Scientology and the Presumed Fragility of Unconventional Beliefs

fragile belief1982 | On the Presumed Fragility of Unconventional Beliefs | David A Snow and Richard Machalek | Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 21 (1) 15-26
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To an outsider, it is an understatement to say that the doctrines of Scientology appear implausible and lack credibility. A common question from people who encounter them for the first time (for example the Xenu story) is, ‘how can anyone believe this nonsense?’.

Scholars tend to assume that because such ideas are easily disproved, belief in them is “fragile” – this is, it may be broken or lost at any time. They have developed various theories  to explain why it often persists despite this fragility.  Most hold that fringe groups exert powerful social pressure on believers, who rationalise away their doubts in a psychological process known as cognitive dissonance.

The authors of this paper observe that scholars are (by nature and training) analytical and sceptical –  and  that this may be a form of bias. They suggest ‘true believers’ do not share these characteristics, and may have no difficulty in holding weird beliefs. In other words, scholars are over-thinking it, and inventing complex theories to solve a problem which, in fact, only exists for them.

They turn the tables on scholars and ask, “perhaps it is disbelief, rather than belief that is in need of attention”.

This is a genuine, well-argued, minority viewpoint.  I think it has some merit – but is dangerously inappropriate when applied to Scientology (which is one of their examples).

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