Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Scientology and the Paradoxes of Freedom

July 13, 2007 by  
Filed under Essays


by Erik W. Snead

An Introduction from
The Literati Contest 2000 Judges

In every major effort, there is occasionally one contribution that is so exceptional it demands its own category of recognition. Such a situation occurred in the 2000 Literati Contest with an essay by Erik W. Snead titled “Scientology and The Paradoxes of Freedom.”

Erik pinpoints what many learned people have come to recognize – that many of the basic intellectual problems people face stem from the mind/body dualism created by 17th Century French philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650). As such, this mind/body dualism determines the manner in which we view the world and ourselves, namely, that mind (or thought) and body are distinctly different, and that of the two, mind or pure thought can give greater certainty. This duality has generated untold numbers of systems that rely on this assumption. Moreover, it has generated and embedded a vocabulary in our language that we use without question. Some writers and thinkers assert that it has also generated problems and questions that simply do not exist, or certainly not as we think they exist. This, in turn, encourages people to generate “answers” that either don’t work or have limited applicability because the problem has been misstated. (A classic historical example would be thinking the Earth stands still and the Sun rotates around us. We still carry some of the vocabulary, e.g., “sunset,” but it doesn’t govern scientific theory.)

Erik’s essay embraces this issue, arguing that Hubbard’s system is, in part, an extension of the faulty Cartesian perspective that society has yet to discard, just as we no longer take “sunset” literally. The Judges in the 2000 Literati Contest decided that the best way to recognize Erik’s philosophical approach and to encourage such essays in the future is to create the Cartesian Award, drawing from the very system that Erik takes to task. We hope that this award will be part of future Literati contests.

The Judges would like to thank Erik for his unique approach to the Scientology issue and congratulate him for setting such a high standard for future Cartesian Awards.

Scientology and the Paradoxes of Freedom

“Freedom and anxiety are two sides of the same coin–there is never one without the other.”

- Rollo May 1

October, 1970: Boston

One mild Friday evening I was 19 years old and strolled alone down Beacon Street in the direction of Kenmore Square, intent upon hearing a few bands play at the Boston Club. Waiting for the light to change at an intersection, I glanced across the street and noticed someone I had not seen since August.

It was Joel, a guy with a live-in girlfriend named Harriet, both of whom I had met the past summer at a Brookline block party. These were the sorts of events where local bands played for free, people smoked marijuana openly and often the potluck fruit concoctions featured cubes of watermelon laced with mescaline and LSD.

The last time I had seen them it was a very hot August day, and we were all extremely high. Now it was Halloween weekend.

“Joel, how ya’ doin’? I haven’t seen you in months. Did you and Harriet move from Brighton like you said you were?”

Joel glanced in my direction. “Rufus? Is that you? It’s great to see you! How’s Stacey? You got time to talk? Harriet would love to see you.”

“Stacey’s out of town with her mother,” I replied, a bit sheepishly since it was a Friday night and I felt a bit exposed and embarrassed in the absence of her company. We had been dating since mid-July and since that time inseparable.

“They went to Maine for the weekend other than that everything is cherry. I’m heading to the B Club to catch Albert King. Interested?”

Joel declined my invite, but suggested instead that I check out his new apartment and say hello to Harriet. After all, it was only a block away. Harriet let Joel and me inside and greeted me warmly.

“Hi Rufus! It’s been a long time! Have you been in hiding?”

The three of us sat down on the living room floor. I reached into my windbreaker and hesitantly displayed a crooked joint, asking Joe and Harriet if they would like to get high. Harriet then informed me that she and Joel no longer smoked grass.

“No?” I responded. “What’s going on?”

“We’re into something different something really great,” Harriet explained. “It’s much better than drugs.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Scientology … it’s wonderful … no reason to smoke dope anymore … its like staying high without drugs.”

Harriet and Joel then proceeded to team lecture me about the wonders of Dianetics and Scientology. My only previous exposure to it consisted of being handed slender yellow slips of paper by people hanging around the BU Student Union. These slips were a complimentary invitation to attend a lecture on freedom. But I always tossed the handout away, since there were so many diverse groups constantly leafleting the students during those days.

But Joel and Harriet made Scientology sound like a program that could erase all your personal problems and allow you happiness. I was intrigued. Happiness was something sorely lacking in my life. Everything seemed so precarious to me. I was in constant fear that my girlfriend would lose interest in me, anxious about school, concerned about my drug use, afraid of dying … so much pressure coming from all directions, especially my mother. I felt desperate most of the time, but tried not to show it. I couldn’t really confide my insecurities to Stacey because I somehow knew I had to be strong for her or risk her disenchantment. So I was alone. My mother had always informed me that my problems were all “in my head,” imaginary in some mysterious sense (at least to her and my father). But I knew that this was not so.

I spent far more time than intended listening to Harriet and Joel talk about Scientology. An hour elapsed very quickly. I had almost forgotten about the Boston Club. It sounded like Scientology might help me. And I had so many problems. Maybe Scientology could “fix” them, I thought to myself. Maybe they would help me in such a way as to make all the pain go away. My experience with therapists up until that point had been ambivalent. They were nice people, but had been unable to really help, that is, “cure” me of my problems, offered a panacea, and so I had lost faith in psychology. But Scientology, on the other hand, sounded so much like a sure thing.

Harriet and Joel insisted it was so and were so enthusiastic while sharing their enthusiasm with me. They constantly mentioned the freedom they had already attained through their brief acquaintance with Scientology.

By the end of our chat, freedom had become sort of a buzzword. I made up my mind before leaving the apartment that I would attend an introductory lecture that very weekend. It sounded promising. Besides, Harriet and Joel were decent people. I felt I knew the difference at that time between those who were sincere and those that were not. They would not lie to me. I felt certain of this. Or at least I felt the need to feel this as a certainty. At that age I was terribly naive. I believed, based upon what they had explained, that getting involved with Scientology was not very different from taking your car into a garage to have service problems remedied. Once the car was fixed, then you paid the mechanic and drove off with your new-found freedom. Wasn’t that what freedom was all about … driving off in a repaired vehicle in discovery of a rich and full life?

Two evenings later I attended the introductory lecture featuring actor Stephen Boyd as narrator. The title of the movie, as I recall, was simply “Freedom.” This was followed by a live lecture on Dianetics, the ARC triangle and many other things. I was fascinated, taken in by it all, and I felt a slight surge of hope and optimism go through me. Maybe they could help me, I kept thinking. Maybe I could in fact become free.

Unhappily, over the next three and a half months I learned that this was not to be the case and strangely enough saw Joel and Harriet at the Scientology org on Beacon Street only one time after having signed up for the first communication class. They said hello in a friendly enough way, but didn’t seem particularly interested in talking at length, appearing hurried. I wondered why this was the case, feeling mildly abandoned by these familiar faces, especially considering their insistence that I join. Nor did I ever see them again.

The Church of Scientology promises freedom. But what is freedom? Its elusive nature easily lends itself to misunderstanding. This essay explores this topic and considers at length the cultural origins of our misconceptions of freedom, a confusion upon which Scientology readily capitalizes. Although there are several competing schools of interpretation from which to consider human freedom,2 I examine it from the perspective of existential psychology. In conclusion I will apply some essential points raised in the main body of my discussion to the question of how one might constructively speak with Scientologists. I believe self-understanding is the best approach to come to terms with the continued presence of Scientology. This entails allowing the deepest concerns of Scientologists their due regard. For these concerns are indeed common to all of us.

Human beings share similar vicissitudes. Consider the following allegory inspired by the writings of social psychologist Ernest Becker: We discover ourselves, for no particular reason, in a precarious open boat making an anxious voyage across an unknown and perhaps limitless ocean. The boat is christened Culture. We feel very small and insignificant in comparison to the implacable and overwhelming Nature perpetually poised to extinguish us.

There are no pre-given rules, compasses or maps to reliably steer our craft, though over the course of this journey we create magic, science and religion to gain purchase upon a precarious fate. We communally open ourselves to others, sharing needs, frailties and longings, huddling together in mutual aversion to uncertainty and loneliness. The sky is so vast, the ocean unfathomably deep and the horizons vague. Who are we? What are we doing here? Why are things the way that they are? These are the questions we repeatedly ask, if not necessarily aloud, then silently to ourselves over the course of a lifetime. We seek answers to alleviate anxiety for these answers soothe. The best answers, the most enduring are those binding the solitary self to community. These repel chaos, provide structure, allow purpose, enliven our past and nurture our hope for the future.

However, after a particularly fitful storm, sometimes any answer suffices…

What Is Freedom?

“Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”
-K. Kristofferson and F. Foster, “Me & Bobby McGee”3

Is freedom “absolute” or “relative?” Might it be altogether nonexistent, our felt experience of it an individual or collective delusion? Psychologist Rollo May suggests that part of our confusion arises from the truism that today the term “freedom” reduces to a debased cliché, disinvested of any real meaning. Freedom is, as Kris Kristofferson suggests in “Me and Bobby McGee,” only viable as irony or a term of cutting mockery. Politicians, advertisements for consumer goods, various and sundry gurus, all shamelessly pander to the trivialized cultural associations related to this term. The word has become a gimmick, a bait, and means of public manipulation.4

I title this composition “Scientology and the Paradoxes of Freedom,” because paradox is my central theme, its development informed by the observation of existential phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty: ambiguity is the essence of human experience. Nor is this ambiguity a problem to be resolved. It is the very definition of consciousness.5 Paradox, mystery and ambiguity are central to life. Yet, for reasons to be discussed, we have difficulty living with these. Although our cultural predilection for clarity of understanding relates to a natural human aversion to anxiety, it also has historical antecedents. Anxiety is the primordial fear of extinction or being overwhelmed by unknown forces beyond our control. It entails a threat to the very core of the self or to some fundamental value that one identifies with the self.6 Most of us have such values. Fundamental human values are akin to amulets, imbued with magic power to repel that which threatens and creates anxiety. Our deepest fear is that of engulfment by nature, the snuffing away of one’s being into utter insignificance. As human beings we constantly reside in a state of tension between belief and doubt. However, it is within the domain of the ambiguous that we authentically encounter ourselves, discovering our capacity for freedom, creativity and renewal.

Beholding mystery and living with uncertainty requires a tolerance for anxiety. It also occasions personal risk. Our human freedom ultimately rests upon such tolerance. Cultural partiality to simple understandings, stock certainties and their attendant clichés arise in the service of anxiety avoidance. Simple and “self-certain truths,” often alluded to as “common sense,” usually obfuscate rather than edify or promote well-being.

In its orientation film Scientology panders to our preference for the clear cut by posing the question of human freedom in terms of an oversimplified and false choice. To wit, we are either matter or spirit. We must be one of the two. Since we cannot be “matter,” (“as the materialists claim”), we must be “spirit,” that is, essentially endowed with a capacity to actualize unlimited possibility.7 Reliance upon stark black and white metaphors enables one to evade nuanced questions. The denial of determinism does not entail a necessary belief in absolute freedom. These include, “Do we have other choices?” “Might freedom admit of degrees or be related to context or situation?” “What of the subjectively felt weight of personal habits and previous choices?” And “What of the essential relationship between freedom and responsibility?” The film omits mention of these. Rather, it promotes the pervading, narcissistic cultural illusion of our time, the belief that “one can have it all.” In our popular imagination freedom evokes unlimited possibility and opportunity. Yet, one cannot arbitrarily separate it from responsibility, which relates to limits in the form of community. The significance of these terms bind together, just as the notion of man generates substantial meaning only through the opposing presence of woman or good derives both its linguistic sense and existential purpose in opposition to evil. Neither meaning nor freedom stand alone.

Psychologist Rollo May observes that most of the new religions and self-help groups deal almost exclusively in “positive” thinking. This furthers self-delusion. Their respective sales pitches to the public never mention four words. These are “anxiety,” “tragedy,” “grief” and “death.” The new religions drown out essential facts of life with cavalier promises of endless joy, newfound abilities, personal triumph and transcendence, vigorously castigating those casting aspersion upon such reachable goals as “negative.”8 Self-enclosed belief systems promote denial. St. Augustine soberly reminds us that “It is only in the face of death that man’s self is born.”9 Epictetus further informs that if we cringe before our destiny, we will go down like insects whom the universe erases.10 Denial of limits undermines our capacity to love and create, to experience passion. Death is the ultimate source of valuation. Without it there would be no ethics. Nor would we have positive or negative feelings since these are bound to valuation. Belief in personal immortality ultimately drains life of meaning.

Nor can we as human beings live in the absence of significance. How might we thus distinguish between freedom and escapism? How does Scientology further this confusion to its advantage? And what of that vexing distinction between freedom and liberty?

Freedom and Liberty

“Metaphorically, freedom in its essence is the acceptance of the chains which suit you and for which you are suited, and of the harness in which you pull towards an end chosen and valued by yourself, and not imposed. It is not, and never can be, the absence of restrictions, obligations or law and of duty.”
- Bronislaw Malinowski 11

“I remember when a friend finished OT 7 years ago. I asked what his wins were and he said to me, ‘finally I can do what I want to do!’ ”
- Tory aka Magoo (former high ranking Scientologist for 30 years)

Classical discussions distinguished between freedom’s twin aspects, the negative and positive modes of freedom. 19th century English philosopher John Stuart Mill was the most prominent spokesperson for liberal freedoms in this negative sense. These concern relief from unwanted intrusions into one’s life, livelihood and pursuit of happiness. America separated from England because the colonists believed that unfettered democracy would guarantee such freedoms. The Founding Fathers then composed a Constitution ensuring basic freedoms on behalf of all citizens. Later the Civil War was fought in large because one side felt that the other denied them fundamental rights to their own culture, economy and way of life. Libertarian groups continue to protest the felt erosion of constitutional protections against governmental intrusions. Even the Church of Scientology wages a campaign against those “religious bigots,” whose public protests and libelous Internet postings conspire to fan public hostility to such an extent that Church members will be unable to worship in peace. Negative freedom refers to liberty, and this is not freedom properly understood. Liberty assures protection from illegal constraints impeding physical freedom of action or movement. It prevents the will of another person or an institution from illegally constraining one from acting as one desires or coercing one to do something against his or her will. This urge to liberty even embraces the desire to be free from natural constraints. Culturally we confer a mythological status upon science. We view it in our collective imagination as liberation and protection against the vagaries of nature.

Hitler once reputedly claimed that he could never deprive another individual of freedom, but only of his liberty. A person confined to a concentration camp retains some degree of freedom even in the utter absence of liberty.12 Liberty concerns the external self, that is, the freedom to do whereas freedom relates to the interior of a person. Here lies the freedom to be.

Indeed, as Hegel and Jacques Ellul instructs us, one may be the most enslaved when too comfortably ensconced in a surplus of liberties.13 It may in certain instances require an absence of liberty to discover one’s essential freedom. For example, many years ago an award winning screenplay author explained in a newspaper interview that he was composing his first script for television. He considered it a creative challenge because the constraints required by television executives upon the dialogue enabled him to sharpen his writing skills.14 Contrast this spirit with the attitude of a high-ranking Scientologist who glibly informs that “total freedom” awaits one and all. Making slick assurances that the world is your oyster appeals only to one’s desire for absolute license.

Though our liberties may be many and varied with an array of protections against a variety of constraints, freedom in its positive sense remains singular and indivisible. It cannot be counted or divided because it simply is. Though we might possess liberties, we cannot properly regard freedom lending itself to possession. Freedom is akin to faith in this regard; they are both a quality to be experienced rather a thing to be had. The very nature of possession is such that it signifies an inherent rift between the self and its object. However, freedom exists not as a “thing.” Its essentiality precedes ownership. Our freedom is an elusive “nothing” rather than a “specific” something. It opens possibility of being and is future oriented rather than relating to some singular or concrete being already in existence.15 The exercise of freedom may occur in the context of certain guaranteed liberties, and the creative force of freedom may be employed in the service of self-expansion to invent additional liberties. Here freedom and liberty exhibit a dialectical relationship.16 At its roots, however, freedom is the power of creativity, innovation, and renewal, the highest reach of humanity. It constantly expands and explores, but in so doing necessarily encounters struggle and resistance. Christian existentialist Nickolae Berdyav conceives this as a sharing in the power of God the Creator, for in this manner we are created in His image. Yet, freedom also entails danger since we risk creating monstrosities in addition to the good and the beautiful.17

Scientology, Freedom and Our Fitful Cartesian Legacy

“…some truths we embody and do not know” – Yeats18

Scientology describes itself as the “science of knowing how to know.” It insists that upon “knowing how to know,” such knowledge becomes unassailable. Scientology further claims that clarity and certainty are tantamount to human freedom. These ideals of certainty, clarity and the banishment of skepticism originated with Rene Descartes, the father of modern philosophy. With Descartes began the steady ascendance of epistemology, that branch of philosophy concerning the origins and nature of human knowledge. His legacy maintains a tenacious grip upon our popular world-view, mainly due to the tangible successes of the physical sciences for which he along with Galileo and Isaac Newton were amongst the methodological pioneers. The defining spirit of early modernity was the revolt against authority, in particular the shackles of doctrinaire Catholicism. Imbued with innate freedom, man could finally exercise his precocious capacity for inquiry and discover truth for himself. Though Descartes never made any direct connection between clarity and certainty on the one hand and human freedom on the other, Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard did not hesitate to formulate such an identity after taking a crash course in Western philosophy.19

The founding of absolute clarity and certainty within the mind’s eye became for Descartes a cardinal virtue. He elevated certainty upon the same pedestal as godliness. In contrast to this newly minted virtue, uncertainty and ambiguity were quickly transformed into devils to be overcome and incorporated into the constantly expanding and brightly lit circle of certainty. For Descartes an idea was true or certain if it was “clear and distinct” to the conscious or actively thinking “I.” He identified this “I” as the essential self. This metaphorical pun, the uncritical identification of the optic “eye” with the subjective “I” transformed the essential inner self into a visual being. Henceforth, knowledge and certainty related to “seeing.” Scientology appropriates the visual metaphor Clear from this tradition. A Clear purportedly has perfect panoptical sight, therefore perfect knowledge enabling a serene shield of certainty and security against ambiguity, doubt and anxiety.

