"A Kafkaesque journey."
March 7, 2010 10:13 AM   Subscribe

Defectors say Church of Scientology hides abuse. Two defectors from Scientology's Sea Org, raised and married in the church, have been interviewed by the New York Times, hoping to expose the abusive treatment of even loyal staff members.

The Collbrans began their planned exit with a pregnancy intended to force their removal from Sea Org (members are not permitted to have children; abortions are encouraged and those who refuse are demoted or removed). It ended with their branding as "suppressive persons", and a resulting estrangement from their own families. (More on what it's like to be an "ex-Scientology kid.")


Despite the financial and social pricetag involved, “Since Anonymous has come forward,” said Marc Headley, who belonged to the Sea Org for 16 years, “more and more people who have been abused or assaulted are feeling more confident that they can speak out and not have any retaliation happen.”

The Collbrans ultimately lost their marriage as well. Mr. Collbran completely disassociated himself from the church, but Ms. Collbran held on to a faith in L. Ron Hubbard, continuing to receive auditing from other ex-Scientologists. "Despite all they have been through together, Ms. and Mr. Collbran are getting a divorce. The reason, they agree sadly, is that they no longer see eye to eye on Scientology."


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posted by availablelight (93 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Read Blown For Good by Marc Headley, former Sea Org staffer at Gold Base in Hemet, CA and Tom Cruise's personal auditor for a time. There's more in there about how Scientology abuses people than you'd ever want to know. Headley literally had to escape from Gold Base, like from a prison, leaving his wife behind with the expectation of never seeing her again (she narrowly got out a while after him, happily).
posted by DecemberBoy at 10:16 AM on March 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oooh, clams!
posted by localroger at 10:19 AM on March 7, 2010


I was just explaining to my mother the other day, now that I think of it, who these hardcore Sea Org types are when she asked who could possibly believe that crap (she's reading Tom Cruise's unofficial biography, which goes into detail about the Sea Org and the billion year contract, etc.). I explained that they're almost exclusively young, were raised in Scientology with one or both parents being Scientologists, and probably went to Scientologist schools like Alpha in California. All they know is Scientology, all their family and friends are Scientologists, it's their whole life. Even if they have doubts, which many do, leaving means being declared a Suppressive Person, which means your family and friends that are still in are never allowed to see you or speak with you again. Plus, they charge people who leave an exorbitant "freeloader's bill" for "services" received while on staff, which they will ruin your credit over and send collection agencies after you for. Not to mention that if you leave, it means leaving with no life experience, job skills or support network. That's why people put up with this - because they're trapped.
posted by DecemberBoy at 10:23 AM on March 7, 2010 [23 favorites]




I mean, think about it - given the choice between your freedom as a human with rights and the company of your loved ones, which would you choose? You'd probably say freedom at first, but what if that meant never looking at your wife's face again or seeing your kids grow up? It's going to be horrible either way. I can't imagine the bravery of the people that have not only left, but spoken out.
posted by DecemberBoy at 10:36 AM on March 7, 2010 [7 favorites]


DecemberBoy, I thought that was the most poignant part of this article: the narrative of how they tried so hard to remain "in good standing" while separating from this organization that had mentally, physically, and financially terrorized them---in order to not lose that connection with family, and with their entire childhood. And in the end, it still didn't work.
posted by availablelight at 10:40 AM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Some of them even to continue to believe in Scientology but just think the problem is that the current leadership is corrupt, and if good ol' Ron would only return and set them straight all would be well. Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder, former high-level execs who were the focus of the St. Petersburg Times articles last year, fall into this category.
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:01 AM on March 7, 2010


So it's a large real estate holding company, at least in part. That pays no taxes what so ever. Fuck them.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 11:18 AM on March 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Some of them even to continue to believe in Scientology but just think the problem is that the current leadership is corrupt, and if good ol' Ron would only return and set them straight all would be well.

Ms. Collbran falls into this category and is likely to be involved with independent Scientologists in her area for her continued audits.
posted by availablelight at 11:19 AM on March 7, 2010


(I'm sorry, the Scientologist school in California is named Delphi, not "Alpha". I don't know what I was thinking of.)
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:28 AM on March 7, 2010


Everyone should be aware of thought reform as a subject matter, and become aware of how controlling one idea among suggestive subjects usually implies several others, such as getting people to pay lots of time and money to someone in a culture of abstinent thinking and guilt. I am continually surprised how often it is assumed among the general public that emotionally or mentally trapped people experience any scope of free choice other than the one that got them inside, if even that.
posted by Brian B. at 11:29 AM on March 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


In related news: "Razzie voters also made worst-of-the-decade picks, with John Travolta's science-fiction debacle 'Battlefield Earth' winning worst picture."
posted by ericb at 11:36 AM on March 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


So, sometimes I wonder how I could have been duped by Christian fundamentalists, and how I still have moments of existential angst over my being gay . . .

and then I read about people raised in a crackpot religion that I never hesitate to mock, and suddenly our stories seem kinda similar.

I'm not trying to be GRAR on religion here -- I think there's healthy religion (yes, even organized). But the parallels between my own fundamentalist brainwashing and the brainwashing of these people becomes suddenly very clear when one just looks at what behaviors each brainwashing group has in common -- despite their radically different belief systems.
posted by treepour at 11:41 AM on March 7, 2010 [11 favorites]


from the article-
the number of Scientologists in the United States fell from 55,000 in 2001 to 25,000 in 2008

My guess is that internet exposure has pretty much killed scientology. They still have a lot of money and real estate, just not many members.
posted by bhnyc at 11:45 AM on March 7, 2010


This is my shocked face.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 11:57 AM on March 7, 2010


If you ask a mainstream religious minister about the core tenets of their religion, they will teach them to you and invite you to join them. Maybe they will ask you to buy a holy book or to make a donation.

