Saturday, December 10, 2005

A little healthy scepticism

In some circles being described as a sceptic is an insult but I’m proud to be one. I’m proud to be seen as someone who questions what I’m told and who doesn’t just believe what is said by someone who claims to be in authority. I know that this means I sometimes come across as awkward and difficult to persuade but I defend my approach passionately. I really believe that scepticism is healthy, useful and powerful starting point.

So what use is being sceptical? Why should we bother?

Firstly, what is a sceptic? The Oxford English Dictionary describes a sceptic as a “person inclined to doubt accepted opinions”. My view is that we should continually doubt what is accepted. If in the past nobody had been brave enough to question the beliefs that the world was flat, that the Earth circled the Sun and that powered flight was impossible where would we be now?

However I don’t think that these are issues of the past and reserved for the great philosophers and scientists. I think every one of us today needs to be sceptical about so many things. There are so many issues we face, so many new threats that deserve critical thought and so many liars, cheats and fraudsters that want our attention, our faith and our money. The best protection we have against all of these is not the government, not new laws and not just hoping they’ll go away. Our best defence is our ability to make rational decisions based on critical thought.

Some examples? In the last few years we’ve seen a huge rise in the number of churches registered here in Botswana. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, some of them are doing good work to help people sort out their lives, giving them a moral code and acting charitably. The danger is those that are not quite what they seem and who’s pronouncements don’t stand up to rational examination. Take the so-called Church of Scientology. This is a group that refuses to state their real beliefs, claiming that they are secret and that threatens to sue for breach of copyright anyone who publishes their beliefs. It’s a group that claims to have solutions to all of life’s problems, including mental illness, warfare and hunger and that claims to be able to cure people of drug addiction with record-breaking success rates. It all sounds good but unfortunately none of this stands up to even a simple examination. Their solutions are nonsensical, the science they claim proves their claims is completely unfounded and their success rates have only ever been disproved. Every one of their claims can be shown to be false with a little rational thought. A few moments of scepticism shows them for what they are.

Then there’s The Family, a fringe so-called Christian group that advertise in the press and have a habit of giving out balloon animals in shopping centres. Just another well-meaning, if eccentric group? Well, aren’t they the group founded by David Berg who actively encouraged sex with children? This is the man who boasted of having sex with his granddaughter and suggested that laws against defilement were a “tool of the devil”. Before signing up for their particular brand of belief shouldn’t any sensible recruit would do some research, ask around, search the web or visit a library? Regardless of their charitable work would any right-minded Christian want to be associated with them?

At a far more benign level I do feel obliged to ask why it is that we believe that a visitor to our country managed to conjure up rain on demand when we all knew that rain was coming anyway. Why did he leave it until he must have known rain was coming? Why didn’t he come in the dry season and command the heavens to open? THAT would have been impressive. That might actually have challenged my scepticism.

It’s not just so called religions that should be considered carefully. Look at companies like Amways who operate what they politely call Multi Level Marketing schemes. The promises made are seductive but as soon as you apply a little thought to the way they operate you realise that the vast majority of people who sign up will lose money. Yes, the agents may generate some income but the average figures from the USA show that although the average Amways agent earns $700 each year from the scheme they have to spend $1,000 to achieve this. So it costs them $300 but they end up with a bathroom full of soap so I suppose they do OK. However surely if people gave it some serious thought before signing up they’d realise it simply isn’t going to work?

The bad news is that the list seems to be endless. There’s no end to the list of people and organisations that prey on gullibility. How often do we read about con artists who make money by selling property or cars that they either don’t own or simply don’t exist? Who in their right mind would part with cash having never actually seen the car or it’s blue book or having never seen the property or it’s documents? However it seems to happen again and again.

My point is that we are faced with challenges and threats that may seriously damage our finances, our mental health and our family relationships. Surely these decisions require us to exercise some critical thought? Some serious, critical thought?

So what exactly am I suggesting people do?

Well, all it takes before falling for a scam, a con-artist or a cult group is to engage our brains. Think carefully about what you are being told or sold and ask just how reasonable it is. Remember that there is always a rational explanation for events, even if we don’t yet know what it is. As they say, there really is no such thing as a free lunch. The guy selling you a solution to all your problems, a miracle cure or a business opportunity you can’t afford to lose is almost certainly a fraud.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Is “Best Practice” a new form of Colonialism?

