Hey everyone. This is the next installment in my deconstruction of the book Scientology, edited by James R. Lewis. We’ve gone through the introduction and eleven chapters so far and except for the bit of bright light we saw last week, so far it’s been a real slug-fest trying to just wade through the verbiage as well as counter most of the frankly asinine statements these academics have made about Scientology in their quest to make it seem like a legitimate religious movement on the same order as Christianity, Islam or Buddhism. I’ve shown time and again how their data is off, their thinking is flawed and their conclusions are almost imbecilic. So where are we at now?
We are on what looks to me like the last chapter that goes over whether Scientology is a religion, the last chapter in the section called “Sources and Comparative Approaches” where the authors offer up comparisons of Scientology to other religious practices in a vain effort to show how Scientology is just like (fill in the blank) religion and therefore should be given serious consideration, respect and tax exempt status. That last is the only thing Scientology really cares about and is the only reason they went around commissioning religious scholars to write about Scientology in the first place. Believe me, Scientology officials could care less what any of these religious scholars say, think or feel. They are all viewed as a means to an end for Scientology to secure and keep its tax exemption so it can continue raking in millions of dollars without having to pay a penny in property or income tax and can get away with the most egregious human rights abuses under the cloak of religious freedom.
That all being said, this week’s chapter is a very convoluted read that ends in no solid conclusion one way or the other about Scientology but is more critical of it’s religiosity than most other authors we’ve covered. The fact that it’s conclusion is so convoluted left me very dissatisfied with this piece and so we are going to cover it as rapidly as I can while still making a few good points I think you’ll be interested in.
Chapter 12 is called “Scientology: ‘Modern Religion’or ‘Religion of Modernity?'” I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean but I guess it’s author Gerald Wilms effort to be witty. Unfortunately, trying to even wade through the English translation of this German social scientist’s prose was one of the most difficult challenges I’ve had so far in this series. He’s written two other books in German dealing with Scientology, so this is not unfamiliar territory for him. One was called “The Wonderful World of Sects: from Paul to Scientology” and the other was called “Scientology: Cultural Observations Beyond the Deviants.” Like James R. Lewis’ new book on Scientology, both of these books cost an excessive amount of money and there are no translations or information about them I could find online, at least not in English.
Scientology has had such a hard time in Germany that there is even an entire Wikipedia page devoted to nothing but that topic. For anyone unfamiliar with the history, Scientology is not recognized in Germany as a religion and in fact is viewed as exactly what I believe it to be: an abusive business masquerading as a religion. They further think that Scientology is pursuing political goals in opposition to the German constitution and on this I cannot comment because I’m totally unfamiliar with Germany’s constitution, its form of government and what Scientology has or has not done in Germany, if anything, to oppose German goals. I will say that if Scientologists in Germany are like Scientologists in the US, then they do not believe that the government is there to help but only to hinder their personal freedoms and that it may be a necessary evil that they have to deal with now, but one day the Scientologists believe they will be running things and that includes the government.
Willms uses the word “science” and “scientific” often, and I found it difficult to understand what he meant at first since in English, we often use these words to talk about the physical sciences. That can’t be right with what Willms is referring to here with scientific studies of Scientology. The only way this statement has any contextual relevance to the discussion about Scientology is if Willms is referring to social scientists such as sociologists, psychologists and the like. So on that note, he starts his essay with this quote from L. Ron Hubbard:
“There are no tenets in Scientology which cannot be demonstrated with entirely scientific procedures.”
LRH – PAB 85, THE PARTS OF MAN
Hubbard made this claim often, yet not once in all of the lectures and bulletins of Scientology did he once offer any proof or evidence that would meet scientific criteria or procedure. I do mean that. Not even once. He just said to his followers over and over again that Scientology was based on a series of discoveries he had made based on his own scientific investigations. There are on research notes, experiments or testing material available in any public records to back up Hubbard’s statements. Scientology is true simply and only because L. Ron Hubbard says its true and if you question that or ask to see evidence or proof of it, the best that any Scientologist can show you is purely subjective, anecdotal evidence.
