Chapter 1


'It would be an entertaining change in human affairs,' wrote the Rev Sydney Smith, 'to determine everything by minorities: they are almost always in the right.' Lowes Dickinson believed that progress can come only from the wild men, the extremists who see no danger unless it lies directly ahead, and whom nothing directly ahead will stop. There are always at least two minorities, one much less powerful than the other, though always noisier; and any well-organised and vocal minority group is likely to be dismissed (until the explosion comes) as 'a noisy minority'. It needs to be fairly noisy, for thus only will it get a hearing. We have grown used to hearing about 'majority rule' as something essential to human happiness and political stability, and yet it is hard to find a country in the world of which Dickinson's belief is not valid. Perhaps we can honestly insist on majority rule for the African countries, for example, only so long as we believe ourselves to have achieved it at home. Have we? The business of our executive government, said Lord Devlin in 1956 (in an address to the Bentham Club), 'is to lead and therefore to formulate policy in advance of common thought'. The evolution of our species shows Davids vanquishing Goliaths from the dawn of history. As Dean Inge wrote in 1922, 'the nations which have put mankind and posterity most in their debt have been small states Israel, Athens, Florence, Elizabethan England'. And in any country, all the dynamic minorities with even remotely similar objectives have always looked upon each other as misguided zealots if nothing worse. Often they hate each other.

To say that the National Association for Mental Health and the Church of scientology so regarded each other might, in the estimation of many observers, be like juxtaposing the Royal Astronomical Society and the Flat Earth Association; but this book has to bring them into contrast and, indeed, to report them in conflict.

Scientology, which developed a few years ago from something called Dianetics (an attempt is made in the next chapter to define these expressions), is but one of many new beliefs or disciplines which, since World War II, have been helping to fill the vacuum left by the decline in orthodox religious belief and practice. Ours is often called an age of scepticism. But come with me, if you will, on a quick tour of the many fringe beliefs currently contesting for minds and allegiances, and let us see whether this is not, on the contrary, an age of fatuous credulity.

Witches' covens are frequently reported in operation, witches appear in television news programmes, not really looking too bad and pretending to exercise powers of telepathy and clairvoyance. Those who do this for money are probably punishable under the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951. This got rid of the old Witchcraft Act of 1735 because it was being unfairly used against spiritualists, and it substitutes a new offence of commercial charlatanism whether by 'mediums' or anyone else; but the witches are not prosecuted (even those who take money) unless they desecrate graveyards in their ritual or their black magic. And no one, least of all themselves, seems to cavil at their being called witches. After all, the Bible exhorts us to kill witches [1], and Mr E. A. Parry, in The Law and the Poor, recorded that 'Chief Justice Hale solemnly laid it down as law that there must be such things as witches, because there were laws against witches, and it was not conceivable that laws would be made against that which did not exist'. The Bible and Hale between them are proof enough for some that these people are still about; and the receptive blank in the modern public mind is ready to encompass them. 'Our work', a witch told The Guardian on 6 April 1970, 'is aimed at helping people those who are ill or troubled.' This one took no money: 'If we are able to assist it person they are asked to make out a postal order and send it to the Elderly Invalids Association. The same thing is done whenever I address a university' (sic). (Incidentally if she were prosecuted this wouldn't help her: no money must be paid to anyone. We do not hold sex orgies; we do not drink; we live normal lives; we believe our faith is the oldest religion and we try faithfully to follow it.' It doesn't sound much fun, but does it do any harm?

Whether it does or not, this is what a 'spokesman for the Church of England' is reported to have told The Guardian (6th April 1970): 'We are frightened at what seems to be a steady and continuing growth in the popularity of witchcraft and devil-worship, and it is frightening to realise that it is attracting young people. People playing around with these groups are messing about with dark and terrible things.' Dark and terrible? When the Church itself speaks of this ignorant and inane tarradiddle as something dark and terrible, when bishops go to 'haunted houses' to cast out ghosts with lamps and incense and mumbled ceremony, when superstitions flourish and ancient folklore, discredited by scientists, isolates them as unbelievers, when all the newspapers print daily helpings of astrology [2], when Bingo players sit fingering rosaries and every third man in a betting shop has an infallible system - at such a time anything may take hold.

Today you can buy a ouija board in many a big store, toyshop or stationer's, and then with three gullible friends or neighbours seek to solve the mystery of time and the unknowable future. The newspapers [3] are reporting sales of ouija boards on a scale that is confidently said to be without precedent. I know myself of a simple village family whose lives are now dominated by one of these contrivances, and whom nothing would ever convince that they could get the same results by the spin of a coin. In Fulham Road, in South-west London, there is an Aetherius Society, an 'international metaphysical organisation'. Its leader is a witch (or wizard); and he travels round the solar system collecting from the other planets messages for Aetherius Society members in the Fulham Road. On his last visit to Venus (reported in The Times on 23 January 1970) he was shown round by some one called Patana, who occasionally melted into a huge, multi coloured bubble but who normally sent out 'a scintillating, rainbow-coloured magnetic ray which very gently explored his mind'. The Aetherius Society's name is in the London Telephone Directory, and if you call it you will be answered by someone sounding absolutely normal. Its membership is said to be less than 1,000, even counting planetary members; but nothing is more certain than that if some multi-millionaire endowed it with £1,000,000 it could have a hundred thousand members within weeks. It has not yet become a church.

