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Skeptoid on Scientology

by Brian Dunning, Jan 27 2011

This week's Skeptoid episode was on Scientology, the notorious “religion” created in the 1950s by sci-fi author L. Ron Hubbard.

After I was finished researching and writing it, I had second thoughts, and decided for a few days that I would shelve it and not produce it, and said so on Twitter. Predictably, lots of people expressed their desire for me to reverse that decision, or that I had decided I was too afraid of Scientology suing me.

In fact, the reverse was true. I was afraid that the episode came out sounding too soft on Scientology. I did not want to be perceived as the pro-Scientology guy, and the episode turned out being less interesting than I'd hoped. But I eventually said “What the heck” and produced it anyway.

My thus-far-unpopular conclusion can be summed up thus: Despite how shocking Scientology's brutal treatment is of its live-in members, that's the lifestyle that works for those people. I'm sure psychologists could go on and on about what kind of personality thrives in an environment that is, at its worst, comparable to Abu Ghraib; but that's the life they choose, and who am I to begrudge other people to do whatever they want with their lives. Are we now in a society in which everyone is required to conform to some rigid norm?

The emails and site comments started pouring in fast. The majority have been lists of the worst things Scientology has done, accompanied by comments like “I'm surprised Brian didn't know about this” (as if my weeks of research missed the most obvious common-knowledge stuff that a cat could find on Wikipedia). The implication of many of the comments is that people are imprisoned against their will. Members of Anonymous have posted that when they protested at a Scientology branch, they were photographed or followed (as if it's unreasonable to expect to be scrutinized when you put on a mask and go to someone's home to protest their lifestyle).

I was also sent great lists of lawsuits filed by the church trying to silence its critics, and cases where Scientologists have been found guilty of crimes. Most notably, Operation Snow White, some 35 years ago when Hubbard was still alive, was the largest infiltration of the U.S. government in history when Scientologists took jobs where they had access to destroy IRS and other documents pertaining to Hubbard and Scientology. That's a crime, and 11 church executives appropriately went to jail. There's no excuse for that. In this case, Scientology does indeed stand out from any other “church”. This is something I probably shouldn't have left out.

What I tried to do in my episode, whether this was a good choice or a bad one, was to focus on ordinary Scientologists. Every organization and church in the world has every kind of people in it, including criminals, and I don't think it's fair to characterize any group based on the actions of its worst apples. In short, this is the essential reason I didn't spend time talking about the church's worst actions. I don't want to focus only on the rare exceptions, the kids forced unwillingly into the Sea Org by their parents, or overt criminal acts. I could probably do an expose on Sesame Street and uncover some producer's drug habit. That wouldn't be a fair treatment either. I wanted to talk about ordinary Scientologists who had nothing to do with Operation Snow White and have never beaten someone with an ax handle, as that's the largest representative group.

My analysis was that people who have the right psychology to want to live a Sea Org lifestyle find their happy place when they're under psychological pressure. Thus, Scientology must apply that pressure (Scientology and the Sea Org being essentially the same entity). Part of that pressure is making it real. It can't just be threats. So they actually do harass and sue people who leave the church or speak out against it. They actually do barricade them into their rooms. They actually do require them to cut off their family and friends. It's a twisted dance between narcissists and codependents. To you and I, that's pretty messed up. For them, it works. This is my own conclusion, and my opinion. Clearly, most disagree with me. But it's a perspective that I don't think enough people consider.

And that's just the Sea Org, the full timers. Most Scientologists are your neighbors down the street, whose expensive auditing sessions fund the Sea Org. I thought I gave the ordinary Scientologists a fair shake in the episode. These include the celebrities you know, the John Travoltas and Tom Cruises, who live regular lives but love what Scientology auditing has done for them. Nobody who's had a good experience talking through their problems with a therapist, friend, or barber should be surprised that auditing can be a powerful and fulfilling experience. If it wasn't, Scientology wouldn't have the income stream that it does. That income stream does indeed exist, and so whether detractors like it or not, ordinary Scientologists are enjoying their auditing, regardless of whether it has any legitimate psychiatric value. I went into this point in detail in my episode, so won't repeat any more of it here.

So in conclusion, I just wanted to make it a little clearer why I talked about the points that I did, and why I glossed over or omitted other things. No Skeptoid episode pleases everyone. Every week I get “I agree with all your episodes except this one,” and I've gotten at least a fair share of those this week. As I often say, whether I'm right or wrong is not nearly as important as whether I suggest something new for you to consider.

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Skeptoid on Scientology, 3.5 out of 5 based on 35 ratings

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131 Responses to “Skeptoid on Scientology”

  1. Jeff Wagg says:

    It seems that it’s unpopular within the skeptics movement these days to question our assumptions. Strangely, I thought that was the whole point.

    • Hallelujah, brother.

      • Slats says:

        @Jeff: quite a lame statement. At this point there are no ad hominem attacks, no ranting. There are a lot of people questioning missing info, which Brian addressed in his post above. Many comments simply asked what about x, y and z? One does not get a pass when one presents a viewpoint known to be unpopular in the skeptic movement.

        Brian, I think an unstated premise in your argument is that accepted, less-controversial religions also have criminal acts being perpetrated by ‘higher-ups,’ and that as an average person can find meaning and fulfillment in these religions, without being party to the acts of certain leaders, so can one in Scientology.
        (Slightly unstated–you do use Sesame Street. :))

        I agree with that premise, whether or not I’m correct in attributing it to your post, but people should expect to be able to state their disagreements in a mature way (as has been done) without you agreeing to the pithy, dismissive and yes, lame, comment by Jeff.

      • Michael Morrisson says:

        So it’s a dichotomy then? Either we agree with you or we’re afraid to question our assumptions? I strongly disagree. I question my assumptions every day. I did not have a knee-jerk reaction to your episode. In fact, I’ve reread your post and episode many times to make sure I’m not being an idiot. I don’t even know all the nasty details that people put out there when responding to you. What I do know is that you’ve given more attention to other topics which only do one or some of the things you mentioned in your episode, and actually advised people to stay away from them. The episode on Network Marketing comes to mind as a good example.

        Here you have a pseudo-religion selling pseudoscience, sometimes in the place of effective medical care, which actively and frequently takes legal action against any who would speak out against them. The same logic with which you shrug off their methods could be used to shrug off any number of other topics you’ve covered in the past. Homeopathy? It’s just harmless water. Who am I to deny people something if it makes them feel better? Network Marketing? It’s just a social club. If someone derives comfort from feeling like they’re accomplishing something and working hard, who am I to steer people away from it?

      • Gregg says:

        Allow me to offer my own pithy “Hallelujah, brother” to Michael’s post.

        The last question I expect Brian to shrug off is, “What’s the harm?” I’m certain he looked at this: http://whatstheharm.net/scientology.html

        Compare that list to:
        http://whatstheharm.net/multilevelmarketing.html

        So why the shrug? It’s just weird, Brian. I don’t think you sold out or are afraid. I think you just went in feeling deeply skeptical of this Anonymous group who seems to so hate Scientology (and you should be – they’re not good people), and that perhaps biased you a bit in Scientology’s favor. I could be wrong. But your response here seems inconsistent with your response to other issues where you could have even more easily said, “Hey, man. Live and let live.”

        If you want to suggest that perhaps dominant and submissive relationships can be healthy, that’s one thing, but let’s not give a pass to all the insanity surrounding this religion – much like we can agree that the community provided by churches has value, but still condemn religion’s “reality claims.”

      • Gavin Murray says:

        Michael – you hit the nail on the head here. I feel that the treatment was extremely inconsistent and uncharacteristically soft handed. The question I would ask is “was the transcript edited on the account of legal advise”? If so – just say so, I have no issues with avoiding costly legal issues.

      • William Tomlinson says:

        Agreed. This is just another money-making scam offering false treatments. Though usually psychological, it is implied that there are supposed to be medical implications as well. This is no different than other money-making scams that have been harshly denounced by Brian, as far as I can tell. I’m puzzled why his rhetoric is not just as harsh as it was in http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4089, the episode titled “Despicable Vulture Scumbags: My thoughts on a company that sells useless pseudoscientific hardware to an ALS victim.” How many people have hoped in vain that Scientology would heal their sicknesses?

    • MadScientist says:

      Questioning assumptions is one thing, but going for moral relativism is not questioning assumptions in any way whatsoever – that’s just plain batty.

  2. alan says:

    This is the reason I respect you, sir. While I find there to be nothing laudable about Scientology, you take it in the abstract and present a reasonable argument from an observers standpoint. No more, no less.

    Thank you.

  3. Craig says:

    I thought it was a good episode, what with challenging the assumptions held by most skeptics. Where I’d part company was when you said that, as a lifestyle choice, it was “as valid as any other”. What I *think* you meant was that it was as valid as any other religion. But not all lifestyles and cultures are as valid as others.

    Why the extreme rancor against Scientology? I suspect it’s a combination of their litigious combativeness and the recent, obvious, and blatant nature of its founding. Most major religions build on accrued cultural experience, and have many years, if not centuries, of tradition. Don’t forget the old saying that hookers, like art and architecture, gain respectability over time. The same probably holds true of religions.

    Being able to point at a third-rate (if prolific and popular) science fiction writer making up so much BS out of thin air certainly doesn’t add a mantle of respectability.

    My other thought on the episode is that you could take any religion and find a motivated, vocal group (or groups) opposing it as the Worst Thing Ever. This Skeptoid placed Scientology in context and was good food for thought.

  4. Christopher says:

    Brian, thanks for this post and fleshing out your motivations and ideas behind the episode.

    I have experience with a cult (I was part of one my whole life until not too long ago) and yes it is true there are varying degrees of “investment” by members, from regular people down the street to people who live and breathe it in compounds surrounded only by members.

    To me that is completely inconsequential. People in cults in my mind are mostly GOOD people. What is not good is the SYSTEM itself. That is what needs to be exposed. How much people follow that system will depend on their personality and leanings. What needs exposure is the harmful ideologies and practices of the system.

    A cursory look at these cults (you could also say high control groups, that is debatable depending on the organization) will show you damaging things like: not being able to talk to former members, shunning (including creating rifts within families), limited contact with non-members, discouraging all other information except that of the organization including the internet, brainwashing, etc.

    I think something in this vein would make for a great follow-up to this episode.

    Thank you.

