Category Archives: Scientology

Can religion really save the world?

Tony Blair is not the first person to think that religion will decide the fate of the modern world.

“The 21st century”, said André Malraux, at the height of the Cold War, “will be religious or it will not be at all.” But can they be right? When we look round the world today, the presence of religion in any conflict seems to make it more intractable, and bitter. Our instinct is to take the principle out of conflicts and turn them into pragmatic disputes, susceptible to reasonable resolution.

That is certainly the approach the Tony Blair’s “peace process” took in Northern Ireland. Many people will feel that the answer to religious wars is less religion, not more of the “right” sort. But there are two problems with this approach. The first is that secularism is losing prestige in the places where wars are actually under way. There’s not enough of it about to quench the fires. The second is a very simple question: if secular common sense doesn’t start disputes, what makes us think it can end them? Perhaps the kinds of dispute for which people will kill, and die, will always have a religious dimension.


Scientology could be driven out of France

The Scientology movement went on trial in Paris yesterday for “organised fraud” in a case which could lead to the cult’s organising bodies being outlawed in France.

The French state prosecution service has failed to back the trial but denies that its decision was influenced by the lobbying of French politicians, including Nicolas Sarkozy before he became President, by leading Scientologists, including the actor Tom Cruise. After an 11-year inquiry, following complaints from four French former Scientologists, an independent, investigating magistrate decided that the prosecution should go ahead.

Two female plaintiffs allege that, between 1997 and 1999, the French movement persuaded them to pay the equivalent of €20,000 each on drugs, vitamins, counselling, saunas and equipment to improve their mental and physical health. This included an “electrometer” to measure the state of their “spiritual condition”.

The movement is accused of pretending to “identify and resolve alleged psychological difficulties” and “promoting the personal flowering” of its adepts with the “sole aim of seizing their resources” and “establishing psychological control over them”.

Although individual Scientologists, including the cult’s founder, L Ron Hubbard, have previously been convicted in France, this is the first time that the movement itself has been accused in a French court of systematic criminal activity. Seven leading members of the movement in France are also on trial.

Scientology, officially accepted as a religion in the United States, is on trial for “escroquerie en bande organisée” – or organised financial fraud. It is also accused of dispensing drugs illegally to its members. Two of the original plaintiffs have withdrawn their actions.

If convicted after a two or three-week trial, the main French organisations of the movement could be ordered to close down.

The cult’s French spokeswoman, Danièle Gounord, protested yesterday that Scientology was the victim of a “heresy trial” and “mendacious accusations”. Maitre Olivier Morice, lawyer for the two remaining plaintiffs, said the court would have an opportunity “once and for all” to examine the evidence that the leaders of the Church of Scientology are driven by financial gain.

This was the conclusion drawn by the report submitted by the investigating magistrate, Jean-Christophe Hullin, three years ago. He said that Scientology was “first and foremost a commercial organisation” motivated by “an absolute obsession with profit”.

The French state prosecution service rejected Judge Hullin’s conclusions and decided in 2006 that Scientology should not be sent for trial. Whatever outsiders might think, the prosecution service decided, Scientology was motivated by “religious conviction” and not “personal gain“. The actor and Scientologist Tom Cruise had led a lobbying campaign to block the legal action, which is the latest of five against the movement in France since the 1970s. At one point, he sought, and was granted a meeting with M Sarkozy, before he became President. The prosecution service, or parquet, denies any connection between this political lobbying and its decision to recommend an acquittal.

Judge Hullin decided to send the case for trial despite the parquet’s decision. Under French law, the investigating magistrate can, in effect, overrule the state prosecution service but the chances of a successful prosecution are inevitably dimmed.

The defendants, including the Church of Scientology itself, are formally accused of cheating the defendants “by systematic use of personality tests of no scientific value … with the sole aim of selling services and products”.

Scientology was founded in 1952 by a former science fiction writer, L Ron. Hubbard. Although the complete teachings of Scientology are available only to senior adepts, the core of its beliefs is that all humans are immortal beings who have strayed from their true nature. Human souls or “thetans” can be reincarnated. Many have already lived on other planets in the universe.

The movement “audits” the souls of members and would-be members and – in return for fees or donations – prescribes “purification” courses, including vitamins, drugs and lengthy saunas.

Scientology claims that it is a religion, like any other religion with beliefs that may seem implausible to outsiders. Its approach would, the cult argues, lead to a world without crime and war.


Religion (for entertainment purposes only)

NEW consumer protection laws that came into force last week covering stuff like clairvoyancy and fortune-telling has set the internet buzzing with speculation as to whether religions ought to be covered by the new regulations.

