Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Everything you ever wanted to know about Scientology in London

September 19, 2010 · No Comments

This is a very long post because I am really, really excited about it. If you don’t feel like reading the entire thing, the part that is relevant to England is just in the section labeled “analysis” at the bottom.

While several other people from our group were off being awesome and seeing the Pope yesterday (I’m still really jealous), there was a scientology protest on Tottenham Court right across the street from the Scientology clinic, complete with V for Vendetta masks, megaphones, picket signs, and a lot of bizarre internet references. This is pretty much a dream for someone like me because it combines angry protestors, really odd subcultures, and a religion that allegedly contains aliens. (I know, right?! Better than Bedlam with psych wards, cannibals, and feminism). So I got a chance to talk to the scientologists inside the clinic for a while, and then I talked to a few of the protestors across the street, one of whom was a rogue scientologist. He termed himself a “squirrel,” which is a person who still believes in the axioms of scientology but has disconnected himself from the establishment.

Anyway, I’m not sure how familiar most people are with scientology. I already knew a lot of the social issues surrounding it because of media coverage, but I’ve never gotten an account of the belief system from an actual scientologist. I’ll give a rundown of the things I thought were important:

Part 1: The woman I spoke to inside the clinic was a little odd, but perfectly happy to talk to me, show me informational films, and give me free literature. She did not attempt to sell me anything, give me a diagnostics test that would tell me I was depressed and should pay her a bunch of money, or otherwise brainwash me. I asked her what she thought about the press coverage of scientology and the allegations that it’s exploitative, and she genuinely didn’t seem to have any knowledge of abuse to people within the church or a pyramid scheme going on. So I’m going to assume she was a believer rather than a person at the head of the church making a ton of money.

According to what she told me, L. Ron Hubbard is the founder of Scientology, but only a man rather than a prophet. He has written all the scriptures (which are read at services on Sundays just like many other religions), the main one being The Thesis of Dianetics. He also wrotes the prayers. I found this interesting because every religion I’ve ever studied has holy scriptures directly from God(s) or a prophet and then some have other important documents written and axioms written by men.

When I asked her about her conversion, she said that she never converted because Scientology is supposed to be addition rather than a superseder of other religions. She was also Catholic and often attended Catholic masses when she was with her parents. This means that scientologists do not officially evangelize. Scientology is also apolitical apparently, no official stances on abortion.

I also asked her about the religion itself. Firstly, no aliens, apparently (disappointing). No mention of Xenu. Thetans, she said, are basically an equivalent to the soul except rather than saying you have a soul/thetan, the soul/thetan is you. There is a trinity of self composed of mind, body, and soul/thetan. The thetan returns after your death, so Scientology is a religion of reincarnation. There are eight dynamics of life which become increasingly broad: self, family and all things sex related, group/friends/community, mankind, living things, physical universe, spiritual self, and infinity/supreme being. This was another detail that struck me as extremely weird because it was the only mention she ever made of God in her whole explanation. There is a whole we-are-all-connected-Lion-King motif with the dynamics, which is very familiar, but the main emphasis she placed on her explanation was self help. Scientology is supposed to allow you to rid the negative energy from your life. It focuses heavily on L. Ron Hubbard’s idea that the mind regulates the body, so believers go to counseling sessions where they work on different aspects of their life (communication, relationships, hostilities of life), and they ascend to different levels as they improve. You are also supposed to study. Scientology offers courses for personal betterment (you have to pay for them because there is no government funding) and you can study to become ordained, in which case you study under a superior and also ascend levels of awareness. A lot of hierarchy going on. They’re especially antidrug because they want to focus on the mind, and drugs are bodily and act as toxins.

If I had to simplify it, I would say she was focusing on psychological self help with spiritual axioms.

Part 2: The protestors outside were equally odd and equally happy to talk to me (They invited me to the pub after about an hour but my stranger danger blinker was buzzing). They are part of an internet based organization called Anonymous, which has taken Guy Fawkes from V for Vendetta as their mascot. They wear the masks so as not to be followed/sued by Scientologists. I could write a whole paper on the internet subculture surrounding this protest, but this post is already way too long. I talked to two of the few people not wearing masks, one of whom was a well researched protestor and the other a Scientologist that broke away from the church. Major issues they had:

  1. Pyramid scheme – Scientology is organized so that people have to pay massive amounts for counseling to ascend to the next OT (operating thetan, don’t worry, I’ll get to an explanation) level. They can only get free counseling if they agree to volunteer for the church in which case they’re working for insanely low wages, and if they decide to leave the church they must pay for all the counseling they’ve ever had in lump sum.
  2. The church abuses people by denying them access to medicine they need. Lisa McPherson is an example they mentioned of a woman who died. However, they place people on strong regiments of Scientology vitamins, which make them more money.
  3. Scientology can label any person as an SP (supressive person) or negative influence on someone within the church. If a superior labels your family member as an SP (this can be for anything, like suggesting that Scientology may be dangerous), you can no longer talk to that person.

