During the 1960’s left-wing activist groups in the USA fragmented and – their activities degenerated into pointless doctrinal arguments and political impotence. In this compelling book Kent argues that it is no coincidence that new religious movements (NRMs) mushroomed (and triggered a popular moral panic) during the same period.
He argues that their disillusionment with politics made political activists vulnerable to the recruiting pitch of those NRMs who presented themselves as a fashionably counter-cultural way in which to make a difference in a troubled world. In other words, many idealistic people looking for a mission in life migrated from politics to organisations like Scientology.
Although Kent’s discussion of Scientology during this period only occupies 21 pages of the book, its central argument explains a lot about the modern Church and its opponents.
For example, disaffected members of the Church of Scientology will often argue that Scientology in ‘the early days’ was not only less restrictive, but also more exciting and fulfilling than it is today. Many Independent Scientologists strive to recapture this atmosphere by practising outside of the authority of the Church.
Kent’s thesis suggests an alternative explanation – that the spirit of the times ensured that membership of any NRM appeared to be more meaningful to the participant (especially in retrospect) than it actually was.