Conversation with a second-generation Scientologist
Martin Poulter, 8th August 2004
"S" is a graduate student in Law and a second-generation Scientologist. She went through a phase of doubts about Scn when she grew up, but has gone back on course and is now OT3 (see later for what this means). We met up yesterday for dinner and a vigorous two-and-a-half-hour discussion. She seemed optimistic that she could dissuade me from my opposition to Scientology. It became clear that she couldn't, because her disagreement was mostly expressed through saying "I disagree" rather than providing counter-arguments to what I said.
Some of our conversation touched an emotional nerve with S, but she managed to bite down her anger and conduct a civil or even friendly conversation. Though she manged to handle some thoughts which are very alien to her world-view, S exemplified the "never defend, always attack" strategy familiar to anyone who debates Scientologists. For the most part, she did not dispute the critics' grievances against Scientology. She simply denied their right to express those grievances.
S is aware of the cyber-filter that the Church distributed to many Scientologists. This intercepts web, email and other internet traffic, blocking certain words, phrases and URLs. Banned phrases include the names of newspapers which have published unfavourable coverage of Scientology, internet critics such as myself and other names such as Lisa McPherson, the Scientologist who died while in solitary confinement in Flag Land Base in Florida. S does not see this software as an attempt to control what people think; "It's just an internal matter."
She is aware that the Church tried to electronically cancel messages from a public discussion on Usenet but thinks this was purely to remove copyrighted material that was illegally reproduced. She was surprised to hear that cancelling was used for many kinds of posts, including first-person accounts by ex-Scientologists.
S was interested in my (long defunct) anti-Scientology web site. For me, it is obviously protected free speech. S replied that free speech does not justify absolutely everything, and gave the familiar example of shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theatre. I agreed that this is a kind of harmful speech and asked her to give an example of how criticism of Scientology could be harmful, which she failed to do.
S mentioned the category of anti-religious hate speech. The Home Secretary may introduce new legislation to address this in the light of the rise in islamophobia. However, the focus of the criticism of Scientology is not anti-religious, and there is a simple test to verify this.
Although I and the other online critics have disagreements with the Scientology religion, our complaints are primarily against a particular group of corporations that make up the Church of Scientology. This is not a trivial difference. There are thousands of self-described Scientologists in the Free Zone: believers in the religion who practise without subjecting to the Church's astronomical fees and militaristic hierarchy. Some Free Zoners try to practice Scientology as originally created by L Ron Hubbard, rather than the way it has been altered by the Church. Some of our activism against the Church is done jointly with Free Zone members.
Amazingly, S, who has been a Scientologist all her life, has never heard of the Free Zone. It is a great achievement for a corporation to have its customers completely unaware of the existence of cheaper competitors.
S was searching for an analogy for what I was trying to do. She suggested consumer affairs broadcaster Esther Rantzen. I agreed that consumer protection is the name of the game, but mine is just one of a great many critical perspectives.
We talked a lot about corporate whistleblowers. I repeatedly used the example of Nike. The journalists and activists who exposed Nike's use of sweatshops harmed the corporation's profits, but their speech doesn't count as "harmful speech". In fact it's just that sort of speech that must be protected. S did not see the analogy, because Nike is not a religion.
This is where I just wasn't clear enough in making my point. My analogy was not between Nike and Scientology, but between the critics of each of them. S says there should be a "balance" between freedom of speech and freedom of religion. My argument is that this is similar to the balance between the rights of Nike to market and sell products and the speech rights of the journalists and activists. This balance clearly should not favour Nike's profits over legitimate criticism.
In 1994 and 1995, a large amount of Scientology's secret upper-level teachings were leaked to the internet. S admitted that there is no prohibition in law against quoting these documents, but was very keen to know whether I would publicise such material if I came across it again. I asked whose freedom would be infringed by the public posting of these secrets. So long as they are clearly labelled, those who fear being damaged by premature exposure to the secrets could choose not to read them. No one's freedom would be infringed, so I cannot see why it would not count as free speech.
I pointed out the contrasting goals of the Church and online critics such as myself. Critics want both pro- and anti-Scientology materials to be freely available to the public so that they can make an informed choice. The Church wants the public to be unaware even of the existence of critical viewpoints. S did not dispute this asymmetry or find a moral problem with it.
S said that people who are engaged in crimes cannot progress in Scientology. I asked if this applies to the "G.O. Eleven", including LRH's wife, Mary Sue Hubbard. (They went to prison when an ongong programme of infiltration and burglary from government offices was discovered by the FBI.) This touched a nerve with S. She emphatically did not like the G.O. 11 being referred to as "criminals" although I maintained that that is what they obviously were. S did not dispute that they committed multiple illegal acts, admitted to them (in a plea bargain) and went to prison for them.