According to a Times report:

Fortune-tellers and astrologists will be bracketed with double-glazing salesman under the new Consumer Protection Regulations. Fortune-tellers will have to tell customers that what they offer is ‘for entertainment only’ and not ‘experimentally proven’. This means that a fortune-teller who sets up a tent at a funfair will have to put up a disclaimer on a board outside.

Similar disclaimers will need to be posted on the websites of faith healers, spiritualists or mediums where appropriate, as well as on invoices and at the top of any printed terms and conditions.

Andy Millmore, a partner at the law firm Harbottle & Lewis in London, is quoted as saying:

What is significant is the sweeping nature of the regulations. They will effectively criminalise actions that might in the past have escaped legal censure, even if they may perhaps have been covered by industry voluntary codes. Personalised services may also come under scrutiny. A tarot pack reader, for instance, cannot just pick one of several templates – it would have to be a proper reading designed for that person.

Claims to secure good fortune, contact the dead or heal through the laying-on of hands are all services that will also have to carry disclaimers, other lawyers say.

Said one:

You could argue that this is no different from promises given by the Church of Eternal Life, which people pay for, in the sense that they feel obliged to give to the collection. It’s no more proven.

The Spiritualist Workers’ Association attacked the changes, saying on its website:

We do not believe we are conducting a scientific experiment. To have to stand up and say so is a denial of our beliefs. It is also sending out a message that we do not believe what we are saying and doing.

Lyn Guest de Swarte, a clairvoyant, said:

It’s like trying to regulate God.

Commenting on the new regulations, Times columnist and atheist Matthew Parris said:

Another example of careless jurisprudence this week: on Monday a new law came into force requiring fortune-tellers, clairvoyants, astrologers and mediums to stipulate explicitly that their services are for ‘entertainment only’.

Well, trades descriptions legislation is anciently established; but in the realms of the spirit, prophecy, invisible worlds, ghosts and human souls, it has generally been felt that the whole thing is too cloudy for law … By deeming in law – for that is what this measure does – that claims about worlds undreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio, are false, Parliament has taken a serious step in principle, even if the measure itself is trivial and most clairvoyants are only jokers anyway.

What, for instance, about the “faith” community? Perhaps it’s there in the legislative small print already. There will have to be an exception in law for ‘religions’. Whereupon clairvoyants will presumably rename themselves spiritualists. And spiritualists will presumably claim the status of a religion. Whereupon lawmakers will stipulate that a ‘religion’ has to centre around a deity. Whereupon Buddhism will cease to be a ‘religion’; and …

Here is a selection of amusing readers’ comments that followed the original Times report:

• Does this mean that placards should be placed at the entrance to all places of worship saying, ‘all who enter here don’t believe all you see and hear.

• I trust that every Bible and other such book will carry an appropriate disclaimer regarding the reliability of its content and promises. And that preachers will similarly preface every sermon with ‘for entertainment only’.

• Coming soon to a church near you….. A huge great ‘not experimentally proven’sign. If you’re going to discriminate against one form of spiritual activity (be it questionable or not) at least discriminate against them all.

• Will this stop religions obtaining money from the Government, particularly in education, on the basis of their predictions of life after death, the claimed existence of God and the validity of their doctrine which they may believe, but cannot prove?

• Does this mean that people who promise salvation or 42 virgins if you do what they tell you can be done under the new regulations ? This looks like a good way to get rid of religions

• We should also get Trading Standards to target religious establishments. After all they too invoke the supernatural and superstition, in order to give their customers some sort of reassurance about the future. Despite holding huge financial assets they also continually ask the public for money.

• The difference is that religion doesn’t charge you for the service they provide, any money they receive is purely voluntary. Astrologers, psychic healers, mediums etc charge you for a service that is claimed to do a lot of things that are scientifically unproven. I agree with the change.

• Religion not charging? Islam makes a big deal about the faithful paying the “religious tax” and even imposes punitive taxes on non-muslims to permit them to follow their own faith. Look up zakat and jizyah. These are not voluntary, though perhaps they cannot be enforced in the courts here.

• Hmm, religion doesn’t charge … money from the government, collections at the church/mosque/synagogue/temple, purchase of the Qu’ran, Bible, Torah, Vedas, etc, ‘donations’ to the church to obtain that date for your special day. We all pay for religion even if it’s just through taxes. It’s a farce.


Case dropped against boy, 15, who held up sign branding Scientology a cult

The case against a 15-year-old boy who was facing possible legal action for holding up a placard which branded the Church of Scientology a “cult” has been thrown out.

The Crown Prosecution Service took just a day to decide it was not in the public interest to take the teenager to court after he was handed a summons by the City of London police.

The boy was “strongly advised” by officers to get rid of the sign which said “Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult” at a protest outside the church’s headquarters in the City of London two weeks ago.

He refused and police sent a case file to the CPS. Lawyers have now taken the decision not to prosecute.

