Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Regarding a Forthcoming LBC Outing

RE: http://tr.im/sgR7

Dear Jeni,

I'm glad you're covering the concerns people may have over flu vaccination. You're right, of course, that people should be free to make informed choices about decisions that will affect not just their own health but the health of people around them. With this in mind, I trust that you will ensure your programme features solid information about the benefits and risks of the 'flu [vaccine]. It is too easy, in complaining of a lack of clarity or of mixed messages coming through about this pandemic, to contribute to that lack of clarity.


Beacon Schuler

Monday, July 13, 2009

CAM and Oppression

Store for traditional chinese medicineImage by Jonas in China via Flickr
The 30 Second Skinny Alternative medicine has often been taken up by oppressive regimes. Traditional Chines Medicine was revived by Mao Tse Tung following the people's revolution in order to fulfil a promise of healthcare for all. China could not provide Evidence Based Medicine, so resorted to TCM instead. Homeopathy was, for a time, championed by the Nazis.

Monday, July 06, 2009

God Wants Me For An Atheist

center Arrange the letters from Genesis 26:5 1...Image via Wikipedia
Here's a brief bit of autobiography for you. In 1997 Simon & Schuster released a book entitled the Bible Code by Michael Drosdin. This was a thorough analysis of the so-called ELS or Equidistant Letter Sequence as it applies to the Hebrew version of the Bible. Drosdin believed that looking for sequences of letters with uniform gaps in the Bible one could reveal hidden messages, and provided seemingly portentous examples such as references to the JFK assassinations. Quite why a Hebrew god several centuries ago would be quite so interested in the killing of a ruler of a country not yet formed is anyone's guess. Drosdin's belief is no more likely than a parent's belief that their child's record holds Satanic messages when played backwards.

When the book was released it was to fanfare and ridicule in equal measure, and I found myself stood in a bookshop staring at a display of hardbacks, wondering what kind of God would choose to communicate with his creation by way of wordsearch.

At that exact moment I felt as though I was in the embrace of something greater than myself; something warm, and welcoming, and confirmatory. I felt, at the time, as though I had been touched by God. Truly. I was moved to tears. For a long time, to think back to that moment would move me to tears.

And here I am some twelve years later in an odd place. The message, if message were to be had, in that embrace was that I, through inquisitiveness and rationality, had touched on something that told me I was headed in the right direction. And in that direction I have progressed until I stand before you Godless. I have certain esoteric views on the nature of the universe; they fall far outside the scope of this blog and it wouldn't do for me to go into too much detail about them. They're also wildly open to misinterpretation. However, in the main, I do not believe in God, despite that moment in the bookshop.

A religious friend of mine, when discussing the existence or otherwise of God, said to me "surely you want all of this to be for something; to have some kind of meaning?"

I replied that naturally I did, but wanting something, however deeply, doesn't bring that thing about. It's an odd bit of attempted logic that I've heard many believers employ, that their own needs take precedent over this accidental universe.

"But God has a plan for all of us," my religious friend continued.

"If that is so," I replied, "then the path he has chosen for me is that of an atheist."

Which is a puzzle, and possibly a cop-out, but as far as my own personal journey, it's the best I can do. It also span the logic round on my friend so quickly that he couldn't reply. God had a purpose for Judas, after all.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Will Scientology Survive?

Church of Scientology of Hamburg (Scientology ...Image via Wikipedia
Someone found the Beacon recently by using "will Scientology survive" as a search term. It's an interesting question because it gets to the heart of the problem with much of the criticism of Scientology. Let's have a quick run through the state of the church at present.

The Church is currently using its reserves to pay for new buildings, advertising, legal representation and other PR efforts, but that not very much of this is translating into "raw meat". Added to that, it seems that many people are fleeing the church not out of a rejection of Scientology beliefs but because they have issues with the way their church is being managed, be it the allegations about slappy Miscavige or resentment at the fact that having spent a small fortune on Hubbard books and courses they are being told that these courses and books were wrong, and that they would have to pay out another small fortune again to replace them. Public scientologists appear to be becoming more outspoken from individual perspectives; the level of control that once existed in the church is weakening as Scientologists embrace the internet not to, for example, deny the existence of the OT3 mythology in the scriptures, but to defend the existence of the mythology. We can only assume that this is because, for all of Miscavige's posturing, he is no longer able to command respect, obedience and "duplication" from his parishioners. Scientology is an unlocked cage, and it appears that more and more people are trying the door out for size.

