In 2001, following the September 11 attacks, Church of Scientology Chairman of the Board David Miscavige promptly issued Inspector General Network Bulletin No. 44, titled “Wake-up Call.” The Church’s official position, although not exactly a denial of the facts, completely avoided one issue worth noting. Miscavige made absolutely no mention of the terrorists’ radical religious extremism. I suspect that for most Scientologists, extremism is a concept that probably hits too uncomfortably close to home. Your average dedicated Scientologist, while able to perhaps recognize the dangers of suicide bombers, finds it difficult, on the other hand, to acknowledge the existence of religious fanaticism in our society.
The Church’s response was predictable to anyone familiar with Scientology. They blamed the attacks on their old reliable nemesis: psychiatry. In Miscavige’s bulletin, he made this clear indictment: “Every one of these attacks, and endless world conflicts can be traced to a lack of real technology of the mind and reliance on false mental therapies of psychiatry and psychology.”
Psychiatry is the “Great Satan” of Scientology. As early as 1955, L. Ron Hubbard’s attitude was already well formulated in a bulletin titled Psychiatrists, in which he wrote, “One cannot cooperate with them any more than he can ‘do business with Hitler.’” In 1982 Hubbard claimed that psychiatrists “…destroyed every great civilization to date and are hard at work on this one.” Hubbard’s vilification of psychiatry is a chaotic litany of conspiracy theory paranoia that the Church has adopted as fact. They truly believe, as Hubbard did, that “…the majority of psychiatrists maim and kill their patients and, by record, in all history have only worsened mental conditions. After all, that’s what they seem to be paid to do by the government.”
Like Hubbard, David Miscavige believes that mental therapists are at the source of what plagues our society. He went so far as to single out bin Laden’s “right-hand man,” Ayman al-Zawahiri, as a psychiatrist. As incredibly dubious as this claim is, Scientologists obediently accepted this blatant falsehood. It’s a well known fact that al-Zawahiri is a surgeon who received his medical degree at the University of Cairo. While there’s no evidence to suggest that he’s also a psychiatrist, the Church of Scientology has stubbornly held on to this far out assertion. In an issue of a Church periodical Freedom, it reports, “…more than one source has reported that the doctor [al-Zawahiri] is also a psychiatrist.” This is no doubt fanciful and wishful speculation on the Church’s part meant to impugn their enemies in the psychiatric field.
Not only does the Church of Scientology alter facts, they deny them when they paint unpleasant realities: such as the existence of Middle Eastern martyrs with dangerously twisted ideologies. Scientologists would prefer to discuss terrorism within the context of the evils of psychiatry, rather than confront the religious extremism that drives it. The Church’s lack of awareness of radical Islam is but a symptom of their inability to deal honestly with their own radical beliefs.
Like other extremists, Scientologists are willing to go to excessive lengths to achieve their spiritual goals. Call it paradise, everlasting life, or as Scientologists like to say—eternity—the promise of divine salvation can be an incredibly powerful motivation. Sometimes that kind of motivation creates fanatical behavior that oversteps the bounds of reason and decency. But how far off the deep end is your typical religious fanatic willing to go?
In the most extreme cases, such as with militant Muslims, the example is clear. And so are the unfortunate examples of followers of the Jim Jones cult, or the members of Heaven’s Gate. Obviously, these groups took measures to intolerable extremes. These are groups that demanded absolute obedience, and in exchange promised immortality to their most devoted.
While it would be unfair and inaccurate to make too many comparisons between Scientology and militant martyrs, suicide cults and the like, it’s nevertheless true that Scientologists have their own particular brand of fanaticism. Much of it stems from their belief that they have covert enemies bent on destroying their Church. Hubbard illustrated this firmly held view in 1982 when he wrote, “Time and again since 1950, the vested interests which pretend to run the world (for their own appetites and profit) have launched their lies and sought, by whatever twisted means, to check and destroy Scientology.”
New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, in an article about the war on terrorism coined the term “religious totalitarianism” to describe this phenomenon of religiously motivated extremism. He defines the concept this way: “. . . a view of the world that my faith must reign supreme and can be affirmed and held passionately only if all others are negated.” In the case of radical Islam, Friedman points out: “Islam has not developed a dominant religious philosophy that allows equal recognition of alternative faith communities.”
Friedman observes, “Christianity and Judaism struggled with this issue for centuries, but a similar internal struggle within Islam to re-examine its texts and articulate a path for how one can accept pluralism and modernity—and still be a passionate, devout Muslim—has not surfaced in any serious way.” Much the same could be said about the current scene within the Church of Scientology. While Muslims battle with infidels, Scientologists do battle with theirs. Neither seems willing to coexist with those who disagree with them.
Is the Church of Scientology capable of achieving a peaceful reconciliation with their critics and detractors? That remains to be seen. It certainly remains unseen whether radical Islam will someday evolve towards peaceful coexistence with the rest of the world. In either case, history has shown us that extremism, be it religious or political, creates terrible conflicts that only generates more hostility. No matter what your particular ideological persuasion, it’s a lesson worth learning.