Hey everyone. So this is a new video series I’m doing, focusing on this book, compiled and edited by James R. Lewis, a PhD on Religious Studies from England. It’s simply called Scientology and was published by the Oxford University Press in 2009. I got it on amazon for about 10 cents.
This is not a book published or produced by the Church of Scientology, but is a work of apologetics by academic scholars and university religious professionals who feel as non-Scientologists that they have something to contribute to the understanding of cults (or as they like to refer to them, new religious movements) and to Scientology in particular. Lewis has gone on record as stating that this book is not a work of apologetics and that it would not please anyone one in the pro- or anti-Scientology circles and that the Church actually stopped all communications with him because of the “blasphemy” contained in the chapter on Xenu. He says he has re-evaluated his former postive stance on Scientology due to more recent events exposed in the media and all I can say is, “it’s about time dude.” All of the information he needed to form that conclusion was there right in front of him the entire time, he just chose not to look at it and he has gone on record as still supporting the statements he makes in this book. So, I’ll be holding his feet to the fire here as much as everyone else who contributed chapters to this book.
But this video series is not about my views versus James Lewis’s views. In the time since I have left Scientology, I have found few allies in the academic world and enough “objective scholars” who forward utter nonsense about Scientology that I felt I should say something about it. The purpose of this series is to analyze Scientology apologetics from the viewpoint of someone who was actually deeply involved in the Church, became disaffected with it and is now speaking out against it. This book brings together a number of different authors and scholars and is a sort of compendium of articles written by non-Scientologists which are in the main favorable towards Scientology, so I think this is going to be a very interesting read.
While I’m clearly biased as an ex-Scientologist, I am not an anti-academic and I have nothing personal against these scholars, universities or the idea of objectively examining Scientology or any religious group for that matter. I am very clearly not someone who has a lot of favorable things to say about Scientology based on my own experiences with it and based on the many other ex-Scientologists whose stories I have heard and even shared on this channel. Based on my extensive knowledge and experience with Scientology and how much I’ve learned since I ceased my membership, I’m amazed that there are people who not only take Scientology seriously but have actually written and disseminated academic-grade material that Scientology has been able to use to justify it’s deceptive practices in courts and government circles.
Apologetics are defined as “reasoned arguments or writings in justification of something, typically a theory or religous doctrine.” After reading through much of this book, I can’t really see how any other term could be used to describe what this book is or the function it would serve to Scientology.
In fact, sometime in the 1990s, Scientology hired a number of academics and religious scholars around the world to write favorable expertises of Scientology. They use these in court cases and quote from them online when needed to give themselves an academic air of legitimacy that I don’t think they deserve in the slightest. Some of the authors in this book are amongst the people the Church of Scientology commissioned to defend them.
James Lewis seemed to be someone leading the charge to defend Scientology in academic circles and has been doing this for many years, and not just with Scientology but other destructive cults as well. It is definitely true that some groups may not get a fair shake in the media and it’s a good thing that academics would speak up about this and try to set the record straight, so don’t get me wrong. I admire the stated intention that Lewis and company have in trying to bring a balanced approach to talking about these groups.
This book was put out in 2009, just a year after the Anonymous blowup when Churches of Scientology were being picketed around the world for months on end. Lewis says he actually was finishing up the manuscript back in mid-2007, when Tom Cruise was in the news for controversy surrounding the movie Valkyrie in Germany so it’s probably just a coincidence that this book came out in the midst of Scientology’s worst PR disaster in history.
Now getting in to the book itself, in the introduction, Lewis first tries to establish his own credentials and immediately starts off attacking anyone who he has not deemed an academic authority on the subject of Scientology. He describes how he was finishing up the manuscript when he saw a story about Tom Cruise and German cable news media offering up an anti-Scientology critique by someone from a university. As he puts it:
“The researcher was billed as a ‘Scientology expert.’ This piqued my curiosity. In the early stages of the present book project, I had invited most of the relevant mainstream academicians to contribute chapters. I was thus quite surprised that I did not recognize the name of the guest expert.
“When I finally saw the interview, I was even more surprised to hear this ‘expert’ mouthing popular simplistic stereotypes about ‘cults,’ rather than presenting reputable, scholarly information. He emphased standard negative information about Scientology, such as the Guardian’s Office’s covert infiltration program (neglecting to mention that the Church eventually shut down the Guardian’s Office and disciplined the indidivuals responsible for illegal activities).”