Wherever you go in business these days you see references to “best practice”. You read it in proposals and reports from the big consulting companies, you see it on the web and you read it in those books at the airport that give you the solutions to all your organisation’s problems.

My question is simple. Does the very idea of “best practice” actually make any sense? In particular, does it make sense in Botswana?

When we talk about “practice” we are talking about the way in which something is done. The practices used in a Toyota factory aren’t the car itself but the way in which the car is produced. The practices may include technicalities like the way in which the radiator is fixed to the engine. At the other extreme they may include the way in which technicians who install radiators are recruited and how their annual leave is calculated.

Anyone in business has read about some of the companies that are mentioned in these best practice stories. We hear about Toyota and FedEx and organisations that have done away with inefficiency by allowing the staff to determine their own shift patterns or where the director’s salary is a multiple of the lowest paid employee or where the sales force are forced to memorise the company Mission Statement and recite it at the beginning of every day.

The books and articles all suggest, in various ways, that “if it worked for them it will work for you”. If we adopt the same working practices as Toyota then we will do as well as Toyota. If we let our staff set their own shift patterns they will all suddenly begin to cooperate, form strong teams, work harder and make us millionaires.

The big consulting companies sell us the same idea. The major consultancy companies in the world, and their numbers are dropping as they buy each other or go bankrupt through shady dealings, all sing from standard hymn sheets. These are set by their methodologies, dictated by highly paid consultants many thousands of kilometres away in New York, London or Mannheim.

I’m sorry, but I’m not convinced.

More and more people are beginning to see that standardised practices are not what we always need. I see absolutely nothing wrong with standard practices when they are technical and precise or when they lead to a recognised standard. Production standards and measurement are, I believe, what really matters in business. However, the way in which they are achieved, in other words the “practice”, surely doesn’t always need to be the same?

The management “guru”, Robert Sutton uses the ridiculous example of Herb Kelleher, the CEO of the very successful Southwest Airlines in the USA. Kelleher was famous for his massive consumption of Wild Turkey whiskey. As Sutton points out:

“Do you really believe that if your CEO starts drinking large amounts of Wild Turkey, your firm's performance will improve? It sounds silly, but many companies borrow practices just because Toyota, Wal-Mart, Apple Computer and especially General Electric use them.”[1]

I believe that Sutton and others are right. Just because one organisation adopts a set of practices and succeeds, it doesn’t always follow that if you do the same then you will also succeed. Just because Toyota profit from their new production practices it doesn’t follow that Volvo will as well.

I believe that the suggestion that we should adopt “best practices” from elsewhere in the world is just arrogant. Even at a trivial level, the use of the word “best” suggests to me that they can never be improved. Like the skater scoring 6 out of a maximum of 6, where is the room for improvement? Do we really think that there will never be a better skater, or a better practice?

“Best practices” are fine for where they were developed. They may contain nuggets of knowledge and expertise from which we can learn and profit. However, what Sutton and others (like me) propose is that they should be taken as menus from which you should select what you need, not Holy Commandments that must be blindly obeyed.

Instead, I believe that an organisation should take the more difficult, but actually more practical approach of defining standards and measuring performance against those standards. I think that every bank I enter, anywhere in the world, should serve me immediately. How they achieve that may vary from bank to bank and country to country. Frankly I don’t care how they do it so long as it works.

I think we should take the lead from a market that has already emerged: the Far East. Rather than adopt all the business methodologies they saw in Europe and North America they defined many of their own. They kept many of their traditional approaches and defined their own ways of doing business and despite the ups and downs of the market they remain a powerhouse of design, manufacturing and excellence. Which of us doesn’t own a car or a CD player or a TV from the Far East? It wasn’t just cheap labour that got them where they are; it was their approach. One that they defined for themselves.

I believe that, like them, we should adopt the very best standards but we should define our own ways of achieving them.

The title above makes reference to the “best practice” approach being a new form of colonialism. I’m probably putting this too strongly. Perhaps, but isn’t the essence of colonialism the view that the conquering power has the right to determine how the conquered are governed? Isn’t that what the “best practice” message suggests?


