Sunday 10 February 2013

A Cult by any other name...

Infinite Complacency presents a new essay from Jon Atack, author of A Piece of Blue Sky. (Happy fifth birthday, Project Chanology.)

A cult by any other name, or propaganda by redefinition of words

Philologists, who devote their lives to the study of words, tell us that there are both ‘purr’ and ‘snarl’ words.

The word ‘democracy’, for example, is a purr word, which has a raft of happy associations. The word ‘fascist’ is a snarl word, which makes hackles rise.

Scientologists are upset by the word ‘cult’, and would rather that we call their organization a ‘church’, so I am told. It is evident that the word ‘cult’ is a snarl word, while ‘church’ is a purr word.

Believers say that everything Hubbard wrote about Dianetics and Scientology is ‘scriptural’. That ‘scripture’ dictates that they must understand the true meanings of words, right down to their etymologies.

I would also add that it is a ‘scripture’ of Scientology that the teachings of Ron Hubbard are inviolable, and must be rigidly adhered to. Not a single word can be changed or removed, and not a single jot or tittle can be added (actually, the books have been majorly edited since Miscavige came to power, but that really isn’t my problem).

Any attempt to alter doctrine is treasonable within the ‘ethics’ codes of Scientology. And every word must be interpreted solely through its dictionary definition, otherwise the Scientologist will unwittingly be driven to commit crimes (‘overts’).

Hubbard well understood the power words have to woo or repulse. In his 1971 scripture, Propaganda by Redefinition of Words, he said:


Now, as Hubbard also said, ‘the criminal accuses others of things he himself is doing.’ And this is certainly true when it comes to the redefinition of words.

The two dictionaries of Scientology comprise about a thousand pages of mainly redefined words. Quite literally thousands of redefinitions.

Some of them slip past the ‘raw meat, dead-in-the-head wogs’ (some of the scriptural terms for we non-believers). For instance, the term reasonable – a positive purr word to the rest of humanity – is a snarl word to Scientologists.

Hubbard insisted that his followers should waste no time in listening to reason, but simply do as they were told. Given the chance, Hubbard would have burned John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty.

And there is no time to be reasonable when it comes to the Technology of Scientology. Believers are forbidden to even discuss it, which is considered ‘verbal tech.’ Once again, a ‘crime’ in the codes of Scientology.

So, Buddha’s insistence that his followers believe nothing without vigorous argument, to test its truthfulness, becomes ‘What’s true for Ron Hubbard, is true.’ And you cannot even discuss it, let alone question its accuracy or truthfulness.

In his scripture on deception by shifting meanings, Hubbard continued: ‘Given enough repetition of the redefinition, public opinion can be altered by altering the meaning of a word.’

And further, ‘The technique is good or bad depending on the ultimate objective of the propagandist.’ Hubbard goes on to recommend that ‘psychiatry’ be redefined to do just this (‘an anti-social enemy of the people,’ in his words – which to me sounds rather like Scientology).

When it came to compassion and those other elements basic to more pro-social religions, Hubbard showed neither interest nor expertise, but when it came to manipulation, he shone: ‘The redefinition of words is done by associating different emotions and symbols with the word than were intended.’

Now, let’s look at the word ‘church.’ I admit that I fell into this trap when writing A Piece of Blue Sky and politely spoke of the ‘Church’ throughout. The upper case is to show that I mean ‘the Church of Scientology.’ But I have to accept that readers may believe that I think of the cult as a church. I don’t, and I never did, not even when I was a member in the heady summers of my youth.2

There is another Scientology ‘scripture’ that tells us that the ‘misunderstood word’ is the single and sole cause of failures in study (there are of course other causes, which Hubbard peddles elsewhere, but contradiction is fundamental to his method). In keeping with this, take a look at the word ‘church’ in a dictionary.

You may be surprised to find that a church is generally a Christian organization. Hubbard was among the first to slip it from its moorings and sail it away from its etymology. Just think, ‘Synagogue of Scientology’ to see just how strange the transformation is.

There was one rather obvious precedent to Hubbard’s use of the word ‘church’, and that is Crowley’s adoption of the Rabelesian ‘Church of Thelema’.

Thelema is the will, in Crowleyite ‘magick’, and along with the Church, Crowley also borrowed Rabelais’s motto: Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law; love is the law, love under will.

This is the thought expressed in Hubbard’s favourite book, William Bolitho’s Twelve Against the Gods. Along with the title ‘church’, Hubbard also borrowed the eight pointed cross.

He claimed to have seen it on an old Mission, down in Arizona, but he certainly saw it on the tarot pack designed for Crowley, and doubtless read about the cards in The Book of Thoth.

Stepping stones

Hubbard was rather chary of admitting anything to do with the spiritual. So, in Science of Survival, he blamed ‘past lives’ on others (he had the idea from Crowley, years before he introduced it to the following. Then, Hubbard was a past master at sock-puppetry – see the introductions to his books, for instance).

To see if there was an outcry, Hubbard insisted that Burton Farber had decided to incorporate the first church, in February 1954. Hubbard had actually secretly incorporated three churches, in Camden, New Jersey, in December 1953. The documents bear his signature.

The three new ventures were to be the Church of Scientology, the Church of Spiritual Engineering and the Church of American Science. These churches give us the clue to the use of the word ‘church’, because this last, the Church of American Science, was supposedly a Christian organization.

