Private Eye Review Slams OUP Book on Scientology

The perenially-acerbic “Literary Review” section of the latest Private Eye (1234, p.26) takes aim at Scientology, a new volume from the Oxford University Press edited by James R. Lewis – a scholar whose credibily was damaged in 1995 when the Aum Supreme Truth group flew him out to Japan to tell journalists that there was no way they could have been responsible for the sarin gas Tokyo subway attack. Scientology appears to be true to form:

In the opening essay…J. Gordon Melton sets out “an overview of the life of L. Ron Hubbard anchored by the generally agreed facts”. The general tone can be deduced from this conclusion: “After a suitable pause to acknowledge the founder’s life and accomplishments, the church continued its forward march. In another chapter, David G. Bromley claims that “the basic outline of L. Ron Hubbard’s life is not contested”.

In fact, of course, it very much is contested. Further:

 …Evidence of editorial mumbo-jumbo comes thick and fast. On page four, editor James R. Lewis lambasts an unnamed critic of Scientology for being a computer scientist rather than a sociologist or a religious studies scholar. Yet at the very end of the book there is an astonishingly uncritical essay…co-authored by…a senior lecturer in, er, “tourism management”.

This highlights an on-going problem with the study of certain groups – scholars naturally want to understand what makes a group tick, and that means attempting a bit of empathy that goes beyond dismissing those who hold unusual religious views as simply being manipulated or just weird. There is also an understandable wish to create distance from polemical “anti-cult” groups that sometimes have religious agendas of their own. However, it should also be noted that cooperative religious groups can provide academics with never-ending streams of data for articles and books; publish something too critical, and that research source is likely to be cut off. Also, writing critically can be problematic due to libel law: in the UK, a volume of edited essays entitled Harmful Religion was pulped by the publisher after threats from a group called the Bruderhof; in the USA, an evangelical Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions had to fend off a libel suit from the Local Church.

In the wake of the Aum fiasco, psychologist Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi spoke out:

In light of what we have witnessed we are forced to re-read, our eyes fresh with suspicion, the whole corpus of NRM [New Religious Movements] literature…Recent and less recent NRM catastrophes help us realize that in every single case allegations by hostile outsiders and detractors have been closer to reality than any other accounts. Ever since the Jonestown tragedy, statements by ex-members turned out to be more accurate than those of apologists and NRM researchers. The reality revealed in the cases of People’s Temple, Rajneesh International, Vajradhatu, the Nation of Yahweh, the Branch Davidians, the Faith Assembly, Aum Shinrykio, the Solar Temple, or Heaven’s Gate is much more than unattractive; it is positively horrifying. In every case of NRM disasters over the past 50 years, starting with Krishna Venta (Beit-Hallahmi, 1993), we encounter a hidden world of madness and exploitation in a totalitarian, psychotic, group, whose reality is actually even worse than detractors’ allegations.

The happy consensus, shared by colleagues I admire and to whom I will always be in debt, turns out to be, on closer examination, a rhetoric of advocacy, apologetics and propaganda. The advocacy and apologetics agenda creates an impoverished discourse, denying the madness, passion, and exploitation involved in NRMs, and leads to an intellectual dead end. The real issue is how a community of brilliant scholars committed itself to this kind of NRM advocacy…

7 Responses

  1. As much as I dislike the ‘religion’ of Scientology, I do appreciate it’s existence as it reminds all religious people that their beliefs are as silly and odd as any other such faith.

  2. The self help pyramid scam of Scientology should be mocked and torn apart mercilessly. And we should note that Scientology is the only “religion” with its own slave labor camps. Also, you have to buy your way up; a certain amount of money gets you further up “the Bridge To Total Freedom.” I’m sick of people saying that Judaism and Christianity are on the level with Scientology. Other religion’s secrets are freely given. You can leave and not be harassed. Scientology will hire private investigators to follow you and will use its unpaid staff to harass you. L Ron Hubbard was a lying, manipulative, drug addict with a passion for mind control and devil worship a la Aleister Crowley. He once said something to the effect of writing books is not the way to make money, the only way to make money is to start a religion. Con man extraordinaire. Even conning the author of this piece into being sympathetic to this self help group’s unsubstantiated garbage.

  3. Scientology helps expose the flawed and un realistic thinking in all religion, which is why I’m gald it’s around because all religions have elements of weirdness that has become normal over time but with Scientology being so young, it’s like being at the birth of Christianity, Islam and all the other faiths.

  4. “L Ron Hubbard was a lying, manipulative, drug addict with a passion for mind control and devil worship a la Aleister Crowley. ”
    Inscrutable, I was with you up until that point. Hubbard had a brief fling with an OTO chapter in California (the OTO are not “devil worshippers”), taking part in about three rituals and having precisely one postal exchange with Crowley before running off with the chapter leader’s wife.
    That is the total extent of his “devil worshipping”. There’s already plenty of real mud to fling at Hubbard and Scientology without introducing fantasies about satanism.

  5. So, now the Scientologists will inevitably retaliate against the “Eye,” and the Curse of Gnome will finally take them down! Hurrah!

  6. …before running off with the chapter leader’s wife.

    With a chunk of his cash, too. I remember that incident in Miller’s bio of Hubbard, it provided a nice bit of light relief – especially Crowley’s follow-up letter calling the chapter leader an “idiot” for getting fleeced.

  7. If you’re interested in watching a Scientology PR train-wreck, you might like to check out the antics of a trio of Scientologist hotel owners trying to turn their pebble-dash castle into the next ‘Sea Org’ down in Cornwall :-)

    At one level it’s amusing but the underlying and characteristic Scientology delusion is actually pretty scary. It’s expressed in a contemptuous disregard for reality, public opinion or societal norms.

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