The Church of Fear: Inside the Weird World of Scientology, John Sweeney. London: Silvertail Books, 2013. e-book, 290 pps.
John Sweeney is an investigative reporter. He is the "tomato face" who lost it in front of several Scientologists during an interview. To his credit, he rapidly admits his faults and apologizes where due. Following outsiders around and spying on them is rather creepy. "Creepy" is a word that Sweeney uses a lot in The Church of Fear.
The Church of Fear re-counts Sweeney's experiences with high-ranking Scientologists [N.B. but not David Miscavige] in various places. There is a torturous anti-psychiatry exhibit, films which are too long, and a lot of history in this book. During the course of the book itself, several of the officials which Sweeney had contact with split from Scientology. A split means leaving behind loved ones who are still bona fide Scientologists along with leaving behind Scientology the organization itself. Even the outs who are not out outs-- out outs are people who no longer take stock in any of the Scientology dogma; singular outs regret that the dogma of which they are still fond has gotten corrupted by bad practices throughout the years-- have had to be disconnected from friends and loved ones.
Sweeney endorses Robert Jay Lifton's work throughout The Church of Fear. [I also have Lifton's definitive work Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism in my possession. It is slated for review at a future date]. Sweeney provides a framework for understanding the pull of Scientology upon its members. It is not so easy to pack it all in and leave Scientology, particularly if one is a member of the Sea Org.
Who to believe? On one side, there are prominent public Scientologists like Tom Cruise and Juliette Lewis. [I never much cared for Tom Cruise as an actor. I've been a fan of Juliette Lewis. I like her because she can be said to be quirky. And I like quirky]. On the other, there are some ex-Scientologists who have written very poignant memoirs. And there are words that keep appearing. Dead Agent, Estates Project Force, Fair Game,
Xenu. I will not fault anyone for believing in Xenu. After all, the claims of other religions are equally fanciful. Those other claims are somewhat embedded in American culture. Indeed, many of us grew up with them. A belief in Xenu is no more absurd than believing that a deity knocked up a virgin, donkeys and snakes talked, or that some deity or deities communicate directly with certain human beings. Whether the mysticism occurs out in space or in the cargo cults of Polynesia or at the internal altars of the faithful matters not. There is something to be said for the temporary appeal of a personal mysticism. A sense of getting some real answers coupled with a feeling of being a deity's special snowflake can be intoxicating. Been there some years ago. Done that. Got burnt out. This mystical stuff is hard work-- a definite downside to it. At any rate, I maintain that belief in a space opera sort of gospel is no more odd than belief in the tenets of any mainstream religion.
Sweeney's book points up some differences between the influence of Scientology in England versus its' influence in the United States. In England, Scientology is not considered to be a religion by the powers that be. In the United States, it is. Because Scientology is considered to be a religion by the laws of this land, Scientology has a certain legal standing. Does religious standing matter in the United States? Most assuredly it does. In the United States, the rights of a religious body exceeds the rights of its' detractors. What else? England does not have an assemblage of actors and actresses who have converted. Scientology in Hollywood has been successful in recruiting actors and actresses for the cause.
Scientology has a bundle of lawyers and loyal adherents who have proven able to deliver more than sufficient butt-hurt to its' critics. Ex-Scientologists, reporters, journalists, investigators, and bloggers have all suffered. The specific and precise use of the word "creepy" in The Church of Fear is rather telling.
Scientology does not have the monopoly on twisted tales of deviance. Genocide committed in an African country involving in part a Roman Catholic church with members of "the wrong tribe" inside being bulldozed to death upon the direct orders of a priest. Child brides and rape. WWASPS. Suicide bombers. The refusal of a government influenced by fundamentalists to embrace stem cell research. Not allowing AIDS organizations to tell adults in foreign countries that the use of condoms can and does prevent some percentage of HIV-related deaths. Acting upon a belief that the life of an unborn fetus takes precedence over the life of a mother or a rape victim. Those atrocities have been addressed in other places. It is my sincere belief that we must force ourselves to talk about these things no matter where we find evidence of them. The perpetrators count on our silence and our shame. Denial of basic human rights will continue to occur within Scientology and elsewhere for as long as we cower and shrink away from these unpalatable truths.
sapphoq reviews says: The Church of Fear is useful to those who are seeking outsider information on Scientology, to folks looking to get out, to ex-Scientologists, and to students of comparative religions and/or totalitarian regimes. Sweeney's writing is crisp-- if a tad repetitive in places-- and his history of psychiatry is succinct. The repetitive dialogue and introspection within illustrate how even the brain of a seasoned war journalist can get twisted when Scientologists are talking.
This book continues to bear witness to certain [legal word: alleged] practices of the Church of Scientology which to us as outsiders appear to be part of a widespread culture of abuse within its' ranks. Much safer to read this book than to actually visit any Scientology center anywhere in the world.
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Am I a Suppressive Person? I am probably one of the worst sort-- I am an atheist. My non-theistic status makes me persona non gratis in many places where believers of all kinds gather. Not only do I prefer natural explanations to supernatural or preternatural explanations, I am also a supporter of Anonymous. For anyone who has been living in a vacuum, Anonymous is [an idea] known for its' OpChanology protests near the Scientology Headquarters in California some years ago. Anonymous continues to campaign against Scientology as the epitome of thought control. [These days, some politicians and federal agencies in the United States are also doing a pretty fair imitation of thought control in my unasked for and unwanted opinion]. On the plus side, I am not in contact with any Scientologists [as far as I know] and I intend to keep it that way.
So yeah. The Church of Fear is highly recommended.
If we as a race of humans are to evolve beyond a
need for belief in childish tales, we must create our
own meaning. Because life itself is devoid of meaning.
We are not special snowflakes. We are each of us
alone in our own skins. Once we get with that,
we will perhaps be less subject to the many seductive
and false promises of the snake oil sales forces. ~ sapphoq