Woo, great work! I've just been fruitlessly looking through Stuff to find that after a blog mention of it turned up in google alerts. Excellent article.
I'm copypasting the plain text of the article for those who don't have adobe
On the front cover of the Christchurch Press, 31st January, 2009
Scientology, Superhuman or Super Bullies?
Of Sect and Science
Scientology was back in the news after the death of actor John Travolta’s son.
Philip Matthews investigates the church’s presence in New Zealand and talks to a Christchurch woman about her experiences.
It seemed reasonable enough, on the surface at least. This was about 20 years ago. A friend and I were in downtown Auckland. There's a woman with a clipboard on the street, looking alert, trying to catch someone's eye. She caught ours.
Was she taking a survey? Of sorts. Were we happy, she asked. Did we feel content? Did we feel there was more to life? Did we know what our ultimate goals were?
Yes, no, maybe, not sure. Whatever our answers were, we quickly found ourselves in an office off Queen St. I sat the personality test. My mate sat the IQ test.
He passed with flying colours. I failed dismally.
One question still stands out from that personality test. Was I prone to depression? I answered no, which was the truth then and is the truth now. But when the results were tallied I was told -- never mind how I answered the actual question -- that I was prone to depression. And the solution was right in front of me.
Wouldn't you smell a rat at this point? But let's hear more about this Scientology. The cause of unhappiness, the root of individual problems, she told us, comes from something called engrams. Think of them as small scars on the psyche, or semi-hypnotic embedded messages. Someone might have shouted ``take that!'' in a room when you were born and for the rest of your life, you're a kleptomaniac driven by subliminal urges.
Even at 19 or 20, I knew enough about Freudian ideas to see this as a version of theories about the subconscious mind. So in that sense, it seemed reasonable. But I could see where all this was going. Ahead of me, if I wanted it -- and they felt I should -- were hours and hours, maybe years and years, of auditing sessions as Scientologists worked on my engrams to get me ``clear''. These sessions could cost thousands.
Perhaps my mate and I were foolish to get out of there as quickly as we did. Perhaps if I had been alone, I might have agreed to one or two sessions, which would have led to more and more sessions. Perhaps I could have spent the next 20 years reaching the nearsuperhuman levels promised by the founder of Scientology, L Ron Hubbard. I would never get a cold again, never have an accident, never get cancer. I would have perfect recall, perhaps even be able to heal myself with the power of my mind.
Or I might just have wasted an enormous amount of time and money.
If that was a fork in the road, Genny Long went the other way. She was 16 and living in Christchurch. It was the 1970s and her boyfriend's family ran the Church of Scientology franchise here -- within the clerical language that Hubbard is said to have adopted largely for tax purposes, the office in Christchurch is known as a ``mission''.
So she dabbled in Scientology, beginning with a communications course. She says now that she had trouble talking to her parents -- typical teenager -- and this helped. It was basic general knowledge -- listening and not interrupting, keeping your cool in an argument. But in her na?vet?, Long thought these were techniques that Hubbard had invented.
It was quickly beneficial. She began to feel superior to her parents and others. ``We were encouraged to feel that we had information and knowledge that they didn't have,'' she says. ``We were encouraged to put ourselves above them. That makes you feel good. That's the hook.''
She went into auditing next, following the procedures set out in Hubbard's founding volume, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. It was only recently, doing a psychology paper at university, that she realised these ideas weren't wholly original either.
``It's a trap for young players, not having that information and that knowledge.''
Her boyfriend became her first husband. They went to Sydney and worked in the Scientology centre there. She trained as an auditor and kept searching her own mind and past for the causes of things that ailed her. Once you exhaust your immediate memory, you move into experiences at birth, in the womb, past lives.
Like the way she tried to cure her asthma. As she spiraled through past lives, she concluded that she had been a soldier in a war, gassed by an enemy. So the asthma is a psychosomatic reaction to that old trauma - problem solved.
``You feel so elated and floating,'' she says. ``You write a success story and say: my asthma is cured, I've found my initial engram. But that night, you start wheezing.''
And there is another side to a cure that doesn't take. The church says that if auditing doesn't work, you must have "undisclosed crimes" -- negative feelings about Hubbard and Scientology. And you will need to do sessions on those.
It's all so Orwellian. Accusations of thought crimes. Show trials of those who are’t performing. As an auditor, she was encouraged to get her statistics up -- increasing chargeable hours, essentially -- and if she didn't she must be ``actively suppressing'' statistics. Those found to have thought crimes wore grey armbands and were kept away from others as untouchables.
This part started to worry her. She had been on staff for nearly five years, and was tired and pregnant, when it clicked: was she really happy or was everyone else happy? So she and her husband resolved to get out. And that's when the harassing phone calls and visits started.
