Scientology news roundup: Fort Harrison hotel reopens. Flag building still empty. Q & A with a Scientologist…

Apparently marking the birthday of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986) last friday, the Times-Dispatch in Richmond, Virgina ran a Q & A with Dr. Mat Pastore, the mission holder for the Church of Scientology Mission of Richmond, which opened in Carytown in 2008.

The following outtakes are of interest:

Richmond Scientology mission holder discusses beliefs

How many adherents do you have in the Richmond area, Virginia and nationwide?

This is a difficult question to answer because many people use Scientology, and consider themselves Scientologists, but don’t necessarily visit a church regularly. Having said that, we estimate that we have 3 million members in the USA, about 3,000 in Virginia, and about 100 in the greater Richmond area.

Why is there so much negative publicity surrounding Scientology?

I think if one did an actual study of all of the press concerning Scientology, it would be found that the overwhelming majority of what is reported in the world’s press is good news and good press. Particularly prominent in the world’s media are the social-betterment programs of Scientology in the critical areas of world literacy, worldwide religious freedom, drug-abuse rehabilitation and prevention, criminal rehabilitation, worldwide human rights, the promulgation of a worldwide nonreligious moral code and worldwide disaster response.

What do you have in common with other religions such as Christianity, Islam and Hinduism, etc.?

Since I am not a scholar of other faiths, I hesitate to propose such commonalties. It does seem to me, though, that an agreeable goal of any religious practice would be the increased understanding of the higher creative force through personal spiritual growth and ability. Certainly, Scientology shares this goal with any religious faith which seeks such an understanding.

– Source: Richmond Scientology mission holder discusses beliefs, Robin Farmer, Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA, USA), Mar. 21, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Our comments:
Number of Scientologists.
As with anything involving Scientology, one must always be wary when Scientologists quote numbers. For years they claimed that Scientology was the ‘fastest growing religion’ while at the same time consistently claiming to have 8 million members. Yet no offical census or other recognized survey anywhere in the world confirms those claims. No wonder. Those numbers are simply made up. Even cult defender J. Gordon Melton — whose writings of Scientology read like something the organization could put in its Press Package — has said that the church’s estimates of its membership number are “exaggerated.”
Now why would a ‘church’ need to lie about its membership numnber?

How Scientology “Grew” to 8 Million Members, by former Scientologist Robert Vaughn Young
How many Scientologists are there?, also here and here.
Major Religions of the World Ranked by Number of Adherents

Negative publicity
Mr. Pastore claims that “overwhelming majority of what is reported in the world’s press” regarding Scientology is “is good news and good press.” That’s interesting. Anyone with access to Google News can see that this claim is not true. Sure, when one search for the term ‘Scientology’ in Google News, lots of positive articles come up. However — aside from a few largely uncritical ‘puff pieces’ and ‘celebrity does Scientology’ items — the fast majority of positive items turn out to be press releases from various Scientology entities.

We once caught the Scientology-run ‘Cult Awareness Network’ quoting one of its own, published press releases as if it were a legitimate article from the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Also making the news from time to time are Scientology’s purchases of expensive, usually historic buildings in various cities around the world. In our opinion this is not an indicator of Scientology’s expansion, but rather merely an investment strategy (a façade, so to speak, that is also useful in the cult’s PR efforts).

As for Scientology’s ‘social-betterment programs’ – yes, it is involved in the fields mentioned. However, Scientology’s critics point out that these programs are used by the ‘Church’ and its various front groups as recruitment opportunities. Not only that, but Scientologist involved in those efforts have often been caught in activities that actually put people in danger.

See, for instance:
Scientology’s ambulance chasers
Scientology at Ground Zero
Scientology Interferes with Mental Health professionals in World Trade Center disaster
National Mental Health Association (NMHA) Warns Public, Scientologists Not Qualified to Provide Mental HealthcarePDF file [HTML]

Commonality with other religions
First, in our opinion Scientology is a commercial enterprise masquerading as a religion.

That said, at least Mr. Pastore did not repeat the often-heard Scientology claim that its teachings and practices are compatible with other religions. While Scientology’s religious trappings and areas of interest may indeed copy those of other religions, fact is that its teachings and practices in many ways clash with the essential doctrines and practices of the religions the cult would like to compare itself to.

We suggest you study this excellent resource:

The Scientology Comparative Theology Page

For more information about Scientology, see:
Scientology research resources at Apologetics Index
Operation Clambake

Cult probe on tragic mum Jude

Leaders of the Scientology cult could be questioned by detectives probing the deaths of a celebrity florist and her disabled daughter.

Jude Richmond, 41, is thought to have been planning to seek a “cure” for cerebral palsy victim Millie at a Scientology centre in the US.

She and the nine-year-old were found drowned after vanishing from their £600,000 home in South Cerney, Glos, last Sunday.

In text messages revealed yesterday, Jude was said to have told of visiting a “new age” centre where she was told Millie did not have a physical disability.

– Source: HEADLINE, Sunday People, Mar. 21, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

One of many reasons why Scientology is controversial is that the cult’s teachings involved medical claims that amount to quackery.

Two mystery men, a flurry of bizarre texts hours before drownings … the riddle of Jude and disabled Millie

The riddle over the deaths of celebrity florist Jude Richmond and her disabled daughter Millie took dramatic new twists

It was revealed 41-year-old Jude was spotted with a SECOND mystery man shortly before disappearing.

And it emerged she had become interested in a religious cult and had mistakenly sent a string of long and bizarre text messages to a stranger.

• She had been given “bombshell” news that cerebral palsy sufferer Millie did NOT really have a physical handicap at all.

