Hey everyone, this video continues our series of analyses of the chapter of this book, Scientology, edited by James R. Lewis. This book predominantly consists of apologetics, which by definition are “reasoned arguments or writings in justification of something, typically a theory or religious doctrine.” That hasn’t been the case with every chapter, but this week we are definitely diving deep into the pool of rationalizations for Scientology.
Chapter 8 is by French professor of psychology Regis Dericqueobourg, whose name I am probably butchering because my French really sucks. Now I say that he is a professor of psychology because that’s what this book says he is but according to Wikipedia, he’s a sociologist of religions, so I’m not sure what his actual professional field of study is but I’ll go with sociologist over psychologist. He works at the Charles De Gaulle University in Lille, France and is concerned with the conflict between society and minority religious groups, which may be one reason why he is so desperate to draw connections that don’t exist between Scientology and other major religions so as to legitimize what Scientology is doing. Now I know that I’m biased in this, but having been a Scientologist for so long and seeing how it really operates behind closed doors versus what some of these academics have to say about it, I think my bias is well deserved.
This chapter asks the question “How Should We Regard the Religious Ceremonies of the Church of Scientology?” Let me first begin by telling you that when I was in Scientology, most of us regarded them as a bother and something that had to be done because we were ordered to do it. I’m referring mainly to the Sunday Service Program, which if I recall correctly came down pretty hard around 1999 with a newly revised book called The Background, Ministry, Ceremonies & Sermons of the Scientology Religion. This gigantic tome included a whole new format for our Sunday Services which included things that all of the Scientologists I knew had never heard of before such as a Prayer for Total Freedom. We all looked at each other kind of dumbfounded. Prayers? Huh?
So this book and program came down and chaplains had to be trained for each church and they instituted this new Sunday Services program and woila, suddenly we were more church like. I know that in decades past, there were similar things done such as in the 1960s when auditors started dressing up in minister outfits and wearing big Scientology crosses on chains around their necks. Everyone knew that we were doing this because of some legal or IRS problem and we wanted people to see us as a religious organization. In other words, it was all PR and we knew it.
Now before this 1999 program, I had seen some Scientology religous ceremonies carried out from time to time. I think I can count on one hand how many times over a period of 25 years. There were two baby naming ceremonies, a funeral and of course a few weddings which all used Hubbard’s written ceremonial text. Those were the extent of any religious ceremonies that I was aware of and most every Scientologist I knew considered them kind of silly and maybe a little interesting to be part of once or twice.
Well, Regis has a lot to say about this subject so now that you have some of my background on this, let’s see what he says. He starts with a Foreward where he makes some seemingly reasonable observations.
“It is difficult to write about Scientology because of the controversies that surround this movement. Those who view Scientology as a religion are labeled as apologists or crypto-Scientologists. For many people, the Church of Scientology is just a business with some religious varnish. For others, it is a dangerous religion or a wicked religion that does not deserve attention or interest. As for Scientology, it considers itself a religion and it is highly sensitive to anything written about it with a polemical mindset. If a sociologist focuses on the ‘false religion/true religion’ issue, he/she becomes a party to the debate. Another solution consists in approaching the Church of Scientology with Weber’s phrase in mind: ‘The question is about what exists, why something exists and not to express an opinion about what is desirable.’ This is our perspective. Scientology is a social movement that exists and that needs to be studied as any other ‘social actor.’ Otherwise, it retains its aura of mystery, which suits everybody except sociologists.” (p. 165)
Now what he’s doing here is setting up his apologetics argument but he’s doing it in a crafty way. He’s setting a stage that says “Hey, academics are supposed to be neutral and we’re just supposed to study things and not say whether they are good or bad.” And if that is what he did with this paper, I’d probably give him more credit for saying this, but as you’ll see, that’s not really the case. He continues:
“I have been studying the Church of Scientology since 1986 because this movement has some healing practices and I am interested in this topic. When I started studying healing churches, I met the spokesman for the Church in Paris and I submitted my proposed project to him. Since then, I have been acting as a participant observer of the life of the Paris branch of the Church. I made a survey on the basis of a sample chosen at random from a list of its members with the aim of working out a sociological profile of French Scientologists. I submitted another sample of long-standing followers of the Church to the MMPI personality test. I have interviewed numerous Scientologists and, finally, I devoted a chapter to this church in my two books about healing religions (Dericquebourg, 1988, 2001). In doing so, I became a controversial researcher and I eventually gave up proposing two other articles to academic reviews, including this one about the
ceremonies of the Church.” (p. 166)
I believe the controversy he’s speaking of comes from him contributing positive academic reviews to the Church verifying that they are indeed a bona-fide religion. To this day, the Church sites his work as proof that they are legitimate. I can’t say for sure, but it appears that this caused some backlash from Church critics, which clearly was enough to bother him.
