Scientology Church Trap

Germans are of course expert on the issue of mind control and institutional enthusiasms, which makes all the recent Anglo-American griping about Germany’s boring politics and foreign policy passivity more than a bit ironic. It is the same German expertise which has caused it to ban Scientology and treat the whole as a fraudulent criminal enterprise. While I have considerable sympathy for such treatment, it has the unfortunate effect of making it too easy to dismiss Scientology as a corporate cult or lunatic fringe having nothing in common with traditional or mainstream religions. This view is surely mistaken. Anyone who seriously studies Scientology will find psychological parallels and structural similarities.

All this and more are evident in Der Spiegel’s recent interview with Lawrence Wright, author of Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief:

SPIEGEL: Why are seemingly reasonable people interested in an organization whose goal quite plainly appears to be a particular form of money-making?

Wright: These people are spiritual seekers who have tried to find answers in other religions and have not been satisfied, people with personal problems. Scientology offers so-called personality tests and courses to help find solutions to those problems that were found in the tests. A lot of people have actually subjectively been helped by these courses.

SPIEGEL: It is still difficult to understand the appeal of Scientology.

Wright: Many intelligent, skeptical people become members of Scientology, like Hollywood screenwriter Paul Haggis. I wanted the reader to feel a little scared about the capacity of the human mind and the human personality to be changed by outside forces, because it is possible to direct a person’s thinking and behavior.

While Wright probably overestimates the intelligence and skepticism of certain Scientologists, his serious treatment of Scientology deserves respect. Wright’s “prison of belief” metaphor is particularly apt and nicely illustrated by an installation from this year’s Burning Man Festival:


“Church Trap” by Cory Doctorow

Did you like this? Share it:

3 thoughts on “Scientology Church Trap

  1. Sabio Lantz

    One’s particular use of the word “religion” at any time is the key to a meaningful exploration of this issue. Cris, you said, “nothing in common with traditional or mainstream religions”. Have you written a post about what you’d consider traits that would qualify something as a “religion”? If anyone knows the huge varieties and how the word is invented, it is you. We certainly don’t want just any ‘ole thing counting as a religion. That would be the worse possible move. And declaring that something is not a ‘real’ religion — like some HG beliefs/acts — while OK in my book, you can see that as being merely cultural parochialism. And some would object that just because someone declares their beliefs a “religion” does not make it so.

    I think I have pointed to my post before where I decided to fumble with a Syndrome-type definition of “religion”. Since you have the best data set to perhaps create a temporary working definition of what you’d qualify as “religion” in Scientology’s case, I’d be curious to see your thinking. I am sure with your HG info, you could simplify my attempted definition. But I think my definition captures one sense of “religion” in today’s non-anthropological vernacular.

    I love the pic in this post from Burning Man. And the “prison of belief” metaphor is fascinating — we all have them, eh?

  2. Cris Post author

    I have written many posts on various definitions of religion. I prefer not to give any definition, but if one must be used, I think that the Wittgensteinian language games approach is perhaps best. I think the article articulating this approach (by McKinnon) can be found under the Resources tab of the blog. I also like Max Weber’s contention that the best definition of “religion” will be the one that we derive only after considering all the historical things that have been called “religion” or which we suspect are related to religion.

    My own Weberian approach has led me to view “religion” as something that slowly developed along a continuum in only some kinds of societies. So what I call “religion” for my research and writing purposes begins to appear only in agricultural societies, and in these it slowly develops into post-Enlightenment forms which we now recognize — by academic, legal, and popular consensus — as “religion.” I think Talal Asad’s argument about the category of “religion” is something we need to take seriously.

    As for Scientology, I used to think it was nothing more than a deliberate fraud or sick joke. But then I started reading what later generation Scientologists say, believe, and practice, and it strikes me that regardless of what Hubbard may have intended, for many Scientologists it has morphed into something that fits comfortably with modern understandings of religion. I recommend Wright’s book. Reading it will surely change or challenge whatever views you have on the matter.

  3. Pingback: Church Trap

Leave a Reply