LMT Literati Challenge, Year 2000

From: Bob Minton <bobminton@lisatrust.net>
Subject: LMT Literati Contest Entry - Scientologist: Frank Larson
Date: Sun, 17 Dec 2000 19:38:03 -0500
Organization: Lisa McPherson Trust, a Scientology watchdog group
Message-ID: <m2nq3t88g5usnikofl0r7fc04cbbsp4dru@4ax.com>


Copyright © 2000 by Frank Larson

Control, Freedom, Responsibility: Words one hears daily, hourly in Scientology organizations. "Total Freedom," your own responsibility for your condition, "good control," "positive control," the interrelationships of all three - and all are defined in considerable detail in the writings and lectures of L. Ron Hubbard.

Control, Freedom, Responsibility: Words a Scientologist relishes. Just take more responsibility to achieve more freedom. Improve control by completing cycles of action. Stop being a victim - take some responsibility for your condition. Good words that have become all-purpose panaceas. After all, it's not difficult to see the problems of other people as irresponsibilities.

Control, Freedom, Responsibility: Words that most critics of Scientology, especially those who claim they left Scientology in painful circumstances (whether quietly, under cover of darkness and distance, or to the angry slams of doors and the brazen bugle calls of goldenrod "Declares") may find distressing (restimulative, a Scientologist would say). "If you do this, you take yourself off the Bridge to Freedom." "[Your name here] can't handle control... no responsibility, a complete no-overts case... refuses to apply ethics..."

In short, Scientology is about improving one's control of life and increasing one's level of responsibility in order to attain increased freedom to be, do and have what one wants to be, do and have; therefore, those who leave Scientology and/or attack it must be against control, responsibility and freedom. They must want to be slaves or to enslave others or to see enslavers (read "psychs") empowered. They must equate freedom with irresponsibility. They must be involved in unethical activities which they refuse to handle or even to perceive, because their responsibility levels are too low. They must be out of control or opposed to good control, the sort of people who can neither give nor receive orders, nor (if they deign to pretend to receive them) "duplicate" them and carry them out. Wow! They must be really fucked up!

No wonder the topic of this contest attracts us so: What fun to turn the tables, take the Church on its own terms and show who's REALLY out of control, an enemy of freedom and an abuser of responsibility - for example, if I can claim that it turns its followers into robots or blames others for its difficulties and mistakes. Yum! I should dive right in! Nothing could be finer than to make the Church a whiner...

But something, some tiny twinge of... can it be fairness (after all, this is war; there's no place for fairness here, but nonetheless...) - something holds me back. It's just too easy. And isn't that part of our own gripe? It's just too easy, we say, for the Church to blame all its troubles on others and to treat all critics as "suppressive persons." Similarly (and I hate to say this, since my mouth is watering), it's a little too easy to pick at the Church (as one might look through the fur of a large dog for fleas) and pounce (with tweezers) on each hint of hypocrisy. After all, there's some bravery, as well as presumption, some chutzpah in setting oneself up as a source of freedom, spiritual awareness and improved ethics. Any person or organization who represents itself as such a source (in this case, loudly and internationally) is setting itself up as an easy target. Scientology knows this. Hubbard talks about it in several policies and lectures - why Scientology MUST have clean hands, why its organizations must maintain strict ethics, etc. Perhaps (as we would contend) Scientology falls far short of its claims to do so, but I can't help admiring its effrontery in inviting such harsh inspection. Even Best of Show dogs have fleas. It's a little too easy to find flaws in an organization that, by its own terms, must be damned near perfect to achieve its purposes. I joined this hunt to shoot dangerous game, not clay pigeons.

Besides, if it is our view that Scientology uses its buzzwords glibly, is too easy on itself, too hard on others, doesn't that demand of us that, in our critiques of Scientology, we don't take the easy road ourselves? After all, it's awfully easy to find faults in any large organization. When we go at it in shotgun fashion, we sometimes shoot ourselves in the feet with criticisms that negate each other. Perhaps the aura of that magic word, "Scientology," drowns out all else for us. In that case, it might help if I substitute another name, say "Freemasonry" (chosen arbitrarily - I know nothing about Freemasonry and have no beef with it ), in the following examples of criticism that ties itself in knots:

Freemasonry claims to be huge and expanding, but that's a lie, it's really small and shrinking; Freemasonry is huge and powerful, and therefore dangerous. Freemasonry is a complete fraud; the real crime is that Freemasonry has valuable [data? truths? technology?], but is keeping it from those who [can't afford it? are excluded? aren't bright enough?]. Freemasonry made a complete robot out of me; therefore you should listen to me and trust what I say. Freemasonry is a terrible organization of fools and knaves; I should know because I was a trusted Freemasonry staff member for umpty-ump years and worked directly with [the big banana of Freemasonry - the Royal High Impeccable Imperial Seraphic Dragon of the 45th Degree?]; therefore you should trust what I say. Freemasons are a bunch of fanatic weirdos and cranks who believe in past lives and UFOs and Barney the Dinosaur; therefore I am dedicating huge amounts of my own time and energy to stopping them, lest they fool intelligent people like you into becoming fanatic weirdos too (the way I was myself for umpty-ump years, but now I know better).

The contradictions here are not always obvious, but most readers who aren't already among the converted get a bit sea-sick reading such stuff. For example, the last imagined critic, while calling "Freemasons" cranks, seems to be reliving Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Interesting, too, how plausibly one could substitute for Freemasonry many other names - Moonies, Catholics, Christians, Jews, Communists, etc. You'd only need to change "technology" to "services" or "concepts" and, in some cases, modify "can't afford it" to some other basis for exclusion.

I guess I'm saying that critics of Scientology need to achieve a higher level of responsibility IN THEIR CRITIQUING OF SCIENTOLOGY if they want to achieve their goals (which include STOPPING the Church or some of its practices - an element of control). We've assumed an unearned freedom (to criticize broadly and without clearly defined targets and goals - except, on occasion, the goal to get money by means of legal action; to take any action, even violate copyrights, as long as it hurts the Church, etc.). We justify this by pointing to the scope of what we're fighting and the demands of war and our own wounds. Justified or not, it's too damned easy. The goal is too broad: Attack. Attack to what end? Precisely what is it about Scientology we want to change, and how do we want to change it, and why? Are there things of value in Scientology? If so, can they be salvaged?

