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From chriso@lutefisk.demon.co.uk Mon Feb  1 17:47:50 GMT 1999

THE SCOTSMAN, 5 August 1997

A religion, a cult or profits for a false prophet?
BY Lizzie Simpson

MOVE over Cardinal Winning and your bishops and also the ministers and
elders of the Church of Scotland, you have another religion vying for
the believers of Scotland.

Where will you find it? Well, a badly-painted notice reading ,a cannier
Scot is a triumphant Scotland" on South Bridge, in Edinburgh, is a clue.
Up two flights into a shabby waiting room papered with yellowing
anaglypta, a woman in a tracksuit is filling in a free personality test.
You have just entered the portals of the Hubbard Academy of Personal
Independence aka the Church of Scientology in Edinburgh. So far, so
cosy, for an organisation with a reputation which is anything but. Now
the French courts have ruled that Scientology is not a cult but a

Many in Scotland might disagree but the Church of Scientology, which has
attracted high-profile members such as actors Tom Cruise, John Travolta
and Kirstie Alley, is determined to prove its credentials.

In November last year Jean-Jacques Mazier, a French Scientology leader,
was sentenced to 18 months in prison in connection with the death of
Patrice Vice, a young Lyons Scientologist who killed himself in 1988,
just hours after he had asked his wife for a loan to pay for a
Scientology purification course.

But last week an appeals court in Lyons reduced Mazier's sentence,
handing him a three-year suspended term and a fine. more significantly,
the court also ruled that "the Church of Scientology can claim the title
of being a religion and can operate freely".

For the famous sect, which claims eight million members worldwide, 4.4
million of which are in the United States, it was an important step
towards attaining the respectability it craves in Europe.

But life hasn't been so easy for the Scientologists in Germany. In the
same month the Bonn government produced a pamphlet accusing the church
of totalitarian tendencies. Interior ministers in the country's 16
states agreed to co-ordinate action against the group, claiming it was
not a religion but a ruthless, money-making scheme. The decision means
that Scientologists might have their phones tapped and agents planted
inside the organisation. The Scientologists in Germany compare this
decision to Hitler's persecution of the Jews.

Back in the Edinburgh academy, a bronze bust of L Ron Hubbard, the late
founder of Scientology, gazes beatifically over the scene in the South
Bridge flat.

A chap named Brian, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Hubbard as a
young man, is weary of defending Scientology against accusations that it
is a cult. "There's an idea that people get 'recruited'," he sighs. "In
fact, surveys show that only 10 per cent of the population in the United
Kingdom has heard of Scientology. And about 0.01 per cent actually know
what Scientology is. If we were the big ogre that some people make us
out to be, I think the situation would be very different."

What Scientology is, exactly, is a moot point.

The Church of Scientology claims to be an "applied religious
philosophy,, established in 1954 by Hubbard. A one-time fantasy fiction
writer, Hubbard preached that man can attain a "clear" state - the
ultimate state of being - only by taking many hours of expensive

According to the church's press release: "Scientology recognises that
man is basically good and offers tools that anyone can use to become
happier and more able as a person."

"I never try to preach," the actor John Travolta, has said, "but I have
to acknowledge the help Scientology has given me."

So what does the Church of Scotland think?

The Reverend Peter Neilson, former national adviser in mission and
evangelism for the Kirk, says: "The difference between a religion and a
cult is: a cult focuses on the control of people; their mind, their
decisions and their behaviour.

"The issue of debate has been how far Scientology falls into that
control category. The view of the Church of Scotland is that there has
been sufficient recognition of concern to say that it seems to be in the
realm of cult, rather than a freeing religious experience."

The Cult Information Centre, an advice centre, is also unconvinced of
the church's credentials. "A lot of dubious organisations will claim to
be religious groups because it gives them a certain respectability.
Celebrities are great for PR but you can be assured that their
experience is quite different from the average person. The activities of
the Church of Scientology is causing us great concern," says a
spokeswoman for the centre. "We know about people who have passed them
large sums of money for courses in the belief that they were vital for
their psychological well-being."

In Britain, the Church of Scientology owns ten churches and between 20
and 30 missions. But as for its central doctrines? The church is
notoriously protective of its secrets, and only those who reach its
upper levels, through much auditing, self-improvement courses and cheque
writing, are privy to its ultimate revelation.

The casual visitor to a Scientology mission is more likely to be invited
to take a course of Dianetics Auditing to improve their mind power,
become a better person or, as in the case of the Hubbard Academy, "a
cannier Scot".

Brian explains that Edinburgh's Hubbard Academy "was originally
established in 1968 as an educational trust, with the purpose of
increasing the national statistics of Scotland".

"The theory behind it is, if you can take an individual and increase
their ability, you can do that with a community. I'm currently involved
in a project to get a drug rehabilitation programme started up in

Just the sort of altruistic activity that should help the Scientologists
in their bid to be recognised as an official charity in Britain.

An application to the Charity Commission is pending but a spokesperson
says a decision is not likely to be made until early next year.

In the US, the church was recognised as a religion in 1993 for tax
purposes. Charitable status would doubtless benefit the organisation in
Britain, where, according to 1995 accounts, it has an income of 5.6
million and property assets worth 8.1 million. Needless to say, the
church is treating the Lyons court ruling as a "dramatic victory" on the
road to acceptance. "This victory is a dream come true for my church and
minority religions," says the official statement, issued by Scientology
HQ in East Grinstead, Surrey.

Jean-Pierre Brard, a French MP who contributed to a recent parliamentary
report on cults, describes the church as 'one of the most dangerous
sects in existence".

"A court is expected to protect its citizens' freedoms. What has just
happened is the opposite of that," he says.

Lawyers for the prosecution had accused the group of "exploiting the
good faith and credulity of its victims for commercial profit by pseudo-
scientific and semi-medical practices to the detriment of their
financial interests while exposing them to certain medico-psychological

My efforts to discover more about Scientologists dates back to last
autumn, when I found myself face to face with a poster of John Travolta
in a Tottenham. Court Road basement in London. "Basically, there's no
part of my life that Scientology hasn't helped," says the sect's most
celebrated member.

I had watched a film called Orientation, a hard-sell recruitment film
for the church.

"You are at the threshold of your next trillion years," purred the
throaty narrator. "You will live it in shivering, agonising darkness or
you will live it triumphantly in the light. The choice is yours."

The celestial music climaxed: "If you wish to leave the room after
seeing this film, walk out and never mention Scientology again, you are
free to do so," said the narrator sternly. "It would be stupid, but you
are free to do it. You can also dive off a bridge, or blow your brains
out -that is your choice. It is your future."

A flood of golden light fills the screen. One word is written in giant
letters: "Hello." As introductions go, I can't think of one much

Hubbard was a marketing genius.

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