Hello again and welcome to the next installment in my on-going series deconstructing this book, Scientology, edited by James R. Lewis and featuring essays and articles by religious scholars, academics and the like about, you guessed it, Scientology. So far, almost all of these have been purely Scientology apologetics as these scholars rush to defend Scientology from its critics, which is what attracted me to this in the first place.
This week it’s “The Church of Scientology in Sweden” by Henrik Bogdan. He is a professor of Religious Studies and Senior Lecturer at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. His main areas of research are western esotericism and new religious movements. He’s written numerous books about Aleister Crowley, the Freemasons and the occult and appears to be an advocate for new religious movements in his country. However, I have to say that this essay was a real disappointment. Here’s someone who is intimately familiar with occult practices that shaped much of Scientology’s structure and framework, yet there is not one word here about any of that.
Truth be told, Bogdan’s essay reads like a book report that a Swedish middle schooler may have written. I appreciated that Bogdan for the most part kept apologetics out of this, but I was really hoping for a bit more meat. I’ll cover some of the more interesting aspects of what he said just to give you an overview of religion and Scientology in Sweden, and comment on a couple of points I differed with Bogdan on. And unlike my tragic foray into French in my earlier videos, this time I’ll minimize any attempts to talk Swedish.
Bogdan starts with a broad overview of religion in Sweden, which until the year 2000 consisted mainly of the Lutheran Church of Sweden. As he puts it:
“Until the 1960s Sweden was – in comparison with most other European countries – a comparatively homogenous country, both from an ethnic and a religious perspective. The official evangelical-Lutheran religion as formulated and propagated by the Swedish State Church was characterized by nationalism, unity, and homogeneity, whereas other forms of religion were often met with hostility and suspicion. In effect, being Swedish actually meant being a member of the State Church, and the only other practiced forms of religion from the Reformation to the nineteenth century were those of immigrant Jews and Catholics. It was not until 1860 that Swedish citizens were allowed to leave the State Church, but only on the condition that they became members of congregations approved by the state, which in practice meant the Catholic Church and the Methodists. From the mid-nineteenth century various new Christian denominations were established throughout Sweden, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1850), the Plymouth Brethren movement (1876), Seventh-day Adventists (1880), Jehovah’s Witnesses (1899), and Christian Science (1905), along with a number of alternative forms of religion including various spiritualist organizations and esoteric movements such as the Theosophical Society (1888), the Martinist Order (1890s), and the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor (1890s). However, these new organizations posed no real threat to the hegemony of the State Church, and membership in the new organizations was very limited compared to that of the State Church.” (p. 336)
If this is true, Swedes have never really had much of a problem accepting new religious movements inside their borders but Bogdan says it wasn’t until 1951 that Sweden officially passed a law allowing people to leave the State Church and choose their own religious beliefs and this of course opened the door to an influx of more religious movements.
“The 1960s and 1970s saw the establishment in Sweden of a number of international NRMs that reflected the broader trends of contemporary religious changes in the United States and Western Europe. The first Transcendental Meditation group in Sweden was established as early as 1961, only fours years after Maharishi Mahesh Yogi founded the Spiritual Regeneration Movement in Madras. The formation of the Transcendental Meditation group was probably prompted by the fact that Maharishi had visited Sweden in 1960 on his travels around the world. The Unification Church was established in 1969 – that is to say, around the same time as the Church of Scientology – and two years later the Family/Children of God appeared in Sweden. Other international NRMs that established themselves in Sweden at this time included the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) in 1973…and the Osho movement in 1978.” (p. 336)
So Scientology was not the only destructive cult to get involved in Sweden. But how does such a thing happen? Well, taking Bogdan at his word, and I actually have little reason not to, it came to Sweden during the period of civil unrest that was the late 1960s. I don’t know for sure how much the Vietnam War or radical political groups influenced Sweden in that time period, but Bogdan paints a picture of social and political turmoil, especially in the universities, and other historical accounts I read of that time tend to agree. Here’s what he says:
“It is thus not surprising that the first forms of Scientology activity were organized by a small group of students in the university town of Lund. In Stockholm the first Scientology group met at the home of a young art student, Tomas Tillberg, who had visited the Church of Scientology headquarters at Saint Hill in East Grinstead, Sussex, during the spring of 1968. After another visit to Saint Hill a few months later, during which he completed a course in communication, Tillberg set up a Scientology group at his home [in Stockholm]. In April 1969 the group was elevated to the status of a formal church by the headquarters at Saint Hill. In Gothenburg the Church of Scientology established itself in a similar manner with people interested in Scientology traveling to Saint Hill in 1967, and then setting up a group in May 1968. As was the case with the Stockholm group, the group in Gothenburg initially had the authority only to teach the course in communication.
