Old Scientology News

This is ‘old news’ in 2 senses. (Sense 1) It’s old news because it’s from the the Times of 6 August 2009. (Sense 2) And it’s also really old news because it’s “formerly secret news” from 3 decades ago. The gist of it is:

L Ron Hubbard was a fraud….. No, really. (It is also rumoured the Pope is Catholic. There may be secret files on this.)

The Times filed a Freedom of Information request to access the National Archive files on Scientology. The Department of Health yielded the information on diplomats’ efforts to find out if Hubbard was really a PhD.

(Quick pause to wonder how confusing the government filing system must have been if this item ended up in the Dept of Health.)

Britain’s secret mission to expose Scientology leader as ‘fraud’
The founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, was exposed as a fraud 30 years ago by British diplomats who were investigating his qualifications.
The science-fiction writer, who invented a religion now followed by celebrities such as Tom Cruise, awarded himself a PhD from a sham “diploma mill” college that he had acquired, the diplomats found. …..

Bit of a damp squib. Given the relatively enticing headline, I was hoping for something more shocking than L Ron’s postgraduate qualifications being imaginary. I suppose at that point maybe the claim that

“…L. Ron Hubbard was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy by Sequoia University on February 10, 1953, in recognition of his outstanding work in the fields of Dianetics and Scientology and that the said degree was recorded with the Department of Education of the State of California,” John McMaster stated.

might have passed for academic support for the idea of the sciencey- sounding Dianetics actually being a science. It’s still hard to imagine a world in which any reasonable person would accept that, even if it turned out to be supported by a PHd or a full professorship or an NVQ Level 1 in Customer Service.

Links to the Times Scientology Archive don’t work today, but this Times link did:

Simpsons producers ‘have a cow’ as Bart lends his voice to Scientologists
Bart Simpson used to be an underachiever and proud of it. These days, it seems, he’s an Operating Thetan VII in the Church of Scientology and proud of that, too.
At least, that is what Scientologists were led to believe this week when they received an automated telephone message featuring the voice of Bart inviting them to the Scientology Flag World Tour, an event being held in Hollywood tomorrow.

Blimey, those Scientologists are real celeb-magnets. Even the voice of a cartoon character – whose defining characteristics are mischievousness and stupidity – is grist to their celeb mill.

Although, it turns out that, in the real world, Bart’s voice belongs to a woman who is an Operating Thetan VII “and therefore an individual who can operate independently of her body” (The Times). Hmm, sorry, did I say “in the real world”?

Well, it seems her body can operate independently of her mind anyway, because

Ms Cartwright, who earns an estimated $400,000 (£280,000) per episode, was recently awarded Scientology’s Patron Laureate Award after reportedly donating $10 million to the organisation

As it happens, I have a Nobel prize from Oak University, awarded for my sterling work in Camillanology. I have produced a rigorous science-filled training plan that will allow dedicated students to gain the mystical power to talk out of their bottoms. And I love cartoons.

Don’t pay out another dollar please, Ms Cartwright until you have checked out the secret system that I was taught by hyper-intelligent entities from the planet Zeta,

Cultic transformations.

Disturbing news story that qualifies for today’s new “You couldn’t make this stuff up and I don’t mean that in a good way” award. No prizes.

This week there have been more than enough horrors, such as the Burmese cyclone, that numb your responses with the numbers of dead and injured. As well as the more chilling and incomprehensible stories like the Austrian who kept his daughter locked in cellar for a quarter century and a German couple whose grown children found they had three dead babies in their freezer.

This latest mad “heart of darkness” tale brings in religion as well.

The BBC report says:

A Czech woman charged with deceiving a children’s home into thinking she was a 13-year-old girl has been found not guilty by a court in the city of Brno.
The court said Barbora Skrlova, who along with five others is believed to belong to a secretive cult, meant no ill-will towards the children’s home.
But Ms Skrlova, aged 33, was immediately re-arrested to face more serious charges of child abuse.
Ms Skrlova went on the run after the child abuse case erupted.
She re-appeared months later in Norway, where she posed as a 13-year-old boy.

