All of them, those in power, and those who want the power, would pamper us, if we agreed to overlook their crookedness by wilfully restricting our activities.
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by Roy Wallis
published in New Society magazine, 7 June 1973.
(Roy Wallis is identified as "Lecturer in Sociology, University of Stirling")
Few religious sects go to the lengths of the Scientologists to maintain secrecy. But Christian Science was once a comparable example.
While some religious and quasi-religious sects, in their eagerness to broadcast the word as widely as possible and bring new sheep into the fold, welcome investigation by outsiders and the publication of books by former members about their beliefs and practices, this is typically not always the case. Many seek to discourage publicity and deny access to their activities to those who are only casually or impartially interested. They feel that only the committed have any right to observe or discuss the work of the sect.
The reason, I feel, is not far to seek. The members of a sect see themselves as having a unique and privileged access to the truth not possessed by outsiders, who are therefore likely to contaminate, misunderstand, or misrepresent the doctrine and ritual. In some cases their scepticism on the objectivity of observers is not unwarranted. The popular press seems, on occasion, to project some of the more obvious Freudian fantasies onto new sectarian groups whose beliefs and rituals they find incomprehensible. Many editors appear to have a sneaking suspicion that something underhand is always going on in new sects that do not welcome reporters, even if it is not always sexual immorality.
However, while some sects do not view investigators or even writers in their own ranks favourably, not all have gone to the lengths of Christian Science and Scientology to maintain secrecy.
One would hardly believe that the elderly gentlemen and middle-aged, middle class ladies who attend the services of Christian Science churches could be mobilised into actively suppressing serious literary works discussing their Church — but at times in its history, such a belief would have been profoundly misplaced. A pamphlet issued by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1930, The Blight that Failed, gives an account of the difficulties faced by this publisher over the appearance of a biography of the founder of Christian Science, Mrs. Eddy: the biography of a virginal mind, by Edwin Franden Dakin.
Dakin had not been a Christian Scientist, but his interest in Mrs Eddy led him to write the biography, which Scribners accepted for publication. After the appearance of a public announcement for the book, Scribners were immediately approached by the Christian Science Committee on Publication for New York who made reference during a conversation with the publishers to a confidential memorandum issued to Scribners' sales staff. The one-man Committee suggested that the book be submitted to its office for a check on accuracy and reliability — an offer regarded by the publishers as censorship, which they declined.
The pressure brought to bear then took a different form. Personal approaches were made to Scribners executives by former school friends in the Church. When the book appeared, bookshops and libraries were visited as part of a concerted campaign to persuade them not to take it. The bookshops were threatened with boycott if they offered it for sale. Abusive letters were sent to Scribners from all parts of the United States, many having a highly stereotyped content and phraseology. So effective was the campaign that, at one point, 70% of Scribners' normal retail outlets had stopped selling the book and refused to display it. The campaign backfired, however, since Scribners could advertise how important the work must be, if so much effort was being expended to suppress it, and the book eventually became a bestseller.
What is especially disconcerting is that this was not an isolated case. An early biography of Mrs Eddy, originally published in article form in McLures Magazine, later appeared as a full-length biography — Georgine Milmine's The Life of Mary Baker Eddy and the History of Christian Science — by Doubleday. The board of Mother Church was able to purchase the copyright and plates of this book, effectively preventing republication.
Adam H. Dickey's Memoirs of Mary Baker Eddy, published in 1927, was based on his observations of several years in which he acted as Mrs. Eddy's secretary, and her specific instruction to him not long before her death that he write a history of his experiences during his time with her — although the book was not published until after his own death. On publication, the board of directors of the Church wrote to every member of his Association of Students, requiring them to return their copies, and reimbursed Mrs Dickey for the costs of publication — thereby acquiring the copyright. The book never saw the light of day again.
In another case, after all other attempts at obstruction failed, considerable pressure was brought to bear on Putman & Co., sufficient to persuade them to make sweeping revisions in the manuscript of High Studdert Kennedy's Mrs. Eddy: her life, her work, her place in history. These revisions mutilated the book to such an extent that his widow regarded it as bearing no relation to the original, and she eventually established her own publishing trust to produce the book.
Finally, Arthur Corey, at one time a prominent Christian Science practitioner, produced a volume based on materials employed by many prominent teachers of Christian Science in their class instruction. Although there was no formal prohibition against publishing materials used in teaching the normal classes (passage through which is a prerequisite to practitioner status), an informal taboo had emerged against making public what took place in class or passing details on to the uninitiated. Although Putnams expressed an initial interest in Corey's book, Class Instruction, they eventually decided that they were unwilling to face the campaign which would inevitably ensue on publication.