Just asking such questions reminds us that we are an uneasy alliance. There are, among us, people who left Scientology, not because they considered it a fraud, but precisely because they considered its technology extremely valuable and wanted to set up their own practices to deliver that technology THEIR way, but felt stopped by Church policies with which they disagreed. There are others among us who call the technology false or insane or fraudulent. We are, in this sense, a bit like the original Cult Awareness Network: Half the members were devout fundamentalist Christians who wanted to warn other Christians against joining groups claiming to be Christian that these CANists (CANese? CANaries?) considered heretical. The other half were people who considered nearly all organized religions (and certainly the fundamentalist varieties) to be fanatic cults. With such a division, what could CAN do but attack anything that moved and looked appetizing. (And that appetite led them you-know-all-too-well-where.) Fundamental divisions of that sort make it hard to define positive goals. In the absence of positive goals, one is left with (hate to say it after all that Gore-Bush) the ever-popular "negative campaign." A group thus divided holds itself together by finding something to hate. (It worked for Germany, remember?) The result? A lot of attacking (anything the group can think of) that achieves nothing constructive while the group stumbles over its own feet, creating as much chaos for itself as for its enemies - especially if those enemies are smart and tough.

And we're dealing with some very smart enemies. CAN-connected deprogrammers (OK, "Exit Counselors") didn't just go after the hick followers of some bearded prophet on a farm in Idaho. They targeted Mormons, Roman Catholics, Eastern Catholics, Pentacostal Christians, Moonies, Adventists and Witnesses among others. The other groups made no headway against CAN (until Scientologists mobilized them). CAN went all out to defeat Scientology, but CAN... couldn't. No shame: Neither could the IRS (among others).

A smart, tough, well-organized enemy can defeat disorganized, scattergun attacks, turn disunited foes against each other, use the more idiotic ploys of one group of attackers to discredit ALL attackers, etc. Critics of Scientology aren't going to achieve the levels of control and responsibility they (we) need in order to earn the freedom they (we) now claim if they (we) remain addicted to easy sarcasms and cheap shots. Lyndon B. Johnson was no cream puff, but he couldn't take another term of "Hey! Hey! LBJ! How many kids did you kill today!" Compared to the way some critics portray Scientology management, Johnson was Little Bo Peep. The Scientologists can take it and dish it out, decade after decade. However much you may hate Scientology, you (most of you) cannot but acknowledge that they are a tough opponent. That's how they've survived so many attacks.

I contend it's time to face our own weaknesses, look at our past failures, define our areas of agreement, our shared goals. That's beyond the scope of this essay, but I WILL try to show how and why our usual star tactic, while gratifying in the short term, fails us in the long haul, exemplifying the "too easy," and, really, tending to validate the Scientologists' low opinion of our responsibility level. I'll then experiment with another approach to criticism, a bit of probing, not to spot a few fleas, but to see what makes this dog bite.

Critics of Scientology are a varied lot: Some want to save the world from Scientology. Some want an apology or compensation for alleged mistreatment. Some want to create their own religion, but see Scientology as a barrier to doing so. Some don't like ANY organized religion. Some even want to save Scientology from itself - for example, save its technology (seen as valuable) from "the Management." (Ah, but that's always a lazy critic's line: "Management" in any organization is always the goat. Most critics of the United States, for example, say what a wonderful country it would be if only we could get rid of the idiotic politicians currently in charge. They would prefer Lincoln or Jefferson - who were similarly attached in their own times.) And one hears of many other motives, including (from Scientologists) the need to justify one's own misdeeds against Scientology, envy, the fear of weaklings at seeing others becoming more able through Scientology, and so forth.

Whatever the true motives, critics, until now, have all suffered from a near-fatal weakness: Reliance on The Horror Story ("Look at the terrible things they did to me!"). Before making my own stab at critiquing Scientology, I'll try to put to rest a form of critiquing that, while offering transient satisfactions, leaves critics vulnerable and ineffectual in the long run.

I speak of the weakness of critics because, obviously, there is a weakness: Scientology has been under attack (and by experts and powerful organizations) for nearly 50 years now, but shows no clear signs of decline, and seems to many to be flourishing.

There's no doubt that it has been attacked by experts. The campaigns (some decades long) against Scientology in the press and by the IRS and other formidable groups, both governmental and professional, are well-documented. These campaigns have so far failed. In 1993 the IRS simply gave up - unconditional surrender - and gave Scientology full recognition as a church. How often does the IRS lose, once it has committed its forces to battle? Even Interpol settled with Scientology - in Scientology's favor. And in just the past year, Sweden (despite its state religion, Lutheranism) and Mexico (despite its state religion, Catholicism) both recognized Scientology as a religion.

When I say Scientology shows no signs of decline, I can offer no statistics, unless we care to accept the Church's. I have no other way to ascertain how many active Scientologists there are or to prove people are leaving or joining the Church in growing numbers (or both or neither). How does one find out? Whose figures does one accept? I can offer only what I've seen myself: When I was first in Scientology, decades ago, I soon seemed to know everyone. In the 1990s, while I still encountered many familiar faces, about 95% of them were new to me. In previous years, there were occasional large disruptions, with people leaving or kicked out, including many high-level executives. Since about 1984, I've seen relatively little of this. Nearly all the Scientologists I knew in 1984 are still Scientologists. In previous years, most "orgs" were small, dingy rentals. Now many of the buildings are large, immaculate and generally impressive - and most are owned by the Church, not rented. The current expansion in Clearwater, which several large new buildings going up, should be, to a critic, daunting. The rapid spread of Scientology in new areas like Russia and Hungary is far from consoling. The failure (so far) of intense Government attack in Germany to stop expansion there is disheartening.

And it's getting awfully hard to find a place to park around major Orgs.