Blimey. Hypnotised like a hen on a chalk line, I must find out more.

Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, I’ve looked at the development of this story in Czech.
25/05/07 A boy was taken into care after mind-numbingly horrific levels of abuse. So was his 13-year-old “sister” who the mother was trying to adopt. But she turned out to be a 34-year-old woman. (Well, the Czech paper says 34. Ages seem very fluid in this story. )

14/01/07 Woman posing as child may have fallen victim to strange sect

The mysterious case of the Czech woman charged with identity fraud after posing as a 12-year old girl in the Czech Republic and a 13-year old boy in Norway has shocked and baffled the nation. Czech investigators are slowly piecing together the picture of her life and there are serious indications that she was a victim of a sect whose members made a profit from child-abuse films.
Barbora Škrlová as a 13-year old boy,
The strange case first surfaced when Barbora Škrlová was found living with a woman who tortured her two young boys. Škrlová, then living in the family under the guise of their 12-year-old sister Ani?ka, was put in a children’s home where she duped social workers into believing they were dealing with a stricken, abused child. Ani?ka fled the home and disappeared for many months surfacing unexpectedly in Norway last week where she had been living and attending school under the guise of a 13-year-old boy.
Is this strange figure – at the centre of a frightening child-abuse case – a criminal or a victim? Teachers and social workers who knew her in the Czech Republic and Norway say she appeared withdrawn, unbalanced and may herself have a history of abuse. Marie Vodi?ková head of the Czech Fund for Children in Need says it seems that she was most likely abused as a child and then turned into an obedient puppet by a sect which may have made a profit from making and selling child-abuse films. There is at least one direct piece of evidence to support this theory – the torture of one of her alleged brothers was documented day and night by a professional camera system. Both boys showed signs of abuse – cigarette burns in their genital regions and numerous welts and bruises. The children said they had been tortured by several members and “friends” of the family.

She appeared “unbalanced”? Oh the beauty of understatement.

Škrlová’s teacher in Norway says she decided to contact the Norwegian police after the alleged 13-year-old boy painted a picture showing seven children all bruised and bleeding and each with a number.

Her biological father

“who is believed to be the head of this strange sect once led a religious group called The Ants which splintered off from the Holy Grail Movement centred in Europe. Czech experts on religious sects say that whatever is going on in this terrifying community, it is unchartered territory because there is no known sect in Europe involved in child identity fraud. What is particularly worrisome is that this strange case came to light by pure accident when a neighbour of one of the abused boys got a glimpse of him bound and naked in a closet – on his own baby monitoring device.

(I have to drop any pretence of having read this in the original language. It’s all from the English version)

According to the July 2007 Independent

The Grail Movement follows the teachings of Oskar Ernst Bernhardt, a German also known as Abd-ru-shin, who from 1923-38 wrote the Grail Message, which depicts man as a being whose spirit can return to its source in heaven by performing good deeds on Earth. It claims to have at least 10,000 followers worldwide, including several hundred in Britain.
“We broke with the people involved in this 11 years ago, after they added to the Grail Message with their own imaginings and fantasies,” said Artur Zaplukal, spokesman of the Grail Movement in the Czech Republic, where it has about 1,500 followers. “I sent them a letter telling them they were no longer part of the Grail Movement.”

So these weird people are a a break-away movement considered too eccentric even by an apparently off-the-wall cult.

Just when you think you can understand a bit of this, the Independent threw in a few more odd facts, such as the fact that Barbora – of indeterminate age and gender and apparently parentage – is the second cult member to have masqueraded as “Anna” the “girl” that the woman who tortured her own sons wanted to adopt.

Arrgh. My head hurts…… How many dangerously more insane cults are there?

The book of latterday conmen

Recent UK news has become little but a catalogue of murdered children and murdering children, only varied by the occasional “dog-driven-crazy-by-morons kills child” story. With no wish to add any more to the world’s store of incoherent rantings, I can’t keep reading this stuff. So I turned to BBC International News and CNN for a wider perspective on the world.

