America is a land of voluntary associations, with the right to do your own thing well established in our traditions. The diversity thus protected is a source of strength for American culture. But in recent years we have seen totalist groups systematically employ undue influence to exploit the shelter of this tradition, bypass our society's normal controls on unethical activity, and mount large scale programs of entrapment and fraud.
An internal power struggle in Scientology in the early 1980's left many people willing to tell what they had seen, and a number of court cases have put some truth about Scientology into the public domain. Several books have presented documented descriptions of Scientology, the most recent being Jon Atack's A Piece of Blue Sky, published by the Carol Publishing Group in 1990. Much of this information was published in a six-part expose by the Los Angeles Times in July, 1990, and an abbreviated version by Time magazine in May, 1991.
The written sources tell what is easiest to describe: the trashed families and careers, lost savings, abandoned educations, and the like, which are common stories among ex-members. But in my opinion, a primary harm done by Scientology is capture and corruption of the group member's ability to make moral and intellectual judgments. Impoverishment, broken families, etc. are merely what follow.
To evade scrutiny, Scientology tries to pass as just another church or self-help group with laudable aims and programs. But Scientology is neither the answer to all problems of life nor even a helpful activity exerting influence in the right direction.
Behind the hype and "PR" (public relations), Scientology is a money-making enterprise which systematically exploits, under the guise of help, the hopes, needs, and weaknesses of those it recruits. It operates by selling questionable services with ambiguous products (so that fraud is difficult to prove), then using mind control techniques to substitute certainty (loyalty) in place of truth. The result is to make those who take the bait into captive group members who will sacrifice their lives and fortunes to the group, defend it, and insist publicly that they received benefit.
In its efforts to conceal the reality, Scientology has become notorious for vicious attacks and disregard of the civil rights of any who would expose the truth of its actual practices. As with rape and other abuse, cult activity can cause lasting harm to those involved, to their families, and to society.
This is something from which one must recover, often with considerable difficulty, and there is risk of lasting ill effects if the recovery is not complete. The process and difficulty of emerging from a cult and regaining one's own integrity and growth are discussed at length in Steve Hassan's book, Combatting Cult Mind Control, Park Street Press, 1990.
Scientology represents itself as the way to better communication, health, ability to learn, a more successful career, or a better life. Scientology is not any of those things, but the bait gets you into the trap. Under carefully controlled conditions, you learn not to question the claims. You learn the countless reasons why your education is less important than learning Scientology, your career less important than serving Scientology, your family less important than clearing the planet.
The means replace the end; loyalty substitutes for result; the group replaces life. That is no accident: the only true product of a cult is group members, desperately telling each other that they are an elite with the only answers to life's questions. It becomes normal and commonplace to substitute certainty in place of truth, group loyalty in place of informed decision. As time goes on, one needs to believe in the group agreements in order to justify what he or she has done, the trashed families and so on.
In such an environment, one is prevented from developing realistic understandings of self and the world. Instead, the person must defend illusory self-images composed of various abilities supposedly acquired through Scientology training and processing. That the snake oil is bogus cannot be faced without raising serious identity problems. How the harm comes to be done, the impairment of judgment and the fostering of delusion, is particularly evident if we examine Scientology's LRH Study Technology (discussed in the next article) which Church members inflict on children as well as on each other.