Reporter Joel Sappell returns to a former story
December 18, 2012 5:35 PM   Subscribe

Decades after he wrote an investigative series on Scientology, the writer examines just what happened. From the piece: "In the mid-1980s, journalist Joel Sappell and a colleague began a five-year examination of the Church of Scientology that would ultimately produce a 24-article series. It would also change Sappell’s life in ways both mystifying  and unnerving." Links to the 24 stories he and his partner wrote for the LA Times.
posted by Ideefixe (23 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite

 
“I hear your dog was poisoned,” the judge said softly. I was startled. It’s highly unusual for judges to contact reporters during a trial, especially when they’ve already been accused of bias. There was a pause as Swearinger took a breath. “My dog was drowned,” he said, referring to his collie. “We found him dead in our pool. He’d never go near the water on his own.”

I almost want Hell to exist just so the perpetrators of these acts can be sent there.
posted by Slothrup at 5:45 PM on December 18, 2012 [21 favorites]


Today the church says Hubbard’s theology has millions of followers across the world, with the highest concentration in L.A.

Nuff said.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:03 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


For far too long in the United States, the best way to prevent your criminal enterprise from being dismantled has been to dress it up as a religious organization. Here's to hoping that the federal and state governments start paying attention sometime soon and prosecute all those barely-concealed criminals - Scientologist or otherwise.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:28 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


After reading this, it is kinda hard to disagree with the German's government stance on Scientology.
posted by TheyCallItPeace at 6:29 PM on December 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


TheyCallItPeace, germany has an official stance vs. scientology?
posted by xcasex at 6:33 PM on December 18, 2012


TheyCallItPeace, germany has an official stance vs. scientology?
posted by NoMich at 6:37 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why do I find stories about Scientology so gripping? Well, I guess I know what I'm reading for the next few hours.
posted by egypturnash at 6:38 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


From Wikipedia

The Church of Scientology has been present in Germany since 1970. German authorities estimate that there are 4,000–5,000 active Scientologists in Germany today;[1] the Church of Scientology gives a membership figure of around 30,000. The Church of Scientology has encountered particular antagonism from the German press and government and occupies a precarious legal, social and cultural position in Germany.

German courts have so far not resolved whether Scientology should be accorded the legal status of a religious or worldview community, and different courts have reached contradictory conclusions.

German domestic intelligence services have monitored the organization's activities. The German government does not recognize Scientology as a religion. It views it as an abusive business masquerading as a religion and believes that it pursues political goals that conflict with the values enshrined in the German constitution. This stance has been criticized, most notably by the U.S. government, which recognizes Scientology as a religion and has repeatedly raised concerns over discriminatory practices directed at individual Scientologists.

Scientologists in Germany face specific political and economic restrictions. They are barred from membership in major political parties and employers use so-called "sect filters" to expose a job applicant's association with the organization. German federal and state interior ministers started a process aimed at banning Scientology in late 2007, but abandoned the initiative a year later, finding insufficient legal grounds. Despite this, polls suggest that most Germans favour banning Scientology altogether


This piece and Vanity Fair's on Paul Haggis' experience with Scientology really does raise alot of questions about the whole enterprise.
posted by helmutdog at 6:40 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I almost want Hell to exist just so the perpetrators of these acts can be sent there.

Yes, it is hard to know how to get revenge on Scientologists when about the worst thing that could happen to a person is becoming a Scientologist.
posted by jamjam at 6:43 PM on December 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


Here's to hoping that the federal and state governments start paying attention sometime soon and prosecute all those barely-concealed criminals - Scientologist or otherwise.

In an era when banks can freely launder drug money, as long as they cough up a percentage, you're thinking a criminal church is going to be seriously prosecuted?
posted by Malor at 6:50 PM on December 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


What bothers me about Scientology is that they use science as a meaningless brand. There's no attempt to back the Thetan theory, or engrams, or the E-meter with any actual science. They take the word "science", put "-ology" on the end, just to give it the kind of respectability that science had in the 1950s. Instead of doing actual science, they fiercely attack anyone who disagrees with their silliest hypotheses, which is not how actual science works. That's the way the Inquisition worked, idiots.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:51 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


And, by the way, the tl;dr on Scientology is that it is not a religion. It is a ruthless mafia that pretends to be a religion for the tax benefits. Some of the low-level rubes even believe it.