If you ask a Scientolgist about Xenu, they will lie and tell you that they don't know what you are talking about. They will only tell you the truth about the Scientologist Space Opera after you have fully embraced the more user-friendly tenets of Hubbard's Dianetics and have made major sunk-cost donations of money, time, and embarrassing personal secrets which can be used against you. Only when they know that you can be controlled will they reveal the insanity that their religion is actually based on.

This is why Scientology is worse than mainstream religion!

~ FIN ~
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:02 PM on March 7, 2010 [16 favorites]


defected to what? Frisbeetarianism? Mormonism? Objectivism? Unless they decided to join up with Anonymous, I'd say the word they should be using (snickers of linguistic prescriptivism aside) is "survivors".
posted by oonh at 12:03 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I found the following the most fascinating portion of the article (and I don't find the two perspectives contradict each toher):

Now, “disconnection has become a way of controlling people,” said Mr. Rinder, who says his mother, sister, brother, daughter and son disconnected from him after he left the church. “It is very, very prevalent.”

Mr. Davis, the church’s current spokesman, said Scientologists are no different from Mormons, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Amish who practice shunning or excommunication.

“These are common religious tenets,” he said. “The very survival of a religion is contingent on its protecting itself.”

posted by el io at 12:09 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Some of them even to continue to believe in Scientology but just think the problem is that the current leadership is corrupt, and if good ol' Ron would only return and set them straight all would be well.

Well, Ron isn't the answer — dude was corrupt as all get out — but I think there's a kernel of truth here. It's the way the CoS is run, and not the core beliefs themselves, that are dangerous. Auditing, for instance, doesn't strike me as an inherently manipulative practice. Hell, it's not that different from psychoanalysis, or from Buddhist koan practice, or from Catholic confession, or from a Quaker "threshing session" — they're all ritualized ways of bringing deep weird conflicted thoughts up into your awareness and then talking them out with someone, and there's reason to believe that's a useful thing for people to do. It's talking your deep weird conflicted thoughts out with an abusive motherfucker who controls your job and your family that's problematic.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:18 PM on March 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


The Quakers and Buddhists don't charge you however...
posted by A189Nut at 12:22 PM on March 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Auditing, for instance, doesn't strike me as an inherently manipulative practice.

Agreed. Putting aside the alleged abuses of the church: At the end of the article, Ms. Collbran seems to be getting some kind of help, peace of mind, etc. from doing this "auditing" with independent Scientologists, and it seems harmless. So, good for her.
posted by cribcage at 12:31 PM on March 7, 2010


Scientologists are no different from Mormons, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Amish who practice shunning or excommunication.

Except that, in the cases of those religions, in addition to excommunication, one also has the freedom to leave voluntarily at any time (indeed, choice is a major component of the Amish tradition), and in neither case would they have reason to fear retribution from their former religion.

It's a tad ironic that the Co$ is always arguing from the position that religious freedom is a fundamental human right, while simultaneously denying that right to its members.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:34 PM on March 7, 2010


Mr. Davis, the church’s current spokesman, said Scientologists are no different from Mormons, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Amish who practice shunning or excommunication.

Whoa there. I can't speak for the other religions on the list, but I left the Catholic Church for my own reasons and my family is still allowed to talk to me without jeopardizing their immortal souls. We even still talk to our former priest who was excommunicated for being gay (he's a neighbor).

I may have my reservations about the religion I was raised in, but it handles people leaving *way* differently. For instance, I was not charged for confessional time after leaving.
posted by Alison at 12:44 PM on March 7, 2010 [12 favorites]


I was on a bus trip from Oakland down to LA/Orange County once, when I was a kid. I saw the Scientology building lit up in the night and asked my dad what it was.

He thought for a moment and said "That's where people go who want help for their problems, but all they get is more problems."

Best advice he ever gave me.
posted by jtron at 12:44 PM on March 7, 2010 [68 favorites]


"That's where people go who want help for their problems, but all they get is more problems."

This.
posted by wabbittwax at 12:52 PM on March 7, 2010


They encourage their members to have abortions?

I see a plan here.

Let's sic the fundies on the scientologists, lock the doors, and let them destroy each other.
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:53 PM on March 7, 2010 [16 favorites]


Q. What's the difference between a cult and a religion?

A. Real estate.
posted by mullingitover at 12:58 PM on March 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


fourcheesemac > Let's sic the fundies on the scientologists, lock the doors, and let them destroy each other

This idea has promise.
posted by Decimask at 1:21 PM on March 7, 2010


I feel a little bit sorry for the defectors who (as DecemberBoy paints out) seem to believe that the problem with the church is that post-Elron leaders have corrupted it. It would be interesting to look at how old these people are - my guess is that none of them were adults when Elron was still around - and also how many are 2nd generation.

I was somewhat amused by the implication between the lines of the article that the church is in such a state of decline membership-wise that they are investing in touch-screen kiosks in their churches for self-service recruiting - and this is despite the fact that those who stick with the church appear to be prepared to work for pennies.
posted by pascal at 1:25 PM on March 7, 2010


The Quakers and Buddhists don't charge you however...

Well, there are Buddhist teachers (or self-proclaimed "Buddhist teachers," at least) who do charge exorbitant amounts. There have also been major sex scandals and instances of authoritarian wingnuttery within Buddhism. Point is, shit like that is relatively scarce, because people at all levels of leadership within the larger Buddhist community are committed to exposing the asshats and running them out of town.

