These both strike me as fair questions, since they influence my writing on the subject so, after the break, I will start the New Year with a presentation of my eccentric perspective on the subjects of Scientology and belief in general.
In passing, I would like to point out that this blog had its first birthday on Christmas Eve. I would have celebrated, but my Internet connection had failed the day before, and it has taken me this long to catch up. Please be assured that normal service has now resumed.
Also, I extend my (belated) best wishes for 2015 to all the people who have visited this site – including present members of the Church of Scientology, Independent Scientologists, ex-members and interested outsiders.
Peace on Earth, among men [and women] of good will!
It will help if you understand that I admire the early members of The Royal Society (now recognised as the worlds oldest scientific academy). Their motto was “Nullius in Verba” (take nobody’s word for it) and their curiosity knew no bounds.
I would describe myself as they did – as a ‘Natural Philosopher’. It’s a proud heritage – their approach (along with their energy and rigorous, rational examination of the world around us) helped to establish the scientific method – which has enabled humanity to perform miracles. For example, we recently sent a brave little robot 4 billion miles to land on a comet. Not bad for a hairless ape.
The nearest I can come in conventional terms is to describe my beliefs is ‘rational humanist’. Unfortunately, both of these term requires a lot of unpacking, so please bear with me – it all comes together in the end.
The rational part embraces the scientific method as a means of acquiring reliable information about the world around us – and I think it is worth pointing out that this practice is widely misunderstood. People will talk of Science ‘proving’ a theory. As a philosopher called Karl Popper pointed out, science cannot prove any theory, because it cannot test it in every possible circumstance. Instead, Scientists try to disprove their theories. This seems strange, but it makes sense.
- If you succeed in disproving a theory, you know that you to replace it with more powerful ideas, and make progress.
- If you fail, you can place greater confidence in the theory that you have. As a result of this process we have many theories of great explanatory power (not to mention some cool technology that makes life a lot longer and more fulfilling).
This idea requires that you abandon the possibility of certainty. All human knowledge is tentative, and subject to change. Humility is built in.
As for Humanism, it is clean that Humans are social animals who are at their best when we co-operate and allow our empathy and compassion to rule our actions.
For an example of the power of co-operation, I point again to the achievement of sending a probe 4 billion miles to land on a tiny chunk of rock and ice so that we can learn more about the origins of life and the universe. For an example of compassion, I point to the people who voluntarily risk their lives to bring humanitarian aid to the innocent victims of armed conflicts between fanatics.
Religion and Me
This is a characteristic of all faiths. They have to be accepted without asking for evidence, nor critically examining their claims. Consequently, it is impossible to make a rational choice between the potentially infinite number of possible contradictory faiths (including many that once dominated whole civilisations, but are now forgotten).
You can only ever make an arbitrary choice between religions – and can never properly assess the fundamental truth of what you believe. Therefore, the odds of your choosing a true belief among the many contradictory faiths which are available are massively against you. Most people do not, in fact, ever make a choice, but unthinkingly retain the beliefs of the culture that they are brought up in.
Supernaturalism and Me
I have never experienced, and seriously doubt, the existence of a ‘supernatural’ world. For better or worse this is the only world we have, or will ever have and we find meaning in it and treat each other well while we are here.
The stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius said it best:
Live a good life.
If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by.
If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them.
If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.
I am not afraid.
Incidentally, my parents were both members of the Church of England – my father was a lay preacher. I did not rebel against this upbringing, and was never put under any pressure to believe. I have simply been constitutionally unable to take any supernatural belief seriously, for a moment, for as long as I remember.
I suspect there is a genetic, neurological component to religious experience which I lack – for better of worse.
Tolerance and Me
I abhor the existence of the ‘crime’ of blasphemy, which fanatical religions use to require absolute respect for their beliefs while, at the same time, reserving the right to denigrate those of others (including mine).
