After work on Friday, I came home and spent a good chunk of time reading the skepticblog and this article about Scientology on the skeptoid podcast. Quick aside, can you download podcasts and play them on a Droid X or do I need a special app for that? Or are podcasts just recorded in mp3 form? I know nothing about the topic. Anyways, as I read the comments I came across a bunch of people saying about a link to an article over at the New Yorker. I went over and read the article, which was pretty long. I highly recommend everyone reading it.
The article is written by Lawrence Wright and is an examination of Scientology mixed with an interview with Paul Haggis. I will not lie, I loved the movie Crash. Seriously, that movie was very good. I definitely recommend it. Here are a few of my favorite things from the article:
Recruits had a sense of boundless possibility. Mystical powers were forecast; out-of-body experiences were to be expected; fundamental secrets were to be revealed. Hubbard had boasted that Scientology had raised some people’s I.Q. one point for every hour of auditing. “Our most spectacular feat was raising a boy from 83 I.Q. to 212,” he told the Saturday Evening Post, in 1964.
Did Hubbard realize he was pretty much just stealing the idea behind the short story Flowers for Algernon? I loved that short-story, which we read my freshman year of high school (or was it sophomore year?). If his magical auditing and following Dianetics actually worked, why wouldn’t the government start using it to train super-soldiers.
The stories Haggis found on the Internet of children drafted into the Sea Org appalled him. “They were ten years old, twelve years old, signing billion-year contracts—and their parents go along with this?” Haggis told me. “Scrubbing pots, manual labor—that so deeply touched me. My God, it horrified me!” The stories of the Sea Org children reminded Haggis of child slaves he had seen in Haiti.
Many Sea Org volunteers find themselves with no viable options for adulthood. If they try to leave, the church presents them with a “freeloader tab” for all the coursework and counselling they have received; the bill can amount to more than a hundred thousand dollars. Payment is required in order to leave in good standing. “Many of them actually pay it,” Haggis said. “They leave, they’re ashamed of what they’ve done, they’ve got no money, no job history, they’re lost, they just disappear.” In what seemed like a very unguarded comment, he said, “I would gladly take down the church for that one thing.”
It blows my mind that more people do not check into this stuff. Hell, people get all upset about baseball players signing ridiculous contracts, but at least those ones are only for like seven years…not a billion. Also, the whole being in debt a hundred thousand dollars and not having any job history, doesn’t that sound like pretty much every college graduate? HAHA, I hope I get a writing job for Jay Leno soon!
Whitehill and Venegas worked on a special task force devoted to human trafficking. The laws regarding trafficking were built largely around forced prostitution, but they also pertain to slave labor. Under federal law, slavery is defined, in part, by the use of coercion, torture, starvation, imprisonment, threats, and psychological abuse. The California penal code lists several indicators that someone may be a victim of human trafficking: signs of trauma or fatigue; being afraid or unable to talk, because of censorship by others or security measures that prevent communication with others; working in one place without the freedom to move about; owing a debt to one’s employer; and not having control over identification documents. Those conditions echo the testimony of many former Sea Org members who lived at the Gold Base.
Former Sea Org members report that Miscavige receives elaborate birthday and Christmas gifts from Scientology groups around the world. One year, he was given a Vyrus 985 C3 4V, a motorcycle with a retail price of seventy thousand dollars. “These gifts are tokens of love and respect for Mr. Miscavige,” Davis informed me.
By contrast, Sea Org members typically receive fifty dollars a week. Often, this stipend is docked for small infractions, such as failing to meet production quotas or skipping scripture-study sessions. According to Janela Webster, who was in the Sea Org for nineteen years before defecting, in 2006, it wasn’t unusual for a member to be paid as little as thirteen dollars a week.
Look, I will give a kid $50 a week to stay at my place and be like my own person assistant. They get to live here and eat whatever food I do not have and in return, they do the laundry and dishes. I doubt that Lindsey would have a problem with this, we both work, hell, we could probably bump it up to $75 per week. And we will not dock you pay if you fail to get the socks folded by the time I get home. I get it, you started doing the laundry and then got sucked into watching a House marathon on USA. It happens all the time.
The church won’t release official membership figures, but it informally claims eight million members worldwide. Davis says that the figure comes from the number of people throughout the world who have donated to the church. “There is no process of conversion, there is no baptism,” Davis told me. It was a simple decision: “Either you are or you aren’t.” A survey of American religious affiliations, compiled in the Statistical Abstract of the United States, estimates that only twenty-five thousand Americans actually call themselves Scientologists. That’s less than half the number who identify themselves as Rastafarians.
I once asked Haggis about the future of his relationship with Scientology. “These people have long memories,” he told me. “My bet is that, within two years, you’re going to read something about me in a scandal that looks like it has nothing to do with the church.” He thought for a moment, then said, “I was in a cult for thirty-four years. Everyone else could see it. I don’t know why I couldn’t.”
There is so much more in the article. I am not kidding when I say you should read it. If you ever wondered about Scientology or at least wanted to get an idea about what it is, this is a great article to start.
And do not worry, I did not want the Christians to feel like I forgot about them…
I hope someone makes this into a shirt.