This week we continue on our slugfest of apologetics contained in this book, Scientology, edited by James R. Lewis and containing essays and articles written by sociologists, religious scholars, psychologists and the like, mostly slanted favorably towards Scientology and its status as a tax-exempt religious organization. I am deconstructing this nonsense so you don’t have to. This week’s puff piece about Scientology’s legal battles in various countries is unfortunately not an exception to most of what we have covered, so I’m going to skim lightly over this and spare you most of the obviously biased nonsense.
Author James T. Richardson is a Professor of Sociology and Judicial Studies and the Director of the Master of Judicial Studies Degree Program at the University of Nevada in Reno. According to his wikipedia article, he is notably outspoken on high-profile cases such as Elizabeth Smart and Patty Hearst and is a scientific critic of brainwashing theories. I looked into this a bit and found that he is a co-hort of Gordon Melton, who I have talked about already at length earlier in this series as one of the most intellectually dishonest academic advocates for Scientology and other destructive cults. While claiming to be objective, I’ve already shown you in this series how Melton all but parrots Scientology’s own promotional materials, writes off any former member’s testimony as unworthy of his attention and even went so far as to testify in favor of Aum Shinrikyo after they used sarin gas to try to commit mass murder. I have no patience for this man’s apologetics as he is literally so blind to his own biases that he feels it is a perfectly acceptable practice for what he calls “new religious movements” to destroy families, extort millions of dollars from their members and even blatantly violate the law as a standard practice of their “religious beliefs.” So when I saw that James T. Richardson was not only allied with Melton but even writing academic papers in defense of destructive cults, my hackles of course went up.
I want to clarify something about these apologetic scholars. To give them the benefit of the doubt, it appears to me that many of them do what they do because they believe in the concept of religious freedom and they want to see people express themselves however those people desire when it comes to religious expression. Now I don’t have any argument with such a view when it comes to basic principles. However, what these scholars don’t seem to realize is that because they are on a crusade to speak in defense of any group that calls itself a religion, their biases have blinded them to the harm that some, not all, of these new religious movements cause. They’re either blind to it or they just don’t care what damage these groups cause, because these academics think that you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. This end-justifies-the-means approach indicates to me that their ability to be forward or nuanced thinkers is severely hampered by their opinions and this colors everything they say or write in defense of these groups.
I honestly don’t know why they ignore the evidence of harm these groups cause – I really don’t – but ignore it they do. And that is why you see me talking about them in such derogatory terms. The evidence of harm that Scientology causes is right in front of their faces and they will not talk about or even acknowledge it exists. They write-off any controversy as rumor or beneath their notice and they completely disregard any idea of undue influence or even that these destructive cults lie to their members in order to gain their trust and membership. When you lie to someone to get them to do something, that means you are misrepresenting what you actually are and fooling that person, who thinks they are doing something else than what the are really doing.
For example, if I get you to give me money under the pretext that I’m going to give it to a humanitarian charity that will teach illiterate kids to read, but instead I use it to buy a pair of Salvatore Ferragamo loafers, which cost $1,000 a pair, then it doesn’t matter what I call myself – I’m a con man. If I dress up like a minister and say I’m a religious leader and claim that I should have tax exemption for my activities, because what I do is spiritual in nature – that’s simply not a statement of fact. Yet that is exactly what Scientology is doing.
Now how would you feel about some academic if I got him to tell you that yes, what I’m doing is very religious and totally justified, and it’s completely acceptable that I lied to you and took your money under false pretenses? That what I was doing was absolutely a religous activity and who are you to question it at all?
I’m sure you see where I’m coming from but the problem is that these religous scholars and academics don’t see it. The best case scenario for Scientology apologists is that they are totally blind to the damage they are doing. And that’s if I give them every benefit of the doubt that they truly believe in what they are doing and have everyone’s best interests at heart.
There is also the view that some of these guys are simply publishing puff-piece apologetics in favor of Scientology because they have to publish something and Scientology is all too willing to pay them some grant money to favor Scientology. To my way of thinking, that is pretty disgusting, and that’s why after fourteen chapters of this book, you see me talking the way I am about these guys.
