Scientology: Secrecy, Security and the Cold War

If_You_Talk_Too_Much_This_Man_May_Die_mirror2006 | Fair Game: Secrecy, Security, and the Church of Scientology in Cold War America | Hugh B Urban.Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Volume 74, Number2, June 2006, pp. 356-389 (Article)

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Hugh B Urban is a professor at the Ohio State University. His interests (listed in his entry on the University website) include Comparative Religions and New Religious Movements – he is the author of “The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religious Movement“,  which is an excellent objective account of the organisation’s development.

He is currently interested in “[…]the study of secrecy in religion, particularly in relation to questions of knowledge and power” and is writing a book two books. One of these promises to  prove interesting to Scientology-watchers (whether or not it mentions the Church).  It is provisionally entitled “Secrecy: The Adornment of Silence, the Vestment of Power. Comparative Studies in Esoteric Religions”.

This article combines those two interests – and weaves in another thread that is vital to an understanding of the Church of Scientology – the atmosphere of cold war paranoia that pervaded its origins and captured the imagination of it’s creator, L Ron Hubbard.

Urban writes,

It is no coincidence that the Church of Scientology emerged and achieved its height of popularity in the years between 1950 and 1990 – roughly the period of the Cold War.

Urban proposes that Scientology’s attitude towards outsiders is a consequence of Hubbard exploiting the prevalent Cold War paranoia. He used this to justify building an oppressive security apparatus (modelled on the CIA and FBI)  into his new Church.

Even the doctrine of the church of Scientology is subject to the strictest of security. Scientology is a religion that takes secrecy to extremes, and manifestly uses it to control its members.

  • Scientologists are told that they must approach each stage of their ‘initiation’ in a fixed sequence (“on a gradient”)  and actively avoid learning anything about the higher levels because doing so before they have been prepared will be harmful. Famously, adherents are warned to not to look at the OT3 materials (which are available online) because, if they do they will die of pneumonia.
  • Scientologists are forbidden from discussing the material they have learned with each other – even with people who are ‘studying’ the same level at the same time.

Similarly the Church bureaucracy is hierarchical and compartmentalised – no one knows more than they need to know.

Urban also examines the later innovations of  “Security Checks”,  witch hunts for “Suppressive Persons”, the policy of “Fair Game” (which led to the Church’s well document espionage and ‘dirty tricks’ projects) and its losing battle against Internet critics.

This is a remarkably relevant read that views Scientology as a Cold War hangover – one that might receive a new impetus from the contemporary “War on Terror” (which arguably repeats many of the mistakes made during the Cold War).

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