  5. Sonja says:

    The whole point of being skeptical is to asses information without trying to make it fit our expectations or personal agenda. It would be very unskeptical indeed to simply bash Scientology without considering all the facts objectively.

    Great episode Brian! :)

  6. Leo says:

    They actually do require them to cut off their family and friends. It’s a twisted dance between narcissists and codependents. To you and I, that’s pretty messed up. For them, it works.

    How do you know it works for them? Did you look to see if there has ever been any psychological or even sociological research done to examine the lives of Sea Org members?

    Also, let’s put this in the context of a domestic relationship. If someone lives with an abusive partner and exhibits codependent characteristics, would we judge that any less a psychologically (and sometimes physically) unhealthy relationship? Would we see that person as any less a victim? I don’t think so. Therefore it seems morally unconscionable to give Scientology/Sea Org a pass.

    I don’t think most people who reacted negatively to your episode are upset because you tried to put Scientology into greater context. I personally applaud your goal. Rather, I think they’re angry because you portrayed a false equivalence between abusive cults and more legitimate religions, as well as underplaying the abusive nature of Scientology.

    • Max says:

      If the wife doesn’t like being beaten, why does she come back for more? The logic is flawless.

      • Max, I am going to assume you are being sarcastic. PLEASE tell me you are being sarcastic!!!!

        Women come back for a variety of reasons. Enjoyment of being beaten is not one. Fear of death, fear of stalking, fear of poverty, fear of child kidnapping, fear of being unable to make it alone are all reasons.

        But really, I make this argument for people who read this and assume you are serious. I know you are joking. No one would really say and think that.

      • Andrew says:

        Heidi, I don’t think Max is “joking”, he’s making a serious point that sums up my own (and probably many others’) objection to the podcast. The point is that these people don’t necessary stay in cults like scientology because it “works for them”, like Brian claims, but rather because they have no way out.

    • tmac57 says:

      Leo,
      You must have been reading my mind. I was drawing the exact same analogy as I read this piece.You expressed it well.

    • M. says:

      Living with an abusive partner is a perfect example.

      But it is even worse for many Sea Org members, those who started their membership as kids in the Cadet Org. You can chalk this one as my biggest “I’m surprised that Brian didn’t know” items. I don’t think that anyone can claim that brainwashing children and keeping them as (effectively) slave labor for the rest of their lives can be described as “it works for them.”

      Lack of consistency also bothers me. Brian, if it is ok to be sucked into and milked by a cult, since that “works for some people,” why do you do Skeptoid at all? Astrology works for some people, who find it comforting to think that there is a fate that guides their life. Homeopathy works for some people, who get relief through the placebo effect. A psychic who milks his victim dry while providing cold readings works for the victim – in exactly the same way as Scientology does.

      The hatred towards Scientology is a bit disproportionate to its small size, on that I agree. But otherwise, it is richly deserved.

  7. Hugo says:

    Brian,

    First thing, don’t ever apologize for your work. You’re doing something for free and we get to enjoy that. By that point alone no one has the right to complain nor do you have the need to apologize.

    Second, the podcast was fine. Very informative (as usual) and very fair. Anyone who critiques it is just someone with too much time on their hands and no real perspective on what’s really important in the world.

    Great job and keep up the great work your doing. Looking forward to the next episode.

  8. AnonOrange says:

    Brian states: “but that’s the life they choose,”

    Not really Brian. People that are in the Sea Org were either dumped there by their parents or duped to think that they would save the planet. Sometimes it’s a slow process of convincing them, once in, they can’t get out. They have no access to newspapers, TV, internet, phone and even their mail is screened.

    Gold Base in San Jacinto, Scientology’s international headquarters has extreme security to keep people IN. Nobody want to go rob the place, but people want to get OUT.

    Ultra Barrier spikes surround the fences. There are fence shake detectors every 20 feet or so. They have motion detectors and strong spot lights all around the fence.
    See the pictures we too there:
    http://www.angrygaypope.com/gold/gold_security_gallery/index.htm

    For the past two years, their personnel have been on FULL LOCKDOWN except for two ladies that do PR and some security guards. The Sea Org personnel are no longer allowed to go outside to clean the trash on Gilman Springs rd. They hire people to do that now.

    In March 2010, personally managed to get Cal OSHA to force them to remove the 7-8 in long spikes on the fences. They kept the 2 inch flat black spikes, which only face inwards and are difficult to see from the road. A month later Mr. Russ Bellin tried to jump the fence at 3 AM, but was captured by the guards. A couple of weeks later Mr. John Brousseau escaped, but he managed to drive out. Read about Marc Headley’s escape in Jan 2005. I retrieved the police report entitled “False Imprisonment”

    Brian, I’ll go drive there and show you why people can’t get out.

    It is NOT a life they chose, for the most part.

    These people need to be taken out, given a few weeks to decompress, given plenty of time to sleep, have medical and psychological exams and only then can they “choose” to go back.

    We’ve got a gulag in Riverside County California and nobody wants to do anything about it.

  9. Lemme see … you said a cult that goes to the legal system to try to crush its escapees is not that bad.

    You said a cult that is hugely anti-psychiatric … despite the fact that severe depression, or hallucinations during either schizophrenia or bipolar mania can lead to suicide is not that bad.

    Gee, Brian, why would people not be mad?

    Otherwise, ditto on what Leo said.

    Final question … how much will you dig in your heels? Will this be #DDTFailPartTwo?

    • Shocking that I would say such things!! But since my brain is obviously out to lunch, perhaps you wouldn’t mind pointing out where I said them.

      • Michael Morrisson says:

        I think that’s all coming from where you boil the church down to a valid lifestyle choice comprable to the Amish or military. I could be wrong though.

      • Right here:

        As auditing purports to be a replacement for the sciences of psychology and psychiatry, Scientology often promotes a strong anti-psychiatry message, which is right up there with anti-vaccine quackery.

        While I certainly don’t hold to any of the Scientology philosophy, and I think their science fiction thetan story with Lord Xenu is as ludicrous as anyone, I’m puzzled by the strong anti-Scientology passion expressed by its opponents. … Scientology is not on my list of the worst things in the world.

        Beyond that, from your Skeptoid, is your comments above about “too soft.”

        I think my “not too bad” is a reasonable inference from that, Brian. And, my brain’s not out to lunch.

        What’s missing, also from Rev. Matt and others, is the distinction between “mainline religion” and “cult.” Some philosophy of religion knowledge might help.

        And, while in no way excusing Ratzi the Nazi, his cover-up, or his pedophilic priests, that’s different from a cult focusing on mind control of *adult* members.

        As for Islam, IIRC, the Quran itself, and early hadith, have no such death penalty; that’s the arm of the state.

      • tmac57 says:

        Take that same Dunning passage and substitute ‘homeopathy’,’like cures like’,and ‘water memory’ for “Scientology philosophy, thetan story ,and Lord Xenu”.

      • tmac57 says:

        Homeopathy is not on my list of world’s worst things,but I sure as hell wouldn’t give it a pass.

    • Febo says:

      I don’t think it’s fair to compare this situation to the DDT Fail. In the DDT episode, Brian made multiple factual errors and then created a ridiculous straw man version of his critics to beat up. In this case, Brian does not seem to have made any factual errors, he merely presented a novel interpretation of those facts (at least, novel to skeptics). This episode has got me thinking — which cannot be a bad thing — and I suspect that I will end up agreeing with Brian’s take on this (though I’m not sure yet).

      In any case, thanks you, Brian, for a very informative and thought-provoking episode.

  10. AnonOrange says:

    John Brousseau, the guy that escaped last year was in for 33 years. He worked very closely with the leader David Miscavige. John was highly trusted and was able to leave the base on occasion.

    He posted this on Aug last year, after he escaped on April 22, 2010.
    http://marty-rathbun.com/2010/08/31/how-miscavige-killed-church-management/

    “I only add my two cents here to support what you say as I was there 4 months ago and saw exactly with my own eyes the scene you are describing to a “T”. I was there when Russ Bellin tried to blow and was recovered several minutes later at 4 am around early April.”

    Scientology tried to get John Brousseau arrested to taking pictures with him when he left. Some of those pictures are very incriminating for the cult leader David Miscavige. The Riverside DA decided not to prosecute JB.

    In the Sheriff report, the following is clearly stated by the deputy who wrote the report: “His ability to come and go from the facility is in contrast to other members/employees, who do not enjoy the same freedom of movement.”

    I was outraged when I read this and that the Sheriff would not act. I went to see Sheriff Sniff (and have since met with him several times). I met with Chief Deputy Joseph Cleary, in his office and all he could tell me was the case was under investigation.

    Scientology spent a small fortune to try to catch Brousseau:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xV42lBxdz-8
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vw5ey1VpRKE (This one is particularly interesting, with a PI getting arrested at the end)

    Brian, your Scientology podcast causes people to further ignore the crimes and abuses of Scientology and their clear violations of our laws.

    It is because most people have the opinion that Scientologists are just nutty and they should be left alone that horrible human rights abuses are going on right under our noses.

  11. Jason Loxton says:

    I sort of view Scientology as a cross between Amway and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, in some ways manifesting the worst of both, e.g., the exploitive, guys-on-top profiteering of Amway, and the cult-like use of ostracization of the JWs. True, both of those programs work for some of their members, and neither are up on my top list of bad stuff in the world, but both are pretty shitty.

    Overall, I sympathize with your position, but I find the “it works for them” justification (genuinely) problematic. It is of course true of Scientology (except when it isn’t, and then it causes serious grief, as the defectors make clear), but it is also true of many of the other programs and modalities that skeptics castigate. Homeopaths, for example, provide a product, in terms of clinical effectiveness, as good as many over the counter medicines for minor ailments. And mediums (perhaps a closer analogy) genuinely do often provide comfort, and arguably value of money (except when they don’t, and then they cause serious grief). But we (rightly, I think) rail against both.

    I don’t actually think there was anything wrong with your assessment of Scientology in Skeptiod. That said, I do think that the ensuing debate raises an important tactical and philosophical question for skeptics: What are our responsibilities when the emperor has no clothes, but the delusion keeps him just as warm?

    • Max says:

      Here’s Brian’s position on the Ethics of Peddling the Paranormal
      http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4003

      “Since we agree that these services have the right to exist, and that people must be free to make their own choices about using them, I personally would have no problem stepping up and selling my own psychic predictions.”

      Or these services are fraud and have no right to exist.