“Religion or not, Scientology is a social phenomenon and must be studied as such without any prejudice. Reaching scientific truth about Scientology is not different from obtaining true data about any religion. Every church reconstructs its history and tries to build a good image of itself. Our work here consists in determining whether followers think they belong to a church or a business focusing on self-improvement, and only interviews with followers and surveys can inform us. Additionally, only a comparison with definitions of religion can inform us at to whether or not Scientology is a religion.” (p. 166)
This is more case building for Regis to justify his apologetics view towards Scientology. He puts the onus of whether a religion is a religion on what the followers of that group think they are part of, which arguably has some merit and also says that by comparing Scientology with other religions, we can determine if it is a religion or not. This is not a valid argument though, because the cynical view about Scientology is that engages in overt religious cloaking. If Scientology does a very good job at presenting itself as a religion because it copies religious practices and ceremonies from other religions, does that make it a real religion? If Scientology tells its followers it’s a religion and they believe it, does that make it a religion? Obviously, the answer to both of these questions should be “No” but Regis doesn’t seem to be aware of these possibilities. In other words, he goes in making unwarranted assumptions about Scientology which sort of make his findings a foregone conclusion before he’s even stared his research. A good academic would concede this possibility at the forefront, but Regis is too busy justifying his pre-conceived beliefs about Scientology that he doesn’t have the room to question Scientology’s validity. He goes on:
“For sociologists, the questions are: How did Scientology appear in its cultural and historical context? Why do Scientologists act as they do? Has the Church of Scientology changed with time? Does affiliation with Scientology change the behaviors of its members in society? What are its links with the political and economic spheres? What is the origin of the controversial debates about this movement whose membership is very small? If it is a religion, what sort of religion is it? In this chapter, my question is, ‘What is the meaning of the ceremonies of the Church of Scientology?’ There is nothing to make such a fuss about. The only relevant issue is ‘Does this research work meet scientific criteria?’ (p. 166)
I’d rather see academics tackle some of those other questions because I find them much more interesting and meaty than the question of Scientology’s ceremonies, but this is the question that Regis has taken on so that is what we are going to be looking at. After the Foreward, he begins his paper with a section called “The Problem.” He talks about Dianetics and Scientology beliefs and then gets to the religious ceremonies.