Also, in my most recent adventures in Scientology (in the 90s), I was surprised to encounter large contingents of upper-middle-class professionals - for example, dentists, optometrists and chiropractors, not exactly what most of us think of as cult-fodder.

And Scientology is no longer a refuge for rebellious loners (if it ever was). Decades ago, most Scientologists were young, often single, impoverished ex-students and/or ex-hippies, usually the lone members of their families involved in Scientology, often at odds with family over their being Scientologists. Unlike established religions, Scientology then included few "Scientology families." Typically, the ONE Scientologist in the family was the son or daughter, with the parents uneasy about it. In the 90s I encountered many Scientology families, even some extended families, many 2nd and even 3rd-generation Scientologists (including many Sea Org members) and (strange as it seems) - that sure sign of a maturing religion! - Scientology parents concerned about their children going astray (leaving Scientology, trying drugs, etc.). I suppose we can be encouraged by the fact that not all children of Scientologists are gung ho, but that misses the point: Most of the kids DO become Scientologists, and the exceptions are signs of a fringe group becoming an established group, hardly a symptom to encourage us.

I could cite dozens of other observations that suggest to me that, despite attacks, Scientology is expanding, even expanding rapidly. Arguable, but, fellow arguers, beneath the wishful thinking, I think in our hearts we all know this. After all, it takes a group of a certain size and vigor to acquire critics well enough organized to run a contest of this scope, some of these critics being full-time, professional critics of Scientology. Similarly, it takes a group of considerable magnitude to generate splinter groups large enough to attract broad international notice and to generate splinter groups of their own. For example, the once-popular est began as a Scientology splinter group, and Silva Mind Control splintered off from est and so forth. (There are more generations.) There are many large groups of people in this society who associate themselves with practices derived from Scientology (often based on just one or two items from Scientology's voluminous array of techniques) whose members have no idea they are practicing modified Scientology. Fleas don't feast on fleas. There's got to be a dog.

So why, given the justice of the cause(s), given the validity of all or some of the criticism, have our attacks impinged so little? Scientologists would say "Because Scientology has clean hands, and the public knows it." I want to suggest an alternative explanation - which brings me back to the (f)utility of The Horror Story (and, again, I'll change the name to make us less immune to the strident pitch: "FREEMASONRY KILLED [SOME POOR FREEMASON'S NAME HERE]!" "FREEMASONRY TOOK MY MONEY." (What? You didn't ask for a refund?) "FREEMASONRY WAS MEAN TO ME." "I GAVE UP EVERYTHING FOR FREEMASONRY, AND LOOK WHAT A MESS I AM NOW!" "IT WASN'T MY FAULT! THE DOG ATE MY THETAN!" "FREEMASONS USE THE BLOOD OF CHRISTIAN CHILDREN TO MAKE THEIR MAZZOHS AND ALSO POISON THE WELLS AND CAUSE THE PLAGE..." - Oops, that's the Jews, sorry. Well, I exaggerate... a little. And certainly horror stories have immediate impact as propaganda, because they instantly involve the reader in some decent person's vivid nightmare. So what are the drawbacks? None, if they overwhelm their target. They are weapons (like air strikes) that either crush totally or merely strengthen resistance. (Remember, the Nazis had centuries of religious anti-semitism backing their horror stories plus a desperate economy, an environment of extreme religious intolerance plus a target far less feisty and alert than the Church of Scientology, whose aggressiveness suggests Israel's.) Why must horror stories overwhelm quickly or fail? Because they don't stand up to prolonged scrutiny. Why not?

1. Because it is hard to establish their factuality. A critic asserts that something terrible happened; the Church denies it. Critics assert that lots of terrible things happen; hundreds or thousands (or hundreds of thousands?) of Scientologists state that Scientology saved their lives, increased their abilities, made life more fun for them and helped them get all the girls (or guys). Whom does one believe? 2. And even a veteran critic may doubt the truth of the more extreme allegations. How does it feel picketing with the sad-eyed crank who "proves" in excruciating and obscure detail wild conspiracies, impossible allegations about E-meters and inflated scenarios that stress his own importance in great events - though no one else ever noticed him there? How does it feel having to put one's own credibility on the line in league with obvious nuts? Are we that desperate? 3. Plus obvious self-serving lies by people whose own misdeeds are known to many discredit the more truthful among us. For example, in a major magazine attack, who should be quoted as critical of the "overly harsh ethics" in Scientology but an ex-Scientology executive notorious for (and kicked out, in part, for) the harshness and eccentricity of his own uses of "ethics" (This guy would threaten people with guns!). I heard another guy complain on TV that the Church separated him from his children, whereas I (and many others) happen to know that it was HE who went out of his way to make it impossible for his ex-wife (a Scientologist and the mother of the children) to have any contact with them. I've learned from such examples to listen to my fellow critics with a critical ear. After all, I suppose one way to attack Scientology would be to join it, do terrible things, then leave and tell horror stories, alleging that "Scientologists" do the terrible things one did. And this would be TRUE! After all, one was a Scientologist when he did those things. (If I seem to dwell on criticism of critics, it is because these points WEAKEN criticism, render it vulnerable to exposure, so that all criticism is tarred with the same brush: A few lies and exaggerations discredit whatever valid criticism we offer.) And lies and distortions are inevitable once we loose the floodgate. It comes with the horror-story territory. To exaggerate one's miseries is human. To vilify one's enemy beyond believability is irresistible - there's no holding back. After all, look how loony WE look in Scientology goldenrod. Maybe YOU have exaggerated nothing, but do you believe this is true of ALL the stories you hear? 4. Because the more extreme stories suggest that Scientologists (especially staff) are monsters or idiots or both, which falls apart when one meets actual Scientologists, most of whom are not particularly stupid or monstrous - and there are enough now that one is likely to meet a few. And even if one doesn't, do Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Isaak Hayes look like idiots, monsters or robots? Maybe they are (damned successful ones!), but that's not the impression they make. When a horror story encounters that impression in battle, usually the horror story loses. 5. Because the horror stories, even if true, don't stand up to analysis when purporting to demonstrate the evils of Scientology. In any large group, bad things happen, stupid mistakes are made, vicious people occasionally gain status. To draw broad conclusions from this (other than "Shit happens") in absence of reliable comparative statistics makes no sense. For example, we blame Scientology for a member's death. Scientologists deny blame (with some backing now from the courts). But even if they were to concede they were partly to blame, they could then (and fairly, I think) ask, "How many people have gone to doctors to be helped and been killed by doctor error - and how few doctors have been held responsible for such errors?" You've seen the headlined statistics on this - hundreds of thousands of deaths per year in the United States from errors and hundreds of thousands of deaths from NON-errors - from medications taken "properly" per current medical regimen, and not much done to penalize those responsible. (And given such headlines, who can be blamed for not entrusting someone to a hospital.) Or the Scientologist might cite some horrendous statistics for U. S. psychiatric patients (in recent decades, more deaths while undergoing treatment than the number of U. S. combatants killed in all our wars together).