Descartes’ quest for absolute certainty ostensibly arose in the service of establishing a rock solid foundation for all subsequent knowledge. The unimpeachable foundation of truth became the Cogito: “I think, therefore I am.” However, this method was founded upon and encouraged epistemological solipsism. Solipsism consists of the doctrine that nothing outside of my own thoughts maintains any real or independent existence. Though the criterion for Cartesian truth is “clear and distinct,” such clarity and distinctiveness might appear solely to my “I” and not necessarily to the “I” of another. Descartes asserted that if an idea appears to oneself as clear and distinct, then this necessarily implies a universal truth.20

However, the very nature of radical interior reflection is such that in and of itself it cannot originate truth. Strictly speaking, through the Cartesian method, the very fact that I already have beliefs tautologically presupposes their truth. Perfectly certain knowledge is therefore of such a nature that it automatically and magically guarantees itself, an empty notion of truth. Certainty is an ideal only encountered in imagination. For truth to be truth in any real or empirical sense it holds three requirements related to testing: it must encounter friction and resistance in the world; it must have some power of predictability; and it requires verification by independent others. The workability of science relies upon these limiting contingencies or rules agreed upon by a community of scientists. The sequestered and solitary nocturnal hamster running its wheel endlessly and going nowhere represents a poor model for generating truth. Nor is the hamster particularly free. There is, however, for said hamster, safety and predictability. Therefore, imagine a solipsist assuming a position of total power, awarding himself papal authority over a limited, warily scrutinized and fortifiably self-contained milieu. This autocrat may in principle put forth and coerce others to accept the truthfulness of whatever ideas erupted from his thoughts, no matter how bizarre, even if they are “clear and distinct” to the solipsist. Consider also that the solipsist by nature cannot confer upon any other person substantial human existence. There is, after all, room for only one master of the universe. This is Scientology, the creation of L Ron Hubbard.

Cartesianism Run Amok: Scientology and the Denial of Limits

December 1970, Boston

I was having difficulty making friends at the Church of Scientology on Beacon Street. Though the communication course was fun and allowed me opportunities to play act with other course participants, during breaks I found it difficult talking to others. Of course, I was 19 and very shy. Up to this point, I felt no sense of solidarity binding me with the others.

Perhaps I will feel more comfortable with them over time, I thought to myself. After all, this was a communications class and it should help me with some of my inhibitions talking to people. That was in part why it sounded so appealing in the first place. Then, surprisingly, a woman roughly 10 years older than myself was suddenly standing beside me, starting a conversation. She was the archetypal if not cliched hippie type with a long old-fashioned dress, so much in style then, and sporting a pair of granny glasses. She introduced herself as Louise and smiled when speaking.

“Are you enjoying the comm course?” she asked with no hesitation at all.

“Oh yes, its great, I am learning a lot,” I replied, trying to sound upbeat while in fact feeling very tired. It had been a long day at the org.

Louise insisted that her communications skills had increased significantly since she began to apply the tech, and I had no reason to doubt her, not having been acquainted with her before this Thursday evening. She continued, “There is so much negativity in the world. I want to be in a positive place surrounded by positive people. Scientology is so full of positivity. I like it so very much, having a place to be away from the negativity. Don’t you agree?”

” Uh, yes,” I lamely offered, a bit surprised at the current drift of the conversation, “it is very positive.”

Louise rattled on … evidently once she got started she didn’t know how to stop, “Last night I was watching Johnny Carson and that guy came on again as a guest … he comes on so often … I wish he wouldn’t … I think his name is Don something.”

“Rickles?” I offered, pleased with myself to be able to contribute something to her train of thought.

“Yes, that’s it, Don Rickles! I don’t like him. He is so negative. I wish he would stop appearing on the show. He never has anything good to say about anything. If he were a Scientologist, he would be really funny instead of just so negative all of the time. He is wasting his talents being this way.”

As she droned on about Rickles, I could not help thinking that I personally considered Rickles a hoot, enjoying his ascerbic brand of humor a lot, but kept this notion to myself since he obviously upset Louise. No point in creating an ARC break with my first potential friend in Scientology.

Louise went on about Don Rickles for another minute or so until the course break was over. Then we put out our cigarettes and returned to our seats. It didn’t occur to me until much later that Louise was a very frightened woman seeking sanctuary, a safe place where she would not be tarnished by negativity, even something as innocuous as the humor of Don Rickles, which clearly upset her … she was running away from something”

“Mere purposive rationality unaided by such phenomena as art, religion, dream, and the like, is necessarily pathogenic and destructive of life … ”

- Gregory Bateson21

The rigid adoption of the Cartesian criterion for perfect truth (“indubitability”) contains a pitfall aside from its inherent and dangerous solipsism: rationality is automatically barred from confronting its own hidden psychological motivations. The light of pure reason cannot espy the darkness surrounding it, because darkness necessarily retreats whenever light is cast upon it. Perfect sight is paradoxically perfect blindness, the nature of rationality being of such a sort that it cannot possibly understand itself. Extending its brightly lit domain outwardly over nature, it simultaneously and in the same measure flees the ambiguous and darkened depths of its own interiority. The eclipse of Church authority, which prior to the modern era alleviated the pain of doubt by providing stable community meanings and spiritual anchorage, left the individual to his or her own devices to encounter lingering and ubiquitous darkness in this brave new world.

Descartes, by way of Christian Platonism, had divided the world into two distinct and separate realms, one inherently superior to the other. One consisted of the objective physical while the other consisted of the subjective mental or spiritual. In this dualistic world-view, vigorously adopted by Scientology, mind is supernaturally detached from and magically presides over matter, including one’s own body, like some sort of “ghost in a machine.”22 He went on to identify conscious rational mind with the soul or free will, the essential human aspect. The mental is active, powerful and infinite whereas the physical is passive, inert and finite with respect to active intent. We exercise human freedom by shaping the world in accord with unfettered free will, hence the cliché, “mind over matter.” Furthermore, from its disembodied vantage the subjective “I” views the world from a “gods-eye” or unentangled position. Descartes elevated his world view to an ethic: it is “good” that conscious mind imperiously preside over dumb matter because by so doing we disclose our essential kinship to our Creator. More darkly, however, this ethic reflected the urge for compulsive control and domination of the world, reiterating why it privileged certainty to such an extraordinary degree.23

“The self is a relation which relates itself to its own self … man is the synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity”
- Sören Kierkegaard24

Maurice Merleau-Ponty explains that one object cannot reveal itself to us except in the process of concealing others. For example, if one focuses upon one’s visual foreground, the background becomes obscured, and vice versa.

Vision is “an act with two facets.”25 William James put forth the idea (roughly at the same time as Freud’s popularization of the notion of the “unconscious”) that the consciously active Cartesian “I” did not comprise the entire self. There is a second and equally important competing aspect of human experience, namely, our passive or “objective” self. We encounter this “other” dimension whenever we consider ourselves from the objective or third-person point of view. Humanity encompasses a dual nature; an individual readily encounters the passive aspect of experience through the medium of past or passive tenses (“if I had only finished the project on time, then… “) in addition to experiencing oneself in the active present The neglected passive aspect of one’s self James calls the “me.”26 It provides a counterbalance to the Cartesian “I.” To illustrate both aspects of the self in a more physical fashion, perform a simple exercise: look at your hands and with left hand touch the right hand. In this particular instance the left hand is subjective/active and the right becomes objective/passive.

Then reverse this operation and allow the right to become the dominant, exercising its influence upon the passive left. The dynamic reversibility of this operation is very important, for human freedom consists of this reversibility. In his epigram Kierkegaard defines the essential self not as the active “I” nor the passive “me,” but as the dynamic relationship between them. Ernest Becker describes man as a vital contradiction: he is a symbolic animal. Human life, torn between two selves, passive finite and active infinite, is understood as a coming to terms with this contradiction.27 Our taste for the infinite, our cultural symbolic selves in quest of meaning, however, remain grounded in and limited by radical finitude, that is, our animal selves.28 William James implicitly understood the importance of not partializing either aspect of the self in favor of its opposite. What matters is the balance or equilibrium between active and passive dimensions of selfhood. This calibration determines the extent to which one maintains a sense of stable identity and lives in freedom and creativity, an observation underscoring the very definition of mental health.

Cartesianism, the apotheosis of the “I,” enabled Western culture a tactical victory over nature. But it is also a Faustian bargain and perhaps a long term strategic blunder. It ambitiously aspires to ultimate inquiry and knowledge. An ultimate inquiry conceives of itself as having the capacity to subsume everything into a body of knowledge outside of which nothing remains to be understood. This is an act of hubris, defined as “forgetting where the real source of power lies and imagining that it is solely in oneself.”29 The quest for certainty in its flight from anxiety necessarily entails a reduction of the foreign and ambiguous to the familiar, recognizing no limits to its domain. In its original Greek meaning, “limit” connotes the “perfection of something” as opposed to mere lack or some sort of barrier.

Through excellence, by fulfilling rather than betraying one’s talents, by reaching one’s limits in this Greek sense, one gradually becomes sensitized to a transcendence, an otherness, a mysterious latency of possibility, always residing beyond the best of one’s personal strivings. This cannot be introduced into one’s range of vision for consciousness is ultimately blind, bounded by darkness. Recognizing and accepting the limits of the mind’s eye (“I”), this edge of night, paradoxically constitutes “enlightenment.” One cannot remain ignorant of one’s own finitude except under pain of failing to gain self-awareness. Consciousness is neither disembodied nor wholly free, but perpetually constrained by its own shadowy biases and intentions. Here lies the mystery of eternal latency for darkness and the attendant anxiety in its encounter remains the home of freedom and creativity, of possibility and rebirth.