  12. Jared D. says:

    “Members of Anonymous have posted that when they protested at a Scientology branch, they were photographed or followed (as if it’s unreasonable to expect to be scrutinized when you put on a mask and go to someone’s home to protest their lifestyle).”

    I already commented in greater breadth on the Skeptoid blog, so I won’t repeat myself here, but this statement just left me flabbergasted. The implication is that this is a recent phenomenon (as Anonymous is a recent entity), and justified when someone protests…or perhaps just when they wear a mask while doing so?

    If you had done your research (and I’m not one to suggest that you haven’t, which makes this all the more baffling), you would know that covert ops like this (and worse) are standard operating procedure for Scientology and have been ever since they were founded. And no, this is not a reasonable reaction to protesters, whether they’re wearing masks or not.

    Reasonable? Seriously?

  13. Rev Matt says:

    I’ve not listened to the episode yet, but for all their aggressive tactics towards critics and former members I don’t find Scientology to be all that much worse than any other religion.

  14. A touch less snarky, let me add ….

    Would you have been as relatively soft on antivaxxers? On Jehovah’s Witnesses and their stance on blood transfusions? On Christian pray-only faith healers?

  15. Bob says:

    Personally, I would love to see a write-up of the cult-like aspects of Anonymous. When it comes to the religious status of Scientology, I have to draw the line at coercion. Once you are dealing with coercive persuasive techniques, if becomes difficult to distinguish people who “like regimentation” from “forcibly regimented”, and cults are notorious for crossing that line. And it even becomes difficult for people on the receiving end to tell the difference! So, I remain much more guarded.

    RJB

  16. dwayne says:

    Hm, I appreciated your even-handedness, and I’ve always regarded Scientology as far down on the list of crap that makes the world a worse place, but … I’m mostly in agreement with comment #6.

    I don’t recall you taking it easy on the subjects of many of your other podcasts that strike me as similar — from multi-level marketers to homeopaths. After all, if it works for the people selling and buying, who are we to question it?

    Obviously, how we regard Scientology morally is subjective, so there might not be more to say on it.

  17. Max says:

    “I’m sure psychologists could go on and on about what kind of personality thrives in an environment that is, at its worst, comparable to Abu Ghraib;”

    Brian compared Abu Ghraib to fraternity houses, so maybe he thinks it’s not that bad either.
    http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4018
    “Eighth Amendment – Prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment
    Cruel and unusual punishment, such as mishandling your Koran or making you perform a human pyramid, shall never be inflicted, except in fraternity houses.”

  18. Gladys says:

    Most of us who protest, or are critical of Scientology are not against Scientologists. We realize their lives are pretty ordinary, and that most of them are not directly doing great harm to others in their lives.

    We are against the system, the deception, the quackery, the brainwashing and the abuses. This is the system which every Scientologist pays into and supports, or does slave labor for. And it is also what tax dollars pay for, and other public funding that Scientology taps into.

    The “bad apple” apologetic is exactly what the cult uses many times when they get CAUGHT AND PROSECUTED doing something illegal.

    Then, they quickly divert attention by instructing their members that Operation Snow White was all about some stolen office paper, and that’s all. I am not kidding.

    Inside the cult, they never tell members that big donor Steve Bracket jumped off a bridge, or OT7 Rex Fowler murdered his business partner in cold blood. Instead they concoct cover stories for these things. Besides, Steve wasn’t a bad apple he gave over a million to the Super Power building fund, and his girlfriend Nancy Cartwright gave a one time donation of 10 million dollars.

    Mary Sue Hubbard was not a bad apple. She was the most loyal apple in the fruit basket, taking orders from Ron. She was a pawn who took the fall for him, and his cult.

    Quentin Hubbard was Hubbard’s gay son, who committed suicide when he was 22 years old, and many insiders who knew him, knew how trapped he felt by Scientology, his father, and the ship. Who is going to speak for Quentin? Who is going to inform others that Scientology can drive people to take their own lives, and that it does not cure homosexuality, arthritis or blindness.

    Studying Scientology for a few weeks is not like studying it for months and years. When Paulette Cooper was asked if she thought Scientology were capable of reform, she said, no, she didn’t believe they were. I learned a lot from reading Paulette’s book and even more from her story and courage.

    If they just scapegoat a few of their members (ones who were ordered to do these things by Hubbard or now David Miscavige, or following Hubbard’s ethics which is KSW above all else), announce that everything fixed, buy their way out with a settlement, and never correct faults in the system. Don’t you understand, THE TECH WORKS 100% OF THE TIME. L. Ron said so.

    Money is power and Scientology has the power to harm and even ruin individuals’ lives, especially the people who are critical of them.

    Scientology will call in bomb threats on their own buildings. Plant “agents” to penetrate Marty Rathbun’s Independent Scientology group, and get Cruise and Travolta to charm important public figures.

    Five years ago, if you wrote the article you did, you would have heard from Scientology, just as Janet Reitman went through a weird experience when she started researching for the Rolling Stone. Something is wrong with her, right? She must have crimes.

    The internet, YOUTUBE and Anonymous has changed the whole climate of Scientology criticism.

    Scientology keeps claiming that they only way to really understand them, is if you buy up their bridge to freedom for yourself. Of course, thousands have done that, and then if they criticize, they are labeled SP, and degraded beings.

    Is Scientology as big a threat as terrorists, global warming or resource depletion? No. Is it okay to be unconcerned about it Yes, especially when all that necessary to avoid it is a little information.

    Many of us take on Scientology criticism because it is the right thing to do. It interests us for specific reasons. We think people deserve to learn about Xenu, the trap, and the abuses, before they buy into the quackery of Scientology and all the answers to life through it.

    Another reason why we protest, is that we don’t want a Jonestown. People thought things were fine there too, until they weren’t. Turns out, they were never fine there, just as they never were in Scientology.

    I think your Scientology post was a good overview, for someone who didn’t know a whole lot about it a few weeks ago.

  19. Ken says:

    Maybe Brian should do an episode on Catholicism and we can see how many will go off on that too. Some parochial schools sound like Sea Org.

    And given that nearly half of all Americans think evolution is some kind of hypothesis, I’d say the “mainstream” religions have succeeded at brainwashing a lot of their flock in a very cult-like manner.

    • Alexander says:

      You are absolutely correct in your points about Catholicism and other “mainstream religion.” None of that, however, lets Scientology off the hook here.

  20. BKsea says:

    I think Brian makes an interesting point. If we look at other religions, we see the same features as Scientology. In Islam, conversion out of the fold can be punishable by death. The Catholic church repeatedly circumvented the law to avoid exposure of pedophile priests. You hear of children brought up in every religion being cut off by family members that cannot accept their different religious views.

    The bottom line is that all religions can be silly and evil. What would you be willing to do if you truly believed your immortal soul depended on it? Why single out Scientology?

    • Michael Morrisson says:

      Why dismiss it though? That’s like saying we should not give any special treatment to Chiropractic because Homeopathy, Acupuncture, and magic braclets do the same stuff.

      It’s also worth noting that Scientology is a blatant deception crafted with no other purpose than to fleece people of their money. At least with the other religions, the founders most likely honestly believed in what they were preaching, and the money just came later to take advantage of the submissiveness of the followers.

    • No, we shouldn’t single out Scientology but we also shouldn’t whitewash the immoral things they have done because other religious groups have done immoral things. Tu quoque makes the whole world blind.

    • While in no way excusing Ratzi the Nazi, his cover-up, or his pedophilic priests, that’s different from a cult focusing on mind control of *adult* members.

      As for Islam, IIRC, the Quran itself, and early hadith, have no such death penalty; that’s the arm of the state.

      • Nyar says:

        You do not remember correctly. Here is one example from the Qur’an itself and one example from the Hadith that clearly demonstrate that murdering apostates has been part of Islam from the very beginning, before there was any Islamic state.

        Qur’an 4:89

        They long that ye should disbelieve even as they disbelieve, that ye may be upon a level. So choose not friends from them till they forsake their homes in the way of Allah; if they turn back then take them and kill them wherever ye find them, and choose no friend nor helper from among them,

        Hadith Sahih Bukhari 9:38:17

        Allah’s Apostle said, “The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In Qisas for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam and leaves the Muslims.”

        I could provide more examples but I don’t want to turn this comment into a wall of text.

      • I stand corrected. That said, I’ve not heard of the penalty being seriously enforced in the early days of Islam.

  21. Max says:

    I’m puzzled by the passionate opposition to Nazism. Whether you like it or not, a regimented lifestyle works for some people. Most Nazis were ordinary people going to school and to work like you and I. It wouldn’t be fair to blame Nazism for a few bad apples like Hitler and the Gestapo.

      • Michael Morrisson says:

        LOL. You beat me!

      • Slats says:

        LOL: For the first time I innocently leaped to Nazism. Then I remembered Godwin. Whew! Godwin +0.5

      • Max says:

        Good job short-circuiting your brain. Do you even know what Godwin’s law says?

        I didn’t even compare Scientology to Nazism. My point was that Brian’s excuses for Scientology are weak because they could be made about Nazism.

        Here’s another example. Brian said that eating fish is not toxic because “I eat as much fish as anyone and I appear to be alive.” But a heavy smoker could say, “I smoke as much as anyone and I appear to be alive.” Obviously, this isn’t comparing fish to smoking, it’s saying that the argument is weak.

      • Max says:

        Dunning +0

        From the “Sarah Palin is Not Stupid” Skeptoid episode.
        http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4160

        “What’s just as frightening as the stoning itself is that the people doing it are someone’s nextdoor neighbors. They take their kids to the park. They give birthday presents. They paint and write and play musical instruments. They are, in fact, quite human. And yet they’re capable of something that’s unthinkable to you or I. It’s not because they’re crazy. It’s because they’re smart people who are profoundly dedicated to their belief system, and who were raised in a frame of reference that lets them stone a person to death with the same regard as a Westerner might kill an enemy in battle. It’s a necessity, it’s a duty, and it’s the right thing to do.”

        So the Muslim extremists are products of their religion and environment, but Scientologists just “have the right psychology.”

      • Max, you’re batting 1.000 today, even if on Dunning softballs fat over the plate.

        I’ll take another Dunning comment:

        Stupid people don’t tend to attract contributors, managers, supporters, and electorates.

        Proof?

        Actually, arguably, that’s why Dick Cheney wanted to be Bush’s VP.