Such a long way from the high hopes she had when she first went in. ``I wanted to see a better world,'' she says. ``I honestly thought that Scientology would produce a better world. I thought I could help the world.''
She sealed those years away as a time she would rather forget, but recently it's come back. There was the paper on cults she did at Canterbury University and there was her discovery of the worldwide anti-Scientology movement, Anonymous.
Anonymous has no centre, no leader. It releases videos to You Tube, sets up websites like Why We Protest and You Found the Card -- loaded with leaked documents, savage critiques and the bitter recollections of ex-members.
It’s designed to outwit Scientology's formidable legal team -- known as the Office of Special Affairs. If a critical book or article is published, that office usually gets onto it. In November, the church pulled a book by a former member, John Duignan's The Complex, from British bookstores. You won't find it here either -- its Irish publishers say that they are still searching for an Australian and New Zealand distributor.
Duignan's book is said to be explosive. He was in the church for more than 20 years and was a member of its elite, army-like Sea Organisation. He also writes about ``Rehabilitation Project Force'', described as Scientology's forced-labour detention camps.
Since Anonymous launched last January, revelations like these have come thick and fast.
First, the infamous Tom Cruise video, in which the church's most famous convert speaks with wide-eyed, messianic intensity. Scientology ordered it off YouTube but it resurfaced, as did parodies.
A few months later, the church had its first high profile celebrity defection -- American actor Jason Beghe. Again, Scientology went after the YouTube clip of Beghe ratting on the church and, again, the clip just sprung up elsewhere.
``The internet has given ex-Scientologists the strength to tell their stories,'' Long says.
``It's something Scientology doesn't know how to deal with. Everything they do has been written by Hubbard. Every little action. He even wrote a policy on how to use a vacuum cleaner. But there's nothing on how to deal with the internet.''
Another Christchurch-based ex-Scientologist, Leo Swart, agrees. To suppress and attack is the Hubbard method, but the internet ``was the one thing that was unpredicted''.
``Anonymous has got Scientology on the run,'' he adds.
Besides its web actions, Anonymous has orchestrated protests in the real world. The first was on February 10 last year, marking the birthday of Lisa McPherson, a church member who died in the Scientology-dominated city of Clearwater, Florida, in 1995.
Activists allege that she had suffered a psychotic breakdown and that church officials refused to take her to hospital, afraid that she might be treated by a psychiatrist. From the start, psychiatry has been Scientology's sworn enemy.
In their monthly protests, Anonymous members wear masks and carry banners
denouncing Scientology as ``a scam''. Christchurch hasn't been immune -- a small group of masked protestors has gathered regularly in Cathedral Square.
There is an internet site where they communicate, using careful pseudonyms. But the church's Auckland-based secretary, Mike Ferriss, has cracked their codes and responded accordingly. He wrote to the employer of one protestor's partner, calling Anonymous a KKK-like hate group. He sent a spy to photograph the protests.
Both here and overseas, the church has tried to link Anonymous with criminal activity.
Ferriss accuses New Zealand protesters of making obscene and threatening phone calls, spray-painting a swastika onto a church building, trespass and theft. He says that the church has filed four complaints with the police.
And while the anonymity is simply about protestors trying to avoid being singled out by lawyers, Ferriss sees something more sinister in it.
``They are a weird collective who believe their individuality is nothing and they are part of a hive mind.'' He calls the masked group ``a portrayal of something non-human and frightening ... weird dramatisations of non-human behaviour''.
But Ferriss and Long have something in common -- both were introduced to Scientology as teenagers in Christchurch. In his last year of high school, Ferriss stumbled on Dianetics. He says that a year earlier he had damaged both his leg and his psyche in a motorbike accident, so Hubbard's belief that we carry past pain into the present made sense. He went into auditing and then trained hundreds more.
Ferriss calls Scientology ``a workable path to self-knowledge'' -- a path that predates Freud and Hubbard by centuries.
``They are the same ideas as man's most ancient beliefs, that a recovery of selfknowledge is the true enlightenment,'' he says. ``The ancient Greeks and Gnostic Christians called this `anamnesis' or loss of forgetfulness. They too believed that we are timeless beings who lived through thousands of incarnations.
``Scientology has given me this certainty of my own existence and my future, plus a real way to help people.''
Scientology has a curious connection with New Zealand. The church was established here in 1955, only five years after Dianetics was first published. The New Zealand church was the second in the world -- the first outside the US.
Ferriss says that ``broad membership'' of the church in New Zealand stands at 3500 from a worldwide total of ``around 10 million''. But only 357 New Zealanders identified as Scientologists in the 2006 census. While that's a slight increase over previous years, there are still more who identify as Satanists than Scientologists.