Now right there we have the first major problem. Lewis has now countered a claim against Scientology with one of his own – that although the Church was engaged in what is historically recognized as the most massive and widespread infiltration by any group into the United States government, that the Church acted responsibily by shutting down the GO and discipining those responsible. However, that is a gross alteration of what actually occurred and, in fact, is an outright lie. Now whether Lewis knows this is a lie or not I can’t say. Like much of what goes on in this book, the primary source of information these scholars fall back on is the Church of Scientology, an organization which has been proven over and over and over again to knowingly and willfully lie about any and all of their operations in order to maintain a good public image. For these academics to take anything a representative of the Church of Scientology says at face value is a failure in their research methodology and I hold them responsible for it when they forward these untruths as fact.
His claim is a lie because (a) the Church did shut down the Guardian’s Office but all of the operating policies and many of the personnel of the GO simply transferred en masse to the Office of Special Affairs, the Church’s current intelligence branch which was formed immediately after the GO fiasco. So while the title “Guardian’s Office” was no longer used, one can hardly claim that the office was actually shut down; (b) it was the FBI and federal courts who disciplined the individuals responsible for illegal activities by sending eleven of them to jail including the wife of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Had an FBI-initiated investigation never uncovered the truth about what Scientology was doing, there is nothing to suggest that L. Ron Hubbard or Scientology would ever have stopped their illegal activities. In fact, Scientology didn’t stop engaging in illegal operations against its critics and perceived enemies after the GO bust, as has been documented in numerous court cases from the 1980s to the present. These are a matter of court record and are not my opinion. What’s more, Operation Snow White, which was the name of the covert intelligence operation the GO was running againt the US government, was shown to still be in active operation under the Office of Special Affairs a full 10 years after the GO was shut down. For all I know, it’s still being run.
Lewis then goes on to refute the TV expert by saying he is a computer scientist and never published in a scholarly publication, so therefore nothing he says about Scientology is worth considering because it’s outside his field of expertise. This is an interesting use of ad hominem, meaning a claim against the person making an argument rather than the argument itself. Anyone is capable of voicing truth and even if it comes from a janitor or a four year old doesn’t make the claim untrue.
I’d actually expect more from someone with a PhD in religious studies who claims an objective perspective. Unfortunately, as I’ve just shown you, anyone can make a mistake whether you’re an acknowledged expert in your field or not, and when it comes to Scientology, the academics featured in this book make so many blunders that it’s hard to take them seriously when they claim to be experts on Scientology.
Which is actually not to say that I disrespect the scholars in this book for their background and knowledge base. In fact, just the opposite. I think Lewis does make a valid point in stating that the expert opinion of someone from a religious studies, sociology or psychology background is worth more than say someone who has a computer science degree. I think he just takes it too far in automatically naysaying anyone who doesn’t share his academic pedigree and using ad hominem to invalidate whatever they say.
Lewis and other academics in this book have also gone on record as saying they do not use or trust the information given by apostates or former members. Not only is this a biased research approach but automatically cuts off any source of inside information on what goes on in these destructive cults by people who have firsthand experience. Lewis clarified that he was mainly talking about deprogrammed former members and not just any former members. Personally, I don’t care about such differences. Emotions certainly can affect judgement and opinions, and care should be used by researchers in selecting and verifying information from any source. But raw data is raw data. To simply write off information from someone because they were deprogrammed or are an apostate is not only bad research, but actually opens the researcher up to justified accusations of bias or favoritism.
Lewis goes on in the introduction to assert that “certain critics will object to any treatment of this religious group that does not adopt a critical, debunking stance. I have, in fact, been cautioned that any ‘neutral’ study should be avoided because such a study might lend some legitimacy to this (by implication illegitimate) organization. This kind of objection is, however, patently absurd. Even the harshest critic should be able to acknowledge that the task of constructing an accurate understanding of the Church must precede any meaningful criticism.”
Lewis is right – there should be neutral, objective analyses of Scientology done by people who were never part of it. However, that objective work should not be done by people who have a favorable bias towards destructive cults to such a degree that they can’t even entertain the use of the word “cult” and have to replace it with some euphemism like “new religious movement” since that’s not what Scientology actually is. The term “destructive cult” is an academically sound term with a specific definition and which describes a very exact kind of group. There is nothing inherently biased in using this term, any more than there is in labelling sarin gas as a weapon of mass destruction. It simply is what it is.
