Scientology v. Scientology Lite

By Fred W. Anson
The A&E show “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath” has been nothing short of a phenomenon. For those unfamiliar with the show, here’s the description from the show’s website:

Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath gives a voice to victims of the Church of Scientology despite public attempts to discredit them.

Leah Remini, along with high level former Scientology executives and Church members, explores individual accounts from ex-Church members and their families through meetings and interviews with Leah. Each episode features stories from former members whose lives have been affected by the Church’s harmful practices, even well after they left the organization. Along with a team of former high-ranking Scientology insiders who understand the inner workings and policies of the organization, Leah gives the victims a chance to be heard.
(A&E website; “About Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath”)

And anyone who’s watched the show will testify that it’s riveting stuff to watch. There’s intrigue, enlightenment, and horror all at once and usually in the same show. More than one box of Kleenex has undoubtedly been emptied over the heart-wrenching stuff that these people have had to endure both as members of the cult of Scientology and as former members – and often it’s hard to tell which is worse! And, of course, to the surprise of no one, current members and the Church of Scientology deny that any of it is true. Rather, they would have us believe, everyone involved in the show is either an enemy of the Church and/or an angry, bitter apostate – a “Suppressive Person” to use Scientology’s lingo.

Scientology Lite
Does any of this sound familiar Mormon Critics and Ex-Mormons? If so, you’re not the first to recognize the parallels between Scientology and Mormonism. Back in February 2011 (two-years before Leah Remini left Scientology) an article entitled, “Scientology Lite” on the Mormon Expression Blogsite listed the following parallels between Mormonism and Scientology:

  • The church refuses to account for member behavior even when they are quoting or following leaders
  • There are a lot of “unwritten laws”
  • Members default to defending the church, even to lying or turning back on family members
  • It’s all subjective…so how do you “know”?
  • Coverts are often “loners looking for a club to join”
  • Testimonies are overly effusive.
  • There’s “some good” in it, so “what harm can there be?”
  • The crazy S#!$ is introduced later … there’s a long process until you are fully entrenched.
  • Fascinating, enigmatic founder
  • Church underpays its employees
  • Requires sincerity for it all to work
  • Doesn’t “look” like a cult initially
  • Proof is in the lives of its members
  • Testimonies often include, “I don’t know where I’d be without….”
  • Levels of membership. Focus changes over time
  • Perverse pride in membership
  • Charitable but not egalitarian
  • Lack of curiosity keeps members in – they are uninterested and afraid of information
  • Willed myopia of membership
  • Hard to get through “scriptures”
  • At upper levels of membership they are deprived of adequate food and sleep
  • Members tell themselves they are wonderful examples to the world of good living
  • Inability of membership to laugh at themselves
  • Certain processes are confusing and unsatisfying
  • Members project unambiguous, non-ambivalent view of world
  • “If it changes me for the better, who cares if it’s true?”
  • Arrogance of membership with lots of superlatives used in sales pitch
  • Church avoids “overt political stands” but membership is almost entirely homogeneous politically
  • Apostasy is all the apostates’ fault. All disconnection to family  and friends is blamed on that decision
  • Wives tend to stay and denounce husbands who leave
  • Church discipline (kicking people out) is seen as “for their own good”
  • Members consider membership “safe” and a “protection”
  • Members maintain positive exterior, but a very reproachful interaction with former members
  • Public image of religion is MOST IMPORTANT
  • There’s a difference between public tenets and private interaction
  • Greatest fear is expulsion from religion
  • Church holds power the of eternal life
  • Members are taught to handle internal conflict within church’s own justice system
  • Big Brother type files kept of high level apostates
  • Members attack apostates’ character rather than address the issues
  • Church doesn’t live up to its own standards for its members
  • Special service is supposedly to “help people” but most of the time and energy is really just spent on serving the purposes of the organization
  • Sells itself as “fastest growing religion”
  • Members think it “does more good”
  • Critics are vilified and suspected of “anti” sentiment
  • Members sacrifice a lot with little to show for it
  • Original books are changed and church denies the changes are significant
  • All or nothing claims, “base stories are true or else it’s ALL a lie”
  • Shame in leaving, “Everyone else could see it was a sham, why couldn’t I?”
  • Apostates who leave claim they feel “alive” and can think clearly for the first time in a long time (or ever)
    (Dad Primal, “Scientology Lite”, Mormon Expression website, February 19, 2011)

Lt. General Joseph Smith, commander of the Nauvoo Legion, and Commodore L. Ron Hubbard of the Sea Org.

