Scientology in the UK – Indifference and Amusement from the General Public

vice.com2014 | Scientology Is Struggling to Crack the UK | Nick Hilton | vice.com View Online This recent article pretty much captures the the plight of Scientology in the UK, and the attitude of general public towards its offerings. It opens by discussing the eccentric Saint Hill Manor, which the founder of Scientology bought, and moved into, in 1959. Saint Hill became the UK headquarters of Scientology after Hubbard briefly left the country, and was refused re-entry in 1966 as an “undesirable alien”. In a brief interview, ex-Scientologist Jon Atack* (who was at Saint Hill at the peak of Scientology’s influence)  in the UK comments that,

Scientology was never big business in the UK. The last census showed just over 2,000 UK members.

The actual figure in the 2011 census was 2,417 (which included ‘independent’ Scientologist’s, children of Scientologists and foreign workers/students at Saint Hill). Since then, Scientology has suffered a number of significant  reverses. Atack is likely doing the Church a favour with an estimate as high as 2,000. The author of the article (Nick Hilton) then visits a Scientology Org in London, and samples today’s recruitment effort. The only member of the public there, he was treated to the attention of one staff member – but the Church of Scientology seemed to rely on showing him a series of video presentations. Hiltons’ discussion of the ‘personality test’ is interesting, and his account of the dismissive/amused attitude of passers-by matches my first-hand observation of the efforts of Plymouth’s Scientology org. *Jon Atack is the author of “A Piece of Blue Sky” an essential text for anyone interested in the Church of Scientology.

Why is UK Scientology the Runt of the International Litter?

Scientology probably never gained a foothold in the UK because the Church of Scientology  was so exquisitely adapted to exploit US culture. The law and culture of the UK are significantly different. It was like trying to transplant a parasite that had evolved to infect cows into a bird.

  • The First Amendment. Religious freedom is guaranteed by law and by treaty obligations (notably the European Declaration of Human Rights). However, these provisions do no include a blanket ban on laws “respecting an establishment of religion”. Scientology has very limited recognition as a recognised religion in any case.
  • The UK today is, for all intents and purposes, a secular state. Claiming to be a religion does not enhance the ‘church’ of Scientology’s image.
  • Scientology as a practice is very unlikely to achieve charitable status. It must first demonstrate that it provides a public benefits (unlikely) but also be free to all (impossible for an organisation with secret teachings).
  • There UK  Orgs, and  are predominantly understaffed. Potential recruits naturally ask, “If Scientology is so wonderful, why are there so few people here?”
  • The recruitment procedure (showing visitors a video and administering a ‘personality test’) is dated and ineffective
  • Mass media coverage is unanimously hostile.
  • 84% of UK  households have internet access and 76% of adults access the ‘net every day. The Internet is not friendly to Scientology, and anyone who looks the organisation up, is likely to be discouraged.

PS: A Telling Detail

One of the images used in the article (which is reproduced at bouncer CUthe top left of this page) came from Wikipedia. It you look closely, you will see that the big lad lounging in the entrance of a London Church of Scientology  is wearing a day-glo armband. This will contain the identity card which he is required to display as a registered member of the UK private security industry. These Armbands are  most commonly seen on nightclub bouncers… er… Security Staff, and this chap may well be working at a door of a pub or club after the Org closes to the public. The fact that the ‘Church’ of Scientology in London feels that it needs a bouncer speaks to the paranoia that permeates the organisation. I wonder if he is hired (which does not come cheap) or a Scientologist himself? Can anyone who  passes by this London Org tell us if this is standard practice?

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