepts of the soul to Western spiritual seekers, and this concept of the soul was enlarged by UFO-related prophets and groups from the early 1950s onward in an interplanetary style – so-called ‘star seeds’ or ‘walk-ins’ from outer space. Earth is a garden, where these spiritual implants were supposed to grow, to mature, in order to be eligible for further evolution into higher realms. I cannot go into the fascinating details of UFOlogical anthropologies, but I simply want to draw attention to the fact that Hubbard’s idea of the person and its role in interstellar history is very, very close to other UFOlogical spiritual movements in the 1950s and later.” (p. 231)
This is important stuff and critical for religious scholars to note because it puts Scientology into context. I’ve noted many times how Hubbard blithely plagiarized the work of early psychotherapists and occultists but I don’t recall ever seeing anyone bring up the UFO cults of the 1950s and the New Age movement in general as sources for Scientology. But Grunschloss is not done yet:
“This UFOlogical connection is explicitly apparent in the foundation myth of Scientology’s ‘Operating Thetan’ (OT) anthropology. According to the secret doctrines of Scientology – which are nowadays far from arcane, as information about court trials and other disclosures by former members appear in hundreds of pages on the Internet – there once was a fierce intergalactic ruler named Xenu, who brought millions of thetans to this Earth (which back then carried the name ‘Teegeack’), and that is how their (i.e., our) life started in this region of the universe (‘sector nine’). Amazingly, this story, which forms the central core myth in OT level III initiation teachings, was re-written by Hubbard as a mere science fiction novel in the late 1970s. As such, it carries the title Revolt in the Stars, and it has so far not been officially published. Copies of the manuscript circulate every now and then on the Internet. It is an amazing piece and trustworthy in terms of Hubbard’s authorship – according to style, phrasing, and content. This oscillation between the production of mythic core stories and mere fantasy tales is also a characteristic typical of modern esoteric traditions: Helena P. Blavatsky, for example, wrote fantasy tales beside her theosophical disclosures, and Charles Hoy Fort’s alternative, anomalistic science in his Book of the Damned (and the three follow-up volumes) inspired fantasy authors like H. P. Lovecraft as well as esoteric seekers. Erich von Däniken, working along Charles Fort’s lines, also oscillates between fantasy and fringe historiography/archaeology, and his ““Ancient Astronaut” stories have often been often reabsorbed by esoteric and UFO-believing groups. The framework story in Hubbard’s Revolt in the Stars does, by the way, include the idea of a time capsule in the vein of the Ancient Astronauts’ scheme.” (p. 232)
By merely presenting facts and a minor degree of analysis, Grunschloss is doing a beautiful job contexualizing and debunking Scientology all at once. I just can’t tell you how refreshing it was to read this and see what real objective religious scholarship actually looks like. And just when you thought he was done, Grunschloss goes into a whole other aspect of Scientology hokum which thus far no other religious scholar in this book has managed to call bullshit on: Hubbard’s claims about Buddhism. And the great thing about this is here, Grunschloss does not mince his words. The section is called “The Alleged Buddhism Connection” and it starts with this:
“I cannot go into the details here, but one thing is obvious to everybody familiar with at least a few basics of Buddhism: Hubbard had no sound knowledge about Buddhism when he wrote his early Scientology pieces – despite the hagiographic records in other Church of Scientology publications that claim that he had allegedly discoursed intensively with Tibetan Buddhist Lamas, among others. Hubbard might have caught a few encyclopedia pieces about Buddhism here and there, and he had a very remote perception of the overall thesis in Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine, as becomes clear, for example, in the first few speeches of his Phoenix Lectures, in which he also alludes to the idea that some genuine ancient wisdom originated within the context of Indian Buddhism. Hubbard does not come up with ‘ascended masters,’ to be sure, but he suggests that dhyana and dharma are nothing but ancient parallels to Scientology’s term knowingness. Obviously, Hubbard has no idea at all what the Sanskrit words dharma, dhyana – or especially bodhi (enlightenment) – denote. Hubbard’s reference to dhyana is a remote reverberation of Blavatsky’s mysterious Stanzas from the Book of Dzyan (i.e., dhyana), which she identified as an (alleged) ancient source of wisdom in her Secret Doctrine. Hubbard is also not aware of the fact – nor are still many contemporary Scientologists – that the ‘soul’ concept of Scientology’s ‘thetan’ is directly opposed to what the Buddha taught about the person with his anatta (‘no-self,’ Sanskrit anatman ) doctrine. Buddhists have therefore convincingly argued that Scientology’s claim to an analogy with Buddhism is entirely spurious.” (p. 233)