Historically we diminished our awareness of latency by shifting it from the foreground of awareness to the background in exchange for power and control over the outside world, losing an essential dimension of meaning. The cultural separation of the “I” from the “me,” a contrived splitting of the self, left us with a mistaken notion of our relationship to nature and diminished our capacity to embrace the shadows inherent to life.

Accompanying the loss of natural enchantment we feel the pain of a truncated self-awareness, for shadows are ubiquitous, residing within the soul as well as in nature. Tragically, this loss also depleted our capacity to feel the genuine presence of others. Modern psychology is instructive: to the extent that one represses an aspect of oneself, this repressed aspect is in compensation projected outwards. To the extent that one loses touch with the finite, passive part of the soul, the seat of humility, he or she to the same extent transforms their world into a vast collection of “things.” This includes people, who become mere objects for manipulation, stricken of freedom and dignity.

L. Ron Hubbard in his skewed world-view insisted upon the primacy of “postulates,” that is, active Cartesian intent. But reliance upon mere possibility comes at the expense of concrete and productive action in the real world. Action is void of purpose or significance with the failure to recognize limits. Any freedom defined as pure possibility residing solely within “intention” is a vacuous notion since then one constantly defers action to some indefinite future. He or she resembles the aforementioned hamster, endlessly spinning wheels in a comedic pantomime of purposive and frenetic activity, but going nowhere. Scientology also claims that one’s own self ultimately determines one’s own fate, that destiny is in fact self-directed. This is not freedom at all, but rather, as Rollo May points out, escapism, a “condition in which feeling alone is sought rather than reality.”30 It signifies the denial of limits. Limits, the awareness of animal finitude, enable and enliven human performance, by endowing significance and opening grounded possibilities for action. For example, consider the writing of this essay. It has a deadline for submission and guidelines for topic, length and format. Parameters provide the enabling structure for its composition just as rules in baseball create the conditions by which the game may be played. Freedom is the conjunction of possibility with destiny. Destiny refers to our ultimate condition.

Specifically, Rollo May defines it as “the pattern of limits and talents that constitute the ‘given’ in life for us.”31

Our destiny is ultimately “archetypal and ontological.” It is the design of the universe speaking through the design of each one of us.32 The urge to deny our intrinsic design emerges from anxiety and insecurity, fear of social ostracism and pressures to conform. It remains far easier simply to be like everyone else. Nor may the fulfillment of personal destiny be confused with the actions of the sociopath that “does what he or she wants to do.” For the sociopath experiences no limits. He or she exclusively experiences an “I” in the absence of a “me,” so lacks the capacity for the reflexive groundedness to consider the real impact upon others of personal action. In contrast, a person with strong ego boundaries, that is, who lives through a healthy balance of possibility and limit is compelled to fulfill his or her destiny. Rollo May insists that our destiny cannot be canceled out or erased. Yet we can choose our manner of response, how we employ our talents in the face of so many brute contingencies. The erroneous belief promulgated by cults such as Scientology that we can radically alter our personalities and change our lives in extraordinary ways, that nothing is fixed or given “is more than a mere misunderstanding of life, it is a desecration of life.”33 To the extent that we fulfill destiny, we experience profound gratification and achievement. One acquires a sense of authenticity, a wholeness and accord with the design of the universe accompanied by a feeling of genuine freedom. The final words uttered by Christ on the cross in the Johnanine Gospel evoke this achievement: “It is done.”

Scientology deems the body a useless appendage or structure inexplicably housing an absolutely free soul whose freedom is realized through Scientology “processing.” This leads to the body’s objectification, gruesomely evoked by L. Ron Hubbard’s denial of death as a mere “dropping of the body.” Scientology’s is a schizoid world-view with dangerous implications to be discussed in detail near the end of this essay. The soul is not a free-floating specter controlling the body like a numinous puppeteer. Freedom is bodily centered.34 Disrupting this delicate unity of active symbolic mind and passive finite body undermines freedom. This is in fact what Scientology counseling procedures promote, a hapless disunity and consequent loss of the self in the service of creating slaves.

The greater one’s alienation from his or her body, the less one can participate in life. Martin Heidegger informs us that being-in-the-world remains our perpetual starting point of existence from cradle to grave.35 An individual lives already outside his or her isolated subjectivity. One’s “feelers” extend outwards towards others and the community and culture in which one discovers oneself. St. Paul reputedly said, “all existence is somatic.” The Christian doctrine of “the resurrection of the body” relates to his insight.36 Feeling at one and comfortable with one’s body is tantamount to feeling comfortable within the world. This represents the healthy exercise of freedom.37

Facticity and Responsibility

” …it seems terribly improbable that we should exist.”38
- Austin Ferrer

Facticity and responsibility are interrelated because both recognize limits to the pure possibility championed by Scientology. Facticity is the “inner aspect” of facts, the brute existential awareness of certain subjective givens or contingencies. Freedom emerges only through a conjoining of facticity and possibility, the finite passive and infinite or symbolic active dimensions of life respectively. For example, the felt fact that one exists is a facticity, an unalterable limitation. Bodily awareness discloses in an immediate and intimate sense a restriction upon one’s subjective horizons. One does not start from absolute scratch, rather one can only start from here. Within the here perpetually resides the lingering felt weight of the past, a weight that Maurice Merleau-Ponty refers to as sedimentation. Sedimentation becomes incorporated over time and impacts how an individual subjectively experiences him or herself.39 A person is always already living in a particular context, lending to it his or her finite talents. Givens include one’s age, sex, heredity, neurophysiology, current living situation and the inalterability of personal history. The most essential given, however, is the inchoate awareness of finitude, the facticity of eventual death. We shape our lives within the living context in which we discover ourselves and allow these givens to confer relations of significance upon our activities in the same fashion as monetary scarcity prompts our prudent valuation of competing shopping options.

Responsibility is the social dimension of facticity, the recognition of mutual human interdependencies without which we would not survive in a particular culture or ultimately as species. One is free only to the extent that one is responsible to others and to community. Conversely, one is only responsible to the same extent that one experiences freedom. These are two sides of the same coin. Scientology’s notion of absolute freedom constitutes a perversion because it casts responsibility aside. The cult has a lengthy history of disavowing responsibility for its own acts. Consider the tragic death of Lisa McPherson. Not a single person within Scientology ever stood forward to acknowledge error or wrongdoing, as if she simply and magically died. In Greek mythology the god Proteus symbolizes the evasion of responsibility. Proteus had the ability to change his shape at will. If he wished to slip out of an anxious situation, he did so with impunity.40 Pathological lying serves the same purpose as shape shifting. Responsibility consists in the capacity to face up to limits and personal shortcomings, to admit error with requisite humility. Humility represents a personal acknowledgment of fallibility and finitude. Since Scientology refuses to admit of fallibility or corrigibility it lacks capacity for humility. By definition it can not err or do wrong. Consequently, it cannot become part of a greater community in any meaningful way because community life requires give and take amongst its members, a mutual inter-recognition of shortcomings and imperfections. As finite human beings we understand implicitly the necessity for pooling scarce resources and talents, keeping promises and obligations, and mutual fidelity to community values, all of which provide and nurture the social context that enables the exercise of our freedom. To Scientology these are alien notions.

January, 1971

I recall one experience in particular that indirectly hastened my exile from Scientology.

It was a Sunday evening. A few days prior I successfully completed the first communication course and this very weekend had started the second. Connie, the class supervisor, proceeded to the front of the room to announce to all that we were to perform a “spontaneous” exercise of sorts. We were to practice our newly won communication skills in a role-playing scenario. This game involved milling around the classroom and chatting amicably with other course participants. Connie instructed us to smile when we spoke to one another. I cringed. The thought of donning the mask of a broad grin upon command in a normal conversational setting felt repugnant and alien … this was too outlandish … like poor play-acting.

Then I momentarily thought of my friend Larry, a recent college drop-out, who, desperate for work, took a strictly-commissioned paying job selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door in Roxbury, a black community in the south part of Boston. He undoubtedly had to wear such a smile. This thought made me shrink even more. I felt very uncomfortable. Meanwhile the others had already risen from their seats and bustled about their business pretending to be very friendly and talk of very nice things. Yet, it was not supposed to be mere play-acting. This was evident to me. It was supposed to be more. It was to communicate the glow that Scientology training had supposedly enlivened in us. However, so far my own glow had escaped my notice. I realized that I was dallying and that the instructor’s eyes would soon turn in my direction, perhaps suspecting my lack of enthusiasm for this asinine exercise … what might the consequences of that be?

So I slowly and nervously arose from my seat. I perform very poorly under command or pressure from others so my discomfort must have been palpable. Silently the question occurred to me, “Wasn’t Scientology supposed to ‘grant beingness’ to others?” I felt my “beingness” sorely invaded.

Then I spotted George across the room. I liked George. He had allowed me to keep him in stitches during our recent bullbaiting training routines with my impressions of an effeminate Robin making lewd come-ons to an alarmed Batman. I cautiously approached George who had just finished swapping avid pleasantries with a large woman in a black dress. I mustered my broadest smile, even showing teeth, quietly died inside, and loudly said, “Hello, George, great to see you!”

George quickly (a bit too quickly?) flashed a smile back and responded, “Hi, Erik! Great to see you! Isn’t this beautiful?”