Gotta kinda wonder if Christianity didn't start exactly the same way - a made-up myth by sociopaths, followed by centuries of actual belief.
posted by Malor at 6:53 PM on December 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


That was a very interesting read, and I hope his one-year-old rescue pup comes out of it okay.
posted by mudpuppie at 6:55 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


In an era when banks can freely launder drug money, as long as they cough up a percentage, you're thinking a criminal church is going to be seriously prosecuted?

Banks don't operate multi-jurisdictional schemes to protect child molesters (at least not yet, maybe that's the can't-miss financial product of 2013), orchestrate court audience-packing schemes to intimidate rape victims and battered women, or organize domestic terrorism and covert infiltration of government agencies.

Criminal banks should get theirs, but it's not an either-or proposition.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:56 PM on December 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Gotta kinda wonder if Christianity didn't start exactly the same way - a made-up myth by sociopaths, followed by centuries of actual belief.

I don't think so. Nobody fed any Scientologists to the lions. Martyrdom is not appealing to sociopaths.
posted by me & my monkey at 6:57 PM on December 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


Gotta kinda wonder if Christianity didn't start exactly the same way - a made-up myth by sociopaths, followed by centuries of actual belief.

Yeah, it's pretty commonly known that Paul wouldn't recite the Sermon on the Mount for you unless you had taken a minimum of four Advanced Compassional Directivate Classes, each class costing anywhere from two gold pieces to eight goats.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:57 PM on December 18, 2012 [29 favorites]


Wait, Mark Rathbun still believes in the fundamental underpinnings of Scientology?! You almost feel bad for the guy after reading this account, but not really.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:20 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wait, Mark Rathbun still believes in the fundamental underpinnings of Scientology?! You almost feel bad for the guy after reading this account, but not really.

The sudden changes of attitude during the conversations are really interesting. "No, I never would have authorized someone killing your dog." Then, a few seconds later, "Well, actually I can imagine a third party having done it and, to tell you the truth, I'm worried about my own dog." (For those who haven't read the article, I'm paraphrasing).

It seems like there's a lot of cognitive dissonance going on his head, and that's not surprising given how wholly he apparently gave himself over the ideology and organization. I can maybe sort of identify -- I was a pretty devout evangelical in my teens and am now an atheist (or pantheist, depending on my mood). Reconciling who I was with who I am now isn't easy -- and I'm just talking about a run-of-the-mill evangelical thing. Not only was this guy part of a cult that seems to think of itself as a rogue fascist state/mafia above international law, he was one of the key players. I don't know how you'd come back from something like that in one piece.

So I guess I do feel bad for him but, at the same time, I hope he manages to eat enough humble pie to avoid going down the route of remaking himself as some sort of messianic prophet of the "true Scientology" -- which it seems like he's already doing, to some degree.
posted by treepour at 10:25 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


[Comment deleted; do not make this into another Christianity debate. Thanks.]
posted by taz at 1:29 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Free speech is only useful in a society when it does not enable fraud. When money is demanded by means of other-worldly claims, it should not be considered a religion, but a religious-type enterprise and should be taxed. Fraudulent organizations exist in the margins of the tax code of pseudo-charitable donations. They should be regarded as parasitic social problems when disguised as religions.
posted by Brian B. at 6:35 AM on December 19, 2012


I noticed yesterday on the Google map of Portland OR is a location tagged "Cult of Scientology." Thought, hmmm.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:29 AM on December 19, 2012


For a view from a kid raised in Scientology, The Hairpin has been running a series, Scientology and Me:

Part 1

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
posted by emjaybee at 10:15 AM on December 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Gotta kinda wonder if Christianity didn't start exactly the same way - a made-up myth by sociopaths, followed by centuries of actual belief.

Seems unlikely, given the nature of basic Church teachings.

A key differentiator between sociopathic personality cults like Scientology (and, some would argue, Mormonism) and mainstream faiths is the degree to which doctrinal pronouncements benefit the founders or leaders.

There's nothing attributed to Jesus that made him richer, or got him extra wives, or gave him earthly, material power. Instead, you get things like the Sermon on the Mount, broad acceptance of the "unclean" (prostitutes, tax collectors) in society, etc.

There absolutely ARE sociopathic con men in Christianity today, leading congregations like cults and ignoring Christ's actual message (and diddling little boys, and protecting the diddlers), but it's pretty hard to make the case that Jesus was on their team, so to speak.

(And I say all this as a pretty firm agnostic, at least on the question of Jesus' divinity.)
posted by uberchet at 6:58 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


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