“Its religious ceremonies are almost totally ignored. In a sociological study on the Church of Scientology, Roy Wallis (1976) mentions them but considers them marginal practices. He does not analyze them. According to him, they would have simply been added to Dianetics when, it is alleged, L. Ron Hubbard decided to found a religion. Roland Chagnon (1979) grants them more importance but considers them as having a purely psychological aim. These explanations are not convincing because Scientology considers itself to be a form of wisdom, as a way of understanding and liberation based on personal experience.” (p. 167)
Here is where we start getting into apologetics. Regis has just totally discounted the work of two earlier academics who made what I feel are correct arguments as to why Scientology has religious ceremonies. (1) Hubbard just added them because religions are supposed to have ceremonies and (2) they give Scientologists a psychological reason to believe that Scientology is a religion. Regis says these are not convincing because Scientology considers itself to be a form of wisdom. Well, those dots don’t really connect but then he says this:
“A priori, this type of Gnostic religion does not need any religious ceremonies (with collective practices or intercessions with an ethical and transcendent God). It does not need important moments in life sacralized in order to resemble a church.” (p. 167)
A priori means that you figured something out intellectually or theoretically rather than by actually observing or looking at a thing. Regis is saying here that if you think about it, Scientology doesn’t really need religious ceremonies because it’s a Gnostic religion, meaning its central tenets revolve around the concepts of knowledge and truth bringing enlightenment and spiritual growth. And he’s absolutely right. Why would Scientology have religious ceremonies if they don’t need them? There really isn’t any practical reason for Scientologists to engage in rites and rituals because priests and ministers are not the knowledge-bearers of Scientology. No one in Scientology goes to their minister or a preacher to learn what Scientology is all about, they go to L. Ron Hubbard’s books and lectures. This is a very different setup from Christian churches, which almost exclusively are about rites and rituals and sermons and preaching. That and reading the Bible are the only real ways that you gain knowledge and enlightenment in Christianity, unless you are going to be a minister and you go to school for religious training. So Regis is making a good point here. He continues:
“Even if they are not well attended and if they have been created to give the Scientology organization the appearance of a church, the ceremonies deserve a closer look because Ron Hubbard gave them a specific form and not another, a specific ritual and not another. Some specific words, which express a basic ideology, are used and not others. Whether they are artificial or not, the ceremonies of the Church of Scientology have a meaning and a function that the sociologist must decode. It is worth taking a closer look at them.” (p. 167)
So here Regis is hedging his bets because he’s saying that “Hey, even if Scientology is just bullshit and these ceremonies are just PR fluff, they still deserve to be looked at closely and studied because Hubbard put them together and we should therefore look at them.” I think this is pure nonsense and comes off as some kind of academic justification for having spent time and maybe someone’s grant money researching this. If this is the best reason he can come up with for studying these ceremonies, it’s a pretty lame one. I’d rather see him say something like “Look, we aren’t sure if Scientology is actually a religion or not but these ceremonies may be a way of determining if these guys are serious about this stuff and take their religion seriously. Why don’t we look into them and find out?” But he didn’t say that. He also didn’t say “Ceremonies and rituals are a great way of helping to understand the average Scientologist and his belief structure and what Scientology is doing for him, so let’s get a closer look at these.” Nope. He didn’t even go into it that far. It’s a superficial look at best. He goes on:
“There are two types of ceremony: the religious Sunday service and occasions of the passage of life (naming after birth, marriage, ministers’ ordination, and funerals). An introduction of these almost unknown ceremonies is provided below and will be followed by an examination of their functions as compared to their theophilanthropic equivalent.” (p. 167)
Ok, now Regis brings in something that really took me by surprise. What is theophilanthropy? Well, according to Wikipedia, the word Theophilanthropists means “Friends of God and Man” and they were a deistic sect formed in France during the later part of the French Revolution. No dogmatic creed was imposed and the two fundamental tenets were the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. These were deemed necessary for the preservation of society and the welfare of individuals. Its basic principle was good: good is all that tends to preserve and perfect the man; evil is all that tends to destroy or impair him.
At first, Theophilanthropist worship services were just in the home and consisted of a short invocation of God in the morning and a kind of examination of conscience at the end of the day. These expanded as the religion grew until they had ministers presiding over prayer and mimicked Christian baptism, First Communion, marriages and funerals.
Theophilanthropy died out in the 1800s and has not been practiced in nearly 200 years. What Regis is saying here is that he’s going to talk about Scientology’s ceremonies one-by-one and then he’s going to compare them to their theophilanthropic equivalents. Huh? Why not compare them to Egyptian ceremonies of sun and cat worship? How about comparing them to Aztec rituals of human sacrifice? Or old Druidic dances around mistletoe? I mean, what is he talking about?
Well, apparently to Regis’ way of thinking, theophilanthropy was the only thing in French history that would form a basis of religious comparison to Scientology. I hope that makes as little sense to you as it did to me. To have to reach back 200 years to a dead religion to prove that Scientology’s ceremonies have credibility is such a stretch to me that I am seriously questioning his academic credentials. We’ll get back to this in just a second.