But this is not Scientology, this is the Church of Scientology. Most hardened, long-term critics, despite believing that much of Scientology's belief system is nonsense, even dangerous nonsense, nevertheless realise that people are free to believe what they want. Occasionally these beliefs will spill over into behaviours that are dangerous or threatening, but that is a discussion for a different day. What is crucial here is that the problems Scientology currently have stem from the church and not the belief system. Admittedly, due to Hubbard and Miscavige's micromanagement, the line between the church and the religion is uncommonly slight, but most Scientologists will recognise that undergoing auditing is a religious observance of a different quality to cleaning windows with newspapers or forgoing air freshener.

The problems stem from the church, but they also belong to the church. The church here is the ongoing concern, which is an interesting difference that Scientology has to a lot of other religions. Anyone can pick up a bible and become a Christian. It's independent of any kind of organisation. Christian churches obviously help, by offering community, confirmation and religious services, but none of these are integral to a belief in Christianity. And as much as the Church of Scientology would have you think otherwise, the religion of Scientology can exist independently.

This is what makes such an irony of the Church's bleating about religious persecution when society makes attempts to curtail its less ethical behaviour. The legal case in France, for instance, is about fraud, not about belief. The ISPN numbers that have been banned from editing Wikipedia were banned not because of belief but because of a group of people breaking the rules governing the editing of Wikipedia pages. Believe what you like, but the same rules apply to you as apply to everybody else. It really is that simple.

That's why one of the most fruitful things you can do when confronted with Scientologists waving about their freedom of religion is to ask them where they stand on the Freezone. The Church of Scientology has, without the authority to do so, placed itself in a position where it and only it can declare who is and isn't a Scientologist. It's for the individual to claim that, not the church. That's the true spirit and meaning of religious freedom, but the Church does a great deal to prevent people outside the church from pursuing that religion. They talk the talk of religious freedom but they certainly don't walk the walk.

You would assume that any Church would welcome believers, whether or not that belief is expressed within its organisation. It's certainly true that believers of whatever faith seem to get along better than believers and non-believers. So why does the Church of Scientology differ? It's because the belief system of Scientology within the church is not based on "free faith". People do not come to Scientology and develop a deep-rooted belief in its view of the universe without a great deal of pressure and control. These are, and lets be candid, cult mechanics. These mechanics are embedded in the workings of the Orgs. If you take Scientology out of the Orgs then, although it is not completely free of manipulative tricks, it will need to be a much more robust philosophy if it is to survive. More to the point, if you take Scientology out of the Orgs then suddenly the RTC has been divorced of a source of revenue.

But it is the money stream and the control that is at the heart of all the trouble that the Church is currently up against. The thing that is an attempt to keep the Church going is the same thing that is seeing its membership dwindle and its coffers run dry. Unless it reforms, it will fail.

But the existence of the Freezone, and the fact that a fair few (but not, I suspect the majority) of those who leave the Church still class themselves as Scientologists suggests that, although it won't necessarily be in rude health, the religion itself will survive the organisation that invented it.

Friday, July 03, 2009

The Expanding Bubble

Scientology Today recently ran the 2009 expansion figures. Naturally when presented with figures from the organisation that claimed for years it had millions and millions of followers when it was plain judging by census figures and other sources that they did not need to be taken with a grain or two of salt. That said I don't want to discuss the figures themselves too much, merely note what they say about the organisation as it currently stands.

Given that these figures are intended in part to promote the Church, I'm sure they won't mind me pasting them up here.
The Church’s property holdings internationally have more than doubled in the last 5 years. The combined size of Church premises increased from 5.6 million square feet in 2004 to 11 million square feet in 2009.

The Church has acquired 66 buildings since 2004 in major population centers around the world.