[1] Robert Sutton, The Best-Practices Trap, see http://www.cioinsight.com/article2/0,1397,1532120,00.asp

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Scientology - Letter to Mmegi 11/09/2005

Mesh Moeti
The Editor
Mmegi

11th September 2005

Dear Mr Moeti

Yet again I was delighted to read a letter from Paul Sondergaard in Mmegi on 1st September in response to my letters regarding the deeply strange so-called Church of Scientology.

One of the observations people have made to me is that in all their responses the PR people from the Scientologists never actually deny any of the things I report about them. They don’t deny that at a certain point in a person’s passage through Scientology they are taught that their founder discovered that our brains are haunted by the ghosts of dead aliens, murdered with H-bombs in Hawaii 75 million years ago by Xemu, Head of the Galactic Empire.

They don’t deny the research findings I reported that show that their drug treatment program Narconon has a success rate lower than not doing anything at all. They don’t deny the various quotes I’ve given from their founder, the renowned drug abuser, liar, and convicted criminal L Ron Hubbard. I have copies of the original court documents to prove it – they know it and that’s why they don’t deny it. They don’t deny these things because they are all true!

To his credit Mr Sondergaard does concede that “in the 60s, some actions were taken that Church policy was against. Certain people were punished by law for those illegal actions”. Actually it was in the 80s this happened and it was Hubbard’s wife and 10 other senior Scientologists that went to prison for burgling and phone-tapping over 100 US private and government agencies who were investigating the Scientologists. Vicki Aznaran, who was a key leader within the Scientologists said, after leaving them in 1987, "This is a criminal organization, day in and day out”.

Instead they make extremely vague suggestions that I am “spreading false information”, that I’m libelling them and Hubbard (which I’m not sure is legally possible as he’s stone cold dead) and that I have some grudge against the Scientologists. Will you PLEASE tell me and everyone else what it is that’s false in what I’ve written? Where is the libel? Where is my grudge?

My biggest complaint though is the issue of secret scriptures. In his letter Mr Sondergaard says “Yes, we have confidential scriptures” and later “Same with Christianity, Islam, the Jewish faith, Shinto, and so on.”

No they don’t. They don’t. They simply do NOT have confidential scriptures. Yes, as he says they have esoteric scriptures, yes they have arcane literature, yes they have fringe groups with slightly off-the-wall teachings, but real religions don’t have secret scriptures. Real religions don’t hide their core beliefs. Real religions don’t make their flock pay vast sums of money to read these scriptures. Real religions don’t threaten to sue people for breach of copyright when they disclose them to the public. Real religions don’t say that those who disclose the contents of these scriptures, having read them in court documents, have lied, libelled them and are spreading false information.

Finally, he makes me a very generous offer. He suggests that I visit their Church in Johannesburg and see for myself what they do.

Paul, what makes you think I haven’t already been?

With best regards

Richard Harriman

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Technology is not the answer

In the month we hosted the WITFOR conference and had visitors from around the world discussing how to use Information and Communications Technology to help solve the world’s problems it may seem strange to write an article suggesting that technology is not the answer.

However I believe it’s true. Technology itself doesn’t solve problems. Technology has the capacity to mask what the real problems are. Technology can just as easily compound problems as well as help solve them.

So you want me to justify what I’m saying? Let me give a few examples.

Recently I was at a conference when we were told about a new invention that, it was suggested, will revolutionise health care in hospitals. This is a digital pen that will automatically remember whatever a nurse writes on a patient’s notes. When the digital pen is later “docked” at the nurse’s desk whatever has been written will be transferred electronically to the patient’s central medical file. So far so good, but what came next wasn’t good. Apparently the benefit from this is that the doctors won’t then have to waste so much time going to see the patient for themselves and can review the case from the comfort of their desk.

Doctors spending even more time at their desks? Doctors not having to go and see patients for themselves? Seeing even less of the doctor next time I’m ill in a hospital bed? No thanks!

A few years ago the IT industry in the US and Europe was obsessed with the opportunities that IT made available to shoppers. From what they said it seemed that soon we’d all be buying books, groceries and shares on the Internet. Well, what actually happened? A lot of people lost a huge amount of money having invested in these so-called “dot-com” schemes. Why? Because there wasn’t a need for it.

