Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Science Fiction

Alec Baldwin is the latest Hollywood actor to publicly defend Scientology. On September 18, the New York Post asked him what he thought of about Tom Cruise’s religion. Baldwin responded by saying: I don't really understand Tom's religious beliefs; nor do I want to. All I know is I don't see people who are disciples of Tom's faith driving planes into the World Trade Centre”.

Baldwin is undoubtedly correct. Suicide is not scientology style. But they remain a cause for concern for many in the community who do not understand what Scientology is all about and to those who think they are a “brainwashing” cult. There is an unemployed man in Florida who is fascinated by the Scientologists enough to stalk them and make a movie about them. His name is Shawn Lonsdale and he lives in the Gulf beach community of Clearwater. He told the St Petersburg Times he is making a "pseudo documentary" about Scientology and its effect on downtown Clearwater for a local cable access show. He films open-air for up to 10 hours armed only with a camera and a can of mace “in case things get hairy”. He was assaulted by a Scientologist but sees it as good footage for the documentary. Because he is poor, he has nothing to lose by attacking Scientology. Every day he logs onto anti-Scientology Web sites to chronicle his encounters with church members. On these sites, Lonsdale is a hero. Taped to the side of his car is a cardboard message: "OT I-VIII for free at xenu.net." This may seem like gobbledegook to a layman but it is blasphemous to a Scientologist.

OT is an Operating Thetan. It’s the black belt in Scientology, a person in a blissful state of enlightenment. OT has eight known levels. Lonsdale was advertising the fact that xenu.net (a anti-Scientologist website called Operation Clambake) has a breakdown of each OT level and how much it costs to get there. According to the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance (OCRT) “The Scientology religion deals with the human spirit and its relationship to the universe and its Creator. It teaches that its fundamental laws of life, when applied, help people achieve a happier and more fulfilling existence as surely as an apple falls to the ground when dropped.”

The religion was founded by the eccentric 20th century US sci-fi writer Lafayette Ron Hubbard. Hubbard was a Nebraskan son of a US Navy man. After dropping out of university in the 1930s he wrote westerns, adventures and sci-fi stories and novellas which were published in pulp magazines. Following in his father’s footsteps, he enlisted in the Navy in World War 2. He was posted to Australia but returned home without seeing any action after being rated “unsatisfactory for any assignment”. He commanded a harbour protection vehicle before losing that job too.

He was transferred to Florida and trained in anti-submarine warfare. He was assigned command of a submarine but his buffoonery followed him into the new job. Near the mouth of the Columbia River he bombarded a seabed magnetic deposit in the mistaken belief it was two Japanese submarines. He then ordered practice shelling of the Coronado Island which he believed were uninhabited American islands. They were neither and the Mexican government complained about the attack on their sovereign territory. Hubbard was relieved of command. He retired in 1945 but drew a substantial Navy pension which allowed him to concentrate on his writing.

In 1950 he published a book called “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health”. Dianetics has a great ring to it and also had a concept of “auditing” a two-person therapy that focussed on painful memories. The book was a hit and sold 150,000 copies within a year of publication. The American Psychological Association were horrified that someone was on their patch and issued a statement to say that Hubbard’s claims were not supported by empirical evidence and recommended against use of Dianetic techniques. This merely added to Hubbard’s notoriety and success. He established the Dianetic Research Foundation in NJ. Two years later he expanded Dianetics into a secular self-help philosophy he called Scientology. He moved to England and set up his world headquarters near London. The word soul was used by too many other religions so he called his version “thetan”. He believed that most illness was psychosomatic and therefore he deemed modern medicine an irrelevance. He recruited members to his church who he charged for courses, auditing-sessions and books.

To escape hot water from the British government suspicious of his activities he fled to Ian Smith’s Rhodesia in 1966. Rhodesia was under UN sanctions due to Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain to oppose black majority rule. Hubbard tried to influence Rhodesian politics by producing a “constitution” while attempting to ingratiate himself with the leading political figures of the country. Smith expelled him and Hubbard fled briefly to Las Palmas. Despite his problems, Scientology was now a thriving and money-making worldwide religion. In order to keep ahead of the authorities he lived the next seven years aboard a sea-going vessel the “Apollo”. He was still persona non grata ashore. The military junta tossed him out of Greece in 1969. In the Madeiras his crew were attacked by locals who thought they were CIA agents. A London High Court judge declared Scientology is "dangerous, immoral, sinister and corrupt" and barred Hubbard from the UK. He finally returned to the USA and settled in Florida. He returned to fiction writing and published Battlefield Earth and Mission Earth. He died in 1986 of a stroke. In keeping with Hubbard's wishes, he was cremated within 24 hours with no autopsy. But there was a coroner's report and it described him in a state of decrepitude: unshaven, with long, thinning whitish-red hair and unkempt fingernails and toenails.

In May 1987, David Miscavige, one of L Ron Hubbard’s former personal assistants, assumed the position of Chairman of the Religious Technology Center (RTC), a corporation that owns the trademarked names and symbols of Dianetics and Scientology. He announced that Scientology's founder had willingly "dropped" his healthy body and moved on to another dimension. To this day, Miscavige is officially described as "the highest ecclesiastical official of the Scientology religion," and he is the effective leader of the religion. Among Scientologists he is simply known as DM or C.O.B. (Chairman of the Board). The Church of Scientology has consistently sought to recruit artists and entertainers, particularly Hollywood celebrities. As well as Cruise (a good friend of Miscavige), the actors John Travolta and Kirstie Alley and singers Beck and Isaac Hayes are all members. Scientology’s wealth means they can now harass its critics and enemies through the courts and they have launched many litigious actions. According to Scientology own web site, the word literally means "the study of truth." They argue that Scientology is the study and handling of the spirit in relationship to itself, others and all of life.

The truth about Scientology is somewhat more prosaic. They are money-making machine. The sci-fi writer Hubbard predicted his own future in the 1940s when he said “Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion".

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