Hey everyone, we are really coming down the home stretch on this series with only three more chapters to cover after this one. This chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the book Scientology, edited by James R. Lewis, has been highly educational in terms of how far off the beam some academics can go in writing apologetics pieces in favor of the Church of Scientology. We’ve covered a lot of ground in this series actually, from Scientology beliefs and mythology to its supposed contributions to the community, its outreach programs around the world, as well as some of the legal and moral controversies it has been involved in. The last few chapters have covered Scientology’s experience in specific non-US countries and this week we go to the Land Down Under, Australia.
Adam Possamai is Professor of Sociology and the Director of Research and Higher Degree Research in the School of Social Sciences and Psychology at Western Sydney University. He is also a novelist and the past President of the International Sociological Association’s Committee 22 on the Sociology of Religion. He is currently working on a monograph on religion and neo-liberalism.
Alphia Possamai-Inesedy is an Associate Professor in sociology at the Western Sydney University. She is currently involved in ongoing research that focuses on the democratization of science, post-secularity, risk society as well as religion and spirituality.
These professors are both competent and educated, but neither of them appear to have delved too deeply into Scientology as a subject, so I can surmise that the basic mistake they have made in this paper is to lump in Scientology as a New Religious Movement along with other more legitimate groups of a religious nature and thereby argue that Scientology is not getting a fair shake. I’ve broken down in earlier videos in this series how wrongheaded this is, because if you are going to defend any group on the basis of religious beliefs then you better do your research to make sure it actually is a religion in the first place, versus a group that is simply using religious cloaking to hide its true intent. In this, Adam and Alphia Possamai’s paper is a big fail. They simply assume that because Scientology claims its a religion, that it is. And this is so easy for any group to claim, that you see con men and very abusive individuals make this claim about their organizations and academics such as these two jump on the bandwagon to defend them from the evil media and big bad governments who the academics claim don’t know what they are talking about. However, to be fair to the academics, the truth is more complicated than the media usually portrays it. In the end, this does not come down to a simple black-and-white issue, so let’s break it down. Their introduction begins:
“Australia is a country that has seen its religious groups being diversified over the years; as part of this growing diversity, many new religious movements (NRMs) have found a niche. However, several legal battles have surrounded the case of, for example, the Church of Scientology, the Children of God, or the Family, and Ananda Marga. Some ‘cults’ have also been mistreated and/or misrepresented in the media. Richardson examined Australian media and new religions and concluded that Australian media relates to NRMs the way American journalists did a decade or so ago. In 1996, Australian journalists appeared to know little objective information about NRMs and as a consequence represented them negatively. These negative sentiments, needless to say, create a sense of fear toward new forms of religion.” (p. 345)
Now I believe in freedom of religion and I think that in some cases, the media can and has been biased in their reporting. But you can also see right off the pro-NRM bias in this paper. To their way of thinking, there simply is no such thing as a cult and it is only the ignorance of the media and its mis-reporting about these groups that causes any controversy. This is a pretty tired meme and it makes these academics look pretty foolish when the abuses and atrocities of destructive cults are exposed such as on Leah Remini’s Scientology and the Aftermath show or in the award-winning documentary Going Clear. They go on:
“At the governmental level, two recent reports have dealt with the freedom of religious beliefs. These are the <i>Commonwealth of Australia, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Article 18: Freedom of Religion and Belief<i>, July 1998, and the <i>Commonwealth of Australia, Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Conviction with Compassion: A Report into Freedom of Religion and Belief<i>, November 2000.
“Reflecting on these two reports and the way they portray ‘cults,’ Hill claims that they lapse into popular stereotypes. ‘The problem with these reports is that they failed to recognise the appropriate expertise on which reliable conclusions might be based and sound policies developed; they lent themselves to the agendas of interest groups. One has to conclude that in their attempts to investigate the nature of NRMs the reports are expensive but largely futile exercises.’ Richardson believes that the Article 18 report suggests that more animosity exists toward new religions ‘than one might expect, given the long history of relative openness toward new religious groups’ in Australia.” (p. 346)
So as with earlier chapters we’ve covered in this series, the academics here lament the fact that no one at a government level will seem to listen to what they have to say versus what they call “interest groups” who seem so hell-bent on destroying freedom of religion. What is unfathomable to me is that these so-called “interest groups” which Possamai is referring to include grassroots cult-survivor support groups who are desperately trying to bring justice to these destructive cults for the physical, emotional and mental abuses these victims suffered at the hands of the cult leaders. Somehow the academics are routinely tone-deaf to these victim’s accounts and they refuse to listen to them, writing them off as biased apostates. The academics’ pro-cult bias is so obvious that it’s no wonder some government bodies don’t consider them objective sources of information.
