How to believe in Scientology
By 'Funky Donny'
As an ex scientologist, I am frequently accused of stupidity for being so gullible. I'm not gullible at all ordinarily, so how come I fell prey to the cult? How did I reconcile the more "way-out" aspects of scientology with the normal world around me?
There was nothing inconsistent to reconcile. It really did all make perfect sense at the time… Here are some ways this can be achieved by a cult:
1. Begin with a plausible mental model.
The first contact with Scientology is usually through the book 'Dianetics', which outlines a very crude quasi-Freudian model of the mind. The mental model used is very simple, and rests on several fallacious notions, which aren't difficult to believe if we have any affinity with or respect for Freud, (which isn't particularly 'out there' if we watch the occasional documentary on psychology, or if we ever consider seeing an analyst). It's a basic form of neo-Freudian pop-psychology.
The over-simplified mental model new recruits are exposed to asserts several key factors:
a. We record all of our experiences with all of our senses, all the way from conception to the moment of death.
b. All of our memories, whether good or bad, are accessible to the trained counsellor.
c. Incidents containing unconsciousness mixed with trauma cause mental illness, psychosomatic illnesses and neuroses.
d. Recovering such buried memories in their totality, and recounting them to the trained therapist erases such aberrational traumas, which are then refiled as memories.
Therefore, according to Dianetics, one can recover one's traumas, recount them, and then one can reclaim the mental processing power one has lost due to ‘attention units' being wasted on our aberrations. After all, didn't Einstein say we only use 10% of our mental abilities? (Yes, but if he was making a scientific proclamation, then where's the proof?!)
With regard to the core concepts of Dianetics, a little reading about state-of-the-art psychological research, coupled with a direct look at Dianetic practice, disabuses us of every single precept above. It's simply based on falsehoods, as is any ‘recovered memory' intervention. However, it's not difficult for the untrained to agree with the core concepts of Dianetics, since they don't seem to be all that far fetched.
2. ‘Prove' that it works.
To congeal his mental model into a hard belief, Hubbard primes you to expect a feeling of ‘release' after the bad incident has been ‘erased'. Oddly enough, you may well feel fantastic after a two-hour session of repetitive badgering. At some point in the repetitive tedium of a Dianetics session, you'll more than likely get a tangible sense of euphoria, which is enough to *prove* that the method works. Some experience this as a full-on mental blow-out; their hair stands on end, they go bright red and they can feel euphoric for up to two days. I felt this incredible euphoria early on in Scientology, and I could surely pinpoint that moment as the point of no return for me. It's the event horizon of the cult. This was proof, and magnetic proof at that.
I believe this phenomenon to be hypnotic euphoria. It is possibly the same as the feeling of being ‘born again' while listening to David Koresh for five hours, or the feeling of achieving enlightenment after the mind-numbingly repetitive ‘intensive' meditation of the Rajneesh cult: doing nothing except asking yourself ‘who am I' for upwards of two days will probably have psychological effects! It appears to me that when your mind does odd things, odd things happen to it. Many cults or new age scam merchants exploit this mental property to prove their scam works. It's even the ‘bodhi' of the Buddhist.
In reality, it seems to be just something the brain does. Interestingly, you can even reproduce this euphoria in some people by getting them to stare at a wall for two hours. Perhaps the brain craves stimulus and eventually blows out.
When you get blown out, your critical faculties take a back seat – after all, Hubbard is *right* to the tune of making you feel like you just freebased a whole gram! He said you'd get released and feel amazing, and now you do. The product has been delivered in no uncertain terms. Why disbelieve now? (Needless to say, it's more expensive than freebasing…)
3. Increase the amount of unreality on a gradient.
Now that it has been *proven* in the mind of the mark, it's really time to up the ante...
Cults lay down their cosmologies in layers. Thought reforming organisations use a shallow gradient, introducing the wilder aspects as you proceed to notions of ever-increasing unreality. Each step you take is believable due to the preceding one. By degree, Scientologists inculcate their recruits.
The incline gets steeper with concepts such as this one: if you're not ‘improving' in therapy, there must be an ‘earlier-similar' incident. But there is a problem: what if you're at the moment of conception and the incident isn't erasing? Are we expected to believe you can recall a time before your conception? Remarkably, this question isn't even slightly important to the Scientology therapist! He doesn't hesitate to take you earlier similar. With confidence, he asks the patient the question again: ‘Is there an earlier similar incident?' Whatever the patient gives is accepted and treated as if it was a real incident. The patient will get a picture in his mind, just press him for it, and the therapist takes it for granted that it is an actual incident. If he protests, the patient is assured that it doesn't matter whether it's real or not, it's treated as real because it's beneficial to the patient to do so.
Interestingly, (and of great benefit to Hubbard's bank balance), very soon after entering ‘therapy', your idea of what memory actually is begins to get conflated with the notion of imagination. Gradually, the line between the two gets blurred. Eventually, you come to accept that if you can see a mental picture of something, then you must have seen it before. The notion quickly occurs to a person that if he recalls something then it is a memory. You get a ‘mental image picture', and the therapist ‘runs' it as an incident. He is not interested as to its historical veracity, only in running the incident. In such an uncritical environment, anything you give them is run, and anything is taken as an incident. As a new recruit, you're sometimes told that it doesn't matter if you're recalling ‘real' memories, only that if you do recall past lives you get better regardless. So you humour them, you go earlier-similar, you find mental pictures – you've discovered past-life incidents to erase - and hey presto, your hair stands on end and it ‘works' all over again, as evidenced by the mental euphoria. In the mind of the recruit, past lives are now a reality.
