Hello and welcome back for another round in my take down of the academic apologists who can’t seem to say enough good things about the Church of Scientology and its right to exist as a tax-free religion. I’m referring of course to the collection of essays in this book, Scientology, edited by James R. Lewis and containing an array of apologetics essays by sociologists, psychologists and religious scholars. Except for just a couple of exceptions so far, this book has pretty much been an academic promotional piece for Scientology and unfortunately, this chapter is literally one of the worst of these. Let’s just get right into it.
This week we are looking at Chapter 13, The Nature of the New Religious Movements – Anticult “Culture War” in Microcosm: The Church of Scientology versus the Cult Awareness Network by Anson Shupe. He was an American sociologist who according to Wikipedia was noted for his studies of religous groups and their countermovements, family violence and clergy misconduct. He also was associated with the old and new Cult Awareness Network, which we will talk about, including acting as an expert witness for Scientology in their famous case that ended up destroying the old Cult Awarness Network and even writing pro-cult literature for Scientology in their own publications. In other words, this guy was quite literally one of the very worst of the cult apologists. According to the Encyclopedia of Religion and Society, Schupe was the one who contributed a number of concepts that have acted as ammunition for Scientology to deride its critics such as terms like “apostate” and “anti-cultism” and he worked with other destructive cult apologists to create a framework of justification for their practices and existence, most notably David Bromley. You may recall that Bromely was the author of Chapter 4 of this book and I did not have very many good things to say about his apologetics nonsense either. Bromley was one of those other pro-Scientology academics-for-hire but he sort of burned that bridge when he described the whole Xenu narrative in his essay in this book.
Shupe died in May 2015. I can’t speak to his other work, but if this article is representative of how and what he wrote, you’ll see why I have nothing but contempt for him professionally. I don’t know what he was like personally and I don’t care. I’m not here to deride the man as an individual. This is a take down of his professional academic work, not him as a human being.
He begins by framing what he refers to as a culture war between destructive cults and those who wanted to help free their family and friends from such groups, which he refers to as the anti-cult movement or ACM. Here’s how he begins:
“During the 1980s and 1990s evangelical Christians wrote books, articles and editorial columns in such magazines as Christianity Today proclaiming their conservative theologies, lifestyles, and values under attack by a hostile alliance of liberal Christians, agnostics, atheists, hedonists, radical feminists, pro-abortionists, and others. They referred to the presumed struggle between themselves (‘the forces of godliness’) and the proponents of a secular America (presumably ‘the forces of darkness’) as a ‘culture war.’
“Meanwhile, however, there was a parallel ‘culture war’ that had started earlier during the mid-1960s. Its protagonists were unconventional new religious movements (hereafter NRMs): some Christian-based (such as the Unification Church and the Children of God, now The Family); some of foreign origin (such as the International Society for Krishna consciousness, or Hare Krishnas, and the Divine Light Mission); and some more like New Age psycho-technologies (such as est). In particular was one that has endured longer and larger than most: the Church of Scientology International.” (p. 269)
Note that he immediately shows his bias by naming the new religious movements as the protagonists in this battle. In other words, he’s positioning them as the good guys. By definition, a protagonist is an “advocate or champion of a particular cause or idea” and as Shupe saw things, these new religous movements had to be defended in the name of religious freedom. Having taken this position, he then names the antagonists, in other words, the bad guys, as those who were struggling to oppose these destructive cults.
“The antagonists in this other culture war were family-based, grassroots groups with emotive names such as Love Our Children, Inc., Citizens Engaged in Freeing Minds, the American Family Foundation, and the Citizens Freedom Foundation. They were all dedicated to (1) rallying official and popular support for repressing NRMs they referred to as ‘destructive cults’ and (2) seeking extraction of their loved ones (some minors, some legal adults) from NRMs, sometimes forcibly (employing a controversial abduction ‘shock’ tactic they termed deprogramming ). Together these two groups constituted what has been termed the anticult movement (hereafter the ACM). One long-lasting group in the ACM, ultimately the largest and most influential on both national (U.S.) and international levels, was the Cult Awareness Network (hereafter CAN) headquartered in Chicago, Illinois.”