With his usual casual cynicism, Hubbard explained the purpose of this church, and the compilers of his Modern Management Defined foolishly repeated an idea that should have been kept very quiet. Luckily, amid the welter of words that poured from the Founder, almost no one took notice:

There is a difference between the Church of American Science and the Church of Scientology. The Church of American Science is a Christian religion. It believes in the Holy Bible, Jesus is [sic]the Savior of man and everything that's necessary to be a Christian religion. People who belong to that church are expected to be Christians. These two churches fit together. We take somebody in as a Church of American Science [sic]. It doesn't disagree with his baptism or other things like that, and he could gradually slide over into some sort of better, wider activity such as the Church of Scientology and a little more wisdom and come a little more close to optimum. Then if he was good and one of the people that we would like to have around he would eventually slide into the HASI. So we have provided stepping stones to Scn with these organizations. (tape 5410C04) [underlined emphases added]

So, this church is simply a ‘stepping stone’ to ‘something better’, something more ‘wise’ than Christianity.

If you want your redefinition to take root, you have only to use the basic three r’s of exploitative persuasion – repetition, repetition and repetition:

The way to redefine a word is to get the new definition repeated as often as possible. Thus it is necessary to redefine medicine, psychiatry and psychology downward and define Dianetics and Scientology upwards. This, so far as words are concerned, is the public-opinion battle for belief in your definitions, and not those of the opposition. A consistent, repeated effort is the key to any success with this technique of propaganda... (Propaganda by Redefinition of Words)

Turning to the word ‘cult’, the Oxford Dictionary has this to say: ‘a particular form of religious worship ... Devotion to a particular person or thing.’ Its root word means simply ‘worship’.

I accept that the word ‘cult’ has become a snarl word, because of its redefinition by the media, however, Hubbard insisted that his followers stick to the true meaning of words.

Luminaries of the counter-cult world have tried to keep this simple and effective word alive by accurately labelling some cults ‘destructive’ or ‘totalist’. Just as the word ‘church’ and the word ‘synagogue’ are useful in providing a fuller meaning, so the word ‘cult’ still has its usefulness, because it is lethally accurate.

Two highly educated gentlemen gave this definition of a totalist cult:

A group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing and employing unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control (e.g., isolation from former friends and family, debilitation, use of special methods to heighten suggestibility and subservience, powerful group pressures, information management, suspension of individuality or critical judgment, promotion of dependency on the group and fear of leaving it, etc.), designed to advance the goals of the group's leaders to the actual or possible detriment of members, their families, or the community. (Professors Louis J West and Michael Langone, 1986).

So, even if we take the word in this expanded, pejorative sense, it still applies to Scientology.

The author of a recent book told me that because some people feel they’ve benefited from Scientology, we shouldn’t call it a ‘cult’. You could just as well say that there were many Nazis who felt they’d benefited from their membership in the party, so we shouldn’t call them ‘Nazis’ (a term never used by believers).

Scientology is an intensely destructive cult, which lays out in its inviolable scriptures a teaching of hatred and aggression to all who refuse to submit to its doctrines. And I can now admit that I’m not in the least bothered that members feel aggrieved at this accurate use of a word.

In short, if you have to call the cult something, but you feel bashful about calling a cult a cult, please don’t make the mistake of calling it a church. It is no more a church than any other fanatical organization bent upon harming disbelievers and preying on the unwary.

If cult is too much for you, try Gerry Armstrong’s ‘the Org’ or simply call it Scientology. Don’t help Hubbard implant the notion that this is a sociable, friendly, compassionate movement. History very clearly shows that it is not.

1    HCOPL 5 Oct 71 Propaganda by Redefinition of Words.
2   Atack has more to say on this in Saturday's dialogue with Tony Ortega at The Underground Bunker.


  1. Simply brilliant.

  2. As it turned out, Hubbard underestimated the wilful stupidity of his followers. Tom Cruise and others happily say "you can be a Christian and a Scientologist"; there was no need for subterfuge.

    I'm going to disagree about that 'Church' word. When Hubbard adopted it, it did mean something 'purry' (the proper words are pejorative and meliorative). Nowadays it doesn't, despite what members of respectable Churches might wish. The Westboro loonies are a Church, but no one supposes it is other than evil. Word change meanings. 'Cult' used to be a good word!

  3. I'll also bet that philogists somewhere, say the common layman public have their zeitgeist definitions to themselves, and under the sub heading of the "snarl" word, cult is absolutely within the common man's right, to inject into existing words, whatever it is they feel fits, that item that a particular snarl word gets affixed to.

    In otherwords, the public, us laymen who have wandered into the recesses of Scientology, can call the subject and the movement, anything that damn well suits our feelings for it.

    When Scientology stops behaving like something that should be snarled about, then fine, the cult adjective won't fit it.

    That recent independent Scientologists gave in, and even call official Scientology a cult, they are not thinking like philologists. These independents and almost all of us ex members think cult fits, because of the snarl aspect to official Scientology. Evidence, the name of Steve Hall's site that includes the word cult in the site!

    Maybe, down the road, if independent Scientology practice lives long enough and decently enough, to predominate, that's decades from now, if ever, then fine. The cult can be minused down the road, from association with Scientology.

  4. Pretty good, but needs moar Orwell.

  5. You beat me to it, Pants: but it's not as if he isn't aware of Orwell. I think he just wanted to focus his fire elsewhere.

  6. Excellent essay, Mr Atack. I'd add perhaps that language, and the words that comprise it, are constantly evolving, hence the word 'cult' has somewhat evolved to it's more sinister popular definitions.

  7. Outstanding essay, Jon! Thanks for all that you do, and kudos to Jonny for keeping this blog purring along.