Many of the teachers or their heirs, on orders from the Church, protested against inclusion of their class materials in the book before its appearance, or even announcement, and threatened legal action. Corey discovered that his financial position had been investigated to discover whether he could stand the costs of a lawsuit. Threats from a law firm representing the board of directors were received, and a professional process server served a bogus injunction on Corey to prohibit publication. When it did appear, editors of periodicals which reviewed the book were subjected to an organised letter-writing campaign. Furthermore, immense pressure was brought to bear by Christian Science advertisers to prevent publicity in the press and on radio. Many editors declined to give the book coverage on the grounds that they could thereby escape the considerable nuisance which had been caused them in the past when they had published materials deemed objectionable by the Church. Bookshops again received threats of boycott unless they ceased selling the volume. Charles Braden, from whose book, Christian Science Today , these details are taken, recounts that many libraries refused to accept copies, and that copies disappeared from libraries which did take the book. In one case even the index card was stolen. Other copies were mutilated.
Roy Wallis is Lecturer in Sociology, University of Stirling
|Braden himself, although an historian of contemporary
religion of undoubted eminence and integrity, found himself
greatly obstructed by the Church in his preparation of
Christian Science Today. The board of the Mother Church
refused access to archival materials and made several attempts,
directly and indirectly, to secure the right to censorship.
Braden also recounts that he had evidence of Christian
Scientists organising themselves into groups which would arrange
to borrow in continuous rotation, from libraries which stocked
them, materials deemed by the Church to be objectionable. This
was in order to prevent other readers gaining access to such
Scientology, while a movement very different in style, bears many similarities to Christian Science, and the Church of Scientology and its leadership have also often taken objection to publications regarding the movement. The policy of the Church with regard to the press has been unequivocally stated by the movement's founder, L. Ron Hubbard: "We are not interested in sensationalism, personalities, or the complexity of Scientological methodology being discussed by the general public. As a subdivision of this, we do not want Scientology to be reported in the press, anywhere else than on the religious page of newspapers... we should be very alert to sue for slander at the slightest chance, so as to discourage the public presses from mentioning Scientology" (Hubbard Communication Office, 1965).
This policy has been followed assiduously. Indeed, so litigious did Scientology become that Peter Horden MP was not far off the mark when he claimed in the House of Commons on 6 March 1967 that "every newspaper which so much as mentions Scientology is served with a writ for libel." One source reports that at one point around 38 writs for libel were outstanding against individuals and newspapers which had published statements on Scientology, although some 36 of these were later withdrawn.
Charles S. Braden, Christian Science Today (Dallas: Methodist University Press, 1969
Scientologists appear to have followed the lead of Christian
Science in organising mass mailings of correspondence on at
least one occasion. Sir John Foster, when conducting the
Inquiry into the Practices and Effects of Scientology,
received during the first four to five weeks of his appointment
some 1,178 testimonials about Scientology. His report states,
"over three quarters of them included the statement `Scientology
is my religion', and expanded this assertion in a fairly
standardised paragraph." Many arrived in batches from the same
place, and very few were received later.
A large proportion of those books which have so far appeared on Scientology by outsiders or defectors have been the subject of litigation. An Anglican minister, Maurice Burrell, wrote a book called Scientology: what it is and what it does, which appeared briefly in 1970. The publishers were taken to court on the grounds that the book might prejudice the fair trial of cases in which Scientology was then involved. The publishers, a small company, did not appeal the decision although legal opinion had been offered to the effect that such an appeal would most likely be won.
Cyril Vosper's The Mind Benders was to be published in September 1971. The day before publication, the Scientologists secured an injunction delaying publication. The movement lost an appeal by the publishers against the injunction and their own appeal to the House of Lords was also rejected. The action against the book having failed, an action against its writer and publisher for contempt of court was brought and again lost. An appeal was initiated, but the Scientologists withdrew before its hearing. An action for libel remains to be pursued by the movement.
At one stage in this litigation, a High Court judge was reported (in the Daily Telegraph) to have said of applications by the Church of Scientology to have Vosper and a newspaper editor committed to jail for contempt of court, that these were deliberately made "to try to stifle any criticism or inquiry into their affairs."
Three American works, George Malko's volume, Scientology The Now Religion, published in 1970, Paulette Cooper's The Scandal of Scientology, which appeared in 1971, and Robert Kaufman's Inside Scientology, have also been the subject of extensive litigation. An injunction preventing the publication of Kaufman's book in Britain was recently lifted by the High Court.
Extensive litigation is only one of the hazards to which writers on Scientology are subject. They appear to be disproportionately subject to mysterious and unpleasant happenings. On one occasion, a manuscript and, on another, a master galley proof of books on Scientology mysteriously disappeared. One author on holiday in Spain was questioned by the police when they opened a parcel addressed to his lodgings containing obscene caricatures of General Franco. Notices were put in trade journals declaring that one publisher of a work on Scientology had gone bankrupt and retailers were circulated with false notices to the effect that their stocks of this work should be returned for cash. A bogus injunction was served on one writer who had entered a suit for harassment against Scientology in the United States. The complaint issued by her lawyers includes making visits to the author's apartment late at night, spying on her apartment, tapping her phone, employing a photographer to follow her for three days, and numerous other attempts at harassment and intimidation. The suit claims damages of several million dollars.