As one of Scientology’s harshest critics, I agree that one must definitely understand the full extent of Scientology in order to talk intelligently about it and the basis of my disagreements with Lewis’ work is that he failed to do so.
Lewis then puts a caveat on his work by saying it is not a work of apologetics because “contributors have been free to include critical observations and to discuss matters deemed off-limits by the Church of Scientology (e.g. the Xenu narrative). This volume will likely end up pleasing no one engaged in the Scientology/anti-Scientology conflict, which is perhaps as it should be.” True enough. I certainly wasn’t pleased in reading it.
The rest of the chapter is broken up into sections, starting with “An Overview of Scientology.” This section gives a mainly accurate historical account of how Scientology grew out of Dianetics and how Hubbard was in charge of the organization throughout the remainder of his life until he died in 1986. He then goes on to give a basic breakdown of Scientology beliefs and methodology, quoting from the Creed of the Church.
This is all accurate enough until he gets to this line: “One unusual aspect of the Church is that members are not discouraged from being active participants in other religions.” It takes an in-depth analysis and probably interviews with former or disaffected members to get past this particular piece of Scientology balderdash, which Lewis probably has not done, so he is simply taking Scientology’s literature at face value. Hubbard’s lectures are randomly strewn with anti-Christian statements and the confidential upper level materials (which I believe Lewis has looked at) are in direct contravention of Christian and Catholic beliefs, especially the OT III and OT VIII materials where Hubbard flat-out calls Jesus Christ a pedophile and the entirety of Christian belief an implant by a powerful galactic civilization called Marcab which uses religious beliefs to control populations. There is no way such Scientology statements can be considered to be in harmony with Christian beliefs.
The next section is called “Controversy” and here Lewis discusses Scientology’s litigious nature, comparing it to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who also set up a separate legal wing within their organization.
He then goes on to describe Scientology’s friction with psychology and psychiatry. “During the early stages of the Dianetics movement, Hubbard naively contacted medical and psychiatric associations, explaining the significance of his discoveries for mental and physical health, and asking that the AMA and the APA investigate his new technique. Instead of taking this offer seriously, these associations responded by attacking him. The subsequent popular success of Dianetics did nothing to improve the image of Hubbard in the minds of the medical-psychiatric establishment and was likely instrumental in prompting an FDA raid against the Church.”
He then goes on to describe the 1963 FDA raid and its aftermath, saying almost word-for-word what the Church of Scientology itself says on the matter, only adding at the end that “Though the raid was declared illegal, the documents remained in government possession and were open to public scrutiny. According to these documents, the Church was keeping files on people it considered unfriendly, and there had been various attempts by Scientology to infiltrate anticult organizations.”
I find the lack of critical analysis of this point of Scientology history to be shocking. First, the FDA raid had very little if anything to do with the AMA/APA statements fourteen years before, prior to Dianetics even being published. Hubbard claims to have submitted his work, Dianetics: The Original Thesis to the AMA and the APA in 1949 and that he was rebuffed so he wrote the much larger Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health to flesh out the work and offer it to the public as an easy-to-use self-help counselling technique.
Well, you only have to look at the critiques of Dianetics in 1950 to see why Hubbard would have been earlier rebuffed, if the story is even true that he offered it to the AMA or APA. I would just like to note for the record that if Hubbard truly did try to give away all his research to these groups for altruistic reasons, it would have been the first time in his entire life he had made such a gesture.
Regardless, Nobel-prize winning physicst I.I. Rabi wrote in Scientific American that Dianetics “probably contains more promises and less evidence per page than has any publication since the invention of printing.”
A publication called the Individual Psychology Bulletin said Hubbard did “not offer any other evidence than a vague reference to hundreds of cured patients, without furnishing case histories or other specific data. The book is crammed with bragging and swaggering, pseudoscientific bombast, platitudes and vulgarities and a great deal of sheer nonsense.”
With this all being the case, why would the AMA or APA feel obligated to pay any further attention to Dianetics?
