My talk on how Scientology lures unsuspecting and otherwise intelligent people into its scam using appeals to emotion and authority to prey on their emotional troubles. This talk was given on October 17 at the Wichita State University during the Skeptics of Oz 2015 conference.
Find out more about the Skeptics of Oz and the Wichita Coalition of Reason here: https://www.facebook.com/skepticsofoz?fref=ts
Here is the text of the speech I gave:
I’ve been out of Scientology for almost two years now, officaly since the end of 2013 and have been an outspoken critic of it ever since. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is the personal harm it caused to me and those I love. However, this is not a labor of hate for me or an effort to carry out some kind of vendetta. I am not paid any great sums of money to criticize Scientology or its members and the fact is that I don’t really have much of a beef with the vast majority of people who are in Scientology. Many of them were my friends and were like family to me for decades. I even hope one day to see many of them again if they ever come to their senses and realize that they are part of a destructive cult and get out of it.
In looking at what to talk about today, I was asked a question that comes my way often actually. I have a weekly YouTube Q&A show where I answer questions people pose about Scientology. One of the themes I return to again and again is that of how people get wrangled into destructive cults in the first place. With its crazy beliefs and human rights abuses posted all over the interwebs and money grubbing practices, why would anyone in their right mind let themselves be associated with Scientology?
People who really shouldn’t be so quick to judge have written comments on my channel or on my blog calling Scientologists stupid morons, idiots and fools. There are even slang terms thrown around like Ron-bots and Scilons.
Well, I was a Ron-bot and a Scilon for most of my life and worked for the organization for 25 years, so I guess I may have a few insights into this. That’s what I’ll talk to you about today.
First off, what is Scientology?
I have had some amusing conversations since I left Scientology with people who were never in it and regard it (rightly so) with suspicion or mystery. They usually go something like this:
Person: Oh, you were a Scientologist? Wow, what is Scientology?
Me: A money-making scam designed to enrich one man with power and money which uses religious cloaking to hide its true nature and give its leaders protection from the IRS so it can continue to scam people and so its victims will have no recourse in courts of law.
Person: Well sure, ok, but what is Scientology?
Me: What I just told you. That is Scientology.
Person: Yeah but what do they believe? What do they tell people?
Me: Oh, you want to know what the details of the scam are and what they say to fool people? Well that’s a whole different thing to what it actually is.
Now I’m not trying to be a jerk when I say stuff like this although I’m sure people could think that. I’m trying to be very precise in answering the question because I want to make it clear right upfront that it’s a scam and nothing but a scam. Otherwise you could start listening to the pseudo-scientific and metaphysical prattle that L. Ron Hubbard put together and start falling for it or giving it some legitimacy which it does not deserve.
Scientology is a con. All the metaphysical garbage that they throw at you is not true and does not work out to be true in the real world. Why do I say this with such certainty? Because if the con were real and Hubbard’s explanations of the metaphysical world were accurate, then there would be some kind of tangible results from applying Scientology. I’m not talking about making people feel a little better or experience less emotional stress when they think about their mother. That is an amazingly easy result to produce and there are many methods in psychology and psychiatry which work on a lot of people which will make them feel better in their day to day life. These methods do not necessarily cure anything or make one’s worries go away forever, but they do provide some relief.
When I say that Scientology doesn’t produce tangible results, I’m talking about producing the big gains and results that Hubbard promised from the very first day he announced his “discoveries” back in 1950 with the publication of Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. Things like the states of Clear and Operating Thetan and being able to cure physical ailments, give people perfect eyesight and memory, get them to be able to think faster than computers and be in such a state of being that they never again suffer from psychosomatic illnesses. I’m not engaging in hyberbole when I say that Hubbard promised the moon and the stars to his followers. Unfortunately, not only did he never reach the stars; he never even got off the ground.
Now, having made that so clear, I’ll now layout how Dianetics and Scientology explain themselves so you can see how very intelligent people fall for this.