If someone wants to leave the larger CoS and start giving auditing without all the authoritarian bullshit, I am all for it. That's all I'm saying.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:29 PM on March 7, 2010


I should say, "Shit like that is relatively scarce here and now, in the corners of the Buddhist community that I'm familiar with." There is just no sensible way to generalize over the religion as a whole, any more than there's a sensible way to generalize about "Christianity."
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:31 PM on March 7, 2010


It's talking your deep weird conflicted thoughts out with an abusive motherfucker who controls your job and your family that's problematic.

Agreed. As ever with the Scientologists, another way of filtering the "weird beliefs that ought nonetheless to be tolerated, perhaps even given a bit of respect" from the really bad stuff would be to say: how about you fellows stop committing crimes, and then we'll talk? It would seem like a sensible first step.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 1:36 PM on March 7, 2010


Q. What's the difference between a cult and a religion?

A. Real estate.


I would've gone with "abusive, controlling exploitation of its members" as my point of distinguishing, instead of glibness.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:43 PM on March 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


If you ask a mainstream religious minister about the core tenets of their religion, they will teach them to you and invite you to join them. Maybe they will ask you to buy a holy book or to make a donation.

Well, a bunch of the weirder stuff in Mormonism that they don't like to talk about so much.
posted by aubilenon at 1:51 PM on March 7, 2010


Pope Guilty: I would've gone with "abusive, controlling exploitation of its members"

Well, I'd say that works for many religions as well. [refrains from making pope joke]
posted by theredpen at 1:54 PM on March 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am shocked, shocked! to hear this about the Church of Scientology!!!

All the other things they do are so wonderful...
posted by Windopaene at 2:12 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is why I won't go see anything with Tom Cruise in it if I can help it. John Travolta too. Yes, people are free to believe anything they wish. But con artists should not be free to prey on people, and Scientology is nothing but L. Ron Hubbard's big fat con.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:26 PM on March 7, 2010 [9 favorites]


Well, I'd say that works for many religions as well.

Maybe what differentiates them, beyond the degree of control they attempt to exert over their followers, is the degree to which a particular religion is able to integrate itself into society. Catholicism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, etc, all advocate for involvement with the community and for (usually) nonviolent ways of dealing with things. Groups like the People's Temple, Heaven's Gate, and the Church of Scientology have dysfunctional structures (often due to their focus on a charismatic individual or on separation from society) which lead to conflict with the greater community.

That's not really a theory or anything; just a half-formed thought.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:32 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Imagine if it was L. Ron who'd blown himself up in Pasadena in 1952, and Jack Parsons who'd come up with the idea of religion as the ultimate con job.

Tom Cruise's couch outburst would've been a lot funnier to me, at least. "Well, Oprah, the way I feel about Katie? It's just like Crowley says in 'The Vision and the Voice!' Glory unto the Scarlet Woman, Babalon the Mother of Abominations, that rideth upon the Beast, for she hath spilt their blood in every corner of the earth and lo! she hath mingled it in the cup of her whoredom! WOOOOO WOOOOOO YEEEEEEEAH"
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:54 PM on March 7, 2010 [26 favorites]


Pope Guilty: "involvement with the community and for (usually) nonviolent ways of dealing with things"

I can agree with that, I think.
posted by theredpen at 3:44 PM on March 7, 2010


Seems to me that COS is not unlike early Mormanism in some regards, and that current Mormanism may have some similarities to earlier Christianity.

I'd imagine that a lot of religions(cults) start out whacky and eventually sand off the sharp edges in their doctrine to keep followers. If it sticks around, I could see COS being as mainstream as Mormanism in a hundred years.

As far as money goes, what is tithing? Didn't the catholic church pull that off for a long time? What would a church end up doing if when they passed around the donation pot, nobody donated?
posted by dibblda at 3:44 PM on March 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is why I won't go see anything with Tom Cruise in it if I can help it.

Indeed, it's impossible for me to suspend disbelief, I just keep seeing Cruise and think: wacko.
posted by bwg at 3:48 PM on March 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


OMFG. Look at this excerpt from the FAQ for ex-Scientology kids:
When we were in Scientology and we got sick, we were always made to go in for a PTS handling after we were well again. We were required to find the suppressive person in our life that had made us ill. Sometimes we could think of someone right away, but most times we just named the last person who was rude to us, or just named someone at random, because we couldn't think of anyone we thought was actually suppressing us. Kinda odd, huh?
Witch smellers! Their supervisors are witchsmellers! Scientologists believe that disease is caused by witches, and they have trained people to hunt them down.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:04 PM on March 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I could mention something funny. I read the first three pages of The New York Times article. When I got to the fourth page, I got this:

4
WordNet

The noun 4 has one meaning:

Meaning #1: the cardinal number that is the sum of three and one
Synonyms: four, IV, tetrad, quatern, quaternion, quaternary, quaternity, quartet, quadruplet, foursome, Little Joe

The adjective 4 has one meaning:

Meaning #1: being one more than three
Synonyms: four, iv

logo WordNet 1.7.1 Copyright © 2001 by Princeton University. All rights reserved. See 4 on Answers.com


Your Search:



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posted by ovvl at 4:04 PM on March 7, 2010


Oh, that is the 4th page.
posted by ovvl at 4:06 PM on March 7, 2010


If you ask a mainstream religious minister about the core tenets of their religion, they will teach them to you and invite you to join them. Maybe they will ask you to buy a holy book or to make a donation.