        Beyond that, in continuing, absolutist governments with unclear lines of succession, such as Imperial Rome after the Pax Romana, “stupid people” were often the choice to wear the purple, precisely because they could be more easily “managed.”

        Beyond THAT? The idea that Palin can be rational within her own belief system is proof she’s not stupid? Brian, you need to crack a philosophy book, and start by reading about theories of truth, and go from there, including the difference between rationalism and empiricism.

        And another quote:

        The same goes for Sarah Palin, Ben Stein, Ken Ham, Bill Maher, Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey, and Prince Charles, all people who actively promote bad science or misinformation, and who believe they’re doing the right thing.

        Just because they believe that doesn’t mean it’s true.

        Beyond that, lumping someone like the moderately ditzy but general decent Prince Charles with Ken Ham, a man who thinks I’m going to hell and deliberately wants to miseducate massive swaths of the American public?

        Boy, that’s great writing.

      • Gladys says:

        Godwin? But but but the parallels between the Nazis (especially before 1933) and Scientology are chilling.

        Paulette Cooper, the first author to expose the Scientology cult by writing a book about them, THE SCANDAL OF SCIENTOLOGY, was born in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Her birth parents were exterminated there.

        In interviews, Paulette has mentioned that her background, and being informed about the dangers of totalitarianism, are what first informed her to do a book on Scientology in the first place.

        “Clear the planet,” and “dispose of them quietly, without sorrow” are two concepts that leap out.

        Written by a Laura Kay Fuller as a Senior Thesis, here is a fascinating paper on the parallels of the two groups entitled SCIENTOLOGY AND TOTALITARIANISM:

        http://www.xenu.net/archive/thesis/

    • Christopher says:

      Yes in effect Nazism was really a positive thing if you look at it that way… oh wait, nevermind.

  22. imominous says:

    What you don’t know about Scientology would fill the Pope’s hat.

    You don’t differentiate between the publics, obviously satisfied customers or they wouldn’t be there, and staff / sea org.

    Like ogres, Scientology has many layers. Your style of Scientology depends upon which layer you occupy.

    As far as the abusive nature of the Sea Org, how can you say this works for them when they are not free to leave it? To a true believer, losing your Bridge, your eternity is the worst thing ever. This is the threat hanging over their head that makes them stay, and after a while, they just get so beaten down they don’t care any more.

    How nice that you talked to “current and ex-members.” And how very interesting that you got two very disparate views, “It works and it helps people,” to “It’s worse than castor bean butter.”

    And I will bet you that all the positive responses came from the current members in good standing.

    Do you honestly think that a life of slavery should even be a choice? You know those guys in the magazines who show pictures of themselves in little maid costumes who are seeking a master, there’s the only type of slavery that pays off.

    Regular slaves are just…property. But, in the US, you can’t keep slaves as property, unless you chain their minds. And this is done by privation, lack of sleep, poor diet, overwork.

    So, after being subjected to that, in some cases for years, the slaves wouldn’t leave if you launched an FBI raid, because they want their bridge and have been told for years that they will either die or wind up flipping burgers if they leave.

    They don’t tell them that burger flipping comes with days off, a minimum wage, and health insurance.

    You have a lot to learn about Scientology and coercion. The other stuff, you have it down pretty well.

    Maybe after the first few court cases by ex-Sea Org members against Scientology, Inc. you’ll rethink the ‘voluntary participant’ bit and change your tune.

  23. Tim Farley says:

    Even with the clarification here, I think you are still downplaying Operation Snow White, and using at least one false analogy. (“”I could probably do an expose on Sesame Street and uncover some producer’s drug habit.”)

    These weren’t just a few random executives of the church who went “off the farm” and committed crimes without the church’s knowledge. Nor were they people committing personal crimes that had nothing to do with the church. These were people in the highest levels of the church, working at the direct beck and call of Hubbard himself. One of those convicted was Mary Sue Hubbard, L.Ron’s wife. The fact that Snow White was ever even contemplated by Scientology management goes directly to the church’s concept of what is right, what is wrong, what is moral and what is legal. I think it says volumes about the church, and I can’t imagine many other organizations even contemplating such an operation.

    On the other hand, I support the comments about taking a new look at things like Scientology. I also agree that, given their probable worldwide membership on the order of 100,000 people, they are probably not worthy of the level of continued attention they get from (some) skeptics.

    The only other comment I would make is to approach your examination of auditing the same way we approach other alternative medical practices. And if you give it a look, I think you’ll find that there is very little truly scientific research that has been done on it. Rank-and-file Scientologists might believe that auditing helps them, but you know what? Rank-and-file homeopathy customers believe that works too. Consider that.

  24. Skepacabra says:

    Now I haven’t heard the episode so I’m only going on what is said here and in general, I’m all for questioning the assumptions held by most skeptics. But I do think people are legitimately entitled be upset by what they feel is giving a pass to a textbook cult that may have separated them from family members and loved ones and urges its members as official policy to do or say anything they can to “destroy utterly” any and all critics. Now I understand that they may not have influenced your life in particular anymore than they have mine, but homeopathy hasn’t influenced me personally either, and yet I find it no less contemptible. I think Leo above makes a good argument as well as Tim Farley.

    And while I’m more actively critical of mainstream religions than many other skeptics, there is a difference, Scientology does fit the standard definitions of cult and does use extreme measures to brainwash its members. And even if we throw away the whole cult-angle to Scientology, they make specific promises to improve well being and charge money for that bogus service. At the very least, it should be held to the same standard by skeptics as, say, Power Balance, or any other scam product promising results it can’t deliver.

    • MadScientist says:

      So how does scientology differ from any number of christian sects which encourage their sheeple to abandon their ‘unsaved’ families?

      • Marshall says:

        Because Scientology doesn’t “encourage” anyone to do anything. Once you’re in, you’re in, and you have no choice about it. If you want to leave… too bad.

        No, really. Too bad. If you try to, they will take it upon themselves to destroy your life.

        And by the way, can we stop acting like skeptics give a pass to other religions? We don’t. When other religions are promising tangible results that they don’t deliver, we nail them too. That’s why skeptics are all over faith healing, intercessory prayer, and Christian science. Even if you think Scientology is no worse than those things (and for the record, I think it is), those things are still bad. We should be condemn Scientology along with them.

    • laursaurus says:

      Common sense is described as what people learn from experience. IME, commenting on an episode you haven’t listened to is foolish.

      Are you familiar with the logical fallacy known as a “straw man” argument? It’s one thing to erect one and knock it down. It’s another to not even bother to verify what was actually said.

  25. Max says:

    “I thought I gave the ordinary Scientologists a fair shake in the episode. These include the celebrities you know, the John Travoltas and Tom Cruises, who live regular lives but love what Scientology auditing has done for them.”

    No, the Tom Cruises are not ordinary Scientologists.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/7907015/How-Tom-Cruise-lost-his-mojo.html

    Jesse Prince, a former high-level Scientologist, outlined in a 1998 interview how when Cruise married second wife Nicole Kidman in 1990, he had “a fantasy of just running through a field of tall grass” with his new wife at Gold Base, Scientology’s international headquarters located in California. According to Prince, Gold Base workers were “staying up overnight, just extended schedules, de-rocking, ploughing a field, planting tall wheat grass, and when Nicole Kidman came – here’s a field. Now they’re running through the damn field of grass. It took weeks.”

    • Max says:

      Here are more accounts by other ex-Scientologists that some Scientologists, like Tom Cruise, are more equal than others.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientology_controversy#Use_of_donations_and_treatment_of_celebrities

      Andre Tabayoyon, a former Scientologist and Sea Org staffer, testified in a 1994 affidavit that money from not-for-profit Scientology organizations and labor from those organizations (including the Rehabilitation Project Force) had gone to provide special facilities for Scientology celebrities, which were not available to other Scientologists:

      “A Sea Org staffer … was taken along to do personal cooking for Tom Cruise and [David] Miscavige at the expense of Scientology not for profit religious organizations. This left only 3 cooks at Gold [Base] to cook for 800 people three times a day … apartment cottages were built for the use of John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, Edgar Winter, Priscilla Presley and other Scientology celebrities who are carefully prevented from finding out the real truth about the Scientology organization … Miscavige decided to redo the meadow in beautiful flowers; Tens of thousands of dollars were spent on the project so that [Tom] Cruise and [Nicole] Kidman could romp there. However, Miscavige inspected the project and didn’t like it. So the whole meadow was plowed up, destroyed, replowed and sown with plain grass.”

      Tabayoyon’s account of the planting of the meadow was supported by another former Scientologist, Maureen Bolstad, who said that a couple of dozen Scientologists including herself were put to work on a rainy night through dawn on the project. “We were told that we needed to plant a field and that it was to help Tom impress Nicole … but for some mysterious reason it wasn’t considered acceptable by Mr. Miscavige. So the project was rejected and they redid it.”

  26. tmac57 says:

    My analysis was that people who have the right psychology to want to live a Sea Org lifestyle find their happy place when they’re under psychological pressure. Thus, Scientology must apply that pressure (Scientology and the Sea Org being essentially the same entity). Part of that pressure is making it real. It can’t just be threats. So they actually do harass and sue people who leave the church or speak out against it. They actually do barricade them into their rooms. They actually do require them to cut off their family and friends. It’s a twisted dance between narcissists and codependents. To you and I, that’s pretty messed up. For them, it works.

    The phrase ‘The banality of cultism’ pops into my head after reading this.

  27. Donna Gore says:

    Every once in a while, when there’s a big Scientology flap in the news, there is talk about it at my office. Not that I would EVER defend the Scientologists, but…….since there are so many Christians at my work place, I just can’t help myself. I have to point out that the stories about Xenu and the volcano are no more preposterous than the stories in the Bible. Aliens, thetans, how crazy hahaha! But Moses parting the Red Sea, Joshua making the Earth stand still, Zombie Jesus walking dead….oh yeah, that’s perfectly reasonable!

    Last year I went to an event at the CFI in Hollywood. About 2 blocks away from my motel was their church. They had this huge gigantic wall/curtain thing put up all the way around their property. I walked past and peeked in through a crack, and saw folding chairs set up on the lawn. Whatever they were doing they didn’t want anyone to see. I was there for about 5 days and this curtain was up the whole time. I don’t know if it was secrecy in general, or due to the number of celebrities in their church, but it seemed a bit creepy.