According to its website, scientology.org, these days they describe Scientology like this:
“Developed by L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology is a religion that offers a precise path leading to a complete and certain understanding of one’s true spiritual nature and one’s relationship to self, family, groups, Mankind, all life forms, the material universe, the spiritual universe and the Supreme Being.
“Scientology addresses the spirit — not the body or mind — and believes that Man is far more than a product of his environment, or his genes.
“Scientology comprises a body of knowledge which extends from certain fundamental truths. Prime among these are:
“Man is an immortal spiritual being.
“His experience extends well beyond a single lifetime.
“His capabilities are unlimited, even if not presently realized.
“Scientology further holds Man to be basically good, and that his spiritual salvation depends upon himself, his fellows and his attainment of brotherhood with the universe.
“Scientology is not a dogmatic religion in which one is asked to accept anything on faith alone. On the contrary, one discovers for oneself that the principles of Scientology are true by applying its principles and observing or experiencing the results.
“The ultimate goal of Scientology is true spiritual enlightenment and freedom for all.”
From that description, one gets a sort of generalized view of Scientology as a kind of McDonalds or Burger King of Spiritual Enlightenment. One size fits all, you can have it your way and we’re not gong to shove anything down your throat. It’s this kind of pleasant language, which appeals to a certain percentage of the population and gets them thinking that maybe there is something to Scientology after all.
Now the truth is that most of the people who ever had anything to do with Scientology got involved with it many years ago. Scientology has not been successfully proselytizing for about a decade now and their membership is shrinking fast.
Since the word got out on them over the internet, and especially after the hacker group Anonymous, hit the cybersphere in 2007 with widespread international exposure of the corruption and human rights abuses that go on at Scientology’s highest levels, it’s been very difficult for Scientology to overcome the stigma attached to their name. Their bumbling PR efforts and outright antagonism towards their critics and the media in general only make things worse for them and highlight that they are insular and out-of-touch.
They’ll tell you that there are millions of members around the world but I’ve seen the membership lists myself and there were never that many Scientologists. In fact, the actual number now is estimated to be about 30,000 people worldwide and definitely is not more than 50,000.
However, despite the fact that the truth of Scientology is only a Google search away, there are always going to be a certain percentage of the population that fall for this sort of thing. I used to think that percentage was small, but the more I study and learn about critical thinking, psychology and human nature, the more I realize that actually, we are all susceptible to the emotional lures and mental traps that destructive cults like Scientology set for us. And unfortunately, research is showing that the more intelligent someone is, the more susceptible they are to this.
Studies I’ve read indicate that intelligence and rationality are not the same thing and that just because someone knows a lot of things, that is no guarantee they won’t fall for the same irrational arguments that less intelligent people do. In fact, they may be even more susceptible because a higher intelligence can give one a false sense of security. One need only look at the many instances of educated doctors who should know better, pushing pseudoscientific claptrap on TV or uttering some of the most inane nonsense ever about matters outside their medical expertise. Having a doctorate is not the same thing as being scientifially literate.
I think it’s safe to say that we all think we know more than we really do. Just because we may know about logical fallacies or reason is no safeguard that we won’t fall for the same tricks everyone else does. Research is not on our side about this. And so we come to Scientology and how it can snare the unsuspecting, the guillible and those who have emotional issues that are looking for help.
Scientology’s recruitment process depends greatly on two logical fallacies which many people easily fall into: appeal to emotion and appeal to authority.
For anyone unfamiliar, appeal to emotion simply means that rather than use facts or evidence to convince someone, they are instead told that if something feels good or feels right, it must be true. There are lots of variations of this including the opposite where if something makes you fearful or produces almost any kind of emotional response, there must be something valid and true about it.
Appeal to authority is when you take someone’s word or testimonial as true or probably true because you have been convinced that their statements should be true based on their knowledge, education, background or experience. There are plenty of examples where it’s not necessarily wrong to do this, but there are plenty more examples where it can also be a disaster to blindly accept anyone’s word as law.
So here’s what happens when someone comes in to a Church of Scientology to find out what it’s all about.