Yes, people are still buying books from Amazon, myself included. However, I do that only when the book I want is difficult to find. I, and millions of others, would MUCH rather go to a decent book shop to browse and chose what I want to read. My mother, who lives in the UK and who has access to the Internet at home, absolutely hates going shopping. Does she buy her groceries using her PC? No, despite hating the experience she would rather go shopping herself and make choices in a natural setting, not stuck in a small room with a glowing screen.

My particular hate is entirely automated switchboards. You know the type. You call in and it says “Press 1 for Customer Service, press 2 for Accounts…..”. How many actually have an option which says “press 9 to speak to a human being”? You can imagine what the salesman said to the CEO a few months beforehand. Something about firing the switchboard operator, saving loads of money and controlling access by customers to information.

Well, there are times when I call and I want to do several things at once. There are times when I call to complain and all I get is that irritating recorded voice that simply will not let me get through to a human being I can complain to. The result? I get even more irritated than when I began the call.

All they’ve managed to do is erect a barrier between me and them.

Before you think I’m some sort of anti-technology fanatic, let me make my position clear. I love technology! Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m surrounded by gadgets. I consider my Apple iPod to be one of my children! I am no enemy to technology, just so long as it’s there for a reason. The iPod allows you to go shopping or wander round the house or the airport with a vast archive of portable, high-quality music. The critical thing is that it actually addresses a real need. Well, that’s what I tell my wife anyway.

I think that all technology should be seen as being like the iPod, particularly in the business world. The latest technology is NEVER the answer to the problems your business faces. What matters most to your business is how well you treat your customers. What matters are the processes that operate in your company. What matters is not how new your computer is, it’s how well you use it.

My advice to businesses regarding technology? Don’t spend a single thebe on technology until you have identified a genuine need for it. So many times companies and individuals are convinced by smart salespeople that an item of technology is the solution to a problem that has yet to be defined. And I’m not just talking about equipment. I mean the hugely expensive business systems that sales teams will say will revolutionise the way you operate.

Oh no they won’t, not unless you first take a hard look at the way you do business. If when you’ve done that you find that a piece of technology will help then that’s great.

Just make sure you really need it!

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Why do I oppose the Scientologists? 31/8/2005

As readers may have seen over the last few weeks I’ve been critical of the so-called Church of Scientology who recently arrived in Botswana to spread their rather strange teachings.

Since I first started writing about them many friends, colleagues and acquaintances have asked me what it is about the Scientologists that attracted my attention. What is it about them that I actually object to?

Several people even asked if maybe I once was a Scientologist who now has some grudge against them. For the record let me state that I have never been a Scientologist, am not now a Scientologist and have no plans to become a Scientologist!

To be perfectly honest when all this started I wasn’t entirely sure why I was so opposed to them. Yes, I knew something about their background, some of the things they’ve got up to elsewhere in the world, some of their criminal convictions and also some of their “confidential scriptures”. I knew about their deeply bizarre but fascinating founder, L Ron Hubbard. I knew about how he was a science fiction writer turned religious guru, a consistent liar about his war record and his academic achievements and how he claimed to be a world-leading scientist when in fact he had no scientific achievements to his name.

But then I thought to myself that many religions have histories they’re not proud of or sects they prefer not to think about. Look at certain elements of extremist Islam these days, look at some of the ultra right-wing, white supremacist, so-called Christians lunatics you get in remote parts of the USA, look at Hindu fanatics burning mosques. None of them are perfect. However, even those who have what I consider strange beliefs or eccentric founders nevertheless do good work, act in a neighbourly manner and are charitable.

So what’s different about the Scientologists? Why do I oppose them?

Well firstly I object to groups that make completely nonsensical claims. As I’ve written several times already one of their core beliefs is only made available to those who have reached what they call “Operating Thetan Level 3”. This is that 75 million years ago Xemu, the Emperor of the Galactic Federation, decided to cure his over-population problems by murdering excess aliens by bringing them to Earth and killing them with hydrogen bombs. The souls of these people were then brainwashed with a "three-D, super colossal motion picture" for 36 days. These souls managed to escape and now haunt our minds and cause all our mental health problems. At the same time apparently this Xemu guy implanted both Christianity and Islam in our collective memory. This is only the beginning, there’s a whole lot more of this material available on the Internet (which, despite their comments really CAN be a source of good material if you know where to look and who to trust).

