Claiming to be a religion is but one means of sheltering a commercial enterprise from accountability. Ambiguity of product is another.
The legal profession struggles to keep up with questions of accountability that arise when buyer and seller disagree about the nature and effect of esoteric services. That problem becomes all the more difficult when the product is inherently ambiguous, as is the case with the subjective and possibly manipulated mental state of an individual. This ambiguity is a legal weak point which Hubbard recognized, exploited, and further obscured by mixing it with religion.
By charging money for obscure expert services which are part of a
religion and which have as their product an ambiguous subjective
condition, Hubbard created a sales and recruitment machine virtually
immune from legal accountability.
Caveat Vendor (Seller Beware)
Special concern for accountability is appropriate when the user of a service is at a significant disadvantage in relation to the provider, as is the case with complex medical services. In such cases the rule tends, properly, to be caveat vendor (seller beware). The vendor is liable for harm or fraud which the disadvantaged consumer was not in a position to understand or avert. Thus medical products and services are subject to extensive governmental, scientific, and professional review by which the vendor establishes that he has shown due regard for the consumer's interest and is not negligent.
Caveat emptor (buyer beware, otherwise known as "street smarts") may have been sufficient protection for the consumer against the snake oil salesman. But a new kind of consumer disadvantage must be considered when an authoritarian, well staffed group, hidden from public scrutiny, uses sophisticated techniques derived from a half-century of social science research to manipulate the lay consumer and thereby secure the purchase, acceptance, and recommendation of an essentially worthless or even harmful service.
In the legal periphery where cults reside, shrouded by irrelevant issues of religion, there is no accountability or protection for the consumer of quasi-medical or self-improvement services. Scientology has made many claims which could be tested, if those claims were legitimate -- such as Hubbard's numerous claims for the state of Clear.
Instead, the group relies on bald assertion of miraculous results, backed only by success stories written by people in the midst of intense social pressure -- and on the legal presumption of caveat emptor.
Scientology fanatically avoids any independent review or
evaluation of its actions. Attempts to establish accountability are
slandered and misrepresented as attacks on religion.
An Example: Narconon and the Purification Rundown
Public scrutiny may sometime occur, however, despite the Scientologists' best efforts to prevent it. Here is one example concerning Narconon, a Scientology recruitment program operating under the guise of drug rehabilitation -- a bid to promote Scientology by coattailing on an established social issue.
[Narconon NEWS, Volume 6, Issue 3, states, "NARCONON is freeing people from crime and drug abuse with standard tech, and starting them up RON'S bridge to total freedom. WHO CAN YOU START ACROSS THAT BRIDGE?"]
Narconon is based on the Purification Rundown, a detoxification program developed by Hubbard and promoted through Scientology organizations. The following assessment of the Narconon program is dated January 5, 1991, by Dr. James J. Kenney, Ph.D., R.D., a member of the National Council Against Health Fraud, a group which also includes former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.
I am familiar with the "Hubbard Method" of "detoxification" which is used at Scientologist run "clinics".... This "purification" program was created by L. Ron Hubbard's fertile imagination in the mid-1950s. It is part of the teachings of the Church of Scientology and lacks any credible scientific support.
This "purification" or "detoxification" program is claimed to help "clear" the mind of toxins such as drugs, pesticides and chemical pollutants. It consists of large doses of niacin, vegetable oil, exercise and "low temperature" saunas. According to the followers of L. Ron Hubbard, the large doses of niacin work by stimulating the release of fat into the blood stream and this is accompanied by various "toxins" trapped in the body's fatty tissues.
According to science, large doses of niacin actually block the release of fat from fat cells. This has been observed both at rest [Acta Medica Scandinavia 1962, 172(suppl):641)] and during exercise. [D. Jenkins, Lancet 1965, 1307]
In other words, the scientific evidence shows the exact opposite of what Hubbard's theory predicts. There is no credible support for claims that large doses of niacin clear toxins from the brain, fatty tissue or any other part of the body. To make matters worse, large doses of niacin ... can cause serious liver damage ... trigger gout, raise blood sugar into the diabetic range, cause itching, flushing and a rash. Nausea and gastritis are other side effects of large doses of niacin.
To subject people to these potentially serious side effects on the pretense that they are being "detoxified," "cleared" or "purified" is quackery.
NCAHF president, William Jarvis, Ph.D., writes,
NCAHF believes that responsible community leaders should reject the Narconon addiction treatment program. It appears to be among the least acceptable in a field that already suffers from a lack of sound objective research.
Sound objective research is not relevant to the true believer. In place of evidence and scientific validity, things are said to work (in Scientology) by using social pressures to persuade people that they did work; i.e., by gradually interfering with the individual's ability to evaluate information.
The coercion which accomplishes this defeat of "street smarts" may not be obvious. It would be a pretty ineffective group that had to control its members through blatant coercion. It is much more efficient to create a milieu in which the members indoctrinate and control themselves, and convince each other that it was all their own free choice and decision. As a cohesive group, they will enforce such ideas as a condition of friendship and belonging.
We encounter a friendly and enthusiastic group which espouses goals and values that are easy to agree with. Home at last!
At first, it seems that all we are being asked to agree with is better communication, getting people off drugs, motherhood, and apple pie.
What these groups really sell is membership. Sure, they want your money and your time, and they will take all there is of both. But what they want above all is for you to be one of them, to belong, to agree with them, to reassure them by the sacrifice of your own life and values that their own lives and decisions have not been futile misguided error.
"Street smarts" is swept away by the person's urgent reliance on the constant reinforcement required to maintain "certainty those collective self-deceptions about being an elite in unique possession of the only right answers. It may be decades before one begins to realize, or to fight desperately against realizing, that life has gone by to no constructive effect.
There were some tricks going on that our ordinary schoolyard and street education failed to teach us about.