The Church of Scientology has launched an online campaign to demystify its beliefs and practices after worldwide protests staged by a collection of internet users known as Anonymous.
The church’s official website has been relaunched with dozens of videos explaining basic Scientology beliefs and jargon such as “thetan” and “the eight dynamics”, as well as highlighting its work in the areas of human rights and drug awareness campaigns.
The facelift comes after Anonymous, a loose collection of internet users who post to message boards but do not reveal their identities, declared “war” against Scientology in January after the church sought to have film clips of Tom Cruise speaking at a function removed from the web.
Members of Anonymous used websites such as YouTube to publicise allegations the church exploited its members and suppressed free speech.
“It has been attacked, venerated, questioned and praised… Everyone seems to have an opinion on it… It is talked about in the media, TV and the worldwide web,” says an introduction clip on the new website.
“Whatever you may or may not have heard concerning Scientology, we present the following as a brief overview of our beliefs, who we are, what we do and the many humanitarian programs sponsored by our Church.”
Another video explains the Church of Scientology’s official creed, such as the rights of all people to “their sanity”, “to conceive, choose, assist or support their own organizations (sic), churches and governments”, and to “talk freely, to write freely their own opinions and to counter or utter or write upon the opinions of others”.
Several of the videos reflect the church’s stance against psychiatry. One value in the church’s creed declares “that the study of the mind and the healing of mentally caused ills should not be alienated from religion or condoned in nonreligious fields”.
– Justice Anderson, Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia, quoted atWhat judges have to say about Scientology
The website also explains Scientology terms and practices such as “thetan” and “auditing” which have been lampooned in popular culture and aroused suspicion in critics.
Thetan, taken from the Greek letter theta, is used to signify a person made up of both a mind and body.
“We use thetan to avoid confusions with other concepts and beliefs regarding the soul or spirit,” one of the videos says.
“It isn’t something you have. You wouldn’t say ‘my thetan’, you’d simply say ‘me’. You have a body, you have a mind, you are a thetan.”
Auditing, according to another video, is the process of asking specific questions to help someone discover distressing or upsetting subjects — which are highlighted by an E-meter.
“Some experiences are so deeply buried within the mind they are not easily recalled. The auditor helps you pinpoint these with the aid of an E-meter. When you think of something that has upset or stress connected to it, this shows up on the meter. Your attention can now be directed to that thought,” it says.
The website emphasises Scientology’s attitude towards drugs and psychiatry with sinister references to “mental illness camps” and links to an anti-drug program run by the church that claims teenagers inject themselves with prescription drug Ritalin.
One video, titled “The truth about drugs”, says: “Global drug use has led to what can inarguably be described as a world awash in blood and human misery.”
A spokesman for the Church of Scientology in Australia, Cyrus Brooks, said the church’s Drug Free Ambassadors program had distributed 70,000 anti-drug booklets in Sydney and that L Ron Hubbard‘s moral guide The Way To Happiness had helped to promote community tolerance after the Cronulla riots.
“The Church of Scientology sponsors many social campaigns with the help of Scientologists which will likely be familiar to the public. Many are secular and fully charitable in themselves,” he said.
Mr Brooks did not say if members of the church were charged fees to learn about tools promoted on the site, such as the E-meter, but said the church’s community programs were funded in part by donations.
“Scientologists are proud to sponsor such campaigns, which they sponsor through donations for courses or counselling and which also covers the expenses of the church,” he said.
Critics of the Church of Scientology, including members of Anonymous, have accused the organisation of financially exploiting its members by charging them fees to access information and resources.
Members of the group have also accused the church of harassing its critics and trying to suppress free speech with threats of legal action. In February, and again last week, the group staged protests referred to as “raids” outside Scientology buildings in almost 100 cities around the world.
The Church of Scientology has labelled Anonymous “cyber-terrorists” and said members of the group had threatened violence against the church in telephone calls, emails and fax messages. Anonymous has scheduled a third protest on April 12.
The protests, which were ignored by many traditional news outlets but widely publicised through websites such as Wikinews and YouTube that allow users to generate their own content, are the latest chapter in a string of bad publicity for the church over the past 12 months.
In May last year BBC’s Panorama program ran a film titled “Scientology And Me” which documented reporter John Sweeney’s attempts to investigate the church. It culminated in a shouting match between Sweeney and Scientology public relations officer Tommy Davis which has been widely viewed on YouTube.
Sweeney said he was shouted at, spied on, called a “bigot” and chased around town by “sinister strangers” while trying to make the film. Members of Anonymous have linked to copies of the film published online as proof of their allegations, while Scientologists have highlighted Sweeney’s unprofessional behaviour in the confrontation with Mr Davis.
The Church of Scientology claims millions of members across the world, though official counts have often reported smaller figures.
Mr Brooks said there were more than 250,000 members of Scientology in Australia and 80,000 subscribers to the church’s mailing list in Sydney. Only 2513 people identified as belonging to the church in the 2006 census, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.