Jon Ronson is a journalist and writer, principally known as the author of books which explore weird beliefs and their social consequences.
- “The Men Who Stare at Goats”, which explores the curious cold war programme designed to create ‘psychic spies’ for the US military (Another book “Remote Viewers” by Jim Schnabel describes the involvement of practising Scientologists in this doomed effort).
- “Adventures With Extremists” which examines the extreme beliefs of characters such as David Icke (TV sports pundit turned extraterrestrial conspiracy theorist, Ian Paisley and others.
- The self-explanatory, “Out of the Ordinary: True Tales of Everyday Craziness” and “What I Do: More True Tales of Everyday Craziness”.
Between 1997 and 2000 he hosted a curious late night talk show on Channel 4 (at that time, the UK’s second commercial TV channel, after ITV). In it he talks to, and draws out, groups of ordinary people who have extraordinary hobbies and beliefs.
The very first programme brought together a group of UK Scientologists. We have become used to the modern Church of Scientology’s hostile and controlling attitude towards media interviews. In contrast, these people are unsupervised and relaxed. They genuinely appear to be speaking their minds . As a consequence, they come over far more sympathetically.
Some activists may criticise Ronson for not asking hard questions about the abuses of Scientology. Fair enough. However, I feel there is a place for this type of programme. It is the nearest that people like me (who have never been members of the Church) will get to observing how Scientologists interact with each other, and the operation of social influence, which normalises the most bizarre beliefs (as long as they keep them within the group).
Granted, on this occasion they are on their very best behaviour and anxious to make a good impression – but this is better than nothing.
You can view the 51 minute programme in a video window after the break.
Ronson also gathered together believers in the extraordinary English cult, the Aetherius Society, Hare Krishna, Tibetan Buddhism, the controversial Jesus Army, Kabbalah, the Mormons, and many others which are equally fascinating.
For those of you with similar tastes, here’s a link to a lovingly-compiled YouTube playlist which covers the entire series
- ADHD is not a medical condition but (somewhat inconsistently) it is caused by an allergy to food additives (e.g. tartrazine)
- Autism is caused by supposedly toxic preservatives in vaccine
- British currency, […] “is not created and issued by the Government but by private financial institutions, such as banks“. He died in 2007.