I try my best to be tolerant of other people’s beliefs but this is just plain silly isn’t it?

I object to groups and people who lie and who spread lies, even if they do it innocently. I suspect that many of the Scientology Volunteer Ministers who have come to Botswana are decent but deluded people. However I particularly object to people who think they can come to Botswana, my wonderful adopted home, and think they can get away with deceit because they see us as a developing and unsophisticated country. Luckily I think they may have picked the wrong country this time!

I object to them because they play on our weaknesses. They exploit our worries and our concerns and suggest that they have instant and easy solutions. They claim, for instance, to be helping to solve the whole passion killings problem. They claim to help reduce crime, drug addiction and marital problems. They claim that they can help us so long as we book ourselves on their courses which of course cost more and more the further you progress.

I’m not a particularly religious person but I have profound respect for those devout followers of faiths that are generous, charitable and neighbourly. I respect churches that get out there and do good work, feed and clothe orphans, communicate a message of love and tolerance and who don’t hide their beliefs but proclaim them with joy and with pride. And above all who do it for nothing and without publicising it!

This is not what I see from the Scientologists. That’s why I oppose them.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Scientology - Letter to Mmegi 24/08/2005

Mesh Moeti
The Editor
Mmegi

24th August 2005

Dear Mr Moeti

I was greatly amused to see the letter from Paul Sondergaard from the Scientologists in South Africa in response to my article published on the 5th August 2005.

Mr Sondergaard makes a number of allegations in his letter that I think I should address. He suggests that because I have stated my distrust of the Scientologists in the past that I must have some vested interest. Well, if distrusting an organisation whose senior staff went to jail for burgling and bugged the US agencies investigating them is having a vested interest then, yes I’m guilty. If opposing an organisation that was founded by a convicted felon, a liar and a drug abuser is having a vested interest then, yes I’m guilty. If distrusting an organisation that, according to it’s own Public Affairs Director, has scriptures that “are confidential” then, yes I’m guilty.

I plead guilty to thinking that the people deserve to know the truth about Scientology, not the sanitised nonsense that they spread about wanting to end insanity, criminality, war and cruelty to small furry animals. OK, I made up that last bit but I find it very hard to treat them seriously.

He also suggests, rather rashly, that I have “spread libellous information” about them and their founder, that I have threatened them, that I am “sprouting false information” and that I lied in the article. Mr Sondegaard, please either tell me what it was that I wrote that was a lie or sue me. Your choice.

Above all, why does he refuse to deal with the issue of the aliens. In the article I wrote that once Scientologists reach a level of study called “Operating Thetan Level 3” they are finally told one of the core discoveries of the founder of Scientology, L Ron Hubbard. This is that 75 million years ago Xemu, the head of the Galactic Federation, decided to cure his over-population problems by murdering excess aliens by bringing them to Earth and killing them with hydrogen bombs. The souls of these people now haunt us all and cause us all our mental health problems.

If this nonsense is NOT part of your belief system Mr Sondegaard then please deny it. Of course if you want to deny it perhaps you can explain the copy of the original handwritten note by your founder outlining the alien business which can be seen at the following website (yes, I confess that I surf the web): http://www.xenu.net/archive/OTIII-scholar. Before you suggest that it’s all lies or one of the confidential scriptures then perhaps the following quote from Warren McShane, the president of the Religious Technology Centre (part of the Scientology group) will help. He said, under oath in court in Colorado, that “the explosions, the Galactic confederation 75 million years ago, and a gentleman by the name Xemu ….. are not trade secrets.”

Let me say once again that I have no vested interest in opposing the Scientologists. I’m not selling a product that competes with theirs. I support religious freedom. I believe in the right of the Scientologists to exist in Botswana.

However I think they should be honest with us. I believe they should be completely and not partially honest about what they are and what they do. I believe they shouldn’t themselves threaten those of us who try to spread the truth about them. In my original article I ended with a quote from L Ron Hubbard. When discussing opponents of Scientology he said that they “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.”

Within 2 weeks of publishing my article I can feel this starting to happen. However Mr Sondegaard, please rest assured that I’m not going to stop spreading the truth about Scientology.