How do you know this? How do you know that there aren't secret doctrines in the Catholic Church that are equivalent to Xenu?
posted by Jimmy Havok at 4:09 PM on March 7, 2010


The odds that it wouldn't have come out after 2,000 years, and after a decade and a half of the internet being in nearly every home in the developed world, are extremely low.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:12 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


dibbida: "What would a church end up doing if when they passed around the donation pot, nobody donated?"

Perhaps do like the Mormons and make tithing compulsory (if your finances aren't in order with the church, you're banned from a lot of services, marriage in the temple being an example) complete with an accounting team to do audits.

Back in the day, when the church *was* the government, I'm pretty sure tithing was also a lot less optional.
posted by mullingitover at 4:19 PM on March 7, 2010


This is why I won't go see anything with Tom Cruise in it if I can help it.

Indeed, it's impossible for me to suspend disbelief, I just keep seeing Cruise and think: wacko.


Do you feel the same thing when you hear a record by Beck?
posted by philip-random at 4:20 PM on March 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


How do you know that there aren't secret doctrines in the Catholic Church that are equivalent to Xenu?

Well, if they're secret, how could we know of them? Unless someone (other than Dan Brown) spoke of them, but then, of course, they wouldn't be secret anymore.
posted by philip-random at 4:22 PM on March 7, 2010


Why is it so hard to take away Co$'s tax-exempt status, given that they seem to be nutters everywhere they operate? I know governments are reluctant to interfere with "religion", but their excesses are so consistent and flagrant.
posted by sneebler at 4:53 PM on March 7, 2010


Of course the Catholic Church has hidden rituals. And some of them have come out, in bits and pieces, particularly in the last couple of hundred years. In fact I think some of their more recent actions can only be explained in the context of a firm belief in their own system of astrology.

At the time of the Council of Nicea every religion had rituals for appealing to the gods and for divination. It makes no sense at all that the early Christians would have suddenly had none of that. Rather, it seems those powers were reserved for the Church heirarchy. So throughout the centuries those who are privileged within the Church have had skilled astrologers, alchemists, and the kabballah to consult. Everyone else has had their local priest. The idea of an individual Catholic having a personal relationship with God was outright heresy until very recently. It still is in technical ways most American Catholics simply don't accept.

When the Protestants broke off, they didn't take those traditions with them because none of the defectors were privy to the secrets, and the result has been a crazy patchwork of substitutes. Although you'd never convince any of them modern fundamentalist protestantism owes more to Gnosticism than to the church of Peter. In a dozen ways they have reinvented what was hidden from them, and a few of them are busy hiding what they have reinvented from their current believers.
posted by localroger at 4:53 PM on March 7, 2010


A: Indeed, it's impossible for me to suspend disbelief, I just keep seeing Cruise and think: wacko.

B: Do you feel the same thing when you hear a record by Beck?

Uh... If you can find some semblance of sanity in Beck's lyrics, please point to it.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:18 PM on March 7, 2010


Don't smack talk Beck I will fight you

Seriously, though, he was raised in the religion and he doesn't pimp it like Tom Cruise does, so I find it really unfair when people mention them in the same breath.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:24 PM on March 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Of course the Catholic Church has hidden rituals.

Um, okay, then how do you know about them?
posted by RussHy at 5:36 PM on March 7, 2010


Don't smack talk Beck I will fight you

Seriously, though, he was raised in the religion and he doesn't pimp it like Tom Cruise does, so I find it really unfair when people mention them in the same breath.


I agree with you, more or less. I threw the comment out precisely because I feel the whole Scientology thing is so loaded. Personally, once I heard Beck was from a Scientology background, it instantly coloured things for me in a negative way, brought various misgivings about his music to the fore (the resolute lack of lyrical sense, for instance). And then I read stuff like I find in the various links here and all I can feel is sorry for the guy, sorry for everyone caught up in L Ron's lunatic mess, not just those born to it as Beck was but also those who "found it" of their own free will like Mr. Cruise. I mean, what a vacancy to have at the center of your life. Or maybe weight is a better word.

A heavy vacancy.

I just hope they don't all check out on us like the Peoples Temple crowd did at Jonestown, taking all the little kids with them.
posted by philip-random at 6:42 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


A difference here for me is that churches still generally considered confessional and other ministerial services confidential. What's said in confession or in ministerial counseling generally stays there, because who wants to talk about their sins our crises of faith if it will become public knowledge. Professional psychological therapists also have pretty strict privacy rules.

When this story first started breaking, the first thing the CoS did was to attempt to block publication. The second thing they did was to open up written records of auditing sessions to say that key witnesses were unreliable. One *gasp* admitted to pre-marital sex! To me, I'm hard-pressed to figure out which is more sleazy: the RCC's attempt to expand "confessional privilege" to cover up formal complaints of child abuse, or the CoS's use of auditing records to ratfuck their own members.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:58 PM on March 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well, if they're secret, how could we know of them?

Well, we do know about Opus Dei...and then there are all these revelations about child sexual abuse by priests. Maybe they are all independent events, all over the world, but the hierarchy seems to have been 100% protective of the abusers.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 6:58 PM on March 7, 2010


Personally, once I heard Beck was from a Scientology background, it instantly coloured things for me in a negative way

I'll admit to feeling similarly when I found out that Neil Gaiman was raised by some very high-ranking Church of Scientology members. Though I suppose it's no different than being raised as a child in any other fundamentalist sect.
posted by availablelight at 7:07 PM on March 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


all these revelations about child sexual abuse by priests.