We can pick at such answers, but they are still at least as fair as trying to use a few (alleged) horror stories to brand a large group evil or fraudulent. How many people have died or committed suicide while undergoing counseling from a priest or minister or shrink? I'm sure thousands of horror stories are ripe for the picking by any diligent researcher. I wonder how many people have committed suicide after hearing persuasive arguments for atheism? (And should atheism be condemned because its adherents have included Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot, the most prolific butchers of the 20th Century?)

In other words, to make a cogent critique of Scientology (now that it's too big and alert to be hurt by a few or a few thousand nasty stories), one needs something like what L. Ron Hubbard called an "evaluation" - a broad study that looks at what's wrong (AND what's right) with Scientology, then homes in on the main situation, its cause and the optimal handling. Horror stories still have their uses: The tellers feel relieved (they've "vented") and get some sympathy; a few people may be put off trying Scientology (but others may be attracted out of curiosity or because they've never liked "whiners"); and, most important, where the stories are indeed factual, they can be used as strings to pull to get at real weaknesses in Scientology: Where screw-ups occurred, in what areas did they occur? Why did they occur?

Hell, a really intelligent critique of that nature might even be used to HELP Scientology, were one so disposed. Something of that nature actually happened in the mid-1960s: A committee created by the government of New Zealand to investigate Scientology asked Hubbard to cancel two policies they considered dangerous - and he did so!

Whether to help or destroy or simply fend off Scientology, if we want to be effective and not just have a good time raising hell and cheering each other on to nowhere, we need to out-grow the horror game. It is no longer enough to be a victim. People are weary of victims, which is one reason Gore, though an incumbent during an economic boom, failed to overwhelm Bush: Gore addressed Americans as victims (of corporations, mainly) in desperate need of increased government handouts. Once this would have guaranteed a landslide, not a near tie with a not-very-impressive opponent.

All this by way of clearing my throat - to explain why I will now address the theme of this essay (thus far untouched) with a minimum of personal horror story, offering, rather, an unanecdotal overview of ways in which control, freedom and responsibility in Scientology help or hinder its claimed missions to attract new people, help them, free them, increase their ability, etc.

Control is a good starting point (if you'll kindly pretend that I'm just starting here), because it's a key concept for both Scientology and the critics of Scientology. For critics it often arises when we babble about "cults" and accept the notion that a cult exercises hypnotic control over its followers (a notion from which even Scientology's main bogey, the American Psychiatric Association, has now disassociated itself by attacking the scientific validity of Margaret Singer's work). Frankly, if I'd been that vulnerable to Scientology, why should anyone listen to me now? I prefer to see myself as having gotten involved in something, seen it more clearly and gotten uninvolved. But for those of you who prefer to think you spent years as zombies, have it your way (if you have a way of your own).

Oddly enough, Scientologists do not deny exercising control over Scientologists, but they deny exercising hypnotic control. Hubbard speaks often of "positive control" and of controlling others in the direction of giving them greater control over themselves and their lives. Hold that smirk, because this may make sense (at least in theory). Isn't that part of raising a child, of education, of any form of teaching at its best? For example, if you want to teach a child to do something on his own, first you get the child to DO it - which requires an element of control. More broadly, I want you to understand my words right now. I want you to understand what I'm saying. To achieve this, I have to exert some control over you. I have to get your attention. I have to direct that attention. You just read the words "I have to direct that attention" because I exerted some control to get you to do so. Of course, you had to agree to read this essay. You were not "out of control". You had some choice in the matter. We both exerted some control.

So how does Scientology exert control (remembering we're not looking for horrific examples of lousy control here - just the typical)? And within what framework of agreements? Is control acceptable if you knowingly and intentionally yield yourself to another's control (as opposed to having it forced on you)? When you let a surgeon operate on you or join the Army or a Catholic order or when you, as an adult, decide to live with your parents in their home or when you sign any contract entailing obligations or when you take directions or when you become a student in a well-run classroom, you are agreeing to be controlled by others and in some cases subjecting yourself to very tight controls. Joining ANY group involves some loss of control, because any group is defined by agreements and rules that define the group. (Apparent exceptions are likely to be groups with rules that remain unstated, but nonetheless effective.)

So if, when you sign up for Scientology services, you knowingly and willingly submit to a degree of control, that, in itself, is no big deal. (And new Scientologists are asked to read and sign various waivers that make it clear that Scientology expects some commitment from members.) But suppose, once on the service (training or auditing [counseling]), you find out that you've agreed to more controls than you realized? Have you been deceived and hooked?

Ah, but you aren't forced to conform, merely given a choice: If you want the service, follow the rules. If you refuse - no service, and, if you insist, you get your money refunded (something foreign to shrinks, most churches, etc.), and, as some of you know from personal experience, the refunds are for real - reluctant, but real.

"Ah" again: what about the SUBTLE compulsions: Peer pressure, stigma, earnest articulate forceful people who try to talk you out of leaving and persuade you that you need some sort of fix-up, one-time friends among Scientologists who will refuse to talk to you if you leave and so forth? All those stringent "ethics conditions" - is this the iron fist in the velvet glove? Is this a betrayal of sorts, something contrary to what was promised when you first received a ticket to a Free Lecture about freedom and communication from a smiling (and cute) girl?