But, I am distracted from a BBC “Catholic Church makes yet another huge payout to victims of priestly paedophiles” story by the astonishing CNN Lost Boys story.

The background seems to be that several hundred young men were driven out of a Mormon offshoot sect, apparently because they were postential rivals to the founder (one Warren Jeffs) in his apparent attempt to lay claim to biblical quantities of wives. (Jeffs is presently facing trial for being an accomplice to rape, for his part in arranging the marriage of a 14-year-old to her cousin. )

You might assume that being driven out of this sect couldn’t have a downside. As it turns out, this is indeed the case for a few “lost boys” who sued and got a fairly sizeable payout.

About a half dozen “lost boys” filed suit against Jeffs and the FLDS, saying they were thrown out of the FLDS community to allow older men to have more wives. The suit was partially settled earlier this year, with an agreement for a $250,000 fund to be created for housing assistance, education help and other aid to boys who leave the FLDS.

However, it’s supposed to be a bit psychologically destructive to get thrown out of this cozy cult world into the cold rest of the planet. (As opposed to getting brought up in it then? Come on.)
The pseudonymous “lost boy” interviewed by CNN

left behind three mothers and about three dozen siblings. Two of his sisters are married to Jeffs.

In Christopher Hitchens’ “God is not Great”, Hitchens took a fair bit of trouble to demolish the claims of the Mormon faith, pointing out, for example, that its founder, Joeseph Smith, was convicted of fraud a few months before he “discovered” the Book of Mormon.

This seemed something of a sledgehammer to crack a nut, when I first read it. Well, yes, it’s even more blatant nonsense than most religion, being too new to allow suspension of disbelief except among the terminally credulous. And it clearly lacks a supporting transcedental tradition of great artists and musicians. The Osmonds don’t quite cut it against Handel’s Messiah.

Surely Mormons do nothing more offensive than wear ill-fitting suits and monumentally unflattering haircuts, they knock at your front door and try to talk tripe? Act as a sort of voluntary global Public Records Office, albeit for their own demented purposes?

Didn’t all that being a wierd cult, with the elder males having dozens of wives stuff get dumped so that Utah could join the USA?Hmm, it seems not. The FLDS is only a offshoot cult but still couldn’t be anything but Mormon

Ther cult members are, of course, assailing their deity with extravagant pleas for their founder’s relaease.

“It will be very quiet out here all through the trial. I am sure they will be fasting and praying for his release,” says Engels.* “Most of them believe that God’s going to step forward and free him anyway and punish us ‘bad-doers.’ “

Given the utter uselessness of mass prayer – as evidenced by the massive Catholic engagements in exhortations to the deity to intervene in the Madeleine McCann case to bring her back to her parents unharmed – for once, it looks like there’ll actually be a conviction then.

(* No, it’s not the author of the English Working Class mysteriously returned from the grave. According to CNN, it’s “Gary Engels, an investigator for the state of Arizona, has seen many “lost boy” cases.”)

Religion and cults

The difference between a religion and a cult is that a cult just persecutes its own members while a religion goes after everybody else.

I read this in a letter to the free bus paper (the Metro) and I had to steal it to quote here. I threw the paper so I can’t attribute it sorry.

The Commenters Delusion

I was toying with the Blind Commenter as a title, but decided it would be too obvious 🙂 . I have been reading some of the opinion blogs on the Times today, which is always enjoyable. The main three have been two by Ruth Gledhill (On Dawkins and on Scientology), and thanks to Nullifidian’s blog, I read one by William Rees-Mog, again on Dawkins. As is often the case the columns, being written by sensible journalists, are well presented (with the exception of Rees-Mog but he is different kettle of fish) and the arguments are structured.

Fortunately, for me, the same most certainly can not be said about the people who leave comments. Yes, some are sane and balanced, but others range from mildly confused to massively off the deep end. In this post, I will look at some of the more pertinent comments and explain why I think they are at least a little, ahem, confused.