That article was based on this Ex-Mormon author’s dinner with an Ex-Scientologist co-worker during which they compared notes and were floored by the similarities between their two religions.  As he states in the article, “She’s a very successful businesswoman, but I had to scrape my jaw off the floor as she related her experience…some good, some bad…just like my experience with Mormonism.” That dinner was later augmented by the February 14, 2011, New Yorker article about infamous Scientology Apostate, Paul Haggis (Lawrence Wright, “The Apostate: Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology”). That’s where the bullet points related to apostates were drawn from in his analysis.

So when it’s all said and done, Dad Primal’s article was new, fresh, eye-opening, enlightening – even shocking. Thus the article resonated strongly with Ex-Mormons and was soon being discussed extensively across the Mormon Bloggernacle.

Things had settled down a bit when the 2015 award-winning HBO documentary, “Going Clear” (which was based on Lawrence Wright’s 2013 book “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief”) aired resulting in a fresh new crop of comparisons between the two groups. Then, once again, the Bloggernacle erupted with new articles and discussion based on the revelations of that excellent documentary.

But if that weren’t enough, later that year, Leah Remini’s book, “Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology” hit the bookstores with the aforementioned “Scientology and the Aftermath” hitting cable TV a year later to the month. It was around that time that the influential MormonThink website published a full analysis and explanation of the issues focusing on the following points of comparison:

10 Things common to both Scientology and Mormonism
1) Keeping secrets about the religion from its members.
2) You’ll be lost without the Church.
3) Excessive financial conditions for Church membership.
4) Believers often defend the religion with the comment that “it’s a good organization”, whether or not it is literally true.
5) Read only faith-promoting materials produced by us.
6) Churches use Internet filters to block some websites that frankly discuss some of the problems of their organization.
7) Detractors of the faith are labeled as liars and “anti.”
8) The founders and top leaders are hero-worshiped.
9) Tears families apart.
10) Have been labeled as a cult and the members as brainwashed.
(“Scientology and Mormonism”, MormonThink website)

So what started as a spark in 2011 has erupted into the full-on wildfire that we see burning today. Go to just about any Mormon-centric website and within a few minutes, you’ll find someone making a Mormon/Scientology comparison. It’s almost become a cliché.1

But if the parallels are so obvious to outsiders then why are active, believing Mormons so oblivious to them?

Mormon “Plan of Salvation” (circa the 1950’s) v. Scientology “Bridge” (circa the 1970s) [click to zoom]

Why They Stay (and Other Unsolved Mysteries)
One of the most common questions asked of those of us who have left Mind Control Cults is, “Why did you stay so long?” And very often, candidly, we don’t know ourselves! I have spent decades trying to unravel why I couldn’t see what outsiders could see so clearly about my cult. And I’m not alone, in my work with recovering Ex-Mormons I very often see them struggling to untie that knot too.

One explanation is that we were all in a “Snapped” psychological state. This isn’t a concept and term that I came up, nor is it a term that journalists, Flo Conway, and Jim Siegelman invented when they wrote the watershed book “SNAPPING America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change” in 1978. Rather, it’s the term that ex-cultists often use to describe the shift in thinking that lead them into, and kept them in their group. Here’s how Conway and Siegelman describe it:

In all the world, there is nothing quite so impenetrable as a human mind snapped shut with bliss. No call to reason, no emotional appeal can get through its armor of self-proclaimed joy.
(Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, “Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change”Kindle Location 1302, Stillpoint Press. Kindle Edition.)

And to their point is there any greater cultist defense mechanism than that of thought-terminating clichés? As cult researcher Luna Lindsey explains:

A thought-terminating cliché is a phrase that halts argument or prevents clear thought. It can be a short “bumper sticker slogan”, seeming to deliver a profound message without really meaning much. Or it can represent a larger concept that can’t be expressed in words. In either case, it is a shortcut to prevent deeper exploration or discussion.
(Luna Lindsey, “Recovering Agency: Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control”p. 194. Kindle Edition.) 