With best regards

Richard Harriman

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Scientology - letter to Botswana Guardian 21/08/2005

I’m very grateful for the opportunity to respond to the article written in the Guardian last week by Shaleen Wohrnitz, the Director of Public Affairs for the Scientologists in South Africa. Her article was written in response to my letter printed by the Guardian the previous week. In my letter I called into question many of the claims made by the Scientologists and revealed a few truths about them that they clearly don’t want people to know.

Ms Wohrnitz suggests a number of things about me personally. She suggests that I am “cynical about life and betterment”, have a “jaded view of the world” and she calls into question my integrity. I refuse to fall into the trap of personal mudslinging but I will say this. Why doesn’t she actually respond to the suggestions I make rather than trying, rather feebly, to insult me personally?

Ms Wohrnitz doesn’t say that the quotes I gave from L Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, are untrue. She suggests that they are taken out of context. I ask what possible acceptable context can there be for the statement that opponents of Scientology may “be tricked, sued, lied to or destroyed”? She doesn’t deny the quotes because they are true!

She doesn’t deny that Hubbard, a former science fiction writer, taught his followers that 75 million years ago Xemu, the head of the Galactic Federation, decided to cure his over-population problems by murdering excess aliens by bringing them to Earth and killing them with hydrogen bombs and that the souls of these people now haunt us all and cause us all our mental health problems. She doesn’t deny that he taught this nonsense because it’s true that he taught it!

She doesn’t deny that Hubbard had a history of mental illness, drug abuse and lying about his war record and his apparent scientific achievements. She can’t deny this because it’s true!

However Ms Wohrnitz does make some claims about Narconon, the Scientology program that supposedly deals with drug addiction. She claims that “Narconon has a documented success rate of at least 80 percent”. This is a claim repeatedly made by Narconon’s supporters but that unfortunately isn’t backed up by the evidence. Your readers may not be surprised to learn that the Scientologists are reluctant to allow real research into the success of Narconon and almost all of the research that has been undertaken has been done by the Scientologists themselves. However, even the data they come up with themselves doesn’t support their claims.

In Sweden in 1981 they conducted a study that they claim showed 76.8% of 61 drug abusers they treated were drug-free four years later. However if you examine the report you find that only 14 of the 61 actually completed the Narconon program. Of those 14 only 4 said they hadn’t used drugs since. That’s a real success rate of just under 7%. Not quite the same is it?

All the other studies available seem to show a similar distortion of the facts.

Ms Wohrnitz and the Scientologists are very good at making completely unsupported claims. Like the success of Narconon, like the 30 leading religious scholars who say Scientology is a religion, like their claim that they are preventing passion killings, it’s all unproven and without any proof. Ms Wohrnitz, give us some real evidence and then we’ll listen to you.

My last comment about Ms Wohrnitz’s article is regarding something she says about their teachings and how they’ve been stolen and published on the Internet. Firstly, almost everything available about the Scientologists on the Internet is actually taken from court documents and is therefore in the public domain. Better still though is the staggering comment she makes, that the “scriptures of Scientology are vast, and some are confidential”.

Confidential? How can the scriptures of a religion be confidential? Am I the only one that thinks this is absurd? I ask all you Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Rastafarians and whatever else you might be to do something for me. Next time you see your priest just ask if there are any bits of your holy books that are confidential. If he or she looks confused or just laughs at you then I think you’ll understand why I feel the way I do about this strange bunch. Real religions don’t have secret scriptures!

Yes, I’m cynical about Scientology. Yes, I’m sceptical about Scientology. Wouldn’t you be about a so-called religion founded by a man who said he’d discovered that tomatoes can feel pain?

If anyone wants to contact me for more information about the Scientologists then my time is yours. You can contact me by post at P Box 403026, Gaborone or you can email me at harrimanr@yahoo.co.uk

Monday, August 01, 2005

Scientology - Mmegi article 01/08/2005

Everyone in Gaborone has by now either seen or heard of the big yellow tent at the GSS Sports Grounds. Yes, the Scientologists are here in Botswana. You may also have read the various articles in the press regarding this group. Some of the articles have been written by the Scientologists themselves, others by outsiders (which have not been nearly so positive about them!).

I was invited to debate the subject with the Scientologists themselves recently on GabzFM. I was there in my role as a sceptic who has no personal complaint with them but who has heard a little about them elsewhere. The experience was fascinating!

