Cultic Pride

This Observer piece (via) is an interesting peek into the New Yorker’s fact checking of Lawrence Wright’s piece about the slipperiest weasels who ever weaseled, Scientologists:

As recounted in the Haggis piece, in September 2010 the church sent two flacks and four lawyers to the New Yorker offices at 4 Times Square in a grand effort to respond to those questions and to see if they couldn’t dissuade the editors from publishing the piece.

The meeting lasted about eight hours. The Scientology team, outfitted in sharp suits, frequently giggled as Mr. Wright defended his sources. The church representatives presented charts that detailed everything they perceived to be wrong with the story, based on what they knew about it from the fact-checking questions. Tommy Davis, the church’s lead spokesman at the time, would often interrupt Mr. Wright’s references to the church leader, saying, “you mean Mr. Miscavige, Larry, Mr. Miscavige.”

“He had a pie chart of the 971 questions we’d sent him,” Mr. Wright said, recalling the meeting during a recent interview at the Random House offices. “The pie chart showed that 59 percent of them were false.” He let that sink in. “They’re questions! How do they fall into the true-false category? It was bizarre to me.”

At that meeting, the church presented Wright with 48 binders of information that Wright later used to expand his New Yorker piece into a book on Scientology.

The article is a good contrast to the Atlantic’s latest brush with Scientology.

59 replies
  1. 1
    Baud says:

    I’ve quite honestly never understood the fascination with Scientology — either on the part of its adherents or of those outside the group.

  2. 2
    Face says:

    But Tom Cruise is still gay, right?

  3. 3
    ruemara says:

    It’s one of those things you hope will just die already. Why do people get involved with this nonsense?

  4. 4
    Yutsano says:

    @Face: As a plaid rabbit. But he’s beard hunting as we type.

  5. 5
    oldster says:

    @Yutsano:

    Oh my god. you mean my favorite childhood Easter present, Mr. Carrots, was covered in plaid velour because….?

    Sorry–I have to go see my shrink, stat. This may explain a lot of things.

  6. 6
    Yutsano says:

    @oldster: The velour wasn’t enough of a sign? :)

  7. 7
    SatanicPanic says:

    @Baud: What they’re doing to their members appears to be pretty terrible.

  8. 8
    EconWatcher says:

    By the way, we just found out that my sister-in-law got herself involved in Landmark Education, a group apparently founded by the creator of EST.

    I’ve done a little reading, and it sounds pretty culty to me, plus the things she’s been saying and doing since then seem consistent with someone enmeshed in a mild cult experience. (She has a natural talent for creating enormous problems for herself, and then somehow making her problems our problems, so we have more than casual interest in how this will all end.)

    Does anyone know much about this group? What can we expect?

  9. 9
    Baud says:

    @SatanicPanic:

    I guess I’m not too aware of the specifics. Is that the only reason for the interest? With the Catholic Church, for example, I can read a headline and understand the nature of the interest in the child abuse scandal. I haven’t noticed anything as elucidating with the reporting on Scientology.

  10. 10
    Roger Moore says:

    @Baud:

    I’ve quite honestly never understood the fascination with Scientology — either on the part of its adherents or of those outside the group.

    The problem is that Scientology is a pretty dangerous cult. Some of the stuff they do to their followers is really terrible, and even the ones who aren’t physically and mentally mistreated are milked for their money with ruthlessness that makes other religions look unworldly. And they’re still growing, which makes them even scarier.

  11. 11
    Dracula says:

    @SatanicPanic: I believe they even harrass their ex-members, if I am to believe the supermarket rags’ stories on Katie Holmes.

  12. 12
    PeakVT says:

    Here’s a good interview with Wright that focuses on Hubbard’s life.

  13. 13
    👽 Martin says:

    @Baud: I love Scientology. I mean, I think they’re all full-bore bonkers, don’t get me wrong. But the grand national debate about the role of religion is distorted all to hell because the religions that apparently are eternal fountains of wisdom are granted that status because they are old and their origins are mysterious to us – in sorta the same way that people would accept that chicken soup will cure a cold because that’s what great-grandma did.