It is a small step from this attitude to ‘the ends justify the means’ and the crimes against humanity committed (for example) by the fanatics who have hijacked Islam.
This is not to say that I am in the least hostile to the overwhelming majority of religious believers – many of the kindest people I know are motivated by sincere religious belief which I can never share, but can and do treat with appropriate respect. They do not want to enforce their beliefs on others, and neither do I. We both strongly object to the actions of religious fanatics who attempt to enforce their beliefs on others, and commit crimes in the name of faith.
The definitive comment on the contrast between doctrinaire ‘certainty’ and honest humility was made by Jacob Bronowski in the classic BBC TV programme “The Ascent of Man”
Scientology and Me
I have never had any connection to Scientology. My interest in the subject derives from a life-long fascination with social conformity, which eventually led me to study Sociology. This was reinforced by time spent working near my local org when I was always being approached by Scientologists eager to recruit new members.
When I did a little research into the Church of Scientology, it seemed to me that the beliefs of the Church were not only problematic, but novel. Since I was fascinated by the question of how and why people believe arbitrary things, a ‘church’ which required members to promote bizarre beliefs despite widespread disapproval from the wider world seemed to me a extreme example and excellent case study.
Where You Ever Tempted to Join the Church of Scientology?
While I not wish to denigrate anyone’s beliefs, I honestly cannot understand how anyone can take Scientology seriously for a moment – it is chock-full of contradictions and failed promises (e.g. Hubbard’s claims, in “Dianetics”, to enable readers to raise their IQs, develop a perfect memory and even grow new teeth). I have never been a member of the Church of Scientology, nor any related group, and no – I have never been tempted to join.
You may ask ‘if Scientology is so implausible, why do people join? I have concluded that belief in Scientology is created and sustained by social-psychological processes.
Why Do you Criticise Scientology?
Scientology has to take internal social control to extremes in order to retain members because:
- Its beliefs are so easily falsified.
- It demands a high degree of commitment (of time, money and conformity)
- It requires a high degree of obedience
The secrecy practised by the Church of Scientology, it’s controlling behaviour, and its extremely hostile reaction to criticism supports the proposition that (far from the possessing the certainty that it claims) it is extremely insecure in its faith.
This is a recipe for abuse. For example, the Church of Scientology’s internal discipline system can require members to ‘disconnect’ from spouses, relative and friends who criticise the Church in any way. There are many other examples of repressive measures used to ensure members toe the party line.
Also, the Church’s absolute belief in the 55-year-old prescriptions of its unqualified founder, L Ron Hubbard, has many dangerous consequences some of which which I have described in previous posts – for example:
- The activities of the ‘drug rehabilitation’ organisation Narconon, which is a front group for the Church of Scientology. It promotes Hubbard’s ideas about drug addiction which are not only at odds with established science, but have also contributed to the deaths of clients.
- Their uncritical acceptance of a baby formula recommended by Hubbard which is deficient in vitamins and iron, and (if used as directed) leads to malnutrition and scurvy in babies and young children
- The claims Scientology makes for healing techniques (called “assists“) and its long-standing hostility towards scientific medicine (especially psychiatry) discourages believers form seeking effective treatment for mental and physical disease – and even demands that they discard essential medication (e.g. psychiatric medication and drugs which treat epilepsy).
Why do You blog About Scientology?
The explanations of early critics (which revolved around ‘brainwashing’ and ‘hypnotism’) struck me as both inappropriate and inadequate.
Unfortunately, these ideas remain embedded in the culture of those who campaign against Scientology. This site represents my struggle, as an outsider, to understand Scientology’s extraordinary power to enforce conformity and at least the appearance of belief, and to come up with a better explanation for it.
I began to study Scientology to solve the academic puzzle of how people sustain the bizarre beliefs which it requires. As I learned more, I came to understand and oppose the repression and abuses that are a necessary part of the Church of Scientology’s solution to this problem.
This blog is an attempt to make a little progress towards both of those objectives.