So, what do we have this week with James T. Richardson? We have a fluffy review of Scientology’s litigous activities in various countries around the world, as it has bludgened its way through the court systems just as L. Ron Hubbard said to do, either silencing its critics or demanding that it be recognized as a religious activity even though anyone who objectively reviews its activities clearly can see that it doesn’t operate as a religon, but actually is a business in most respects. I don’t know any other religous activity that demands weekly and even daily reports to its central management about how much money it has raked in from its members that week, do you?
I found it fascinating in a chapter entitled “Scientology in Court: A Look at Some Major Cases from Various Nations” that Richardson chose to completley ignore what was probably one of the most dangerous and devastating legal investigations Scientology ever faced: the death of Lisa McPherson in Clearwater, Florida in 1995. I can only assume that this is because Lisa’s death flies directly in the face of Richardson’s view of all new religious movements as kind, beneficial organizations which just have their own system of belief and don’t do any harm in the real world. Anyone familiar with Lisa McPherson’s death through gross physical negligence and psychological torture knows that Scientology has very dirty hands when it comes to dealing with some of its members. Richardson didn’t want to go anywhere near that case so stated in a footnote that he was only going to address civil cases.
Let me just establish for you how I came to the conclusion that Richardson is not objective or unbiased towards Scientology. His introduction to his paper starts off strong but quickly devolves into a pro-Scientology stance which I think you’ll catch right away:
“Scientology has also been forced to defend itself from civil suits and even criminal charges, as well, with former members claiming that they were tricked into participating in Scientology and paying significant sums for the auditing courses offered by the organization. One such civil case was that brought by former member Larry Wollersheim in 1988 in California. He was initially awarded a total of $30 million by a civil jury (including $25 million in punitive damages) that accepted his claims even though they were based in part on unscientific evidence concerning ‘brainwashing.’ Similar cases were brought against Scientology over several decades in America, with some significant judgments being rendered against the organization. Most awards were, however, overturned on appeal, as Scientology legal teams moved the cases from trial courts to appeal courts where judges were perhaps more objective than American juries in their decision-making process and more informed of the applicable law.” (p. 283)
Nice, isn’t it, how he blames ignorant juries for Scientology losing court cases, and how they had to go to an appeals court to win? I’m sure that some of those Scientology victories had nothing to do with dragging out these cases for literally years or even decades, wearing down their opponents’ morale and bank accounts so that they simply couldn’t fight anymore. That is one of the advantages Scientology has. With its billions of dollars in reserves, it can afford to file motion after motion and delay after delay, taking advantage of every legal trick in the book to wear down their opposition. There’s another factor which Richardson also cites:
“In both these situations involving Scientology as either a plaintiff or a defendant, the organization has entered the legal arena vigorously, using its considerable legal prowess to its advantage. Obviously this use of the legal system will be more effective in certain contexts, but Scientology has managed to act effectively in many different societies to defend its interest in court. It is the prototype of what sociologists of law refer to as a ‘repeat player’ within the legal arena. Its attorneys generally know the law relevant to its issues of concern as well as the way a given legal system operates. Consequently it generally has been effective when engaged in litigation. Those with whom it deals within this arena are often at some disadvantage in that they may well be less experienced than the representatives of Scientology who are adversaries in a given case. This can be the case even in situations in which Scientology is suing a governmental agency. The vigor and deliberateness with which Scientology makes use of the legal system is impressive, and it has probably caused some who would criticize or even research the organization to reconsider before doing so. It may be fitting to call Scientology’s approach to litigation a form of ‘disciplined or vigilante litigation,’ terms developed by Cote and Richardson (2001) to describe the very focused and deliberate use of the legal system by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in recent decades, not only in the United States but elsewhere, such as in the European Court of Human Rights.” (p. 284)
Interesting, isn’t it, how Richardson seems to be impressed by this, and not just with Scientology but with the Jehovah’s Witnesses too, another destructive cult which has been proven to shelter pedophiles and destroy families through its practice of disfellowship. I haven’t really brought this up much, but these academics are not just Scientology apologists. They work for anyone who will pay their grant monies and the Jehovah’s Witnesses have deep pockets too.