    Scientology as a startup puts the lie to the reverence of religions purely because they are somewhat pre-historic by creating a brand new religion, that in its tenets are no less bonkers than the leading brand religions if you just step back a bit, but where we can observe its origin and initial struggles in realtime and contrast a world with and without the religion. It’d be a dream come true if a new religion could take off every 5 years and go for the same success as Scientology. Eventually Scientology is going to be what wipes Christianity out of government because it’ll demand equal protection. Not because it’s a larger religion than Hinduism or any other that wasn’t born out of Judaism/Islam/Christianity, but because Scientology is so litigation happy that they’ll eventually get the money and personalities together to bring it to the high court, with Tom Cruise (or his offspring) speaking before some Congressional hearing. It’s lovely in its potential to disrupt our cultural assumption that religion == Christianity. If that chain can be broken, it’s all going to fall apart.

  14. 14
    Forum Transmitted Disease says:

    Does anyone know much about this group? What can we expect?

    @EconWatcher: Read the history of est, it’s basically the same thing, minus some of the egregious physical abuse that was a hallmark of est and that forced the scamsters in charge of the whole thing to disband it.

    They basically promise that if you give them a LOT of money they’ll make you a better you, mostly by having you and your fellow suckers sit in a circle and gang up on you one at a time and tell you what a shitheel you are. Just like Christmas in my family, I saw no reason to pay good money for that.

    I’m surprised Landmark is still around. Last time I heard the name was in the early 1990s.

  15. 15
    EconWatcher says:

    @Roger Moore:

    An acquaintance got involved in Scientology because his boss forced him to, under the guise of attending management seminars. He was followed and harassed when he left. He’s not a tender daisy, but the experience genuinely scared him. They’re creeps.

  16. 16
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @oldster: I’ve never understood the concept of “Easter presents”, which I seem to think is a fairly recent phenomenon in the US. I understand the Christmas presents, on the model of the three wise men bringing presents for a birth. But Easter? WTF? Do people typically bring presents to a resurrection?

  17. 17
    catclub says:

    @👽 Martin: “If that chain can be broken, it’s all going to fall apart. ”

    I am not sure what is entailed in that ‘all’, but institutions that are thousands of years old have a lot of staying power. Falling apart is apparently not part of their design. Broken apart, beaten apart, maybe.

  18. 18
    Grumpy Code Monkey says:

    @Baud:

    I can’t speak for the adherents. For the rest of us, the fascination stems from what are frankly criminal activities being defended as core religious practice.

  19. 19
    The Tragically Flip says:

    They once infiltrated agents into the IRS.
    They have an actual intelligence agency of their own.
    They run prisons.
    Hubbard declared enemies of the church “fair game”:

    Fair game. May be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.

    Yeah, there’s reason to pay attention to them. I’m no fan of any religion but Scientology is in a fairly unique class for the degree of ratfuckery they’ll sink to. Nixon could have learned a lot from them.

  20. 20
    lol says:

    They’re also particularly aggressive about using legal channels to silence critics.

  21. 21
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @ruemara:

    There is money to be made from the rubes.

  22. 22
    Cacti says:

    @Gin & Tonic:

    I’ve never understood the concept of “Easter presents”, which I seem to think is a fairly recent phenomenon in the US. I understand the Christmas presents, on the model of the three wise men bringing presents for a birth. But Easter? WTF? Do people typically bring presents to a resurrection?

    Well, the other traditions associated with Easter have fuck all to do with Christianity.

    Colored eggs?

  23. 23
    Cacti says:

    Most of the European Union considers Scientology a business for profit rather than a religion.

    Yet another area where Yurp gets it right over Murrica.

  24. 24
    👽 Martin says:

    @catclub:

    I am not sure what is entailed in that ‘all’, but institutions that are thousands of years old have a lot of staying power. Falling apart is apparently not part of their design. Broken apart, beaten apart, maybe.

    Oh, I fully expect the institutions to remain – and I truly don’t wish them to go away. As a personal choice, I’m very supportive of institutional religions. The chain I refer to is the assumption that government should use Christianity as the basis for their moral policy. That’s the only thing I want to see change. If legislators truly had to step back and set policy that was considerate of all religious (and non-religious) groups, it’d look very different than it does now. That’s my only goal.