• The nine-year-old had developed a form of autism — and she could cure her by taking her to America to “cocoon her in love”.

• She was supposedly friends with ex-Formula One racer David Coulthard.

• And another text said: “Keep your eyes peeled for a big story in the newspapers to prove once and for all the Government are lying to us”.

Meanwhile sources told The Sun that Jude had begun to believe Millie — who developed cerebral palsy after infant meningitis — had been “poisoned” by a whooping cough vaccine. And she had looked to the Scientology cult in the hope of a cure.

Jude, a florist who had supplied rock stars and royalty, sold her shop at Christmas. She went on a three-month family holiday Down Under, then ten days ago returned early with Millie — but without husband Nick, 45.

Scientologist who might be interested to see where the money for all their expensive courses, take heart. Why the promised ‘Super Power’ building in Clearwater is still not finished — with no clear reason — your contributions have been invested in a hotel:

Scientology church gives Clearwater’s Fort Harrison Hotel a $40M makeover

CLEARWATER — Marble floors from Spain. Gold leaf painted on elaborate crown moldings. Richly colored carpets from South Africa. Decorative plaster cornices. A 12,000-crystal chandelier for the ballroom.

The Church of Scientology is reopening its lavishly renovated Fort Harrison Hotel after pouring $40 million into upgrading it. The 82-year-old landmark has been polished into an elegant hotel for visiting Scientologists. It has adopted the same grand, stately look as iconic Florida hotels like the Breakers in Palm Beach or St. Petersburg’s Renaissance Vinoy Resort.

Now attention turns to Scientology’s enormous building across the street that has sat vacant and unfinished for six years, mystifying the public.

The Flag Building, nicknamed the “Super Power” building, is a seven-story, 380,000-square-foot empty shell that encompasses a whole city block. The church gets fined $250 a day for not bringing it up to code, and the fines now total $245,000.

Numerous promises to finish the building have come and gone, but church officials insist that this time it really is next on their to-do list. At this point, church architects and Clearwater building officials say they’re going over some final details.

“We’re ready,” said Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis. “All the money has been put aside, and the plans are in place. As soon as we get the go-ahead from the city, we’ll begin.”

The Fort Harrison’s makeover is the latest in a series of construction projects that will give the church an inventory of more than 800 hotel rooms around downtown Clearwater. It and the Flag Building are intended to add to the church’s presence in the city it considers its spiritual mecca, a destination for church members from 66 countries who travel here for high-level Scientology counseling.

The church has gained greater acceptance over the last 15 years or so, to the point where many local bigwigs felt comfortable attending a reception at the hotel Saturday night. But the church’s own research a few years ago found that many in the area still don’t know much about Scientology and view it as a strange cult.

The hotel has three restaurants — none of which will be open to the public, despite what the church previously said. The ballroom won’t be rented out for weddings either.

And the hotel won’t be hiring because it is staffed by members of the Sea Org, the legion of uniformed church staffers who dedicate their lives to Scientology.

Members of the general public can walk into the lobby for a look, but ultimately this hotel is for Scientologists only.

“This is a religious retreat,” Davis said. “That isn’t to say that people can’t come in and look at the beautiful building. It’s open to the community, but it’s not open for business.”

– Source: Scientology church gives Clearwater’s Fort Harrison Hotel a $40M makeover, Mike Brassfield, St. Petersburg Times, Mar. 22, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

The St. Petersburg Times article includes a video tour of the Fort Harrison hotel, provided by the Church of Scientology, photos of the hotel, and a link to the paper’s extensive coverage of Scientology.

See also:
Not So Clear in Clearwater — Scientology Takes Over a Town
Scientology’s town: As Scientologists launch unprecedented expansion, downtown Clearwater’s identity is at stake. A two-part special report by the St. Petersburgh Times.

Scientology wants more visibility in Nashville

The Church of Scientology is expanding in Nashville, opening what the religion calls a “celebrity centre” at the historic Fall School Business Center on Eighth Avenue South and Chestnut Street.

Renovations are under way at the 36,000 square-foot building, with an opening expected before summer, said Gaetane Asselin and Wendy Beccaccini, who are overseeing the project. The current location at 1204 16th Ave. South will close when the new one opens.

With hundreds of members locally, it was time to expand, said Beccaccini, a spokeswoman who has been a member for over two decades. The church has been in Nashville since the 1980’s but not that visible, she said.

“We are better established,” Beccaccini said. “We have a few hundred members. We needed a bigger presence.”

Todd Lake, Belmont University’s vice president of spiritual development, said he’s concerned with the expansion in Nashville. Lake said he grew up around Scientologists in Los Angeles and later in Munich, Germany.

“It’s called a celebrity centre and that tells you the socio-economic class they are looking at,” he said. “In both places where I lived, there was always concern about them. It was often a very expensive proposition and occasionally a dangerous one.”

Lake, who works for a Christian university, said the new building is just not a new church, but will be a moneymaker for the institution.

“I don’t want people to be fooled,” he said. “It’s not like entering your local Lutheran, Episcopal, Methodist or Presbyterian Church. It’s something very different. The concerns we should be expressing is whether this is a cult.”

– Source: Scientology wants more visibility in Nashville, Chris Echegaray, The Tennessean, Mar. 21, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

The article further quotes Brenda Morrow, director of the Edgehill Family Resource Center, who fell for one of Scientology’s anti-drugs front groups.

As for the cult’s Celebrity Centres, see:

Scientology’s love affair with Hollywood
Château Scientology: Inside the Celebrity Centre


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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday March 23, 2009.
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