    • Max says:

      Spaceships that look exactly like DC-8 airliners, but without the propellers? That’s a whole different level of crazy/lazy/cynical.

  28. Max says:

    “Members of Anonymous have posted that when they protested at a Scientology branch, they were photographed or followed (as if it’s unreasonable to expect to be scrutinized when you put on a mask and go to someone’s home to protest their lifestyle).”

    There you go again about “protesting their lifestyle.” I’ve seen protest signs about Lisa McPherson, censorship, tax exemption, and Fair Game, but I haven’t seen a single one protesting their lifestyle.

    And get the cause and effect straight. They wear masks BECAUSE they’re photographed, followed, and fair-gamed.

    • Gladys says:

      Max, I hereby award you the:

      Platinum meritorious freedom medal of scientology criticism. Your brevity is beautiful.

      Your comment that got labeled “Godwin” by Brian is among the best I’ve ever read, pointing out a flaw in a person’s thinking about this cult.

  29. John A. says:

    I understand where Brian’s coming from, but I think the issue is the different levels of concern this time around. The major points have already been raised (anti-vaxx, homeopathy), and they’re good points. No offense, Brian, but it really does seem too soft. The Church of Scientology commits acts that would normally get a reasonable person livid. I think in your efforts to be egalitarian, you created a Relativist fallacy.

    The fact of the matter is that Scientology was created in whole as a fraudulent way to make money. It’s founder didn’t believe a word of it, but made it for the specific purpose of becoming wealthy at the expense of his sheep. This is the same basis by which flim flam artists sell their cure-all elixirs, Televangelists heal the ringer from out of town, and Cold readers talk to the dead for a sizable chunk of one’s paycheck. There is no legitimate moral equivalency in this. It’s purely a fleecing machine. If Coca Cola were splitting apart families, locking people in rooms against their will, and managed to get tax exempt status, would you chalk that up to religious structure? Because Scientology is about as much a religion as the Coca Cola company.

    Again, I say this with all respect. I just think you were way too soft on Scientology this time around.

    Best regards,
    John

    • Gladys says:

      “Scientology is life.” Coke just “adds life.”

      I usually think of Scientology as having a product and ethics like the tobacco industry, before many people knew smoking was not so good for you.

      It has a secondary association with tobacco since Hubbard was such an avid smoker, extolling it for its health benefits of “ridding the body of radiation and preventing cancer.”

      While the tobacco industry executives knew perfectly well that nicotine was addictive when they testified before congress, and were in fact engaged in ways to make the addictive power of their cigarettes even greater, they were perfectly willing to deny it to keep their industry going strong.

      Tommy Davis can get up for Scientology, deny disconnection, Xenu…I mean it is all just about keeping everyone smoking hot for Scientology.

      Tommy got caught with a TV reporter named Nathan Baca. Just as he was ready to deny Xenu and laugh it off as he has in the past, Baca whips out OTIII in Hubbard own handwriting, just the way the cult members get it when they are doing that level, and begin reading.

      Then Tommy says it is their “sacred scriptures” (with a straight face) and accuses Baca of what he’s saying being religious bigotry.

      Tommy starts out by explaining how Anonymous is a religious hate ‘n’ terrorist group that makes bomb threats on their buildings. Another news guy, after this interview, prepared himself by confronting Tommy with the fact that he contacted the FBI and that no bomb threats were ever made on Scientology by Anonymous.

      This is the intrepid Nathan Baca and spokesliar Tommy Davis going at it (it is 44 minutes long):
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLG3teVnszQ

      • John A. says:

        That makes sense, and that video drives the point home rather well. Either way we slice it, Scientology is a wholly unethical money making corporation, and it shouldn’t be given a free pass merely because it resembles a religion. Religions don’t get free passes, neither should this hybrid known as Scientology.

  30. Michael Morrisson says:

    Beuller? Beuller?

    • Michael Morrisson says:

      Can someone delete this comment please? It was a follow up when the prior comment was 16+ hours in “waiting for moderation” hell.

  31. MadScientist says:

    Marshall Applewhite had these followers – and why should we be concerned about them? They obviously chose a lifestyle which suited them. Then of course there was David Koresh and numerous people before him – and there will be numerous people like him in the future. People *want* to be conned – they *need* to be conned – so why do we bother talking to people about the crooks? Scientology: A-OK because I just don’t give a crap.

    • MadScientist says:

      I forgot to add: most catholics don’t run around raping children, so the catholic church must be an OK institution.

      • Max says:

        At least raping children isn’t a policy of the Catholic Church, whereas Fair Game is a policy of the Church of Scientology.

        Not reporting pedophile priests to the police, however, does appear to be a policy of the Catholic Church.

  32. ErikD says:

    >>I could probably do an expose on Sesame Street and uncover some producer’s drug habit.<<

    You certainly can, if that drug's lithium. David (Northern Calloway) was bipolar, and my cat told me that his wikipedia entry says:

    "He beat marketing director of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center Mary Stagaman with an iron rod, giving her serious head and rib injuries. He then fled into the suburbs of Nashville. Along the way, he smashed a plate-glass window and storm door at one house and did extensive damage to the interior of another, destroying the family's collection of fine crystal, smashing a television set and breaking light bulbs with his bare hands. He also stole a backpack from a first grader and smashed a windshield with a rock before fleeing the scene where witnesses reported him wearing only a Superman T-shirt. He was arrested after hiding out in a couple's garage, screaming "'Help! I'm David from Sesame Street and they're trying to kill me!'"

    Which leads me to the obvious conclusion: Nazi muppets are out to enslave the good sheeple of America! Yet you give the Sesame Cult a pass, you cowardly, postmodernist, moral-relativist, litigation-averse creep.

    (Seriously, such fuss. I thought the episode was a welcome corrective to the overzealous criticism the church usually faces. Personally I think Scientologists are about as crazy as they come, but I say the same thing about Christians and Jews too. I mean seriously, Jews — c'mon. You've been persecuted in every generation yet you're convinced your God's favorite? If that's not Stockholm Syndrome, I don't know what is. Anyway, we could all use a little less shrill, and a little more actual discussion…though I guess I shouldn't expect that in the comments.)

    • tmac57 says:

      Shrill? Who is being Shrill? As far as comments on a blog go,I think these have been pretty moderate.

  33. Chris Howard says:

    “cults” or more accurately, New Religious Movements, are just as wacky, and flawed, logically; than established religions. I think the key here is this, do all Sea Org members have a choice? Are they concenting? Can they change their minds, and then are they free to leave? Extreme instances of abuse occur in established, monastic orders around the world, and are often times expained away as necessary for purification, or enlightenment. Scientology is doing exactly what most religions, save a few, have done for thousands of years. Break down the individual, to remake him/her into a person more in line with the churches beliefs.
    The more established religions have been doing it for so long that many of us perceive what they do as justifiable, but that’s only because we’ve been brought up in cultures that give religion a free pass.
    This isn’t an excuse, just an explanation. Scientology, like most other forms of faith, is simply unnecessary, but it really is no different when it comes to abuse; they all do it, and it should never be allowed to be rationalized away.

  34. Is the average Scientologist something to worry about, pehaps not, but the institution of Scientology probably is, and where would an institution be without its members?

  35. …maybe that last word @34 should have been enablers.

  36. Max says:

    Brian’s dream is to start a church.

    http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4003
    “My dream is to start a church and become fabulously wealthy, with the world’s happiest customers. These customers are people who are already believers, whose minds are not about to be changed by a few skeptics. They are going to buy these services: and if they don’t buy them from me, they’re going to buy them from the psychic next door.”

    • tmac57 says:

      Awww…so the sorting process has begun!

    • Max, have you ever Googled “Brian Dunning”? Besides the Skeptoid website, you’ll find a personal site where he bills himself as “venture capitalist,” etc.

      So, I honestly think he is NOT 100 percent joking when he posts stuff like that. And, maybe that’s why he’s soft on Scientology — he likes it as a business or something.

  37. Max says:

    The only actual fact that Brian presented in favor of the Church of Scientology is that some current members acted satisfied to a reporter. Well, North Koreans act satisfied to foreign reporters too, so I guess their regime isn’t so bad.
    The rest was just Brian’s speculation that Scientologists are sado-masochists who enjoy totalitarianism.

  38. Brian M says:

    Alas, I have not listened to the episode (YET!), and I don’t know if was covered, but to me, the bad part of scientology is how they keep people in it with the pressure you described. They are psychologically manipulated by them. Its like a con man taking money from an old lady by selling her some intrest only loan to buy a timeshare, saying she can pass it down to her kids. “You want your kids to have this, don’t you?” Its a lie, and its terrible. But who are we to judge what that old lady wants? They are using manipulative tactics to keep people there. I don’t think you can be so dismissive about what the people in scientology want.

  39. Drew says:

    I think that Brian took a slightly different tactic on this episode. What he asks us to do usually is to question our belief about a specific popular phenomenon. He did that here except that he was more critical of the belief that Scientiology is the root of all evil. His point was that there is a lack of evidence to render that belief as completely true.

  40. Michael Morrisson says:

    Brian, I think you need to take a closer look/listen to how you framed this episode. It’s not about the members, it’s about the church as a whole.

    Here’s how you introduce the episode:

    “Today we’re going to point the skeptical eye at perhaps the most notorious of all the world’s religions, Scientology. Many people laugh at it, some people hate it, some even dedicate their lives to protesting it. What is it about this twentieth century creation that inspires such emotions?”

    Note, you say we’re examining Scientology the group, not mentioning any one specific part.

    The majority of the middle of the episode is simply a description of the founding of the church and its practices.

    Here’s the part where you dismiss the strong opposition to the group by others, such as Anonymous:

    “While I certainly don’t hold to any of the Scientology philosophy, and I think their science fiction thetan story with Lord Xenu is as ludicrous as anyone, [b]I’m puzzled by the strong anti-[i]Scientology[/i] passion expressed by its opponents[/b] such as the loosely organized group called Anonymous. I’m not Amish but I harbor no resentment to those who choose the Amish lifestyle, and I have no problem with people electing to dress in naval uniforms and live in regimented barracks. Whether Anonymous likes it or not, there are people who thrive in such a rigidly structured environment. It works for them, and it’s as valid a lifestyle as any other. It’s available for those who want it, and if you don’t, nobody’s trying to force it down your throat.”

