Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Does Scientology Hate The Internet?
Jumping all the way from Junior High to my Senior Year at Michigan State University! There is a lot of stuff in-between but I decided to break up the "creative" writing with a research paper assignment from my Religion 210 class circa December 7, 2000. If memory serves this was a Religion & Film or Religion & The Media class and consisted of watching a lot of various films. One in particular that stands in my memory was one depicting the Mahabharata but I can't recall the name of the movie. It may even have been called The Mahabharata and, if Google serves me well, it was released in 1989.
That's neither here nor there for this paper though. I believe our assignment was to write about the depiction of a religion via some form of media/technology. For some reason, at that moment, I was intrigued by Scientology; I believe it was due to a story I read about their stance on medical treatment and what happened to several followers as a result. It led me down a rabbit hole of information that, when this assignment was presented, proved to be ideal for the situation.
So here it is, from 12/7/00 according to the date on my title page (scares me I still remember my student ID number after 14 years), straight from REL210:
DOES SCIENTOLOGY HATE THE INTERNET?
The Internet has, in some circles, long been considered the last bastion of truly, one hundred percent, free speech due to the lack of restrictions foisted upon it from government sources, laws, and the like. Thus far the world wide web has remained fairly open to the public as a forum to express every point of view imaginable on roughly any issue a person could think of trying to find. In a sense, computers and the Internet access provided by them, could be viewed as an extension of the first amendment laws that allow citizens the freedom of speech, and also the freedom of religious practice. In an interesting form of irony, those two rights provided by the first amendment have come into conflict in the eyes of the Church of Scientology as they apparently have developed problems with the Internet community and the free speech provided by this form of media. Issues of copyright infringement have become a large issue between this quasi-religious community and the denizens of the Internet, spawning problems that have shut down websites, resulting in lawsuits and court battles, and creating much bad blood between the Scientology community and that of the Internet. The problems have persisted since the early 1990's, if not earlier, and still continue to this day as the Internet community attempts to uncover the "truth" about Scientology, or at least one perception of it.
Of course to understand exactly how this all came about, it is somewhat necessary to understand where Scientology came from, especially considering that the origin story is heavily in contention in this medium. Questions abound as to the legitimacy of the history of the founder, Lafayette Ron Hubbard, so the back story provided by the Church itself has become just as much an issue as the practices of the Scientologists. According to Church history and the biography that Scientology has created for Hubbard, he had interaction with an Indian shaman and became his blood brother, at age 12 was studying under Cmdr. Joseph C. Thompson (1st U.S. Military officer to study with Freud), and was a world traveler at a very young age. Eventually he ended up in George Washington University where he studied match, engineering, and nuclear physics but he never graduated. Instead he became writer, largely in the realm of science fiction. Hubbard began his spiritual journey in 1945, after he was blinded and crippled during World War II, by studying psychoanalytic theory and Eastern Philosophy and eventually developing his own theories of the human mind, theories that became the basis for Scientology. He then applied these theories to himself and healed his own body from the war wounds (Zellner/Petrowsky, p143).
At some point Hubbard hooked up with John Campbell Jr., the editor of a popular magazine, and used these same theories to heal Campbell's chronic sinusitis. Campbell published the first article on "Dianetics" as Hubbard called it and eventually the first book as well, a work called Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. The book, and its teachings, gathered a decent size following which also made Hubbard a highly demanded lecturer. In 1950, Hubbard founded the Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation to provide the public with his therapy and continued to expand these beliefs into a form of theology. Through his explorations, Hubbard discovered he had been Buddha in a previous life, as well as the founder of Rhodesia, but eventually disappeared to sea, sailing for years around the world. In 1980 when he returned, Hubbard went into seclusion until he died in 1986 at which point Church officials announced that "Hubbard's body had become an impediment to his work. He had therefore 'dropped his body' and was continuing his research on another planet." (Zellner/Petrowsky, p144).
That may be a highly compressed version of how the Church came about and the origins of L. Ron Hubbard, but it gives the general idea of how Hubbard has been setup as a very messianic figure through his Church's documents, and also makes it understandable as to why the anti-Scientology Internet community has problems with this origin (among numerous other facets of that community). The problems generally stem from the perception that Scientology has been founded on a history of lies and deceit, and that (largely from the information provided by ex-members) it is more akin to a cult than an organized religion. The movement online has become more of a warning system, a counterpoint to the official story provided by the Church of Scientology (CoS), to keep the public informed of the full picture, just as with any other organization.
