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.”