We’re back for our next round with Scientology apologetics, taking apart this book “Scientology” edited by James R. Lewis and featuring essays from various religious scholars, sociologists, psychologists and the like.
This week, we have chapter 16 by Bernadette Rigal-Cellard and titled “Scientology Missions International (SMI): An Immutable Model of Technological Missionary Activity.” She is the Director of the Center for Canadian Inter-University Studies in Bordeaux, France and a specialist in North American religions. Unlike some other authors in this book, Bernadette manages to not gush over with enthusiasm while explaining how wonderful Scientology’s missionary activities are, but I will say from the start that I found the quality of her research to be lacking. As with almost all these authors, she fails to critically examine the information she is presenting and so skews or distorts the reality of Scientology’s popularity and growth in the real world. Now this week’s topic is pretty interesting stuff, so let’s dive right in and I’ll just fact check and offer commentary along the way. She starts with this:
“The following study looks at the way religions undergo transformations when they migrate from the country in which they were born to other cultures. With all the problems it has engendered in Europe in particular, where it is mostly held as the Trojan horse of American imperialism, the Church of Scientology offers a perfect case study. How do its missionaries, called mission holders, react to their new environment: Do they try to adapt to it, or, on the contrary, do they seek to adapt it to their own vision of the world? I will present here only the foundation of SMI, its European missions, its franchise system, and the duty of the mission holders.” (p. 325)
What she’s referring to when she talks about Scientology’s reputation as a ‘Trojan horse of American imperialism’ is the false claims made in France, Russia and perhaps Germany that Scientology is an agent of the CIA or other American intelligence interests, that it is a kind of “front group” for foreign interests to infiltrate these societies at all levels and undermine the national governments of these countries. From my point of view, this claim is preposterous and in all my years in Scientology, I never saw anything that would even hint at such activities. Be that as it may, this claim has been used by Scientology critics as a way of sowing seeds of distrust and malice towards Scientology. Given Hubbard’s rabid antagonism towards anything governmental and his preached conspiracy theories against world governments, as well as the level of paranoia and distrust we see coming from Scientology’s current leadership, I don’t think there are any factual grounds to base such theories on. What’s more, I don’t know why anyone has to stretch the truth beyond the breaking point to get into such conspiracy-minded nonsense when the actual truth about Scientology is already bad enough. It deserves to have its tax exemption revoked in every country where it is recognized as a religion. It should be more properly labelled a corporate business enterprise, which is what it really is. Muddying the waters with these false claims just makes it harder to get the actual truth about Scientology known.
So in this chapter, we have the Scientology mission system under examination. Missions are Scientology’s lowest-level corporate structure, the small groups which are supposed to act as feeder lines to the larger city churches and advanced organizations. In the past, some of these independent missions grew to impressive size when run by managers who understood the principles of promotion, marketing and delivery, but those days are long ago. Ever since the 1980s, missions have been almost universally small, struggling enterprises. If there is any metric of Scientology’s lack of growth over the past many years, the dismantling of the network of missions around the world is one of the best because it shows you how many Scientologists are willing and interested enough to actually strike out on their own to try to bring Scientology services to a new area and how often they fail miserably in the effort. Here’s how Cellard begins:
“Strangely enough, SMI, that is the mission system, properly speaking, was set up only in 1981 once the Church had already expanded worldwide. Before this date the term used, instead of mission, was ‘franchise.’ The authorities have explained that the foundation of a specific branch devoted to missions corresponded to a new era, ‘a new dawn within the Church’ (Qu’est 1998, 483), when several administrative changes were operated to put an end to the activities of the Guardian Office (GO), which had been created in 1966 to counter attack the criticisms leveled against the Church, but which was now found to have grown into an isolated and autonomous branch that did not abide by Hubbard’s rules (see Melton 2002: 27). It was also at that time that Hubbard retreated somehow from the direction of the Church to dedicate himself to his writing.
“His successors created the Church of Scientology International (CSI), to coordinate all the branches of the Church worldwide (these remain administratively independent) and SMI, called the superior ecclesiastical body that supervises all the missions (Qu’est 1998, 483). SMI manages the whole infrastructure and the training of the mission holders, with the guidance of the International Hubbard Ecclesiastical League of Pastors (IHELP).” (p. 326)
Now this bit of historical revisionism on the part of Cellard and the Church of Scientology sounds interesting enough but is actually not at all what actually went down. First off, the name change from “franchise” to “mission” occured well before 1981. Having lost its tax-exempt status in 1967, the Church of Scientology began a massive PR campaign to show that they were indeed religious in nature and deserved tax exemption. Part of this was changing the nomenclature of things such as franchises, which sound far too corporate and business-like, to missions which sound more like religious outreach groups. Nothing changed in the corporate model of the franchise system; the name change was superficial and simply a PR cover. Internally, Church officials throughout the 1970s and even into the 1980s still referred to them as franchises interchangeably.
