Time for another repost of an old MySpace blog. This one is my write up of an anti-Scientology protest I went along to observe with Paul from New Humanist:
Not many people know all that much about Scientology, beyond their penchant for stress tests and what you see on South Park. Indeed until I was invited by New Humanist magazine to attend the 'Anonymous' protest in central London with them, neither did I.
I knew the basics of course, that Scientology had been developed in the early 1950's by a science fiction writer, one L Ron Hubbard. Not a terribly good start for a 'religion'. I'm hardly a fan of the old school ones, but at least they can claim to be based on ancient scriptures and beliefs handed down through the generations (however questionable…)
Personally if I were going to adopt a religion, and all the demands and lifestyle changes that come along with it, I would want to align myself with something that's been around longer than Tupperware. But I digress.
Now, I say the following with a heavy dose of 'allegedly' as the Church of Scientology has been known to threaten legal action (or simply threaten) anyone articulating their views thus, but this is basically the revelation that any Scientologist who reaches OT8 will ultimately have revealed to them:
"75 million years ago Xenu (the alien ruler of the Galactic Confederacy) brought billions of people to Earth in spacecrafts resembling Douglas DC-8 airliners. He stacked them around volcanoes and blew them up with hydrogen bombs. Their souls then clustered together, stuck to the bodies of the living and continue to do this today"
Some of the longest serving ex-Scientologists whom we spoke to at the protest confirmed this to be precisely what they had been taught. But again, not my words – merely reporting back! Incredibly this was one of the least bizarre revelations shared with us by ex-church members throughout the day, with much more worrying stories to come.
We learned about the alleged disconnection policy, which requires no further contact with family or friends outside of Scientology once you are a member. This policy works both ways, with one ex Church member who had left after 30 years having lost all contact with her friends and her husband of 27 years, who remains a firm believer.
What really came across during her interview was how much courage her exit had taken. Not just the prospect of starting again after three decades of knowing nothing else but the pressure she came under when she expressed her doubts to those around her – to people she had considered to be trusted friends and colleagues.
She recalled being invited to a hotel room to discuss her misgivings. It turned out to be something of a ruse, and she ended up locked in the room with two men haranguing her for hours on end until she was a wreck. She described it as a psychological rape and remained in the Church a while longer in spite, and because, of this act of intimidation.
Her eventual courage to leave was all her own, but she was supported a great deal by Mark Bunker, creator of this high profile anti-Scientology website. He offered her advice and friendship as she made the final steps towards leaving, but more of him later.
We also learned about the Church's distaste for conventional medicine. Now, as before, I must say 'allegedly' here because Scientologists publicly state that the use of medicine is perfectly acceptable to them, and would probably sue anyone who said otherwise, but of the many things that pushed one ex-Scientologist we spoke to into leaving, the Church's constant insistence that she stop taking her epilepsy medication had ranked pretty highly.
This example of a real act of opposition to medicine, along with the many banners and placards waved by Anonymous protestors, highlighting the suspicious deaths of Church members, most notably Lisa McPherson, seemed to lend this rumour some weight. And further research into another website recommended to us by a young man who had left scientology at an early age turned this up:
"I get sick sometimes, but I don't feel PTS (Potential Trouble Source), and when I am asked to locate the Suppressive Person in my life, I don't always know what to say. What's wrong with me?"
"Getting the sniffles does not mean that you are connected to a suppressive person. It means that your body's immune system is dealing with a virus or infection. When we were in Scientology and we got sick, we were always made to go in for a PTS handling after we were well again. We were required to find the suppressive person in our life that had made us ill. Sometimes we could think of someone right away, but most times we just named the last person who was rude to us, or just named someone at random, because we couldn't think of anyone we thought was actually suppressing us."
I found that in the FAQ section, yes incredibly that is classed as a frequently asked question. How unsettling.
So it would seem that illness is not treated as a natural human condition, but rather blamed on the person themselves and the people around them. The seeking out of a so-called suppressive person to blame an illness on creates a proverbial witch-hunt within the Church, which can culminate in people being punished or cast out on spurious grounds of supposed ‘suppressive behaviour’. This type of behaviour is usually undefined, which makes defending oneself virtually impossible.
We met one individual who was asked to leave the church on these grounds and now attends the protests with a toy parrot on his shoulder, which he has named 'Polly the Suppressive Personality Parrot'. He had no idea why he had been so unceremoniously dumped by his religion and his friends.