After the nonsense that was being talked about in our very last chapter about Scientology being a kind of technological Buddhism, I was practically hugging myself in glee when reading this section because Grunschloss is just nailing Hubbard’s bald-faced nonsense over and over here. He specifically brings up Hymn of Asia, a book where Hubbard claimed in poetic form to be the reincarnated Buddha himself. I deconstructed this in our last video in this series but listen to what Grunschloss says:
“But Hubbard went a step further and styled himself as the future Buddha Maitreya (Pali: Metteya ). In his poetic booklet Hymn of Asia, recently set to music and republished together with an audio CD, he writes the following, among other things:
“Am I Metteyya? . . . I come to you in peace, I come to you as a teacher. . . . I come to bring you all that Lord Buddha would have you know of life, Earth and Man. I come to you with freedom, I come to you with science . . . to teach you. . . . Address me and you address Lord Buddha. . . . I am the beginning, I am the end. . . . In all these twenty-five centuries none came and spoke The Great Lessons again. . . . I am but a teacher, I bring you word of Lessons you have lost. . . . Study then, Be worked with then, Become Bodhi [ sic ].
“Hubbard then claims that the message of these ‘Great Lessons’ is the herald of a dawning New Age: ‘We enter into a Golden age. We are Golden Men. We are the New Men, The spiritual Leaders of Earth.’ He further asserts that his message is presented in a ‘tongue of science’ that was long ago ‘stolen from the East,’ and that Buddhist prophecies even predicted Hubbard’s own revelatory appearance ‘in the Western World.’
“This poetic representation, however offensive it might appear to Buddhists, is in concordance with the opening chapters of The Phoenix Lectures and other descriptions by Hubbard or in Scientology publications. The reference to a ‘Western Buddha,’ for example, can also be found in the opening paragraphs of Scientology’s Volunteer Minister’s Handbook. It might itself be traceable to Nicholas Roerich (Russian painter and Theosophist), but it has no origin in the Buddhist (Pali) Scriptures, of course. Anyone familiar with H. P. Blavatsky will immediately realize her indirect influence in the idea that some occult or esoteric ‘science’ originated in India, was kept hidden there, and is now disseminated again for the first time in renewed, perfected, and ‘scientific’ fashion from a ‘New Western Buddha.'” (p. 233)
Us Westerners are not generally deeply familiar with the legends and myths of Buddhism or the intricies of its beliefs, nor have very many modern readers read or even heard of Madame Blavatsky and her whole shtick. Hubbard knew that and used that ignorance to his advantage to lay claim to all sorts of utter nonsense, which Grunschloss has just beautifully deconstructed in just a few paragraphs. He doesn’t have to say that Hubbard is a plagiaraist or liar or opportunist – he just has to lay out the facts and they speak for themselves. Now he goes on to point out another aspect of Scientology that indeed does have similarity to Buddhism:
“The only point at which Scientology could convincingly argue in favor of a plausible similarity to Buddhism is the issue of reincarnation – or ‘previous lives,’ as Hubbard/Scientology prefer to call it (because a transmigration to animals is denied). Hubbard not only styled himself in the manner of a Buddha, he also claimed to have gained certain paranormal insights into previous lives – a topic that constitutes a classic aspect of attaining full insight in the higher states of Buddhist perfection and meditation. In the so-called ‘Tathagata sermon,’ a formalized systematic account of the Buddhist path to enlightenment that can be found several times in the dialogues of the Digha-Nikaya, the Buddhist attainment also implies access to the otherwise hidden memories of one’s own previous lives – a realization that Siddhartha Gautama also achieved, according to canonical texts, during his final realization of Buddhahood under the legendary Bodhi tree.” (p. 233)
Grunschloss then quotes from Hubbard’s book Mission into Time, where Hubbard actually wrote:
“I know with certainty where I was and who I was in the last 80 trillion years. The small details of it like what I ate for breakfast two trillion years ago are liable to go astray here and there, but otherwise it’s no mystery to me.” (p. 234)
Fascianting that he could claim to remember these things in such detail, yet when he sent members of the Sea Organization, his intensely loyal band of true believers back in 1968, to specific locations in the Mediterranean where Hubbard said he remembered burying caches of treasure, none was ever found. Quite a monumental failure as far as I’m concerned.