You can't possibly be implying that this constitutes a "secret rite".
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:30 PM on March 7, 2010


Personally, once I heard Beck was from a Scientology background, it instantly coloured things for me in a negative way

My worry is that he donates his profits to a cult, otherwise I don't give the music a second thought. It's always about the blatant scam and preying on people's search for truth and goodness, and people should never forget it, or else they lose perspective.
posted by Brian B. at 7:48 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's talking your deep weird conflicted thoughts out with an abusive motherfucker who controls your job and your family that's problematic.

A thousand times this.

Whether or not it's "weirder" to believe in a resurrected Jesus, or an eternal struggle between Ra and Apep, or an evil galactic overlord named Xenu... that's going to be a somewhat subjective argument, partly based on cultural norms and on the cosmology you're already familiar with. Same with rituals, same with codes of behavior, same with what an organization asks in terms of money or time from its members (although huge sums of money as a required quid pro quo for saving knowledge or ordinances is a pretty big flag for me). Whether or not the organization is wealthy or holds real estate doesn't matter much. Whether or not they hand you a comprehensive theological encyclopedia when you're being evangelized or whether they pick a few appealing high points doesn't even seem like the weightiest matter to me.

The big question is whether or not you're free to adhere or not to adhere, free to cease participating, and whether the scope of any penalties for doing so lies essentially in the ecclesiastical realm.

And Scientology massively fails on this front.
posted by weston at 8:12 PM on March 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why is it so hard to take away Co$'s tax-exempt status, given that they seem to be nutters everywhere they operate? I know governments are reluctant to interfere with "religion", but their excesses are so consistent and flagrant.

From Scientology's Puzzling Journey From Tax Rebel to Tax Exempt , New York Times, March 9, 1997:
The full story of the turnabout by the IRS has remained hidden behind taxpayer privacy laws for nearly four years. But an examination by The New York Times found that the exemption followed a series of unusual internal IRS actions that came after an extraordinary campaign orchestrated by Scientology against the agency and people who work there. Among the findings of the review by The New York Times, based on more than 30 interviews and thousands of pages of public and internal church records, were these:
  • Scientology's lawyers hired private investigators to dig into the private lives of IRS officials and to conduct surveillance operations to uncover potential vulnerabilities, according to interviews and documents. One investigator said he had interviewed tenants in buildings owned by three IRS officials, looking for housing code violations. He also said he had taken documents from an IRS conference and sent them to church officials and created a phony news bureau in Washington to gather information on church critics. The church also financed an organization of IRS whistle-blowers that attacked the agency publicly.
  • The decision to negotiate with the church came after Fred T. Goldberg Jr., the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service at the time, had an unusual meeting with Miscavige in 1991. Scientology's own version of what occurred offers a remarkable account of how the church leader walked into IRS headquarters without an appointment and got in to see Goldberg, the nation's top tax official. Miscavige offered to call a halt to Scientology's suits against the IRS in exchange for tax exemptions.
  • After that meeting, Goldberg created a special committee to negotiate a settlement with Scientology outside normal agency procedures. When the committee determined that all Scientology entities should be exempt from taxes, IRS tax analysts were ordered to ignore the substantive issues in reviewing the decision, according to IRS memorandums and court files.
  • The IRS refused to disclose any terms of the agreement, including whether the church was required to pay back taxes, contending that it was confidential taxpayer information. The agency has maintained that position in a lengthy court fight, and in rejecting a request for access by The New York Times under the Freedom of Information Act. But the position is in stark contrast to the agency's handling of some other church organizations. Both the Jimmy Swaggart Ministries and an affiliate of the Rev. Jerry Falwell were required by the IRS to disclose that they had paid back taxes in settling disputes in recent years.
posted by nicwolff at 10:38 PM on March 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


That’s really interesting. One of the attacks on the “FairTax” movement of 2008--sort of a proto Tea Party plan rallying around abolishing the IRS--was the claim that it was invented by Scientologists.
posted by thelastenglishmajor at 10:44 PM on March 7, 2010


Catholicism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, etc, all advocate for involvement with the community and for (usually) nonviolent ways of dealing with things

I guess you not only missed the whole wars in Eastern Europe in the 90s, where religious differentiation was a major component of "will I murder my neighbour today?", but also managed to miss all of the posts on MeFi by a survivor of same?

"Religion", "nationalism" and "ethinicity" are usually aligned, so I guess depending on how you squint at it, many of the conflicts of, say, Israel/Palestine, Ireland and England, Sri Lanka, or Indonesia are fairly convoluted, but you'd be pretty intellectually dishonest to pretend that none of those conflicts have a religious component. Or, you know, killing Dutch film makers for being rude about religion, or rioting over cartoons. MeFi's even linked to articles on the chilling effect of the Rushdie fatwa.

Of course, if you're a powerful, established, socially acceptable religion you can simply have it made illegal to mock your religion - witness Ireland's shiny new blasphemy laws.

I'd counter-assert that the absence of widespread violence associated with religion is usually a property of some combination of (a) a religion being so overwhelmingly dominant its adherants don't need violence to get their way, and/or (b) a secular state.

In any case, comparing new, small religions to big, old ones is an unfair comparison - one need only think of the violence associated with Christianity becoming ascendant in Rome, or the wars fought early in the history of Islam, to see that faiths can be remarkably brutal on the path to gaining a firm foothold.

None of which makes me think well of Scientology, but, you know, it's not like they, say, have gained enough power to take over the orphanage and child welfare system of a country for decades, misused the money recieved from the state while covering up abuse, torture, and rape of the wards in their care, you know? Never mind anything comparable to the Cathar or South American genocides.

