Scientology is often presented by critics as a scam. I argue that for it to be a scam, there would need to be intent. I also argue that founders and leaders of cults are usually true believers themselves. Therefore, even though I do not agree with Scientology, I question the scam label.
The claim that Scientology is a scam, dressed up as a religion, and that cult founders are con men exploiting brainwashed victims for personal wealth and power is often made by critics. In fact, it's a very common myth which anti-cultists launch at a great variety of groups.
Why is this a myth? Because a scam would mean that leaders are *knowingly* exploiting others, that they know perfectly well that their doctrine is pure fantasy but somehow manage to hypnotize followers into accepting it. In other words, that they don't believe their own doctrine themselves. This, in my opinion, and that of many scholars who have studied cults, is false.
If leaders really believed their own doctrine, would it still be a scam? Of course not. At the worst, it would qualify as a form of illusion.
If one thus assume that leaders are themselves as convinced about their own doctrine as any dedicated member (and this is what I witnessed in the cult myself), then he will view the claim that the group is a scam as a myth. Not just a myth, in fact, but a derogatory, false, and dangerous accusation.
The scam myth works together with the mind-control myth in promoting ostracism against unpopular groups and bring authorities to over-react.
The FBI, who made the mistake to follow anti-cult advises in the Waco tragedy, now seems to realize this important aspect. In their Law Enforcement Bulletin of September 2000, they describe this particular myth and its dangers:
The Scientology case
In the case of Scientology, in addition of the usual "it's all crap" and "mind-control" allegations, two of the main arguments being made by critics to convince others (and themselves) that Scientology is a scam, are as follows:
There are, however, several myths and misconceptions involved in these allegations:
1. The secret levels are NOT the core belief of Scientology. It's merely one of many incidents one will find on his "time track", albeit a powerful one and one which is supposed to still influences people thought their bundled together BTs. The core belief of Scientology is that one is a spiritual being, and that through the Scientology process referred to as "auditing", can free himself of "engrams" and "implants" (among which the Xenu incident) and thus recover their native spiritual abilities. It was their belief long *before* the BTs episode even entered the scene, and it is still the belief of the majority of Scientologists since they don't even know about Xenu and BTs, yet call what they do "Scientology". It is thus deceptive to claim that the core belief of Scientology is hidden until one reaches the OT levels. For more information on that issue, check the Xenu page.
2. The NATURE of the belief isn't even hidden. The promotional material clearly indicates that it is a galactic incident that happened 75 billion years ago. To claim that Scientology presents one facet on the outside and another on the inside is false. Space opera fiction references in Scientology abound in Scientology literature, including in magazines that are sent out on a large scale to outsiders. One of the most quoted book, History of Man, is widely available and contains loads of wild science-fiction stories (as do many other books and articles).
3. The costs of courses and auditing aren't hidden either. In fact, a list of prices and items often arrives together with promotional material, and is very widely available. Apart for the fact that the total price quoted by critics is an high estimate (the price depends on the length of each action and a much cheaper route is available through training and co-auditing), it is very easy for anyone to make an estimate of the magnitude it will cost him would he want to make the whole road. The price isn't in a bulk, and the person is free to stop at any stage were he to become disillusioned in Scientology and its technique. It is their choice to continue or not, and many continue simply because they make case gains and are happy with the results.
4. Keeping something secret is not necessarily part of a scam, and is being done by quite a few other religions. The Mormons do it, the Kabalistic Jews do it, to name just two - not to speak of countless esoteric movements such as the Free Masons and others. The point is, again, that members and leaders alike *really* believe it can be dangerous to read about the Xenu episode or run the related processes before one is spiritually advanced enough to confront the trauma this supposed accident is supposed to carry. Again, because of their genuine believe, it hardly qualifies as a scam. At the worst, merely a very silly belief.
As an ex-member, I don't believe in Scientology techniques. While I do think it can have positive effects, I view the spiritual bragging and exploitation it is marketed with as a form of illusion in which people buy because they need to believe, accept an outside authority, are anxious about their eternal future, and are in need of an higher purpose to lighten their way. However, I do NOT consider it a scam because, IMO, the strength with which the leader is able to pass his own visions and delusions to his followers is potent precisely because he genuinely shares these with them.
The scam myth is responsible for much unnecessary distress from cult members' relatives and for unwarranted phobias from the public and authorities. It also comes in the way of a fair understanding of the real phenomena that underlies the issue and is responsible for the fact that ex-members who have fallen prey of this other form of cultic belief are unable to leave the cult behind and move on. In a self-perpetrating circle, they will continuously reinforce their new us/them, black and white, belief to justify themselves, and will thereby keep the fuel of endless resentment alive.
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