  25. 25
    AA+ Bonds says:

    The meeting lasted about eight hours. The Scientology team, outfitted in sharp suits, frequently giggled as Mr. Wright defended his sources.

    SOP for them. Hubbard has recorded lectures on how to fuck with what they term SPs. In non-clears such actions would be considered overts, but against SPs they are considered fair game. The idea behind it is that they are fucking with someone’s repressed memories, to sum up in plain English, and the person has those repressed memories because they aren’t sufficiently Scientologist.

    In other news they are doing a huge ad buy for lronhubbard.org. Caught it on Salon, probably AdChoices-targeted because of the reading I do on the topic, which has fascinated me since I was a teenager.

  26. 26
    jah says:

    love the $cientology member reply in the comments of the article, which links to some world class nit picking of the book in question. “He didn’t name the guys’ attorney! CLEARLY MALICIOUS INTENT”:

    What a puff piece… There are clear and obvious errors in the book that Mr. Wright left in there, despite better knowledge and obviously with malicious intent. Period. http://lawrencewrightgoingclear.com/

  27. 27
    SatanicPanic says:

    @Baud: It’s hard for the news to cover Scientology because they’re so litigious. The article Mistermix links to said they had 2 fact-checkers working for six months on the New Yorker story just to make sure they wouldn’t get sued.

  28. 28
    Cacti says:

    @SatanicPanic:

    The law can be used easily to harass, and enough harassment on somebody who is simply on the thin edge anyway, well knowing that he is not authorized, will generally be sufficient to cause his professional decease. If possible, of course, ruin him utterly”

    -L. Ron Hubbard

  29. 29
    aimai says:

    @EconWatcher:

    I know a woman who was involved with Landmark. It seems to have done her some good and she met a lot of friends through it, travelled a lot, took seminars with it and generally learned to socialize with people. But she is fantastically wealthy already and for that class of people I think Landmark is like a travelling seminar series, club med style retreat for bored people who don’t work. She met a lot of people like herself and they all network madly. It doesn’t sound nearly as culty as scientology, to me, more like some kind of costco-for-the-mind that new converts love to talk about.

  30. 30
    AA+ Bonds says:

    @SatanicPanic:

    It’s hard for the news to cover Scientology because they’re so litigious.

    I think this situation has improved as Scientology slowly becomes more and more impoverished like every other religious institution in the Western world.

  31. 31
    jon says:

    @Cacti: It’s almost as if the holiday itself is named for some weird old pagan goddess or something. Fertility and rebirth isn’t in any other fairy tales, after all. That’s all Christian stuff. And since the Jewish people always lived exclusively in Israel or Brooklyn, it’s impossible for any Babylonian or Egyptian influence to have entered their mythology.

  32. 32
    Steeplejack says:

    @AA+ Bonds:

    What is an “SP”?

  33. 33
    AA+ Bonds says:

    @Baud:

    I’ve quite honestly never understood the fascination with Scientology — either on the part of its adherents or of those outside the group.

    1) Religious rites are cast as pay-to-play psychotherapy sessions and so people are put in the position of working off their debt to their Church. That’s unusual and rubs a lot of otherwise liberty-loving Americans the wrong way.

    2) The combination of the above with the release of OTIII, where it turns out the entire “scientific” edifice of progression through set-rate, pseudo-Freudian therapy is supposedly based on UFO cult theology. Usually UFO cults don’t run themselves like a medical practice.

    3) Under Miscavige especially, the Church of Scientology has had quite a few information leaks that suggest the use of private prisons to physically and psychologically abuse adherents (often those who are working off their debts) alongside repeated lies to LEOs and emergency services about the state of such “patients”. Deaths have occurred which have provoked family members.

    4) (and I think this is probably the most important part) The Church of Scientology is highly centralized, relatively new (and thus politically undefended) and has a philosophy of hitting back hard against critics. The combination allows for dedicated opposition and corresponding news coverage lasting decades.

  34. 34
    freelancer says:

    @Steeplejack:

    Suppressive Person.

    Basically, a heretic.

  35. 35
    gussie says:

    @jon: Please don’t hate on Boca.

  36. 36
    Steeplejack says:

    @freelancer:

    Thanks.