Well, they’ll say, millions of happy Scientologists can’t be wrong, can they? Not only is that not proof of anything, but there aren’t even millions of Scientologists and I can tell you for a fact that most Scientologists I met during the 25 years that I worked for the Church were not very happy people. So their idea of what science is and how it operates is totally flawed and always has been. Hubbard himself flunked out of school and said himself in one of his lectures that he was not a good researcher or “lab man.” The fact that anyone in Scientology believes a word he says about how Scientology is based in science simply indicates that Scientologists themselves don’t know anything about real science.
So let’s tackle a bit of what Willms says beginning with some bits from his introduction:
“Being a religion is one of the most important issues of Scientology’s current self-representation. Although this claim seems to be supported by the majority of the (mainly Anglo-Saxon) scientific community, it is widely rejected in the public discourses throughout Europe, particularly in Germanophone countries, where the discourse is headed by a strong coalition of anti-Scientology activists, including church and state representatives, and backed by continuous hostile media coverage.” (p. 245)
Now he starts his whole article with a complete falsehood. How can this man possibly claim that the majority of the scientific community supports the idea that Scientology is a religion? He does not cite any source or reference to back up this wild-ass claim yet offers it as a counter-point to the German public’s view in media and other circles that Scientology is not a religion. Until he produces some kind of peer-reviewed survey results showing that the majority of social scientists in the US and Europe have accepted that Scientology is a bona-fide religion, this statement is pure nonsense. Now this next bit is even worse:
“Apart from public opinions and court decisions, the mainstream of the scientific discourse is ruled by the <i>principle of charity<i> that rejects the questioning of the very substance of any religious self portrayal. Hence, Scientology’s claim of being a religion can hardly be denied from a scientific point of view…. If Scientology claims to be a religion, we must first acknowledge this claim.” (p. 245)
I think Willms and I have very different ideas about the principle of charity. This is a philosophical and rhetorical rule that calls for you to interpret another’s argument or speech or ideas in the most logical and reasonable way possible, rather than degrade the person wh o made the argument. In other words, if something you said to me is somewhat ambiguous or could be interepreted in more than one way, the principle of charity calls for me to interpret it so that what you said makes sense. Often when we disagree with someone in principle, we’ll go out of our way to interpret their words wrongly so that we are justified in thinking they are an idiot or a moron for saying whatever they said. The principle of charity says don’t do that; instead interpret their words generously and with rationality because even if they worded their argument badly, they probably aren’t actually morons or idiots.
But this is a far cry from simply accepting something you tell me is true because you said it. If you are a self-proclaimed religious prophet, it’s not on me to simply accept that statement as true simply because you have made that claim. That’s not using the principle of charity, it’s being gullible. And in the case of Scientology or any group claiming they are a religion, such a statement should be examined critically.
Willms then says that religions by their very nature rely on non-rational assumptions and motives which cannot be scientifically tested, such as the will of God, transcendental forces, miracles and the like. While these may be a group’s primary reasons for calling itself a religion, any religious activity does have secondary activities such as rituals, ways of worshipping and so on which can be critically examined here in the real world and that is what Willms is going to look at in this paper. None of this is particularly original thinking that we haven’t already seen and heard before. In fact, throughout the text, Willms actually refers to some of the academic papers we’ve already covered. So instead of going into detail on the same tired arguments other scholars have already made, we’re going to skim over a lot of Willms content, just dipping in here and there to see if he has anything original to say.
He first goes in to spirituality and how this is manifested in Scientology through the concept of theta and thetans. He says the mere fact that Scientology talks about the reality of a spiritual existence is the “primary argument for considering Scientology a religion.” Hubbard made the same argument and for the longest time when I was in Scientology I thought this was logically sound. Then I started thinking about it and realized it has nothing to do with religiosity.
Consider this: psychics and ghost hunters amongst others deal with spiritual matters. Now we can call them cranks and charlatans and every other name in the book and personally, I think they deserve it, but here’s the thing: none of them are claiming 501c(3) religious exemptions on their tax statements and very few of them claim that what they are doing is purely religious in nature. The mere fact that they deal in spirituality, in other words, does not make what they do a religious activity. And that blows the whole Scientology argument right out of the water.