The franchise system was setup as an additional income source for L. Ron Hubbard and became a way to expand Scientology without the church having to do any heavy lifting. Individual Scientologists would be allowed to open up a field practice, use the trademarks and service marks owned by Hubbard and in return had to pay 10% of their gross, not net, income each week. Now get this: I spoke with Nancy Many, a former Sea Org member who worked for years directly under L. Ron Hubbard and with Hubbard’s daughter, Diana, running the franchise/mission network in the 1970s and early 80s. She related that the mission network was actually a concern to the Guardian’s Office because it was a legal liability. Were anyone to sue one of the missions, they could theoretically take their suit all the way up to L. Ron Hubbard personally because of the way the missions were structured and how they were paying their administrative fees to the Church.
What’s more, the missions were independently operated with very little oversight or management direction from Scientology executives. There were only five people total overseeing the entire mission network and they didn’t have time to micromanage the missions the same way the orgs were being managed by a whole herd of Sea Org middle management executives. As I mentioned earlier, the result was that some of these missions grew to be much larger than the Scientology organizations and this created a great deal of upset with the Sea Org managers and eventually with L. Ron Hubbard himself. He then ordered that draconian actions be taken to “bring the missions under control” and this was why the entire mission network was brought to heel and under the corporate sort-out, was put under a much more rigid reporting system under Scientology Missions International.
As to that bit from Cellard about how the GO was operating independently of Hubbard’s rules, how Hubbard retreated from managing the Church himself and how SMI manages the missions with the guidance and help of the International Hubbard Ecclesiastical League of Pastors – all of that is pure fantasy invented by Scientology PRs and fed to Cellard, who did not bother to do any independent research or fact check any of Scientology’s claims. I’ve covered in detail in other videos on my channel how the GO was operating directly under the guidance and supervision of L. Ron Hubbard to the very day of thier dissolution and how Hubbard never let go of the reins of management of Scientology. His own public briefing lectures to Scientologists from the early 1980s refute this claim all by themselves, so there’s no need for me to go on a whole roll proving this.
I just wanted to point this out because Cellard is getting this mission network situation all wrong from the very beginning of her essay and it only gets worse from here. Her next section is called “European Missions” and is three paragraphs of obfuscation and nonsense from various sources about how many Scientology missions existed on the European continent as of 2008. This book was published in 2011, so I’m not sure why Cellard’s information stops at 2008, but that is the latest update of the figures she reports. Basically, she makes this assertion:
“The number [of missions] has been increasing tremendously in the last twenty-five years due to the intensification of the crusade launched by David Miscavige. Europe ranks second after the United States for the number of missions: In 1983, there were 40 missions, which had grown to 197 as of 2002.
“Internationally, the latest figures available (on the Web site) give 3,200 missions, churches, and groups; there were 2,600 in 1998.” (p. 326)
Let’s take a harder look at this, shall we? I did a lot of casting around on the Scientology website to try to get a simple list of their current missions and churches around the world, but no such list exists. Instead, you get a “church location finder” and a limited display of churches and missions by region. If you want to get a full list, you would have to sit for hours on the computer and list them all out by geographical area and hope that you were thorough enough to get them all. I didn’t have time for that. Fortunately, I didn’t have to because Mike Rinder’s blog came to the rescue. An internal Church document had been leaked in 2014 which listed every extant mission on the planet and how they were doing in terms of selling books. After analyzing this list to see which were truly active versus were just being kept on the list to keep the statistics up, the results were quite eye-opening. Here’s the quote from Mike on this:
“Thanks to Draco, Silvia, Roy McGregor, MaBu and Detlef Rutchaz for taking the time to sort through the list and conclude that there are either 94, 96 or 98 ACTIVE MISSIONS on planet Earth. My guess was confirmed. This is about 25% of the number reported by the church, and added to the 150 orgs means there are about 250 SCIENTOLOGY ORGS AND MISSIONS INTERNATIONALLY (while they assert there are 11,000 Scientology orgs, missions and ‘associated groups’).”
Now I’m throwing a lot of figures around but let’s get back to Cellard’s assertion that Scientology is seeing unprecented growth in Europe. She wrote that as of 2002 there were 197 missions in Europe, an increase of 492% over a 19 year period from 1983 to 2002. So how many active missions are in Europe now according to Scientology’s own internal documents? Here’s the list:
Belgium – Mechelen
Czech Republic – Pilsen
France – Marseille, Bordeaux
Germany – Ulm, Teck, Wiesbaden, Goppingen, Bremen
Hungary – Miskolc, Buda, Fovaros, Dunaujvaros, Szekszard, Eger, Szeged
Italy – Olbia, Macerata, Lecco, Lugano, Bergamo, Pisa, Barletta, Como, Ravenna, Genova, S. Angelo, Cosenza, Ragusa, Avellino, Modena
Macedonia – Skopje
Spain – Senigallia, Valencia, Sevilla, Cercedilla
Switzerland – Luzern, Bellinzona, Zug
Ukraine – Shatilavka
The total is 40, which means that if Cellard’s figures are right, then in the 12 years between 2002 and 2014, that 492% expansion popped like a balloon and they went right back to where they were in 1983. 40 active missions in Europe total in 1983 and again in 2014. So is David Miscavige spearheading a massive period of growth and expansion for Scientology all around the world? Hardly.