By all means, nip Scientology in bud; the world will likely be better for it. But there are plenty of dirty hands in the ideology business, and they're hardly the worst.
posted by rodgerd at 11:46 PM on March 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Do you feel the same thing when you hear a record by Beck?

To be honest, no, but only because I've never heard any of Beck's music.
posted by bwg at 12:26 AM on March 8, 2010


Of course the Catholic Church has hidden rituals.

Um, okay, then how do you know about them?


We don't know about them. Which is why we know they're hidden. If we knew about them then they wouldn't be hidden.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:26 AM on March 8, 2010


If we knew about them then they wouldn't be hidden.

Then ow do you know they exist at all? That's like rumors about my "secret Lambourghini": "if it were known, then it wouldn't be a secret!"

But I don't own any Lambourghini.








That you know of.
posted by grubi at 5:36 AM on March 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


Of course the Catholic Church has hidden rituals. And some of them have come out, in bits and pieces, particularly in the last couple of hundred years.

Thanks to that courageous investigative journalist Dan Brown.
posted by mpbx at 6:14 AM on March 8, 2010


bwg: "Do you feel the same thing when you hear a record by Beck?To be honest, no, but only because I've never heard any of Beck's music."

Heretic!

Most people were introduced to him via Loser or Where It's At.

Beck is massively creative, very talented, worth a listen. His music and videos tend towards surrealism, hence people saying that his lyrics make no sense. I think that's a shallow criticism. They're more poetic and/or sillier than the vast majority of pop lyrics. Example: Sexx Laws, from his creepy/funky 70s swingeresque concept album, Midnite Vultures.

From the same album/persona, there's Debra. To this day, I step to people with a fresh pack of gum.

Or maybe check out Sea Change. I think it's his most popular album and it's relatively accessible. It is a sad, downer album. Lost Cause is the single and there's a part in the middle that gets me every time.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:45 AM on March 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I guess you not only missed the whole wars in Eastern Europe in the 90s, where religious differentiation was a major component of "will I murder my neighbour today?", but also managed to miss all of the posts on MeFi by a survivor of same?

Not at all. Of course religion plays a role in inter-culture and intra-culture conflict; such conflict is a part of human culture. Cults, by contrast, are generally not so influential or integrated as to be able to cause such conflict; can you name even a single religious group that is commonly described as a cult which has been integrated into society sufficiently to be involved in such conflict?
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:43 AM on March 8, 2010


Also rodgerd I feel like you're suggesting that I'm using the word "cult" to mean something like "harmful religious group" and that major religions don't also cause harm; I guess you and I haven't ever really crossed paths in a religion thread, then. While I do feel that religions tend to be harmful to their believers and to their societies, for the purpose of this discussion I'm mostly interested in why particular groups get labeled as cults and others don't, and was proferring a half-formed idea as to why that might be. I don't use "cult" in a pejorative sense.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:46 AM on March 8, 2010


It would be interesting to look at how old these people are - my guess is that none of them were adults when Elron was still around - and also how many are 2nd generation.

You'd be wrong. From what I can tell most of the people who're calling themselves Independant Scientologists knew Hubbard personally, were trained under his command or before Miscavige imprinted his own personality on the cult. It seems to be a nostalgia movement, that they actually remember how things were better with him in charge. It's hard for us to see how but apparently Hubbard was quite a charismatic man who made his followers feel both personally & collectively special. Real or illusiory they want a return to that time, that feeling.
posted by scalefree at 10:58 AM on March 8, 2010


I cannot express how happy and relieved I am to see this kind of discussion happening in a widely read public forum. I was into alt.religion.scientology years ago, and it lead me into a several years long obsession with the CoS. Eventually, I had to simply put it down and walk away, it was overwhelming to me, the anger and frustration I felt. It's all I can do to post this. I can't imagine how hard it is for people who were, or still are, involved with it.

God Bless You, Metafilter.
posted by Xoebe at 11:00 AM on March 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


I am starting to suspect that the real secret of Scientology is that it's run by the Catholics to make them look less bad by comparison.
posted by Legomancer at 11:02 AM on March 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's the way the CoS is run, and not the core beliefs themselves, that are dangerous. Auditing, for instance, doesn't strike me as an inherently manipulative practice.

Scientology "Tech" is roughly divided into three areas: Auditing (how to receive it), Training (how to deliver it) & Admin (how to run an Org). Admin Tech is the most dangerous because Hubbard's impulses, paranoia & egotism led him to create a social structure became a hall of mirrors that trapped his followers in a maze of logic leading nowhere. But its traps wouldn't be possible without the assistance of Training Tech that sets up paths of behavior & belief, teaching followers new patterns of thought & action that ultimately traps them inside their own minds. You can't have auditing without auditors; you can't have auditors without the TRs, Upper Indoc TRs & other routines that make anybody who practices them vulnerable to suggestion & manipulation.

Rathbun, Rinder & those listening to them may be well-intentioned but it's only a matter of time until they either recapitulate the evils of Hubbard or like Miscavige, invent their own to make up for the fact that Scientology simply does not work.
posted by scalefree at 1:59 PM on March 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Australia's ABC TV network just broadcast an in-depth expose on the cult called Scientology: The Ex-Files, along with extended interviews with all involved.
posted by scalefree at 2:12 PM on March 8, 2010


you can't possibly be implying that this constitutes a "secret rite".

Dunno. But I sure don't see the same sort of thing happening in any other denomination, and I see plenty of indirect evidence that the hierarchy is a part of it.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:22 PM on March 8, 2010


I am starting to suspect that the real secret of Scientology is that it's run by the Catholics to make them look less bad by comparison.