One of the most memorable stories we heard was that of a woman whose parents had become Scientologists when she was around six years old. She had spent much of her childhood as part of the Sea Org – Scientology's private navy – and she lived in a ship's hull. There was no bed so she slept on the floor, she was kept out of mainstream education and received none from the church besides learning about Scientology of course. She eventually escaped and aged just 15, found her own way home all the way from Denmark back to England.
But it wasn't just the bravery of the ex-Scientologists that impressed us that day - the protest itself was brilliantly done.
Anonymous consists of mostly teenagers and young adults, and as such their demonstrations are fresh, heavily informed by pop culture and really quite, dare I say it, cool. They wear stylised costumes and masks, most notably the V for Vendetta mask for which they are now famous). This serves to protect their identities, mark them out as a group and makes them a more interesting proposition than your usual, ordinary looking group of protesters. As do their offers of cake and free hugs to passers-by. Here's a picture of us interviewing one protestor:
This combination of gimmicky fun and impassioned outrage works to great effect. One minute they're singing along to Rick Astley's 'Never Gonna Give You Up' the next they are passionately chanting about the dangers and outrages that they perceive within Scientology. Their message gets across but things never get too heavy. Something which Mark Bunker (pictured below) noted as being very important to the cause.
He has been a vocal opponent of Scientology for over 30 years and has experienced many heavy handed responses to his opposition ranging from trumped up arrests to having his camera smashed with a hammer. He said that a sense of humour is key when opposing something that can at times be very saddening and at times frightening.
So what do Anonymous want? We interviewed numerous protestors and the general consensus appears to be – to inform people that Scientology is not a religion but rather a dangerous cult, to prevent it from taking hold in the UK in the same way it has over in the States, and for the following reason, taken from the official Scientology website so no need for 'allegedly':
"All donations made to United States Churches of Scientology are deductible against personal income taxes in the United States to the full extent permitted by law. Donations made to Scientology churches outside the United States may be deductible in full or in part."
Anonymous wants to get Scientology's VAT exempt status in the UK taken away from them. They find it baffling and unfair, not just because of the basic principle of the matter, but also because they can certainly afford to pay. It has been rumoured by those who knew him, and confirmed by some of the ex-Scientologists we spoke to at the protest, that L Ron Hubbard had actually stated that his intent was to start a religion for profit (this is of course, not the party line so 'allegedly' is back in play) and if that was his intent he succeeded. Allegedly it costs a Scientologist up to $300,000 to get to OT8. The justification for this? Taken from the official Scientology website:
"Scientology does not have hundreds of years of accumulated wealth and property like other religions — it must make its way in the world according to the economics of today's society"
And I think we all know how ‘the economics of today’s society’ work!
Anonymous wear masks (and I display an unusual amount of reticence) for good reason - the alleged Fair Game policy, whereby any opponent of the church is deemed a criminal and it is advised that 'action' should be taken against them. This policy is supposed to have been axed but there have been numerous allegations made in recent years which seem to point to its continued use.
Another ex-Scientologist we spoke to successfully sued the church after she left and they attempted to discredit her criticisms of it by slanderously naming and shaming her as a criminal. Another ex-Scientologist told us that everything she had said would be denied and that her past use of drugs would be used to discredit her – it has been alleged that during the auditing procedure, subjects are probed about their past indiscretions. These are kept on file and used later either to discredit or allegedly blackmail the subject if they decide to speak up against the Church. Indeed some of the protestors, even though they were masked, would not even speak to us just in case. There was evidence here of a real fear of the repercussions of criticising Scientology.
I would like to have included the Scientologist's side of the story, but they refused to speak to us and we were directed away from the Dianetics Centre by the police.
But it wouldn't have taken an interview to ascertain that they were unhappy. As I was finishing up for the day I saw an embattled looking Scientologist peering out at the chanting protesters from behind one of his adverts, which quite aptly said, "do you ever get stressed?" Now who needs a stress test?
Here’s a link to the podcast we recorded on the day
And while we’re at it, here’s a link to my 2008 Christmas New Humanist podcast.
I never thought I'd be behind an Advent Calendar door! I felt like the Baby Jesus. Or at least a Wise Man.
That’s all for now. More from my blog archives later this week…