This week it emerged the teenager was appealing for help defending his case on an anti-Scientology website.

He had been among demonstrators outside the church’s ?23million headquarters near St Paul’s Cathedral when he was advised to put down his banner.

A policewoman read out section 5 of the Public Order Act which prohibits signs that have representations or words which are threatening, abusive or insulting.

Others in the group agreed not to display their signs but the boy refused and he was issued with a summons.

Police are believed to have taken action against the group after receiving complaints about the demonstration.

The force came under fire last year when it admitted accepting thousands of pounds of hospitality from the Church of Scientology.

Writing on an anti-Scientology website this week, the teenager says: “I need precedents, legal advice, definitions and defences.

“I intend to make a big folder with all the defence you can give me, and in case this does get through to court, I will be well prepared.

“Also, what’s the likelihood I’ll need a lawyer? If I do have to get one, it’ll have to come out of my pocket money.”

Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti this week described the decision to press for a prosecution as “barmy”.

The Church of Scientology, founded by author L Ron Hubbard in the Fifties, teaches that humans are immortal spiritual beings known as thetans, who have passed through previous lives.

Tom Cruise and John Travolta are among its adherents.


When Scientific News Reporting is no longer based on facts

Or rather the facts are not examined in the spirit of ‘neutrality’.

Forgive me, but when I read news and research articles I do expect the media agency to have done at least some basic fact checking, especially if they put themselves forward as a scientific or medical media agency. I am aware that you cannot believe everything you read, but I always assumed that there was at least a sliding scale of responsibility of the agency publishing a story to check the validity of claims and results; from scientific publications all the way down to say the Daily Mail or Sun/Mirror.

So what has wound me up? Well after reading a weak article and making a complaint about it basically been an advert for $cientology’s Narconon program based on unverified results and unpublished research I got the following response;

“If we take down the scientology article we would immediately be taking a non-neutral stance regardin[g] reporting and medical news.

We receive hundreds of emails each day saying how many people have been killed as a result of receiving traditional medicine, going to a traditional medicine hospital, using such and such alternative therapies, belonging to this and that religion, being vegan, being meat-eaters, seeing a psychiatrist, not seeing a psychiatrist, etc. Literally hundreds each day. And we are pointed in each case to dozens of web sites claiming that many people have died as a result of taking different therapy routes.

As a neutral publication we cannot refuse with[out] justification.”

I can’t say I remember reading an article that promoted going to a voodoo shaman over other scientifically based and tested treatment programs. It’s bad enough that $cientology is getting to our kids through the Narconon program by preaching against all forms of drug use (Including NHS prescriptions).

So to be a ‘neutral publication’ now means that everything should be posted and reported irrespective of their claims or evidence (not) shown. Reporters for ‘scientific’ publications are now free to copy and paste company press releases without the need for critical thought or enquiry?

While this is obviously not true for all, I will be more likely in future to complain to editors when they print ‘scientific’ dribble and would encourage others to do the same.


Religious police in Saudi Arabia arrest mother for sitting with a man

Story from Times Online

A 37-year-old American businesswoman and married mother of three is seeking justice after she was thrown in jail by Saudi Arabia’s religious police for sitting with a male colleague at a Starbucks coffee shop in Riyadh.

Yara, who does not want her last name published for fear of retribution, was bruised and crying when she was freed from a day in prison after she was strip-searched, threatened and forced to sign false confessions by the Kingdom’s “Mutaween” police.

Her story offers a rare first-hand glimpse of the discrimination faced by women living in Saudi Arabia. In her first interview with the foreign press, Yara told The Times that she would remain in Saudi Arabia to challenge its harsh enforcement of conservative Islam rather than return to America.

“If I want to make a difference I have to stick around. If I leave they win. I can’t just surrender to the terrorist acts of these people,” said Yara, who moved to Jeddah eight years ago with her husband, a prominent businessman.

Her ordeal began with a routine visit to the new Riyadh offices of her finance company, where she is a managing partner.

The electricity temporarily cut out, so Yara and her colleagues — who are all men — went to a nearby Starbucks to use its wireless internet.

She sat in a curtained booth with her business partner in the café’s “family” area, the only seats where men and women are allowed to mix.

For Yara, it was a matter of convenience. But in Saudi Arabia, public contact between unrelated men and women is strictly prohibited.

“Some men came up to us with very long beards and white dresses. They asked ‘Why are you here together?’. I explained about the power being out in our office. They got very angry and told me what I was doing was a great sin,” recalled Yara, who wears an abaya and headscarf, like most Saudi women.

The men were from Saudi Arabia’s Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, a police force of several thousand men charged with enforcing dress codes, sex segregation and the observance of prayers.