Now this next bit is interesting and is the first time anyone in this book has mentioned Steven Kent, an academic who has been critical of Scientology and its activities for years. This actually describes pretty accurately how Scientology missions operate.
“Missions function as franchises, even though the term stopped being used in 1981, whose official program was set up in 1959. They operate as commercial companies, of the associative type, and have their own local administration board that is responsible for the overall financial management of the mission. Minute accounting is extremely important for the Church of Scientology. Traditional Christian missionaries had to report on the progress they made to their authorities and also to their bankers but never with the same accuracy. In a society obsessed with figures, digits, feasibility, projects, results, and with the instantaneous transmission of orders from the hierarchy and from its accountants, the Scientologist mission holder cannot improvise nor remain vague on his or her daily activities. Goals are set and constantly repeated to keep up the stamina of the missionary. It is this intense financial management that has led critics to see in Scientology a major transnational firm, more interested in its bank accounts than in true spiritual teachings, unlike the major traditional evangelizing Churches. Typically, in his 1999 study, ‘The Globalization
of Scientology: Influence, Control and Opposition in Transnational Markets,’ Stephen A. Kent explained how Ron Hubbard fought against the American
government and wooed international elites in order to establish the respectability of the group. He also described the publicity campaigns on the path to happiness organized in foreign countries. However, if Scientology missionaries are great PR managers, they operate like most missionaries throughout the world and throughout the ages with the latest communication tools at hand.” (p. 327)
Later she describes how Scientology mission holders do not get any financial assistance from the Church of Scientology either with renting their quarters, paying their staff or even in originally stocking up on Scientology materials. Instead, it’s all on the back of the mission holder, who invests all his money and accepts all liability for anything going wrong. It’s quite a system in which the Church of Scientology gains a percentage of the profits for doing quite literally nothing at all. So how much does a mission holder have to initially invest?
“Again, unlike most traditional missionaries who may have only a few books and aids to work with, Scientologists have to take along masses of cases containing books and aids, the practice of Scientology requiring an exact knowledge of all the writings of Ron Hubbard. They must also carry the tech (the technology used in the spiritual work of the Church). None of these books or machines are rented or lent by the Church; mission holders must buy them with their own money, and it must be said that they cost quite a lot. The basic Mission Starter Package costs $35,000, the Scientology Handbook, $80, and the Volunteer Minister Course Pack, $15 (2001 prices). The Package contains a full bookshop, a video set, Public Film System, films, dissemination brochures, prepared courses, and an E-Meter for auditing.” (p. 328)
So you can see this is no light committment these mission holders are making when they are sold by Scientology recruiters on the idea of starting a mission in an area. The bulk of the rest of the essay covers the various responsibilities of the mission holder to find suitable quarters, recruit his staff and then get to work selling books and Scientology services so as to cover his costs and pay a percentage to the Church. There was another interesting tidbit amongst this that I thought quite interesting and which also may answer some questions people have about how it is that Scientology could possibly grow in this day of such toxic PR and exposure of its abuses. While most poeple who are at all familiar with Scientology know about the personality tests they offer, it turns out that this is not their mainline method of gaining new members.
“According to Church stats, in 52.6 percent cases, it is through friends that the newcomers will be recruited. Publicity (4.8 percent) and lectures (3.1 percent) are less efficient. Scientology’s famous personality test, the Oxford Capacity Analysis, is said to be in fact not very useful, and only 18 percent of neophytes are recruited in this way. This personality test is the trademark of the Church, like the door-to-door evangelization campaigns of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the pairs of Mormon missionaries, or the Christmas carols of the Salvation Army. The test contains 200 questions meant to understand the personality of the respondent and his or her shortcomings. It is filled out on the spot, or on the Internet, or mailed. The answers are thoroughly analyzed and the results explained to the respondents with the solutions offered by the Church. Scientologists estimate only about 10 percent of the respondents will actually go beyond the lower stages of initiation and embark on the auditing process.” (p. 330)
This simply confirms what I and others had already suspected: that it is only through direct friend-to-friend or family-member-to-family-member contact that Scientology gets any new members at all. In fact, I’d be pretty sure at this point that the rate of success of their proselytizing is even worse now than Cellard reported back in 2011.
Cellard concludes her essay with words of praise for Scientology’s mission network, claiming that it is a great proving ground for rugged Scientologists to “develop survival skills in any conditions without relying on the material support of the hierarchy or of the group.” (p. 332). I would beg to differ, but what do I know? When you look at Scientology’s management hierarchy and its relative success around the world compared to almost any other religion, you find it is the world’s fastest shrinking religion. It routinely and habitually lies to its members at every opportunity in order to bilk them of their money and time. In the end, Scientology is an authoritarian control system which seeks to wield ultimate control over every one of its members in terms of how they think and act. So clearly it deserves every opportunity possible to be praised and admired by academics like Cellard and the others in this ridiculous book.
Next in this series, we join Henrik Bogdan to continue our European tour of Scientology with “The Church of Scientology in Sweden.” I can’t wait.
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Thank you for watching.