Here is where Shupe introduces deprogramming, which is the big baseball bat he has to wield against CAN and any group who opposed new religious movements. He swings this bat again and again throughout this paper. Let’s talk about this for a second because it’s something I’ve never really talked much about and I think it’s time to do so.
“Deprogramming refers to coercive measures to force a person in a controversial belief system to change those beliefs and abandon allegiance to the religious, political, economic, or social group associated with the belief system. Methods and practices of self-identified ‘deprogrammers’ have involved kidnapping, false imprisonment, and coercion, and sometimes resulted in criminal convictions of the deprogrammers. Classic deprogramming regimens are designed for individuals taken against their will, which has led to controversies over freedom of religion, kidnapping, and civil rights, as well as the violence which is sometimes involved.” (Wikipedia)
I want to state that I am and always have been unequivocally against deprogramming or any similar tactics for handling someone in a destructive cult, or any situation for that matter. I’ve said time and again on this channel from the first day I started it that tolerance, understanding, rationality and reason are the ways that you can change hearts and minds. You can beat or torture someone until they say what you want them to say, but that is not how you are ever going to get a lasting or positive change and violence is something I do not support in any way.
So with it being clearly understood that there is nothing positive or advantageous or good in using deprogramming, it is not fair or accurate to paint everyone who opposes destructive cults as advocates for deprogramming. It is not accurate to claim that because deprogramming occured, that it’s wrong to oppose destructive cults and what they do. I’m not going to apologize for, justify or excuse any instance of coercive and violent measures used to try to break someone out of a cult mentality but I’m also not going to pretend that because a very few people let themselves get out of hand, that destructive cults now get a pass for every bad and criminal activity they have engaged in. Two wrongs don’t make a right. The litany of crimes the Church of Scientology has committed – actual illegal activities for which people could go to jail – is a very long list and is much more recent than the Snow White Program debacle from the 1970s. This territory is well documented all the way up to the present, as some of you may have seen in Leah Remini’s recent show, Scientology and the Aftermath on A&E.
In fact, let’s be clear about something on this. One could argue that deprogramming of a sort is what destructive cults themselves do to their own members. I certainly could describe in detail how physical and mental abuse was used to change my mind when I was in the Sea Organization, especially during the three year period that I was kept sequestered from my wife, friends and family doing the Rehabilitation Project Force. I have personal experience with how physical and psychological torment can very definitely change you for the worse and I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone. But that didn’t happen to me because someone was trying to get me out of a cult, it happened to me when I was in a destructive cult in order to “re-educate” me so I would tow the line, follow orders and be a good, compliant little Sea Org member. I am not alone in having experienced this, as there are many others who have spoken out about it and their stories are shocking and even horrifying. And I could go on in detail about other similar tactics in Scientology such as Type III watches and the Introspection Rundown, which resulted in the death of Scientologist Lisa McPherson in 1995.
Yet apologists like Shupe and Bromley never mention anything like the RPF or the other violent coercive tactics that destructive cults use against their own members, because that would interfere with their narrative about how benign and credible these groups are. So when Shupe wields this baseball bat of deprogramming, he’s not wrong for calling out the small number of deprogrammers who used it but he’s also being incredibly one-sided. For an academic who is supposed to be doing objective research and reporting on these matters, this is one of his most obvious gaffes and it’s a big one.
Shupe’s purpose in this paper is to lay out the ten-year battle between CAN and the Church of Scientology and he purports to be an expert on this subject but let’s look at the next section, his sources for information.