But back up: DO the various waivers and introductory lectures and other initial contacts with official Scientology seek to deceive newcomers? The waivers are pretty clear, and one IS asked to read them before signing. They have some legalese, but nothing very formidable. Perhaps it could be argued that the cheeriness of registrars (now called "Bridge Consultants") soothes fears and prevents full cognizance that one is "getting into something." But surely it is unreasonable to expect a group recruiting new members to be grim and threatening about it. Besides, there are several LRH tapes played for new public that emphasize that Scientology is an adventure in responsibility (putting on big shoes to do a big job, that sort of thing) and not to be taken lightly.

And it would be difficult to explain to a person on day one all the particular manifestations of control that may arise in the future (that he may need to give up certain activities or relationships because they appear to be interfering with progress in Scientology, that he may be required to receive a certain possibly uncomfortable form of confessional - "security checking" - as requisite for some other service, etc.), because to explain them, one would have to explain a great deal of Scientology all at once to someone who hasn't yet taken his first course in the subject.

When I enrolled in college (long long ago in a far distant galaxy), no one told me that several of my professors would be idiots, that I'd have to pay huge amounts to buy textbooks for each course, that a certain professor never gave anyone an A, that another would require an immense amount of work, that most of what I learned would be obsolete in my profession by the time I graduated, etc. I just picked up all the rules of the game as I went along. The analogy is perhaps inexact, but in many ways it favors Scientology, which was far more consistent and predictable than college. And I suspect a hell of a lot more college students (per 1000) kill themselves, get seriously ill, become addicted to drugs, lose IQ points (etc.) than Scientologists. Yet colleges claim to help people and usually charge a lot of money for their services.

[Get Rich Quick scheme: Organize a class action suit against American Universities by students whose I Qs were lowered by their college education. Go for it, Ted!]

These days (based on my most recent experience with orgs) the "R-factors" (orientation statements) given newcomers are boiler plate, but questions are answered; how well depends on the knowledge and communication skills and honesty of the Bridge Consultant. These answers are probably clearer and more honest than those you'll receive if you agree to major surgery (unless you have an exceptionally honest, patient and articulate doctor) or are given a medication (ever try to read and understand those lists of side effects in tiny print?) or if you sign up for the army after a hearty pat on the back from a jovial recruiting sergeant who is now your good buddy, suuuure!

I don't see any obvious indication of gross deception. But what about the surprises, the peer pressure if you want to quit-- HEY! It's a group, remember? And since friendship is based on agreements (shared likes and dislikes, for example), why be outraged if those who were friendly cease to be friendly when you cease to agree with them on matters important to them? Good grief, some people get upset when a Democrat becomes a Republican or vice versa (how can they even TELL? It's like trying to sex a newly hatched chicken!). And certainly when a Catholic leaves that Church or the son of an observant Jewish family elopes with a shiksa, ruptured relationships result. I see no hypnotic control at work here, no Svengali chanting "YOUUU MUST DOOO AS WEEE SAY... DOOO AS WEEE SAY...DOOO AS WEEE SAAAAYY..."

Obviously there will be exceptions where individuals on staff are excessively forceful and public individuals are excessively wimpy, but this happens in any group. To condemn Scientology for this (unless it is a common occurrence - which individual horror stories cannot substantiate) would be to condemn all families because some parents crush all individuality out of their children.

And yet most of us gripe about the control (and I'm treating only one area of Scientology control here, but I hope you'll find it typical). Why? I think it is less the amount of control, than the thwarted expectation of an easy-going, anything-goes group. If you join the Army or the Jesuits and must submit to heavy discipline (including a great deal that's arbitrary), unless you are extremely na´ve when you join, you are getting what you expected. Ditto if you travel to India or Japan to become the personal disciple of some Guru or Zen Master. But Scientology may be misperceived by newcomers as a big, warm-and-fuzzy, vaguely spiritual self-help group, sort of a Pepsi Generation, high-energy lark, the sort of group in which beautiful people meet beautiful people. "The monkey thought 'twas all in fun; POP goes the weasel!"

After all, Scientology promo is about freedom and smiles, and it derives from a best-selling self-help book by an American, published with raves from Walter Winchell; it's touted by Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, Isaac Hayes, Jenna Elfman (Bodhi, the flower child, no less!). It must be FUN! It must be a great way to hit on pretty girls, find orgies, try out the latest drugs - Oh, wait, Scientologists are down on drugs. Well, that's OK, so are most of the wholesome, good-vibe, natural high groups with ads in the free magazines in healthfood stores. But isn't Scientology into weird stuff like past lives? So surely it'll be a great excuse to experiment with all sorts of intriguing esoteric practices (child sacrifice, anyone?). In any case, it's bound to be tolerant, laid-back, broad-minded, loosey-goosey. After all, when you're dealing with big vague concepts like freedom and the spirit, how regimented can you get?

For those approaching Scientology on that basis, Scientology is an exercise in mixed signals. (Actually, approaching Scientology on ANY basis is tricky, because, for better or worse, Scientology is itself and not a much like anything else, but what I'm about to describe is one of the more severely jolting approaches.) The people smile and seem friendly. YAY! Some of them (who later turn out to have been brand new staff) seem a little rigid. BOO! The Bridge Consultant is bright, friendly, seems to understand you, is encouraging, seems to want to help. YAY! The Bridge Consultant wants you to pay genuine MONEY for something. BOO! (Because, hey, that's not fun and because, hey, spiritual people don't want money.) When you say "That's a lot of money!" the Bridge Consultant is understanding. YAY! But he/she persists. BOO! But he/she sure is good at persisting - wish I could handle people like that. Maybe there's something to all this. YAY?