  37. 37
    AA+ Bonds says:

    @Steeplejack:

    Sorry, I get so steeped in this stuff. SP = Suppressive Person. It’s the Scientology equivalent of an enemy of the state, usually assigned to former members but also assigned to particularly vocal critics who may never have been involved with the Church.

    The term is deprecated now, I believe, because of bad publicity. It used to be mostly used under a policy known as “Fair Game”, again supposedly deprecated, under which Hubbard said that pretty much anything is ethical when used against a SP, whether that means libel or violence or frivolous litigation or what have you, and the only restraint that should be exercised should be that required to defend the image of the Church. This led to a lot of gruesome stuff under other “operations” like high-level members of the Church infiltrating government agencies and fabricating fake death/bomb threats to themselves from authors who wrote against them.

  38. 38
    AA+ Bonds says:

    My favorite encounter with Scientology was as a student in Moscow at a state university. I wandered around a corner and right into a full-on temporary-wall exhibit by the Russian branch of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (a Scientology front group) on the Satanic evils of psychology and psychiatry. A blank-eyed woman thrust into my hands a full-color, very professional booklet explaining (in Russian) that the Columbine shooters were brainwashed by Zoloft into shooting their classmates. It must have been a straight-up translation of English-language material because no Russian I talked to had any idea who the hell Klebold and Harris even were (they have their own very “exciting” spree killers over there).

    It’s funny because that’s the sort of shit that usually gets smacked down in Russia before it reaches the public sphere. Someone dropped the ball or they had friends high up in the institution.

  39. 39
    Jewish Steel says:

    It’s exciting to the the Church expanding into so many new areas!

    /oh, just a typical Atlantic commenter. nothing to see here.

  40. 40
    jibeaux says:

    Taking them at their word/”advertorial” that they’re always opening new churches everywhere, do you think they’re actually gaining new followers or are they just expanding their wealth? It’s hard for me to imagine them gaining new followers rapidly, but it is a crazy planet. I guess I’ll have to read the book.

  41. 41
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    If the Scientologists thought they could fuck with the New Yorker‘s fact checkers, they were even more deluded than I previously thought.

  42. 42
    trollhattan says:

    @jibeaux:

    Ain’t nobody ever getting a peek at their books, but my hunch is that like any Ponzi scheme, they’ve got to recruit at ever increasing rates to keep the empire propped up.

    I think the Germans have the right approach to dealing with them (no, not going Godwin, honest).

  43. 43
    a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q) says:

    @pseudonymous in nc: I completely agree with your comment. It’s hard for me to understand the line between delusion and techniques presumed to maximize revenue collection, however.

  44. 44
    Emily says:

    They’re also particularly aggressive about using legal channels to silence critics.

    I suppose that’s an improvement over burning people at the stake.

  45. 45
    Nerull says:

    @Baud: I also remember an incident where needed medical supplies had to wait in an airport traffic pattern while Travolta flew in a bunch of “e-meters” on his private jet. After the Haiti earthquake iirc.

  46. 46
    Eric U. says:

    I got pretty interested in Scientology when they went through a phase of targeting random psychiatrists. That seems to have died down, but i assume practicing psychiatry on a Scientologist probably doesn’t have a good outcome most of the time.

  47. 47
    SatanicPanic says:

    @Emily: I thought burning people at the stake was the legal channel back in the day.

  48. 48
    Legalize says:

    @EconWatcher:

    Sounds sadly, like my brother-in-law. Fortunately, he appears to have settled on a pretty progressive church group, and AA to give him whatever meaning he thought was missing. Before that it was Amway; and before that it was some bizarro public speaking group that required you to give them your life’s savings and go out to hock their books at college campuses. I’m always baffled by the desire to go all-in with any group. But some, otherwise smart and talented people get hooked up with these nuts over and over again.

  49. 49
    The Tragically Flip says:

    @trollhattan:

    Ain’t nobody ever getting a peek at their books, but my hunch is that like any Ponzi scheme

    Don’t think “ponzi” is the right term for them. From what I can tell (and AA Bonds seems to know this stuff better) only the top 3 or 4 people seem to make money at this. It may only be Miscavaige himself. Everyone else is milked and worked for all they’re worth.

    Even many of the supposed “executives” are little more than slaves. They even have a special prison they sent out-of-favour executives to (think it’s call “the vault”).