There is, however, a church for atheists. It is called 'Poor Richard's Universal Life Church' because its official prophet is Mr Richard F. O'Hair and its first bishop is Mrs Madalyn O'Hair, his wife. Its first saint is Mark Twain, because (says the bishop) he was 'the saint of human laughter and incidentally an atheist' (The Guardian, 28 January 1970). It has a legal charter from the Universal Life Church of California, which has bestowed 'doctorates of divinity' (divinity?) upon Mr and Mrs O'Hair. In a January 1970 pastoral letter to her flock, the bishop said: 'You can help your new Universal Life Church, your new religion, and at the same time you can profit in your relationship with the Internal Revenue Service, We can purchase and lease property back to you, we can own for you motels, stores, mines, newspapers, farms, industry, public utilities, race tracks, distilleries, restaurants.' One has read all this before, but not (I think) in a pastoral letter addressed to atheists by an atheist doctor of divinity. It is a simpler document, reaching for more sensitive chords, than an English parish magazine.

If you would like a further glimpse of the strange world you live in unawares, look up the entries under CHURCH and SOCIETY in the telephone directory; but do not let it worry you.

In some parts of Europe these secular faiths and their manifestations are more often taken seriously, and the severity of official action produces frightening consequences. The Italian Penal Code, for example, has a unique provision for the punishment of plagio, which is the offence of 'subjecting another person to one's own power in a manner which reduces him to a total state of subjection'. It carries a maximum penalty of fifteen years' imprisonment. On 28 November 1969, a lecturer in philosophy, Signor Also BRAIBANTI, challenged in the Rome Appeal Court a sentence of nine years' imprisonment for 'totally enslaving' two young students (The Times, 29 November 1969). His conviction was upheld but the court reduced his sentence to five years; though at the time this was being written a further appeal was pending. Enslavement is not too graphic a word to describe the hold upon individuals exercised by some of the freak religions of the world, and by some of the charlatanisms.

It is now commonly said that the youth of Great Britain and the USA are displaying an intense interest in occultism and the supernatural, and that this exemplifies a desire to fill the vacuum left by the decline of once-familiar religious faiths. If this is so, it may not of itself be a bad thing. It bespeaks an attitude of enquiry, which is always preferable to apathy. But the education that we give to our children, in both countries, is strangely lacking in ethical content, the subject we call 'Religious Knowledge' being very largely confined to the surging and bloody pre-Christian history of Egypt and Asia Minor. Those who challenge the teaching of Christianity include a few, a distinguished few, who want to see some positive training in social ethics take its place. Baroness Wootton, for example, said in a public lecture in 1963 (Crime and the Criminal Law, Stevens & Sons, London, 1963): 'Our prisons are not peopled with renegade Christians. They are peopled with practising agnostics for whom the moral vacuum can only be filled by a humanistic morality, demanding no extra scientific or supernatural assumptions; and this their inmates are not offered. Yet a secular society which does not have the courage to evolve and to propagate a secular morality must not be surprised if it finds itself devoid of any morality at all.'

Secular morality, however, seems very hard to propagate. Even those movements which attempt the task have tended, before long, to call themselves in churches, and have been fortuitously encouraged to do so by the fiscal advantages of being a church rather than a pressure group. Secular moralities seem to bestow a greater importance on the individual than do most of the religions which require a healthier degree of self-abnegation. Self-realisation has been a selling point, in this country, for a variety of psychological movements, some mystical, some allegedly therapeutic, some simply commercial. They all go in for some 'personality testing', and have all tended to remove from the sphere of the parlour game the kind of do-it-yourself psychology that has not, hitherto, been taken any more seriously than the tea-leaves at the bottom of the cup.

But in 1969 a practising psychologist in England was asked to co-operate with a publisher in producing a 'personality testing kit' for home use. There was no suggestion that it was for a parlour game. The psychologist was a member of the British Psychological Society; and having refused on ethical grounds to have anything to do with the project he reported the matter to his Society. Its council supported him. It wrote to the publisher 'deploring the attempt to put forward any personality test at a level of seriousness above that of a parlour game'. It was thought there was some risk that the lay public might accept the tests as an 'easy insight into personality', not perhaps realising that the interpretation of tests was a skilled procedure resembling medical diagnosis from declared or ascertained symptoms. Personality testing, that is to say, was no job for the layman.

The British Psychological Society was also reported (New Society, 28 January 1970) as believing that this kind of test is dangerous in the sense that some of the people likely to be fascinated by it are 'precisely those in need of some form of help'.

But no one has ever said this about 'The Church'. What do we mean by 'The Church'? Read on for one of the contemporary answers.


1. 'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live' (Exodus XXII, 18); and not even the New English Bible has been able to change this.

2. In London there is a Faculty of Astrological Studies awarding Diplomas after two-year 'study courses'; and in Czechoslovakia, under the enlightened new Communist administration, the Government itself has established a Department of Astrological Medicine (The Guardian, 27th April 1970).

3. On 5 January 1971, The Times reported that the fourth form in a girls' school at Leytonstone, East London, refused to listen to their religious education mistress because an ouija board spirit had told them there was no God. The headmistress called in the Rev George Tarleton, of South Woodford Congregational Church, to talk to them. He later told The Times that ouija was more harmful than dangerous drugs and 'a stepping stone to the occult ... This game is so widespread at the moment that it has become an epidemic. The effects of playing it can be terribly harmful. I would like to see ouija boards banned altogether.' It is so natural for the frightened sceptic to reach for the ban.

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