    Note, you don’t say you are puzzled by the negative sentiment towards Scientologists, you say you are puzzled by the negative sentiment towards Scientology, the group, not any specific part.

    This is my main gripe. It may have been a poor choice of wording from you that mis-conveyed what you intended to, but then I would expect a correction from you. I also don’t think that this is nit-picking on my part, as such a slip-up creates an entirely different position which is inconsistent with the types of conclusions you’ve made about other topics in the past.

    Secondary to that, even if this was just a miscommunication on your part, you still did not portray Anonymous’ main points of contention correctly. Even if you did do that, then you still would be contradicting your own stated views on Homeopathy. If it’s puzzling to you why Anon would gather in protest of Scientology, then why is it not equally as puzzling why skeptics gather in protest of Homeopathy by “overdosing?”

    Others may have different reasons for disliking this episode, and they may or may not be warranted, but this is pretty much all I have against this episode.

  41. Gladys says:

    Brian has some blind spots about Scientology, brought on by not reading enough about it, and an “engram” over anonymity, thus he’s skeptical about Anonymous. I feel a little weird about Anonymous too but I understand perfectly where the anonymity fits in with Scientology criticism.

    I think I looked at the 4chan site once, so all Anons are not the same.

    I’ve been critical of Scientology for about three years. The Tom Cruise video and Lauer appearance caught my attention. Before that, I knew only that it was some weird EXPENSIVE self-help baloney, disguised as a religion, started by a pulp sci fi writer.

    My feeling at the time was that how could any sane person take a book seriously, called Dianetics, a “modern science of mental health,” with a volcano on the cover, that for decades, no scientist, psychologist, philosopher etc. EVER mentions. If there was anything worth mentioning, one concept, wouldn’t someone like Carl Sagan at least have mentioned it?

    One thing I noticed immediately about Scientology, as I started reading books, blogs, web pages, personal stories of hundreds of ex-members, articles, message boards, is that in articles especially, the comments by a group of people seemed often more informed and well thought out than even the journalist writing the article.

    The more I read about it, the more preposterous it seemed, the more fascinated I was with how intelligent people get drawn into this. I could see the draw for celebrities, the power, the career networking, the confidence it gives them…their lack of education. (Cruise and Travolta both dropped out of high school to pursue acting opportunities.)

    How flexible are our minds? What kind of process leads to this? What is positive about it and what are the dangers? Now that they have billions of dollars, who far will it go.

    There’s the drama of it crashing into the web. Two opposites. One, an exciting, new, open medium that is propelling us into the future faster than any technology in history (Tofler, FUTURE SHOCK). The other, dated hokum by a sci fi writer, that is expensive, controlling, secretive, repressive, comical, and cult-like.

    One other oddity about Scientology, is that in almost anything else, you can read full-length books or at least stories about people and their religion, their therapy (if it is psycho-therapy instead of religion), their lives, what they believe.

    For example we know that Mother Teresa struggled with basic belief, that there was even a God. This caused her great anguish. Scientologists aren’t even ALLOWED to question, criticize or doubt Hubbard’s concepts. “Bad thoughts” about Hubbard are condemned.

    All Scientology offers is these ads, with enthusiastic people talking about how they didn’t have a clue what they were studying for years, and then, it blew their mind out, or expanded their space. It is relentless selling. They never talk about what “it” is or what they “know.”

    An OT8 apostate, writing about how 30 years of Scientology helped him overcome a bad case of adolescent shyness. But what about the super powers? What about what Xenu means to you? We know these things from ex-members though, at least the ones who really woke up.

    In his video, Tom Cruise doesn’t tell his fellow Scientologists one thing Scientology did for him, personally. It’s “a blast,” it’s “wild and woolly,” he doesn’t “mince words,” (as he minces his way through the rant) he can’t “romp and play” because it is so important spreading it, and he “knows.”

    The training to “find a person’s ruin” to get them taking courses, or lie at all times to protect and sell it…Hubbard’s dumpster load of kooky books. Just read some of them! His lectures are a riot too. And in one TV interview, he lies about the number of wives he’s had and then denies having a Swiss bank account, but then says he does, but “there’s not much money in it.”

    The people who were hurt or used by this cult deserve compensation.

    The kids (and old people like myself) who protest Scientology keep learning too, and it is an education in politics, religion, cults, the mind, totalitarianism, money, greed, need…

    I’ve listened to several of your other podcasts and most are fairly simple topics to debunk. Scientology is not simple.

    My personal feeling is that Scientology can’t last much longer. People are comparison shopping for their next MP3 player, let alone something they’ll spend thousands on, like Scientology. More and more people are reading about all sides of Scientology, before showing up at an “Org” and writing a check, or signing up for the next billion years of Sea Org work.

    Scientology begs you to just trust them. Just go into the Org and spend a fortune to see if it works for you. Or, “leave us alone, don’t look behind the curtain.”

    Want your reactive mind erased? Want to follow a gradient to the point where Keeping Scientology Working (selling it) becomes your highest dynamic in life?

    It’s bait and switch, carrot on a stick, brainwashing. They bait people with enlightenment and make them KSW Scientology mind slaves and sales people, and the carrot is always that improvement is always at the next higher level…Please see the registrar.

    After OTIII, the level where they learn about Xenu, the Scientologist is urged to pay in advance for OTIV, because OTIV “stabilizes the gains” in OTIII. Scientology is full of wins and gains.

    It is full of it!

  42. Dan says:

    Count me as one of the people who was deeply disturbed by Brian being so nonchalant about Scientology’s impact. Scientology separates people from their family and friends, passes on dangerous and incorrect information about mental disorders, and takes away money from people based on ideas that are only science-fiction. As was discussed above, hurting people and young children are sucked into Sea Org, so it is extremely naive to suppose that everyone there has complete free-will and logically chose that path because it benefited themselves psychologically. That’s a Pollyannaish view of the world and free-will that cannot stand up to skeptical scrutiny.

    Just because many people are in a situation doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t criticize what brought them into that situation because “it must work for them psychologically.” As was mentioned by Max earlier, this argument would be like saying that being in an abusive relationship works psychologically for some women, since they don’t leave, so who are we to condemn abuse? You could make an equal argument that the beliefs of David Koresh’s followers was “the lifestyle that works for those people” so we shouldn’t be judgmental. I’m really surprised that Brian would use this kind of postmodern philosophical argument.

    Yes, I agree that people have the right to live their own life and that we shouldn’t FORCE our cultural norms on everyone, but what Brian is ignoring is that this issue is not about imposing our norms on everyone, but in fighting illogical beliefs, exposing people to science, protecting people from falling for false information about mental illness, and standing up to a group manipulating children and hurting people financially and emotionally. We can criticize predatory practices that manipulate hurting people and children harshly without taking away people’s liberty; the choice isn’t between imposing our cultural norms by force and meekly saying that false beliefs must work for them so we shouldn’t be too harsh. That is a false dichotomy.

    I realize this message is strongly worded. I really enjoy Brian’s podcast and blogs and think he does a lot of great work, but I thought this particular episode showed a real lack of critical thinking about how cults prey on people and children, and how many people don’t always follow the path that is really the best for themselves psychologically.

  43. Beelzebud says:

    If there is one thing this site has taught me over the past couple of months it is this: It’s not a bad idea to keep the skeptical eye pointed at those who label themselves skeptics.

    DDT is fine, Scientology isn’t so bad, regulation of the stock market is horrible, and Global Climate Change is a myth!

    These are things I’ve read from the “skeptical community” these days, and frankly it’s a major turn off.

    • Michael Morrisson says:

      You do realize that it’s the “Skeptical” community right? Not the “We are right about everything” community? If you meet a skeptic who tells you not to question their assertions or investigate the facts for yourself then you’ve also met a hypocrite. At the core of skepticism is the notion that one should question everything and always be open to changing one’s mind, given the appropriate level of reason/evidence.

    • Beelzebud:

      I and a couple of “skeptic” friends on FB have batted about this various issue.

      Note to Michael Morrison: In cases like Shermer on climate change, and definitely Dunning on something like DDT, if you can show me the open minds, I’ll be glad to take note of them.

      • Michael Morrisson says:

        I doubt that either of them have urged anyone to take their word for it and not question them. If you asked them whether you should believe them or do the research and come to your own conclusion, they’d tell you to do the research. The point of the skeptical community is not to agree on everything, but to promote critical thinking and science education. “Open Mind,” is one of those terms that gets used way too much and has now become a conversation-ender: “If you’d have an open mind, then you’d believe in X,” is basically an ad hominem in that it’s not their arguments that are innefective it’s them.

  44. Sgerbic says:

    What? Cats use Wikipedia?

  45. Stirling Gerbic-Forsyth says:

    As a former member of the group Anonymous, I’d like to point out to those that do not understand exactly what we are about that we are not a group of anti-Scientologists. We do not go out to try and hurt Scientologists. We protest to bring the knowledge of Scientologies crimes to the public and, if at all possible, to the prospective members of Scientology that are willing to talk to us and that have not yet completely bought into Scientology.

    Our signs do not say that Scientologists are bad or that they are idiots and nuts. Our signs talk about the crimes, the cost, the confinement of Scientology. We do our best to make people aware that if you join Scientology, that you will not be able to get out of it intact, whether mentally, pysically or financially. At least if you join the Catholic church you can decide to stop going to church and go to a Jewish synagouge. Sure you may lose some friends but at least the Catholics wont send private investigators after you to spy on you, spread damaging roumors about you to your friends and neighbors and sue you for thousands of dollars, which is what Scientology will do to you.

    Anonymous protestors are just your normal people that dont want to see a very dangerous cult to be ligitimized by the government. Their tax exempt status is a major source of ire for Anonymous. Their crimes against humanity are another. We are not a load of 15-year-old wannabe-terrorists that want attention and to cause trouble.

    I would like to say that Brian is right of course that your average Scientologist is just your normal person. There is (usually) nothing more wrong with them than your average neighbor. A number join Scientology because they are at a low point in their life and Scientology offers them a way to help them. This is no different from any other religion. The problem with Scientology, is that when you’re fixed they still tell you that you are broken, but they can fix you, for a price.

    • “The problem with Scientology, is that when you’re fixed they still tell you that you are broken, but they can fix you, for a price.”

      Stirling, that’s characteristic of nearly every church, every supplement maker, every psychic, every self-help book author, most Oprah guests, promoters of every miracle diet and health plan, and pretty much every snake oil salesman on the planet. Your energy is better spent giving everyone the tools to recognize and avoid all such nonsense, rather than telling them to simply avoid Scientology.