  50. 50
    The Tragically Flip says:

    @jibeaux:

    Taking them at their word/”advertorial” that they’re always opening new churches everywhere,

    I wouldn’t take them at their word. They claim millions of members in the US, and yet Census data only finds about 50,000. That holds up anecdotally for me, I can’t say I know or have ever met a scientologist. If there were millions of them, you should meet them at least occasionally.

  51. 51
    Roger Moore says:

    @Emily:

    I suppose that’s an improvement over burning people at the stake.

    The main reason they aren’t resorting to burning people at the stake (or otherwise killing them) is that they don’t have enough power to pull it off. There’s every evidence that churches that have the power to kill their enemies with impunity are happy to do so.

  52. 52
    Maude says:

    People who want someone to take care of them and not have to go through adversity are attracted to things like Scientology. Someone who doesn’t want responsibility for him/herself fits right into a cult.

  53. 53
    Roy G. says:

    I don’t see much daylight between the Scientologists’ treatment of ‘fair game’ and the Republicans, except perhaps the Scientologists may be more self-aware.

    At any rate, given their slide into delusion and desperation, perhaps Tom Cruise will be the Republican candidate in 2016.

  54. 54
    Sharl says:

    Lawrence Wright is on Stephen Colbert this Wednesday (2/6) to talk about his book.

    Yesterday I heard him on Interfaith Voices (public radio), where he was interviewed for most of the one-hour show (maybe 45min, give-or-take?). Creepy stuff.

    By the way, the internal prison used for ‘errant’ ‘church’ leadership is called “The Hole“. Again, creepy stuff.

  55. 55
    The Golux says:

    I love the concept of “false questions”. It reminds me of a segment on NPR I heard a couple of months ago, where they were trying to answer the question of whether they were being impartial enough. *Sigh* They asked some rightard about an interview somebody had done, and he complained that one of the questions (a completely innocuous one, in my opinion) was a “liberal” question. What I then shouted at the radio was something like, “Stop worrying about what thin-skinned assholes think of your work. You’ll never, ever, make them happy unless you become a Fox News clone. Just do your fucking job.”

    If they don’t like what you’re doing, you’re doing the right thing.

  56. 56
    gelfling545 says:

    @Cacti: Even the name of the holiday has nothing to do with Christianity bring derived IIRC from the name of the goddess Astarte.

  57. 57
    gelfling545 says:

    @The Tragically Flip: I have known 2 but they have a large center in one of the prettiest historic buildings in my city. One was a young woman who, although she worked more than full time at the center had to take a part time job at a place at which I was doing some temp work in order to keep body & soul together, as it were. The other was a bit more serious to my mind.

    Before my retirement I was a public school teacher and for a while we had a principal who was, well, not exactly well balanced mentally speaking. When one of the teacher’s aides offered to read “inspirational literature” on the PA in the morning following the pledge & the announcements she agreed. Whether she actually viewed any of this literature in advance I don’t know and it’s possible that even if she had she would not have recognized it for what it was. It was pretty much drivel & most of the teachers & all of the students ignored it but I heard a few terms here & there that made me wonder so I started googling a few of the passages & sure enough, they were by good old L. Ron Hubbard. Now this was a public school, no religious indoctrination allowed, and it bothered me quite a bit. I knew the principal would pay no mind so I decided to fight fire with fire and told one of the more hysterically Christian teachers what we were actually hearing. She raised hell & that was the end of that.

  58. 58
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Grumpy Code Monkey:

    From your link:

    Quoting LRH) “The purpose of the suit is to harass and discourage rather than to win. The law can be used easily to harass, and enough harassment on somebody who is simply on the thin edge anyway, well knowing that he is not authorized, will generally be sufficient to cause his professional decease. If possible, of course, ruin him utterly”.

    Somewhat different tactics, but the Scientologists seem to have more than a little in common with Fred Phelps and his merry band of Westboro Baptists.

    Incidentally, I’m reading Lawrence Wright’s book — not very far into it yet — and so far give it high marks.

  59. 59
    maus says:

    @1: “I’ve quite honestly never understood the fascination with Scientology — either on the part of its adherents or of those outside the group.”

    That’s because you’re quite literally intellectually incurious.

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