Most of the conversation revolves around you, who you are, what your background is, what you do for a living and that sort of thing. Not only are they getting information about you but they are also prospecting you to see whether you are going to be a paying customer or not. If you are broke, out of a job or have some kind of obvious mental problems, they want to show you the door as quickly as they can. You are not going to find anyone in Scientology interested in you if you can’t pay for books or services.
Something else they will also often do before getting into this too far is ask you what you have heard or know about Scientology. The idea is to find out if you have any preconceived notions, internet information or have encountered anything negative about it. Some people haven’t but obviously at this point a lot have. They want to do what they can to allay your fears and convince you that what you heard about them isn’t true.
Here you are standing in this nice building with people smiling at you and talking in a very friendly way. Also, the people who they have out front usually know what they are doing, are very warm and inviting and they always put their best looking people out on the front lines to attract new members. There’s no bruises or scars and no one is beating up on anyone and everyone seems very happy. It’s easy to shrug off anything you may have seen or heard on the internet when these confident, attractive people look at you and say “I’ve never heard anything about space aliens” or “People will say anything on the internet. You know, haters are gonna hate.”
The reason they can tell you that with a straight face is because usually they are telling the truth from their own experiences. Most lower level staff members have never heard of Xenu or the more fantastic science fiction stuff because that information is kept confidential and is reserved for the highest levels of Scientology, which only about 1% of Scientologists attain. It costs about $250,000 and many years in Scientolgy before you get to the Xenu story.
And the abuses and human trafficking and that sort of thing is what goes on in the upper levels of Scientology, in the Sea Organization, and not at the local city-level churches. So on the front lines, when they tell you they haven’t seen or heard of the stuff you read on the internet, they aren’t always lying. It doesn’t mean it’s not all true. I lived it because I was at those upper levels and I can tell you that I experienced those human rights abuses first hand. They are real and they do happen.
Now, getting back to this introduction, whether you are broke or not, they usually want you to do what they call a personality test. Remember what I said about appeal to authority? Well it starts right at the beginning because they actually call these things the “Oxford Capacity Analysis” even though it never had anything to do with Oxford or even England. Oxford just sounds so official.
The OCA is one of the primary means that Scientology uses to sucker people in to take services. It consists of 200 pretty odd questions which they score in order to graph your personality and tell you about yourself. There are questions such as “Do you sleep well?” or “Do you spend much time on needless worries” or “Do you browse railway timetables, dictionaries and such for fun?” The graph has lines to measure your happiness, responsibility level, communication and other personal traits.
Then they sit down and go over the results with you. It’s basically one step up from a cold reading, which is what psychics do, so we’ll call it a warm reading. You have given them some information about yourself and then they go over the results with you and get you to tell them even more about yourself. The whole point is for you to open up and tell them what it is about yourself that you want to change or improve. Because you have already invested the time in taking the test and because you walked in there in the first place, you are already invested in wanting to know about yourself so most of the time, people do open up and start talking.
What they want is the thing that you want to change or improve about yourself. If I asked you right now “What is ruining your life?” or “What is it about yourself that you really don’t like and would like to change?” the answer would be what they call your “ruin”. Very few people don’t have an answer to those questions. I’ve never met anyone who is totally satisfied with everything that they have going on. Everyone is aware of their own insecurities, uncertainties and fears.
Now the magic moment tends to be right here. They get you to tell them what your ruin is or they guess at it until they get something you agree with, and then they spring this on you. “Scientology can handle that for you.”
Here you are and you’ve been going along for years or maybe your entire life with this ruin and you haven’t had any idea how to resolve it and now here is a solution for you. If they’ve done their work right, then they’ve got you into an emotionally vulnerable moment where you have established a rapport and you trust this person who is doing this evaluation on you. Those are the appeals to emotion and authority they are trying to establish so that you will accept what this person is telling you is true.
It’s usually a course or a short series of counselling sessions that they offer you which they say will deal with this and make you feel all better or give you the tools you need to overcome whatever the problem, insecurity or issue is.