“There are two general categories of materials upon which assertions in this chapter rely. One is the author’s over-thirty-five years’ collecting and reviewing ACM records and published literature along with interviews and correspondence with select ACM activists/leaders. Included also would be approximately 400 boxes of CAN files assigned as assets to a Chicago, Illinois, bankruptcy court trustee (including court transcripts, correspondence, and so forth concerning more than fifty lawsuits against CAN and thirty-two boxes just on receipts, audits, and other materials concerning CAN’s finances). These were eventually auctioned off by the trustee, and the purchaser graciously permitted repeated access to them for scholarly purposes.” (p. 270)
Do you know who the purchaser was? The Church of Scientology, who apparently was gracious enough to give Shupe access to all of CAN’s files after it became defunct so that he could write papers such as this. Shupe then says:
“In addition, this author served as a consultant/expert witness in several of the above-mentioned lawsuits for an attorney prosecuting clients’ claims against CAN, including the seminal JASON SCOTT, PLAINTIFF V. RICK ROSS, A/K/A RICKEY ALLEN ROSS, MARK WORKMAN, CHARLES SIMPSON, CULT AWARENESS NETWORK, A CALIFORNIA NONPROFIT CORPORATION AND JOHN DOE 1 – JOHN DOE 20, DEFENDANTS, Case No. C94–00796, November 29, 1995, which spelled the economic and functional Waterloo for CAN.” (p. 270)
Do you know who the attorney was that was prosecuting that claim against CAN for Jason Scott? Rick Moxon, attorney for the Church of Scientology. Yep, Shupe was the one and only expert witness called in by the Church of Scientology against CAN. Is a picture starting to come into focus here? Now get this:
“The second category of materials is a cumulative published literature on the modern ACM (plus linkages to past countermovements in U.S. history) and international parallel groups, much of it authored by Anson Shupe and David G. Bromley (see particularly Shupe and Bromley, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1993, 1994, 1995; Shupe, Bromley, and Oliver, 1984; Shupe, Hardin, and Bromley, 1984; Shupe, Spielmann, and Stigall, 1977; Bromley and Shupe, 1979, 1982a, 1982b, 1987).” (p. 270)
So Shupe’s next biggest source for anything he has to say in this paper is…himself! In fact, he then goes on to invalidate anyone else who had anything to say about the so-called anti-cult movement here:
“There have been relatively few other assessments of the ACM (e.g., Garay, 1999; Beckford, 1985), some bibliographic (Saliba, 1990), others merely derivative (Shinn, 1987), or some even misleading to sympathetic of side-issue considerations (Zablocki and Robbins, 2001). Almost all points of interest and the capstone of the Shupe-Bromley corpus of work is subsumed by Shupe and Darnell (2006), from which legal information in the second half of this chapter is almost exclusively derived.” (p. 270)
So apparently in Shupe’s eyes, he and the Church of Scientology are the only ones who can provide any real perspective or truth on the subject of new religious movements and groups who work against them.
I hope that I’m making it clear that this person is no academic at all. He is a hired gun sponsored and paid for by the Church of Scientology. Yet look at his language. Look at how he writes. He never says that he was hired by the Church of Scientology, he doesn’t even admit a direct connection to Scientology. He even refers to himself in the third person. His partner, David Bromley, was the only other person I’ve encountered in this book who does the exact same thing. It’s weird and it comes off as too distant, as though Shupe is trying to hide something using language so objective he can’t even refer to himself in the first person.
Well, the fact is that he is hiding something. He’s hiding his own bias and lack of objectivity on this entire matter. This whole chapter is completely worthless as an objective academic piece about the differences between the Cult Awareness Network and the Church of Scientology. I mean, seriously, this paper is about as useful as David Miscavige talking about the relative merits of pyschology or Tom Cruise telling me whether or not psychotropic medications are useful.
Now let me be clear. Just to provide a counterpoint, I am biased. I have made it clear from day one that I am not objective when it comes to the subject of Scientology. I was part of that group for most of my life and suffered a great deal of abuse at its hands. I also did things as a Scientologist and Sea Org member that were not helpful or beneficial to anyone and have come to regret much of my involvement in that group. I’ve been upfront from the very beginning of this video series that my bias is right out in the open. I do not like Scientology and I have made my case as to why in many different ways. I think I’ve made a good case, but I know that I am not objective and I could very well be missing in some ways because of that.
Shupe has not admitted any such bias yet I’ve shown how in just the first two pages of his essay he is blatantly pro-Scientology and an avid defender of all destructive cults and new religious movements. But he is trying to hide that bias behind a facade of academic linguistics and scholarly objectivism.