Anyone who has attempted to reason with cultists has encountered these. They’re pat responses that get thrown up when the cultist is presented with discomforting evidence that challenges their group’s claims. Each group has there their own unique set but often there’s crossover between groups. Leah Remini talks about them throughout her book ( the aforementioned “Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology”) and Lindsey, a former Mormon, has an entire chapter of Mormon thought-terminating clichés in her book, things like:

  • The church is perfect, man is not.
  • The hardhearted hate the truth.
  • Satan is raging in the hearts of men.
  • Choose the right.
  • These are plain and precious things.
  • Cast not your pearls before swine.
  • It will be sorted out in the next life.
  • Wickedness never was happiness.
  • All will be revealed in due time.
  • You will not be tempted more than you are able to bear.
  • Are those feelings/thoughts/teachings in line with the gospel?
  • Leaving the Church is the easy way out.

But really, we’re still just describing symptoms rather than answering the question, aren’t we? Perhaps Christian Apologist, J. Warner Wallace, in a July 2018 radio interview, cut straight to the chase when he proposed that there are really only three reasons why we believe anything:

  • Rational Reasons.
  • Emotional Reasons.
  • Volitional Reasons.

And Mr. Wallace makes the point that typically Emotional and Volitional Reasons trump Rational Reasons. This is true even for non-cultists, it’s just not as extreme. Thus the issue when it comes to cults is really degree. For example, in healthy religious settings, you can leave the group pretty much without consequence. As the saying goes, “Cults have many entrances but few exits.” And, in fact, many experts claim that this is the key criteria in determining if a group is a cult or not.

Some Ex-Mormons have suggested this re-branding of their former religion.

Now consider that in light of Scientology and Mormonism, where leaving may result in loss of family, vocation, and social standing. As a result, many members simply choose to stay in the group even though they no longer believe in it. Leah Remini explains in her book that she stayed in Scientology even though she no longer believed in it because she knew that to do so would get her labeled a “Suppressive Person” which would result in her family “disconnecting” (Scientology’s policy-mandated form of extreme shunning) from her. Thus she stayed for volitional reasons.

We see a similar phenomenon in Mormonism with “Shadow Mormons” – Mormons who no longer believe the Church is true but remain members and play the game rather than risk losing their marriage, families, jobs, or social standing in the community. The cult has them trapped and they know it, as the words of one Shadow Mormon demonstrate so well:

REMEMBER US! To those of you on the outside reading this, I beg you, please do not forget us. Please remember the hundreds of thousands of unique, special, beautiful individuals that are currently serving life sentences in the prison of Mormonism. Please do not cease to pray; to whatever God you serve, for our deliverance. Some of us have no hope for redemption or liberation. For the greater good, we willingly sacrifice our souls upon the altar of conformity and orthodoxy. Our pain is real. Our sentence is absolute.
(‘Enigma’, “The Death of Reason and Freedom”, Beggar’s Bread website, October 18, 2013, caps in original)

And speaking from my own personal experience, and factoring in the many conversations that I’ve had with recovering cultists over the years as well, I will tell you that probably the #1 reason why we all stayed in our cults even when confronted with a mountain of discrediting evidence was that we wanted to. The reasons were emotional.

When I was a cultist I could rationalize and justify anything that didn’t conform to my preferred narrative. Thus I could bury any logic, reason, or evidence underneath feelings and will. In the aforementioned radio interview, J. Warner Wallace refers to this as “remediating the evidence”. And chillingly, he says that it’s the same mental process that criminals use to justify their crimes. It is, simply stated, a form of self-delusion – as former Branch, Ward, Stake and Regional Mormon leader Jim Whitefield explains:

I have become convinced that each individual Mormon must have his or her own personal epiphany which comes from uncertainty and questioning that arises along the way. Until something triggers the desire to ‘seek’, a member will never ‘find’ the ultimate truth.

If you try to face a believer with the truth, that person invariably rejects the messenger and the message. Something may get through sometimes, but generally members will not thank you for trying to ‘destroy’ their testimony. The messenger is under the influence of Satan, the message is fraught with lies, and members already ‘know’ and cling to the truth – just as they were taught to. That is called faith.

As long as people want the Mormon Church to be true, more than they are willing to face the possibility that it is not, they will not entertain evidence or reason. Delusion becomes a choice.”
(Jim Whitefield, “The Mormon Delusion: Volume 4: The Mormon Missionary Lessons – A Conspiracy to Deceive”, Kindle Locations 10297-10305)

So in summary and conclusion, the bottom line for to why cultists don’t leave is simply this: They choose to stay.