Now most of what they call the basic or first-level services are based wholly on common sense principles which have been re-worded in such a way that it sounds like some big revolutionary concept. Especially because the way L. Ron Hubbard wrote, he was always making things sound like he was the only one who could figure this stuff out and he had done years of research and all of his discoveries worked whereas no one else’s do. This is also part of the indoctrination in Scientology. They work hard from the beginning to get you in a frame of mind where you think that everything in Scientology is original and new and has never been seen before, that it’s all the work of this one genius man and that anyone who is against it is only criticizing it because they don’t want you to get better.
You sign up for one of these basic services and it costs like $50 – $100 which if you think about it is a total deal if it’s really going to get rid of what has been causing you stress and emotional upset and worry for however long it’s been going on. You go in and do the class, which may take about 15-20 hours of study, or you do some of their introductory counselling sessions where someone directs your attention to obvious points of stress and upset in your life and gets you to open up and talk about it.
You are invested in the service and you want it to work. If you go in there all doubts and reservations and telling them you don’t think it’s going to work, they are going to sit you down and try to change your attitude. They don’t want anyone in there who is being a Doubting Thomas.
If you come out the other side and you feel at all better about anything you studied or what came up in your counseling, they reinforce through positive suggestion that it was Scientology that helped you and you should do more of it.
Slowly you start learning that there are a whole series of services they want you to do, one after another, which are supposed to lead to an incredible new plateau of spiritual and mental freedom and understanding. One service follows the next and the next, each one of them progressively more expensive but supposedly also more and more powerful.
Now there are subtleties and other things that can enter in to this. Not everyone falls for their pitch and not everyone goes in there willing to tell the test evaluators what is going on with them. For example, when you read stories from journalists about how they went in to the “big scary Scientology church” and took the personality test and then sat there and had it evaluated so someone could sell them a book, they were not emotionally invested or committed to what was going on. They weren’t there to be sold Scientology, they were there to write a story.
I’m not criticizing what they are doing or the stories they write. My point is that because they are not there to be convinced and already pretty much know or feel that it’s not going to work on them, their stories reflect how creepy and weird and odd the whole experience is. And the truth is that it is creepy and weird and odd unless you give in to what is happening and go with the flow, so to speak.
For people who do that, it doesn’t matter how smart they are, what their background is or how many degrees they have. Their emotional and psychological committment to the process and their desire to change their lives allows them to basically almost sell themselves into Scientology.
In my case, my family had been involved with it my entire life. I didn’t go in to the Church with my hackles up and fearful that they were going to find me out. I went in knowing that my parents, who I love very much and respect, had been helped by this group and so I was open to the possibility that they could help me. I was an easy mark and they nailed me in less than an hour and had me practically begging to sign up.
Hindsight bias is also a wonderful thing because it allows us to look back on our past mistakes with the benefit of the knowledge we have now. We feel we should have known better back then because we know better now. I can easily see where I went wrong, how I was conned and how they suckered me in using my own fears and insecurities against me. They got me in when I was a 15-year old high school student who couldn’t talk to girls. They didn’t have to try very hard to find my insecurities.
But I don’t look back on that with regret now or think that I was a complete victim because I can also see how I helped them to con me and just about forced them to sign me up for a service once I was convinced that I didn’t have to be a shy teenager who had no girlfriend.
And that is how I think we all get fooled in the end. We don’t just let it happen but we actually help make it happen. We use our intelligence and our emotional needs and desires to dream up reasons why we should do something rather than stop and question and reason out what is actually going on. It doesn’t take much to do this, just a few reminders to ourselves to not go so fast, not be in such a hurry to jump at what is probably too good to be true. If we were to be just slightly more active thinkers and use a little more critical thinking, these con artists and destructive cults would never gain any momentum.
So that’s how the con of Scientology works at its lower levels. There is a whole lot more going on as you progress further in it which I have not addressed today. A lot more of this is covered in a book I’m writing which I expect to have completed and released before the end of November. The book is much more than just my own personal experiences in Scientology. That part is just chapter one. The rest is a critical analysis of Scientology as a whole, how it operates and what is actually wrong with it. My working title is Scientology: A to Xenu. Watch for it at the end of November.
Thank you very much for your time and attention.