The entire next section is where Regis goes into describing each Scientology ceremony in a couple of paragraphs, but we’re just going to skip over that. There’s a Sunday Service, a wedding ceremony, funeral service, naming ceremony and minister’s ordination ceremony and Regis describes these well enough. I could give you some commentary and analysis of what Regis has to say, but I don’t think it’s really worth the time because he spends far more time in the following section discussing Scientology as a form of modern theophilanthropy.
The section is called “Modern Theophilanthropy?” and starts off:
“Theophilanthropy emerged during the French Revolution of 1789. It was put forward by certain revolutionaries in an attempt to replace Christianity and to make the republic a sacred entity. Mathiez (1903), who studied it at the beginning of the twentieth century, sees it as a kind of open freemasonry. It appears that the principles and rites of the Church of Scientology have much in common with theophilanthropy.” (p. 171)
Regis then spends the next four pages showing how Scientology and Theophilanthropy are complementary to each other. The reason I can look at this and just laugh and ignore everything he has to say is because the role of God in Scientology is nothing like the role of God in theophilanthropy. The comparison is automatically nullified on that point alone. God is not one of the two pinnacles of Scientology belief as it is in theophilanthropy. And the fact that Regis had to cast back 200 years to find another religious group that had rituals and ceremonies somewhat similar to Scientology’s tells me that he was pretty desperate to find something, anything, that could legitimize Scientology. Out of all the stretches I’ve seen so far in this book, this one is by far the longest stretch of all.
Now passing up that nonsense, the next section is called “The Function of Scientology Ceremonies” and it’s here that Regis attempts to actually be a sociologist and do some actual scientific work. Unfortunately, this is another big fail but let’s see what he did. He first explains the methodology they used:
“To understand the meaning of the religious ceremonies of the Church of Scientology as experienced by its faithful, we undertook nondirective interviews with a sample of fifteen Scientologists. We asked each of them the question, What do the ceremonies of the Church of Scientology mean to you? The interviews were recorded.
“We chose members who had been in the organization for over five years because we assumed that they had had the opportunity to attend various ceremonies and maybe to have personally participated in some of them (marriage, baptism of a child, etc.). The technique of the nondirective interview does not involve a large number of interviews as sociologists and psychologists share the standpoint that in a sample, the number of opinions about a social phenomenon is limited and interviews quickly become repetitive. This was verified in our case. On reading the transcription of interviews, we noticed recurrent topics that could be classified into three categories: (1) those mentioning the community dimension, (2) those legitimizing the value and the project of Ron Hubbard, and (3) those asserting and transmitting the values of the Scientology belief system.
“Due to the recurrence of these themes, we concluded that it was not necessary to conduct a quantitative analysis and so we limited ourselves to a qualitative analysis. This seemed sufficient to identify the functions.” (p. 176)
Alright, now we are starting to get somewhere. I am not a trained sociologist so I’m going to give Regis the benefit of the doubt that he knows what he is talking about with his survey and the sample size they used. To me, asking fifteen Scientologists about this seems like a really low number, but he’s probably right about the fact that after a few they were just repeating what each other said.
The results were pretty much as I expected.
“We have isolated an extract of the interviews that illustrates each theme, and reproduced them as quotations below.
“As has already been pointed out, the Church of Scientology does not need ministers and religious services, nor does it need to mark important moments of the existence in order to function as the spiritual path it prescribes via auditing
and teaching by way of courses and manuals. As one Scientologist pointed out:
“‘Personally, I never or rarely attend the service held at the Church of Scientology. I am aware that some Scientologists go to a regular church service, but that is not what counts the most for me as far as Scientology religion is concerned. Put differently, that is not the main aspect of my commitment. The main thing for me is pastoral counseling, in other words the activities which revolve around processing and Scientology courses.'” (p. 176)
So let me comment on this. The only people I knew in Scientology both in the Sea Org and at local Class V orgs who went to Church services were those who were strong-armed into it on Sunday mornings when the services were supposed to be held. It was a target on a program and no one enjoyed doing it. Any staff or public lingering around in church premises who weren’t doing anything else were rounded up and put in the chapel and would have to sit through the usually hour-long service. They would sit politely and listen to the sermon and participate in the group processing, painfully smiling and nodding while waiting for the damn thing to end so they could get on with their life.