Continue reading

Bad Journalist

Following two posts on Nullifidian’s blog (here and here), and a bit on BBC News 24 this morning, I couldn’t help but start to feel sorry for John Sweeney. In a nutshell, this guy is a BBC reporter who has been looking into the ridiculous cult which calls itself the Church of Scientology. From Nullifidian’s site:

John Sweeney investigates the Church of Scientology, endorsed by some major Hollywood celebrities, but which continues to face the criticism that it is less of a religion and more of a cult. Some former members claim the Church uses a mind control technique to put opponents at a psychological disadvantage. During the course of his investigation, Sweeney is shouted at, spied on, visited in his hotel at midnight and chased around the streets of LA by strangers in hire cars.

Sadly, Sweeney is far from a “good” investigative journalist. I suspect he planned to use this Scientology thing to get a “big break” into the real world of hardcore investigators. When faced with fairly obvious methods, Sweeney falls for them and hands the Scientologist Cultists a few (albeit minor) PR victories. In typical Cult fashion, the Scientologists have pounced on any apparent weakness shown by Sweeney and a video clip of him loosing it (after goading it should be added) has been getting lots of hits on YouTube. Continue reading

Bad Bad Science

Although it only attracted minimal response here (one troll who never came back), the news about Cranky McKeith being told to stop calling herself a Doctor resulted in mountains of posts (281 last time I looked) on Ben Goldacres’ BadScience blog.

Now this is understandable as it was one of Ben’s regular readers who shopped McKeith to the ASA and resulted in bringing her Woo to the news. (Not to mention it is supported by a column in a national newspaper…)

That said, there are some striking similarities between the woo posted by the pro-McKeith (and her ilk) lobby on Badscience, the troll who stopped by here for a few seconds and the rest of the nonsense which pollutes the internet.

Take this, from badscience.net, as an example:

Ben, I think you will turn out to be just as arrogant as all the doctors that go before you. Gillian Mckeith, if nothing else, has encouraged people to realise that nutrition has a direct link to their quality of life and health. I would rather trust in good nutrition to prevent me from getting ill than an ever increasing supply of pharmeceutical drugs that cover up symptoms until they get worse. How many people do die each year from side effects of drug intervention? and what exactly was your Hippocratic oath? With all the incentives doctors get from pharmeceutical companies and the huge power those companies wield one could imagine that it was not really in a doctors best interests for a patient to get better. Humans are not machines, we are self-healing organisms and should be encouraged to remember this. Doctors are trained in body mechanics but not in healing or health and most of them are too arrogant to accept that there are other journeys to health.

I mean, that is good…. I am fairly sure it hits pretty much every logical fallacy I can think of.

The big claim goes along the lines of “if nothing else…” and this is used by apologetics of all flavour – ranging from the religious who say “if nothing else religion has made people happier” (or whatever) to the cranks who think the cruel and inhuman treatment of fat people doled out by McKeith is a GOODTHING™®. While it is (remotely) possible that McKeith has made people aware that nutrition is related to health (and if they needed McKeith to become aware of this, then I suspect letting them die would have been the kinder thing to do), this does not for one second excuse the nonsense, crackpottery and sheer, unadulterated bad science she wrapped her nonsense up in.

Creating weird rituals, falsifing science and tricking the public is not an “acceptable” means to an end.

The “how many people die each year” is fantastic. The appeal to fear there is brilliant because at its core, the sentence carries some truth. People do die of drug side effects. Side effects are called side effects for a reason. No one in their right mind thinks anything which works to treat an illness is 100% safe. The only possible reason McKeith’s recommendations were safe is because they do not do anything. This argument always pops up from the homeopathic woo-ers and it is tired and repetative at best.

This poor poster puts the nail in the coffin with “Doctors are trained in body mechanics but not in healing or health and most of them are too arrogant to accept that there are other journeys to health.” Well done.

Sometimes I despair that we allow people like this to have recourse to the NHS when they get sick and suddenly realise that crystals (or whatever nonsense they are in to) will not mend them.