      • Daniel says:

        I think you are drastically underestimating the difference between a religious cult and the “cult-like” aspects and tactics of certain groups and individuals.

        Scientology’s threat to its own members isn’t that they’re being fooled, or lied to. They are being, from the outset, systematically indoctrinated into a very particular mindset that can render a person psychologically incapable of making decisions without the input or approval of the cult itself. I know the heyday of cults was quite awhile ago, but you can’t be unfamiliar with just how dangerous and compelling these organizations can be, and the tactics that they use.

        In my opinion, you cannot simply say that the SeaOrg lifestyle is a valid life choice in the face of so much testimony by former members to the effect that they HAD no such choice.

        A cult is NOT a mainstream religion, no matter how much we enjoy pointing out the parallels.

      • Michael Morrisson says:

        Brian,

        Virtually every one of your episodes on topics where someone is being sold something ends with you offering your advice:

        Gluten Free Diets:
        “Don’t let anyone tell you that gluten is harming you in some way that’s so far not supported by any science, or that you should avoid it for the purpose of general wellness.”

        Boost Your Immune System:
        “Don’t stand for anyone telling you that your balanced teeter totter can be brought into better balance by piling sandbags on one end.”

        Therapeutic Touch:
        “The best state of our experimental knowledge is that therapeutic touch does not work. It certainly has no plausible foundation, and no physiological reason to suspect that the body’s healing mechanisms are dependent upon some outside person waving their hands around. Really this is one for the kindergarten files, and responsible nurses should look instead to treatments that have credible hope of doing some good.”

        Martial Arts Magic:
        “Be aware that martial arts’ ancient traditions make them rife with pseudoscience; a fact that continues to be exploited by con artists and clever marketers looking to separate you from your money.”

        Why do you on this one topic tell us not to try and work against Scientology? Yes, your show focuses on developing critical thinking skills, and yes, that is ultimately more important than fighting the individual scams that are out there, but it seems completely contrary to everything the skeptical movement is about to ask us to let Scientology be because the people have made their own choice and there are a million other stupid things that others choose too. I’m totally at a loss to understand how this is coming from you.

      • Max says:

        Exhibit A:
        Brian’s dream is to start a church
        http://skepticblog.org/2011/01/27/skeptoid-on-scientology/#comment-52317

        Exhibit B:
        Brian defended Scientology when John Travolta’s son died from a seizure.
        http://skepticblog.org/2009/01/08/jett-travolta-scientology-and-jumping-to-conclusions/

      • Michael Morrisson says:

        On Exhibit A… It’s a little weird to hear him say, but ultimately if it’s possible to walk the tightrope he described then I think I wouldn’t have a problem with it. I do, however, think it’s not really possible to do that and stay competitive with other psychics. People that go to psychics are looking for easier answers than real life cannot offer, if you tell them to go to a doctor and pay you for alternative treatment, but the psychic next door sells them on just the alternative treatment by itself where do you think they’re going to go? On top of all that, however well you might walk the ethical tightrope, you are still reinforcing the belief in all psychics (not to mention the rest of the paranormal community), most of whom do not share your scruples.

        On Exhibit B: Yeah, he defended the church a tad by not repeating their statements uncritically, but ultimately I agree with his point. It’s ridiculous to blame the Travoltas and the Church before having even basic facts about what happened. Going after parents who have just lost a child is only something that should be done in cases of clear and drastic neglect, the way people were attacking them before even knowing what Jett died of was unconscionable and unreasonable.

        That being said, I did find this part of that blog entry relevant to the current discussion:

        I’m the first to stand up and blame Scientologists and Scientology for any harmful acts they are responsible for…

        And yet he’s blaming anything harmful they’ve done on a lack of critical thinking, or individual choice, or a small minority of people doing their own thing.

  46. A goodly mountain of evidence strongly suggests that Scientology is a predatory meme, in which the idea of control based on fear is at the heart of a nascent totalitarian parasite in the mental ecology of the world. Because it is rigid and cannot evolve beyond the brittle shell of ideology, it will eventually crumble, but in the meantime, we don’t like it. It’s just nasty. Memes of increasing sophistication, and with the same general pattern, are common worldwide, and they do evolve and will thrive as a class, as long as the enabling weaknesses of the human mind persist.

    Perhaps the government will penetrate the Scientologists’ glamour and break up this gang, but in the meantime about all we can do is shine the spotlight on these creeps and try to prevent our children from being enslaved. To that end, all debate such as this is a good thing.

  47. Mchl says:

    I will question if the people actually ‘choose’ to enter the ranks of the Church of Scientology. Some of them do probably choose. Some of them are born into it just like I was born into Roman Catholic Church – didn’t have a choice, and haven’t really felt bad about it for most of my life.

    But what about people who are tricked into it using various forms of psychological manipulation? We DO know such cases happen, and are not all that rare.

    I was slightly (an understatement) disappointed by this episode, but I think I understand your position more after this additional round of explanation.

    Remember, whenever you finish listening to the latest Skeptoid, you have all reasons to be sceptical about what you’ve just heard ;)

  48. Edgaras says:

    Well, if it is harmful to be scientologist, then it is obvious harm being a soldier. They killed millions, and yet people support them, even skeptics. Now that’s what I call questioning your assumptions.

    Anyway, good article, Brian.

    • John A. says:

      That would be a red herring, and an inconsistent comparison. Your argument makes no sense in context of the subject. A soldier is a person who chooses to enlist in the service of the state by protecting the government and it’s people, from internal and external threats, and in doing such, must follow a ratified uniform code of military justice which is separate from civil law. This is all known when one signs the papers enrolling them into the military.

      Scientology is none of these things. Scientology uses deception to draw people in, then proceeds to remove from them their will, and while this may sound like the military, the similarities end there. Scientology works to divide families between those who believe and those who do not. Scientology uses people as free labor, forcing them to work long and hard hours in exchange for auditing sessions, sessions which seek to continue to brainwash said persons. Scientology is a money making marketing scheme, designed from the top down, to make money hand over fist. That is it’s sole purpose as intended by it’s founder, and by it’s current leadership.

      You’re comparing apples to infantry.

  49. Michael Morrisson says:

    Brian,

    Looks like the comments on this post have pretty much dried up so I wanted to leave you with these parting comments. Unlike with the DDT incident, you readily expected many in the skeptical community to disagree with you on your conclusions on Scientology. Still, when that disagreement came you essentially shrugged it off and barely said a word after this blog was posted. I think that there are more than a few valid points made in disagreement with your conclusion that were not addressed in your blog and frankly, I am utterly disappointed that you haven’t seen fit to even really engage us. If you never intended to respond to the blog commenters, then I would have expected no comments at all. Rather you did offer a small handful, only two of which made actual points, both of which had valid rebuttals you didn’t respond to. If you truly felt that all our rebuttals were unfounded, then I’d expect that you’d at least show how they are in some moderate detail.

    I don’t expect you to always be right. I don’t expect to always agree with you. I don’t even expect that you should always engage your listeners in these types of debates, but I certainly expect more than the basically blank dismissal you’ve given those who respect you. You obviously don’t have to respond to this, and I don’t really expect that you will, but just know that with all this you are losing our respect, and that’s far worse in my book than disagreeing with us. If all this is just some misunderstanding on my part, all I ask is that you kindly explain to us why your lack of response is appropriate or understandable and I’ll let it go. For my part, I hope I am wrong as up until this point, I’ve held you in high regard, not for your humor, or the methodical way in which you research, or your ability to analyze a topic from different angles, but for your willingness to self-correct and change your mind.

  50. Anon Orange says:

    After three years working on this, I see the FBI is finally admitting to an investigation on Scientology human trafficking.

    http://gawker.com/5753356/the-fbi-is-investigating-scientology-for-human-trafficking?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+gawker/full+(Gawker)&utm_content=Google+Reader

    There will be a massive article in the New Yorker going online tonight, for which among many others, I was asked to provide data to the fact checkers.
    The article is not yet up, but check this site:
    http://www.newyorker.com/

    When the article is up, please distribute to other news media, post on various forums and tell everyone you know. This is going to be the story of the decade.

    This article below is a story about a Hungarian guy who was a victim of Human Trafficking, one example of many that dared speak out:

    “See how it is done, how people are recruited, how they are controlled through constant fear and intimidation, how outside information including family connection is cut to keep them under control, the horrid and squalid living conditions, how sleep deprivation and other forms of abuse are used against them, arranged marriages to get through immigration problems, constant monitoring to prevent escapes and much more.
    This is the sort of interview that should be sent to government departments everywhere including in places like Russia and Hungry so that they know how hundreds of their own citizens are separating from their families and fooled into becoming victims of human trafficking in foreign countries.
    This interview is well worth listening to and forwarding to all concerned as above in the hopes that awareness can be raised of such forms of human trafficking with a view to it being ended once and for all.
    Excellent job by Tom Smith.”
    You may download the interview sound file from here:
    http://www.megaupload.com/?d=Q98F90HL
    49.6 MB 57 min. 20 sec.

    If that doesn’t convince you, then nothing will.

  51. Robo Sapien says:

    “The only way to control somebody is to lie to them.”

    “Scientology…is not a religion.”

    “I’d like to start a religion, that’s where the money is.”

    “Somebody some day will say ‘this is illegal.’ By then be sure the orgs say what is legal or not.”

    “We’re playing for blood, the stake is EARTH.”

    - L. Ron Hubbard

    What Brian calls “ordinary Scientologists” I call “victims.” It is not a religion, it is a big scam that destroys people. It is everything that the prominent skeptics of this blog tirelessly speakout against, all rolled into one big log of terrible that is being jammed right up the ass of America.

    Fuck Scientology.

  52. AnonOrange says:

    Brian, you picked the wrong time to do that podcast!

    It’s a major Sh*tstorm, even the Today show is on it:
    today.msnbc.msn.com/id/26184891/vp/41456859#41456859

    It’s odd that the local paper, the Riverside Press Enterprise is STILL not saying anything about this. I wrote an e-mail to the editor Maria DeVarenne

    Maria,

    Many international news sites are carrying this story. How long are you going to believe Scientology’s management lies? Why hasn’t there been a story about human rights abuses, human trafficking, forced abortions, beating, slave labor? You’ve had all the facts given to you on a silver platter. It’s not like you don’t know.