As far as the FDA raid itself, look at the documentation from the released files from the FBI, FDA and IRS and you see that Hubbard was under active investigation for tax fraud and that he had a history of writing conspiratorial letters all the way up to the US President about how Scientology was being attacked by communists and how they had the only valid methodology of treating or helping anyone for mental or spiritual trauma. Hubbard’s bulletins and lectures throughout the 1950s are rife with conspiratorial nonsense pitting Scientology against the evils of psychiatry. Hubbard also was making extraordinary claims about how Scientology could cure blindness, leukemia, cancer and a host of other physical ills. With the E-meter, a device of extremely questionable validity and certainly not a device that can read people’s minds, the FDA was validly concerned that Scientology was practicing medicine without a license. So with all of this going on, they did a surprise raid on the Washington DC Church of Scientology to find out what was what. The fact that Hubbard was found guilty of innurement and the Church’s tax exemption was revoked in 1967 was also a telling event in the government’s investigation of Scientology in the 1960s.
The fact that Lewis simply parrots the Church’s own conspiracy theories here indicates he did not bother to do one bit of real research into the events he’s describing nor realize the importance of that last line about the Church keeping dossiers on its perceived enemies. I’m not sure how this kind of thing is considered routine religious activity by an academic religious scholar, but somehow Lewis doesn’t see a problem.
The rest of this section is spent talking about Scientology’s other run-ins with Time magazine in 1991 and extended conflicts with Australian, French and German governments. This kind of history also speaks volumes about the character of L. Ron Hubbard and the nature of Scientology itself, since so much of Scientology is a reflection of Hubbard’s personality. Yet none of the very valid reasoning or justifications on the part of the governments for being concerned with Scientology’s activities in their countries is given any credence by Lewis, who simply notes that “These problems terminated in a landmark decision in 1993, when the IRS ceased all litigation and recognized Scientology as a legitimate religious organization.”
Actually, none of those actions terminated in 1993 and the governments of Australia, France and Germany have since that time all continued to carry out extensive legal and government investigations and inquiries into Scientology’s activities.
The next section is called “Scientology, Science and the Utopian Impulse” which begins by talking about many of the anarchronistic language and social customs that have been preserved in Scientology’s culture because of the fact that so much of it comes from Hubbard’s written and spoken words from the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Lewis then goes on to describe why science and things associated with science were an important connection in many religious groups which sprang up during this time period because of people’s perceptions about the validity of science, how it was the arbiter of truth.
His analysis here is actualy spot-on, especially when he says “In much the same way as the 1950s viewed technology as ushering in a new, utopian world, Scientology sees their psycho-spiritual technology as suuplying the missing ingredient in existing technologies – namely, the therapeutic engineering of the human psyche.”
I have to disagree with him strongly in the next part, though, where Lewis asserts that much of Scientology is directed towards social betterment activities as a natural extension of the idea of helping individuals and that help reaching out into society. He specifically counters the argument that these social outreach and betterment programs are only being done for public relations purposes, saying that “if this is the case, however, it is surprising how little the Church has done to attract attention to its public service activities.”
Actually, the exact opposite is true. Scientology does very little to promote itself to the world at large, period, but what little they do is almost exclusively focused on their social betterment groups. There are individual websites, press releases and literally tons of promotional literature, booklets and educational materials produced by Scientology for these groups. They have done everything Scientologists know how to do to popularize these groups and infiltrate existing social betterment activities, schools and governments with their methods. The fact that these efforts have not been successful has very little to do with how hard Scientologists have tried and has a lot more to do with the fact that their technology simply doesn’t do what it says it will.
In fact, worse than not doing anything at all, programs such as Narconon are actually destructive and have resulted in people dying. I wouldn’t expect Lewis to necessarily get into a full physiological or biochemical study of the efficacy of the Purification Program and I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on not talking about the dangers of this pseudo-scientific program since much of the information about this has only really come out in a public way since after this book was published.
The next section is called “Survey of Contents” and this really just gives a brief synopsis overview of what the rest of the book is going to cover, author by author. These of course will be covered by me in detail in this video series, so there’s no reason for me to go over this now.
That concludes the Introduction section. As I said at the beginning, the point of this was not to do a takedown of James Lewis personally or to attack anyone. I’m critically analyzing a work that purports to be an objective, academic review of Scientology. The introduction left a lot to be desired in this regard and I suspect the rest of the book is going to roll out in a similar fashion, but let’s find out!
I hope you found this part interesting and I’d love to hear your feedback and comments on this, and whether you think this series is a good idea. There is certainly a lot of potential in doing this for other Scientology books in the future, but first we’ll be spending some time getting through this one.
The next part will be my analysis of chapter 1 by J. Gordon Milton, who writes “The Birth of a Religion” about Scientology’s origins.
Thank you for watching.