The Church has completed 401,003 square feet of construction of new premises in the last 5 months. It currently has under construction another 475,887 square feet, including Churches in Washington D.C., Las Vegas, Quebec, Mexico City, Brussels, Rome and Tel Aviv.
So the leading three statistics are all about their building-buying project. If we assume for a moment that we're placing our most important achievements first, then here we have a reflection of the Church's current priorities which are all about property. If you want to know the marketing vision of David Miscavige it is, more or less, this: "If you build it, they will come."
It's also interesting to note that they're talking up the growth. If 5.6 million square feet has increased to 11 million square feet, it hasn't doubled, it has less than doubled. This is a minor quibble, but it's worth noting, simply because it demonstrates that these statistics are being talked up and massaged. It also speaks of the level of critical thought the Church are expecting these figures to meet with from the blog's target audience, Scientologists.
There are 8,071 Scientology Churches, Missions and groups in 165 nations, double the number five years ago.
I love this one. By lumping together churches with missions and groups, but not really defining what they mean by missions or groups, we end up with a figure that is impossible to extract into anything meaningful. I also suspect that the term "group" subsumes many of the front groups that, at any other time, are separate entities to the Church of Scientology.

80 million L. Ron Hubbard books and lectures on Dianetics and Scientology have been sold in the last decade, compared to 5.6 million in the prior decade, and 60 of that 80 million have been sold in the last two years-more than during the first 50 years of Dianetics and Scientology combined.
This, of course, covers both the "selling to base" of the squirrelled Basics books and the charity drives where books are bought by parishioners and sent unsolicited to libraries. These libraries tend to either return them, junk them, or sell them on ebay. If a public Scientologist is reading this and doubts it to be true, go to some local libraries and try and find copies of Hubbard's texts. The Church will often claim that you can walk into any library and find these books, but in truth, you can't. Added to that is the point that we're talking about books that are only available through Church of Scientology orgs, not mainstream bookshops, which, along with the low ebay prices, demonstrates clearly the market for Hubbard's writing.
The number of individuals completing auditing and training has doubled since 2007.
At last we have a statistic that actually relates to people, rather than property. And how does it differ from the property stats? We're not given any figures. Here we have what ought to be the most meaningful piece of information about the number of active Scientologists in the world today, but it's a piece of information that they just don't want people to know. Also, it's worth noting the use of the word "completing" because its meaning here is unclear. Is this bridge progression? It doesn't appear to be, because it would certainly be phrased as such. In that case it can only mean "getting to the end of the auditing session".
For many years the "practicing Scientologists" figure was based exclusively on the number of people that had had any kind of interaction with the Church. That means it would include people who, after their first auditing session, made up their mind that Scientology wasn't for them and moved swiftly on. Judging by the wording of this stat, their methodology hasn't changed much.
Since the Church undertook to publish and reproduce its scriptural materials in-house in 2007, the average price of Mr. Hubbard’s books and lectures sold has decreased dramatically.
I need to look into this further, but I find the use of the word "average" interesting. This certainly means that the prices haven't fallen across the board, that they are using an average to offset price increases somewhere on the range of Hubbard texts.
There were 12.4 million visitors to the Scientology website in the last year alone coming from 234 countries, with 23 million video views.
Without the actual figures and methodology of the "doubled" auditing figure, this, again, is pretty much meaningless; merely a symptom of their increased advertising spend. It's a shame because if we knew what that spend was, and how many people were now genuine active Scientologists, we'd know how much each of those Scientologists cost. This would tell us a great deal about the reality of the oft-touted "people find it work, people pass it along to others, it grows" mantra. It also would demonstrate how much "people pass it along" requires the assistance of glossily produced TV ads.
4.5 million pages of L. Ron Hubbard’s writings have been translated in the last 10 years alone compared to a total of 359,459 for the prior 50 years, making him the most translated author in history-according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
Leaving aside the inherent problem with taking something so allegedly precise as Hubbard's use of English and translating it into other tongues without any loss of meaning, this is an internal claim. It says no more about the growth of the church than the purchase of largely empty church buildings. It is how many translations they have commissioned.
Today there are 196,000 Scientology Volunteer Ministers worldwide-there were 45,000 in 2004. Volunteer Ministers helped over 1.4 million people in the last year alone, a 300% increase over the 2004 figure of 550,000 people helped.
It would be cheap and easy of me to want to compare the number of Volunteer Ministers to the likely number of active Scientologists worldwide, so I won't. I'll also not point out that three times 550,000 is 1.65 million, not 1.4 million. Again I suspect that anyone who has ever donned a yellow or red t-shirt has been factored into this number for however slight a reason.

I believe that what these figures show, and what they do not show, offers an insight into the current state of the church, that their buying up of buildings, and translations and advertising spots masks a lack of grass roots growth. That fewer and fewer people are crossing the thresholds of the orgs.