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Is Scientology a Cult?
Skeptic

Is Scientology a Cult?

Posted 19 May 2015   |   1834 views   |   General Interest   |   Comments (2) The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California is the home of many of the world’s leading scientists and engineers who launch spacecraft deep into the solar system to find out what’s out there.

Apparently they could save taxpayers a lot of money if they simply employed a different kind of science practiced by Scientologists, as described to me by one such rocket scientist once employed there:

I was working at JPL, and my immediate supervisor was a dedicated Scientologist. This supervisor had just advanced from Clear to OT I. Some people at a meeting asked him what this meant, and he explained that he now had the ability to detach his thetan from his body and and cause it to perform useful out-of-body functions. For example, if he needed to purchase a certain item and he drove past a store that might or might not have that item, he could send his thetan into the store to look for the item. If the thetan reported the item was in stock, my boss would then park the car and go in and buy it. Unfortunately for JPL there was a senior NASA official in the audience. The official noted that NASA was about to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to send another robotic spacecraft to Mars. He asked if my supervisor would be willing to send his thetan to Mars to gather the needed data, presumably at lower cost. The supervisor replied that this could in fact be done, and that other OT’s from the Hollywood church would probably offer their services too. JPL was severely criticized by NASA, and warned of serious consequences if this got into the newspapers.
The thetan reference stems from Scientology’s genesis story that is only revealed after parishioners (a.k.a. customers) pay tens of thousands of dollars to reach Operating Thetan Level III. This science fiction UFO fantasy story is now so widely known that it was even featured in a 2005 episode of the animated sitcom television series South Park. Around 75 million years ago Xenu, the story begins, the ruler of a Galactic Confederation of 76 planets, transported billions of his charges in spaceships similar to DC-8 jets to a planet called Teegeeack (Earth). He then vaporized them with Hydrogen bombs, scattering to the winds their souls, called thetans, which were then rounded up in electronic traps and implanted with false ideas. These corrupted thetans are still around and can attach themselves to people today, leading to drug and alcohol abuse, addiction, depression, and other psychologicaland social ailments that only Scientology “auditing” employing Electropsychometers (E-meters) and numerous associated classes can cure.

As a student of religion, curious about the genesis of such genesis stories, I tracked down the origin of the Xenu tale through the acclaimed author Harlan Ellison, who told me he was there at the birth of Scientology. At a late 1940s meeting in New York of  a science fiction writer’s group called the Hydra Club, Then science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard was complaining to L. Sprague de Camp and the other club menbers about writing for a penny a word. “Lester del Rey then said half jokingly, ‘What you really ought to do is create a religion because it will be tax free,’ and at that point everyone in the room started chiming in with ideas for this new religion. So the idea was a Gestalt that Ron caught on to and assimilated the details. He then wrote it up as ‘Dianetics: A New Science of the Mind’ and sold it to John W. Campbell, Jr., who published it in  Astounding Scicnce Fiction in 1950.”
Astounding indeed that anyone would accept such science fiction as fact, but such is the power of belief when coupled to a handful of powerful psychological principles. Consider  cognitive dissonance, discovered by the psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954 when he joined a UFO end-of-the-world cult on a mountain top to record what would happen when the mothership failed to arrive at the designated midnight hour on December 21st. Festinger saw this as an opportunity to study the phenomenon of mental tension created when someone holds two conflicting thoughts simultaneously:

Suppose an individual believes something with his whole heart; suppose further that he has a commitment to this belief, that he has taken irrevocable actions because of it; finally, suppose that he is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence, that his belief is wrong: what will happen? The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before. Indeed, he may even show a new fervor about convincing and converting other people to his view.

That is exactly what happened with the UFO cult, whose members reduced the dissonance triggered by the failed prophecy by going out into the community to recruit new members. The greater the cost, the higher the gain on the dissonance dial that can only be assuaged by further reinforcing the veracity of the belief, no matter how preposterous it may seem to outsiders who do not share the dissonance given their skepticism. So it is with Scientology, whose members pay a high price indeed in every sense of that word.

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