I was keen to learn what it is that the Church of Scientology actually believes and teaches. At great length these visitors from South Africa explained some of the supposedly good works they undertake around the world but were curiously evasive about their core beliefs. They were keen to make claims about what they DO but very unwilling to explain their creed.

So what exactly is it that Scientologists believe? Ask a Christian, a Muslim, a Hindu or indeed followers of any normal religion what they believe and they will tell you honestly and with pride. Ask a Scientologist and they simply won’t tell you. They make claims about what they DO, but not what they believe. Why are they so shy about their beliefs?

The answer is simple. What they believe is ridiculous. The secret is that once Scientologists reach a level of study called “Operating Thetan Level 3” they are finally told one of the core discoveries of the founder of Scientology, L Ron Hubbard. This is that 75 million years ago Xemu, the head of the Galactic Federation, decided to cure his over-population problems by murdering excess aliens by bringing them to Earth and killing them with hydrogen bombs. The souls of these people now haunt us all and cause us all our mental health problems.

Now can you see why they are so reserved about their beliefs. Of course they refuse to give a Yes or No answer when you ask them about this. Wouldn’t you be embarrassed explaining this nonsense?

L Ron Hubbard was, coincidentally, a science fiction writer before starting his own religion as well as a convicted felon with a history of substance abuse and who consistently lied about his academic record.

The Church seems occasionally to have a curious grasp on truth. For instance they repeatedly refer to a famous article in Time Magazine in 1991. This was the first really influential expose of about the Church and some of their activities. Needless to say the Scientologists were appalled at their secrets being exposed and sued Time for libel and claim that a retraction was published. This is widely repeated by the Church to anyone who will listen. However they seem to forget to tell the complete story. When I contacted Time Magazine in New York to ask their opinion of this suggestion I was told that “TIME won the lawsuit brought against it by the Church of Scientology. The court granted our summary judgment motion, and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision. We did not retract the story or any part of the story.”

That’s not quite what the Scientologists would lead us to believe is it?

Curiously the Scientologists neglect to refer to this loss. Just as they suggest that the Cult Awareness Network (CAN) who campaigned against the Scientologists were somehow discredited because they later went bankrupt. If they are suggesting that we shouldn’t trust a bankrupt I think that they should also point out that the founder of Scientology, L Ron Hubbard was, according to his FBI record, also a bankrupt.

To be fair to the Scientologists they do undertake a lot of community outreach work that attempts to address a number of key social issues such as crime and drug abuse. However these schemes (Criminon and Narconon) have both been criticised as being no more that recruiting mechanisms for the Church. Also, the Church make some rather strange claims about these schemes when the only evidence from external researchers shows that these schemes simply don’t work.

In 1989 Everett R. Rhoades, M.D., the US Assistant Surgeon General said of Narconon that it “cannot be considered medically sound”. In 1991 the Board of Mental Health of the State of Oklahoma declared that Narconon “is not medically safe”.

Despite this the Scientologists continue to suggest that their schemes are incredibly successful.

The list of claims made by the Church doesn’t end there. Hubbard himself stated that their techniques can cure leukaemia, arthritis and radiation burns. In 1975 he said that “Scientology is used to increase spiritual freedom, intelligence, ability and to produce immortality”.

They make various claims about their membership. The most recent claim was that 8 million people worldwide are members of the Church. However their definition of “member” includes anyone who has attended a course, even if just once. The bad news is that if in the past you’ve attended a Scientology course and even if you left halfway through because you thought they were talking nonsense, well, sorry but you’re a Scientologist. You’re one of the 8 million!

Hubbard and his successors (he died in 1986) are notoriously sensitive to criticism. They have resorted to a number of techniques to dispose of and distract their opponents. Critics have been slandered and libelled. In the early 1980’s Hubbard’s wife and a number of top Scientologists went to jail in the USA for burgling and bugging over 100 private and governmental agencies and who dared to oppose them.

Interestingly the most common response from the Church when criticised is to sue their critics not for libel but for breach of copyright. They see their teachings as commercial secrets which, in a sense, they are. To get to high levels in the Church you must undergo endless courses which put you in touch with yourself (and the aliens no doubt). All of this costs money and the amounts apparently increase astronomically the further you go. At the big yellow tent in Gaborone you can buy an initial booklet for P10. To get to the Tom Cruise stage (the Scientologists love celebrity endorsements) some people suggest that you need to spend sums approaching P4 million.