No. I think it's the Mormons.
posted by ericb at 3:50 PM on March 8, 2010


I was raised in a sister religion to Scientology, called Eckankar. The founder was a friend--a fellow science fiction writer!--of L. Ron Hubbard, and he was paid to write doctrine for Scientology for a while, before he decided to leave and form his own highly lucrative religion. These religious businesses . . . they're heinous, they're ruthless. The psychological fear instilled into you, to prevent you from leaving, is very difficult to shake. It took me years to stop having regular panic attacks, panicking about how I'd be karmically punished for losing faith in Eck's doctrine. I know, to this day, that my parents view my every health problem as divine punishment for leaving the religion.
I might easily have spent my whole life--and a lifetime's earnings--on that cult, and died a complete waste, for nothing but a really great profit scheme. But it's harder to keep these stories a secret in the age of the internet. I'm really thankful for forums like this, and for the people who have the courage to tell their stories.
posted by sunnichka at 5:10 PM on March 8, 2010 [12 favorites]


Dunno. But I sure don't see the same sort of thing happening in any other denomination, and I see plenty of indirect evidence that the hierarchy is a part of it.

Oh, it certainly does happen in other churches. However, many Protestant denominations act as a democratic confederation rather than an organizational hierarchy. Ministers are often chosen and employed by the congregation, who checks references with prior employers. As a result, scandals tend to be addressed in-house rather than at regional or national levels.

Of course, Protestant democracy can have all kinds of political weridness on its own, like the conservative takeover of the SBC where a conservative block of representatives practically voted the liberal wing out of the convention, or on the more local level, membership shifts within congregations can result in messy schisms.

The RCC gets criticized on this because their organizational bureaucracy tended to deal with the problem with token payouts and transferring abusers into positions where they could continue their abuse, and also because the RCC is associated with a large number of parochial schools and charities for children. It's fairly clear that abusers within the RCC benefited from organizational corruption that covered up crimes.

However, arguing that there is a secret organization within the church promoting ritual abuse strikes me as a pretty batshit and fucked-up conspiracy theory, not that different from the claim that satanic ritual abuse was epidemic within a relatively unregulated childcare industry in the 1980s. It's an accusation I suspect is an outrageous slander, in spite of the fact that I find the current Pope revolting, along with the actions of individual Catholic charities, schools, and dioceses over the past year.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:58 PM on March 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, it certainly does happen in other churches.

By "it" do you mean pedophile priests being moved from parish to parish where they re-offend and are moved and re-offend yet again? Because that's what I meant by "this sort of thing."

Other denominations have sex offenders in their ranks and cover up the fact, but other denominations do not enable serial offenses as a matter of policy. The pattern in the RCC is not isolated to one country, one diocese, or one time. It is widespread throughout the entire organization over at least the last two generations, and has been directly enabled by the Pope himself in at least one case that we know about.

If pedophile priests were simply weak vessels unable to resist sin, the hierarchy would no doubt cover up their crimes, for the good of the organization as a whole. But then they'd put those weak vessels in a place where they were no longer tempted. Instead, they move them to identical situations in other places, where they are tempted and sin again.

The only rational explanation I can think of for that pattern is that the hierarchy (or at least some powerful portion of it) is complicit with that pedophilia. They may or may not be enfolding it into a religious mystery, but there is at least more than an off chance that they are.

I believe that in the past, the Church was the only safe place for homosexuals, and that homosexual priests, through the mechanism of the confession, spotted and recruited homosexual youth into the priesthood. But cultural changes have negated that function of the Church, and now they are left with a degenerate remnant of what once was a positive function, a remnant that becomes at least partially visible when sexually abused children speak out.

This idea was first suggested to me by testimony about a priest who taught the altar boy objects of his affections that they were being introduced to a deeper form of worship of God, that sexual arousal associated with religious objects was a sacred mystery that only the elite could be allowed to experience. Perhaps he was unique...but the behavior of the hierarchy in dealing with pedophilia in the priesthood makes me wonder.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 11:32 PM on March 8, 2010


This idea was first suggested to me by testimony about a priest who taught the altar boy objects of his affections that they were being introduced to a deeper form of worship of God, that sexual arousal associated with religious objects was a sacred mystery that only the elite could be allowed to experience.

That's actually a pretty standard line amongst people who use their religion to convince people to fuck them.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:50 PM on March 8, 2010


other denominations do not enable serial offenses as a matter of policy

That's a comforting fairy tale. What happened in the Catholic Church was structural--it had little to do with anything essentially Catholic. Power + secrecy + insulated culture + religion of the "chosen" = rocket fuel for bureaucratic evil against the weak.
.......................................................................................................................

Advocates for victims say similar views have informed some of the Brooklyn rabbinical leadership’s worst judgments, allowing prominent rabbis who were repeatedly accused of abuse to keep their jobs and reputations.

one rabbi mentioned frequently on blogs cites ancient doctrine that justifies killing someone who informs on a fellow Jew.

In 2000, Rabbi Baruch Lanner, a charismatic youth leader and yeshiva principal who was the focus of students’ abuse claims for more than 20 years — and was exonerated by a beth din — became the subject of an exposé in The Jewish Week*, which found more than 60 accusers. The article led to a criminal investigation and a seven-year prison term for Rabbi Lanner.

Another rabbi, Yehuda Kolko, a grade school teacher at a Flatbush yeshiva, was accused of sexually abusive behavior by parents and former students numerous times over 30 years. The complaints were dismissed by rabbinical authorities, however, until New York magazine** wrote about them in 2006.