From the Internet side of the issue, the lies begin right from the beginning with the foundation the CoS is built on, the life of L. Ron Hubbard. In contention to Hubbard's claims about his military service, official documentation from the Navy has surfaced that provides specific detail about what Hubbard did during his service to the country. What comes to light is a record of largely U.S. stationed service in California and Washington, with the only off-shore duty being performed in Australia (www.xmission.com); these facts lend a shadow of doubt to the claims of war wounds and fighting during the second World War. Despite the lack of medical evidence to back it up, Hubbard himself has claimed in his personal writings that:
"Blinded with injured optic nerves, and lame with physical injuries to hip and back, and the end of World War II, I faced an almost non-existent future. My service record states: 'This officers has no neurotic or psychotic tendencies of any kind whatsoever' but it also states 'permanently disabled physically.' (www.xmission.com)"
Even when a film presented in Britain brought this knowledge to the public, the CoS argued that they were deliberately skewing the truth and that there were indeed medical records to back up the claims Hubbard had made regarding his health. This is but one example of the problems spawning simply from the stories surrounding the CoS's founder, not to mention the problems created by the beliefs of the CoS and the manner in which Scientologists go about pushing them (as perceived by the Internet community). The apparent discrepancies between official reports and that CoS's reports have made up the groundwork for the anti-Scientology community growing on the Internet, but the actual practices of the groups have created the majority of the fervor, and in turn, brought about the greatest backlash from the Scientology community itself.
Reports of brainwashing, defamation, embezzlement, illegal searches, even conspiracy to commit murder have filtered throughout the Internet with many of these reports having the backing of former members and/or the legal system. For the outside community, affidavits from ex-Scientologists have confirmed what many have always believed, that the CoS is a giant scam littered with fanatics who will go to any length to support their "religion". There are dozens of cases pending throughout the world against the CoS and its representatives, but one of the most disturbing in the United States is the case of Lisa McPherson. Here, a sick woman was removed from the hospital by here fellow Scientologists (due to their belief that illness can be cured almost "mind over matter" (Hubbard, p35)) but eventually returned to the hospital, dead, partially due to severe dehydration, malnutrition, and with some of the most horrible bed sores, as if she had been kept in bed for days on end while in the care of her fellow believers. The case has been dropped by the higher courts in Florida but is currently pending in the form of a civil suit (www.scientology-lies.com).
Not all cases against Scientology stem from something this extreme though, many come from charges that arise against any organization viewed largely as a cult to the outside world. Cases of brainwashing, extortion, and mental distress seem to be a common theme among the pending cases, and the Internet sites providing these tidbits of information provide some of affidavits of the people involved, or at least documentation to verity that these are legitimate lawsuits, as with the cases of Denny Erlich and Arnie Lerma (www2.thecia.net). Those two men were ex-Scientologists who were victims of the "raids" by CoS where any documentation, computer files, and actual computers were taken from them by Scientologists. Anything that contained information about the Church and its practices was taken, largely because it contained pieces of the CoS's "secret scriptures", scriptures that the CoS has gone so far as to sue people for printing in newspapers and posting on the Internet. The general tone set by the Scientologist community, at least as far as the media is concerned, is that anything not coming from the CoS is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. This notion is made even cleared to the media world when those same "secret scriptures" are looked at closely for they set up much of the policy the CoS members are to take when it comes to the media, dissenters, and the like. This excerpt, coming from the Hubbard Communications Office Policy Letter of 18 October 1967, sets up one of these policies very clearly:
"ENEMY SP Order.
May be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist
without any disciple of the Scientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to
or destroyed." (www.xenu.com)
This is just one prescribed way to deal with the supposed enemies of Scientology, especially those in the various forms of the media, as the opinions expressed there are more likely to reach a larger audience and thus influence more people into an anti-Church position. There are a dozen different pointers on how to deal with the possible ways the CoS could be assaulted, ranging from simple disinformation to lawsuits against "suppressives" to blatant slander against those who seek to oppose the Church. This has left the media in a difficult position as some of these lawsuits have been successful, sometimes ground on copyright infringement laws as with the Washington Post suit (www.scientology-lies.com), yet lets the Church walk away fairly clean, able to continue spread their message.
The ware against the Internet websites has spread drastically and brought out a number of lawsuits against the designers, administrators, and even against the Internet Service Providers (IPOs) themselves. Two of the biggest issues arose against the "alt.religion.scientology" site which is essentially a newsboard for people to express their views on the topic of Scientology, and against FACTnet which was a similar site set up by two ex-Scientology members. In the first case, a lawyer for the CoS demanded that "new:alt.religion.scientology" be shut down because its name infringed on copyrights as did much of the information being presented on the website (ww2.cia.net).