“Yes, George. This is so very beautiful! I can hardly bear the beauty that surrounds us!”

I immediately felt sick to my stomach and wondered if any trace of facetiousness had crept into my words.

Then I thought that perhaps George detected my malaise for his freshly pressed smile faltered. My immediate impulse was to suggest to him that this was a load of bullshit, and to hope secretly and desperately for his agreement, but in this setting, such an admission might get me into trouble.

I knew this implicitly. Then, mercifully, George recovered his minted composure and spoke of how beautiful this was and of how beautiful that was and how happy he felt to be surrounded by such beauty, as I happily nodded in total agreement, trying to appear properly benign and beatific in response to George’s incoherent descriptions of the beauty of it “all.” Happily, George was a trooper, more adept at capturing the spirit of an inane conversation than myself.

Then, not-too-soon-enough, Connie clapped her hands and announced that the exercise was over. She was beaming. She was always beaming, or so it seemed. The five minutes had felt like an eternity for me. Adjourning back to my seat, I ruminated. This did not feel like freedom at all. I did not mind if I could choose my own roles, scripts and scenarios, having already managed plenty of social acting in my almost 20 years. However, this was ridiculous. I felt extremely uncomfortable having someone else command a performance from me. Nor did I enjoy taking orders.

What did this portend for the future? I sullenly began to realize that going “clear” was going to take considerable work on my part. Perhaps I was too self-centered. Maybe I should simply try a little harder. However, doubts about my marriage to Scientology began at that moment to assume a spiraling recurrence. Something was not right. And I had been experiencing dizzy spells and headaches … which unknown to me at the time were attempting to communicate something very important, but I felt too confused to take heed … and also unbeknownst to me was that I was indeed being closely watched by others…

Life Without Freedom in Scientology

“Ah, mon cher, for anyone who is alone, without God and without a master, the weight of days is dreadful. Hence one must choose a master, God being out of style.”
- Albert Camus41

“All weakness tends to corrupt and impotence corrupts absolutely.”
- Edgar Z. Friedenburg42

Within Scientology freedom only exists ironically or in terms of Orwellian double-speak because the public meanings of words such as freedom and slavery are grossly inverted. So why do so many continue to remain in Scientology after it becomes plainly apparent that the exuberant promises inducing one to join were at best misleading? Why does a person put up with the constant abuse and control mechanisms? Might one still secretly harbor hope that eventually the ordeal will reap its rewards, that there is in fact a pot of gold on the other side of the “auditing” rainbow? Perhaps, but other considerations also come into play upon joining a totalitarian cult.

Ernest Becker explains that for many, a group fulfills longing for security and protection. This in part explains the passion for authority because for many, authority provides structure and security. Many also enjoy basking in the felt omnipotence of a group. An individual might even identify so strongly with the hero-leader that his or her personal identity becomes totally submerged in this worship. The trust and dependency upon the leader’s powers magically repels danger and anxiety.43 Indeed, many seek to be controlled or led. For them Scientology does enable a freedom of sorts, freedom from the anxious burdens of freedom.

Sigmund Freud considered groups as invariably stupid and blind since they gave precedence to the unreal at the expense of the real. Death, especially, is denied. Group incorporation enables one a sense of personal immortality through a psychologically regressive symbiotic security. Members expect the wise and benevolent leader to boldly articulate a new mythology allowing the group false hopes. Within its confines one does not have to emerge as an individual experiencing personal freedom and having the self-possession of one’s own powers. Because, as an individual, one must die, but as part of a mass movement one attains immortality. Consequently, the group member is part of an environment where any sort of individualism invokes suspicion. The group also regards itself as special, an elite derisive of outsiders since they do not subscribe to the group mythology and its agenda. All members are declared heroes, and all wars against outsiders become “holy wars.” The leader sanctifies any action taken against those threatening the group. When a member commits an act of aggression upon an outsider he or she need not feel any sense of personal responsibility since the leader, by virtue of the fact that he is the leader, magically assumes responsibility for the act.44

Groups also foster masochistic dependencies.45 By joining Scientology one no longer endures anxious personal questions about the meaning of life (“Who am I?” “Where am I going?”). Glib answers are readily provided by the group leader. One can become important, powerful, indeed, immortal, unlike those pathetic and debased others daring to challenge group hegemony and claims to a very special knowledge. The cult serves as a protection racket for many, promising to keep personal anxieties at bay as long as one conforms and produces. However, this eventually becomes futile because one cannot forget oneself indefinitely.

Scientology is obsessed with power. Power should be understood in two different and mutually exclusive senses. In its healthy sense power, which derives from the Latin verb posse (meaning: to be able46), connotes potency, ability, self control, efficacy in action and creativity. Power results from the struggle for self-expression and self-definition, founded upon the healthy recognition of limits.47 This potent sense of power extolled by Nietzsche reflects one’s capacity for individuation. But there is also a more sinister connotation of power, one that many reflexively associate with this term. This relates to the degree of control one has over others. Personal impotency invariably leads to the need for domination over others. Here we enter the darker realm of sadomasochism, power exclusively in the service of control.48 Within the confines of Scientology one inevitably encounters this perverse variant of power.

Though one cannot avoid discrepancies in position or power relations, psychologist Erich Fromm discerned between two types of inequality. In the first, illustrated by a healthy teacher-student relationship, the purpose of this relationship is to close the gap between the student and teacher in terms of knowledge and ability. There resides a sense of solidarity between the parties because they share a common goal, to reduce the knowledge gap.

However, there occurs another sort of power relationship, one pathologically seeking its own self-perpetuation or enhancement. Here we witness the exploitative master and submissive slave coupling. There is to be no healthy closing of the gap between sadistic superior and masochistic inferior.

Rather the master seeks to keep the gap as wide as possible, and if possible enlarge it.49

L. Ron Hubbard was a master sadist. He offered to others the gift of personal growth and enhanced human ability, dangling the imaginary carrot of enlightenment before enrapt followers. However, Hubbard never delivered on his promises. That he couldn’t because these promises were a hoax in the first place remains secondary to Hubbard’s sadism. He enjoyed tantalizing others, never allowing his acolytes any progress on their spiritual path.

Rather than a path, it was a treadmill going nowhere except financial destitution and madness. Hubbard played the game of control to the hilt to maintain his blinders of mystification. In retrospect it appears that his craving to exploit others knew no bounds. Indeed, Hubbard infected his cult with this spirit. Sadistic domination is an integral element of Scientology.

Sadism entails incorporating the object and all of its resources. But to have a sadist there must also be a masochist, one who believes that incorporation provides security. The sadist and the masochist remain symbiotically bound together in their mutual aversion to freedom. The sadist seeks security through control; his alter seeks security through passive submission, being “taken care of.” The sadist and the masochist represent authoritarian personalities because each loves power in its pathological guise. Both deify the concrete and the past, while fearing the future and freedom. For the future embraces change, innovation and renewal as opposed to worshipping a dead past. Suffering without complaint becomes a far higher virtue than to search for a means to end suffering.50

Fromm understood that any attempt to banish anxiety from one’s world fundamentally falsifies it. Milieu control, the shrinking of the world provides protection against anxiety. It also divorces one from reality, contributes to stagnation and represents a flight from freedom. One sacrifices freedom through group fusion in order to acquire the “strength” lacking in oneself as an individual. The burden of freedom encountered in the anxious standing apart from others entails considerable risk. A person usually faces a tremendous conflict between the urge to stand alone and the awareness of one’s ultimate insignificance in comparison to the vast mystery and totality of creation. The acceptance of risk signifies a capacity for humility and the yearning to see things as they really are. The strong individual decides to jettison pride in order to accept the facticity of life’s precariousness. Death is inevitable and life is tragic, but in this tragedy lies its dignity and glory. The Biblical phrase, “Thy will be done,” invokes the reality principle. There can be no regressive readmittance to a symbiotic Paradise, no reclamation of fantastic powers lost eons ago to purchase absolute security, and, above all, no certainty. The emergence of the individual, a natural process that commenced at birth with the physical separation from mother, is irreversible. The persistent denial of one’s finite individuality with its attendant humility, the evasion of risk, the sin of pride, eventually and necessarily reduces one to absolute despair.

Dogmatists and Their Vicissitudes

“…For everyone who does not know
How to control his inmost self would feign control
His neighbor’s will according to his own conceit.”
- Goethe from “Faust II”51

“…forget your perfect offering,
there is a crack in everything,
that’s how the light gets in…”
- Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”

Dogmatists are invariably control freaks. They do not live in freedom and come in all shapes and sizes: Marxists, Behavioral Psychologists, Existentialists, Flat Earthers, Republicans, Democrats, Pentecostal Christians, Moonies and of course, Scientologists.

No matter what their creed, they hold steadfastly and implacably refuse to let go, their relationship to their belief system one of rigid proprietorship and absolute certainty. They resolutely detest pluralism, difference, uncertainty, ambiguity, mystery, otherness, and shades of gray. Dogmatists possess the truth. For it is a crystallized thing, something so hard that it cannot be sundered. Because if it sunders, then it might break into tiny pieces, turn to dust and elusively blow away with the next gust of wind, lost forever, a painful reminder of the inexplicable loss of the secure symbiotic paradise the dogmatist so cravenly intends to reclaim.