In the next section, they review census information about Scientologists in Australia and conclude that:
“…from the analysis of the census data, Scientologists in Australia tend to be baby boomers and Generation Xers with high-income jobs. They represent a much higher percentage than average in active employment, and although Scientology is a NRM imported from the United States, it is nevertheless attractive to those born within Australia.” (p. 350)
This of course fits in perfectly with Scientology’s desired demographic. Scientology is a money-making scam using religious cloaking to hide what it’s really all about, so you are never going to find Scientologists who are poor, indigent or homeless nor will you find Scientology reaching out to proselytize to such people. At least, they weren’t poor to begin with, although there are plenty of cases on record of affluent people who were driven to poverty and bankruptcy by over-donating to Scientology. There are no Scientology homeless shelters, no Scientology-sponsored battered women’s homes or Scientology charities. Even when individual Scientologists are rendering disaster relief or humanitarian aid, they are doing it on their own dime. With Scientology, money goes in to its coffers, but it does not ever come back out.
The next section tackles the Church of Scientology in Australian Courts and in Government Reports. Now in this section is where we get to the real crux of the religous freedom problem. I’ve not made any secret of the fact in this entire series, I am biased against Scientology. Having been in it for three decades and seeing personally the destructive effects it had on myself and others, it is impossible for me to be wholly objective about this subject. I acknowledge that bias whereas few if any of these academics in this book will acknowledge their pro-NRM bias. They simply see what they are doing as the greatest good for religious freedom for all. On many fronts, I can support that effort but not when it comes to something like Scientology. Such groups take advantage of the protective rights and freedoms we have given to religious groups to blatantly rip off their members and use them as you would use a disposable cleaning rag, wringing it out and then throwing it away when it’s no longer of any use.
But how to regulate such a thing? We are often asked why the government doesn’t step in and do something about these groups. Well, the truth is that they have. Many of them, such as the government in Australia, have taken their best shot but they have run in to a very fundamental human rights conflict which does not have any easy solution. Let’s look at how this played out. In 1965, Kevin Anderson led a Victorian Board of Inquiry into the practices and beliefs of Scientology and concluded:
“‘Scientology is evil; its techniques evil; its practices a serious threat to the community, medically, morally and socially; and its adherents sadly deluded and often mentally ill’ and that Scientology is not a religion.” (p. 350)
In fact, Anderson had a lot more to say and he did not mince words:
“If there should be detected in this Report a note of unrelieved denunciation of scientology, it is because the evidence has shown its theories to be fantastic and impossible, its principles perverted and ill-founded, and its techniques debased and harmful. […] While making an appeal to the public as a worthy system whereby ability, intelligence and personality may be improved, it employs techniques which further its real purpose of securing domination over and mental enslavement of its adherents. It involves the administration by persons without any training in medicine or psychology of quasi-psychological treatment, which is harmful medically, morally and socially.” (Anderson Report)
Now Anderson was right for concluding that Scientology’s religious status was a sham on Hubbard’s part. He saw right through what Hubbard was trying to do and he refused to give Hubbard the satisfaction. Anderson’s report led to a ban on Scientology in Victoria and this spread to other Australian states as well. So how did Anderson miss? Here’s how Possamai describes it:
“The board then decided that ‘in order to control Scientology, it is necessary to strike at the heart of the problem’:
Hubbard claims that scientology is a form of psychology and the evidence shows it to be psychology practises in a perverted and dangerous way by persons who are not only lacking in any qualifications which would fit them to practise psychology but who have been indoctrinated and trained in beliefs and practices which equip them to do more than apply dangerous techniques harmfully and indiscriminately.
