One of the first things a new Scientologist encounters when studying Dianetics and Scientology is the absolute authority of L. Ron Hubbard. There’s a gradual indoctrination process that takes place in which the Scientologist eventually comes to the realization that everything Hubbard says is absolutely true and completely correct. Sooner or later every Scientologist arrives at a point where Hubbard’s word becomes law, not to be questioned.
Every course begins with the same Hubbard Policy Letter, Keeping Scientology Working, which establishes the infallibility of Hubbard’s so-called “technology.” In that PL, Hubbard boldly states, “What I say in these pages has always been true, it holds true today, it will still hold true in the year 2000 and it will continue to hold true from there on out.” Another frequently studied Policy Letter is, Safeguarding Technology, in which Hubbard claims, “Scientology is the only workable system Man has.” In the mind of the Scientologist, these are absolute and self-evident truths.
In Scientology, you cannot challenge the word of Hubbard and expect to remain a member in good standing for long. There’s nothing whatsoever in Hubbard’s writings and recorded lectures that a Scientologist can maintain even the most minor dispute. The Church considers that all disagreements with Hubbard doctrine come from some lack in understanding of the inviolable truths contained in the material. The only option a student has to reconcile a contrary view is to keep restudying the particular area in dispute until the misunderstanding is “cleared up.” In this way the rigid dogma of Scientology is preserved, and all thoughts or opinions contrary to Hubbard’s view are subdued.
The Scientologists’ unwavering devotion to their rigid dogma is one of the reasons why so many critics use the word cult when describing Scientology. Personally, I’ve avoided the use of that word. While it’s true that calling the Church of Scientology a cult is apt in many ways, the meaning of the word has been diluted over years of misuse. The term cult has too often become a lazy argument against any religion a critic doesn’t happen to like. Moreover, the word has turned into a media buzz-word which has rendered it virtually useless in meaningful discussions.
Instead, I would prefer to use a phrase with less baggage attached to it. The term “mass movement,” is the operative word used in a book by philosopher Eric Hoffer. His book, The True Believer first came out in 1951, a full year before L. Ron Hubbard established his Church of Scientology. Hoffer’s concept of a mass movement is large in scope, and can apply to many groups that may not be religious in nature.
Mass movements, even if they differ in doctrine and aspiration, often contain common elements: a fervent desire for worldwide change; a call for united action; a willingness to make extraordinary sacrifices to achieve their utopian vision. The true believer, whether he’s a religious zealot, a political radical, or social revolutionary, is usually the extremist in society; the fanatic driven by some grand ideology. In this context, Scientology is a form of religious fanaticism that claims that Hubbard’s “technology” is the only answer to a troubled world.
While Hoffer recognizes that there are both good and bad mass movements, he focuses mainly on the “fanatic who…is often ready to sacrifice relatives and friends for his holy cause.” The Scientologist, as a “true believer,” is consumed with a need for united action and is compelled towards acts of self-sacrifice. Eric Hoffer describes this particular brand of fanaticism this way:
“The absolute unity and the readiness for self-sacrifice which give an active movement its irresistible drive and enable it to undertake the impossible are usually achieved at a sacrifice of much that is pleasant and precious in the autonomous individual.”
Mass movements tend to be totalitarian organizations obligated to follow the dictates of its leaders. The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Politics defines totalitarianism as “A dictatorial form of centralized government that regulates every aspect of state and private behavior.” By comparison, there’s hardly a single aspect of living that Hubbard hasn’t covered in his writing. Consequently, Church members live their lives according to the word of L. Ron Hubbard. In Scientology his word is literally referred to as “scripture.”
In order to maintain their tyrannical hold over their members, the Church must constantly enforce upon the minds of its members the imperative of complete obedience. This is done through a technique called the “security check.” The purpose of this process is to discover if a Scientologist is withholding any disagreements, incidents of policy violations, or any other sort of trespasses against the Church. The procedure involves an elaborate interrogation called a “confessional.” It’s used mainly to ensure that members never stray from the principles of Scientology.
There are numerous “Sec Check” lists the Church uses in any given circumstance. Many Scientologists have gotten questions like, “Have you ever had any unkind thoughts about L. Ron Hubbard?” It can get personal, too with questions like, “Have you ever practiced masturbation?” Or “Have you ever practiced Homosexuality?” Going from the personal to the weird, the same checklist includes, “Have you ever practiced Cannibalism?” From another checklist, you get this strange question, “Have you ever given robots a bad name?” Believe it or not, there’s even a security check for children. This confessional list asks, among other things, “Have you ever spied on anyone?” Apparently, even children have the potential of becoming subversives within the totalitarian structure of Scientology organizations.
Understanding the mind of the Scientologist is to understand the mind of the political extremist, the religious fanatic, and the social revolutionary. All are driven by ideologies that promise to bring their version of salvation to the world. But in fact these extremists are blinded from reality by the causes that they so fervently serve. So says author Daniel J. Flynn, in an article titled “Are horrific means justified by utopia?” In that article he concludes, “Unfortunately, utopian ideologies never succeed in their ends or spare in their means. The road to heaven on earth invariably detours to a dead end more closely resembling a much hotter place.”