And so on. Pretty girls. YAY! Some in rather stern uniforms. BOO! (Unless you have a uniform fetish.) LRH turns out to be very un-Guru-like (on his taped lectures), a sort of regular guy, though wise, often funny, down-to-earth, never mysterious or aloof. YAY? BOO? (One perhaps was hoping for Yogi Ramamamayamahamalabama.) Even in dealing with such nebulous concepts as the spirit, Scientology claims to offer a precise technology and exact definitions, analogous in rigor to the hard sciences. BOO? YAY? That sexy-looking young ethics officer turns out to be as tough as a 2-hour confront. BOO? YAY? (Maybe yay, because it can be a refreshing surprise when someone catches you in the act of rationalizing a misdeed and doesn't let you get away with it. And it's fascinating, if you happen to be over 30, to watch some teenager take you apart effortlessly - I've been through it!)

As you can see, these boos and yays are not always obvious. What's boo for the goose may be yay for the gander. I know someone who was sold on Scientology when his first Bridge Consultant asked him a question, got an evasive answer, acknowledged and repeated the question (verbatim), got another evasive answer, acknowledged and repeated the original question until she got an answer. (This is something Scientologists learn to do on "The Communication Course".) He found it a relief and a revelation. Until she did that, he hadn't realized he was evading communications. He'd never before been handled with firm, direct control. (Note: She didn't control him in the sense that she forced him to give a particular answer. She just made him answer.) He actually felt FREED from his own evasive rut by her insistence on an answer. He felt less afraid of facing up to things. Sounds high-falutin', but that's his story, which I believe (he used to be a good friend of mine). (He's still a Scientologist.)

That's what Scientology claims to offer: Good control of you that increases your control of yourself and your own life, with a resultant increase in both freedom and responsibility. So there's an example that would seem, superficially, to be a big BOO! Someone (gasp!) manipulates you. And yet it was a big YAY for my one-time friend. Not that he wasn't aware of being controlled, but that he appreciated it.

The same sort of control might infuriate some people. Of course, per Hubbard's Emotional Tone Scale, that's not necessarily a bad thing: Someone in chronic grief or fear, consistently controlled, will (says Hubbard) come UP to anger on the way to more positive emotions. For example, a child is in apathy. You mimic him (sit beside him saying nothing, unmoving). He starts to cry. You sympathize. And so forth. He comes up through anxiety, fear, resentment, anger, boredom, conservatism - eventually is cheerful.

It seems, then, that the pluses and minuses of Scientology (in its initial impression on newcomers) are no simple matter. Whatever you anticipate, based on experience with other groups or what you've read about Scientology in the papers, you will be surprised, pleasantly or not. You will encounter both unexpected control (for example, the Bridge Consultant's insistence and persistence) and (something we critics seldom discuss) unexpected freedom. For example, in a counseling session, you will probably find that the most shocking things you can think of to say do not shock or elicit reprimand. Consequently, you do feel free to say almost anything, more so than ever before perhaps; certainly more so than ever before with a near-stranger who appears to be taking notes. (This was certainly my experience.)

And as a student on a Scientology course, when you ask the supervisor (there are no teachers, a kind of freedom in itself) to explain something in Hubbard's writings, the supervisor will refuse to explain or interpret, insisting that you work it out for yourself with the aid of a dictionary and other references from Hubbard himself. This is a kind of intellectual freedom. Nor does anyone insist that you BELIEVE what Hubbard says, only that when you try out the techniques he derives from his theories, you do them exactly as stated, and thus find out for yourself if they work as claimed. Here again is a mixture of freedom and control: You are free to do other things, but if you do Scientology, do it as it is laid out. You don't have to believe it will work, but are expected to find out for yourself.

(I'm describing the typical current practices of Scientology. Perhaps they are sometimes perverted or abused, but what I'm describing is what I've experienced on Scientology courses I took. For example, my Supervisors could never be persuaded to interpret the data for me, not in the past 20 years.)

The paragraph before last contains a mild shocker, if you realize that Scientology calls itself a religion and is accepted as such by several governments, including the United States (and Scientology does claim to increase spiritual awareness): Scientologists are not required to believe that the tenets of Scientology are true! Of course, there's that bogeyman, peer pressure, and if, as a student, you disagree with the ideas, a supervisor will check to see if there's some word you've misunderstood - and, surprise, surprise! Often there is! But in ANY group there is pressure to agree with group normative values. For example, in a group of people who are out to expose Scientology as evil, members are expected to consider Scientology evil. This doesn't mean that these groups profess a Credo. Religions always profess a Credo... don't they?

Scientology offers a Creed, a broad one (e.g., that human rights also apply to spirits), but it's not part of a catechism or policed system of beliefs. The stress is on finding out what's true for you. The "truths" offered are offered, not to be accepted on faith, but to be verified (or not) by you through the practice of Scientology. Of course, if you, claiming to be a Scientologist, start publishing and circulating on the Web that Scientology is bullshit and Hubbard is a fraud, you will no longer be considered by Scientology to be a Scientologist. But why would you expect to be? Very few groups allow you membership when you are actively attacking the group's right to exist. Even so-called democracies have very limited tolerance for this.

The point is, yes, some level of agreement is enforced in Scientology. For example, it is against the rules to launch a public attack on Scientology. But the degree of freedom to believe or disbelieve the tenets, principles, truths of Scientology goes beyond what we Westerners expect of a religion. I don't count here religions like Unitarianism, where little belief is required (other than belief in the value of open-mindedness, a kind of liberal righteousness that can take on subtly doctrinaire forms) because there is little offered up as well-defined principle that could be accepted or rejected. Scientology offers MANY principles, but does not require that members accept them on faith: For example, that man is basically good; that you ARE the soul and can survive apart from the body; that you've lived before; that if you are critical of others, it's because of bad things YOU'VE done and withheld. And there are thousands more.

So there's an example of unexpected freedom - and of unexpected responsibility: Many people expect a religion to tell them what to believe. Such people would perhaps be disappointed to be told they are expected to find out for themselves, empirically (by applying some technique), what is true. They are expected to take responsibility for deciding what is true.