But somehow the chosen few managed to raise much of the $10 million price tag for a new Scientology headquarters in Auckland. It probably helps that, by Long's reckoning, it costs more than $300,000 to reach the church’s highest level.
Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Jason Beghe weren't Scientology's first celebrity
converts. Back in 1968, singer Leonard Cohen had a short but enthusiastic stint.
According to biographer Ira Nadel, Cohen phoned Joni Mitchell from New York to say that he had joined the church and they were going to rule the world. But within a few months, he was disenchanted and finding it hard to extricate himself. He left just one trace of Scientology language in a song -- the otherwise mysterious line ``Did you ever go clear?'' in Famous Blue Raincoat.
Over in London in the same year, writer William Burroughs was having similar
experiences. He became an auditing obsessive, putting in 40 hours a week. He believed it could deliver more in 10 hours than psychoanalysis could in 10 years. But he was quickly disillusioned by the totalitarian air -- all that talk of thought crimes and ``suppressive persons''. He felt that a system that promised freedom from conditioning had become just another form of control.
This fits with the views of Leo Swart. He joined in South Africa in about 1970 and lasted until the great Scientology schism of 1983. To him, the 1960s and early 70s were the church's heyday. Then the rot set in.
``People who have gone in since about 1980 don't know what actual Scientology is,'' he says. ``They've never experienced it. They've experienced the bastardised version.''
Like Long, he joined with high hopes about personal growth and an improved humanity, although he was slightly older at 23 and more worldly. He read beyond the gospels of Hubbard and thought about context, the links with Freud and Jung and alternative spirituality. Which explains why he had a better time than many.
Swart feels that we need to break the big subject of Scientology down into four pieces. First, Hubbard himself, ``part madman, part genius''. Then the Church of Scientology, which he thinks is an organisation in decline. Third, Scientology as a system devised in the 1950s -- also known as Dianetics. Finally, the Scientology offered now, which he describes as ``a brainwashing and enslaving technique to separate people from their money''.
That makes him a classic ``Free Zoner''. This refers to those who have left or been kicked out but continue to practice Dianetics. Their separatism is like the Protestants in relation to the Catholics.
During the schism, Swart was booted out for offering auditing outside the church structure.
And he still believes that auditing works? ``I've seen it work,'' he says. ``I've experienced it. I've done thousands of hours of it on other people. It works.''
He can provide a list of ailments and issues that auditing cured. He had headaches, various aches and pains. He was shy. He lacked confidence and initiative. All that vanished once they tracked the engrams -- or clusters of engrams.
And just as he ``had a good ride'' in the church, his experiences outside haven't been terrible either.
``They kicked me out and that was that. The people who have been heavily nailed are the people who went on a campaign against the church. They attack back quite viciously. But if you leave them alone, they leave you alone.''
That said, Swart has had his own run-in with Mike Ferriss. About a year ago, Swart saw a man handing out Scientology literature at Riccarton Market. This was Mike McAuliffe, who runs the Christchurch ``mission'' from his suburban home. When Swart revealed his long history with Scientology, McAuliffe invited him to speak to his group.
For a few Tuesdays, Swart addressed the small but fascinated crowd -- until Ferriss got wind of it. Then Swart was swiftly on the outer again. Ferriss claims that people like Swart ``dilute'' Scientology.
"They play their games and their nonsense,'' Swart says in response.
And then there is the issue of ``disconnection''. Some call this shunning -- a member of a sect or cult severing ties with family on the outside. The official line from Hubbard's successor David Miscavige is that the church doesn't practise it. But it does seem to happen.
This month, Long was in Sydney. Her ex-father-in-law still lives in the Scientology centre there and has never met his grand-daughter. ``We asked if he could come out and meet his grand-daughter,'' she says. ``And he couldn't.''
``The pressure to conform is immense,'' Swart says. ``It's cruel. That's the way cults always operate.''
It's these controlling tactics, not the belief system -- not even the colourful stuff about ancient alien spirits and Earth as a prison planet -- that anti-Scientology campaigners are taking on.
But the bad news is that, as far as Swart can tell, the seeds of this heavy-handedness were embedded from the start. Hubbard had two sides: an altruistic side and a controlling, paranoid side. He think it’s the second of those that generated the church's autocratic, pseudo-military structure.
``It's the great disappointment of my life,'' Swart says, sounding genuinely sorry. ``Scientology could have been so much more. Unfortunately Hubbard had that negative side. He was a plagiarist, he was a liar, he used to booze, he used to do all kinds of things. He was merciless, he was tyrannical. A total egomaniac. All of that is true.
``He set the organisation up for ruin. But it could have been different.''