She gave me the hypothetical example of a father who kills his terminally ill daughter to end her pain. Technically he is a murderer, but would I label him along with other murderers? I incredulously asked if this is supposed to be a metaphor for the illegal acts carried out by the G.O. 11. She admitted that it wasn't.
S was there in LA when the FBI broke the door down. She felt that because of this personal experience, the lengthy official record proving serious criminal activity is irrelevant. She says there were "faults on both sides," meaning both Scientology and the FBI. I countered that she wasn't personally present in Greece or in Canada, where similar burglary from government offices had been demonstrated. She had not heard of these cases.
I asked how her case level. She is an Operating Thetan level 3, or "OT3". This means she has studied the document that explains about the galactic prince Xenu who came to Earth 75 million years ago and blew up prisoners in volcanoes, whose spirits ("body thetans") are attached to our bodies today. I mentioned a couple of examples of people I knew who had realised that Scientology is rubbish once they got to OT3. S found this very amusing.
To pick on just one of the many absurdities of OT3, I asked if S realised that the geology is all wrong. Some islands mentioned in the document are volcanic islands that did not exist 75 million years ago, and reference is made to the island of "North Japan" when Japan was not two distinct islands. Her response is that she doubts that academic geology has it right.
S denies experiencing the euphoric, drug-like rush from auditing that other scientologists have claimed. She does claim to be able to "operate outside of [her] body" as a result of her OT training. She was unable to specify any way she could demonstrate this operation. I'm told that one Scientologist tried to demonstrate his powers to anti-Scientology protestors in East Grinstead by moving a penny with the power of his mind. Needless to say, this demonstration was a humiliating failure. S admitted she would not be able to move a coin with her mind, nor demonstrate any of the more impressive supernatural powers that OTs are claimed to have.
I said geology was just one example of where Hubbard's writing is judged by experts to be totally misinformed. I've seen a biochemistry PhD refute his theory that LSD is stored in fatty tissue, physics experts refute his theory of radiation, and so on. This was all news to S. (Scientologists are taught that LRH was a recognised expert in more than thirty disciplines).
I explained how Hubbard got his two doctorates. One was from Sequoia University, a degree mill run from a motel. The other he awarded himself. Despite the fact that all the official biographies of LRH claim he trained as a nuclear physicist, his record at George Washington University shows that he was dismissed after two years for poor grades. He did not even earn a degree! S did not dispute this.
S asked if I had read "Dianetics". I own a copy and have read a lot of it, and for me it only confirms Hubbard as a faker, for example with its superficially impressive but meaningless graphs. On nearly every page the word "science", "scientific" or "clinical" is used, and the impression is given that LRH is reporting the results of a large programme of scientific experiments. However, we are never told where these were done, what controls were in place, what laboratories or experts checked the results, if any did. We are not told how many subjects were involved in these experiments, or even if any were at all. We are not told what training Hubbard had in experimental design and avoiding scientific pitfalls, or if he had any at all.
I told S about the example of Sir Cyril Burt, who was found to have invented a research assistant for his experiments on IQ. Periodically in science an experiment is found which seems revolutionary, but which turns out not to be replicable and does not count as science. How do we know that LRH's experiments are not bogus or unreplicable? S said that even if she could produce all the evidence, I would still find something wrong with it. I countered that if she did produce this evidence, she would be the first person to do so in more than fifty years of Scientology. (Note that she couldn't identify anything I did say which was unreasonable, so she created a hypothetical situation in which she could imagine me being unreasonable.)
Sometimes when I debate a closed-minded person, I am told, "You've got it all worked out in your head," as a complaint, as though there is something bad to have justifications for all your opinions. This was another one of those conversations. S conceded that in most contexts, the argument would be won by the person who *can* provide evidence.
Scientology promotional literature claims that Operating Thetans have control over matter, energy, space and time. I won't believe in these powers until there is some sort of objective evidence: a penny moved purely by someone's mind will do. S took this as a sign that I am hopelessly set in my ways. She has validated Scientology entirely subjectively, and thinks the rest of us should too. She admitted that it is an objective matter whether there are 8 million Scientologists (as the publicity claims) or less then 100,000 (as leaked internal documents claim), or whether or not people have died in Scientology.
S has opinions which the majority of people would regard as insane, yet she is clearly in possession of her mental faculties, having been accepted for postgraduate study at a prestigious university. This illustrates two conclusions I have come to about belief systems. One is that the belief systems most obstinately resistant to reason are not held by people who are mentally deficient, but by clever people who have a strong emotional attachment to the opinion. This was the topic of my PhD thesis and my interest in this is why I like conversations with closed-minded people.
The other point is that the prime cognitive failing is not stupidity but egotism, particulary what I call epistemic egotism; the conviction that one's uncorrected perception shows exactly how the world is. S "knows" from her own experience such things as the medical safety of Scientology prcedures, the age of Hawaii and the innocence of the GO Eleven and does not see why experts or the official record are relevant. I'd be interested to see how such a mind fares in the legal profession.