“The board envisaged a system of registration of psychologists that would prohibit the advertising and practicing of psychology for fee or reward unless registered. It was the board’s opinion that Scientology qualifications should not entitle a person to register as a psychologist. It admitted that to limit the practice of Scientology, it would involve the surveillance of practices and conduct by persons other than Scientologists. This report led to the Psychological Practices Act 1965 (Vict.), which made the teaching of Scientology an offense. However, this Act did not apply to ‘anything done by any person who is a priest or minister of a recognised religion in accordance with the usual practice of that religion.'” (p. 351)
In order to maintain freedom of religion, the Psychological Practices Act had to include that last bit about priests and ministers. And that was the loophole Scientology used to get around this law. They lobbied the Labor Party hard and got the agreement of certain Labor officials to recognize the Church of Scientology as a religious denomination under the Marriage Act. This allowed them to not only perform weddings but basically took Scientology out from under the purview of the Psychological Practices Act. This effectively cancelled the entire structure of the laws enacted to control Scientology in Australia and nullifed the Anderson Report.
Such is the way of True Believers who feel they are on the path of righteousness. Scientology embues its members with a sense of purpose and Hubbard himself actually tells them in his lectures and writings that they are in a war against the forces of ignorance, darkness and slavery. I think we all know that there is nothing that unites a group of people stronger than giving them a common enemy which they believe they must destroy in order for the world to continue to survive. For Scientologists, that enemy is anyone who dares to speak out against or tries to stop Scientology.
Following this victory, Scientology then wanted religious recognition across the nation so as to avoid payroll taxes. Here’s what Possamai says:
“…in Victoria, in 1983, the Church faced a legal battle on the issue of being defined as a religion for tax purposes in the Church of the New Faith v. Commissioner for Payroll Tax (Vic.). The court was asked to decide if the Church was a religious institution for the purpose of tax exemption. The Church was first listed as a foreign company, as the Church of the New Faith Incorporated, in 1969 in Victoria. When the Church of the New Faith was asked to pay taxes from 1975 to 1977, it objected on the basis that it was a religion, and thus claiming its wages were not liable to payroll tax. After many rejections to this objection, the ‘corporation’/Church applied for an appeal at the High Court of Australia. The court investigated whether this ‘corporation’ was, during the relevant period, a religious institution. Instead of focusing on the writings of Hubbard, as previously done, the court focused instead on whether ‘the beliefs, practices and observances which were established by the affidavits and oral evidence as the set of beliefs, practices and observances accepted by Scientologists are properly to be described as a religion.’….the court held that beliefs, practices, and observances of this church did constitute a religion in the state of Victoria.” (p. 352)
Now this is all true but is little misleading. In 1983, the Victorian Supreme Court actually ruled against Scientology on this matter of being a religion and not having to pay taxes. Here is what the full court’s findings said:
“Introduction of a service, ceremonies and other external indicia of a religion is no more than a cynical desire to present Scientology as what it is not for such mundane purposes as acquiring the protection of constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion or obtaining exemption from the burden of taxing laws… The creed and services described in a 1959 booklet called Ceremonies of The Founding Church of Scientology which had been published in America played absolutely no part in the teaching or practice of Scientology until the late nineteen sixties; These so-called ceremonies were devised and published as a device to enable, with such attendant advantages as would thereby accrue, Scientology to be paraded as a church in the United States and should properly be described as a masquerade and a charade.” (Victorian Supreme Court Judgement)
So the Victorian Supreme Court saw right through Scientology’s charade and they rejected it. However, Scientology took it all the way to the High Court of Australia and this is where Scientology got their way. But it was a pretty bitter victory for Scientology becuase here is what Justices Mason and Brennan said:
“Charlatanism is a necessary price of religious freedom, and if a self-proclaimed teacher persuades others to believe in a religion which he propounds, lack of sincerity or integrity on his part is not incompatible with the religious character of the beliefs, practices and observances accepted by his followers.” (Church of New Faith v Commissioner of Pay Roll Tax, 1983)
The Australian High Court basically saw right through Hubbard’s shenanigans too but in their opinion, their hands were tied. Why? Because of this:
“The question to which the evidence was directed was not whether the beliefs, practices and observances of the persons in ultimate command of the organization constituted a religion but whether those of the general group of adherents constituted a religion. The question which the parties resolved to litigate must be taken to be whether the beliefs, practices and observances which the general group of adherents accept is a religion.” (Church of New Faith v Commissioner of Pay Roll Tax, 1983)
You see? It doesn’t matter if the leader is a con man. If the people he is conning believe his con, then guess what? It’s legit in the eyes of the law. And if you stop and think about it for a second, you’ll see why in any free society this is the hard choice but ultimately is the right one from the point of view of the law. If any government or legal body begins to regulate what you can or cannot believe, what you do or don’t have the right to think, then we are all doomed because down that road lies the ultimate in tyranny and a level of authoritarian control that engulfs everyone in the nation.
