Alex Massie

Scientology: Cult or Worse?

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The problem Scientology has... Let me start again, among the problems with Scientology is that it wasn't founded a couple of thousand years ago. Had it been it might not seem quite so obviously fraudulent and, well, nuts. Age rubs off the harsh edges and all that and at least permits the creation of a splendid literature, if nothing else. And that literature is a bit more than nothing. But Scientology, apart from its artistic desert, also seems to be a wicked organisation. Consider this New York Times story:

Raised as Scientologists, Christie King Collbran and her husband, Chris, were recruited as teenagers to work for the elite corps of staff members who keep the Church of Scientology running, known as the Sea Organization, or Sea Org.

They signed a contract for a billion years — in keeping with the church’s belief that Scientologists are immortal. They worked seven days a week, often on little sleep, for sporadic paychecks of $50 a week, at most.

But after 13 years and growing disillusionment, the Collbrans decided to leave the Sea Org, setting off on a Kafkaesque journey that they said required them to sign false confessions about their personal lives and their work, pay the church thousands of dollars it said they owed for courses and counseling, and accept the consequences as their parents, siblings and friends who are church members cut off all communication with them.

“Why did we work so hard for this organization,” Ms. Collbran said, “and why did it feel so wrong in the end? We just didn’t understand.”

Scientology is an esoteric religion in which the faith is revealed gradually to those who invest their time and money to master Mr. Hubbard’s teachings. Scientologists believe that human beings are impeded by negative memories from past lives, and that by applying Mr. Hubbard’s “technology,” they can reach a state known as clear.

They may spend hundreds of hours in one-on-one “auditing” sessions, holding the slim silver-colored handles of an e-meter while an auditor asks them questions and takes notes on what they say and on the e-meter’s readings.

By doing enough auditing, taking courses and studying Mr. Hubbard’s books and lectures — for which some Scientologists say they have paid as much as $1 million — Scientologists believe that they can proceed up the “bridge to total freedom” and live to their full abilities as Operating Thetans, pure spirits. They do believe in God, or a Supreme Being that is associated with infinite potential.

Ms. Collbran, who is 33, said she loved the church so much that she never thought she would leave. Her parents were dedicated church members in Los Angeles, and she attended full-time Scientology schools for several years. When she was 8 or 9, she took the basic communications course, which teaches techniques for persuasive public speaking and improving self-confidence and has served as a major recruiting tool.

By 10, Ms. Collbran had completed the Purification Rundown, a regimen that involves taking vitamins and sitting in a sauna (a fixture inside every Scientology church) for as much as five hours a day, for weeks at a time, to cleanse the body of toxins.

By 16, she was recruited into the Sea Org, so named because it once operated from ships, wearing a Navy-like uniform with epaulets on the shoulders for work. She fully believed in the mission: to “clear the planet” of negative influences by bringing Scientology to its inhabitants. Her mindset then, Ms. Collbran said, was: “This planet needs our help, and people are suffering. And we have the answers.”

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Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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