My own experiences, while less dramatic, follow a similar pattern. As a product of research for a doctoral thesis on Scientology, I wrote a paper called "The sectarianism of Scientology," which I sent to the leaders of the movement in East Grinstead for comments, before publication. The comments I received clearly indicated that they did not view the paper favourably, and a very useful body of documentation was supplied to support their views, resulting in slight modifications to the paper.
Sir John G. Foster, "Scientology and its enemies" (Inquiry into the Practice and Effects of Scientology, HMSO, 1971
|Shortly after this, a young man arrived at the University of
Stirling representing himself as a graduate of Bristol and
claiming an interest in Scottish religion. On being sent to see
me he asked if he might attend my lectures and tutorials, and
also if I could put him up for a few days. This I declined to
do, having realised that I had last seen him wearing a staff
member's uniform at the Scientology headquarters. I did not
reveal my suspicions, being unsure how to react, until the
following day, when I learned that he had visited my home in my
absence, seeking to gain entry.
On being confronted, he agreed that he had been a Scientologist, but claimed to be a defector, having come to Stirling to sell me information. He gave as referees a professor at Bristol and another prominent defector. The defector did not know the man, while the Bristol professor recognised the description as belonging to a former student who was apparently using an assumed name. Before leaving Stirling rather hurriedly, the young man visited students, claiming to be a friend of mine, asking about me, my course and the "drug scene" at Stirling. It appears he then visited another northern university seeking information.
A day or two later I received a telephone call from this young man of an inconsequential kind, the tone of which could best be described as "threatening to be threatening." I also received a telephone call from someone claiming to be a policeman, which was too garbled to make any sense at all. The net significant event was the receipt of two letters, by a sociologist at the northern university. The first was a covering letter, claiming the second letter was circulating at Stirling. The signature was indecipherable. The letter enclosed with it purported to be a reply to me, thanking me for information concerning a drug scandal at the northern university, implicating the sociologist, and indicating that this information had been passed to the Drug Squad at Scotland Yard. It was addressed from the Monday Club in London and bore a fair facsimile of the director's signature. The letter was a forgery.
A later batch of letters was addressed to "The Chancellor" of Stirling University. The covering letter this time was purportedly from a disgusted landlady. Contained with it were two homosexual love letters of an obscene kind, written on Stirling Department of Sociology notepaper — or more probably a photograph copy of the letter-head — typed on a machine with a distinctive type-face very similar to my personal portable, and signed with my name. On investigation by the police the landlady was found not to exist.
During the student troubles at Stirling, letters similar to those received by the northern sociologist were also received by Digby Jacks, President of the National Union of Students. These letters indicated that I was one of those responsible for reporting students for disciplinary proceedings, and that I was "working for a right-wing organisation." Nothing could be further from the truth.
I am not usually prone to this kind of correspondence and the implication is strong that, whether with or without the connivance of the leadership of the Scientology movement, I was the subject of a concerted attempt at harassment designed to "frighten me off" Scientology, to undermine my credibility as a commentator on their activities, or to keep my so busy handling these matters that I had little time for research.
While these events are disturbing, as they have been for myself and other writers on this movement, their motivation is not hard to understand. If a group regards itself as embodying the absolute truth, as did Christian Science in earlier years and Scientology today, then only those fully versed in and committed to the beliefs and practices in question will be seen as legitimate commentators upon them. Since both are highly authoritarian sects, to permit commentary by outsiders threatens to undermine the authority of the leadership as the sole legitimate interpreters of the doctrine. Moreover, in the development of most social movements, events will occur at one stage or another that may contrast uncomfortably with a later, more sophisticated rhetoric. We all have skeletons we would prefer left unexposed, Christian Science and Scientology and their founders no less than the rest of us. The misfortune of Mrs. Eddy and Ron Hubbard was that in an age of instant communication, no respectable period has been permitted to elapse during which such skeletons could be effectively buried, or passed off as a youthful aberration of their movements.
Vilification of the enemy is therefore a natural recourse. The enemies of Christian Science are vilified as practitioners of "malicious animal magnetism" and the Catholic Church is seen as the chief repository of this maleficent force. The enemies of Scientology are seen as engaged in a world conspiracy fostered by the "psycho-politicians" to deny man the "total freedom" available through Scientology. Psychiatrists and mental health organisations are those principally seen as engaged in this "suppressive" activity.
But sectarian movements draw their boundaries rather sharply. Their world is black and white. Those who are not for them are against them, and the observer on the sidelines is liable to be tarred with the same brush as their most rabid opponent.
Roy Wallis, "The sectarianism of Scientology" in Michael Hill (ed), A Sociological Yearbook of Religion in Britain (SCM Press, 1973)