“The Church of Scientology spread quickly across Sweden with a number of centers established in various cities such as Eskilstuna and Örebro, but it was in the three largest cities, Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö, that the Church of Scientology would be most successful. The Church of Scientology apparently attracted a large number of members during the first couple of years, and according to one source the number of sympathizers had reached around seven thousand in 1970, although it must be stated that this figure appears to be unduly high.” (p. 337)
Given that the Church of Scientology classicaly inflates its figures by at least one order of magnitude, we can safely bet that there were more like 700 active Scientologists in Sweden in the 1970s and I doubt the actual figure has ever gone above 1,000. Unfortunately, what Scientology lacks in numbers, it makes up for with a big mouth and they did gain tax exemption.
“It would take thirty years for the Church of Scientology in Sweden to be legally recognized as a so-called voluntary organization with a religious purpose, and on November 23, 1999, the tax authorities decided to grant the Church of Scientology tax exemption. The following year, on March 13, 2000, the Church of Scientology was registered as a religious community by the National Judicial Board for Public Lands and Funds.” (p. 337)
So that’s the basic history of how Scientology arrived in Sweden. So now let’s look at the anti-Scientology movement there and Bogdan’s less than sympathetic stance about it:
“Its active role in society has made the Church of Scientology one of the most well known NRMs in Sweden, but it has also attracted a lot of negative attention. Many of the misconceptions and prejudices found among the public often stem from the yellow press, which has accused the Church of Scientology of being manipulative and dishonest. Chief among the allegations is the notion that the Church of Scientology practices brainwashing and that members are being forced to spend huge amounts of money on the courses offered by the Church. The latest trend in the gossip press is to focus on celebrities such as Tom Cruise and to emphasize what is often seen as ‘weird’ or ‘strange’ in the Church of Scientology.” (p. 339)
So right out of the gates, Bogdan is calling the media the “yellow” or “gossip press.” The Church of Scientology has been shown countless times to be manipulative and dishonest to its members, both in court as well as by testimonials from its former members. It is no stretch of the imagination for anyone in the media to report on this, and doing so does not constitute gossip. This is how Bogdan’s apologetics rear their ugly head. In his mind, Scientology is simply misunderstood by the public because of shoddy journalism, not because Scientology’s actions or methods are somehow harmful. And that is the number one problem that I have with academics like Bogdan: their refusal to consider the possibility that destructive cults like Scientology have earned their poor reputations by engaging in harmful behavior.
There are two particular events which Bogdan cites as controversial media reports on Scientology in Sweden. Let’s discuss these briefly. The first has to do with the E-meter and the second with Scientology’s confidential upper-level scriptures otherwise known as the OT levels.
“The ‘E-Meter case’ was brought about by criticism leveled against the content of a number of advertisements placed in the Swedish Scientology magazine <i>Start<i> in 1973. According to the advertisements, the E-Meter could measure the mental state of human beings, a position that attracted the opposition of psychiatrists and certain members of the heath department. The advertisements were reported to the Consumer Ombudsman, and in 1976 the Swedish Market Court banned the Church of Scientology from formulating their advertisements in such a manner. The decision was appealed by the Church of Scientology on the grounds of religious freedom. The case eventually reached both the Supreme Court and the European Commission of Human Rights, however, without any results. The case received widespread media attention, and it became clear that Scientology and Dianetics stood in sharp contrast with the more traditional forms of psychiatric health care. Criticism from psychiatrists was fierce, and it was argued that information provided by the Church of Scientology was misleading and false. The criticism was reflected in the rhetoric of the Church of Scientology, which argued not only that traditional forms of psychiatry violated human rights, but also that psychiatry’s use of diagnoses is not based on scientific or medical premises and that the treatments used by psychiatry (particularly the use of drugs) has a negative effect on patients. The debate was thus highly polarized, and the general public, through the media, tended to side with the psychiatrists and representatives of health-care institutions and viewed the use of the E-Meter as something suspect or fraudulent. But as Swedish sociologist of religion Jonas Alwall has argued, the critics did not take into account the fact that the use of the E-Meter is an integrated part of the religious belief system of Scientology, and that the claims of effectiveness of the E-Meter should be placed in the wider religious discourse of Scientology.” (p. 339)
Actually, Scientology’s claims about the religiosity of the E-meter are taken into account by many Scientology critics. Those claims are dismissed as ridiculous, because that is as much attention as such claptrap deserves. Here’s the hypocrisy of Scientology demonstrated beautifully in this one example. On one hand, to its members Scientology claims that the E-meter is a scientifically created electronic measuring device which can sense the influence of mental image pictures on the body and that this breakthrough in electronics was what enabled Hubbard to move forward with the eradication of spiritual trauma and stress reaching back millions and even trillions of years. On the other hand, Scientology claims to religous scholars and judges in courtrooms that the meter is nothing but a religious artifact of faith and has no real scientific accuracy or value and so should not be fact checked as would any machinery or tools which doctors use to heal patients.