Yara, whose parents are Jordanian and grew up in Salt Lake City, once believed that life in Saudi Arabia was becoming more liberal. But on Monday the religious police took her mobile phone, pushed her into a cab and drove her to Malaz prison in Riyadh. She was interrogated, strip-searched and forced to sign and fingerprint a series of confessions pleading guilty to her “crime”.

“They took me into a filthy bathroom, full of water and dirt. They made me take off my clothes and squat and they threw my clothes in this slush and made me put them back on,” she said. Eventually she was taken before a judge.

“He said ‘You are sinful and you are going to burn in hell’. I told him I was sorry. I was very submissive. I had given up. I felt hopeless,” she said.

Yara’s husband, Hatim, used his political contacts in Jeddah to track her whereabouts. He was able to secure her release.

“I was lucky. I met other women in that prison who don’t have the connections I did,” she said. Her story has received rare coverage in Saudi Arabia, where the press has been sharply critical of the police.

Yara was visited yesterday by officials from the American Embassy, who promised they would file a report.

An embassy official told The Times that it was being treated as “an internal Saudi matter” and refused to comment on her case.

Tough justice

— Saudi Arabia’s Mutaween has 10,000 members in almost 500 offices

— Ahmad al-Bluwi, 50, died in custody in 2007 in the city of Tabuk after he invited a woman outside his immediate family into his car

— In 2007 the victim of a gang rape was sentenced to 200 lashes and six years in jail for having been in an unrelated man’s car at the time. She was pardoned by King Abdullah, although he maintained the sentence had been fair


WILL POSH TURN TO SCIENTOLOGY?

David Beckham could be facing a few arguments with his wife over Scientology when they settle in Los Angeles this summer. He knows senior figures in the cult religion will be looking to sign Victoria and himself up as big cash donors and there could even be an appeal for aid from a celebrity supporter – the couple’s new best friend Tom Cruise.

While Becks shows a healthy scepticism about the cult, the former Posh Spice appears more likely to lend a sympathetic ear.

At Hollywood star Cruise’s Scientology wedding to Katie Holmes in Italy last November, Victoria spent some time getting to know David Miscavige, 46, Cruise’s best man and the head of the “church”.

And in what may have been music to the ears of Scientologists, Becks had warm words for Cruise, 44, when he announced his move from Real Madrid to LA Galaxy for an eye-popping £128million.

Becks, 31, even called Cruise to get some tips on life in LA and called the Mission Impossible star a “very wise man and a very good friend”.

Victoria said recently: “I’ve spoken to Tom about Scientology. I’m quite inquisitive but I don’t know anything about it. They do what they do and they’re cool.”

Cruise and Katie, 28, regularly entertain friends at the Scientology Celebrity Centre in Hollywood, which boasts a spa, gym and gourmet dining room as well as five-star bedrooms for members or guests.

A former Scientologist said: “Anyone who’s in it will do anything to bring other members into the church. At the very highest level, it’s a honeypot, because the facilities are luxurious and celebrities are treated like royalty.

“Unfortunately, that’s what appeals to many of them and before they know it, they’re being trained in Scientology classes every week.”

The Scientology issue has already caused some arguments between the Beckhams, according to their friends. One said: “David is not so keen on the whole celebrity jetset, certainly not as keen as Victoria.

“She is far more receptive to the idea of Scientology and has been reading up on it while David is dead set against it.

“He doesn’t mind being friends with Tom and Katie but he is not interested in Scientology. He is worried that once you become a part of it, it is difficult to extricate yourself.”

Victoria also faces a tough time if she starts throwing her money around in front of the WAGS (wives and girlfriends) of her husband’s LA Galaxy teammates.

The pop star turned fashion designer won’t even be the stand-out glamour queen there. Model and actress Bianca Kajlich, 29, has just married Galaxy captain and US World Cup star Landon Donovan and landed a plum role on a CBS TV series called Rules Of Engagement.

Swimsuit model Shannon Foster, 26, is the girlfriend of dreadlocked midfielder Cobi Jones and has just been cast in her first film. Another model, Leah Imperatore, has become the talk of the WAGS after flying to Philadelphia to marry Galaxy defender Chris Albright.

Even they seem like small-time players alongside the real queen of the LA sporting scene – Vanessa Bryant, wife of 28-year-old LA Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant. Like Posh, she started in showbusiness as a backing dancer in pop videos.

For her 19th birthday, Bryant bought her a Lamborghini Murcielago, worth more than £410,000. When she told him she couldn’t use a gearstick, he spent another £61,000 converting it to an automatic.

Becks also showers his wife with gifts but last night a friend of one of the Galaxy players’ wives said: “There’s already resentment among the girls towards Victoria because of how much more David will be making than their husbands.

“If she thinks she’s going to walk in here like the Queen of England she’s going to find herself in for a very, very rude awakening.”