I have been hooked up to a polygraph machine precisely once, in 1977. I was a 19-year-old clerk at the Washington law firm of Sidley & Austin, where files had been lifted in a Scientologist plot to smear one of the firm’s main clients, the American Medical Association.
Founder L. Ron Hubbard was a science-fiction writer. Authorities questioned everyone with access to the firm’s files. Satisfied that I was not the mole, I was unhooked and left to learn and wonder about Scientology’s obsessive gripe about psychiatric medication.
I would not argue that white-collar crime is in the Scientology manual for how to fight that PR war, but plenty of its cash has been spent fighting court battles as wayward (or not so wayward) members have stooped to stunning levels to discredit psychiatry.
The Church of Scientology has become far more familiar over the years. Some positives have come from an impressive list of successful and famous people touting its benefits, and some negatives from various news stories concluding that it is a money-grabbing racket.
So which is true? With Tom Cruise and no shortage of his star buddies singing its praises, does the Church of Scientology deserve a break? Is its reputation on an upswing, and if so, is it deserved?
First, the most basic question: Is it a religion at all?
Founded in 1951 by an otherwise unremarkable science-fiction writer named L. Ron Hubbard, it is based on his thick and ponderous book Dianetics, which offered mental health advice across a wide range of issues.
Today, church members strive to progress from a state of “clear,” leaving behind the stigmas of the “reactive mind,” to a title of “Operating Thetan,” a spiritual state allowing one to “control matter, energy, space and time.”
– Justice Anderson, Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia, quoted at What judges have to say about Scientology
– Source: Hubbard begged for psychiatric help
This is done through counseling known as “auditing,” featuring close consultation and no small amount of money, tactfully referred to as “donations.” Progress is measured by the e-meter, short for electropsychometer, a gadget that sends a tiny current through the user, resulting in readings that discern the adherent’s progress.
How does this work? “Mental image pictures have mass and energy” the meter can read. Thus the meter can reveal a subject’s mental state as he climbs the Classification, Gradation and Awareness Chart.
OK, that’s about enough. If the above mumbo-jumbo, taken straight from the stilted prose of Scientology.org, has you reeling, you’re not alone. Heavy on this stuff and light, if not absent, on real religious issues — such as where we all came from and the nature of God — these folks appear to be on a lifelong quest for a type of mental stability that may have appeal for some but which bears no resemblance to what a religion actually does.
This is not faith; it is a motivational program. If L. Ron Hubbard founded a religion, so did Tony Robbins and Zig Ziglar.
Much of the world’s familiarity with Scientology comes from its loud and nasty attacks on psychiatry. Brimming with conspiratorial tantrums about plots to “screen all citizens” and marked by snotty disregard for those who have been helped by medication, the “Church” clearly views your trip to a doctor as one less paying customer hooked up to an e-meter.
And that’s a huge problem, as one can guess from Mr. Cruise’s recent attack on Brooke Shields for daring to credit sound psychiatric treatment with her recovery from postpartum depression. An entire wing of Scientology launches daily attacks on psychiatry’s practitioners and patients using the comically lofty title of Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights.
In a nation of religious (and intellectual) freedom, people can believe what they wish, unfettered by what others think. But when a group maligns an entire profession and the millions who have benefited from it, it’s time to call them out as purveyors of junk science and character assassination.
Are there quacks in psychiatry? Sure. Are we overmedicated as a society? Without a doubt. But evaluation of those facts comes best from objective analysis and criticism, not from ham-handed condemnation from followers of a bitter writer stung by the medical community’s rebuke of his wacky theories half a century ago.
The Mark Davis Show airs from 9 a.m. to noon weekdays on WBAP News/Talk 820. His column regularly appears Wednesdays on Viewpoints, and his e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.