They want to have their cake and eat it too, and so far they have succeeded with this tactic everywhere the validity of the meter has been challenged, going back to the famous attempt by the FDA and FBI to put down this pseudoscientific nonsense back in the 1960s. People ask me all the time why it is that the government doesn’t step in and do something about the obvious fraud of Scientology. Well, when it comes to the E-meter, all I can say is the government did take their best shot and they lost in court. In no small part, they lost because academic dupes like Bogdan and Jonas Alwall write articles like this or testify in defense of Scientology, empowering its religiosity defense and thereby allowing Scientology to lie through its teeth to its members. The E-meter is a device which costs about $40 to produce and is sold for $5,000 to Scientologists. It is nearly useless on any count. I honestly don’t understand what it is that drives these scholars to contribute to such blatant fraud, but as you can see, the fact that Scientology lies to its own members about the E-meter does not give these scholars even a moment of pause.
As to the OT levels, the controversy stemmed from a Swedish citizen posting these confidential materials on the internet in Sweden in 1996. This of course opened them up to public ridicule and Scientologists hate that almost as much as they hate losing money over people finding out the secrets which members have to pay hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to learn. It wasn’t until pressure was brought from the US on the Swedish government that it relented in 1997, restricing access to the OT levels on the internet. This was later overturned by the Swedish Supreme Court, by the way. Now here, Bogdan does describe part of the problem in acknowledging that these documents are even religious in nature:
“The practice of regarding the Church of Scientology as not falling into the domain of religious discourse has a number of reasons, one of which is to be found in the language of Scientology itself and the way the Church presents itself to the public, which is often interpreted as a form of pseudo-science falling in a liminal position somewhere between science and religion. This state of liminality is illustrated by the fact that Scientology in Sweden is often perceived as not being a true or proper form of religion, and at the same time failing to meet the standards of scientific criteria.” (p. 341)
It’s clear which side of the argument Bogdan has chosen but to be blunt, he chose wrong and he really should know it. It’s interesting that he even cites the website of one of Sweden’s most prominent anticult groups, FRI, which says “It’s not about religion but about manipulation.” It’s right there but these religious scholars just refuse to see it.
In fact, Bogdan’s next section in this essay is all about the Swedish anticult movement. Considering how poorly the other academics in this book have painted such groups as the Cult Awareness Network, I do have to hand it to Bogdan that at least he gives the anticult side a fair shake in stating why they don’t like groups like Scientology. He says:
“According to Liselotte Frisk, the primary arguments expressed by FRI against movements such as the Church of Scientology are that they exploit the insecurity and idealism of youths, they are dishonest about their real objectives, they systematically break down their members through techniques that aim to change the behavior of the members, the movements confiscate the assets of their members, religion is often used as a cover for receiving tax-exempt status, their true goals are power and money, they use psychological and sometimes physical violence against their members, they represent a fascist ideology and ethics, they have authoritarian leaders, and they practice mind control or brainwashing.
“According to their website FRI has been in contact with over 500 defectors, out of whom about 200 have been subjected to deprogramming, and according to Frisk FRI claimed that between 20 and 30 of these deprogrammed individuals had belonged to the Church of Scientology. In discussing the Church of Scientology on their Web site, FRI enumerates four aspects that Scientology allegedly shares with other ‘totalitarian’ groups. First, they manipulate their members by withholding important information and by using suggestion during the auditing process and in their courses. Second, they control their members through confessions and surveillance and by encouraging members to inform on one another. Third, they restrain members through the notion that the words of L. Ron Hubbard are a law that is forbidden to change or discuss. Fourth, Scientology offends its members through bullying if one does not make any progress, and by questioning the judgment of members if they do anything wrong. FRI is frequently used by the Swedish media as an expert body when the subject of NRMs is being discussed.” (p. 341)
Alright, now every single one of these claims are true. I just wanted to point out that it’s not like Bogdan hasn’t seen or been exposed to the counter-claims against Scientology and similar destructive cult practices. Besides penning this pretty neutral article, though, I don’t think Bogdan has actually written or done any speaking about Scientology, so I’m really not down on him too hard over this topic.
Like I said at the beginning, this article was a rather vanilla review of Scientology’s history in Sweden but at least taught us a couple new things about how it has been getting along in Europe. I’d love to hear from any of you who have lived or do now live in Sweden and heard anything about Scientology there. Let me know in the comments section below what you think of all this and if it matches up with what you saw.
We are coming up on the end of this journey with only a few more chapters to go. Next time, we journey to Scientology in Australia with Adam and Alphia Possamai. And for that one, I may just have some commentary from Steve Cannae’s new book, Fair Game, which is very likely a more honest chronicle of Scientology’s misadventures in the Land Down Under than this academic essay.
Please share this video far and wide and if you haven’t subscribed to my channel, now is the time! Also please consider helping me continue providing this content by supporting my Patreon campaign or any of the other donation methods in the notes section below. Regardless of any of that, though, thank you for watching.