That case was virtually ignored by the administrators of said site, but such was not the case when it came to the FACTnet.com situation. With FACTnet, Scientology officials (accompanied by Federal Marshals) were allowed to raid the homes of the ex-members and take the computers, files, and paperwork (included were parts of the "secret scriptures") that contained all the data, in essence, they forced the site to be closed. Eventually this ended up in court where they Scientologists were ordered to return all of the material they had acquired, save for the "secret scripture" material, which the CoS members were allowed to keep (ww2.cia.net). The general message that Scientology seems to give dissenting portions of the media, especially those on the Internet, is that if you disagree, you are a victim waiting to happen. And given the guidelines setup by the Church, it is acceptable to go to any means to stop these "unacceptable" opinions.
While the available information on the anti-Scientology side of the issue is prevalent enough to fill up an entire paper, it is necessary to look at this from both sides of the issue, despite how limited the CoS's perspective seems to be on the issue. The point of view of the Church, as directly quoted from the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section on their official website goes like this:
"There are certain characteristics and mental attitudes that cause a percentage of the population to oppose violently any betterment activity or group. This small percentage of the society (roughly 2 percent) cannot tolerate that Scientology is successful at improving conditions around the world. This same 2 percent is opposed to any effective self-betterment activity. The reason they so rabidly oppose Scientology is because it is doing more to help society than any other group. Those who are upset by seeing man get better are small in number compared to the millions who have embraced Scientology and its efforts to create a sane civilization and more freedom for the individual." (http://faq.scientology.com)
The view, and it does seem to repeat throughout the FAQ section, is that those who oppose the views of Scientology are simple people who do not want the health and well being of others to improve. It becomes very difficult to explore the Scientology perspective beyond this because that notion is what it always comes back to through the FAQ and any discussion about the non-Scientology community throughout the website. Their primary website (one of the few pro-Scientology sites it seems) is just what one would expect from the official website of a company, movie, or product of any kind. It serves to deliver the message, reinforces that message by answering questions about the message, and provides numerous forms of reinforcement for said message. It is no different from the anti-Scientology websites in that intent, but is vastly different in providing a lack of perspective or even willingness to examine an outside point of view (http://scientology.org). Scientology, through their website, sells itself as all things to all people, and as a form of hope for those in need of it. This is something that is no different than any other religion and it is the draw for many people as it presents ideas and notions that are slightly different from the traditions of Christianity, Buddhism, or Islam.
A major problem comes in with the fact that the primary site extolling the virtues of Scientology is the one run by the Church of Scientology, bringing the situation right back to the questioning setup at the beginning of this paper. Whereas the anti-Scientology sites set up specific examples and documentation to back up their claims, the official Scientology site makes numerous claims for everything from getting Freedom of Information acts passed in other countries to teaching Black children how to read in Africa, but provides not a drop of proof to support those claims. Everything becomes a matter of faith and trust in the CoS but in the face of the mounting information disproving the claims of the CoS, it makes it increasingly difficult for an outside observer to accept the Scientology claims at face value.
It continually comes back though, to the freedom of expression/speech/religion that is such a strong thread throughout the entire conflict between the opposing sides here. Scientology even claims to support the Internet wholeheartedly, "The Internet offers a wealth of readily accessible knowledge but as with any new frontier, the acts of a lawless few can jeopardize the promise of progress and compromise the rights and freedoms of the responsible, law-abiding majority. The Internet can be abused as easily as it can by employed for good." (http://faq.scientology.org) and goes on to claim responsibility for shutting down many abusers of this freedom (porn distributors, fraud, etc.). Then on the other side of the coin, you have the people that have been "victims" of Scientology and their version of Internet support, the people mentioned earlier on who were sued or raided for expressing their opinions. The situation here becomes a tenuous line due to the drastically different stories presented by both sides, one claiming to have done good for humanity by getting rid of the irresponsible Internet users while those so-called irresponsible ones feel they've been violated illegally for expressing their differing opinions.
As with all situations, it comes down to a matter of personal choice and filtering through the endless bytes of information to get at your own truth, but it would seem safe to say that in the medium of the Internet and cyberspace, Scientology does not rule, rather it seems to fall victim to a case of hypocrisy, of accusing people for perpetrating the same acts as the Scientology community.
Hubbard, Ron L. The Scientology Religion, Krisson Printing Ltd,.
London, England, 1974
Ed. Zellner, William & Petrowsky, Marc, Sects, Cults, and Spiritual Communities
Praeger Publishing., Westport, Connecticut, 1998
Zellner, William. Countercultures: A Sociological Analysis
St. Martin's Press., New York, NY. 1995