A dogmatist has the truth, and you do not. Unless, of course, you convert, adopting his or her world view or specific set of doctrines. Otherwise you are banished to the outer darkness. Your conversion occasions great relief for the dogmatist. It enables him or her a vicarious control over you since now you subscribe to his or her beliefs. Dogmatists love obedience, authority and conformity. Obedience to my creed equals obedience to me since I so strongly identify the entirety of myself with such beliefs. From the point of view of the dogmatist, your “otherness” is now reduced to “sameness,” and so he or she may heave a sigh of relief. However, this conversion of the other strips that individual of his or her essential mystery. It reduces the other to a mere object, a means to an end for the dogmatist, namely, anxiety reduction in the service of evading freedom. The dogmatist’s encounter with otherness hastens a momentary lapse of control, which leads to intolerable uncertainty and anxiety. Theologian Emmanuel Levinas informs us that the face of the stranger represents in miniature an encounter with God, the Ultimate Other. The face of the other tests our freedom. Yet the dogmatist fears the stranger with a vengeance, turning away to embrace the false security of a rigid belief system. For dogma soothes, repelling anxiety in much the same fashion as an infant’s pacifier.

A vicious cycle ensues as dogmatism and its false security fuel one another. A cult like Scientology must necessarily shrink its domain to better manage its world. Diversity and pluralism are dangerous, and the tighter one’s barricades, the less chance of encountering otherness. Though dogmatism temporarily wards off anxiety it reinforces the “secure”stockade in which one dwells. As the walls of this fortress become more strongly fortified against outside contamination, freedom and real movement contract. With the absence of contact with the inherent novelty residing in the outside world, the person within the stockade assumes the characteristics of a programmed robot. Pat answers and stock phrases are mimetically recycled. Reality tightens and ossifies. Under such conditions self-expansion only occurs in the imagination. Greater flights of fantasy erupt to account for what occurs in the real world, and bouts of paranoia increase in frequency. Sooner or later the falsity of existence exacts its toll for one’s life eventually breaks down. Inside this tight stockade we discover a trembling individual hiding behind the walls of his or her own creation, terrified to emerge. The quest for certainty is ultimately futile.52

The Ultimate Cost of “Total Freedom”

“How can there be two sides to the truth?”
- John McMaster, the world’s first Scientology CLEAR53

John McMaster posed this question near the conclusion of his 1968 address to a large New York Scientology audience. By all reliable accounts a sweet and generous man, at the time McMaster still remained in L Ron Hubbard’s favor, wielding the august title of Scientology’s ambassador to mankind. His rhetorical query, certainly intended as a beneficent gift of personal illumination is, however, a tautology, empty of meaning. It is an assertion, dressed in drag, falsely posing as a question. McMaster’s illumination does not connect with the lived world, its existential significance nil, the portentous last word basking in the glow of a monadic self-importance. Its “truth” evokes a lifeless vaporous luminescence, ringed by a pristine halo untouchable by dirty human hands. It shimmers upon its own pedestal, eternally detached and irrefutably perfect in its self-conferred significance, daring one to disagree. Of course, it is difficult to agree or disagree with a proposition that says nothing. Finally, it is intractably and wearily dogmatic, an ultimate “truth,” a singularly dead utterance slyly masquerading as an evocation of limitless possibility. McMaster fell from grace in Scientology not long after making his address to this audience.

After enduring several seasons of horrific personal abuse from Hubbard, he eventually escaped from the cult. Many years later, alcoholic, the world’s first “clear” died alone, cramped into a seedy English tenement room, his lifeless body discovered on a bed surrounded by dead flowers. John McMaster had finally found his freedom.

With the gradual retreat from real life one substitutes a self-subsistent fantasy world of pure possibility that temporarily enables feelings of omnipotence and immortality.54 The pursuit of perfect security and unlimited possibility, the disdain of limits, ultimately grounded in one’s perishable body, and the aversion to contrariness and otherness can reach dangerous extremes and in select instances provide fertile ground for the eruption of schizophrenic psychosis. Briefly recalling William James and Kierkegaard, the psyche spans two modes of existence: one active (“I”), symbolic, ideal, embracing infinity; the other passive (“me”), bodily/perishable and finite. Over time the arduous Scientology regimens may promote a person’s divorce from bodily awareness, that is, the locus and grounding of the self. To compensate this loss, one necessarily partialize to an extreme the active “I” pole of the self, the domain of symbolism and pure possibility. This comes at the expense of sacrificing the perishable animal dimension of self with its physical powers and capacity for housing the psyche in the real world. The quest for perfect certainty eventually may result in one’s own body becoming foreign or other to oneself at which point one no longer feels securely housed or grounded. In extreme cases one might relate to it with the same sort of loathing or disgust as one regards a recent expulsion of feces or phlegm. Its animal perishability starkly represents an Achilles Heel, a point of naked exposure to the dangers of the world and thus a reminder of death, the hurtling of the self into insignificance.55

One transforms into a shell losing tangible connection to the world because of the loss of contact to sensations and emotions residing within the body, the only real link to the world. As aforementioned, ego boundaries are founded in bodily facticity. A strong ego has a self-assured bodily sense of limitation founded upon an awareness of physical boundaries and remains in constant contact with emotions and sensations that remain housed in the body. Scientology actively encourages episodes of dissociation (“exteriorization”) for this signals the onset of breakdown with bodily contact. It indicates that the “preclear” is progressing on schedule to a rendezvous with abject servitude because loss of communication with one’s own body enables it to become a passive object more easily controlled by others.

The gradual dissolution of bodily awareness erodes the essential limit between oneself and the world. This occasions losing the unity of experience with its attendant damage to resolute selfhood and personal freedom. Freedom requires resistance and struggle within the context of bodily limits to recognize itself. Upon the dissolution of bodily boundaries, the body becomes reduced to an inert container for thoughts. The aloofness of these thoughts from worldly contact deprives them of sense. The demise of bodily awareness opens the floodgates for an overwhelming and paralyzing vortex of symbols and images engulfing and overwhelming any stable sense of the self.

I believe this occurred to Lisa McPherson as well as to hundreds of other Scientologists over the years. Here we witness the onset of psychosis, the cruel reality of “total freedom.” One loses control over the flood of symbols and images because it requires a felt bodily rootedness within the world to mediate the free floating imagination. With the unmooring of the active “I” pole of symbolic imagination from its bodily anchorage, one is orphaned by the schizophrenic nightmare, enslaved by an onslaught of disembodied thought over which one has lost all natural means of control.

Scientology vividly illustrates the limits of dogmatism, the ultimate tragedy of hubris and its disavowal of limits, and possible consequences resulting from a reckless pursuit of perfect certainty and security. L. Ron Hubbard specifically designed the panoply of Scientology techniques, drills and processes to promote masochistic docility. However, he also discovered that pushing the “tech” too far induced psychosis in certain individuals, a drawback from Hubbard’s cynical point of view since schizophrenics are not particularly productive and often lead to public embarrassment. The end result of the quest for total freedom is the collapse into total slavery.

Even one’s own thoughts are beyond control, trapped within an inert and reviled animal body, a body one desperately needs to reanimate and reconnect with in order to retrieve the soul.

February, 1971, Boston: Removing the Velvet Gloves

“The shadows cast upon the wall in Plato’s myth of the cave are one degree removed from reality. But if we know they are shadows, we are saved from the shackles of dogmatism”56
- Rollo May

My exit from Scientology was breathtakingly speedy, ending an involvement that lasted a scant three and a half months.

On a cold and blustery mid-winter’s day upon entering the Boston org, I was immediately informed, to my surprise, that Ethics wanted to see me. I didn’t understand the significance of the summons, so felt no concern. After all, from my own point of view, such as it was at the time, I had committed no discernible infractions. Only in retrospect did the reasons for the summons became apparent. For one, I had been complaining openly and indiscriminately about dizzy spells, headaches and acute anxiety to staff members. But I felt my complaints under the circumstances were reasonable and justified. After all, I had paid them money for the alleged benefits of their classes, but was receiving not only no benefits but pain to boot.

Nor had I posted what I later found out to be the mandatory testimonial upon the org bulletin board.

This served to attest to my “wins” upon completing the first communications class. My omission had in fact led to some friendly chiding from a couple of the nicer female staff members. But I had paid little heed to the warnings, counseling myself that it was self-demeaning to post anything until I really experienced some felt benefits, and not a moment until this time. Then there was the matter of money. Just before Christmas I foolishly informed the org bursar that I was due to inherit some funds on my 21st birthday. Although this was not for another 15 months, he began insisting that I get my hands on this money as soon as possible. By so doing, I could pay for significant auditing packages in advance and save! I spent time with and talked to my parents over the holidays, and they plainly informed me that this was not possible. To make matters worse, the bursar called my parents’ home during this holiday visit at least a dozen times in the span of three or four days to inquire about the status of my “negotiations.” It had become obnoxious.

I returned to Boston empty-handed with increasing mixed feelings. Scientology was not to receive any funds except payment for the second communications course, a paltry $100. Also by the time of my post-holiday return to Boston from Virginia, the panic attacks and dizzy spells had gotten worse in intensity and frequency. Yet, I was still eager to continue with the communications classes and continue advancing up the Bridge. By this time, I saw little in the way of future for myself outside of Scientology, so over-involved I had become. My schoolwork went almost completely ignored. I barely eked by the fall semester at BU. Additionally, for the past couple of weeks the bursar had repeatedly interrupted me in the middle of communications class to speak with him in his office. Clearly he felt that the fish was still on the line. I felt like I was being hustled. My resentment at this treatment began to affect the inflections of my voice whenever we spoke. Always the subject was money. He would not stop with his line of questioning regarding my gaining early access to the inheritance.