And whether we’re talking about Scientology, “Scientology Lite”, or any other cult, therein lies the problem. As funny as it sounds some folks actually prefer a cage to freedom. Yet, ironically, they’re utterly blindly convinced that outsiders are the ones who are caged. This is as writer and university instructor, David Foster Wallace famously said so well,

Blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up.”
(David Foster Wallace, Kenyon College Commencement Address, May 21, 2005)

And it is that blind certainty, my friends, that keeps Scientologists; Mormons; people in the abusive Shepherding Movement that I was in; and everyone else who’s ever been a cult from leaving it. Take away that certainty and suddenly everything changes.

NOTES
1 And to add my own contribution to the growing body of observed parallels, here’s another one: The book that is held up to investigators as the best introduction to and/or the foundational text for the religion is not only largely tangential to the current doctrine of said religion but may at points even contradict it. This just as true of “Dianetics” as it is “The Book of Mormon”. As Sociologist of Religion, Bryan R. Wilson noted:

In 1952, Hubbard launched Scientology, and this new, expanded, and more encompassing belief-system subsumed Dianetics, providing it with a more fully articulated metaphysical rationale…

In a collection of scholarly papers edited by the Jesuit sociologist, Professor Joseph H. Fichter, S.J., of Loyola University, New Orleans, (Alternatives to American Mainline Churches, New York: Rose of Sharon Press, 1983), Frank K. Flinn, now Adjunct Professor in Religious Studies at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, addresses directly the question of the religious status of Scientology in great detail. He considers first the religious status of Dianetics…

‘While Dianetics had religious and spiritual tendencies, it was not yet a religion in the full sense of the term… Dianetics did not promise what may be called ‘transcendental’ rewards as the normal outcome of its therapy. It did, however, promise ‘trans-normal’ reward… Secondly, in the Dianetics stage of the movement, engrams were traced back to the fetal stage at the earliest… Thirdly, Dianetics had only four ‘dynamics’ or ‘urges for survival’—self, sex, group and Mankind… Fourthly, the auditing techniques in the Dianetics phase [did not use] the ‘E-Meter’’
(Bryan R. Wilson, Ph.D., “Scientology: An Analysis and Comparison of its Religious Systems and Doctrines”, University of Oxford England, February 1995 pp.32,48) 

And I documented the many conflicts and contradictions between the Book of Mormon and modern Latter-day Saint doctrine in my article “The Book of Mormon v. Mormon Doctrine” which I concluded like this:

The reader may be scratching their head wondering how the work that is held up as the “keystone of our religion” by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints not only contains very little of that religion … but discredits much of it. The answer to that question is pretty simple: The Book of Mormon doesn’t teach modern Mormonism, rather it teaches 19th Century American Restorationism.

As Latter-day Saint scholar Thomas G. Alexander explains, “Much of the doctrine that early investigators found in Mormonism was similar to contemporary Protestant churches.” So if you strip away the baggage of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon origin story you’re left with a piece of Christian literature that’s more akin to “Pilgrim’s Progress” or “The Screwtape Letters” than “Dianetics”. In the end, it’s very much as Shawn McCraney described it when he said, “[We] recognize the Book of Mormon as a piece of 19th-century literary fiction aimed at teaching Jesus Christ…”

… For the uninformed, the Book of Mormon can be a powerful recruiting tool.  But for the informed that power is quickly lost.
(Fred W. Anson, “The Book of Mormon v. Mormon Doctrine”, Beggar’s Bread website, June 26. 2014) 

Thus, rather than being an accurate encapsulation of the religion, both “introductory” texts are really just a vehicle to get the investigators to talk to the full-time evangelists for these organizations: Auditors for Scientology, Missionaries for Mormonism.  Those evangelists use the book (even if it ultimately ends up going unread) as a means to begin the process of indoctrination into the religion and groom the investigator for the more esoteric and less comfortable “truths”, which will be only be revealed after so much of the investigator’s time, money, emotional energy, and personal effort have been invested into the organization that it’s hard for them to leave. Different organizations, different books; same tactic, same result.

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Comments
  1. Shane Roe says:

    Great post, Fred. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mark Foster says:

    Wow, this was a real eye-opening read for me as an ex-scientologist. You have sent me down an interesting rabbit-hole of investigation; thank you!

    Like

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