Scientology and the Art of Brainwashing

by Granfalloon

[ Note: I'm not sure that I agree or disagree with the idea that people can be brainwashed, but this article raises certain interesting points. So, here you go. -Chris]

Definitions of Brainwashing
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 1:
a forcible indoctrination to induce someone to give up basic political, social, or religious beliefs and attitudes and to accept contrasting regimented ideas
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 2:
persuasion by propaganda or salesmanship
Cambridge International Dictionary of English:
to make someone believe only what you want them to believe by continually telling them that it is true and preventing any other information from reaching them.

The first definition applies to Scientology primarily in the case of the RPF (the Rehabilitation Project Force is a special disciplinary unit for errant Scientologists). Though deserving of further attention, the activities of the RPF are beyond the scope of this essay. I am concerned here with the transition that occurs from the time someone walks into an org as “raw meat” until the time he becomes a “do it for Ron” fanatic.

The second definition is very broad and does not stress the severity of change that a Scientologist undergoes while being indoctrinated. One Scientologist told me that that sort of brainwashing occurs when a child is told to eat his peas at the supper table.

The “Cambridge” definition applies very well to Scientology. Still, for the purposes of this essay, I would like to further define brainwashing as, “psychological or physical coercion to the point where an individual is unable to think critically about an organization or its ideas, even when they are introduced to new information”.


Not everyone is susceptible to the brainwashing techniques of Scientology. Most of my friends during the early seventies (when I was involved in the organization) found Scientology to be plainly absurd. Comments after initial investigations include,

And after attending an event with a speaker from Flag a friend said, “There is a guy up there talking about taking over the world, and the audience is laughing at the wrong parts.” In 1971 Scientologists predicted that by 1973 there would be an org in every city on earth and by 1975 everyone would be a Scientologist. The Toronto org board which showed the job placements of one hundred or so staff members was set up to accommodate one hundred THOUSAND staff members. Thirty years later their membership has dropped. Most people will not allow themselves to be brainwashed. Even those who do get brainwashed usually leave Scientology eventually, although some effects tend to persist.

I see four different groups of people who respond well to their brainwashing.

  1. The connected– they will get more deeply involved than they would otherwise have gotten, because a loved one, a friend or a family member is involved.
  2. The idealistic– a person, usually in their late teens or early twenties who finds no real meaning in his life. Scientology offers a chance to save the world, an offer which proves to be fraudulent.
  3. The troubled– someone in the middle of divorce, unemployment, life changing illness, crisis in sexual identity, leaving home, death of a loved one, or any of life’s crises.
  4. The gullible– someone who really believes that he is getting a job when answering that help wanted sign, mystics who believe that Hubbard has uncovered the truth, people who are given direction for the first time in their life, and any other trusting souls who have led ex-Scientologists to observe,“Many of them are stupid.”
First Steps

Initially, Scientology is played up as the science of mysticism. The cornerstone of their indoctrination is, “Finding the person’s ruin”. Something, anything, that has once disturbed an individual is brought to the surface. A passive neurosis, which may have been all but forgotten is brought to the surface and played on until it becomes an active psychosis. Scientology is presented as the only thing that can relieve the person’s pain.

Soon, the notion of “gradients” is introduced. New Scientologists are told small secrets about the discipline. For example, on the second weekend of the communications course, as the new students were telling an ashtray to “stand up” to demonstrate total intention, the course supervisor let it slip that someone in Los Angeles tried this exercise and the ashtray began to levitate. With this, the students become part of an inner circle. They are told, though, not to go around telling others of all this. The others are not ready for it. The others would not believe these things to be true.

Writing success stories which are posted on their bulletin boards, written in the pamphlets and read aloud to wild applause, provides positive feedback.

The chart of the bridge to OT humbles the individual as to how little he really knows, and also gives him a desire to get ahead, to enter the next inner circle.

Testing the Tech

The biggest support in getting the susceptible to view Scientology uncritically, is that the tech DOES work– up to a point. Auditing strongly resembles mid century psychoanalysis, so it should be no surprise that people feel better after going through it. When they do feel better a feedback mechanism occurs that goes something like this:

“Mom told me that Scientology wouldn’t work and now I know for myself that it does, because I feel a lot better about that argument I had with Sarah. I even know why it occurred, and I don’t expect to ever get into that sort of conflict situation again. And since this has worked, as they told me it would, I expect that the rest of Scientology will work too, and I am on my way to having control, knowingly and at will, over matter, energy, space, time, life and thought. I am immortal and I will control the universe.”

With this revelation the new Scientologist becomes positively ecstatic. He is happier and more able, just as they said he would be. The smiles are not painted on. Auditing can really help you come to terms with your life. (But so can I’m OK, Your OK or The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People or Emotional IQ. And they don’t bring a destructive cult along with them.) The communications course really can teach you how to communicate better, provided you don’t communicate well in the first place. (But so can a dramatic arts course at the local community centre.) Science of Survival may give you a somewhat consistent philosophy about personal responsibility and the meaning of life. (If you have never read a book by a philosopher, you might even think that Scientology is unique in being an applied religious philosophy.) Scientology can help you get off drugs. Scientology can help you if you are having trouble learning to read. (But almost any truly determined person can get off drugs or learn to read.) Scientology can accomplish some things because they borrow ideas from the best, before mixing in their manipulative lies. And if you don’t have a drug or learning problem, you will be impressed with the stories of those who have succeeded because of Scientology. They got Kirstie Alley off drugs. They taught Tom Cruise how to read. And Scientology tells you not to believe things merely on their say so but to experience them for yourself, but, really, they don’t mean it. If you believe in, say,

they have ways of dealing with you.