* Stolen Innocence: Rabbi Baruch Lanner, the charismatic magnet of NCSY, was revered in the Orthodox Union youth group, despite longtime reports of abuse of teens.

**On the Rabbi's Knee: Do the Orthodox Jews Have a Catholic-Priest Problem?
posted by availablelight at 3:54 AM on March 9, 2010


And most recently, an NPR story:

Four years ago, he told his parents. And a year ago, when he heard that Reichman had allegedly abused several other boys, they confronted Reichman. When the school heard about it, they gave the rabbi a polygraph.

"He failed miserably," Engelman says. "So they told me, 'This guy is gone. This guy has to go.' "

But a few weeks later, a religious leader from the school approached Engelman's mother, Pearl. He posed an astonishing question: On a scale of 1 to 10, how bad was the molestation?

She was speechless. Then she says, the man continued, " 'We found out there was no skin-to-skin contact, that it was through clothing.' So he's telling me, 'On a scale of 1 to 10, this was maybe a 2 or a 3, so what's the big fuss?' "


The school hired Reichman back. That was in July 2008 — one week after Joel Engelmen turned 23 and could no longer bring a criminal or civil case against the rabbi.



[The NYT article is from fall 2009, with remarkable stories about the snowballing disclosures and willingness to prosecute* within the insular Orthodox community. A potential FPP, perhaps, if not for the potential to be tarred as anti-Semitic.]



*When his 6-year-old son told him one day that Rabbi Kolko had sexually abused him, the father said he resolved to go to the police because he knew that the Brooklyn hierarchy had protected the rabbi in the past.

But first he made a detour. “I booked a flight to Jerusalem,” he said. “I made an appointment to speak with a very prominent rabbi” who had written sympathetically about abuse victims.

“He told me it would be O.K. to report this teacher to the police,” the father said. “He told me that if I reported him I would not be committing a sin.”

posted by availablelight at 4:12 AM on March 9, 2010


And from today's news, a conviction for a high-ranking rabbi who was also to have alleged to have molested a groom who jumped to his death in NYC late last year--two days into his honeymoon. (Third link goes to post on how these cases are currently dealt with, within the Orthodox community.)
posted by availablelight at 6:46 AM on March 9, 2010


It could be that pedophile priests are completely independent actors. But like I said, the behavior of the hierarchy, to my eye, indicates that there is something more in that black box than a simple desire to protect the organization. A desire to protect the organization would result in a few cases where priests were simply reassigned to other parishes after they were accused of assault, but rather than a few cases, that reaction is nearly universal.

availablelight's link is an illustration of the difference between how the rabbinical community handles the issue, and how the Catholic Church has handled and continues to handle, it.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 8:14 AM on March 9, 2010


I'm not an expert on Catholicism but I see the pedophilia problem as an indictment of not just the organization but the doctrine of celibacy as well. It cuts to the foundation of the church's authority, its claim of infallibility. That's enough of a threat to explain its behavior to me.
posted by scalefree at 9:45 AM on March 9, 2010


A potential FPP, perhaps, if not for the potential to be tarred as anti-Semitic.

The Catholic Priest thing just sort of blew up all at once in the US, much like the Orthodox Rabbi thing is now, but it's not like it was really any big secret. The Irish had their own blowup decades earlier, (Remember when Sinead O'Connor ripped up that picture of the Pope on SNL? Guess why.) as did Newfoundland.

But see, here's the thing: It's not a Catholic problem (though, yeah, forced celibacy in the priesthood can't help, and, well, coverups and reassignments aren't so great), or a problem with religion in general. It's just that whenever you put adults in charge of children, you're creating a job that will attract all the wrong types. See also teachers, Scoutmasters, coaches, etc., which all suffer from the same problem.

So, while an FPP about the Rabbi Problem wouldn't be anti-Semitic necessarily, it would be, like, "Yeah, and?" Why single them out?
posted by Sys Rq at 10:13 AM on March 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


I agree that something stinks in the RCC on this. However, it's a big difference between saying that an organization actively covers-up abuse and protects its own, and saying that there is organized and systematic promotion of abuse by the organization.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:15 AM on March 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


. It's just that whenever you put adults in charge of children, you're creating a job that will attract all the wrong types. See also teachers, Scoutmasters, coaches, etc., which all suffer from the same problem.

So, while an FPP about the Rabbi Problem wouldn't be anti-Semitic necessarily, it would be, like, "Yeah, and?" Why single them out?


That was sort of my point-- the Catholic problem wasn't an essentially Catholic problem, but a structural one, which the problems in the Orthodox community coming to a head in the last 10 years demonstrate....especially if one actually reads through all the (quite interesting, I thought) articles. An FPP wouldn't so much single them out, as affirm cross-cultural, if you will, similarities around the same issue. (There's less out there on the topic, but the highly insular Amish have had issues with acting as judge and jury as well with these crimes---though I guess shunning is more powerful and protective than a transfer to a different parish, or rehiring someone at the same Yeshiva once the statute of limitations runs out.)
posted by availablelight at 12:10 PM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


See also teachers, Scoutmasters, coaches, etc., which all suffer from the same problem.

I don't know about the USA, but in Australia and the UK people used to make jokes about scoutmasters being pedophiles. They don't seem to do it any more - not because they have a higher opinion of scoutmasters, but because they've realised that it isn't the sort of thing you ought to joke about.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:44 PM on March 9, 2010


In related news: German diocese to examine sex abuse, beatings of choirboys -- "Georg Ratzinger, brother of Pope Benedict XVI has apologized for doing nothing to stop the beating of students."
posted by ericb at 7:26 AM on March 10, 2010


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