What’s more, consider this: if I had a full recall of every life I’ve led for the last 80 trillion years, the last thing I’d be doing is going around looking for buried treasure. There’s be plenty of fortune to be made in clarifying and correcting all the nonsense scattered throughout our standard history texts, not just in the US but all over the world. If someone could prove just a few important facts of historical information totally rong and show how they are wrong and then suppy the true information which could be backed up with archaelogical evidence, they’d be acknowledged as the world’s master of history and believe me the entire world would be banging on this person’s door to know everything.
Not to mention that if Hubbard really wanted to bring Scientology to the forefront of world affairs and influence, what better way to do it than to demonstrate that past lives are a reality with actual evidence and proof of such recalls? Hubbard could easily have passed James Randi’s million dollar challenge if he had a memory like he claimed, but what’s more important is he could have single handedly done more to advance man’s knowledge of himself and his history than any other single person in that history, living or dead. So you’ll have to forgive me if I take his claims with a grain of salt, but I don’t believe for a second that Hubbard had any such whole track recall.
Grunschloss goes on to relate both this and the concept of exteriorizing from the body back to UFO cults of the 1950s, which also shared both these ideas. He then brings it back to the question of Scientology being a religion by bringing up this very interesting point:
“All of the observations collected so far ‘load’ on the ‘religious factor,’ as I have called it. In order to do justice to Scientology’s self-reference, as well as to the perception of Scientology by the wider society, I would now have to open another, analogous box of examples that display the rather secular side of Scientology…. Hubbard’s disclosures about Dianetics and Scientology are always referred to as ‘technological’ disclosures. However, it is a quite ‘fantastic science’ or ‘technology’ that is implied in allusions like this. The predominant emphasis on inner-worldly improvement (rather than ‘salvation’), a commonsense ethic, the absorption of ‘therapeutic man’ (instead of homo religious), the absence of religious or spiritual-soteriological talk in the ‘success stories,’ the famous testing device of the so-called ‘Oxford Capacity Analysis’ and the ‘E-Meter,’ as well as the dominant self-perception as an ‘applied philosophy,’ ‘technology,’ or ‘religious technology’ – all that would point to the other side of the spectrum in which Scientology is locating its Weltanschauung and practice: within a commonly shared modern, secular, and rational worldview.” (p. 235)
In other words, with all its talk about technology and testing and no one really saying much of anything religious in their Scientology success stories, Scientology presents itself as a secular study in a great many ways. In his next section, called “The Dialetics of Disenchantment and Reenchantment” Grunschloss talks about Scientology’s place in modern society, how it uses modern marketing techniques and methods and even has registered trademarks of its key terms and phrases. And in this context, he asks:
“Is Scientology a New Age religion? It certainly is the technological religion of a fully disenchanted industrial world – or, to put it the other way round, a reenchanted therapeutic endeavor, a reenchanted secular technology. And that has also been an important hope for at least some New Age spiritual movements as well: to present applicable ‘tools’ for spirituality. What exactly is ‘New-Agey’ about Scientology? One needs only to visit an esoteric fair in order to find a huge array of booths presenting analogous (esoteric-religious) technologies: computerized I Ching analyses, aura photography, easy-to-handle crystal tools for every daily purpose, and much more. New religious movements of today – especially within the New Age realm – have grown out of the compartmentalized context of traditional Western ‘religion.’ They differ insofar as they not only have recourse to religious or spiritual issues on a global scale, but also absorb and amalgamate (aspects of) the critique of religion, a disenchanted worldview and the technological imagery of the modern context.” (p. 236)
The final section is called “A Post-Religious Movement?” and here Grunschloss talks about how Scientology posits itself as a modern and postreligious movement, wherein religious themes are absent from many of its rituals and practices and its main focus is on inner-wordly success and increased abilities, a sort of liberation from matter. And again, he asks:
