Thursday, November 26, 2009

Scientology is a Leaking Vessel

For a while now, the PR arm of the Church of Scientology has abandoned attempts to convince the world at large that it means well. Apart from those admittedly delicious lookin TV spots earlier in the year, all energy seems to be directed towards not losing yet more members. The much-quoted expansion figures, previously dismantled on the Beacon and elsewhere, came not from a widely picked up press release, but from an internal magazine. CoS was not attempting to dissuade the world that Scientology is dwindling, it was attempting to paint a rosier picture for those left behind who were perhaps wondering why their org is so quiet.

Now, with legal cases in France, Australia and Belgium, continuing allegations about the violence at the heart of the church, a parade of high-ranking whistle-blowers, and the church's public exposure of parishioners personal files, members might be beginning to wonder exactly what kind of beast it is that they've signed up for. Grahame has posted a shocking link to a story about what Volunteer Ministers are doing in Samoa. We've heard stories before of how the VMs will visit disaster-struck countries in order to help with the relief effort; handing out Um Bongo to fire-fighters, that sort of thing. Some will even discuss VMs training medical professionals in their own brand of hands on healing "touch assists".

It seems that their usual level of reserve, however, has been abandoned. Now VMs are openly admitting that they find people who have been traumatised by disaster and teach them Dianetics. In an attempt to quell the criticism being levelled at the Church in Australia, they believe that demonstrating how they target people in crisis in order to promote their religion is something worth shouting about. So do we! This is not something that is going to win support from outside the Church, if anything it confirms what people may hitherto only suspect; the only benefit is to repair some of the damage the brand has sustained in the eyes of scientologists, and allow the Church to keep its hooks in its existing parishioners.

Mark Fisher has suggested that Miscavige has set up a task force to re-recruit departed members, which also makes it plain that the Church is struggling to maintain its paying customers. In the past, apostates would be disconnected, written off as lost causes, something the Church could afford to do because there was always fresh meat to be had. With over a year of Anonymous protests, the worst press the Church has had in decades, high profile defections, unwitting admissions of dodgy practices, and more, the "bodies" are now more innoculated against Hubbard's trap than they have ever been, and it is the best that Miscavige can do to stop the bubble bursting.

Friday, November 20, 2009

BHA Billboards and the Multi-Faith Irony

The BHA reports that it's final ad spend on the "bus campaign" has been a rip-roaring success. The billboards, which were unveiled this week, promote the idea of allowing children to decide for themselves what religion they belong to; of not labelling them a "Christian child", or a "muslim child", or, for that matter, a "Humanist child".

The previous campaign "There's Probably No God..." drew fire from many sides, but the current campaign is much trickier ground. The BBC, whose journalism tends to seek out and occasionally manufacture conflict, found Graham Coyle, of the Christian Schools Trust:

They seem to be saying that they don't want parents to pass on to their children their fundamental beliefs - about what is right and wrong, about respect for other people and living in harmony, ...
If that is what they are saying then they are asking parents to abrogate their responsibilities. And if parents don't pass on these beliefs who is going to fill the vacuum?
To say that we are labelling our children by passing on our fundamental values is mistaken.
This is largely blether, because it falls into the mistake of thinking that morality is based on religion, when clearly religion just formalises the morality that emerges from society. That's why we don't stone to death rape victims and children so much these days.

The thrust of the campaign isn't to attempt to bring up amoral monstrosities, but to bring kids up in a loving environment where they can encounter various religions and, when they are old enough, to write out their own religious label.

What I love about this campaign, though, is that it is much harder to argue against. It exposes, whether intentionally or not, the lie at the heart of interfaith relations. Stephen Green puts out a pamphlet entitled "Winning Muslims for Christ". I'm neither a Muslim or a Christian, but the existence of this title offends me. That said, it is a more honest position for the faithful to take. The notions of interfaith exchange is this "Let's all get along (but inside we know you're wrong)." and that's the button that the BHA campaign is pushing - it is asking the faithful to risk the salvation of their kids for the possible salvation of other people's kids, those idolatry types who are very nice and all, but are sadly mistaken. Few faithful people wish to speak too loudly against a poster campaign that may lead someone to their god.

The path to my own atheism involves in part this dilemma. Dawkins goes on about pantheons that have long-slipped from the religious focus of man, the Thors and the Zeuses. We tend to adopt the religions of our parents first and foremost, so our religious convictions, unless we have the strength to break free from it, are a product of when and where we are born. The salvation of human kind is a postcode and epoch lottery.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Adverse Events

CCHR promotional leaflet, inviting members of ...CCHR anti-psychiatry pamphlet from Wikipedia
 The 30 Second Skinny The Church of Scientology considers itself at war with psychiatry. There was much speculation when Jett Travolta died that the Church had advised him to stop taking anti-seizure medication. The Church responded saying that they did not advise anyone not to take medicine for physical ailments. However, the Church runs a website via the front group CCHR which describes the particular medication Jett had stopped taking prior to his death as "poision".

Thursday, November 05, 2009

You're Ill! POW! You're Cured!

The 30 Second Skinny DITI is being increasingly offered as a method of early detection of breast cancer, despite little evidence that it is even as effective as traditional mammography. It is also marketed at women in low-risk groups, meaning a greater chance that clients will test positive for abnormalities when none are there. Research suggests it may only be useful in conjunction with mammography.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Dear ***********,

The Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) received £900,000 of state funding in order to set up as a voluntary regulatory body for complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

Their initial 2009 target for membership was 10,000. This was later reduced to 4,000. As it currently stands the Council have attracted little more than a quarter of this (1,029).
It seems that there is a deep philosophical conflict here. The main goal of the CNHC is to create a sense of respectability and legitimacy for alternative medicine. However this can only be achieved if the organisation puts in place a code of conduct that emphasises a level of honesty and openness about its medical claims, and the adoption of disciplinary procedures for practitioners guilty of misconduct.

Much of complementary and alternative medicine not only lacks an evidence base showing efficacy, but has a large body of evidence demonstrating a lack of efficacy. Practitioners are therefore unlikely to sign up to a a code of conduct that may forbid making unproven claims, facing up to the evidence that their treatments are ineffective, or encouraging patients to cease conventional treatments (there is a strong belief in CAM that conventional medicine is damaging). This seems to be borne out by the CNHC's figures, and it is no accident that the organisation has been most popular with massage therapists, a field that makes much more modest claims than chiropractors and acupuncturists.

It's also worth comparing CNHC to organisations such as the British Chiropractic Association. It too offers a veneer of respectability, but its code of practice chiefly concerns not bringing the BCA itself into disrepute; as this is the case, one must ask what the BCA is actualy for, and what it offers its members beyond the use of a logo.

I am writing to ask for some kind of assurance that, should the CNHC fail to meet their targets this year, it will be considered a sign that there is no market for a self-regulatory body for CAM, and that they will not be in a position to receive further funding.

Yours sincerely,