While the woman inside said L. Ron Hubbard wrote science fiction to fund his research on the nature of man, the non-Scientologist protestor said the sci fi discredited him. The woman inside said that the church was involved with charitable works for the community and participated in interfaith organizations, but the man outside said that all Scientology’s charitable works were minimal for publicity or self-serving. An example he used was Narconon, a program in which Scientologists provide free counseling and drug rehabilitation, which allows them to pull in more people.

Anonymous Scientology Protest, London

Picture taken from http://www.altogetherdigital.com/20080210/anonymous-vs-scientology-strange-goings-on-in-london/ (Coverage of another Scientology protest in London)

Part 3: This is about the guy who referred to himself as a “squirrel,” a Scientologist against the establishment. He told me a lot more about the way OT levels work because he had risen several levels through counseling before leaving. Thetans are not just personal souls; they’re also energy from different life forces that float around on earth and sometimes attaches to people without either being’s knowledge. Counseling allows you to cleanse yourself of thetans. He actually experienced an exorcism of a thetan as powerful as himself (he said he couldn’t believe that he was controlling his body and she wasn’t) who came back to visit him several days later. He said that he never believed Xenu, an alien in the Scientologist narrative who sent a bunch of thetans to earth’s volcanoes; he understood the story strictly as a metaphor. He did still believe in the axioms, and mention one: “Life is a static capable of postulates and considerations.”

Analysis: I can see why Scientology is so attractive to so many people. It has commonalities with a lot of different religions. The levels of awareness and cleansing are similar to levels of enlightenment in some forms of Hinduism and Buddhism. The 8 dynamics are a familiar hierarchy, and the eighth dynamic infinity/the supreme being. which encompasses everything else, also hearkens back to other religions. For instance, Islam and Judaism focus so much on the infiniteness of God that they are aniconic. You cannot depict God or speak of God without special ritual so that you are not in danger of quantifying God. The trinity of mind, body, and soul seems awefully similar to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit trinity we find in Christianity. Plus, the idea of a thetan, when we compare it to a soul, doesn’t really sound farfetched at all. Yogic Hinduism focuses on releasing negative energy akin to parasitic thetans. Muslims perform ritual purifying before every prayer. The focus on study, the fact that believers are supposed to take courses, is pretty similar to studying the Torah for bar mitvah or the Bible for confirmation.

It’s also very attractive because it reiterates a lot of popular sentiment about psychology and self help. There is already an issue with the overpresecription of drugs because drug companies have so much influence over doctors. Scientology reiterates the fear of overmedication. Western society is also a society obsessed with psychology. More people than ever see therapists. Depression has invaded so thoroughly that it is used a synonym for sadness. A religion that revolves around self help fulfills a need. Also, the fact that Scientology is a spiritual form of self-help with very little emphasis on God might be very practical for the English in particular. The census we saw notes that many English consider themselves spiritual, but do not believe in God.

The attractive part of the religion of Scientology makes the establishment of Scientology extremely terrifying because everything the protestors named had a seemingly reasonable counterpoint. Scientology could be a money making scheme, or it could be that scientology needs money to operate just like any other religious establish needs membership fees and donations to operate. Scientology does not receive government funding in England because it does not pass the means test so maybe it needs even more money (The protestors told me that the Scientology church in England gets around this by registering under Australia which has no means test, but I unfortunately can’t find any research on it). Scientology could be brainwashing people by having superiors hover over them, excommunicating their relatives, and denying them medical attention, or they could just be providing mentors and trying not to overmedicate people. Obviously, there is something wrong with an establishment that abuses people, but from the inside it’s very difficult to define abuse.

We also have to separate the religion from the establishment and look for the good. The “squirrel” I talked to felt deep spiritual benefit from belief in the 8 dynamics, counseling for communication skills, and the release of thetans and energy. None of the stories or axioms he talked about were any siller than a virgin birth, a man whose head is replaced by an elephant’s, or Muhammad splitting the moon. They’re just myths (I mean stories within a tradition, not false accounts) that create a discourse for a belief system. When I asked a man at the Hindu temple why there was a statue of Krishna and not Vishnu, he told me it was because they were the same, and that every god in the temple was a different avenue to the same God, just like there are many different Tube routes back to Tottenham Court (his analogy, not mine). Hokey, yes, but I love this sentiment because it reminds us that tolerance should extend to any path that benefits people. That does not mean we should tolerate an abusive establishment. The protestors told me that unlike America, England defines Scientology as a religion, giving them special legal rights to practice. But it does mean that we shouldn’t dismiss individuals who believe in the Scientology as wackos, especially since the its definition as a religion depends not just on its legitimacy as a belief system but the legitimacy of the establishment that endorses it.

So in summary, we should all respect each other and be friends (Please tell me if you read that entire thing, that my thesis came out to more than that).

A source recommended to me by the protestors:

Sikh comedian’s explanation of Scientology. Recommended by the “squirrel”

Categories: 2010 Jesse
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