Richardson spends the next ten pages reviewing Scientology’s success mainly in establishing itself legally as a religion in various countries, something he clearly has no problem with as a sociologist and legal expert. I noted that his education includes no degree work in the area of religion. He writes that Scientology’s victories have made it easier for other new religious movements to gain the same religious recognition, which personally is something I think people should be somewhat alarmed by considering that Scientology is not the only group using religious cloaking as a legal shield for their unsavory activities.
In fact, Richardson was quick to defend the activities of a fringe Mormon cult led by Brian Mitchell, who kidnapped 15-year old Elizabeth Smart in 2001. She was repeatedly raped, tied up and threatened with death if she tried to escape. Yet Richardson and his academic peers have written and testified that this wouldn’t constitute anything like brainwashing and that such threats and physical punishments wouldn’t unduly influence her decision making faculties. Imagine for a moment the mindset of a 15-year old girl who was experiencing that kind of ordeal and tell me if common sense alone doesn’t tell you that such actions against her would destroy her will and self-esteem to the point that she would be putty in her captor’s hands.
Having read volumes of Scientology promotional pieces about their own legal victories and how they stand out in the fight for religious freedom for all religions, and then comparing it to the drivel that Richardson wrote in this piece, I couldn’t help but wonder if he was writing some of Scientology’s promotion for them. After all, look at how he concludes his paper:
“Scientology has grown at a phenomenal rate since 1954, when groups that had organized around the famous Dianetics volume written by L. Ron Hubbard coalesced and defined themselves as a religion. Its claims concerning number of members (ten million members in 150 countries as of 2007) may be inflated and count everyone who has every taken a beginning auditing course. But even discounting that figure leaves one with the impression of a group that has gained considerable momentum in recent decades, and it has done so in spite of quite significant opposition in many areas around the world. Scientology is disliked by political and religious officials, treated negatively by the media, and viewed with suspicion by many in the general public. But in spite of that animus, Scientology has attracted many participants and grown and spread around the globe (Melton, 2000).” (p. 292)
I think it’s been shown pretty clearly in recent media stories, and certainly on my channel, that Scientology is the world’s fastest shrinking religion and that it’s “amazing growth” was never anything but a fantasy dreamed up by its executives to fool the world into thinking Scientology was legit. I’d be shocked if they could produce tangible evidence that their active membership numbers are higher than 25,000 people at this point, including their staff members and everyone in the Sea Organization. But facts are clearly not something that Richardson is going to let get in the way of his analysis:
“That growth has been contested, but Scientology leadership has been more than willing to assert itself and deal with whatever opposition it has encountered in quite sophisticated ways, even if some critics define its methods as heavy-handed and overly aggressive. The description of how Scientology dealt with the IRS in America, even if only partially accurate, demonstrates this mode of operation well. The Scientology organization will use many tactics to accomplish its ends, with one of the preferred ones clearly being use of the legal system when this is possible. In some parts of the world, access to a judicial system that operates with a semblance of following the rule of law is rare, if not impossible. But in most modern Western-oriented nations, Scientology and other minority faiths can access courts that have some degree of autonomy, and they can expect to have a reasonable chance of success in such an arena.” (p. 292)
Again, it’s not just pandering but it’s like Richardson actually admires how Scientology gets the job done. Stalking, harassment, blackmail, extortion – it’s all good as long as they win their legal victories, right Jim?
Well, I’m done with this guy. Thanks for listening everyone. Next week, it’s chapter 15, “The Church of Scientology in France: Legal and Activist Counterattacks in the ‘War on Sectes.'” Seeing how Richardson referred to this paper in is chapter and spoke highly of its author, Susan J. Palmer, I’m predicting more of the same as what we had this week, but let’s see what happens.
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