As I’ve mentioned before, behind closed doors, the same holds true for Scientologists. None of them think about or regard Scientology as “their religion” and they don’t think that spirituality is a matter of faith or belief. They don’t even agree with Hubbard’s argument about why Scientology is a religion and most of them know that the only reason they have to go along with the whole religion angle in the first place is so they can claim tax exemption and get legal recognition as a religion in court.
Willms actually helps make my argument in this section when he too shows that spirituality alone does not necessarily indicate religiosity.
“Hubbard’s immortal spirit, which is due to Scientological processing some sort of ‘purified’ or ‘cleared’ thought, fits the immortality concepts of Aristotle’s ‘pure thought’ as well as Spinoza’s ‘clear thought.’ The comprehensible version of the spirit or the spiritual self described above is connected to the overall modern image of Scientology. It is compatible to all self-help programs presented and advertised by Scientology, does not threaten the Scientological idea of offering a scientific technology, and fits the ‘Western’ morals of individual freedom, economic competition, civilized behavior, or of ‘occidental rationality.’ Therefore, it is more or less unrelated to a genuine religious sphere of faith.” (p. 247)
Now in an interesting twist, right after saying this, Willms then makes the claim that there is a religious subtext to the spirituality expressed in Scientology because of the Xenu story told on the confidential OT III level. I gave it my all to understand why he was making this claim but you tell me if he’s not contradicting himself here:
“It is unquestionable that sociology and/or religious studies has to be willing to conceive of the myth of Xenu, in whatever shape, as a genuine religious theme. But (surprisingly?) neither Hubbard nor the Scientology organization has ever justified its religious legitimacy with the Xenu story.” (p. 247)
If the Church isn’t claiming this is religious, why would Willms? It doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Willms spends the rest of this section talking about how Hubbard borrowed or re-defined ideas from Spinoza, psychotherapy, Madame Blavatsky and others. In a more convoluted way, Willms repeats much of what we talked about last week from Andreas Grunschloss.
And frankly, that’s the pattern for the rest of his essay. He discusses how it appears throughout his works that Hubbard barely gave the religiosity of Scientology much thought. He notes how historically the church went back and changed certain texts so they came across as more religious minded, and how the Church put on a show of its members being minsters and being more religious in nature, yet the actual pillars upon which Scientology is built are psychotherapeutic and philosophical, not religious. He even pokes holes in some of the arguments made in earlier academic papers we talked about in this series, which I found refreshing. Finally, he comes to this at the end:
“To compare Scientological doctrines and practices to traditional religious doctrines and practices, be they ‘Western’ or ‘Eastern,’ seems a weak conclusion by analogy. Furthermore, this conclusion violates the substance of Scientological self-perception to be a practice based on natural sciences, which possesses a workable technology with the intended purpose of fabricating (better: rehabilitating) free and self-determined individuals as a precondition for personal and (mainly) material successes in the here and now.” (p. 258)
In other words, when you get down to it and actually go over the materials of Scientology, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to make analogies of it to other legitimate religions because you have to stretch things too far to come to any conclusion that Scientology is a religion. It says it’s based on science and reason and discovered truths, not faith or dogma or transcendental enlightenment.
And that’s about as good as Willms gets. He wrote a lot but said very little. It was actaully kind of impressive how someone can do that, showing off their knowledge base and familiarity with various religious doctrines and ideas and yet kind of just circling round and round without ever landing anywhere. I’m not actually going to even attempt to give you his final concluding statements because, to be blunt, they make no real sense. This chapter was sort of the ultimate academic paper that way, in that it used a whole lot of words to end up coming to no finite and definite conclusions. Willms seemed to show again and again that Scientology had no legitimate claim to its religious status, but he failed to just pull the trigger and just call it what it was. To that end, I found this essay endlessly annoying and ultimately his criticisms of little real use.
Next week we are going to get into the next section of this book, called Controversies, with Chapter 13 titled “The Nature of the New Religious Movements – Anticult ‘Culture War’ in Microcosm: The Church of Scientology versus the Cult Awareness Network” by Anson Shupe. I guarantee you that will be more interesting than this week’s fodder as we are finally going to get down to some brass tacks about how Scientology deals with its critics from an academic perspective. I can’t wait to see what Anson has to say about this.
Thank you for watching.