It’s not that the judges were bought off, don’t get it or don’t see what’s going on. It’s that ultimately, when a bunch of people fall for a con, that con might as well be legit and they get the support of the legal system in acquiring the rights and privileges they do not actually deserve. It is the trade-off for having free speech, free thought and the power of choice to believe whatever you want.
Governments are faced with this problem all the time. It is not their perogative to decide whether a belief system is valid or not. It is not on them to say whether the Westboro Baptists are making a good point or whether Jim Jones’ followers actually believed what he had to say. The government is not passing judgement on the legitimacy of a religion when they grant it religious status. They are simply ackowledging that a group of people have come together and share a common belief system and thereby are afforded certain rights and privileges under the law.
In the case of Scientology, when any group of people profess to follow the beliefs and practices that L. Ron Hubbard teaches, that is their right under law and they then give over their rights to protection under the law for things which any non-Scientologist wouldn’t tolerate for even a second. It is a sad but true statement that the freedom to practice a religion includes that religious group’s right to abuse its members. So long as the people who are being abused consent to it, the law’s hands are tied.
And so we come down to one of the most basic, core issues of not just Scientology but all destructive cults. That it is incumbent upon us, the common people, to be educated and to be informed enough to not let ourselves be conned in the first place. To not allow anyone to take away our rights and freedoms by falling for their platitudes, their thought-stopping cliches and their holier-than-thou assertions which tell us how great we are and how awful everyone else is, how our group has the only road to salvation and everyone else is doomed to an eternity of pain and suffering because they don’t believe what we believe, they don’t act as we act. When any religious leader is telling you such things, they are creating an us vs them mentality in your mind and setting you up to dislike, ridicule or even hate people you don’t even know. If you ever find yourself in a position where people are telling you things like that, you need to run, not walk away from it as fast as possible because your own rights, your own freedoms are in danger in such groups. That is why we call them destructive cults. And there are a lot more of them than just Scientology.
I’m not going to cover the rest of this chapter, which basically consists of Possamai lambasting Australian media for not being supportive and respectful towards Scientology as a religious movement. Given the horrible experiences of former members and people who literally had to physically escape from Scientology’s clutches in order to tell their stories, there’s little reason for the Australian media to write puff pieces about Scientology. If Possamai is curious why Scientology’s good works aren’t being publicized by the media, perhaps they should look more closely at what good works Scientology is actually engaged in. They’ll find there’s precious little for the media to report on because the only thing the Church of Scientology really cares about is how much income they are making each week.
When you factor in the history and facts I’ve included in this video, you see that Adam and Alphia Possami’s attempts to paint Scientology in a positive light fail miserably. They have to ignore all the facts related to this group, as does every academic in this book so far, in order to come away thinking that Scientology brings anything new, different or positive to the world. That it exists at all is a sad but necessary testament to free societies around the world who accept that with freedom of speech, thought and religion come con men like L. Ron Hubbard who will take advantage of those freedoms for self-agrandizement and personal wealth and power. It’s on us to make sure that doesn’t happen by educating ourselves and speaking out against their abuses so they don’t wrangle in new members. Unfortunately, some academics who should be helping in that education effort are working against it.
Thank you for watching.