According to Hubbard, quite without regard to whether they believe in past lives or not, and quite without regard to whether such incidents are real, the patient ‘always gets better'. However, it strikes me that if you're in an extremely repetitive session long enough, then you mustn't be surprised if at some point you'll be experiencing a spot of euphoria. Such a strong physiological reaction is enough to convince people that they are ‘improving', (or ‘making case-gain' as the Scientologists say), and it's certainly enough to demonstrate subjectively that you lived before. Unsurprisingly, Scientology is extremely heavy on testimonial ‘evidence', and feather-light on objective proof.
So people soon find they are ‘going whole track', which is to say, ‘recalling' past lives. Since we've already had it ‘proven' to us that these are real memories – otherwise we wouldn't feel the release - therefore we must have been around before this life, and it's irresistible to conclude that while bodies die, our souls are continuous. Indeed, due to this chicanery, mixed with a misunderstanding of what scientific methodology is, Scientologists believe they are the only ones with the scientific proof of spirits and past lives.
‘Thetan' is just another word for a spirit or a centre of consciousness. All religions have the concept of a Thetan, only they don't call it that. It's really not all that weird. In the same way every religionist believes we have a soul, so do scientologists. It's less weird than Christianity because with Christianity there's no ‘proof'. To the Scientologist, not only is there ‘proof', but it is duplicable in session after session.
Shored up by such ‘proof', and insulated by redefinition of the concepts of memory, the beliefs get wackier, but they are ‘proved right' time and time again in session, because scientologists just don't spin any another hypotheses as to how come their brains just filled up with serotonin. As far as they are concerned, it ‘works'.
I myself ‘recalled' being shot by the Nazis in Czechoslovakia in 1938 (I was born in 1965), and I also recalled being a captive on a slave spaceship, landing on earth 150,000 years ago to harvest woolly rhinoceros. At the time, it was real enough to me. Now I can think of other hypotheses to explain these ‘incidents', such as, well, using my imagination! But I must stress that after recalling being killed by the Nazis in session, I felt like a million dollars. That's all the ‘proof' the scientologist needs. That this feeling wears off merely keeps you addicted to going into session.
Scientology is ridiculed for its space-opera nonsense. That's fine, (I'll even join in the fun), but why are, for example, Spiritualists regarded as more respectable in our society? Some think that thinking you were someone like Bridey Murphey is more believable than thinking you were Jesus. It's often easier for some to believe they were a peasant in 1153 than being a Zorg from Neptune. Indeed, I was laughed at by a Spiritualist once for believing we might have inhabited bodies on other planets before Earth became our home. This amuses me: what's the difference between being me being killed by the Nazis 27 years before I was born, and thinking I was a pod-beast from the planet Thrak? Operationally, there's no difference. It doesn't require any leap of logic, if evidence is the arbiter of truth. They're both as stupid as each other. Curiously, while this points up the equal absurdity of unevidenced beliefs, this is a rationale which insulates the Scientologist against being sniped at by other religionists.
So anyway softly softly, by degree, the likes of Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley have been led up a garden path into believing that 75 million years ago, the evil Space Ruler Xenu wiped out this sector of the galaxy and all of us with it, and then implanted us all with the spirits of dead space aliens which we must pay a fortune to exorcise. Of course this is absurd at first glance, but you don't find this out until you've climbed the shallow slope towards this nonsense.
If the gradient is shallow enough, it is impossible to see the progression towards absurdity while it happens. If you watch the hour hand of the clock, can you see it move? I escaped from the cult when one day I noticed that although I didn't see the hour hand move from midday, it was now 6pm! Simply put, I woke up and compared then with now. Spontaneously, I separated my learned orthodoxy from observable reality. It wasn't difficult to do once I realised that the claims made for what Scientology could do didn't tally with the abilities of Scientologists.
4. Charge lots of money.
By the time you believe yourself to have been the victim of Xenu, you'll have spent tens of thousands of dollars - perhaps hundreds. Does Tom Cruise really want to admit he's spent a fortune on nothing except being a patsy?
Getting people to part with their money is a very powerful method of ensuring fealty to a belief – nobody wants to be gullible, but being expensively gullible is much harder to take! You'll rationalise the most absurd beliefs rather than admit you're a sucker.
To reverse the words of Orwell; the best way to run a cult is to make sure you charge a million dollars.
5. Reinforce the belief system with ‘social proof'.
Cultists exploit the fallacy of popularity. We've all heard that ten thousand flies hovering over a turd can't be wrong. If we can ensure that some of those flies are otherwise really clever and believable, their influence will keep others addicted.
You'd expect such weird beliefs to be held by earth-mothers, tree-huggers and Wiccans, but no: I knew a very successful photographer, a physics teacher (now that's hard science!) and even Lord McNair, a peer of the realm. One of my best friends in Scientology was an airline pilot; it's difficult to get less flakey than that! My best Scientology mate was a stalwart hero of the London Fire Brigade. The guy who sat next to me in the course-room was a self-made millionaire. I am just a computer nerd from London, so who am I to gainsay the likes of such luminaries? These people were sane and successful.
Hubbard explicitly knew the value of ‘social proof'. He instructed scientologists to recruit the influential. He even set up so-called ‘Celebrity Centres', specifically to recruit people he referred to as ‘Opinion Leaders'.
So, these are just a few of the levels upon which Hubbard builds credulity, and minimises the inconsistency of believing silly things. It's done so cleverly that the Scientologist thinks the rest of the world is stupid and deluded.