Scientology: All-American or Aging Hoax? By Gordon Haber

  • Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion by Janet Reitman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt , 2011)
  • The Church of Scientology byHugh Urban (Princeton U. Press(2011)

In Los Angeles, I’ve heard a lot of stories about Scientologists. There was the jaw-dropping (and unfortunately off-the-record) one about the flagrantly unethical executive. Or the one about the articulate grip who calmly explained the religion’s tenets at the craft services table. And then there’s the stylist who has so many run-ins with proselytizing Scientologists that she calls it “getting Sci-Tied.”

What’s interesting is that all these experiences were related as momentarily discomfiting but ultimately harmless. Of course, the perception of Scientology is something else entirely. The church is seen as a scam, as a fake religion, as a refuge for credulous actors, as the domain of paranoid, exploitative leaders. It is also seen as rich, powerful, and vindictive. I’ve often heard people mock the Church of Scientology—but always in private.

This discretion is likely due to Scientology’s history of remarkable hostility toward critics. When it sees a threat, the church goes nuclear. Consider Paulette Cooper, author of The Scandal of Scientology. After her book was published in 1971, Cooper was subjected to years of harassment, including frequent lawsuits (a classic Scientology tactic), a smear campaign, and an outrageous attempt to frame her for bomb threats.

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About Chris

Scholar of religion/nonreligion... PhD Student (Lancaster University), blogger, singer, actor, thinker... Northern Irish living in Scotland. Co-founder of The Religious Studies Project. Director at the NSRN. Baritone masquerading as a tenor. Vegetarian for no particular reason.

3 responses to “Scientology…”

  1. Carole Cusack says :

    I’ve recently bought and read both the Reitman and Urban books on Scientology and am presently struggling to write a chapter on Scientology and sex (which is running late) for an edited volume on new religions’ attitudes to and teachings on sex. I agree with Gordon Haber that Scientology is not a ‘fake religion’ – whether or not Hubbard originally conceived of it fraudulently – as it has developed a community of belief and worship that is functionally indistinguishable from Christianity, Buddhism etc. But then I don’t see that there’s anything intrinsically more improbable in the Xenu mythos than there is in the resurrection of Jesus or the putative expectation of Maitreya, which I accept is not quite the way that most people (even non-religious people) tend to view the matter. For one reason or other, traditional, ancient or merely familiar religions are consistently accorded greater credibility than new, unfamiliar religions. It’s just as Bruce Lincoln pointed out in Number 10 of the ‘Theses on Method’ (1996): ‘Understanding the system of ideology that operates in one’s own society is made difficult by two factors: (i) one’s consciousness is itself a product of that system, and (ii) the system’s very success renders its operations invisible, since one is so consistently immersed in and bombarded by its products that one comes to mistake them (and the apparatus through which they are produced and disseminated) for nothing other than “nature”.’ In other words, our religion (even if we no longer adhere to it) is normal and normative, and other peoples’ religions are weird.

  2. Chris says :

    Excellent comment. Would you recommend either in particular? I heard Reitman give a good interview on the radio a while back… I knew you would think what you think, and I agree… the presence of religions which are demonstrably ‘made up’ makes many people uncomfortable about what this might say concerning their own beliefs…

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