Repeat the auditing question ad nauseum… So, I openly complained to other students and staff that he was a jackass. Very Bad Move.

One afternoon upon entering the Org, the registrar informed me that the ethics officer wished a meeting. This came as a surprise, for I was not consciously aware of any infractions I might have committed. I allowed myself to be led to the Ethics office anticipating no more than the exchange of the banal pleasantries so typical within this setting. Perhaps he might even listen to my concerns regarding the dizzy spells.

Upon entering the room, the young woman who brought me to his office immediately sat down in a chair in the corner of the room and placed a pen and clipboard on her lap. Apparently, she was to take minutes of this meeting. The ethics officer sat at one end of a rectangular wooden desk reading something. Without looking up, he gestured with a wave of his hand for me to take the seat at the opposite end of the table. Upon sitting down, he finally scrutinized me. I had frequently noticed this unsmiling individual before. He was a shadowy sort, always skulking around the fringes of the org. He was a singularly unattractive individual, almost sinister in appearance with premature and total baldness, a network of deep facial pockmarks, thick coarse mustache and cold eyes.

He began by asking in a conversational voice, a bit rhetorically. “I hear you are having problems. Is this true?”

I said that I was not feeling well and brought up the matter of my dizzy spells. His face remained impassive and he gazed at me unblinkingly as I recounted in abbreviated detail my growing sense of anxiety and feelings of losing self-control, especially when driving my car. I also mentioned my annoyance at the bursar for repeatedly interrupting me during the communications class to badger me about money. I added that when I felt as if I were actually experiencing benefits from Scientology, then I would be more motivated to try harder to get my hands on the money.

“Did you not receive benefits from the first communications class?” he queried, his stare hardening.

“Not really,” I responded, almost nonchalantly.

With that casual remark his face abruptly transformed into a mask of rage. Raising his fist, he slammed it down so ferociously upon the table that the impact caused a heavy ashtray to bounce to the floor with a clattering thud, and the woman taking notes started literally out of her chair. Then came a torrent of screaming and abusive invective the likes of which I had never heard before in a relatively sheltered life.


Feeling drained and frightened, I nervously arose from my seat and left the room, bewildered and in shock. The woman still frantically scribbled notes on her pad. I made my way down the hall to the front door of the building.

Outside the windy arctic chill of a Boston February greeted me. The bright sun reflected mercilessly off the frozen snowpack clinging to the sidewalk.

Tears began to stream down my face. I never recalled feeling so utterly alone and lost. It had all happened so quickly and inexplicably. I felt frozen in my shame, totally depleted, feeling unfairly sucker-punched and incapable of ever reclaiming any dignity. I walked slowly in a state of vertigo; a new round of dizzy spells disoriented me, eventually finding my way back to the dormitory suite I shared with several roommates. By the grace of God, there was no one there to see my shame as I made my way to my bedroom and fell upon my bed sobbing. “What am I going to do?” I asked myself. “What am I going to do?” I asked myself again, then repeatedly. I had to do something. Then without thinking I picked up the phone and called home…explaining what had happened.

The next day the phone rang and one of my roommates answered it.

“It’s for you…some woman,” Kevin said, handing me the receiver.

I recognized the female voice immediately. It was the registrar at the org. She suggested in a strangely upbeat voice that I come down immediately and straighten out my difficulties. I informed her that I was not interested in doing so, and that my parents were on their way to Boston. She took surprise at that remark and then amazingly suggested that perhaps my parents would be interested in taking a tour of the Church upon their arrival. This idea sounded surreal considering what had transpired the day before, and I informed her of this.. Yet she seemed unable to understand my point of view … and kept monotonously stressing the importance of “straightening out my case.”

For the next two weeks, these calls persisted … frequently at first … my roommates left me messages for I did not wish to pick up the phone during this period … then the calls tapered off until they finally ceased. Later I often thought of Louise … and her fear of all the negativity in the world The word “irony” came to mind … finally, my very first “word clear.”

Practical Considerations and Conclusions

“The gods did not reveal from the beginning all things to us, but in the course of time through seeking, men find that which is the better. But as for certain truth no man has known it, and if by chance he was to utter the final truth, he himself would not himself know it.”
- Xenophanes

“Q: Who are these Scientologists? A: They are we…but only a bit more so”

I mentioned at the outset the importance of allowing real weight to be granted to the concerns of Scientologists. Hopefully, this paper clarifies the nature of these concerns and suggests how they might be common to all of us. Given the intractable nature of Scientology’s top-ranking leadership, the likelihood of constructive dialogue with the organization remains virtually nonexistent. Real possibilities of communication still are open, however, with members considering defection, those tired of the lies, mystification, exploitation, and onerous control mechanisms, which the cult warily maintains to keep its leaky vessel afloat.

Before considering speaking with individual Scientologists keep the following points in mind:

a. The current endemic mood within the Scientology enclave is one of suppressed panic. Top management is not unaware that the organization is foundering, membership continues to contract and that Scientology now encounters for the first time since its inception somewhat organized opposition. This is in part due to the advent of the Internet and the founding of the LMT. Scientology is not acquainted with a more level playing field. This panic spreads downward like a virus from the top. If current Scientology czar Miscavige gets a cold, everyone else down the line coughs.

b. Always consider what motivated individuals to join the cult in the first place. If you are not a former member, try to place yourself in their position. Most are wedged between a rock and a very hard place having joined Scientology, aside from its fatuous promises, for reasons relating to anxiety and the need for security and structure. They may have sought a safe haven from a chaotic world, which they do not feel individually equipped to face. This is also why they remain in Scientology. Many join the military for similar reasons. However false their hopes of salvation through Scientology may be is not important. Lack of subtlety will only make them more defensive and entrench their allegiance. Consider the adage, the devil I know is better than the one that I don’t.

c. Consider the amount of commitment some members make over so many years in terms of time, money and work. It is far easier to shore up personal defenses and continue to believe rather than change. Admitting that one’s beliefs are nonsense requires a great deal of courage and humility under any circumstances. Indelicately or derisively attacking Scientology is tantamount to personal attacks for alleged stupidity.

d. Today many Scientologists, perhaps to a far greater extent than was the case 30 or 40 years ago, have difficulty adjusting to the real world. This is because some have been inside Scientology too long or because newer recruits include many relatively dysfunctional and uneducated individuals in comparison to a generation or so ago. Some of them are severely mentally ill, already predisposed to schizoid episodes prior to joining. Many have no remaining family, friends, competitive job skills or financial means to survive on the outside. Scientology, for better or worse, remains the only place they can call home. Once again, place yourself in their position. You will have better luck communicating with public Scientologists than you would with Sea Orgers because the former usually have more real options should they decide to check out of the cult.

e. What a person is willing to believe often reflects the horrendous physical and emotional conditions of his or her life prior to joining a cult. Many joined to escape a life that became emotionally horrific and are genuinely frightened of relapsing into the self-destructive life styles that impelled them to join. These might have included drug addiction, alcoholism, prostitution, gambling addiction and other suicidal behaviors. Their fear of relapse is not an idle one. For them Scientology provides the only buffer against their former way of life. Respect these fears and consider their anguish.

f. Be patient. Allow the lies and abusive nature of Scientology to continue to dwindle its own membership. This is inevitable. Scientology is a self-destructive organization.

g. Be realistic and discerning. Do not stereotype. All Scientologists are fundamentally different as individuals. Human differences cannot be ironed out regardless how much the cult attempts to do so. Recognize the limits of persuasion. Understand that some will never leave having long lost the ability to exercise personal freedom. Their relationship to Scientology is tragically one of “till death do we part.” Accept these limits and move onwards.

h. Be compassionate and have faith. For some persons false hopes are the only hopes. Do not assign yourself the lofty position of informing Scientologists that their belief system and their lives are a total lie. By so doing one assumes the destructive know-it-all characteristics of the dogmatist. We all maintain illusions to some extent. This is human. As Nietzsche graciously points out, without them life would become unbearable. In terms of final reckoning, we know nothing. Consider life essentially a mystery, a healthy therapeutic exercise.

i. Keep in mind your own motives. Be honest. To what extent are you waging a personal vendetta against Scientology or to what extent do you really care about the members that you are purportedly trying to help? If you lean towards the former, this will reduce your effectiveness helping people to make the decision to leave. Scientology is a totalitarian criminal organization that will not and cannot reform itself. Its representatives will not negotiate or compromise in good faith with anyone suspected of casting aspersions upon its belief system or activities. It can never accede to any wrongdoing because it regards itself as the sole possessor of ultimate truth with a system of ethics beyond reproach and, as it reminds its membership, it is mankind’s only hope for survival. It cynically and derisively views the public institutions surrounding it, the very ones protecting its civil liberties, as hopelessly degraded. Its conduct is writ in stone as it must rigidly adhere to the policies of L. Ron Hubbard. Therefore it will continue to fashion its own rules of behavior and cavalierly act as if notions such as law, public obligation and common decency do not apply to its activities. It will persist in violating the human and civil rights of former members and public critics with feigned impunity, file frivolous lawsuits with reckless abandon to discourage public revelations of its activities, and then noisily raise a fuss whenever someone dares stand up to it and fight back. At least Scientology acts consistently with a reassuring predictability. It always has and always will try to have it both ways.