    What’s the hold up?

    See: gawker.com The-fbi-is-investigating-scientology-for-human-trafficking

    See today’s New Yorker article”
    “Under federal law, slavery is defined, in part, by the use of coercion, torture, starvation, imprisonment, threats, and psychological abuse. The California penal code lists several indicators that someone may be a victim of human trafficking: signs of trauma or fatigue; being afraid or unable to talk, because of censorship by others or security measures that prevent communication with others; working in one place without the freedom to move about; owing a debt to one’s employer; and not having control over identification documents. Those conditions echo the testimony of many former Sea Org members who lived at the Gold Base.”

    England reporting:
    www . dailymail . co . uk/news/worldnews/article-1354449/Church-Scientology-FBI-probe-alleged-human-trafficking.html

    Those abuses are happening right here in Riverside county folks. It’s time for our press to report this so we can ALL put pressure on the Sheriff and DA to act.

  53. AttackHamster says:

    Good article in the New Yorker:

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/02/14/110214fa_fact_wright?currentPage=all

    I must say that I had the impression when reading Brian’s article that he was selecting evidence to support his opinion, rather than analysing the whole collection to draw a conclusion.

    • Robo Sapien says:

      I can understand where Brian is coming from, he is just trying to be fair, and I dare not presume that he is overlooking any pertinent facts. As he said, the focus of his piece wasn’t on the Org itself but on the average joes and janes that make up the bulk of its membership.

      Still, the atrocities of the Org are no big secret. Good intentions are worth precisely dick when human rights issues are involved, and if these supposedly good natured bottom-level members know of these things and still elect to continue membership because it “works for them” then it stands to reason that they approve of said atrocities and they should be held accountable for their choice.

      Based on that, I would estimate there to be a very small number of “innocents” in Scientology. Also, let’s not overlook that the core philosophy of the church is pure deception. Even if there is no practical reason to lie, they are still instructed to lie anyway as to keep the people dependant on Scientology for whatever “truth” they engineer.

      • Michael Morrisson says:

        Can I just once again call BS on the notion that the focus of this episode was really supposed to be on the individual, low-ranking member. If that’s what he meant to do, then he did a horrible job of it; More then half of the episode is about nothing more than the founding of the church and it’s founder. He then breifly makes the point he says is the crux of this episode, then moves on to conclude that Anonymous’ attacks on the church are just as misguided as if they were attacking the Amish or Navy.

        If his intent was to show how the individual was ok, then why is his conclusion about the church as a whole? If he misspoke and meant that Anonymous’ attacks on the individuals in the church was misguided, then that makes no sense as pretty much everything they’ve done has been directed at the church as a whole (Except for possibly high-profile members like Travolta or Cruise). I just don’t see that his excuse holds water.

        In either case, whether he’s directing the episode at the whole church or the low-level member, the information he did not discuss is decidedly relevent to whatever conclusion he wishes to make.

        As for the rest of your comment, I think that the New Yorker article did a good job showing how someone highly involved in the church can remain blissfully ignorant of the church’s doings for long periods of time. It also points out that other members who may know about these accusations simply don’t believe them. I wouldn’t jump to conclusions about how much the individual members intentionally support these actions.

      • Robo Sapien says:

        Looking back on the original Skeptoid episode, I can agree with you on your first points about his coverage and conclusions. Where I tend to differ is on the last bit about individuals in ignorance or denial.

        I read the New Yorker piece in its entirety, but I find it to be a bad example of your point due to the fact that most of the Haggis story takes place prior to the Internet boom, when public awareness of the church’s deeds was but a fraction of what it is now.

        I don’t doubt that there are still SOME who are unaware (the church is noted to keep people in seclusion, after all), but as I said in my initial comment, I would estimate that demographic to be less than noteworthy.

        As for the deniers, I still insist that they deserve no amnesty. If a person is told that their church routinely commits evil deeds and in turn lies to them and to the public (as well as conspire to destroy evidence), I am opined that said person has a moral obligation to seek the truth from all available sources. Conversely, the CoS conveniently has a doctrine forbidding members from seeking assistance or information from outside sources.

        Being dumb and/or gullible doesn’t excuse anyone from ignoring what they know is wrong.

        Scientologist: “Mr. Leader, I’ve seen and read all over the place that our church does really despicable shit and that if I ask you about it, you’ll lie to my face and make me pay for another course to rectify my curious behavior, going so far as to blackmail me if I refuse with information obtained in confidence during auditing sessions. Is this true?”

        Leader: “No.”

        Scientologist: “Great! Issue settled, then.”

        Leader: “Indeed. Now, because you asked that question, I’m going to need you to purchase another 10 grand in coursework to fix this curiosity problem of yours.”

        Scientologist: “But you just said you don’t do that!”

        Leader: “No, you just perceived it that way because you’ve been flapdoodled by suppressive whirleyboppers. That will be ANOTHER 10 grand in coursework to fix.”

      • Michael Morrisson says:

        I would definitely agree that joining any group, especially if you’re paying into it and indoctrinating your family with its belief-system, demands that you look a little deeper than what they present. In fact, I meant to even include that in my last post, but somehow left it out. I think it’s a bit of a leap though to say that not looking critically at the church equates to active approval of their darkest deeds. It doesn’t mean they’re free of any responsibility, but it doesn’t mean if they believed the truth about the church’s actions that they would support those actions.

        This is one part where Brian’s defense of, “Tons of other organizations do the same thing” makes sense. If we’re going to judge Scientologists individually for the deeds of the church then we need to do the same thing to Catholics and the people who join mega-churches.

      • Robo Sapien says:

        Agreed, but I also think Catholicism deserves the same (probably more) scrutiny. I’m not implying that all Scientologists endorse kidnapping and slavery, but failing to look critically on these things if made aware of them speaks to me of apathy and selfishness.

  54. Daveprime says:

    FANTASTIC read over at the New Yorker. Seems to be a fair and balanced piece of actual reporting. Let’s see child slavery, “retrieving” those who have ‘blown (escaped) from labor camps, manufacturing ‘dirt’ to both bolster their leader’s resume and destroy S.P.’s. (Suppressive Persons)

    Sounds like a “live and let live” kind of philosophy should balance our beliefs all right! *facepalm*

  55. Sheldon W. Helms says:

    I know I’m coming late to the party on this one, but it’s a bit arrogant to assume that people who disagree with your conclusions are “skeptics who don’t like to have their skepticism questioned.” You need to consider the possibility that they’re using their skepticism and you’re not.

    The fatal error in this report is two-fold. First, your basic assumption that people in the Sea Org have “chosen” their lifestyle shows disregard for the psychological persuasion tactics used by cults. Study that a bit, and you’ll see that people are often targeted by these groups, and their manipulation strategies can be quite difficult to resist. That’s hardly a “choice.” Second, you glanced over the retaliatory nature of Scientology by simply stating that they have a reputation for filing lawsuits against those who speak out against them, then make those speaking out seem like nut cases for being so overzealous. The truth is, Scientology has a long, sordid reputation of DESTROYING people’s lives, and an almost psychotic desire to silence its opposition in any way possible. No other church in modern times operates that way, making Scientology a cult, not a religion.

  56. Me says:

    Embarrassingly weak Brian.
    I love the pure critical thinking put in all your other other podcasts, and the fact you’re not afraid to call a spade a spade, I even think you occasionally debunk certain topics too harshly.

    All religions have elements of cults, but scientology is one of the most dangerous cults there is, and it was sad to see you practically pander to them.
    Their history, beliefs and activities, including their abuse of the legal system to silence critical thinking makes me, and mostly everyone else scared of their crazy ways and a danger to themselves and the community.

    Take down the podcast, redo it, and put it back up with a version of what you really believe.

  57. Chuck says:

    If people are joing COS for the reasons Brian is suggesting, i.e. because they thrive in such an environment, etc…, then maybe they are in need of psychiatric help. In which case, COS is no better than a homeopath. Would we not lambaste the homeopath for offering up harmful “cures”? Why then should we not lambaste the COS? I think that one could make an arguement that homeopathy does not hurt the majority of its users, but does that mean it harmless and not worth of scorn and mockery?

  58. MafiaWog says:

    I don’t have the time to read through all of the comments, so I apologize if this is repeating something which has already been said, and it’s a late post with respect to the airing date and this blog post, but maybe it’ll bolster others’ comments or something …

    Yes, it came off sounding soft. You are assuming people are _fully aware_ of what awaits them in terms of teaching and treatment when involved with the church, either as a public (paying member) or as staff (either in a church building or in the Sea Org.) While I understand that not every group or business tells potential members or employees the WHOLE truth about their job or association, especially not the negatives, the CoS has a long-running and well-documented (by way of personal stories as far back as the 1960s) of outright _lies_ concerning what members or workers can expect.

    The worst is with the Sea Org, who are often told they will recieve certain amounts of time off per month or year (rarely occurs), will be living in far more luxurious accommodations than they really do, will be able to see their kids 1-2 hours a day (they can’t), etc. And they don’t tell them about the holding of their passports “for security” until they arrive for their job, aren’t told about the 10-25 dollars _per week_ they will have to live on (staff buys their own toiletries, non-work clothes, etc.) which makes having resources to leave a near impossibility, nor are they told of the all-too-often 20 hour work days.

    But above all that, you completely glossed over the pseudoscience which is Dianetics! I was shocked that this blatant set of pseudoscientific claims, which is technically secular by the way, wasn’t addressed at all! Especially considering the CoS states these facts _as provable scientific claims_. So how can you do podcasts about exorcism, faith healing, or any other quack therapy (even if it’s connected to a religion) and just omit what is probably Dianetics, which is rigourously promoted as being scientific?

    I still love the show, and will likely draft an email (if nothing else but to organize my own thoughts on the matter), but I encourage you to consider a follow-up episode, perhaps? Don’t re-record the Scientology episode, leave it be. But it would be a sham if the “scientific” claims being made by the Scientology corporation were not given scrutiny by, in my opinion, the skeptic who is the best at analyzing, distilling, and effectively explaining in a relatively short time _why_ certain things are bogus.

  59. Richard says:

    If Scientology is so flipping great why is it the only “success” stories tom cruise and John travolta? Where ate the nobel prize winners? The Pulitzer prize winners? Show me somebody, anybody, whose skills have been improved via dianetics, not trot out the only two A-list celebreties you’ve latched onto.

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