(But someone who wants restriction is not likely to be attracted to a religion that promotes itself as the route to "Total Freedom." Of course, total freedom is an absolute, something unobtainable, per Hubbard himself, and not really what Scientology aims at, since, says Hubbard, neither a total absence of barriers - total freedom - nor a world solid with barriers provides much of a game to play. The ideal he professes in several books and lectures is a greatly increased tolerance for both freedoms and barriers and a greatly increased ability to create and play bigger and better games. But since most people are painfully aware of too many barriers, freedom makes a more attractive bait. Theoretically, in a world of rich, jaded playboys with too much time and too much freedom, Scientology might need to advertise a route to total discipline! Sounds unreal, but look at the bondage fetishists or the once "wild kids" who claim that Army discipline made them real men.)

I emphasize unexpected freedoms because we all know all about the unexpected controls. They are a hobby horse we've been whipping for a long time. Whereas I'm emphasizing the element of surprise and disorientation, whether in the form of unwanted (or simply unexpected) control OR freedom. But no doubt, to most critics it is the unexpected controls that are most disturbing. Just as we protest copyright restrictions on the Internet because we've come to expect that on the Internet there are no rules, so we protest when a group that promises freedom imposes discipline. Which brings us back to that great French actor, Boo-Yay (remember Charles?).

The dance of BOO and YAY goes on: You take a course and learn some techniques you consider powerful and useful. (This DOES happen: Though some critics claim Scientology is pure fraud, most acknowledge that Hubbard had a few good ideas. I speak from my own experience: Much of what I learned in Scientology worked as claimed.) So YAY! Now you're FREE to go out and make money counseling people... well, not quite: There are licensing requirements, and if, in counseling others, you (for your own good reasons) don't apply the technology exactly as Hubbard says, you may find yourself in deep doodoo with the Church. BOO! What kind of freedom is this? Of course, you are free to leave Scientology and do other things (YAY?), but still, you paid good money for that course (the one they want you to redo at your own cost - now THERE'S unwanted responsibility!), and also, it turns out that if you leave Scientology, you can get in legal trouble (copyright and trademark violation, for example) if you mix certain Scientology practices in with whatever it is you do. E-meters, for example, are limited by law to Scientology practitioners. BOO! BOO! BOOHOO!

But maybe you try to handle this disagreement within Scientology (You're really giving the Church a chance!) You ask for and get (although you think it takes too long) a hearing. YAY! You explain in great detail (in writing) why you did what you did and why it wasn't really wrong, but no one seems to pay attention (BOO!), and those cold and above-all KNOWING acknowledgments are scary (what do they know about you?), and it takes way too long to get an official answer, and meanwhile you go broke, get sick, your wife leaves you, your dog leaves you... wow! (And bow-wow!) The woof of your life is warped as desolation looms! Scientology has ruined your life! Scientology threatens the very woof over your head. (Sorry.)

And on top of that, the findings of the hearing claim that YOU, the VICTIM of all this, have committed all sorts of unspeakable crimes, have betrayed Scientology, wasted people's time, lied, etc., and here you were just trying to help or make a few bucks or exercise your rights as an American or whatever, and besides the findings misquote you... sort of... you didn't mean that... exactly..., but you're too upset and sick to explain it to them... (Here the messy handwriting of life becomes illegible.)

If you've got nothing left to sell but a horror story, sell it as dearly as you can. And isn't it wonderful to know that you aren't at fault in the least, because look at how you've suffered!

At this point YAYs are extinct. We are lost in boos, booboos and maybe booze. Sorry - realizing how verbose I've been, I've accelerated and lost the intricacies of all the good horror story stuff in the blur.

There's a point in all this that is, perhaps, a sneaky one: It isn't that it was all your fault. It isn't that Scientology is a good organization (or a bad one). It's that the horror stories you think lead you and others to the awful truth about Scientology are precisely what stand between you and the ability to critique Scientology intelligently. More precisely, the ADDICTION to these stories ("The horror! The horror" - famous last words from Mistah Kurtz ["He dead"]) - the COMPELLING NEED to fix attention on them, to bleed them of every drop of rightness (yours) and wrongness (Scientology's), is a kind of blinder, a whirl of confusion that makes it difficult to look right at Scientology (confront, another pet Scientology term, and a prelude to control) - or to look right at yourself, since you've now misdefined yourself in terms of your relative rightness with respect to an extremely turbulent idea of Scientology.

I have to speak complexly, lest you realize that this whole essay is a truism: It's hard to be objective where there's a lot of pain. Beyond that truism is another: The distancing that comes from a sincere attempt at objectivity can distance us from the pain. And implicit in this is another truth, if not truism - one of the things I learned in Scientology that still seems true to me: If we try to stave off the pain of failure by becoming obsessed with being right and with others being wrong, we will hold onto the pain and even magnify it (OUCH!), because it seems to make us more right, to justify us, because LOOK WHAT THEY DONE TO ME! We hang onto the very pain that makes it hard for us to be right (or objective, at any rate) because it makes us feel right. That's a hell of a vicious circle. How can we change or destroy or defeat Scientology if it is as narrowly defined for us as is the elephant to each of the blind men in the fable: "Scientology IS the piece of it with which I collided painfully in the dark"?

If it sounds like I'm suggesting applying bits of Scientology to ourselves, that shouldn't be a shocker: We're in a hell of a fix if we can't use a bit of truth, simply because it comes from an enemy. After all, truth is the weaponry of this war (or so we claim), and surely it is wise to learn to use the enemy's weapons, especially those that may be effective. Otherwise it's like refusing to use artillery because the enemy uses artillery. Isn't that why we're writing essays about control, responsibility and freedom - to hang Scientology with its own petard? (Pardon the Shakespeare, from whom we can borrow another line if we don't change our ways: Lear's suggestion that we sit down and weep and talk about the deaths of kings.)

