Up to this point, I have avoided giving bad reviews by discussing only books that are, one way or another, worth reading. However, Scientology-watchers are a thorough bunch of people and it’s easier today to find and buy an obscure book that you think might be hidden gem… and be disappointed.
A few warnings may be order. For example, here are two books that may not be worth your hard-earned.
|2009 Stripping the Gurus:
Sex, Violence, Abuse and Enlightenment
Geoffrey D Falk
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|2005 The Joy of Sects
The author has a blog
Stripping the Gurus: Sex, Violence, Abuse and Enlightenment
Most this book discuss abusive Westernised versions of Eastern religions (for example, Marharishi Mahesh Yogi, Swami Rama and Bhagwan Shree Rajineesh) one to a chapter. However, the author also weighs in Scientology, Est (and its successors) abusive groups in the Catholic Church and even the relatively harmless Findhorn community.
His style might be described as ‘attack dog scepticism’. He makes extensive use of the words of the Gurus themselves to condemn them. However, reading his accounts of various groups can become wearing because of its unbroken hostility.
This is not to say that the groups described deserve anything other than hostility – but a greater variety of style and more analysis might have made for an easier read. It might also have been more convincing to someone with no previous knowledge of these groups who might think, “It can’t be as bad as this”.
“Stripping the Gurus” is included here for one Chapter about Scientology, and another which represents the authors’ only attempt to analyse and understand the thought processes of adherents.
In the chapter Battlefield Teegeeack Falk weighs in with the Xenu story. Unfortunately, the first paragraph is quite inaccurate,
[…] one Xenu (or Xemu), an evil titan (played by the strictly heterosexual John Travolta) . Faced with the problem of overpopulation, Xenu had gathered up the nee’er-do-wells from his empire – among them Jenna Elfman Narconon Spokesman Kirstie Alley […] and the late sonny Bono. He next confined those individuals in terrestrial volcanoes, and utilised nuclear bombs to explode the latter (and the former). the spirits (“thetans”) of those formally intact beings were then collected, imprisoned in frozen alcohol and implanted into human beings.
I think “evil titan” should have been “evil tyrant” (Xenu was supposed to be a politician, not a mythical giant). I will leave the other other basic mistakes to the reader.
This is a major flaw in the (too-brief and confused) Scientology chapter. Because Scientology doctrine (such as the Xenu story) is self-evidently ridiculous, he does not even bother to get it right. The book is obviously aimed at a sceptical audience of casual readers. The author is preaching to the choir, and they are not concentrating.
The rest of the chapter does not present a coherent picture of Scientology and at times consists of a (dated) list of ‘celebrity members’ and critical books.
In the chapter Gurus and Prisoners Falk references the work of Zimbado and Milgram in social psychology. He uses this to try to explain the abuses of power that take place in the closed social groups which he writes about. His attitude is that devotees have naively:
[…] into inherent dynamics of power and obedience which have showed themselves in classic psychological studies from Milgram to Zimbardo, and to which each one of us is susceptible every day of our lives?
While this seems to work for the ashrams of the abusive Eastern gurus which Falk discusses (and for organisations like the Sea Org) it does not explain how the believers came to be there in the first place.
For example, the closed, formally disciplined, Sea Org has historically made up only a fraction of the membership of Scientology. Most Scientologists (“Public Scientologists”) only visit the Org, with the same frequency that Christians visit a Church. Even “Staff” Scientologists only work there, and still have connections with the wider world.
Falk does not address the question of why people go half-way – why they become interested in bizarre ideas, approach fringe groups, and gradually accept their world-view, and ‘authority’. He does not even seem to accept that this may be part of the process. In his view, cults practice coercive brainwashing, and that’s all you need to know.
Falk’s coverage of Scientology and his understanding of Cult recruitment is superficial at best. Luckily, “Stripping the Gurus” is available online and for free download, so you can judge for yourself.
The Joy of Sects: An A-Z of Cults, Cranks and Religious Eccentrics
The format of this book is very similar to “Stripping The Gurus” with less emphasis on movements inspired by Eastern religion traditions (it mentions over 60 new religious movements) However, the style is totally different.
The 10 page chapter on Scientology also opens with a list of celebrity adherents and a reference to Xenu, but his is downright flippant:
Apparently, a naughty alien called Xenu caused a lot of trouble on Earth 75 million years ago – trouble which has startling repercussions today.
The chapter on Scientology provides a dated whistle-stop cure of Dianetics, Scientology’s aggressive takeover of the Cult Awareness Network, Operation snow white, a few words about Narconon and (inevitably) the rest of the Xenu story. it closes with a short account of the author’s experience of a ‘personality test’.
Like “Stripping the Gurus” this book is so seriously dated that it there is no mention of the new regime of David Miscavige.
“The Joy of Sects” is poorly-researched light entertainment – the sort of book you might read while waiting for a bus. While there is nothing wrong with that, it tells the slightly experienced Scientology-watcher nothing that they do not already know.