My final point is a personal one. Unlike the suggestion made to me on the radio show that the critics of Scientology have some sort of vested interest in opposing them I have no such interest. I’m not selling products in opposition to them. I’m not evangelising for an alternative set of beliefs.

If you want to believe in Scientology then good luck to you. But at least be open with us about what you believe. Allow critics to criticise. And don’t think you can come to Botswana and solve all our problems with a distinctly dubious set of beliefs and techniques. We’re not that na├»ve.

One last quote from Hubbard. In an internal policy letter written on 18th October 1967 he instructed his followers to deal with opponents as follows:

“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.”

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Scientology - Letter to Botswana Guardian 31/07/2005

Mike Mothibi
The Editor
The Botswana Guardian
P/Bag 00153

Gaborone
Botswana

31st July 2005

Dear Mr Mothibi

I am surprised at your inclusion of a piece on the Scientologists (Botswana Guardian 29th July 2005, page 8) that did not cover both sides of the argument about this rather strange organisation.

In particular I am surprised that you did not at least report some of facts and evidence that disagree profoundly with the side presented by Ms Wohrnitz from the Church of Scientology.

When discussing their drug treatment programme Narconon which she claims has an outstanding record in treating drug addicts Ms Wohrnitz neglects to mention that it is under investigation in Russia and in the Ukraine. Similarly she seems to have forgotten that in February of this year the California State Superintendent Jack O'Connell urged all schools to drop the Narconon program after research concluded that it offers inaccurate and unscientific information and is seen by most as just a recruitment wing of the Church.

Your readers may not know that the treatment at the core of the Narconon program is enforced sweating, based on the very strange theory that this can rid the body of the drugs which appear as coloured sweat!

In 1989 Everett R. Rhoades, M.D., the US Assistant Surgeon General said of Narconon that it “cannot be considered medically sound”. In 1991 the Board of Mental Health of the State of Oklahoma declared that Narconon “is not medically safe”.

The claims made by Scientologists about Narconon are fairly typical of the many claims they make. L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology claimed that his religion could cure leukaemia and arthritis. In the Dianetics & Scientology Technical Dictionary copyrighted in 1975 and reprinted 1987 he stated that “Scientology is used to increase spiritual freedom, intelligence, ability and to produce immortality.”

Then there is the suggestion made by Scientologists that they constitute a religion because “it brings man to total freedom and truth”. This is despite Hubbard once stating (in Creation Of Human Ability, 1954, p. 251) that “Scientology... is not a religion.”

What exactly is it that Scientologists believe? Ask a Christian, a Muslim, a Hindu or indeed followers of any religion what they believe and they will tell you honestly and with pride. Ask a Scientologist and they simply won’t tell you. They make claims about what they DO, but not what they believe. Why are they so shy about their beliefs?

The answer is simple. What they believe is ridiculous. Once Scientologists reach a level of study called “Operating Thetan level 3” they are finally told one of the core beliefs of the Church. This is that 75 million years ago Xemu, the head of the Galactic Federation, decided to cure his over-population problems by murdering excess aliens by bringing them to Earth and killing them with hydrogen bombs. The souls of these people now haunt us all and cause us all our mental health problems.

When you confront Scientologists about this nonsense they become curiously evasive. In my experience they refuse to give a Yes or No answer when you ask them about this. Some of them have the good grace to look embarrassed though!

Ms Wohrnitz ended her article with a quote from Hubbard who, it might not surprise your readers to learn, was a science fiction author before founding his religion. He also had a history of mental health problems as well as drug use and he also had a habit of making rather extravagant claims about his war record, his academic history and his supposed scientific discoveries.

There are so many quotations from Hubbard but the one that struck me most of all is from a lecture he gave in June 1952, reprinted in Volume 1 of the Technical Volumes of Dianetics & Scientology on page 418:

“The only way you can control anybody is to lie to them.”

Finally your readers should be warned about their dealing with the Scientologists. When discussing critics of Scientology in 1967 Hubbard said that they may “be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.”

With best regards

Richard Harriman