Scientology's methods of evaluating data with a minimum of "human emotion and reaction" has not served it badly in, for example, its development of legal strategy. (Hint: Check out proportion of Scientology legal successes after Hubbard shifted responsibility for "Legal" away from the old "Worldwide" organization - which was NOT applying his evaluation technique - and put the area under Sea Org management - which then DID apply Hubbard's evaluation technique to directing cases.) Scientology's notion of "confront" (and maybe even the "confronting" drills) must be of some use, because they take on battles from which many larger groups retreat. Scientology's marketing policies (if my earlier point about Scientology's expansion is correct) must be bearing fruit. And so on. Per Scientology (again), an evaluation seeking to determine what's WRONG with something must take into account what's RIGHT about it if that evaluation is going to come up with a real situation and a real WHY (reason for the situation) that leads to an effective handling. How can we expect to handle Scientology if we focus only on its wrongnesses and never view its rightnesses? (And if we do view rightnesses, we may even have the jump on Scientology - unless Scientology is able to view OUR rightnesses as well as our wrongnesses. Because another thing Scientology is right about is that truth will win out.) (A bit scary, no?)

You say there's obviously something wrong with Scientology, because we're good people (even Hubbard says we're all basically good), and we're agin' it, and some of us feel we've been hurt by it. We talk about how terrible Scientology is, but we don't seem to be drawing much blood or even feeling much better about ourselves - the brief hectic joy of battle, but the dissatisfaction and resentment remain. The Church is still there. Maybe we need to change. After all, Scientology changes. Much stays the same, but in many ways Scientology has been a moving target. The technology has evolved considerably over the years. The level of training of students, the rules, the organizational policies, the territorial scope, the quality of promotion (far more sophisticated), the resources - all these things have changed drastically over the years. Maybe the critics haven't changed enough. Maybe we're Elmer Fudd pointing a shot gun down a rabbit hole, while Bugs comes up behind us in a Sherman Tank. Maybe we're malcontents hissing at people who (many of them) are no longer there (and some of the worst of them may now be among US!) - hissing at them for doing things that aren't done that way any more.

All speculative. But it's funny: Scientology doesn't look much like Scientology 20 years ago (much less 50 years ago), and some of the changes are huge. Scientologists can be seen out in the community - helping illiterate kids in West LA or teaching administrative methods to big companies or running huge computer companies or teaching drug rehabilitation techniques and lobbying against psych drugs.... Yet the criticisms of Scientology haven't changed much (in strident tone, topics, etc.) from those of critics 50 years ago. Maybe we're a little bit stuck.

Here's an exercise in stepping back out of one's personal morass: What are the differences in original expectations and intentions among:

People who hear of Scientology, but never have anything to do with it;

people who get into it and remain in it;

people who get into it, but drop out (simply become inactive);

people who get into it and get kicked out;

people who drop out or get kicked out who then go on to other things and say little or nothing about Scientology or even praise it in public, as, for instance, John Brody and Jerry Seinfeld (with Tom Shales a few years ago) have done in interviews and as William Burroughs did after leaving Scientology in the early 70s;

people who drop out or get kicked out who then attack Scientology;

and people who have never been Scientologists who have taken it upon themselves to be critics of Scientology?

I've already written a book here, so will not try to answer these beyond suggesting that many of our responses to Scientology can be understood by looking at expectations and how Scientology's particular (and unusual) combination of controls and freedoms may disappoint various sets of expectations and fulfill others. The "right" (that is, most horrible) concatenation of surprises is likely to lead to a rapid acceleration and a frantic confusion of boos and yays, propelled by long-buried disagreements and half-agreements, old small misunderstandings never fully viewed and sorted out, small (but cumulative) violations of rules one never fully understood or agreed to (and maybe some large violations - like the auditor who, after session, screws his underage auditee - or "preclear" - or the apparently gung ho staff member who has been embezzling money from the Church: such things have happened, and such people were later among the more vehement critics of the Church).

Once things go wrong, the YAYs only make the BOOs more upsetting. We find ourselves reaching to hang onto what we are as desperately struggling to get away from, which is close to a definition of insanity. That's why it is the RIGHTNESSES of Scientology that are hardest for us to look at. The wrongnesses are not necessarily invalid. They are just too easy for us. They don't do us any lasting good. They are pure sugar, no protein or fiber. We won't grow up strong like bulls on sugar.

When the whirl of confused expectations and apparent betrayals gets dense enough and fast enough (whipped to tornado velocity), anything can happen and does, and it becomes extremely difficult to sort out who did what to whom. It's like a painful divorce. One has, really, but two choices: Take the whole solid lump of confusion and turn it into a one-sided horror story and become a victim (and OBSESSIVE critic) of Scientology. Or look for the loose end, the tiny thread of personal responsibility sticking out of the tangled knot and painstakingly unravel it. You also find other people's responsibility in the process (Hey, that's how VALID criticism becomes possible) - it's not a matter of simple self-blame, any more than the sorting out of a painful divorce means taking all the blame on yourself.

After all, what is it we are trying to be free OF? Scientology, perhaps. Then why don't we simply leave it and get on with our lives? Why do we become "anti-Scientologists"? Out of a sense of responsibility to the poor unsuspecting world about to fall into the clutches of Scientology? I doubt it. We seem more concerned that others not think us the rats we think Scientologists think we are (a legitimate concern, for where would we be should most of the world turn Scientologist? Who would hire us? Who would marry us? Who would believe us?), rather than alarmed that others may suffer from Scientology. Probably many of us feel that those who swallow Scientology deserve Scientology.

No, we're chained to Scientology by our horror stories, but these condensed SOLUTIONS to the unconfrontable alternative (my, such Scientology language!) of having to sort out fully what happened, what was done and said, what part we played in it, what we expected, what we got, what others expected of us, what they got. It's not that we're wrong about Scientology (which may well be full of faults, being a group of people more like us than we like to think). No, it's that we're wrong about ourselves! We are not FREE of Scientology (certainly not enough to critique it effectively) because somehow we lost control of it and of our part in it, created an explanation that precluded our taking any responsibility for what happened, and so (as the man who blames his mother for everything remains obsessed with his mother) we remain obsessed with the evil of Scientology. (Or are we knights on white horses attacking a formidable dragon that only LOOKS like a windmill. Hey, why not? YAY!)