And I’m not just making this up. We would actually talk about how we didn’t like these services and would openly wonder why they were even being done since they served no real purpose in our Scientology advancement. Nothing that happened in a Scientology Sunday Service was of any material or spiritual benefit to any of the attendees, which is why they were so unpopular and why so few Scientologists wanted to have anything to do with them.
What I find hard to understand is how Regis has such a hard time seeing any of this. He keeps pondering over why Hubbard set up the Sunday Service the way that he did, such as in this passage here:
“It does not call for the evocation of the commandments or the wishes of a personal and transcendental ethical God, and neither transmits a ‘grace’ by way of sacraments, nor intercessions to such a God for receiving individual benefits on earth. L. Ron Hubbard used Asian religion as a model, not Christianity. He himself frequented an esoteric lodge, which perhaps inspired his choice of rituals. But when creating the ceremonies, Hubbard seems to have been inspired by Christian church (services with sermons and prayers and consecration of life passages). This is quite plausible. It is not, however, obvious why he should have combined a spiritual path based on personal psychological experience, which he assimilates to Buddhism, and faith, which he qualifies as Gnostic, with a religious service similar in form to a Christian one and with treatment of important life passages in a sacred way.” (p. 176)
Maybe Hubbard chose a Christian model of service because in the United States in the 1950s and 60s, about 75% of the US population went to Christian churches and identified religion with Christianity. So if Hubbard wanted to give his group an air of religious legitimacy, he would have to identify with something everyone would readily agree was religious in nature. This is why Scientology ministers dress up like Christian ministers, wear crosses and why any of these services exist in the first place.
I think the reason that Regis could not see what I’m talking about is that despite the fact that he spent years supposedly studying Scientology, he never actually bothered to attend a real Sunday Service with actual Scientologists. Instead, he went to a mocked up one just for him:
“We took part in a Sunday service lecture in the course of our research on the Church of Scientology. This chaplain said it especially for us, on a weekday evening. According to followers I interviewed, the service is not given regularly. Some centers hold it more often than others, and, within any one center, there may be peak periods and slump periods as far as services are concerned. Having said that, we never stopped by during times at which the weekend religious services were scheduled to check whether or not they were actually held. As for the question of why Hubbard introduced these rites, several interpretations are possible. It is our opinion that the ceremonies serve social, legitimizing, and declarative purposes.” (p. 167)
To be totally honest with you, after I read that paragraph I was done with Regis as a serious researcher. This guy couldn’t be bothered to even go see the very thing he is writing a whole research paper on yet professes to have some idea of what he is talking about? Someone else is going to have to explain to me how that makes sense, because I don’t get it.
I did read the rest of the chapter and it was as useless and inane as what I’ve read to you so far. Rather than continue to torture you with this nonsense, though, I’m stopping here.
Someone told me before I first started reading this, that there would be times when I would want to throw this book across the room in frustration at just how bad it could get. That hadn’t happened until this week. I keep thinking that I’ve hit the bottom with horrifically bad essays such as Dorthe Christensen’s or James Lewis’ but then I get to this and I’m just flabbergasted at the second-rate, inadequate and wholly unacceptable quality of their research, premises and conclusions. I have to really thank James R. Lewis for putting this together, though, because I’ll say one thing: this book has been a real education so far in how destructive cults gain legitimacy in the academic world and use that to gain legitimacy in the real world, either by bribing academics with money and influence or just finding those with a temperment towards apologetics for reasons that are beyond my understanding.
We will be taking a break from this book for a few weeks, as next week I have a special short series starting that I think you are going to really like. We’ll pick back up on this when that series is done and keep slogging through because I am going to finish what I started with this. Chapter 10 is called “The Development and Reality of Auditing” by Gail M. Harley and John Kieffer. After what we saw this week, I have no expectation for an intelligent and reasoned analysis of Scientology auditing, but we can always hope.
Thank you for watching.