Television writers are increasingly using thinly disguised versions of Scientology as a kind of shorthand for ‘abusive cult with extremely bizarre beliefs’. It’s significant that this is seen in popular programmes, implying that the general population now understand these references.
The Church of Scientology, which would once have sued and harassed everyone involved in such effrontery, no longer even seem to notice. This is likely because today they are handicapped by increasing public awareness, a significant number of outstanding court cases and declining membership – they no longer have the resources to attack every critic and have to pick their fights more carefully.
As a change of pace, this post links to examples in episodes of two very different television series. The first is an episode of an updated US version of Sherlock Holmes (which works surprisingly well) entitled, “Elementary”. Holmes now lives in New York City, and Watson is a not only a woman but also a formidable detective in her own right. This episode emphasises the ‘abusive cult’ aspect of Scientology.
The second, is an episode of “The IT Crowd” – a broad UK comedy about IT support workers which emphasises Scientology’s bizarre beliefs for comic effect.
Elementary: A Stitch in Time
In this episode, a prominent sceptic is murdered and Sherlock Holmes briefly investigates the organisation which was the subject of one of the victim’s recent articles (whose leader Holmes’ describes as “almost certainly insane).
This is “The Church of Modern Atomicism”. The ‘Church’ turns out to be a dead end (someone else did it) but the similarities to Scientology are striking.
It makes its first (and only) appearance beginning at at 6′ 19″. As L Ron Hubbard once said about Scientology, this is “not a turn the other cheek religion”. Members mount surveillance operations on critics, and harass them as a matter of policy. The plot depends on the surveillance material that is provided to Holmes by a member whom he persuades to defect (she is a “level 3 conduit” – equivalent to OT3, perhaps?).
Like Scientologists, Atomicists are sensitive to their organisation being characterised as a ‘cult’. Their representative pronounces, “At some time, every great religion has been attacked as a cult” to which Holmes dryly relies, “So have most cults”.
This isn’t an extended satire on Scientology. The similarities are only there so that viewer can see that these are people who are not to be trusted. Although the Church of Modern Atomicism makes its exist at 8′:41″ (after only 2′:22″ of screen-time) it is significant that Scientology was obviously used as a handy metaphor for dissembling fanaticism.
The IT Crowd: Something Happened (UK)
If that’s not enough, a picture of a “Spaceology Centre” used in the film bears a striking resemblance to a typical UK Scientology Org, right down to the font on the shop sign and the board in the window offering a “Free Personality Test”.
However, it’s not just Scientology that the writers are having a pop at here. At 1′:17″, the principle of “Spacestar Ordering” is mentioned (“based on the scientific principles of star maths and wishy thinking”). This bears a certain resemblance to “Cosmic Ordering“.
Cosmic Ordering was invented by Bärbel Mohr, a German independent thinker who proposed that, if a person simply wrote down their wish list and exerted their will, they would receive the things that they had asked for. This certainly qualifies as “wishy thinking”.
What’s more, the most prominent convert to this idea is one Noel Edmonds, who would be well known to UK TV writers. Once a BBC Radio 1 DJ, Edmonds moved on to a successful career in popular television. When this began to flag, he discovered and practised ‘cosmic ordering’. He was subsequently offered a job as the host of a game show entitled, “Deal or No Deal”. The programme proved popular and is still running. Edmonds credits his renewed success not to his own efforts, but to cosmic ordering and has become a prominent promoter of Mohr’s ideas.
It’s curious how fringe groups seem to dress up the same ideas in different clothes. As we saw in a previous post, Scientologists develop their ‘intention’ in training routines (such as TR8, where they shout at an ashtray). The aim is to be ‘postulate’ things with such force of will that they will come true.
Both practices are also perfect examples of two cognitive biases:
- Post hoc ergo proctor hoc (it came before, therefore it must be the cause). Noel Edmonds tried out cosmic ordering, and then got the job. Consequently, he believes that cosmic ordering was responsible.
- Selection bias. Edmonds credits his success in getting the job hosting “Deal or No Deal” to cosmic ordering but will overlook, or rationalise away all of the subsequent failures. He’s looking for a success story that will meke him feel secure in an uncertain occupation, not the truth.