Scientology is not only evil and destructive, it is also self-destructive and suicidal. It is also dying, for the cult profoundly defies not only logic, but the very nature of life as renewal. Scientology continues to persist solely because of its vast financial resources, army of shoddy lawyers and deadly reputation for intimidation. But these only disguise its moribund condition. Money, lawyers and thuggery do not guarantee survival nor solve the organization’s most fundamental problems. Its existing membership continues to erode, and new recruits become scarcer mostly because of the constantly increasing negative associations Scientology publicly evokes.

Furthermore, these nasty associations will continue to increase. At root Scientology, like any ossified belief system, is a self-contradictory mess constantly at odds with the real world. Scientology lacks even a semblance of reality check. It cannot abide creativity or innovation, the very engines of survival. Yet it magically expects to flourish. It craves public and community acceptance, yet unfailingly continues to exploit whatever social environment with which it comes into contact. To allow even a glimmer of sunlight or breath of fresh air into its interior is tantamount to the loss of power and control by its top management. In that event the entire monstrosity rightfully crumbles into dust in the fashion of the old Soviet Union, a possible fate of which perhaps Scientology management has some tenuous understanding, if nothing else. So in response, they tighten control mechanisms, step up their regging and other internal abuses while propelling themselves ever faster to a rendezvous with oblivion.

As the Scientology edifice lurches closer towards the threshold of its eventual collapse, sooner or later a vaudeville of despair will arise amongst its most brain-washed adherents. The false hopes that kept so many mired in its confines eventually and painfully must reveal themselves as such. St. Paul on the Road to Damascus encountered such ultimate despair. So do many alcoholics upon reaching rock bottom. This is a very dangerous and volatile point. Many in the throes of abject despair encounter new possibilities in the ashes of their former lives, for despair is the mother of freedom. It is the point of transition when one realizes that there remains nothing left to lose except falsity. One finally realizes the impossibility of that return to the Magic Garden to reclaim lost omnipotence, the core of the Scientology mythology. With the advent of such understanding, pride, the ultimate barrier separating oneself from reality, slowly dissolves in a prolonged period of agonizing catharsis, gradually replaced by humility. Many go mad at this point of despair, tenaciously clinging to pride, perhaps frantically trying to replace one false hope with another by hopping to a new belief system, resisting the vision of personal freedom. Others fight with a bestial frenzy, often suicidally crazed and lethally dangerous to others, mortally enraged as their illusions come crashing down upon them. They intend to sink with the ship and ensure that as many others as possible submerge with them, just as Germany and Japan in 1945 became more desperate and suicidal in their wartime conduct.

I recall reading years ago one of L. Ron Hubbard’s many books, the title eluding me at the moment. In it he describes the life force (“theta”) as essentially a static, some sort of inert nullity with the capacity to “postulate” and thereby preside over the whole of creation. Hubbard’s implicit identification of life with death at the time failed to register with me. Nor did his cadaverous penchant for reification, transforming living and transitive verbs into nouns (“being-ness,” “having-ness,” etc.) make much of an impression. I remember, however, that his incessant mention of “dwindling spirals” and his ruminations about coat hanger abortions, obsessing over the lurid and grotesque aspects of life struck me as bizarre and that also Hubbard seemed to have a boundless fascination with power and compulsive need for control over others. The author of Scientology insisted that the prime directive in the universe was to SURVIVE, that is to say, “persist through time and space.” There was no mention of growth or renewal.

Hubbard was a defensive, if not utterly besieged individual, beset upon by a host of unknown demons and the constant threat of personal dissolution, not to mention his paranoid perception of the ineptitude and boundless treachery of others. As an organization and a philosophy, Scientology cannot help but to reflect the character and world view of its founder. If survival is the goal of life as Hubbard claims, one cannot help asking, “but for what purpose?” or “towards what future?” In the absence of purpose and future human survival makes little sense. Life becomes meaningless, even superfluous. The gist of the matter is that for Scientology freedom consists of the stasis of self-nullification, a longing for death, the ultimate form of certainty and security. Purpose and future are utterly irrelevant.


1 Rollo May, Freedom and Destiny, (New York: Dell Publishing, 1989), p. 190.

2 These include, but are not limited to neurological or medical models, behaviorism, cognitive or information processing models, psychoanalytic models, and social constructivist models. Cited in Daniel Burston, The Wing of Madness: The Life and Thought of R.D.Laing (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1996), p. 151.

3 Kristofferson quoted in May, Freedom and Destiny, p. 3.

4 May, pp. 3-5.

5 G.B. Madison, “Merleau-Ponty: Deconstruction of Logocentrism,” Merleau-Ponty Vivant, ed. by M.C.Dillon (Albany: S.U.N.Y. Press, 1991).

6 Rollo May, Man’s Search for Himself, (New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1973), pp. 38-44.

7 From the Scientology orientation film

8 May, Freedom and Destiny, pp.21-22.

9 St. Augustine quoted in Rollo May, Power and Innocence: A Search for the Sources of Violence, (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1972), p. 102.

10 Ibid.

11 Malinowski quoted in Rollo May, Freedom and Destiny (New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc., 1989), p. 83.

12 R. D. Laing, Self and Others, (New York: Penguin Books, 1990), p. 155.

13 May, Freedom and Destiny, p. 13

14 This interview took place in the 1970′s, published in the Sunday Magazine Section of the Washington Post. I cannot recall who the director was or locate the article for proper annotation.

15 John MacQuarrie, Existentialism: An Introduction, Guide and Assessment, (New York: Penguin Books, 1987), p. 181.

16 Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1972 ed., s.v. “Freedom,” by P. H. Partridge.

17 MacQuarrie, p. 181.

18 Yeats quoted in May, Freedom and Destiny, p. 202.

19 I’m guessing that Hubbard’s acquaintance with Descartes came through his reading of Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy.

20 Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1972 ed., sv “Descartes, Rene” by Bernard Williams.

21 Quoted in Freedom and Destiny, p 222.

22 A phrase coined by linguistic philosopher, Gilbert Ryle.

23 May, Freedom and Destiny, p. 202.

24 Kierkegaard quoted in May, Freedom and Destiny, p. 220.

25 Madison.

26 Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1972 ed., sv “James, William” by William James Earle.

27 The entirety of Becker’s Denial of Death elaborates this theme.

28 MacQuarrie, p. 214.

29 Ernest Becker, Escape from Evil, (New York: The Free Press, 1975), p. 37.

30 May, Freedom and Destiny, p. 22.

31 Ibid., p. 89.

32 Ibid., p. 90.

33 Ibid., pp. 93-94.

34 MacQuarrie, p. 93.

35 Refer to Martin Heidegger’s, Being and Time

36 May, Freedom and Destiny, p. 95.

37 Ibid.

38 Ibid.

39 Michael Hammond, Jane Howarth and Russell Keat, Understanding Phenomenology, (Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell Publishers Inc., 1995), p. 250-251.

40 May, Freedom and Destiny, pp. 8-9.

41 Albert Camus, The Fall, quoted in Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (New York: The Free Press, 1973), p. 127.

42 May, Power and Innocence, p. 24.

43 Becker, The Denial of Death, p. 133.

44 Ibid. p. 139.

45 Ibid. p. 140.

46 May, Power and Innocence, p. 19.

47 MacQuarrie, p. 175.

48 Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom, (New York: Henry Holt and Company Inc., 1994), pp. 162-164.

49 Ibid.

50 Ibid.

51 Goethe quoted in Rollo May, Power and Innocence, (New York: W.W. Norton and Company Inc., 1998), p. 121.

52 Ibid. p. 202.

53 John McMaster quoted in George Malko, Scientology: The Now Religion, (New York: Delacourte Press, 1970), p. xv.

54 Becker, The Denial of Death, pp. 217-221.

55 Ibid.

56 Freedom and Destiny, pp. 202-203.


Becker, Ernest. Escape from Evil. New York: The Free Press, 1975.

Becker, Ernest. The Denial of Death. New York: The Free Press, 1973.

Burston, Daniel. The Wing of Madness: The Life and Thought of R. D. Laing. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1996.

Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 1972 ed. S. v. “Descartes, Rene,” by Bernard Williams.

Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 1972 ed. S. v. “Freedom,” by P. H. Partridge.

Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 1972 ed. S. v. “James, William.” by William James Earle.

Fromm, Erich. Escape from Freedom. New York: Henry Holt and Company Inc., 1994.

Hammond, Michael, Howarth, Jane and Keat, Russell. Understanding Phenomenology. Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell Publishers Inc., 1995.

Laing, R.D. Self and Others. New York: Penguin Books, 1990.

MacQuarrie, John. Existentialism: An Introduction, Guide and Assessment. New York: Penguin Books, 1987.

Madison, G. B. Merleau-Ponty Vivant. Albany, New York: S.U.N.Y. Press, 1991.

Malko, George. Scientology: The Now Religion. New York: Delacourte Press, 1970.

May, Rollo. Freedom and Destiny. New York: Dell Publishing, 1989.

May, Rollo. Man’s Search for Himself. New York: Dell Publishing, 1973.

May, Rollo. Power and Innocence: A Search for the Sources of Violence. New York: W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1998.

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