“Now, is Scientology a New Age religion? . . . Sure, if you are inclined to use the New Age label at all. But Scientology is at the same time a postmodern and a postreligious movement – it is a ‘secularized religion,’ as Brian Wilson has put it, and as such it is difficult to grasp. But so are many other movements that we do perceive as legitimate objects of religious studies: the Raelians, for example, based on their reductionist explanations à la Erich von Däniken and Robert Charroux, perceive themselves as an ‘atheistic’ religion, enriched by stories about conversations with (alleged) space alien ancient astronauts. Here the supernatural is explained (away) in terms of the modern scientific worldview. And that is also a common feature of fantasy novels: They use religious imagery, but in the end it will be explained in terms of immanence. And in Scientology, we are confronted with the exciting case of a typical oscillation between fantasy genres (we’ve seen them reproduced in the ‘guided fantasies’ during auditing) and a science fiction (or ‘space opera’) mythology with anthropological, cosmological, and soteriological implications.” (p. 237)
So he’s making room for Scientology to be considered a religion but does this come across as apologetics? I don’t think so. Here I see honest analysis by a religious scholar who does not have a vested interest one way or the other in calling Scientology a religion and who can finally only conclude that it is by calling it a ‘secular religion’ like other oddball groups such as the Raelians. Following his train of logic, if I did not have the information and experience of my own past 30 years, I might come to a very similar conclusion about Scientology myself. Grunschloss’ summation of all this is here:
“Scientology can best be viewed as a mixture of therapeutic, technological, and evolutionary fantasies, incorporating some neo-gnostic myths about world and man, and spreading, selling itself according to late-capitalistic marketing strategies. With older strands of theosophical and esoteric movements it shares certain anthropological elements, conspiracy theories, belief in reincarnation (‘past lives’), and a special reverence to Buddhism (akin to Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine), as well as the hope for an approaching ‘New Age’ with a new fantastic synthesis of science/technology and religion at hands to solve mankind’s ultimate riddles. But the main accent, nevertheless, is on innerworldly progress: to guarantee and secure success, profit, and improvement of faculties in life – with ‘certainty,’ as it is stressed. To be able to ‘handle’ life easily (‘playing a better game’) is the promised goal – and the whole notion of ‘handling’ is a very, very important and significant aspect in Scientology. Despite the many critiques of the movement in political, legal, and public discourses, Scientology – with its massive slang of instrumental handling – has to be viewed as a very typical ‘product’ of our late-modern Western industrial society, because it mirrors and reflects most of that society’s basic economic convictions, instrumental fantasies of ongoing increasing success, as well as its tactics to maximize profit – and not all of them follow humane principles, either.” (p. 238)
Given Lewis’ proclivity towards apologetics, I’m actually very surprised that Grunschloss’ work made it in this book at all. His is an unsympathetic, honest and hard analysis of Scientology and even he acknowledges many times that if you are going to call Scientology a religion, you can only do with so many qualifications that you remove any relation of this religion with such mainstream religions as Christianity, Judaism or Islam. It simply is not and never was about being a religion in the same sense as those faith-based groups. I have already made my case for why Scientology is not a religion in my book, Scientology: A to Xenu, and I don’t need to re-hash it here. I will simply acknowledge that of everything I’ve read so far in this book and elsewhere, Grunschloss has made the only rational argument yet that refutes mine in any realistic way. For that, I was happy to read and talk about this and I can only hope that the rest of this book may somehow meet this standard. I’m not holding my breath though.
I’d love to hear any and all feedback and comments from you guys on this. Next time, we tackle Chapter 12, “Scientology: ‘Modern Religion’ or ‘Religion of Modernity’? by Gerald Willms. I have high hopes but low expectations about that one. See you next time. Thanks for watching.