While speculative fiction is entertaining and creative in its own right, a fiction writer giving rise to a new religion is surely an unique phenomenon in its own right. Often characterized as one of the most controversial religions of the 20th century, as evident from the numerous lawsuits and convictions for fraud (1), this phenomenon is a graphic illustration of the dark side of pseudoscience when it obscures reason and logic even in the face of overwhelming evidence against it. (In the UK, as well as several West European countries, Scientology has failed to obtain the status as a religion.)Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientolology, must be given credit for planning meticulously the sequence of events that makes so called ‘rational’ people surrender and abandon rationality completely while retaining the ‘belief’ that if they paid sums of donations or fees for spiritual services to their chosen Church, profound and deep ‘truths’ would be progressively revealed. At the forefront of the publicity machine was the conscious effort to use celebrity power, and two years after founding the first Church of Scientology at Camden, New Jersey in 1953, the Project Celebrity was launched, and today entertainers like John Travolta, Tom Cruise, Kirstie Allie are amongst the many who run this publicity machine.
While it would be naive to assume that Hollywood celebrities have anything significant to offer in the way of science, the main issue is Scientology’s conscious effort to project their core beliefs and practices as science-based. This issue needs to be addressed as The Church of Scientology has been in the spotlight for trying to push its ideology into mainstream education through what is called ‘tech’ : it was recently in the news that debates were ongoing about in Chicago for instance about incorporating Ron Hubbard’s teachings in the public school system (2); in addition Tom Cruise has campaigned for inclusion of Scientology in mainstream schools.(3) In other instances Scientology’s more covert links with educational programs like ‘Applied Scholastics’ has been questioned.(4) This raises the vital issue of the necessity to examine the core premises that scientology is based on, if it claims in any way a link with the educational system, it must be proven beyond doubt that the premises are rational and scientifically testable.
However there are some serious issues that forces us to conclude that it is pseudoscience that forms this core. These are a few examples that have been fully referenced on Wikipedia (5) :
(i) “Scientology beliefs revolve around the thetan, the individualized expression of the cosmic source, or life force, named after the Greek letter theta (θ).” “Thetans are reborn time and time again in new bodies through a process called “assumption” which is analogous to reincarnation.” While ancient religions have followed from ancient beliefs, can a 20th century religion claiming to be scientific and yet resting on this unprovable assumption be seriously regarded of being of any value ? Particularly when it claims that thetans have lived on other planets before, particularly when there is not a single shred of evidence yet of life on planets in or outside our solar systems ?
(ii) “Scientology presents two major divisions of the mind. The reactive mind is thought to absorb all pain and emotional trauma, while the analytical mind is a rational mechanism which is responsible for consciousness.The reactive mind stores mental images which are not readily available to the analytical (conscious) mind; these are referred to as engrams. Engrams are painful and debilitating; as they accumulate, people move further away from their true identity. To avoid this fate is Scientology’s basic goal. Dianetic auditing is one way by which the Scientologist may progress toward the Clear state, winning gradual freedom from the reactive mind’s engrams, and acquiring certainty of his or her reality as a thetan.” Even if we suppose this arbitrary division of the mind into two as logical ( although unprovable again), what defies any rational explanation is the measurement of skin conductance through patented E-meters (6) as an indication of someone having successfully ‘cleared’ one’s mind of painful images. Tomatoes “scream when sliced” said Church founder Ron Hubbard in 1968, and if it is considered as a clear indication of his understanding of pain and related cognitive issues, there are legitimate and grave concerns about its applicability to humans.
(iii) The Church of Scientology’s anti-psychiatry stance is however its most suspect stance. The evidence it presents against psychiatry and psychology being “an industry of death” is non-existent, and the way it uses emotional rhetoric raises grave concerns about the real motive behind the organization’s public hatred towards mental health professionals. Consider this quote from the President of the Church of Scientology :
“What the Church opposes are brutal, inhumane psychiatric treatments. It does so for three principal reasons: 1) procedures such as electro-shock, drugs and lobotomy injure, maim and destroy people in the guise of help; 2) psychiatry is not a science and has no proven methods to justify the billions of dollars of government funds that are poured into it; and 3) psychiatric theories that man is a mere animal have been used to rationalize, for example, the wholesale slaughter of human beings in World Wars I and II.“(7) Is even one of these three statements remotely connected to any evidence-based assessment of the impact of psychiatry on human lives ? Is there any evidence at all that scientology fares any better in mental illnesses ? However scientology based tragedies depict an entirely different picture. (8)
(1) Scientologists convicted of fraud : A French court has convicted the Church of Scientology of fraud, but stopped short of banning the group from operating in France. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8327569.stm
(3) Scientology in Illinois’ public schools ? http://newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/religion_theseeker/2011/05/scientology-in-illinois-public-schools.html
(6) E-meters : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-meter
(8) Scientology : A question of faith. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/10/25/48hours/main2124568.shtml
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