Oh, yes, this is by no means an exhaustive list. If you do not respond well to their persuasion, they drop the bomb, “Do you really want to throw away a chance at immortality and godlike power because of this one little problem? Once you go, it is very, very hard to return. Stay with it a little longer. The truth is around the very next bend.” L. Ron Hubbard is your co-pilot. Eventually you realize that even a negative thought about Scientology will have to be audited out, at significant time and expense. At that point you’re brainwashed and you police your own thoughts.


Scientology tells people that the ability to confront anything is of fundamental importance, yet it uses brainwashing to prevent Scientologists from ever being able to confront certain embarrassing truths about Scientology.

Ask an OT what it is like to be an OT and you will receive no comment, misleading comment or admonishment that it is a personal matter to be discussed only with a pastoral counsellor. Scientologist are told very early on that it is poor form to ask casually about a person’s case. You should never ask a clear why he needs a shopping list, instead of using his perfect memory, or why he wears glasses, or why she needs the pregnancy rundown if she is already clear, or what those tissues are doing on his desk. It’s bad manners. Furthermore OT’s and clears cannot be judged by our standards. Who knows how such a highly refined entity reasons? In the end there is no way to judge them at all (if you accept the premise).

The Scientologist will learn to control an argument by changing the subject, attacking the source of information or acting out emotionally. The sad thing is, this is rarely convincing to the person that the Scientologist is talking to. It merely frustrates the other person. It will, however, convince the Scientologist that he has won an argument.

Scientologists develop a new vocabulary. If asked why all the new words are needed, they say that all sciences need their own vocabulary. Just try discussing physics or biology without using special words. While this is true, Scientology uses new meanings of words to confuse, and undermine rational behaviour.

For instance:

ethics =
that which helps the advancement of Scientology
know =
science =
faith in L. Ron Hubbard’s writing
dilettante =
someone not completely devoted to Scientology
reality =

Scientologists may be told, as I was, that the end does justifies the means, and that the phrase was made unpopular because of Stalin’s excesses however Scientology has its own excesses. Scientologists are required to be unreasonable and they are.

They do not read newspapers, they destroy magazines and books in libraries that contain articles critical of Scientology, they employ internet filters on their computers to avoid critical sites, all to avoid contact with the outside world. I knew someone who left the Sea Org after many years. He commented that he had not gone to a movie, bought a shirt or visited an art gallery in twelve years. Sea Org members are prohibited from watching television. Scientologist who are not in the Sea Org are not as cut off from normal society but barriers do exist for them.

When friends tell Scientologists that they are making a big mistake, spending too much money and too much time in an unproven, perhaps dangerous endeavour, it becomes important to defend their emotional attachment and they will create justifications. Like other religions Scientology has its miracles (or OT phenomena) and many Scientologists claim to have seen, or created these miracles. However these same people, when they eventually leave the cult, admit that they had merely been deluding themselves. Scientologists excel at experiencing miraculous events (eg. out-of-body travel to exotic locations) which take place in their own minds, but no such miracle has ever been objectively verified. Sadly, the more foolish someone is when believing a falsehood, the harder it is for them to admit to being wrong.


Most cults engage in “love bombing” which could be described as a recruits uncritical acceptance by the group. In Scientology this is fortified by a certain esprit de corps against the suppressives. They believe that suppressive people have infiltrated the banks, Interpol, the cancer establishment and psychiatry. They are the 2% of the population (they could be your Mom and Dad) that don’t want anyone to get better. They, and the 18% of population connected to them, the potential trouble sources, hold Scientology back. They are responsible for Scientology’s failures. Scientologists believe that they must hold together to form a wall against the suppressives, because they are the lone salvation for the planet against the threat of nuclear holocaust. Extreme situations take extreme solutions, including cutting off all communication between you and your former associates (the disconnect policy) and attacking suppressives without mercy (fair game policy). Soon all negative communications about Scientology are eliminated. The person is limited to the friendship of Scientologists and the few others who will not discuss the drawbacks of Scientology in their presence.

My advice to Scientologists

If you have gotten this far, you have probably thought of many objections to my argument. And you know from reading the final pages of Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health that all this is only my reactive mind speaking anyway. Still, eventually you will start to understand that something is terribly, terribly wrong with Scientology. Then you will either quit or be thrown out, which eventually happens to most everyone. It will be hard to come around to the real world. But your friends and family won’t reject you. They will help you relearn that reality can be a lot of fun and reality is healthier than delusion. Disagreeing with reality does not create a new reality, it makes you wrong.

If you remain a cultist don’t be surprised when the public treats you as a con artist. You are sincere, but you are the tool of a huge racket. You lie to yourself and to others. Only your fellow cultists will respect you.

Scientology is very good at PR, but beneath the lovely veneer, lies a great deal of decay. Scientologists need to stop justifying all the lunacy of the cult, and start facing reality. Fight the brainwashing, and be free again.