So here’s the deal. I read this whole chapter and it’s a total farce. I could go through it point-by-point and refute some or all of his claims but it would honestly be a total waste of time because Shupe omits half the story and curves the parts he does tell in favor to Scientology. The fact is many of the lines that he uses about deprogrammers and the Cult Awareness Network were very familiar to me because I heard them almost verbatim years ago when I was a Scientologist! This man was so deep into the Scientology camp that he was the one writing copy for them, not the other way around!
I therefore could care less what propaganda he wants to write about the history of the Cult Awareness Network’s battle with Scientology. It’s a one-sided account. And just to put the final nail in the coffin here, let’s just skip to the end so you can see the self-congratulatory tone this goofball uses when he is talking about the end of the Cult Awareness Network:
“With CAN gone, neither the American Family Foundation nor any of the sporadic contenders to duplicate CAN could replace its vital ACM role as both a disseminator of alarmist anti-NRM propaganda to the media and a clearinghouse for coercive deprogramming referrals. No other ACM group could or did step up to assume CAN’s mantle as primary ACM spokesgroup.
Indeed, by the dawn of the twenty-first century both AFF and the entire NRM/ACM culture war, or ‘cult scare,’ were moribund. Groups like the Unification Church, the Family, or the Hare Krishnas had weathered their own internal issues, their members had aged (many were now grandparents), and their organizations had matured in sociologically predictable ways. Most important, NRMs had lost or outgrown the cultural ‘rough edges’ that had earned them so much acrimony and public distrust. Many had simply faded from public controversy.”
He’s trying so hard to make it seem like there was never any problem at all and any controversy about destructive cults came entirely from CAN and similar groups. It’s really pathetic. And I guess when he says that these new religious movements lost their “rough edges” he means criminal offenses like breaking into government offices, stalking, harrassment, perjury, fraud, blackmail and the like. Yeah, Scientology is definitley over all that now, isn’t it? We don’t see any evidence today of any such activities still going on, right? He goes on, again referring to himself in the third person:
“The irony is that overall CAN, with its public relations and successes and easy access to media outlets that enabled it to shape much of the public debate about ‘cults’ and that won it so many television news magazine victories over groups like Scientology, ultimately still lost the culture war. These ACM media and other cultural successes were foreseen a quarter of a century earlier when Shupe and Bromley (1980) noted (even before CAN had been formed out of CFF):
‘While the ACM was unable to move the new religions or their members into a position where legitimated management or outright coercive repression was possible, they were nevertheless highly successful at achieving symbolic degradation of these movements. Affixing the label “cults” to the new religions (however imprecise from sociological and even theological viewpoints), along with all the stereotypical attributes we have described . . . was both more easily accomplished and also extremely effective in locating these movements beyond the pale of public morality.’
“However, at the time when Shupe and Bromley wrote that analysis, as relevant as it seemingly was for much of CFF’s and CAN’s existence, CAN’s role in cultivating a criminal corporate climate by sponsoring and facilitating as accessory after the fact illegal deprogrammings was largely unknown except to ACM insiders and activists. CAN’s financial undoing was the result partly of Scientology’s litigious harassment but also importantly from the legal costs incurred by CAN’s own numerous illegalities. Again, not knowing the full extent of these activities even a decade earlier, the prescient sociologists David G. Bromley and Anson Shupe nevertheless anticipated such a possible demise for ACM groups like CAN.” (p. 280)
Now beyond the shall we say, creative historical fiction that he has woven throughout this article about CAN’s history of criminal activity – a hallmark of the Scientology black propaganda machine – I almost fell over when I saw this guy refer to himself as “the prescient sociologist…Anson Shupe.” I mean, seriously? I like to think highly of myself, as I believe we all do, but you aren’t going to see me writing “the brilliant work of the visionary author Chris Shelton was crucial in the eventual fall of the Church of Scientology.” I mean, you would think that was a little peculiar if I wrote that, wouldn’t you?
Alright guys, we’re done with this chapter but come back next week for our next installment in this series. Chapter 14 is called “Scientology in Court: A Look at Some Major Cases from Various Nations” by James T. Richardson. Let’s see if he can keep his bias to himself. I’ll see you guys then.
Thanks for watching.